Ether Exclusive: Charleston’s PubSmart Joins Conference Row

14 November 2013 Battery iStock_000028171732XSmall photog bcunninghamsc texted story image

Table of Contents

  1. More Than Southern Hospitality
  2. What It Will Cost You
  3. Who’s Involved
  4. What’s Planned
  5. Why Small Publishers
  6. Springtime for Conferences

More Than Southern Hospitality

1. PubSmart_logoCHARLESTON, South Carolina, November 15, 2013– PubSmart 2014: Emerging Authors, Emerging Avenues, being staged at the Francis Marion Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina, April 16-18, 2014, will feature a keynote breakfast with publisher Jane Friedman and keynote luncheon with author Hugh Howey.

To a Charlestonian like me, Francis Marion is better known by his nom de guerre, the “Swamp Fox.”  Marion would get that sly nickname in the Revolutionary War for leading his men in early forms of guerrilla warfare against the British.

I’ve always thought that given a few more weeks, our Lowcountry mosquitoes could have handled the Redcoats without help. But the Swamp Fox is credited with assisting the bugs in terrorizing the forces of the Crown.

The Francis Marion Hotel, an icon in Charleston at the corner of Calhoun and King, reaches its 90th year of operation in 2014.
The Francis Marion Hotel, an icon in Charleston at the corner of Calhoun and King, reaches its 90th year of operation in 2014.

Those who don’t know Carolinian history can easily assume that the Roaring Twenties-born Francis Marion Hotel is named for a figure in the War of Northern Aggression. After all, Charleston is the seat of the Confederacy.

Likewise, it can seem hard to find a hotel these days that doesn’t have a publishing or writers’ conference installed in its ballroom. If you factor in regional events and include trade shows, seminars, retreats, and workshops, our conferences can all start to look alike. Pretty soon, it’s a whole world of box lunches.

But not quite:

PubSmart is about the business of publishing in a quickly changing book marketplace. It’s about helping emerging authors and small publishers make the smartest decisions based on the latest opportunities and information.

See the phrase I’ve underlined? “Emerging authors and small publishers.”

On the whole, our conferences are either industry-facing or writer-facing. Sure, sure, sure, you can call entrepreneurial authors “small publishers” if you want to. But if, in fact, we take this phrasing at its word, this new addition to the archipelago of conferences stretching from one end of a year to the other has an important and welcome distinction to offer.

PubSmart may be creating something we’ve needed to see much more of: a conference in which not only business-conscious authors but also smaller publishing companies can start doing the logical networking they’ve needed: with each other.

The assembled faculty has been chosen not only for their expertise in their respective fields – agents, editors, publishers, publicists, attorneys, association presidents and author services CEOs – but for their generosity of spirit as well.

I arranged with Kathy Meis and her associates producing PubSmart 2014 (hashtag #PubSmartCon, Twitter handle @PubSmartCon) to announce the debut of this new confab exclusively on the Ether not only because it’s set in the Holy City but also because I believe its organization brings into relief some of the things we need to see happening in more conferences.

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What It Will Cost You

Let me give you the technical details on PubSmart first, quickly.

  • Tickets for the event go on sale tomorrow, Friday, November 15.
  • There’s a $50 early-bird advantage in buying before February 1.
  • You’re also welcome to use my discount code PS14PA30 to save $30.  It’s easy to remember: PS (PubSmart), 14 (2014), PA (Porter Anderson), and 30 (my age).
  • A “VIP Package” including master classes, the conference, videos of regular sessions, preferred seating with faculty members at brunch: $445 now, $495 after February 1.
  • A basic package including the conference events and videos of regular sessions: $345 now, $395 after February 1.
  • Add-on master classes are $50 for one, $90 for two now; $65 for one, $110 for two after February 1.
  • The faculty brunch as an add-on (you sit with the instructor of your choice) is $50. Guest passes are available, as well.

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Who’s Involved

Needless to say, it’s an azalea-lover’s dream to have a reason to hie oneself to mid-April Charleston, where the Ashley and the Cooper Rivers meet to form the great Atlantic Ocean. I’ll be shoving everyone into horse-drawn carriages from Anson Street to tour the antebellum historic district south of Broad Street.

But once you’re back from Battery Park and the sweet grass weavers on Meeting Street, I think you’ll find an interesting assortment of movers and shakers at the Swamp Fox’s namesake hotel.

If this new conference is any indication, the strategy in these things is shifting—subtly, not outlandishly, and in the right direction.

Porter Anderson,, Writingon the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, Jane Friedman, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, Publishing Perspectives, The Bookseller, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing
Jane Friedman

Start with the two keynoters mentioned in the opening.  We can hardly do better.

There’s Ether host Jane Friedman, the opening keynote speaker.

Friedman is currently doing great things at VQR as its digital czarina. She’s formerly the publisher of Writer’s Digest, and has recently launched Scratch Magazine because she has so much extra time on her hands,

Notre Dame poses with Hugh Howey.
Notre Dame sneaks into a shot with Hugh Howey.

And there’s the shockingly productive Hugh Howey, who’ll give the luncheon keynote.

This is a homecoming for Howey, as it is for me. He worked in a bookstore there, went to the College of Charleston, and his mother and sister live there.

Howey has a NaNoWriMo effort under way called SAND, even as he continues tearing across the Continent on his WOOL World Tour, throwing off great photos and thoughtful POV posts on the industry every time he catches a wi-fi connection.

Yes. We’re in the age of multiple keynotes. That one got away from us before we caught it.

