Writing, Marketing, and Publishing Lessons I Learned from Attending BookBaby’s #IndieAuthorCon in Philly

Speaker presents at 2017 BookBaby Conference in Philadelphia

From November 3rd through 5th, I attended BookBaby’s Independent Author Convention at the Sonesta Hotel in Philadelphia, PA. While I wasn’t blown away by the conference or its speakers, I gained useful insight into the book publishing process for independent authors, including marketing and publicity planning and perspectives on how and when and from whom to obtain book reviews. I also met a few writers with whom I plan to maintain contact in the future. Here is my synopsis for the conference, which I will use in my own book publishing process.

Determining Your Target Audience

Before you write a book, or if you are in the process of doing so, it’s helpful to determine your target audience to help you scope your project. You should ask yourself these questions:

  • What’s the purpose of my story?
  • Why am I passionate about what I’m writing?
  • What kind of hope or help do I provide?
  • What’s the major purpose of my book?
  • Who is the audience for my book?
  • What are my readers seeking?

To help answer these questions, consider connecting with your audience through testing your story or stories at readings, open mic nights, and writers’ conferences for story readings. If you need help answering these questions, consider inquiring about the services of Lisa Cron, a respected story consultant, and author of “Story Genius.”

As you gain more insight into what your potential readers are looking for, you should also track the demographics of your target readers, including:

  • Age;
  • Gender;
  • Income;
  • Location;
  • education level; and
  • family.

Estimated Costs to Publish a Book

If you have answered the questions above and determined you want to write a book, or have already done so, you’ll need to consider the additional costs involved in the process. The total cost to publish a book (through BookBaby) is about $1,700, although BookBaby was offering a package deal for $1,299 for all of the below services. Although this seems high, these costs are 100% necessary if you want to publish a professional looking book. Authors who acquired professional services for editing, cover design, ebook conversion, distribution, and formatting far outsold authors who did not. The following figures are from BookBaby:

  • Editing: BookBaby has a “network of professional editors” and charges $10 per page for line editing documents written in Times New Roman font, size 12, double spaced. Copy editing along costs $7 per page. They advertise an 8-to-12-day return time.
  • Interior format and design: $449 plus $100 per every additional 100 pages.
  • Cover design: $399 for a cover with a single image and $549 for a “deluxe” design using multiple images.
  • Print-on-Demand (meaning they will print copies of your book when they sell or when they receive a request for more books from a distributor): $199, which is a one-time fee. You must purchase at least 25 hardcopies of your book, and the company offers price breaks for 50 and 100 copies (and higher).
  • E-book conversion and distribution: $249.


  • Through Bookbaby, hardcopy book sales earn you about 15% of the list price, which they compare to 7-8% for larger publishers. Ebook sales generate about 50-75% return on the list price.

Another Editing Option: Some editors charge by the hour, and this could be a cheaper, yet just as thorough, option as a cost per page option for authors who are quality writers. You can pay a “reading fee” for them to read your draft (or excerpt) and have the editor estimate how long it would take to edit it, which can give you a better picture of the total editing cost. I plan to pursue this option for one of my shorter stories and will check http://www.bookeditorsalliance.com for more information.

Traditional Marketing:

There are several platforms to consider in determining your marketing plan, which is key to getting the word out about your book. As one presenter said, “Telling people you wrote a book is not a marketing plan.” Authors who reached out to book bloggers, reviewers on Amazon, professional reviewers, friends/family, beta readers, NetGalley, and others, were far more successful in selling books than authors who didn’t.

To help determine the basics of your marketing plan, ask yourself these questions about how to reach your target audience:

  • Do they read print or ebooks?
  • Where do they get their information?
  • What else do they read?
  • Where do they buy their books?
  • What social media do they use?

Once you answer these questions, you can start to develop a marketing strategy.

All speakers urged us to ensure our book pages on Amazon, Goodreads, and IndieReader are accurate, as they are the most important places people will find your book. The following points provide more nuanced approaches to each site to be considered as part of an overall marketing strategy.


  • Check Amazon’s myriad book genres for to determine the specific category that your book is in. If you are able to sell enough books in that category to be in the top 100, you theoretically can claim your book is a “bestseller” in that category. To help determine your category, check out other Amazon book pages of similar topics.
  • Have a great first sentence for your book’s synopsis because it’s the first and perhaps only thing that people will see about your book description. Ensure the “About the Author” section is updated and correct and is written in the third person.
  • Claim your Amazon author central page and update it ensure its accuracy.
  • One participant suggesting using the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing Program to list your book, and offer your book for free for a few days per month and ask for reviews.


