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Writers Give Me Life

October 5, 2018

Ever since I stepped beyond the gates of traditional publishing, I’ve discovered a wide and shifting landscape of publishing options. As part of my effort to learn the customs of this new country, I found myself in Cincinnati, OH last weekend attending Writer’s Digest’s indieLab conference.

Unlike the carnival of anxiety (at least for the writers) that is Writer’s Digest’s annual pitch fest in August, this event offers a small group of attendees an intimate and focused experience on how to reach readers, grow a platform, and monetize more effectively.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was struck by the clear intent and self-assurance of the writers. These were no babes in the wood. The days of mass befuddlement about how and why to self-publish one’s work seem firmly in the past. In many cases, writers had several self-published titles to their names, had clear ideas about their natural audience, and were looking for actionable information about how to find more readers – or to engage more meaningfully with the readers they do have.

The speakers – a medley of authors, advisors, and self-publishers – had plenty of valuable and tested advice to offer. As the word “lab” implies, the presenters guided the audience through specific and often technical tasks in the realm of reader outreach. One session drilled down on best practices for adding names to an email newsletter. Striking the balance between effectiveness and unobtrusiveness can depend on the placement and duration of a pop-up.

Having spent the last decade plus inside of traditional publishing, it was an education and at times a visceral experience to listen to stories by writers who had either been failed or ignored by what some attendees call legacy publishing. I heard one speaker describe her commitment to self-publishing as an act of self-care. And it was heartening to listen to the stories of writers who have taken their work into their own hands and found the readers they knew were out there.

Of course, some of the most engaging stories were those of failure. Both keynote speakers, presumably (and also actually) the most successful writers in attendance, shared stories of mistakes and hard lessons, of learning while you go, of coming up against gatekeepers who aren’t interested in what they do. It was heartening to have such universal experiences shared from the podium. Any kind of storytelling can be a fraught venture. And I came away feeling, as I often do, privileged to have a job that allows me to help build and share those stories.



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