Making the decision to self-publish your book can be nerve-wracking. How do you go about ensuring the manuscript is error free? What do you do about cover design and eBook format? How exactly do you obtain an ISBN and get your final product into stores?
Fortunately, Publishing University – an annual conference put on by the Independent Book Publishers Association – has answers to all of these questions and so many more. The three-day event gathers industry experts together with authors for workshops and panels, keynotes and social events with the goals of demystifying the self-publishing process and building a community dedicated to helping one another succeed.
It’s an annual event, held in a different city each year. In 2021, the event takes place in Orlando, Florida, and will likely include remote offerings as well.
What you’ll learn at IBPA Publishing University
The event kicks off with a panel on how new attendees can get the most out of their conference experience. Events throughout the three days are labeled by introductory, intermediate, and advanced level to help participants plan out a schedule that works for their particular needs in any given year.
Attendees can take workshops on how to build an audience for your work, how to obtain and leverage book reviews, how to work with a book designer, do your own public relations and marketing, how to get your book into libraries, how to record and market your audiobook, and how to grow and manage a micro-publishing business.
Past workshops include “Forget Amazon: How to 10x Your Book Sales Online,” “Using Online Data and Analysis Tools to Help Grow Your Business,” “The Latino Market: Understanding the Fastest Growing Market in the USA,” “Selling into Niche Markets,” and “How to Work a Bookstore: The Ins and Outs of Making a Profitable Appearance.”
Preconference workshops for an additional fee take deep dives into various topics related to self-publishing like “Branding for Publishers and Authors: Strategies and Tools to Build your Imprint and Market and Sell Books.” During the conference, participants can register for 15-minute consultations with industry experts and get personalized information on specific elements of self-publishing.
Conference staff build in plenty of time for socializing, as well – along with a cocktail reception and after-hours hangouts, participants can take advantage of events such as sightseeing cruises and yoga/meditation classes…even, on occasion, stand-up paddleboarding lessons.
Every year, featured presenters at Publishing University include CEOs and publishers, creative directors and marketing managers, book designers, and digital production specialists. Past keynotes include Sourcebooks publisher Dominique Raccah, former Apple employee and tech company founder Guy Kawasaki, How to Succeed in College (and Life) author Daniel Lerner, and publishing industry expert Jane Friedman.
“We try always to offer fresh new keynotes and other speakers,” Conference Director Terry Nathan says. That said, a few familiar faces appear each year. One of them is attorney Jonathan Kirsch. Nathan notes that he presents the legal sessions and “breaks down the issues in a way that we can all understand.”
Another frequent speaker is Brooke Warner, publisher at She Writes Press. “She created a hybrid model that makes a lot of sense,” Nathan says. “Authors are investing financially in their publishing, but they’re doing it with a company that makes sure the book is put out there in the best form possible. She’s at the cutting edge of the business.”
Advice for first-time attendees
Visit the Publishing University’s website to register for regular updates regarding the event, and join IBPA’s Facebook group for further information and to network with other attendees. “We’re still one of those old-school places that picks up the phone,” Nathan says. “Reach out to us in advance of the conference or on site. We’re happy to help guide people to the right sessions so that you get the most out of the conference.”
He advises first-timers to chat up other attendees and not to be worried about asking questions. “Our group is so giving,” he says. “We’re such a collegial and friendly community. Put yourself out there, even if it’s a little uncomfortable. You’ll get so much more out of the program.
Bring business cards and prepare to take copious notes. Nathan says it’s not unusual to leave the conference with a sense of overwhelm. “The only complaint we receive is that people leave with too much good information,” he explains. “They don’t know how they’re going to get it all done.”
His favorite part of the conference is the final session, in which all attendees gather in a room and pass the microphone around, and people share what they’ve learned during the event. “It’s like a big kumbaya,” Nathan says. “Everyone’s exhausted, mentally drained, but they’re feeling good, and there’s so much love. It’s the best part of the event.”
IBPA Publishing University at a glance
Dates: April 8-10, 2021
Cost: From $195
Location: Orlando, Florida
Contact: Conference Director Terry Nathan at
Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019). Twitter/Instagram: @WildMelissaHart.