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San Francisco Writers Conference 2020 Recap

Ah, San Francisco. City of Rice-a-Roni, seals, trolleys, and hills. Also, in case you didn’t know, the home to the annual San Francisco Writers Conference. This event brings authors, both published and aspiring, together with industry professionals for a weekend of networking and education. Of course, Lulu was there to meet authors and chat about the world of publishing and print-on-demand!

Takeaways from SFWC

After three days of sessions, panels, and working our Lulu table, I feel like I learned as much as any author in the building. Let’s start with the exhibition hall, where we had our table among other publishers and service providers like the Editorial Freelancers Association

Meeting the Writers

We talked to authors creating fiction, nonfiction, and everything in between. One particularly interesting project involved pairing lines from a classic author with new artwork (this author had all necessary permissions to use the existing work). Creators with unique projects pose a challenge for printers and publishers. How does one balance an image heavy project with a very specific audience with the cost to produce their book?

That question hit us over and over. How do you know your investment in your book will pay off?

Lulu's Booth at San Francisco Writer's Conference

And we reiterated something everyone at Lulu has been saying for years now; start with your audience! Then get your book where your readers are!

Audience First

I think I said that at least 100 times over the weekend. For some it was a revelation, met with wide eyes and hastily jotted down notes. For others it was an affirmation of their strategy. But wherever these authors were in their journey, the refrain still held. Find your audience, engage with them, build a community; then promote your book.

Go Amazon or Go Wide?

After questions about how to sell their book, authors were asking a lot about how to publish. Many of the authors at SFWC were there to meet with agents and make their pitch. But a larger number were looking for alternatives and options. Inherent in that decision is how you’ll publish.

Which always leads to the “do I or don’t I use Amazon?” question. 

Easily clarified: in all but a tiny fraction of cases, you should list your ebook (at least) on Amazon using KDP. 

There’s a running conversation in the publishing world about limiting yourself to one publishing or retail channel versus going wide and offering your book in many formats. I stand firmly in the ‘go wide’ camp. 

Furthermore, I would suspect any publisher, editor, or stranger who suggests going wide is a mistake. Exclusivity exists to ensure higher returns for the person or company demanding they be the only one. Today’s publishing world features a variety of services (most very low-cost or free-to-use) that enable you to access a variety of audiences. 

Because today you can sell through the world’s largest retail (Amazon), make your book available to bookstores (the Ingram Catalog), sell on your own website (Lulu xPress), make an audio book, and more. The only limits on your publishing are time and desire!

Publishing is About Community

If nothing else, writing events like SFWC reinforce just how vital community is for the entire industry. There’s something wonderful about standing in an exhibition hall, surrounded by authors, chatting about how vibrant and inspiring the community is with someone who works hard for one of our competitors. Yes, of course I want you to use Lulu and not another publisher. But more than that, I want you to publish the right way for you. 

Choose Tacos with Lulu at San Francisco Writers Conference

That undertone ran through every conversation I had over the weekend. From authors and artists to printers and publishers; the message of SFWC seemed to hinge on making the right choices. There is no one-size-fits-all publishing formula. There is no trick or hack for successful publishing.

It all comes down to you, your book, and your decisions. Services that promote or publish your book are merely tools you choose to use.



But Wait, there’s more!

To close out our recap of SFWC 2020, let’s jump over to Lauren with a report from our most requested session!


Creating a Sustainable Book Promotion Platform

Before leaving for San Francisco we asked our Facebook and Twitter followers which SFWC panel they’d be most interested in learning more about. An overwhelming majority of them voted for the Friday afternoon panel “Creating a Sustainable Book Promotion Platform” featuring public relations and communications strategist Claire McKinney & editor and book coach Elisabeth Kauffman

Claire and Elisabeth shared some great insight about creating and sustaining an author platform! They both readily acknowledge that building a sustainable author platform takes hard work and time, but with some careful planning and time management you can absolutely build your platform. The key is to remain organized – put together a plan and a schedule and stick to it. Consider how you’re going to manage your social media, your website, your blog, or any other platform that has the potential to put you in front of an audience. 

Time Management for Success

The sustainable part, of course, is largely about managing your efforts in a way that isn’t too overwhelming or all-consuming. It’s easy to get swept up in the feeling that social media is always On, that those little red notifications must be responded to immediately, but that’s not true. Elisabeth encouraged the authors in the room to make a habit of it – plan to spend about a half an hour every day actively listening and engaging on social media, your blog, etc. If it’s helpful, look into a scheduling tool like HootSuite that allows you to plan your social posts in advance. 

