Friday, June 06, 2014

A Visit to BEA 2014's UPublishU

 Posted by Michael Capobianco for Writer Beware


For the last several years, as part of an effort to include self-published and “indie” authors, the annual BookExpo America has included a program called UPublishU.

While attending something like this is not something I’d ordinarily be interested in, scammers of various stripes have used BEA to add a veneer of legitimacy to their services, and this program appeared ripe for this sort of thing. So Victoria and I decided that I would sign up and attend as many of the programs as possible. The cost ($115 before a certain date, $215 after) seemed a little high, but it was all in the interest of Writer Beware.

I also figured if uPublishU turned out to be everything it promised, I might pick up a few interesting tips and tidbits. I am the de facto publisher of A.C. Crispin’s StarBridge books, and recently went through the process of publishing her last book, Time Horse, so I think I probably am in the demographic they are trying to reach.

I got there a little late, and the location and lack of signage concerning UpublishU made me even later. It was tucked into a far corner of the cavernous Javits Center, and I swear that it was almost as if the Powers That Be at BEA were trying to hide it. I finally found it after following directions to “go through the Food Court.”

Unfortunately, I missed most of the first panels, so I had time to make a circuit of the closely packed tables housing the “sponsors” of the event. Most I didn’t recognize, although some--Nook, Kobo, Lulu--I was familiar with. I noticed Mark Coker at the Smashwords table, but he was running off to speak, so I didn’t get a chance to talk to him then. Notably missing was Amazon.

It’s easy to make fun of the names of many of these companies: Nook, Vook, Bookbaby , Bibliocrunch, Pubslush, and my favorite, Bublish. (Why not Publicious? Xook? Booklish? Boopuck? I could go on, but probably you get the idea.)

There were three tracks of programming, but none of the titles seemed all that intriguing. I picked the program items that seemed most specific. What I got, for the most part, was sponsors doing subtle and not-so-subtle advertising for their products. Example: a gentleman from Bowker strongly suggesting that authors should purchase their ISBN’s directly from Bowker or else they wouldn’t have complete control over their metadata. Not mentioning, of course, how buying a few ISBN’s at a time is extremely uneconomical. I can’t say for sure that the panels I didn’t attend were as uninformative as the ones I did, but I think it’s safe to say that no one was revealing any secret handshakes or other ways to get rich quick as an indie author.

Was there encouragement and congratulations for those who were smart enough to “become their own CEO?” Yes, more than a little. This culminated with the keynote speaker, publicist and consultant Cyndi Ratzlaff, whose presentation was titled, appropriately, “Brand YOU: Creating a Rock Star Personal Brand for You and Your Books.” Unfortunately, this presentation was also lunch, so I listened for nearly an hour to a rah-rah speech that boiled down to “be on lots of social media services,” “post a lot,” and “be yourself, only better.” I did eventually leave after I had finished my ham sandwich, potato chips, and cookie, even though the presentation wasn’t quite over; so there might have been something else more valuable at the end (but I doubt it.) Ms. Ratzlaff’s presentation left me feeling that the UPublishU organizers had exceptionally low opinions of the authors who had signed up.

So were there any shady businesses there? I missed it the first and second time around, but eventually I realized that Archway Publishing was, in fact, one of the many “imprints” of Author Solutions. Interestingly, Archway’s rep, Keith Ogorek, recognized my name and I recognized his, since he had interacted with Victoria and me a number of years ago. Keith is Senior Vice President, Marketing for Author Solutions. CrossBooks, another imprint associated with Author Solutions, also had a table.

Fortunately, the Alliance of Independent Authors also had a table, and they were debuting a valuable guidebook titled Choosing a Self-Publishing Service. (Disclaimer: Victoria wrote the Introduction for the book.) We’re discussing hosting a SFWA/Writer Beware table at UPublishU next year. There’s no question that it’s needed.

Toward the end of the day, BookCon, another program of BEA that allowed readers to attend panels of their favorite authors, overwhelmed the space devoted to UPublishU. The hallway was packed with BookCon attendees, which at times made it difficult to even get to the exhibitor tables. Although there were certainly some good services represented there, it was probably just as well.

14 comments:

Deb Salisbury said...

Thank you for the review. I'd wondered if anything useful would be presented at UPublishU.

Frances Grimble said...

Most self-publishers with some experience advocate buying your own ISBNs directly from Bowker, because whoever buys the ISBNs is the publisher of record. If you have your own publishing house, you don't want another publisher (typically a vanity press or a gray-area self-publishing service) to be the publisher of record. This causes confusion and lessens the chance of reviews--no reputable publication really wants to review books from CreateSpace, Author House, and so forth. It is true that ISBNs were free when I started publishing over 20 years ago, and now Bowker is taking advantage of their monopoly to charge up the wazoo. I just bite the bullet and pay them.

