On a beautiful spring day in April, I joined approximately one hundred and twenty fellow delegates at the Stamford Court Conference Centre, the University of Leicester for the 5th Self-Publishing Conference hosted by Troubador Publishing.
I had wanted to attend this conference for some years, but life stuff inevitably took over, and the date never worked. However, 2017 was the right fit, and I was eager to dive in and learn as much as I could.
Included in your ticket price you received a goody bag on arrival with a colourful delegate booklet, admission to your choice of four sessions on a wide variety of industry topics, refreshments throughout the day, and a wonderful lunch. I was late buying my ticket, so I missed out on the early bird discount, however, even at full price, it was value for money.
The workshop sessions covered a range of themes, catering to every level of self-publisher. These have to be pre-booked ahead of the conference, however, should you decide on the day that you would prefer to attend an alternative workshop then the staff are on hand to assist. I must just quickly mention the staff here. Throughout the day there were ‘helpers’ on hand for anything you need, whether that was publishing advice, or finding out where the nearest loo was, everyone was incredibly professional, polite, and welcoming. The catering staff at the University also deserve a shout out for their care and attention.
The sessions were broken up into hour slots, and as I mentioned, you got to choose four within your ticket price. I’ve included the 2017 options at the end of the post for anyone who is interested.
There was an amazing choice of workshops, and the only trouble I had was deciding which sessions I wanted to attend. Eventually, I decided on:
Be a PR Star: Making the Most of Media Opportunities
Reaching the Retailers: Selling to Bookshops
Inspiring in Schools: Promoting Your Children’s Book
Non-Fiction Focus: Planning Your Book for Success
Before we broke into the syndicate rooms for our workshops, we heard from keynote speaker, Angus Phillips, Director of Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies. Angus talked about current trends in the industry and how print books are still dominant in the market. He touched on the rise in audio books (£4m sales in 2010 – £10m sales in 2015), as well as the revival of short stories.
He went on to cover the changes in technology with eReader sales slowing significantly as readers now prefer to download books to their smartphones.
It was interesting to hear the issues facing publishing at the moment, the decline in the UK independent bookshops being key. Angus stressed the importance of discoverability, social media and being active in communities. He also talked about the author brand being strong and how important accurate metadata is.
His talk ended with an interesting observation. We all know that Amazon is one of the biggest booksellers. However, it was fascinating to hear the statistics and discover that only 8% of Amazon’s revenue is from books. Angus raised the question – do they still care about books?
My first session was with Ben Cameron from Cameron Publicity and Marketing who works with both traditionally and self-published authors. His message was simple – publicity starts before you write a word. Knowing what message you want to share with your book, and where it fits in the marketplace is key to good publicity. Book buyers begin looking at new releases for their stores at least three months in advance so having a campaign in place is vital for your discoverability.
“Writing your blurb is like writing poetry, every word counts.” Ben Cameron.
Pitching your book to local and national press/radio/television is an important aspect but your pitch should be to the point, including why your book would appeal to them. Ben mentioned perfecting your elevator pitch (a short and snappy description of your book) and practicing it over and over.
He values the option to run giveaways on Goodreads and has seen great success with the use of Facebook ads for some of his clients.
According to Ben, working with a publicity and marketing company would cost in the region of £2200 for a four-week campaign, so if this is something of interest you must factor these costs into your book budget and sales figures.
My second session was with Debbie James from Kibworth Bookshop and from the start it was obvious how passionate Debbie is about her store and books. She shared a few images of the stunning bookshelves, and we laughed at her obsession with the finished size of a paperback. Having the right sized book clearly matters to a bookseller! The largest space in Kibworth Bookshop is the children’s department, and this is reflected in Debbie’s sales. She stocks approximately 26% children’s books, 23% fiction, 16% cards and gift wrap, 6.5% stationery, and the remaining stock is gift books, humour, cookery, travel, and local interest. Debbie and her team are 100% responsible for choosing the stock for the store, and they refer to trade catalogues to help with that choice. They are always looking for stock at least three months in advance.
While Kibworth Bookshop does support self-published authors, Debbie has the final approval. She stressed the importance of building a relationship with your local independent store and supporting them within the community. She is attracted by a passionate writer, an intriguing title, beautiful cover, and a book that will look aesthetically pleasing on her shelves.
“I want to stock your books so write an amazing book, have an amazing cover, and make me want to.” Debbie James.
We broke for lunch which gave everyone a chance to network. I was delighted to see a familiar face in the crowds and got to catch up with award-winning author, Elizabeth Ducie. I spoke to so many authors at varying stages of the writing and publishing process, and it was interesting to hear their opinions of the industry. Amazon, unfortunately, appears to be upsetting quite a few people with many making the switch to alternative self-publishing routes. Marketing and promotion seem to be the main concern for most of the writers’ I spoke with.
