Publishing Perspectives: Conquering the Summit

It’s STC Summit time again, so I thought I’d say a few words about how I view the Summit as a publisher.

The People

Without a doubt, the main thing I look forward to is reconnecting, in person, with friends and colleagues. When you spend most days in a solitary office working on a computer, actually interacting face-to-face with human beings who are in the same profession is refreshing. Probably 90% of my business could be done without leaving my office, but that last 10% is critical to the business. There are things that I would never know if I didn’t get to conferences like the Summit.

For example, we have found at least half of our authors at conferences. Several current and future authors have come to me at a conference and pitched a book, and I’ve approached people who I wanted to write for us.

We get the best feedback in person. My favorite was the person who walked up to me out of the blue, pointed to a book, said This book is f***ing great, and then walked away without saying another word. That the book was one I wrote just made the moment sweeter. I had a college professor spend 15 minutes telling me in great detail why one of our books was unsuitable to be a college textbook. Actually, that book was never intended to be a college textbook, but it has been adopted by a few universities. I was glad to hear the feedback so I could better understand what at least one college professor thinks a college textbook should be. Another person give me a detailed critique of one of our cover designs, with suggestions we have used on subsequent covers.

We’ve never had an Amazon review that was as raw or detailed. Amazon reviews are critical to a book’s success, and I encourage anyone who has bought one of our books to review it (positive or negative) on Amazon or your favorite bookseller’s website. However, if you see me at the Summit, feel free to let me know, in person, what you think about any of our books. Even if you don’t like the book, I won’t be offended.

The Retail Experience

Several times a year, including at this year’s Summit, we run a conference bookstore, selling our books and books from other publishers. I learn as much about our business interacting with the people who visit the bookstore as I learn from any other source. For example, we’ve gotten candid opinions on our covers, pricing, authors, and more. Sometimes those opinions are expressed verbally and sometimes they’re implied. All you have to do is watch the reaction when someone looks at a book and then checks the price.

I’ve learned a lot about other publisher’s books. Some of that comes from selecting the books to bring to the show and some of that comes from talking to people, especially people who have already read a particular title. That helps when it comes time to deliver an elevator pitch for one of our books or compare two similar titles. It also helps build a sense of what books we should consider developing.

The Ideas

Even though I am usually not able to attend very many of the talks, I’m still able to get a sense of which topics are hot and which are not. We knew that content strategy would be a hot topic well before the term hit the mainstream, largely from talking with people like Scott Abel, Rahel Bailie, Alan Porter, and Ann Rockley at conferences, including STC Summit. Ideas get discussed, shot at, and honed at conferences in a way that only happens when you get the right people together in person.

The bottom line is that conferences, including the STC Summit, are a critical part of what it takes to make our business more responsive, more relevant, and more profitable. If you haven’t been to the Summit, I encourage you to attend. Even if you’re an old hand, take a few minutes to read some of the excellent articles on how to attend conferences; you’ll probably get some ideas you hadn’t considered. I particularly like Scott Berkun’s How to Get the Most Out of Conferences, and Geoff Hart has written a series of posts that you can find at And if you get to the Summit, stop by the bookstore and say hello.

Richard L. Hamilton is the founder of XML Press, which is dedicated to producing high quality, practical publications for technical communicators, managers, content strategists, and marketers and the engineers who support their work. Richard is the author of Managing Writers: A Real-World Guide to Managing Technical Documentation, and editor of the 2 edition of Norm Walsh’s DocBook: The Definitive Guide, published in collaboration with O’Reilly Media.


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