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Recap of March 2022 Event: Webinar: Accessibility in Ebooks and Other Digital Products

For our March 2022 event, the Minnesota Book Publishers Roundtable hosted Laura Brady, an accessibility expert with 25 years of trade publishing experience. Laura covered the basics of accessibility in eBooks and other digital products.

Laura began by saying, “In an era of thinking inclusively, paying close, thoughtful attention to accessibility in how we publish content is a natural extension of work on diverse voices.” But she cautioned that, “Accessibility is like ice cream—the longer you ignore it, the messier it can get.” She discussed the market, the law, and the principles of accessible design, as well as how to incorporate such design into publishing and how to be an advocate. After her presentation, Laura answered questions about off-the-shelf products for making manuscripts accessible, how to involve people early in the process to produce born-accessible content, the costs of both born-accessible content and making existing materials accessible, and raising consumer and industry awareness.

In the resources area of the MBPR website, members can access the event in a variety of ways: listening to the audio, watching the video, reading the script, and/or viewing Laura’s presentation slides.

Recap of January 2022 Event: Hard Work and a Dream: Publisher Startup Success

For our January 2022 event, the Minnesota Book Publishers Roundtable hosted a panel of Midwestern indie publishers. We talked with the founders of  young, thriving organizations about what it takes to start and grow a new publishing business.

The panel included Mary Taris, teacher-turned-publisher and founder of Strive Publishing, a social enterprise that centers, values, and empowers Black narratives in literature for equity and social justice; Jennifer Baum, founder of Scribe Publishing Company, a traditional small press with national distribution by IPG, and also the executive director of the Midwest Independent Publishers Association; and Sam Van Cook, founder of Button Poetry, the premiere online distributor of performance poetry media worldwide. Moderating the discussion was MBPR board member Paul Nylander.

The three panelists spoke about how small publishers need to constantly reinvent themselves to serve writers and readers—being an engine of innovation or a gateway to underrepresented voices instead of just gatekeepers of content. They also voiced the importance of building a strong team that fits a publishing program’s needs. 

When addressing the challenging early road, all of the publishers agreed that the best way to start in publishing is to dive in. By starting with the goal of finding authors that know how to engage with their audience, a new publisher can begin building a list. Then focusing on building a share of the marketing and engaging the right audience helps a new business grow. Other startup tips: start with print-on-demand to help manage cash flow and consider partnering with a nonprofit organization as a fiscal sponsor to have access to grants.

Members can listen to the full panel discussion exploring the ups and downs of building a successful publishing startup on the resources tab of the MBPR webpage.

Recap of November 2021 Event: Building a Great List: Art, Science, or Both?

This lively panel discussion focused on list building and acquisitions. Three Minnesota-based publishing professionals gave us a peek behind the curtain into how their companies decide what to publish. The panel explored the role data plays in publishers’ strategies, answering questions like: Is data king, or is it more of a suggestion? How is data most helpful in driving acquisitions? And where does data fall short or even lead us astray?

Panelists:

Erika Stevens is the editorial director at Coffee House Press, where she has served in various editorial capacities for a decade. Erika currently acquires poetry, nonfiction, and fiction for Coffee House. Erika was previously in acquisitions at the University of Georgia Press and the University Press of Florida; she started her career in publishing at Duke University Press and UNC Press. She taught in the graduate program in book publishing at Portland State University and in the Sierra Nevada College MFA program. She dabbles in German-to-English translation and has freelanced widely for authors, presses, and nonprofit organizations.

Josh Leventhal is the director of the Minnesota Historical Society Press. He began his career as an editor at Timber Press in Portland, Oregon, in the mid-1990s, and after moving to Minnesota in 2000, he worked for MBI Publishing, Voyageur Press, and an imprint of the Quarto Publishing Group before joining MNHS Press as an acquisitions editor in 2014. Working at large commercial publishers, nonprofit publishers, and small niche publishers in a range of subject areas, Josh has navigated a variety of markets and publishing business models. He is also the author of more than 15 books.

Jenny Krueger is senior publishing director for Lerner Publications in Minneapolis. She has worked in publishing and product development for 15 years, with extensive experience in educational publishing, particularly for the school library and classroom markets. Jenny has developed series, single titles, and database products that serve K–12 learners, including most recently Read WokeTM Books with Cicely Lewis and publishing partnerships with Crayola and Sesame Street.