After our lunch, we returned to the main hall for a talk by Clive Herbert, Head of Professional Services at Nielsen Books who started his speech with a quote.
“Metadata is totally boring but absolutely vital.” Clive Herbert.
He’s right! Throughout his talk, Clive showed us just how important it is to have accurate metadata for our books and to have the BIC (book industry communication) information, which is the minimum information required by the UK Book Trade, uploaded at least sixteen weeks ahead of your release date.
Discoverability was the key theme and when you realise your book is one of thirty-three million active products, then giving your book the best possible chance of being seen is vital. According to Nielsen, 178,000 new print books were published last year, that’s an average of 500 new titles a day. (That figure is closer to 2.2 million in the US).
Clive advised us to use Nielsen’s Title Editor to provide all our metadata, which provides a free service as well as a subscription feature. For more information, you can visit their website at www.nielsenisbnstore.com. It’s also worth noting that you can now purchase a single ISBN as well as the usual block of ten.
My first afternoon session was Inspiring in Schools with the author, Angela Fish. Although her session was targeted more at younger children and visiting infant and junior schools, I was able to transfer some of her advice to the young adult audience I write for.
She mentioned the benefits of being prepared and planning a variety of activities for the children. Working closely with the teachers will enable you to provide a valuable workshop. Angela doesn’t make much money from doing her school visits. However, she is getting her name known as she returns to the same schools, and she does provide the parents’ with her information. The main reason for running her school sessions is the passion she has for working with children and sharing her story. This is an important aspect of choosing to include school visits into your skill set. Why are you doing it?
Angela also mentioned the importance of a follow-up in the way of a mini questionnaire or competition. Capturing the attention of your audience in such a way that they engage with you and your book in a positive way.
My final session was Planning Your Non-Fiction Book for Success with Ginny Carter. I think this was my favourite session. Ginny is a passionate coach and clearly enjoys working with writers’ at all stages of their journey. Her slides were informative and humourous.
“Writing a book is like a sausage roll. Great when it’s finished, but you don’t want to know what’s gone into it!” Ginny Carter.
Planning is key! That was Ginny’s message for her audience as she shared six essential steps to take before you write a word.
1 Know what you want to achieve.
3 Your ideal reader.
4 Your books message.
5 Outlining your book.
6 Return on Investment
As we all made our way to the closing drinks reception, there was a buzz of motivation among the crowd. We had all come away with some nugget of wisdom, an abundance of networking contacts, and a rekindled passion to return to our keyboards.
I was incredibly impressed with this event, from an organisational aspect as well as a delegate. I will be booking a return trip as soon as the ticket sales are announced for 2018 and if you’re serious about your self-publishing career, I’d suggest you do the same.
Workshop session choices:
Avoiding the Vanity Trap by Andrew Lowe (author and editor) and Alysoun Owen (editor at The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook).
Endorsements, Blurbs and Spine Design: Beyond the Cover by Chelsea Taylor (Production Manager at Troubador) and Jonathan White (Sales & Marketing Manager at Troubador).
Be a PR Star: Making the Most of Media Opportunities by Ben Cameron (Cameron Publicity and Marketing).
The Libel Trap: How to Avoid Getting Sued by Rosie Burbridge (Fox Williams LLP, Solicitors).
Reaching the Retailers: Selling to Bookshops by Debbie James (The Kibworth Bookshop)
Doing It Differently: Crowdfunding and Partnership Publishing by Cressida Downing (The Book Analyst), Alice Jolly (author) and Jeremy Thompson (The Book Guild).
Building an Audience: Practical Ways to Get Your Book Known by Marion Molteno (novelist and indie publisher).
Copyright Clearance – The Easy Way by Jonathan Griffin (Publishers Licensing Society).
Inspiring in Schools: Promoting Your Children’s Book by Angela Fish (independent author).
Making Money from Library Lending by Julia Eccleshare (Public Lending Rights).
Boost Your Ebook’s Earnings: Maximising Sales by Rachel Gregory (Ebook Programme Manager at Troubador).
Is Your Writing Ready: Before You Self-Publish by Alysoun Owen (Editor at The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook).
Do Judge a Book by its Cover by Andy Vosper (Deputy Chief Executive at TJ international Ltd) and Chelsea Taylor (Production Manager at Troubador).
Non-Fiction Focus: Planning Your Book for Success by Ginny Carter (The Author Maker).
Get Your Book Heard: Radio Plays and Audio Books by James Peak (Essential Music).
Words and Picture: Creating Illustrated Children’s Fiction by Louise Jordan (Writers’ Advice Centre for Children’s Books).
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