Self-Publishing Book Expo Opens Window Into Publishing World

November 8, 2009 Updated: November 8, 2009

NEW YORK—The first annual self-publishing book expo in Manhattan drew a small but quality crowd of about 200 people at the midtown Sheraton Hotel last Saturday. They included industry professionals, the general public, as well as published and potential authors. The expo featured 55 exhibitors and 12 panels, lectures, and discussions on the art of self-publishing and marketing self-published books.

A number of exhibitors were companies that print books for authors who want to go outside of the traditional method of working with an established publishing house. Some self-publishing printers do printing runs as small as 100 books at a time, according to what the author wants to buy and then self-market and sell. 

One printer, King Printing Company, says the success of its authors varies depending on several factors—topic, skill, and the amount of work the author puts into promoting and selling the book. 

“You get a lot of people who say, ‘I’m going to be the next Grisham,’” said Tom Campbell, senior vice president of Sales for King Printing, who tries to help ground an author’s grandiose schemes for making it big. “You’ve got to help people understand the publishing business.”

Most self-publishing printers recommend that their authors personally spread the word about their book by finding and selling to relevant audiences.

“There isn’t a single publisher out there who knows what the public is going to like,” said Mr. Campbell. To date, King Printing’s most successful book is a memoir about the Vietnam War titled “Vietnam No Regrets.” The title has sold over 10,000 copies in the last four years through the efforts of the author. 

In the world of self-publishing, or open publishing as some in the industry prefer to call it, finding a book’s audience is key. But according to Mr. Campbell, who has been in the business since 1999, it takes hard work and savvy about your intended audience. 

Authors who have gone through the fire of self-publishing can attest to the fact that marketing and selling their work is a challenge.

“It’s not easy,” said Iris Burnett, an expo attendee and self-published author. Burnett has been relatively successful in part due to her background in public relations and communications and having good connections. “I think you just get on the web and pursue them [readers] relentlessly, even if you don’t have a public relations background like I do.”

Ms. Burnett put out “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles” cookbook as a companion to a DVD she created from family home videos. The video and the companion cookbook detail her family history of Passover. 

Another publisher, Lulu, doesn’t even print a book until it’s been ordered by someone from its Web site. Authors can upload their manuscript for free to Lulu’s Web site, and if it sells, the author gets 80 percent of the profit after printing costs. The on-demand system lends itself well to the age of Internet marketing and social networking.

Internet or not, Lulu’s approach and concept are based on the idea that personal connections sell books. The connections encourage their authors to be active in online communities that might be interested in reading their manuscript’s subject matter. 

Lulu founder and CEO Bob Young says the advice to use online social networking has good reasons behind it that are actually quite traditional.

“The primary reason people buy a book is because it was recommended to them,” said Mr. Young, who adds that people have varying interests, and with on-demand publishing like Lulu, as long as the author publicizes the title, it has a chance at selling. 

“In a free market economy, we tend to do things we get paid for,” said Mr. Young, who says a lot of knowledge and information will never get produced into a book for this very reason. “Lulu is trying to create a marketplace where authors get paid for what they do.”