Confessions of a Pub-U First-timer
by Peg Silloway
As a newbie in the publishing business, I’ve been learning at a fast and furious pace over the past couple of years. Early on, as an IBPA member and a member of MBPA (MidAtlantic Book Publishers Association), I read and heard about Publishing University and what a wonderful learning and networking experience this conference could be.
Right then, attending Pub-U went to the top of my “Things to Do When I Can Afford To” list. And there it stayed as I concentrated on completing the transition from employee to entrepreneur in what might be called my “retirement years.” For decades, I had worked as a CPA and consultant, most recently for an IT firm in the DC area as a project and program manager. I always knew I would get back to running my own business, having had a taste of independence as a consultant and a working artist in earlier years. I thought it would be as a writer until a friend asked me to help her publish a book. The process of pulling together all the pieces for that book led me to publishing, and I was hooked. So of course, I found Pub-U and the potential for learning in my new career immensely attractive.
Last winter I learned that the stars were aligning in my favor. First, Book Expo America would be in New York City in 2009. Since Publishing University is held the three days right before BEA in the same city, that meant both events would be only a half-day’s drive or train trip away for me. My goal began to look more possible, at least from a geographic point of view.
Then I learned that, as a member of MBPA, I could apply for an IBPA Affiliate Scholarship to Publishing University. Oh, yes, wouldn’t that be great? The scholarship, if I received it, would pay for the cost of Pub-U sessions plus a stipend to cover some travel costs—a significant advantage when you’re talking about New York City events.
Short version: I applied for the scholarship in December, and in April received the great news that I was the lucky recipient. My old knees don’t like stairs much, but when I got that email, I fairly bounded up the stairs to tell my husband, “We’re going to New York in May!”
With a Suspicious Eye on Endorsements
If you’re anything like me, you are a bit skeptical about glowing recommendations and testimonials: “The best ever!” “You’ll be glad you did!” “I learned so much!” You know—those phrases that sound as if they belong on a 2:00 a.m. TV infomercial. But IBPA’s Publishing University was all they promised and more.
This was the 25th year for Publishing University, bringing together experts in all areas of publishing to share their knowledge. In this one place, I was able to meet and talk with experts in marketing, publicity, and design. The presenters were generous with time and advice, and even the big names in independent publishing were completely approachable.
In a business where most of my contacts are through email and the Internet, being able to converse in person was a great treat. It was intense, information-dense, and exhausting. It was also one of the best learning and networking experiences I’ve had in any business. The conference itself was professionally organized, it ran on time, and it delivered on its promises.
For Best Results
So how do you get the most from this experience, especially if you’re a freshman at Pub-U?
• First, decide what you want to get from the conference, and keep that in mind when you choose the sessions you will attend.
• Decide whom you want to meet and talk with among the vendors and presenters. Do some research and know what you want to talk about with these specific people. Presenters often offer to stay and talk informally after a session, but that time is usually limited.
• Don’t skip the first-day sessions. They will give you a good orientation and useful information on how to get the most from your Pub-U experience.
• Take every opportunity to network and exchange business cards with other attendees. You’ll meet some very interesting people!
• When you’re in a session, be there. Leave the BlackBerry or iPhone in your pocket, and leave the laptop in its case. If your nose is buried in email, you’ll miss the nuances and nonverbal messages.
• Don’t forget to have fun.
Rewards of Running the Information Marathon
From the opening session through the last moment of the Benjamin Franklin Awards ceremony, I was taking notes and scrambling to capture as much as I could from the flow of information.
That first event—“Speed Dating Your Distributor”—was not only a great icebreaker, but it also gave me one of the answers I wanted from Pub-U: Do I need a distributor, and how do I get one if I do? And it was full immersion from then on with back-to-back learning sessions, informative lunch speakers, and a vendor area where I made some useful connections as well.
I filled one notebook and started a second with thoughts, ideas, and bits of intelligence gathered from the sessions through two and a half days. If I implement even a third of the ideas and suggestions I received, my business will be miles ahead.
Terry Nathan and all the staff of IBPA were very helpful and so pleasant to deal with. An unexpected bonus of receiving the Affiliate Scholarship was an invitation to the Affiliates’ Dinner on the first evening. IBPA staff and other scholarship recipients walked to a French restaurant not far from the Roosevelt Hotel, home to Pub-U, and shared a meal and delightful conversation.
By the third day of Pub-U, my brain was on overload, my body was screaming, “What the *#%! do you think you’re doing?” and all I wanted was a quiet corner where I could just . . . be. But I was determined to finish that marathon event for independent publishers when experts of all sorts and subjects endeavor to stuff one more new idea into your head. And they do, because the lure of another fresh approach to the business of independent publishing is impossible to resist. I almost bailed out of my final session, “The Power of Book Design,” but was glad I dragged my tired brain there, because I got not only helpful information and tips on good design generally, but also feedback on the cover of my particular book.
What did I learn in those three days? I’m still sifting through my notes, still sorting business cards and session handouts. But I came away from Pub-U with five specific goals:
• to put the marketing techniques I learned about into practice
• to learn more about and implement the opportunities in e-publishing
• to pursue outlets for my books other than traditional bookstores
• to build the brand for the Book of Days series, beginning with
The Cat Lover’s Book of Days this fall
• to attend Publishing University 2010
Yes, I will I attend Publishing University again. Absolutely! If it keeps the same format and schedule, it will be held during the three days before BEA in New York for the next couple of years. I will also encourage all independent publishers to attend forthe learning, the networking, and the pure delight of being with other people who are as crazy about books as I am!
Peg Silloway lives in Columbia, MD, and can be reached via PS@SillowayPress.com; 301/335-9368; or SillowayPress.com. To read about her recently released Cat Lover’s Book of Days, go to CatBookOfDays.com.