Recap of September 2021 Event: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Publishing Workplace

Minnesota Book Publishers Roundtable started the 2021–2022 season with a keynote speaker addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). As many of us well know, the publishing industry has long struggled to accurately reflect the diversity of the world and failed to provide a welcoming place for all. Keynote speaker Jennifer Baker, senior editor at Amistad Books, provided a frank reflection of her personal experiences in the industry as well as the efforts of DEI practices as a whole.

In addition to providing a response to unsuccessful band-aid “solutions,” Jennifer offered several steps forward as well as a list of valuable resources, included below.

A Brief History of Diversity Trainings (Fast Company)

The Major Built-in Bias of the Publishing World (Zora)

Diversity Baseline Survey 2.0 (Lee & Low)

Pamela Newkirk Diversity Inc. Conversation (Politics & Prose)

Man Enough podcast w/ guest Alok Vaid Menon

Discussing Barriers of Querying & Pitching for Neurodivergent Writers

New Yorker Editor Finds “Passive Racism” in Archives

New Member Spotlight: Kind World Publishing

Patricia Stockland and her seven-year-old daughter Reese created Kind World Publishing to help
connect the world through stories. Launching in spring 2022, the company will publish thought-
provoking, conversation-starting content that reflects children’s true experiences and emotions.
Stockland has always had aspirations of starting her own company but didn’t make it a reality until a
conversation with her daughter, who crafted the company’s name, made her realize how that work
could help make the world a kinder place.

Stockland states: “Stories can build bridges that help connect our humanity. I realized in listening to
Reese that I had been overcomplicating the decision to start something we all cared about and were
invested in. With Kind World, we want to create a space for conversations, to dig into the power and
outcomes of our actions and words, to share narratives that foster connections.” By empowering
Reese at such a young age to be involved in real-world decisions that can really shape the future,
Stockland hopes to encourage more young entrepreneurs to follow their dreams and to lead with
kindness.

Stockland has had an extensive publishing career coupled with a working mom’s point of view. Prior to
starting Kind World Publishing, she led change and growth initiatives at several MBPR member
companies: as publisher for Capstone, VP and editor in chief for Lerner Publishing Group, and editorial
director for Red Line Editorial, among other roles. She has also authored more than 80 books and
edited and concepted numerous others. Her expertise spans creative work and continual improvement
across operations.

Kind World Publishing will launch with an inaugural list of four titles including two picture books, one
early reader, and one chapter book. The intent of the publishing program is to showcase stories that are
a genuine reflection of humanity—stories that may not have had a chance to be told but are worthy of
being heard. The initial titles will focus on themes of resilience, family, friendships, and joy. Books will
be available in the trade and library markets and distributed by Publishers Group West, an Ingram
Brand.

Stockland plans to incorporate children’s voices and experiences into her company from the start.
Reese’s Read Alouds, a monthly video campaign, will officially launch on May 3, to mark the start of
National Children’s Book Week. Reese will read and explain her favorite children’s books, sharing her
views on why each book is important and how it spreads kindness in the world.

Kind World Publishing is committed to helping start conversations, and to further facilitate that, the
company will create kid-friendly conversation-starter questions and activities for each book.

For more information about Kind World Publishing, visit www.kindworldpublishing.com

Connect with Patricia Stockland on Twitter (@pstockland) and LinkedIn.

Wordplay Book Festival’s Virtual Format Supports Expanded International Program

In a recent conversation with Steph Opitz, the founding director of Wordplay, I learned that book festivals in the time of quarantine have at least one perk—the opportunity to host an abundance of international authors remotely.

“Helen Oyeyemi is one of my favorite authors,” Opitz said. “I’ve never been able to invite her in twelve years of organizing book festivals. Now she can call in.”

The all-virtual Wordplay book festival will be held from May 2-8, 2021. Each day of the free six-day festival will feature three livestream sessions: a morning program focused on children’s and young adult books, an afternoon program focused on international books, and an evening program featuring poets and authors in dialogue. Two happy hours are also planned.

