Insights for Australian writers and self-publishers from SPN Independent Publishing Conference 2021

Insights for Australian writers and self-publishers from SPN Independent Publishing Conference 2021

November 28, 2021

A great writing and publishing conference can improve our knowledge, professionalism, expand our connections and also recharge us.

I loved virtually attending the Small Press Network’s (SPN) Independent Publishing Conference 2021 because over the course of three days, not only was I able to immerse myself in facts, the latest figures, fierce intellects, and some fabulous presenters, but I was able to do it while also achieving other things that just had to get done in the real world including working on the companion workbook for Look – It’s Your Book, oiling a very thirsty timber house and doing plenty of caring!

If you’re interested in writing or publishing a book (whether it be a business book, memoir, how-to or other non-fiction title), here are some of my takeaways from the conference.

Writing and publishing a book is not the hard part for Australian authors, the hard part is planning your book to solve problems for your ideal readers … and then reaching them through smart, concerted marketing efforts. Why? Debbie Lee from IngramSpark revealed that there were more than 4 million titles booksellers could choose from Ingram’s catalogue in Australia alone.

Metadata matters! The presentation by the Nielsen IQ team revealed that books with all 5 descriptive metadata elements filled in sold approximately 3x more copies than those without. (I have a whole section on metadata in Look – It’s Your Book!

Though self-publishing enables us to publish much faster than traditional publishers, we still need time to build a market for our books. According to Nielsen, sending in a placeholder cover, metadata and a guesstimate of size/weight for your book 6 months in advance is ideal. Then come back and update it with the correct data as soon as you have it.

When writing your book, remember it’s not just about you. “Making books is about making culture.” – Terri-ann White, Publisher, Upswell.

If you want to write, read. It will help you be a better writer, but it will also help support the industry that you want to be a part of. “There are armies of writers completing manuscripts all around Australia every day. We need writers who are voracious readers.” – Terri-ann White, Publisher, Upswell

It’s not just what you write, but how you publish. How can you reduce the impact of your book on the planet? Is a short run POD print more environmentally friendly than a larger but more economical print run that may end up becoming waste? More importantly, how does your subject improve the world? Selena from Stelliform Press gave a great presentation about her earth-focused publishing house.

Audiobooks are going from strength to strength, and though costs of production hover between $2,000 – $8,000, cheaper AI narration is also on the horizon, though it won’t likely have the character or nuance of an author or narrator reading. Zack Sander-Kerr from Kobo Writing Life revealed the latest stats (from APA Sales Survey 2020) including how audiobooks are listened to: 84% listen on a smartphone. 59% in their car. 55% on their desktop and 39% on smart speaker. While Edison Research’s ‘Share of Ear’ report notes that overall share of time spent listening to audiobooks has grown by 60% since 2017. I cover off the ups and downs of audiobooks in “Look – It’s Your Book” which is out February 2022.

There were so many other great sessions at the conference, including Anita Heiss who gave a remarkable keynote Sovereignty through storytelling: The future of First Nations publishing. And Laura Jean Mackay, author of The Animals in That Country presentation made me want to run to the beach to look for a dog mermaid.

So much to digest!

And yes, if you’re an Australian writer planning to self-publish, it might be worth your while signing up for a membership with Small Press Network (SPN). I’ve found it offers great value, from discounted access to professional learning opportunities through to the discount codes for IngramSpark uploads and revisions. It’s also great to be in a body that represents the small, independent publishing industry.