  • Consider a Goodreads monthly giveaway and listing your book for one week at a time, which apparently ensures your book stays on the new and outgoing book lists on a regular basis.



  • A much smaller Bookbub, BookLemur includes direct email marketing including your book to 13,500 newsletter subscribers for $30, which is a good deal considering Facebook promotions will reach only about 2,000 for about $20.

Queries to Local Media:

  • Pitch your book to local media, including TV channels, newspapers, magazines, book stores and emphasize your ties to the area, and consider using different methods to spread the word, including radio, podcasts, commentary, providing reviews for other books, and op-eds.
  • In considering the timing for releasing your book consider your lifestyle and events in your life to ensure your availability, as well as world events, anniversaries, awareness months, which you can use to help promote your work.
  • Always ask readers for their email addresses and build a newsletter through MailChimp or another messaging service and advertise discounts for your book and offer gifts and prizes. I can say from information I learned from my digital marketing class than email marketing is still the most effective way for customer conversion, far more effective than social media marketing.

Social Media Strategy:

A robust social media strategy is key to spreading the word about your book. One presenter suggested using the following social media networks and the frequency of communicating on them:

  • Facebook; three to five times per week. Consider creating an Author page on Facebook, distinct from your personal page, to ensure consistent messaging and branding.
  • Twitter; multiple posts every day.
  • LinkedIn; two to three times per week.
  • Instragram; daily.
  • Goodreads; varies on depending on if you are launching a new book or just have a general presence.

Analytics and Metrics Analysis:

Check similarweb.com and Facebook Insights to research which social media platforms you should use in promoting your book. One presenter recommended using Google Analytics for tracking your website’s traffic and not an internal metrics system like WordPress. (Building your website on WordPress is fine, but the metrics are not robust).


Discussions of book reviews were the most contentious of the conference, particularly the divisiveness around acquiring paid reviews. That said, all presenters agreed that you must ask for and seek reviews from people who read your book and have them post the reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and other relevant places, from which you can pull great reviews and use them in your marketing and on your own site.

Unpaid Reviews:

  • One presenter recommended writing query letters to seek reviews and use previous review quotes in the top of subsequent letters (like a snowball effect).
  • All authors will receive a bad review, but you can actually have Amazon take down some of them if they do not meet Amazon’s review guidelines.
  • When seeking reviews from Booklist, Foreward, Library Journal, New York Review of Books, and Publishers Weekly, you should check the submission guidelines for each and give them the book four months in advance.

Paid Reviews:

  • IndieReader review: $225 – The company’s website advertises “A professional book review will help set your title apart from the rest, increasing your book’s chance for discoverability. If your title receives 4 to 5 stars, it will be included in our monthly “Best Of” list (appearing in the Huffington Post!) and you will be invited to participate in our All About the Book interview, providing it–and you!–increased visibility.”
  • BlueInk: $395 – you can get a $50 discount by using code D9G1. All BlueInk reviews go to the BlueInk Review website, IDreamBooks, Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database, and Ingram Book Company, the later of which is a provider for 71,000 librariess and booksellers globally. If BlueInk reviewers determine your book is exceptionally good, the company work to feature it in Booklist magazine (60,000 readers), No Shelf Required (all things ebooks for librarians), Douglas County Libraries (in Colorado), BlueInk Review monthly recommended lists, Goodreads (20 million members), and they will promote it on its dedicated social media pages, including Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
  • Kirkus Reviews: About $600 – It’s website boasts that it reviews 10,000 books per year, its website receives 2 million “impressions” per month, 55,000 people are signed up for its newsletter, and 15,000 Kirkus reviews appear in magazine circulations.

If you acquire any of these “editorial reviews,” ensure they appear on your book cover and any press releases, as well as featured pull quotes on your websites.

Legal Issues for Independent Authors

  • Check Helensedwick.com and consider buying her book the “Self-Publishers Legal Handbook” for more information.

Author Branding:

Many readers are associating themselves with authors who brand themselves well, so an important question to ask yourself is: Who am I and what’s my tagline for me/my book? If you are having trouble determining your tagline, you can use Kaye Publicity’s branding worksheet, in which you identify:

  • primary themes;
  • secondary themes;
  • one line about the protagonist; and
  • the genre, if applicable.

Once you determine these for your book(s), you highlight similar answers, which will help you figure out your overall themes, from which you generate the tagline of your books.

Other Things to Consider:

Authorfriendly.com boasts the Self-Publishing Boot Camp a “step by step guide to publishing, promoting, and selling your book in print and every popular ebook format.”

Check out the industry standard checklist for a professionally published book from Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), and consider joining the IBPA to access the following services:

10 Ways IBPA Can Empower You



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