National names like Chelsea Clinton, Dean Koontz, Cheryl Strayed, and Kazuo Ishiguro–plus local writers Kao Kalia Yang, Megan Maynor, and Douglas Kearney–are among the nearly 50 authors to join the third annual festival. (Click here for the complete list.) All featured authors have released a book within a year of the festival.

Opitz’s suggestion for how to approach the event? “Go for the person you’re excited about,” she said. “But be curious about other authors even if you haven’t heard of them. Some of these authors will be up for awards at the end of the year. Or you will catch an author at the beginning of their career and when they’re a big name ten years from now you can say that you heard them speak way back when.”

Attendees can register for programs at the Wordplay website. You will receive an email with a link to each event you register for. (The author presentations and question-and-answer sessions will be livestreamed on Crowdcast. Each event will also be livestreamed simultaneously on the Loft’s YouTube and Facebook channels.)

Enhanced ticket options are available for $35. After the evening sessions, enhanced ticket holders will have the opportunity to join a facilitated discussion with an expert and ask questions they didn’t ask the author.

When it comes to the future of book festivals, Opitz suggests that we will likely see some mix of live events and virtual broadcasting, since virtual formats make festivals more accessible for authors and attendees. “We can have someone in Tennessee attending our book festival in Minneapolis,” Opitz remarked. She also mentioned that audience questions can be more carefully curated and focused in the digital age, a change that many authors and attendees appreciate.

 

Recap of March 2021 Event: Demystifying Metadata

In a world with a growing number of channels for book distribution, metadata is hugely influential, but it can also be confusing. MBPR’s March webinar explored metadata with someone who literally wrote the book on the subject. Margaret Harrison, co-author of Metadata Essentials, spoke on the importance of using metadata to increase discovery and conversion in an online retail environment. Harrison’s practical advice provided further insight on the best ways to optimize titles for online sale. She covered tips for consistent titling and author information, creating book descriptions designed for online retailers, and getting the most out of BISAC codes and keywords.

Check out our member resource area of the website for an audio/video presentation of the event.

Recap of January 2021 Event: Digital Content and Content Marketing in Publishing

January’s webinar featured a conversation about digital content and digital marketing in publishing. While the days of paper-only publishing are long behind most of us, the digital world is not a static space: there are always new challenges and opportunities to explore, especially as technology continues to change. This series of presentations covered how the digital shift has affected publishing strategies and practices, both before and during the pandemic, at every stage of the publishing process. Kristie Thoenen, director of digital products, and Beth Brezenoff, associate publisher, from Capstone Publishing shared their company’s history with digital products, how they have developed and marketed those products, and their response to the pandemic. Then Christine Trant, the founder of Asterism and Co., a company specializing in content marketing for book publishers, explained how publishers can use the digital tools of content marketing to build and retain a community for their product lines.

The webinar recording is available to members in the Resources area. Remember that the process for accessing recordings has changed. If you are a member and have not yet created your individual account for our new website, follow the directions on the Member Resources page to create one and get access to the recordings. If you have questions, please contact us at information@publishersroundable.org.

Recap of November 2020 Event: Diversity of Content in Children’s Books and Beyond

Our September event looked at ways to improve diversity in the publishing industry. In November, we shifted our scope to the content itself, examining obstacles to publishing more diverse content, strategies for elevating unheard voices, and reaching readers and buyers underserved by mainstream publishing lists. Our panelists were Duchess Harris, author and professor of American studies at Macalester College; Tasha Nins, Ramsey County librarian, and Kathleen T. Horning, director of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. The panel discussed the topics on which more books are needed (and topics that are oversaturated), the ways that those books get into readers’ hands, and trends in diversity of content and authorship over time.

The webinar recording is available to members in the Resources area. Remember that the process for accessing recordings has changed. If you are a member and have not yet created your individual account for our new website, follow the directions on the Member Resources page to create one and get access to the recordings. If you have questions, please contact us at information@publishersroundable.org.

Is Print the Problem?

I love the smell of a new book—the sandpapery feel of the paper between my fingers, the gentle rustle of the pages turning. I take pride in the number of spines of various heights, colors, and thicknesses littering my bookshelves. However, I have a confession. Despite twelve years working in print publishing as a writer and editor, I have not read a print book for pleasure in the past year. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a voracious consumer of content. I read online articles daily. I listen to podcast episodes and new music on Spotify. I watch whatever new shows the algorithms of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime tell me I will like. I read my two small kids their favorite picture books at bedtime. But I can’t remember the last time I cozied up with a good paper book and a cup of tea to read for fun.

