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Meetings and Conferences: A Plethora of Options

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by Deb Vanasse, IBPA Independent staff reporter

Deb Vanasse

As any publisher who has attended an industry gathering can attest, there’s indeed power in numbers. Those who seek to learn, network, and market their books at publisher meetings and conferences can choose from myriad options, each tailored to serve the industry in different ways.

For a rundown of some of these choices, we spoke with organizers of events that range in size, audience, and focus. Even armchair attendees will benefit from learning about the exciting ways in which these gatherings are evolving to address the needs of an ever-changing industry.

Frankfurt Book Fair – October 11–15, 2017 | Frankfurt, Germany

On a global scale, publishing events don’t get any bigger than the annual Frankfurt Book Fair (Frankfurter Buchmesse), with its approximately 275,000 publishers, foreign rights directors, literary agents, authors, service providers, printers, illustrators, tech futurists, journalists, and bloggers. It’s quite a crowd.

Its official mission? “The Book Fair seeks to help publishers and service providers create connections that could help expand their businesses, while also helping attendees grow professional skills, discover new, vibrant markets, and create solutions for any issues in the global publishing community,” says Director Juergen Boos.

In addition to facilitating meetings among industry experts, the Frankfurt Book Fair is an important marketplace for rights licensing. Attendees can select from a wide array of topical options—over 4,000—organized in tracks that include rights and licensing, digital publishing, and notable authors. New this year was THE ARTS+, a hub for examining the impact of digital technology on copyright, internet protocol, and creative concerns.

With a focus on creating international networks among young publishers, the Frankfurt Fellowship Programme covers travel expenses for select editors and agents. “We … are passionate about growing the future of the industry,” says Boos, noting that the fair also supports exhibitors from developing markets.

BookExpo America – May 31 to June 2, 2017 | New York City

In a historical sense, BookExpo America (BEA) is the grandfather of US publishing meetings—in different iterations, the conference has been around for more than a century. And for publishers seeking to get authors in front of the prime movers of the trade, BEA is the place to be.

Over the years, the conference has changed in size, focus, and location. “A lot of the growth was untargeted,” says BEA Events Director Brien McDonald, noting that the conference eventually grew too big in scope. BEA 2017 promises what McDonald calls “a major reinvention—right-sizing the show.”

To this end, 2017 attendance will be capped at 6,000, excluding exhibitors. The focus is on booksellers, distributors, agents, librarians, and retailers. All other hopeful attendees will be screened through an application process. “In order to run a premium event, we need the best possible attendees,” McDonald explains.

In recent years, BEA has been more focused on media buzz than business takeaways, notes McDonald. In 2017, look for an emphasis on learning, as evidenced by more interactivity, roundtables, and practical information.

In order to encourage preplanning of trade floor meetings and author interactions, BEA now offers a new and improved “My Show” online planning tool. “If you’re a publisher, we’ll have all the spokes in the wheel as far as distribution, education, and getting your authors out in front of the market,” McDonald says. Of special interest to independent publishers will be BEA’s Author Market Stage, showcasing advice on self-publishing and editing.

BookCon – June 3–4, 2017 | New York City

Scheduled to immediately follow BEA is BookCon, also organized by McDonald under Reed Exposition’s “Reed Pop” division. Launched in 2014, BookCon is all about marketing directly to readers, particularly the millennial females who are passionate readers in the young adult genre. “If you’re going to launch an event in the fan space, you’ve got to go where people are rabid,” McDonald explains.

Modeled after the popular ComicCon, BookCon features panels of authors who share the “behind-the-scenes scoop” on their books. There’s also an autographing area, which McDonald describes as a “really, really big deal for fans” who get to hang out with their favorite celebrity authors.

Bringing fans face-to-face with authors has proven wildly popular. Starting as a BookExpo add-on that drew 10,000 fans the first year, BookCon is looking to add additional genres as it grows to a projected attendance of 50,000 within the next three years.

By offering curated lists of titles of potential interest to fans of particular bestsellers, independent publishers can draft off the BookCon excitement, McDonald suggests, noting that readers don’t judge the size of publishers. For maximum engagement, he advises publishers to offer interactive opportunities—giveaways, readings, media list sign-ups, sharable hashtags—that promote branding and optimize a mushroom effect beyond the convention halls.

From a publisher’s perspective, the back-to-back BEA and BookCon events create a two-for-one opportunity. “You’re able to achieve your trade initiatives and your consumer initiatives all in one venue,” says McDonald, adding that independent publishers are especially welcome at BookCon.

“Independent voices are really important, especially when you’re in New York,” he says. “You have a fan base that buys into that indie vibe. If you leverage everything properly, it can be a really interesting event for independent publishers.”

DBW – January 17–19, 2017 | New York City

Rebranding in 2017 from the longer “Digital Book World” moniker, the new DBW is pivoting toward practical content, says Conference Chair Ted Hill, who envisions DBW as “the premium show for professional development and education.”