Sharon Stogner said...

Thanks for the info. I am a freelance editor and work with a lot of self pub authors. They are always asking questions about the industry and I like to be as informed as possible. I will be sharing this post with them. There are so many ways to take advantage of self pubs especially the new ones. Big shout out of thanks for what you do :)

Steph from fangswandsandfairydust.com said...

I went to BEA 2x and was surprised over and over by the degree of disorganization is almost every aspect. So I am not surprised there were no signs and I am amazed you were able to find it at all.

Frances Grimble said...

I went to ABA many years ago when it was held here in San Francisco, before it was BEA and before there was any Pub-U. (Though even then, the self-publishers' "booths" were cafeteria tables in an almost invisible location.) Going to BEA once or twice is an incredible way to get a look at the American book industry and be awed by its sheer size. From the many accounts people have given in Yahoo's Self-Pub group, I've always thought that Pub-U was much too lightweight to be of any use to a publisher with any experience. BUT, there are many who have no experience and who say they find it useful. Many self-publishers also feel like industry underdogs. My-husband-the-scarcastic-geek says going to BEA makes them feel like real publishers, and there is some truth to that. I don't need that emotional validation but many people seem to. They also like meeting up with other self-publishers they have met online and exchanging ideas, just like any other conference. Bottom line, I don't think Pub-U is of any use and I'm not flying to New York to attend BEA, but many self-publishers do like it all and feel it's worth the money.

Victoria Noe said...

I certainly agree about the signage and the crowds at BEA's uPublishU.

I'm sorry you didn't make it to our panel on building an author platform. Two of the four on the panel were authors (I was one). It was a wide-ranging discussion that was mostly questions from the audience.

The three tracks at uPub were meant to allow those who were just starting as well as those with a little experience, to get information specific to their level.

The fact that 300 people were there to learn the business side of self-publishing was great. There are lots of scams out there and meeting people in person, sharing information, asking questions are the best ways to weed out the bad guys (in addition to following Writer Beware). In fact, we referred people to WB before they signed up for any service.

Michael Capobianco said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michael Capobianco said...

I'm sorry I missed that panel, Victoria N. I was choosing panels that appeared to be aimed at self-publishers with some experience, and that may have been a mistake.

The main problem was that the program was mostly being sponsored by companies that charge self-published authors for unnecessary services. The panels should have been warning writers against using these services, not plugging them. I'm glad to hear that you recommended Writer Beware.

Author Solutions shouldn't have been allowed to have two booths at UPublishU and the self-published authors who were on the program this year should tell them that.

Frances Grimble said...

By the way, here is the 2014 edition of micropublisher Alan Canton's annual BEA blog: http://asaturdayrant.blogspot.com/2014/06/bea-diary-2014.html

David Ruiz del VIzo said...

This was the 4th time I attended BEA and because signage has been a consistent problem every year, it's easy to be overcome with fatigue as you go from booth to booth, discussion to discussion....pretty soon you become disoriented and say "yes" to just about anything you might not be familiar with. As most everyone here probably knows, a well thought out scam can be made to sound legit and great. And when you're tired, it seems great even more so. I would suggest that before you go to BEA, do some research on the publishers and companies you want to contact at BEA rather than deciding right there where to go next.

Robert said...

I've spent the past couple of years following this blog and Writer Beware. They saved my hide more than once. I almost sent money to a vanity publisher and almost got taken in by an agent who claimed that she had a list of publishers who were "clamoring" for the type of book I had written. All I had to do was send her just over two thousand dollars and she would make sure that the "right people" would see my work outbid each other to sign me. Thanks to the info provided here, I held onto my money. Now I've reached the following conclusions:
1. Fee charging agents and publishers are dirtbags.
2. With free online publishing like Kindle, authors can publish, do their own advertising and cut out the middle man. That's the road I'll follow. I'll never use an agent, but I will hire an editor.

Frances Grimble said...

Robert, what you are overlooking is that when you publish via Kindle, you do not omit a fee-charging publisher. Amazon is your publisher. And with a contract they can change at will.

Anonymous said...

What????? No comment about the child molestation conviction of an SFWA member who worked with Neil Gaiman???
You'd rather spread fictitious lies about people's college degrees being fake, I guess.

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous, a hint for future trolling: a lie is by definition fictitious. You're welcome.