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IBPA Member Spotlight: MKZ Books' Report from Digital Book World 2019

Thursday, October 3, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Christopher Locke
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MKZ Books’ Report from Digital Book World 2019
MKZ Books, Inc. Publisher Marta Zarrella (second from left) and Creative Director Kathryn Zarrella (far right) meet with author Michael Foster and his wife, Valeria, in Lodi, California to plan his book launch event for The Passage at Moose Beach.

In February 2019, MKZ Books, Inc. publisher Marta Zarrella attended the IBPA webinar entitled “Voice Technology: What Every Publisher Needs to Know” and won a free pass to Digital Book World 2019. Prizes are given out during each live webinar; since the webinar on voice technology was presented by 2019 Digital Book World executive producer Bradley Metrock, the obvious prize was a free pass to the program.

“When I got Bradley’s email and saw that I had won a free pass to Digital Book World 2019,” said Marta, “I was working in Wyoming on a memoir project, gasped aloud, and said, ‘Thank you, God!’”

Marta immediately called her daughter Kathryn Zarrella (who is the MKZ Books creative director) to see if Kathryn could attend the event on their behalf. “Kathryn is a millennial and they love this stuff! She is our creative director, more involved with the technology side of the business than me, and she gets really excited about new technology.”

Kathryn was happy to attend and found it to be quite fruitful for MKZ Books. “I had a wonderful time at Digital Book World and came back with eighteen pages of notes! The main conference was two and a half days, with an optional pre-conference day which I highly recommend.

“The pre-conference probably had fewer than fifty attendees, mostly presenters or sponsors. During six hour-long sessions, we discussed topics ranging from marketing to programming an Amazon Alexa ‘skill.’

“The main conference was a similar size to IBPA Publishing University with a few hundred attendees. The event was intimate enough that networking was very easy. There was also a sense of camaraderie and excitement about the potential for new technologies to make storytelling more accessible to everyone. The conference focused a lot on technology, especially artificial intelligence, so there were many presenters and attendees that you wouldn’t meet at other book events.

“Digital Book World attracted traditional publishing industry presenters from the big five publishers, the American Library Association, Publishers Weekly, and the U.S. Copyright Office, to name a few. Even Amazon and Audible were there, though they received a mixed reaction from much of the audience.

“I think what I appreciated most was the variety of industries and viewpoints showcased at the conference. As the millennial at our company, I’m the more tech-oriented one, so I was excited to learn ways technology could help enhance the way we create, market, research, and interact with books. It certainly opened my eyes to interesting new mediums of storytelling—from immersive ebooks to an artificial intelligence-driven take on ‘choose your own adventure’ stories. When I filled Marta in, she committed to adding this conference to our company’s annual ‘must attend’ list.”

When IBPA asked Kathryn to share some of the best tips she learned at Digital Book World, she told us the following:

“Lisa Lucas the Executive Director of the National Book Foundation gave an incredible keynote about making books accessible and publishing inclusive. She drove home that we need to ‘meet people where they are.’ There’s a lot of gatekeeping in publishing, but she emphasized that, if we want to inspire the next generation of readers we not only need to write stories that represent their lives, we must make sure they have access to those stories regardless of the format of the book or location of the reader.

“In a few different sessions, presenters talked about the importance of having ‘strap lines’ at the start of online book descriptions. Essentially, it’s a bolded log line—or killogator which I learned at IBPA Publishing University in Chicago—at the start of your description which will entice readers to click the ‘read more’ button and view the entirety of your description.

MKZ Books' upcoming title, Finding the Lost by Michael Foster

“The last tip was to learn more about voice assistants like Siri and Alexa. With Amazon Alexa you can build ‘skills’ or interactive voice-based storytelling related to your books, which is an interesting marketing opportunity. And with the rise in use of smart speakers and voice search it’s important to audit your company’s web presence to see if you even come up when users ask voice assistants about your company or your books. Essentially, it’s like an SEO audit but for voice searches. Bradley Metrock, the conference organizer, has a podcast called ‘This Week In Voice’ about this sort of technology. I intend to listen and find out what other best practices we can put in place to use voice to our advantage.”

As MKZ Books, Inc. strengthens their business by attending these trade events, they have multiple books that either recently came out or will be coming out soon under their two imprints, Calling Card Books (for nonfiction) and Z Girls Press (for fiction): The Billion Dollar Branding Blueprint by Bernt Ullmann published in the summer of 2019, What Goes Unseen & Other Tales From Afar by Sean Minster will be released in the fall of 2019, and Finding the Lost by Michael Foster (the second book in his Moose Beach series) will be released either late fall 2019 or early 2020.


Three Questions with MKZ Books, Inc. Publisher Marta Zarrella & Creative Director Kathryn Zarrella

IBPA: Have you attended other IBPA webinars? If so, tell us your thoughts about the webinars in general.

Marta Zarrella (MZ): Since 2017, we have signed up for almost twenty webinars. We find them to be quite useful and have participated in some of the presenter offerings, such as the cover design critique from Hobie Hobart from Dunn+Associates (he hosted “The Most Powerful Book Marketing Tool (That Nobody Talks About)” webinar). In our one-on-one session with him we evaluated our problem cover and improved it substantially. We had the author change the third chapter and we published a second edition of the book.

IBPA: Can you list some key lessons you’ve learned about how one can succeed as an independent publisher?

MZ: Stay informed of changes in the industry. Pick projects wisely. The author matters a lot, but never ever lose focus on the reader (a.k.a. the buyer)—we do this for them!

Kathryn Zarrella (KZ): Focus on the target audience when developing and marketing a book. Never stop learning or improving your skills. Be proud to shout about your books and authors at all times.

IBPA: How has it been beneficial to you to be a member of Independent Book Publishers Association?

MZ: We’ve attended every IBPA Publishing University since 2015! Each year I focus on one topic to really immerse myself in. I network and chat with participants, attend all expert sessions and presentations on the subject, etc. There is SO much to learn!

We’ve also submitted our books to the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards; participated in the Library Market eBlast program; posted a listing through the IBPA NetGalley Program; and set up two Foreword Review advertisements through IBPA.

IBPA: Thank you, Marta and Kathryn, for sharing your experiences in independent publishing and at Digital Book World! We’re happy you had such a beneficial experience at the conference.

Click here to learn more about MKZ Books, Inc.!

For the 2019 conference, Digital Book World offered IBPA members a whopping 75% discount, so keep an eye out for a possible discount to the 2020 Digital Book World conference.


Share your own publishing news with the IBPA community! Send news about events or accomplishments to christopher@ibpa-online.org. For more details about the types of stories we're seeking, click here.

Keep in mind that we reserve Spotlights for major news (such as, you published a book about space exploration and now it's being read in a live video feed by astronauts from the International Space Station), unique news (such as, you published a book about cycling and now the author is riding a bike across the U.S. for their book tour), or human interest stories (such as, you visit shelters every weekend to read books to the dogs and cats there).

Though launching a new book isn’t the focus of our Spotlights articles, IBPA is happy to share that exciting news on social media. Please contact christopher@ibpa-online.org with the launch date, your book cover, your book title, your book's genre, a link to where readers can learn more about your book, and your Twitter handle.

For good news in general about your publishing company (your book received a wonderful editorial review, you have an upcoming speaking engagement, etc.), use the hashtag #IBPAmemberGoodNews on Twitter and IBPA will amplify your good news!

Whether you have news or not, all of us at IBPA are cheering you on!


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