What began as the Digital Book World Conference, DBW was initially conceived to help publishers navigate in a rapidly changing industry. Now, says Hill, “we’ve reached a bit of a plateau—a resting spot,” but, “there still is a crying need for bringing the new skills and practices in-house and making the best use of them.”

To achieve a competitive advantage, publishers need to adapt skills and practices that maximize the promise of technology, says Hill. The focus isn’t on e-books or technology so much as it is “about smarter book publishing for a digital world.” The emphasis is on the front line, the practitioners’ view, on the “simple things that can make a big difference,” according to Hill.

DBW attracts approximately 1,000 attendees and offers four tracks: editorial acquisitions and development; production and distribution; analysis and reporting; and marketing and sales. Of these, Hill estimates 40 percent are from trade houses, 40 percent are from educational and academic presses, and 20 percent work as consultants, journalists, and service providers.

Of special interest to independent publishers is DBW Indie Author Day, a third day of sessions organized by Jane Friedman and Porter Anderson. “The tone of the sessions will be aimed at an intermediate level,” says Hill—new professional indie authors who’ve got a book or two under their belts. The Indie Author day can be booked separately or in conjunction with DBW, which is becoming more affordable in 2017—by approximately 20 percent—as part of the overall re-envisioning.

Books in Browsers – November 3–4, 2016 | San Francisco

At the more intimate end of the conference spectrum—150 attendees on average—Books in Browsers (BiB) is where publishers can explore new forms of storytelling.

As the name suggests, the conference originally focused on the possibilities of web-based publishing. But over the course of its seven-year history, a disjuncture developed between the tech community, which saw great promise in digital options, and a more hesitant publishing community, according to BiB founder Peter Brantley. As start-ups launched and then floundered, he says, an overarching conclusion emerged—the idea of putting books in browsers was more complex than it first seemed.

At the more intimate end of the conference spectrum—150 attendees on average—Books in Browsers (BiB) is where publishers can explore new forms of storytelling.

Acknowledging this arc, Brantley and his team opted for a BiB hiatus in 2015 to reassess the direction of the conference. “By the end of 2015, it was clear to us that the one place where storytelling was developing really quickly was in the growth of new visual forms,” Brantley says.

Accordingly, the focus for this year’s conference is on visually mediated and creative forms of storytelling, including the ways in which unconventional storytellers create narratives using apps such as Snapchat and Instagram. The two-day, single-track BiB experience relies on short talks interspersed with a good number of breaks to allow attendees—many of whom are engaged in design, development, and exploration—to interact with one another.

By design, BiB is a small, break-even event. “It’s not a jacket-and-tie conference,” Brantley says. “It’s a place where people make new relationships and hang out in an environment that’s invigorating and relaxing.”

IBPA Publishing University – April 7–8, 2017 | Portland, Oregon

Another smaller conference is IBPA’s Publishing University (PubU), which draws some 300 self-publishers and indie press professionals each year.

IBPA’s Publishing University gives you the opportunity to connect with other publishers.

“The needs of indie publishing professionals—whether they be self-publishers or employees of a hybrid or traditional publishing company—are unique,” says IBPA’s CEO Angela Bole, who heads up content development for PubU. “No other conference focuses on the practical needs of indie publishers like PubU. It’s built for indies, by indies.”

Learning, collaboration, and an atmosphere of positivity are central to the gathering, which is approaching its 30th year, and practical concerns are the focus. “Our goal is to create an atmosphere of positivity where people can share publishing best practices and help each other achieve and succeed,” Bole says.

Learning, collaboration, and an atmosphere of positivity are central to IBPA’s Publishing University.

PubU opens with what Bole terms “deep-dive” sessions that cover topics such as marketing and digital publishing. The conference then segues into general sessions on strategic issues and breakout sessions that focus on practical learning opportunities. The Benjamin Franklin Book Awards ceremony, a gala event, caps the conference. “It’s an absolutely stunning night,” Bole says.

No two publishers are exactly alike, notes Bole, which is why IBPA’s Publishing University strives to create a professional, community-oriented environment. “Each attendee comes to the conference with something unique to learn and leaves feeling renewed for the year ahead,” Bole says.

The Best Fit

Understanding the value of money and time, independent publishers want to get the most from their conference experiences. That begins with assessing the goals, intentions, audience, and format of each option in order to determine which gatherings are the best fit for your particular publishing situation.

And even if you can’t attend a particular conference, it’s good to know what the buzz is about. As conference planners assess and adapt to better serve the publishing industry, their gatherings highlight trends and changes that affect every independent publisher.

Deb Vanasse is co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the author co-op Running Fox Books, She is the author of 17 books. Among her most recent are WRITE YOUR BEST BOOKS, a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest, and WHAT EVERY AUTHOR SHOULD KNOW, a comprehensive guide to book publishing and promotion, as well as WEALTH WOMAN: KATE CARMACK AND THE KLONDIKE RACE FOR GOLD.

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