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.

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