Lulu Books and Swag at San Francisco Writers Conference

It’s also important not to spread yourself and your efforts too thin. Every day there are more and more platforms emerging to stake a claim on the social landscape – Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, but also YouTube and TikTok and Snapchat and LinkedIn and…the list goes on. Rather than losing your mind trying to manage all of these platforms at once, concentrate your efforts on two, maybe three of them. Right now Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram are the most popular, but that doesn’t mean you have to stick to those. Do some research into where your target audience is most likely to be and concentrate your efforts on those few platforms in particular. 

“Your brand isn’t your book, your brand is you”

This quote from Claire might seem obvious, but it’s also incredibly important to remember. You, as the author, are now a business and an entrepreneur. Your books are your product, sure, but you are your brand. 

Remember, as you’re considering what platforms to market yourself on, to remain true to your brand by remaining true to yourself and your work. Your audience and readers will see through an insincere persona trying to sell them a book – stay authentic to yourself, your voice, and your brand, and your readers will stay with you. 

Share More Than Just Your Book

Your authentic author brand is a helpful guideline to consider when you’re thinking about what kind of content to share on your platforms. Claire encouraged that we all remember that authors are not solely defined by what they wrote, but also by all the experiences and background that made you who you are today. 

Readers are not going to follow you on Twitter or read your newsletter if you’re just sharing the cover art and a link to your book ad nauseam – they’re interested in your brand. What makes you interesting? What are you passionate about? And what made you interested in the topic of your book, what made you want to write about it? Share these things with your readers! You might be surprised by what resonates with them. 

They did mention specifically the incredible online writing community that exists on many social media platforms and the local communities you might be a part of. While those networks are incredible, invaluable resources, both Claire and Elisabeth reminded us that your writing peers might not be the same audience as your readers. Other writers are an excellent resource to tap for growing your author network, but when you’re tailoring your social media content remember to focus more on your readers than your writers. 

Questions From the Panel Audience

Claire and Elisabeth took questions from the audience and shared some really insightful bite-sized answers – here are a few of the ones we thought were most interesting: 

Does an author need a website? 

Yes! Both Claire and Elisabeth agree – an author website tailored toward your professional brand is an excellent tool to have. It’s a great way to learn more about your audience and to collect email addresses from your readers.

How do you get people to sign up for your mailing list? 

Give away a piece of exclusive content that they can only get by joining your mailing list! For nonfiction authors, maybe a piece of educational material. For fiction authors, maybe an exclusive scene or bonus content.

Should I use a separate Author page on Facebook, or my personal account? How often should I post on my Facebook page? 

You should create and use a separate page, both because it’s easier to tailor the content to be slightly more professional than your person page is and because you have no access to analytical data on a personal page. Post to your professional page 2-3 times per week – don’t force it, if you don’t have anything to say, and don’t over-commit yourself to an overwhelming post schedule.

How do you balance book promotion on a business website? 

If you already have a professional website that you use regularly, and if your book is related to your business, it is absolutely appropriate to feature your book on your website. If your books are unrelated – you have a business as a graphic designer and you write romance novels on the side, or something like that, it’s best to keep your two different professional personas separate.

Claire and Elisabeth were both incredibly knowledgeable and excellent resources, and it was fantastic to hear their insight into creating and maintaining a sustainable author platform! If you’re interested in learning more, Claire recommended the book Conquer Your Year by Natalie MacNeil. You can also check out this blog post on How To Grow Your Author Network!


2 thoughts on “San Francisco Writers Conference 2020 Recap”

  1. When I moved to Hawaii 12+ years ago there was a lot of support for writers and I finally felt I could just write and be happy. I volunteered at the Maui Writer’s Conference ’08 and ’09 and that was so great and I felt really inspired. I also got active in the National Writers ? and served 2 years as president of local chaper. The Maui conferences died, the writer’s group died, the 2 local newspapers here merged into one and no longer has room for stuff like “The Goddess Speaks”. It has become a desert for writers like myself here. I need contact in the flesh with other writers and can’t seem to find them. What do I do???

    1. Hi Daci,
      First, I feel your pain. I think all writers, at one point or another, experience that loneliness as communities and organizations we relied on change or shutter. I don’t know that I can offer any great advice, but one idea I’ve heard from writers many times is to use the site meetup.com. Folks will create and schedule meetings around a topic (such as writing). You might find a new group to connect with locally or you could even start one and draw in new writers this way!
      One thing I have found is that, even if it seems like you’re all alone, there are always other people writing. Sometimes they’re just harder to spot.
      Best of luck!

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