I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I registered for BookBaby’s Independent Author Conference. I had attended author conferences before, but not this one, and not one sponsored by a company I had analyzed and ultimately decided not to utilize when I first started publishing back in 2012. Would it be a valuable investment? A networking event with ancillary educational sessions? Or a weekend of advertisements disguised as a conference? The latter, of course, would not have been a wise use of my limited business funds, and this was what scared me the most about this venture. As a small business owner (a.k.a. Indie Author), I hate wasting money. Almost as much as I hate getting a “hard sell.”
Fortunately, I didn’t have to answer “yes” to the last question and the attending vendors offered value. Ultimately, the Indie Author Conference turned out to be a mix of events and skill levels, and worth my time. While many of those attending (or at least those I met) were at the beginning stages of their publishing careers, I made a handful of connections with authors who were not new, like me, but who also didn’t quite have a handle on the changing marketplace. For a relatively small conference, I made a high number of connections I believe will help me build a better network.
Speakers also showcased a range of information that applied to newcomers as well as experienced authors. Out of the sessions I attended on Saturday and Sunday, only one failed to offer me something new, which was a pleasant surprise.
I went home with a notebook full of ideas, and a better understanding of my missteps in the beginning of my publishing journey. (First and foremost, of course, was adopting the “Field of Dreams” approach to publishing—If you write it, they will come. It warmed my heart to see so many people attending the conference who weren’t publishing until 2019 or later; I wish I could slap my old self upside the head).
Detailing every lesson from my notebook would take weeks of blog posts, so I’ve picked my top five to share. These will become my New Year’s (Business) resolutions for the rest of this year into 2019.
Top 5 Lessons from the 2018 Independent Author Conference
1. Write a newsletter with consistency!
I suspect some of you are flabbergasted that I haven’t been doing this already, and if you’re one of those people—Congratulations! You’re ahead of the game. As it turns out, many authors don’t adopt this mode of communication. Why? Because we’re introverts. Because we hate receiving newsletters and don’t read them. Because they feel like spam or sales, and not art. Because it didn’t occur to us. Take your pick or choose a variety of other reasons. Ultimately, it comes down to this: readers will forget about us if we don’t find a way to connect with them, to make them care about us. And no, our books are not enough. The market is tight, and it’s only going to get tighter as more people publish. The digital age is a blessing and a curse. There are so many books to choose from now, and there are SO MANY books to choose from now. It can be overwhelming for readers, and unless authors can publish or do frequent marketing campaigns, we will fall off the radar.
A newsletter helps readers remember us. Or as one speaker explained it (I’m paraphrasing)—Newsletters help us feed our readers between feasts (book releases).
- Build a Tribe
We need help, all of us. We need friends or family or readers who will spread the word about releases and events. We need fellow authors who share new marketing trends or industry changes, critique partners to analyze ideas, advance readers who are willing to write reviews on release day, etc. Attending events, reading and commenting on blogs, joining and forming Facebook groups, creating street teams—these are all ways we can build this tribe. As a fellow introvert, I’m aware of how daunting this effort can seem, but every successful business needs a tribe. Just remember, none of this happens overnight, so take each task one at a time and build it organically. Make a list of your weaknesses and fill in the gaps by researching, learning from fellow authors, making connections, or offering an exchange of services. But please, whatever you do, don’t “take” without “giving” in return or your tribe won’t be long-lasting.
- Find Balance
This should probably be my biggest highlight from the conference, since this was the message I needed to hear most. I began publishing at the worst time in my life (while naively believing it would be the best time)—while I was pregnant with my first child. To call the six years since “hectic” would be calling Niagara Falls a puddle. I have two kids now who until recently I cared for full-time (now part-time, since they’re in school in the mornings), and I hold a part-time job in addition to writing and publishing. But building something worthwhile requires sacrifice, right?
True, but not quite in the way I’ve done it. I’ve sacrificed family time, social events, vacation hours, fall foliage trips with the kids, Christmas light displays in the snow—all of it for a business that has become increasingly frustrating and for fictional words that have begun to look more like black cursors on white pages than stories. I couldn’t figure out what had happened to my creative joy until Daniel Lerner gave his keynote speech on finding balance.
Dan has a background in psychology. He’s been a personal coach to many famous people who’ve reached the apex of their careers (and been miserable after doing so). He’s written a book on creating balance in college and life, and he teaches NYU’s most popular course The Science of Happiness.
What did he discover in his extensive career and share with us? Too much to detail here (see him speak if you can; he’s worth your time), but my primary takeaway was this: Studies have shown that those who spend all their time and energy on practicing, focusing on their goals, and working hard will accomplish the same levels of success as those who maintain balance while doing so. Only, the latter group is happier when they reach their goals. Yes, it may take longer to get to your end goals when you take breaks, but wouldn’t you rather be happy and enjoy your success? I know I would. (And breaks sometimes foster better output and creativity in the long run, so “taking longer” might not always be the case either).
- Learn, reinvent, repackage, keep trying
I’ve had this sinking feeling that I failed at this whole publishing thing. My books haven’t flown off the shelves, so to speak. No one is offering me a Netflix television show. I think only a few thousand people have any clue what Ærenden even means. As I mentioned, I started publishing at the wrong time in my life and didn’t have my business set up from the start as I should have. My series, which I’ve only just completed this year, feels DOA.
My dream of publishing long-term had become a dream of throwing in the towel until I attended Joanna Penn’s keynote address. Joanna, bestselling author and founder of TheCreativePenn.com, is arguably one of the most successful independent authors in the world. Her top tip? Keep trying until you find what works for you. The market is everchanging, and we have the power as Indie Authors to adapt to those changes. Nothing is finite. As an example, she showed us a photo of her first book, which didn’t sell well. She repackaged it, changed the title and cover, updated her marketing techniques, and rereleased it. That time, she got the sales she wanted. Reinvention is not only desirable, but necessary in the ever-changing publishing market, so if something doesn’t work, don’t give up. Figure out what will work and do it.
On that note, I learned in one of my smaller breakout sessions that this also applies to outreach—not everything will be right for YOU. There are many, many avenues to market and find readers, so keep trying until you find what works with your books and your personality. Authenticity is important in making real connections with readers.
- Voice is the new hot market
This is less of a life/business lesson and more of a NOW lesson. I heard it over and over from various experts in multiple breakout sessions. Voice is the newest trend and likely one that will keep booming in our busy, expanding commuter-based society. Audiobook sales are skyrocketing. Podcasts are reaching more and more people. Keep an eye on this format and jump in if you can. On a smaller scale, live videos are also an option to tap into this arena for those who are comfortable with them.
Learn more about Kristen Taber at her website.