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Board Member’s Memo: Are You Ready to Conference?

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by Robin Cutler, Director, IngramSpark —

Robin Cutler

I’ve been going to professional publishing conferences for nearly 35 years. When I think back on the hundreds of conferences I’ve attended, they all have a familiar structure. The conference model is comprised of two parts: providing education and bringing people with common interests together. Whether you’re a first time self-published author or a mid-sized publisher looking for distribution opportunities, there is definitely a conference out there that can help you on your publishing journey.

Where do you find this like-minded group of writers and publishers? Start local before going global by finding a writing group or association in your area. In most cities, such as where I live in New Mexico, there are a number of associations you can join as a new writer or established publisher. A quick Google search for programs in New Mexico brought up 12 possible groups in my area, including the New Mexico Publishers Association and Southwest Writers. Many local groups gather together informally once a month or every quarter in the evenings or over the weekend. They will bring in speakers on various topics from writing basics to publishing distribution.

Invariably, when you get involved with a local group, you’ll meet people who are also part of bigger professional associations. For instance, when I recently gave presentations at both the New Mexico and Colorado Publishers associations, I was happy to learn that many attendees were also members of IBPA. The people I spoke with found that IBPA offered a more sophisticated level of education and provided direct opportunities to expand their publishing enterprise that the local associations couldn’t provide. They said they wanted to maintain a personal connection to their local group but felt that what they learned through IBPA helped them to jump-start their business knowledge faster, resulting in a more streamlined evolution from writer to professional publisher. IBPA is affiliated with many regional and specialty publishing associations. To find the list of IBPA affiliate associations in your area, visit ibpa-online.org/resources/affiliates.

Once you’ve published your first book, you should move from genre-specific events and start to attend conferences that are more broadly focused across multiple genres. These conferences typically have multiple tracks at different publishing levels and feature best-selling authors, agents, publishers, and industry insiders as presenters. There is typically a broad representation of publishing professionals from printers to publicists to distributors in the exhibit portion of the conference. Some of the best conferences of this variety include IBPA’s PubU, San Francisco Writers Conference, Association of Writers and Writing Programs, Novelists, Inc., AuthorU, and the Writer’s Digest Conference.

There are also conferences you should think about attending if you have a few books under your belt and have evolved into a publishing entity. These major conferences are brand institutions all on their own. They can be costly to attend but offer a wealth of global opportunity in one place. These conferences are where you’ll find booths the size of city blocks representing the Big Five publishing conglomerates of Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster, as well as powerhouses like Ingram and Amazon, and distributors like Publishers Group West and Independent Publishers Group.

Interspersed among the big guys are thousands of new and established traditional and indie publishers who are there selling foreign rights, looking for better distribution deals, or making sure their authors are getting major attention from the media, other publishers, and, probably most importantly, retailers and libraries. The best known of this type of conference are BookExpo America, American Library Association, Frankfurt Bookfair, and London BookFair. If you think you’re not quite ready to afford the booth rental all on your own yet, IBPA offers programs so that your titles can be well represented to the publishing industry in its collective exhibit space. If you can swing it, it is a lot of fun to buy a badge to one of these events and walk the floor to meet exhibitors and fellow indies. I promise, you will learn a lot—plus there’s tons of swag.

Robin Cutler is the director of IngramSpark, part of Ingram Content Group. She is committed to helping independent publishers easily get their content into the hands of readers everywhere. Robin is a leader in the independent publishing space, and, when not developing new programs and services for IngramSpark, she can often be found sharing her expertise at industry events around the world.

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