I’m in good company. According to a 2019 Pew Research Center study, 27 percent of adult Americans have not read a book in the past year.1 The data for kids is not much more encouraging. According to the 2019 Scholastic Reading Report, 20 percent of kids aged 6 to 17 reported reading a whopping zero books over the summer. The breakdown takes place along distressingly predictable demographics. If you are from a lower-income family, are educated with a high school diploma or lower, or are BIPOC, you’re less likely to read for pleasure.2 For kids, a major sticking point seems to be access to books. If you are fortunate enough to be from a family that makes more than $100,0003 per year, you will have twice as many books in the home as your classmate from a family who makes less than $35,0004 per year.

Enough stats. What does this mean for publishers?

It’s tempting to blame this decline (and it is a decline, according to previous studies on both child and adult reading) on smartphones, Fortnite, TikTok, kids today, millennials, etc. But I think it’s worth asking ourselves, as publishers, if our nostalgia for print books is alienating potential readers. Print is not as accessible as online content. It’s expensive to produce. It’s risky. If your print books don’t sell, they are often destroyed at a loss. The world changes quickly, and print doesn’t always age well. Moreover, getting a book in print typically involves a litany of gatekeepers (agents, editors, marketing, sales, etc.) whose job it is to mitigate as much risk as possible to ensure books DO sell, and do so without drawing the ire of a reviewer or the internet in general. These gatekeepers tend to have a similar profile. You know who I mean. A straight white woman with an English degree and quirky glasses who lives and breathes CMS and worked various unpaid internships before finally breaking into the industry.5 We mean well—I know, I’m one of them! But our relative homogeneity makes it difficult if not impossible for new voices and diverse experiences to be authentically shared, no matter how “woke” we may think we are. Content creation is in the hands of a privileged few with the education, time, and means to generate the kinds of content that resonate with these gatekeepers and their vision for the world.

Things are changing, albeit slowly. Self-publishing has finally lost some of its stigma and is at an all-time high.6 Print-on-demand has made it possible to print just a few copies of a book at a time. And the rise of audiobooks and ebooks has made once print-exclusive content more accessible than ever before. But we can go further. We can do more.

Publishing is not about print, nor should it be. It’s about storytelling, generating and sharing ideas and experiences with one another. It’s more than a sound bite or a snappy headline. Publishing is a long conversation. I would encourage anyone who reads this to imagine a future where there are no more print books, not with denial or fear, but with excitement. What does that look like? What opportunities does it afford? What new format could take publishing into the future in a way that’s inclusive, imaginative, and accessible? Publishing has never exactly been a driver of change. But maybe now is the time to take risks, make mistakes, learn from them, and make sure we don’t get left behind in the content wars in progress and to come.

Here are two final, encouraging stats: when asked what they wanted from books, 40 percent of kids wanted books that let them explore new places and worlds, and 25 percent wanted books that allowed them to imagine and understand other people’s lives.7 That’s what books have always done, better than video games, television, movies, music, and magazines. I think this can be chalked up to the fact that publishers care. We are passionate about producing quality content that changes the world for the better. We’re in it for the long haul, not to get rich quick or seek our 15 seconds of fame. So, we must adapt to the times. We must make more voices heard. We can’t afford not to—our livelihoods depend on it.

Lauren Kukla is the former president of MBPR and a current board member at large. She is the publishing director of Mighty Media, Inc. The views expressed in this post are her opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of MBPR or Mighty Media, Inc.

1 https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/09/26/who-doesnt-read-books-in-america/

2 https://bookriot.com/book-and-reading-statistics/

3 https://www.scholastic.com/readingreport/access-matters.html

4 https://www.scholastic.com/readingreport/access-matters.html

5 https://blog.leeandlow.com/2020/01/28/2019diversitybaselinesurvey/

6 http://www.bowker.com/news/2019/Self-Publishing-Grew-40-Percent-in-2018-New-Report–Reveals.html

7 https://www.scholastic.com/readingreport/navigate-the-world.html