The Self-Publishing Book Expo and the
changing indie publishing landscape
By Ryan Joe
Brittany Geragotelis had every mark of the
aspiring author: a will to write, six unpublished novels, and nine years’ worth of rejection letters.
When her agent—who hadn’t been able to sell her books—dropped her, she had a minor crisis of faith that resulted in put- ting her dream on hiatus. Six months later, when Geragotelis felt the compulsion to write again, she had a different understanding of herself:
she would write simply because she wanted to.
Around 2009, Geragotelis volunteered with a friend at the
Self-Publishing Book Expo, a nascent exhibition founded by
two women who had more than 50 years combined experience
in the traditional publishing industry. Geragotelis spent much
of the time guiding audience members into rooms where panels
were held, giving her the opportunity to listen in.
“It was so inspiring to me, for someone who’d just been told
No and You’re not for us, to see other people who’d taken their
dreams and their career into their own hands,” she recalls.
When Geragotelis returned to the SPBE last year, much had
changed. Her YA novel Life’s a Witch, self-published through an
online author platform and reader community called Wattpad,
had garnered 13 million readers. Off the strength of that book,
she’d signed a three-book six-figure deal with Simon & Schuster.
And Geragotelis returned not as a volunteer but as a speaker.
Planting the Seed
On November 9, the SPBE will host its fifth show, this time at
the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City. The show is the
brainchild of Diane Mancher, a 20-year veteran of the PR
departments of traditional publishing houses. Mancher was
freelancing herself when she thought of the conference as a way
to publicize photography books.
“Then I thought, why limit it? It could also include cook-
books,” she recalls. “The more I thought about it, the more I
thought I could broaden it out, include fiction. And the idea
got bigger in my head. I thought about it on and off, but then
I realized self-publishing is getting a lot bigger—it’d be great
to have something big.”
She enlisted the help of her former co-worker Karen Mender,
whom she knew from their time in the 1980s at St. Martin’s
Press. Mender had also served as assistant publisher at Dell and
HarperCollins, and had helped found the Simon & Schuster
imprint Atria Books. Both women had noticed the numerous
self-published authors that got no attention whatsoever, in part
because they lacked basic information on marketing and public-
ity. “That was our vision,” Mender says, “to have a learning
center where people could gather and mingle.”
Since the SPBE’s inauspicious beginnings, the self-publishing
industry has nearly trebled, according to research released late
last year from Bowker. Writers like Geragotelis who’d initially
struggled attracting publishers’ interest have thrived as this
explosion has changed the rules for distributing their work and
finding an audience.
Pride and Prejudice
The fortunes of the self-publishing industry coincide with the
misfortunes of the traditional houses. “It’s the last industry to
go digital,” says Miral Sittar, CEO and founder of BiblioCrunch,
an exhibitor at the SPBE. “Because of that it’s going through
the quickest transition. There were overnight new companies
popping up with new solutions while legacy publishers tried to
hold onto the processes they were the original gatekeepers to.”
One of these new companies is Sittar’s own, an online network
that links indie authors with editors, designers, and other service providers.
Mancher felt the industry quake in 2009 as friends began to
lose their jobs. Many publishing pros—particularly editors—
went independent. At the same time, self-published authors
began to seek out those people. “The two kind of met up,”
Mancher says. “The smarter authors were availing themselves of
help, and suddenly there was help.”
Nevertheless, the stigma against self-publishing was still
pretty strong. Mancher and Mender noticed it when they tried