Independent Publishing Conference 2019

Last weekend I was lucky to have the chance to volunteer at this year’s Independent Publishing Conference, run by the Small Press Network.

The conference was held to discuss all things books, publishing and writing, running from 21st – 23rd November at the Wheeler Centre in the city.

I’m always excited to set foot in the Wheeler Centre, as it’s almost like the Disneyland of writers’ organisations – home to Writers Victoria, the Melbourne Writers Festival, Express Media, Small Press Network and the Emerging Writers’ Festival.

Volunteering at the conference was not only a great chance to help out, but also just to observe, learn, and soak up as much information as possible, take everything in.

State of the Industry

My first volunteer shift/session I attended was State of the Industry, which was actually the final session for Friday’s ‘Trade Day’.

Image – Small Press Network Facebook page

Present were speakers Robbie Egan (Australian Booksellers Association), Olivia Lanchester (Australian Society of Authors) and Nathan Hollier (Melbourne University Publishing, Australian Publishers Association) – and the session was chaired by Michael Webster (Small Press Network, RMIT).

The group discussed current changes and innovations within the book industry, such as e-books, self-publishing and print on demand through groups such as IngramSpark.

They also spoke about challenges faced by the book industry – such as competition posed to booksellers, by chains like Big W, in driving book prices/ value down. There will always be a place for bookshops, though, as they provide the kind of personalised, wholesome environment and experience that chain stores cannot.

‘If I’m in Big W I’m not having a good day,’ noted Nathan Hollier.

The group then spoke about how the rise of digital media, and the constant bombardment of information, has contributed to the rise in anxiety and mental health issues – and how the sensory experience of a printed book is the perfect balm to that.

Following the session, the day concluded with a book launch for the sixth edition of How to Market Books (written by Alison Baverstock and Susannah Bowen).

Afterwards I went and sat by the Yarra River at Southbank, watching the riverboats go by.

Fundamentals of Publishing

I was back again the next day for my second shift of the conference – which I was really excited about, as Saturday’s program was jam-packed with some awesome sessions.

I arrived during Bookshops and Events, in which booksellers Meera Govil (Eltham Bookshop), Jaclyn Crupi (Hill of Content) and Mary Dalmau (chair) discussed the benefits of using local bookshops as spaces for events, book launches, festivals, author readings, storytime sessions etc.

Not only are local bookshops magical places, but they’re also incredibly important in terms of fostering connection, building community and sparking a love of reading in children, pathing the way for generations to come.

The midday Keynote Address was given by Malcolm Neil, former CEO of the Australian Booksellers Association and chair of Overland – who also spoke about changes within the industry and expansion of the book market throughout Australia, New Zealand and South-east Asia.

After lunch, there was a really cool session on Cover Design with Sandy Cull from Penguin Australia. Sandy spoke about how important it is to get the cover just right. Not only does it set the tone and first impression for your story, but it’s also the first thing that will grab your reader in the bookshop (and potentially make or break their decision as to whether they’ll buy the book).

She spoke about the lengths she’s gone to to create the perfect cover – spending weeks and hours imagining how to best represent, encapsulate your story through one image – but also even driving as far as Phillip Island to take the perfect shot herself, or hitting the local op shop to smash up teacups and other ceramics! You are only ever limited by your imagination; and to hear Sandy speak about her passion for what she does was incredibly inspiring.

The last session I sat in on for the day was Websites and Social Media up in the Wheeler Centre’s workshop space, ready to brainstorm all things digital.

The session was chaired by Phil Crowley (Small Press Network), who asked the speakers how they utilised web and social media to connect and engage with their audiences.

Present were George Dunford from ArtsHub, author Sue Ellson, and Connor O’Brien from Studio Sometimes, who specialises in setting up websites for literary organisations such as Express Media, The Stella Prize and The Wheeler Centre.

It was a really interesting session with a lot of ideas on how to connect in the ever-evolving world of digital media.

I walked away having learnt a lot from being at the conference, having my horizons expanded and a lot of new ideas opening things up. It’s always a great experience to volunteer at these kinds of events and learn new things.

Learn more about the Small Press Network, the Wheeler Centre and the incredible work they both do.