One of my favorite industry-facing confabs, the very pink FutureBook in London a week from today, November 21 has a trio of keynote speakers, all excellent: Brad Stone, author of The Everything Store; Seni Glaister of The Book People; and Charlie Redmayne, now of HarperCollins UK, formerly architect of Pottermore. I’ll be doing full live coverage, hashed #fbook13, join us.

FutureBook Conference 3(Update: Londoners, you have through Sunday to book seats, registration is being held open by The Bookseller for the weekend.)

But look further at the PubSmart roster of speakers. Will Murphy and Tracy Bernstein from Penguin Random House; Chuck Adams of Algonquin Books; Robin Cutler of IngramSpark; David Symonds of CreateSpace; Christine Munroe of Kobo Writing Life; Tarah Theoret of NetGalley; Orna Ross of the UK-based Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi); Miral Sattar of BibiloCrunch; Amanda Barbara of Pubslush; agents Jeff Kleinman of Folio and Brandi Bowles of Foundry; Angela Bole of IBPA, Hope Clark of Funds for Writers, and attorney Anne Dalton.

There are more and the list is growing. But consider that this is an unusually articulate mix of regional, national, and international speakers and presenters. We don’t see some of these faces on every conference bus (not that we don’t love the gang, mind you).

There’s a range and reach on this developing lineup that helps explain some of the direction the programming is taking.

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What’s Planned

True, we’re still seeing this problem of unnecessary word invention in some of these settings. I’ve spotted “authorpreneurship” on Charleston’s menu of sessions.  (And “co-opetition” came up again recently in a post by a colleague who really needs no such cute formations to say something much more interesting, such as “collaborative” or “cooperative competition.”)

We’ll forgive them, Ethernauts, because even “she-crab” soup is as cute a name as it is a gratifying concoction.

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More important, look at some of these session topics planned for PubSmart:

Acquisition Editors: What’s the Next Big Read? (Ask them if you should write to trends, let’s see what they say.)

Entrepreneurial Authors (you can guess which non-word I just dodged): From Cost-Planning to Funding to Reinvestment. (Have you seen the idea of reinvestment tagged on conference sessions for writers? In fact, have you seen the question of planning out costs come front and center?)

Distribution Basics: The Churning Channels of Print and Digital Delivery. (If there’s one area in which authors seem to follow rather than lead, distribution is it. And that’s odd because “digital” is entirely a creature of distribution. That’s how it works on us. That’s what it is. Nice to see it surface here. There’s a master class on the topic, too.)

Literary Agents: From Gatekeepers to Creative Marketers to Publishers. (We can’t revisit this topic enough these days. And in many such sessions, I end up wishing there were as many agents as authors in the seats.)

Foundations of a Bestseller: Creating a Platform for Stellar Sales. (If this one is truly pitched toward planned bestseller-dom, then we have a fascinating hour in store. That’s a definable goal and mindset. Vetting it would be helpful.)

How to Approach Booksellers and Librarians. (The techniques here are hardly as intuitive as we might wish, and with both bookshops and libraries under major pressures, many authors aren’t being welcomed with open arms, as they expect to be.)

There are more important angles, from personal branding to the cultivation of influencers and the challenge of finding the right editor (another surprisingly tough task for many authors and small publishers at a time when a lot of good editors are available.)

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Why Small Publishers

What becomes clear is that if small publishing companies want to get into this round of sessions, they’re going to (a) hear some of the more pointed communications aimed at writers, and (b) they’re going to be able to assess their own places in a marketplace teeming with wannabes who are frequently without this kind of information.

Imagine trying to evaluate how professionally aware an unknown writer is these days, when everyone including the members of your immediate family are presenting themselves as “authors.” This is what small publishers have to do every day in selecting their risks. It’s a swamp out there.

Networking with authors who care enough to come out of the jungle and expose themselves to this kind of focus can only help. Learning here what those authors should know can only help more.

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Springtime for Conferences

The digital dynamic has been good to the conference game.

The more publishing grapples with (or resists) change, the more players in every aspect of the field can be drawn to conferences. Everybody wants answers. Everybody wants perspective. Everybody wants an early warning,

An increasing part of my own work these days involves both conference programming and coverage. And this gives me a chance to see a great many of these events in operation. I’m also fed a steady stream of information by helpful sources and colleagues about conferences I may not be seeing first-hand. Quite a number of folks shoot me notes with their opinions on the strengths and weaknesses of gatherings they’re attending.

I’m glad to say that I’ll be on the PubSmart program, myself, team-teaching a master class on media and messaging; a panel on discoverability; and on the faculty brunch lineup, along with live coverage of everything that moves, of course.

Image: iStockphoto - idowse
Live oaks on the Charleston Battery. Image: iStockphoto – idowse

Conferences, even in more stable times (remember those?), are especially good for aligning industry messages; testing where shifting ideas have reshaped one or another element of the landscape.

It’s at conferences that the industry! the industry! talks to itself. Sometimes it mutters to itself. Frequently it does some braying. Getting into this noise means you’re voicing part of the conversation.

Kindly spare us your Rebel Yell impression, a fabled scare tactic that may well have meant yelling “authorpreneurship!” and “co-opetition!” at the enemy. I’d run away, wouldn’t you?

But consider that the field today is characterized by great, ranging armies of newcomers trampling everything in sight with the “democracy” of self-publishing. We all support their right to write, their prerogative to publish. And yet the better talent needs tactics to get around the yucca and hack through the kudzu.

The most successful operatives in the slush swamp will be the foxes.

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Main image: iStockphoto – BCunninghamSC

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