My honest Publishing University review

I had had a vague inkling of the existence of IBPA, the Independent Book Publishers Association, but hadn’t thought much about them until I stumbled upon the website advertising their upcoming annual conference. Scrolling through the schedule, I saw sessions like:

  • “The Ins and Outs of Book Distribution”
  • Selling to Libraries: the Untapped Market
  • Launch that book!: How to Sell More Books with Presale Campaigns, Beta Readers, and Amazon Ads
  • Crowdfunding the Capital You Need

I was sold within a hot minute. I registered for the conference, bought my plane ticket, reserved my hotel room. and was rarin’ to go… without knowing a single soul who’d be there!

Last week, I finally attended the 2019 conference — dubbed “Publishing University” — in Chicago.

What was the upshot? Was it worth it?

Here’s my honest review…

My honest review of IBPA Publishing University, the 2019 conference in Chicago

Who Publishing University is for

Publishing University is an educational event aimed at helping small publishers grow. But that doesn’t mean it’s only helpful for publishers. Here’s the list of people who would benefit from attending:

  1. Small to medium-sized publishers and their employees
    For one-person companies operating out of a spare bedroom, to multi-million dollar niche publishers, Publishing University is the perfect place to learn and network.
  2. Author-publishers
    For writers who are serious about self-publishing and intend to build a full-time career from publishing their books, this conference is a boon.
  3. Author and publisher service providers
    All the freelancers and service businesses that cater to publishers will do very well at this show. Editors, ghostwriters, book designers, print brokers, marketing and sales consultants, etc. will find plenty of opportunities to give out their business cards and meet customers eager for their skills.

Reasons for attending

  1. To learn
    This conference is chock full of very targeted panels, such as deep dives into the Amazon ecosystem; how to get distribution; figuring out what publishing business model is right for you; how to sell into schools or libraries; crowd-funding; understanding and maximizing metadata, etc. If you want to learn the art and science of publishing, I would venture to say there isn’t a better way to spend your weekend.
  2. To meet people
    It’s so important to find your peers and mentors! Some of the people you meet at this show may become your friends and cheerleaders, and you need those people. You also need to meet the people who know what you don’t know, and who can help you ask the right questions.
  3. To get out of your box and see fresh perspectives
    Stepping away from your routine, having time to think, being open to chance encounters, and encouraging epiphanies to happen… those are superb reasons to spend the time and money attending a show.

What do you learn?

  1. All aspects of the book publishing trade
    There are panels and sessions on editorial and acquisition, design, production, distribution, metadata, marketing, PR, sales channels, business planning, etc.
  2. Big picture to nitty gritty
    Some panels are open discussions about broad trends in publishing, predictions about the future, and best practices. Others are ultra-detailed step-by-step workshops on specific issues such as marketing to a specific sales channel, understanding one aspect of Amazon, or improving your use of metadata.
  3. Beginner to advanced
    IBPA kindly designates each session “Beginner,” “Intermediate,” or “Advanced.” So if your book publishing business is still just a twinkle in your eye and you’re just learning the ropes, you’ll know which sessions to attend. Or if you’ve been in business for years and you want to fine-tune a specific aspect of your workflow, you’ll have opportunities to learn, as well.

Is it worth it?

You can probably tell I got a lot out of the show, and that I’m a raving fan. You’ll definitely see me at the 2020 show in Redondo Beach, California!

Here’s why I recommend it so highly:

  1. I made some new connections and met people I hope to get to know better in the future.
    This was my main reason for attending. I know a lot of people at “The Big 5” publishing companies in NYC, but not many people in the small press world. By nature, I’m entrepreneurial, so I figured I’d get along well with scrappy folks from the indie publishing world. That definitely proved true.
  2. IBPA is well-managed, organized, and focused.
    I’m always looking for organizations that have these traits… because the older I get, the more I realize how rare they are! I want to associate with people and entities I admire, that I can learn from, that behave in an ethical, open-minded, responsible way. Although I don’t know IBPA too well yet, I definitely was impressed with what I saw at the conference.
  3. I started figuring out who can help me answer some of my most burning questions.
    I knew I probably wouldn’t get all my questions answered in one 48-hour whirlwind, but I was hoping that I’d start identifying the people who could help me. And that’s exactly what happened. I now know who I can talk to about:
    – distribution
    – budgeting and forecasting demand
    – estimating printing and shipping costs
    – hybrid publishing and other alternative business models
    – timelines and key dates
  4. I laughed. Many times.
    Not every industry shindig seems to have a sense of humor baked into their DNA. But IBPA does. Have you ever been to a trade show and engaged in a group sing-a-long with every attendee in the Marriott Hotel ballroom? Let me assure you that it is a fun experience. And you will have that experience at IBPA.

Are you thinking about attending IBPA in 2020? I’d love to see you there!

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about it!