The Independent Book Publisher Association (IBPA), which recently celebrated its fortieth anniversary, chose a resort and spa nestled on beautiful Coronado Island, located just across the bay from downtown San Diego, as the landscape for its 2023 Publishing University conference. With catered meals, complimentary drinks, and first-class hospitality, the resort was the perfect location for an already memorable event.
Thrilled about attending the conference for the very first time as a new IBPA member, I registered as an author-publisher to learn valuable industry information, as well as to network and learn directly from industry experts. I hoped the experience would provide access to resources, tools, and content geared toward independent publishers.
The conference delivered in more ways than I anticipated.
Not only were emerging industry trends and best practices presented, but the overall themes of the conference also showcased IBPA’s commitment to support publishers at all status levels. Attendees ranged in experience from having just started a publishing company to having published books for over fifty years. There was also a central theme at the event of supporting publishers representing marginalized communities.
Independent publishers’ conferences provide access to valuable insight on trends and best practices and, often, clarity for authors and publishers on how to navigate independent publishing more effectively. The IBPA Publishing University 2023 Scholarship helped cover conference registration fees for some individuals who needed assistance with growing their publishing programs. The base cost of the conference was $495 for IBPA members and $595 for non-members. Add-ons such as access to pre-conference events, private networking events, and the book awards ceremony ranged from $60 to $95 extra.
What is IBPA?
In 1983, fifteen Southern California indie publishers founded the Publishers Association of Southern California (PASCAL) to assist independent publishers with national marketing initiatives. In 2008, the organization was renamed the Independent Book Publishers Association, or IBPA. Today, IBPA offers low-cost cooperative marketing programs for small indie publishing companies by providing access to education, community, and high-valued publishing resources.
This year’s IBPA Publishing University conference took place May 4–6 and featured keynote speeches from a heavyweight roster of publishing trailblazers, along with innovative breakout sessions and ignite talks. On Thursday, attendees who wanted a deeper analysis of specific publishing topics could participate in four half-day pre-conference workshops. The workshop topics covered everything authors would want to know about Amazon, starting the publishing journey, making their publishing programs a business, and solutions for sustainability and leveling up their publishing programs.
I attended the Amazon workshop and found the information about Audible, Kindle Unlimited, Goodreads, and Amazon Ads well worth the investment. Each facilitator demonstrated tips for navigating the publishing, marketing, and advertising processes from a publisher’s perspective. They covered how to build a viable online platform, how to create A+ Content on author pages, Amazon store creation, affiliate programs, and must-have details for book listings.
The objectivity of the facilitators regarding the pros and cons of Amazon programs and features gave us the option to decide which features best fit our current budget, needs, and expectations. Afterward, during the Literature and Libations networking event, there was an air of familiarity in the crowd and a happiness to meet one another. The energy was positive and upbeat, and the people I met were friendly, approachable professionals who were eager to learn about my company, my goals, and how they could help me reach them.
Friday, the first official day of the conference, offered guests the chance to attend an optional private networking breakfast. I met with the BIPOC and Marginalized Communities of Color in Publishing group, and during our casual discussion, we shared our visions for our publishing companies, our books, and our marketing strategies for market penetration and growth. We shared tips for setting up a vendor table, the best types of vending events to target, and how powerful it can be to partner with other small publishers to build audiences.
After attending a first-timer’s orientation and enjoying a catered lunch, we were welcomed by IBPA’s new CEO, Andrea Fleck-Nisbet, and listened to a panel discussion with Rebekah “Bex” Borucki, of Row House Publishing, and Arthur A. Levine, of Levine Querido and formerly of the Arthur A. Levine Books Scholastic imprint. They each touched on the value of equality and inclusivity of diverse writers in responsible publishing. This was followed by breakout sessions for publishers at all levels of experience and prescheduled one-on-ones with publishing experts to ask specific questions.
Panel discussion topics ranged from diversity and anti-racism in publishing, and obstacles facing marginalized publishing professionals, to the future of AI in publishing. IBPA provided recordings of all sessions to conference registrants after the event.
Industry professionals representing IngramSpark and IBPA, along with many other publishing and distribution organizations, were also accessible to answer questions and offer personal support throughout the conference.
In addition to the takeaways from the experience as a whole, each day of the event involved memorable moments for attendees to carry home with them. On Friday evening, I attended an optional dinner for the thirty-fifth annual IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards Ceremony. Publishers and their authors were celebrated by the entire ballroom as organizers announced and distributed book awards in several categories. One of my favorite moments was watching each publisher accept an award and give a speech on the inspiration behind the book and the author’s journey.
Saturday morning was the Legends of Black Independent Publishing panel, moderated by Troy Johnson (African American Literature Book Club), which showcased the powerful stories of W. Paul Coates (Black Classic Press and BCP Digital Printing), Dr. Haki Madhubuti (Third World Press Foundation), Kassahun Checole (Africa World Press and Red Sea Press), Wade Hudson (Just Us Books), and Cheryl Hudson (Just Us Books). This legendary group of Black publishers shared stories of encountering blatant opposition, exclusion, and adversity during their journeys toward building successful publishing houses. The group’s backstories spanned decades, and showcased how their challenges spurred their determination to create platforms for the stories of the African diaspora, as well as to diversify the publishing landscape and give back to their communities. This powerful event was the most talked about by attendees by far, with common takeaways being the importance of community and a respect for the courage and diligence it took this group to persevere and remain fully committed to their purpose.
The panel also featured a surprise guest: Walter Mosley, who worked with Coates to publish one of his novels and has written for the popular television series The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey. Mosley shared a few words with the audience and received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Last but not least, at the close of the event, IBPA announced the launch of a program for independent publishers from marginalized communities called the “Innovative Voices Program.” The program will aim to provide a solid means for publishers from marginalized communities to gain the access, knowledge, and tools needed to succeed in ways that they haven’t been able to or allowed to in the past. According to the IBPA website, the first group of five publishers will begin the yearlong program on August 1, 2023, and graduate at the end of July 2024. To learn more about eligibility requirements and to apply for the program, visit https://ibpa-online.org/page/InnovativeVoicesProgram/. The application deadline is June 30, 2023.
The announcement was a satisfying end to a dynamic conference. I left with valuable new industry contacts, a to-do list for improvements to my publishing and author platforms, and renewed motivation after watching indie authors win awards and gain recognition by heavyweights in the industry.
Publisher’s University is a lively, information- and inspiration-packed event for authors and independent publishing houses looking for opportunities to connect with other publishers, gain access to major distributors and service providers, and keep on top of what’s new in the ever-changing publishing landscape. Dates for future events have not yet been announced, but those interested can watch for updates via IBPA’s website, https://publishinguniversity.org/, or the group’s newsletter.