unexpected lessons learnt from an indie author conference

Reassessing my near-term plans in my author career

unexpected lessons learnt from an indie author conference
Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

I've just returned from the Toronto Indie Author Conference, the first of its kind held in Canada.

I don't think I've been to a writers' conference before this.

I've attended conferences in my past life as a journalist, but other than in writing workshops and on FaceBook groups back in the day, I haven't really gotten together with a bunch of other writers, especially indie writers, looking to connect with each other and figure out how to monetize their writings.

I came away with two major takeaways (among several others, of course, but these are the ones that will stay with me for a long time to come):

  • Expert advice does not necessarily apply to beginners.

Many of the experts in today's industry are those who found great success during the Kindle gold rush and are building off of that.

Which means much of the strategies and tactics that they use today are based on the fact that they have a huge backlist that they built during the heydays of ebook publishing.

Which means that for a beginner like me, as much as I'd love to do all the seemingly amazing stuff that people are doing to market, promote and sell their books, none of those tactics are likely to work for me unless I have a reasonably large catalogue.

Moreover, the market today is very different than what it used to be 10 or 5 or even 2 years ago. Someone with a larger backlist or writing in a different genre may have a completely different experience than another writer with a different-sized backlist and/or genre.

Experts can only share what has worked for them given their circumstances and the kind of people they are. We often make the mistake of assuming that what worked for someone else will work for us too.

This is not to say that we shouldn't try out different things. We need to make conscious choices about how we wish to spend our time and resources, and experience will be a better teacher than anything else.

Which brings me to my next key takeaway.

  • People who do more almost always have a lot more time and resources at their disposal.

It was mind-blowing to hear how some authors run their six-figure and seven-figure business.

It was equally enlightening to realize that they have a team they've painstakingly hired and trained to run certain aspects of their business — be it marketing or running ads or even something as small as formatting and uploading books on various platforms.

It's easy to assume that one person does it all and pressure ourselves to do the same.

Indeed, they may have done it all in the beginning, until they had seen enough success to be able to start outsourcing elements of their business that they didn't wish to spend time and effort on so that they could focus more on those aspects they enjoy executing.

At this stage, it becomes a matter of understanding that a lot of wheels need to keep spinning in order for them to remain financially successful. So then they prioritize and decide which aspects they'd like to keep and which ones they'd like to outsource.

But for someone merely beginning, on one hand it feels very tempting to try out all these shiny new tricks. We even begin to buy into the belief that we need to do all those things in order to sell our books. And that's where the trouble begins. When we try to singlehandedly execute all the tasks that would ideally take a team of 5—6 people to execute.

One of the wonderful folks I met at the conference is a marketing assistant to a big-name author. She's also a writer herself.

She said, "I always have to remind myself that my boss has me (to market and promote his books). But I don't have another me for myself. I have to do that work myself."

Which naturally limits how much time and effort she can ideally invest in juggling writing and marketing her own books.

I remember going down this rabbit hole of wanting and trying (and failing) to do it all when D was barely six months old and I had to finish up my last semester of studies at UofT.

It wasn't until a kind friend pointed out to me that I could see how badly I was trying to keep up with others who had more resources at their disposal — a nanny to look after their child or family to help them with stuff or even just a trusted support network of friends.

I've come away from this conference realizing that I've been putting the same pressure on myself. Trying to do a whole lot of things all at once when in fact I'd have been better off writing more books.

One of the most useful nuggets of wisdom I've gleaned from Dean Wesley Smith over the years is that beginner writers are always in a hurry.

We publish a book or two, most likely out of passion, then start to worry that no one's reading our works, then we sink either time or money or both in promotional efforts to grow our audience.

Even if we do manage to attract more readers, we don't have enough books to keep them interested and in our ecosystem for long. It's only a matter of time before they're off to find something else to read from some other author.

Going to the TIAC was a great eye-opener for me.

Instead of coming back with the usual list of all-the-things-I-want-to-do, I've come back this time with a determination to scale back on many of the things I'm doing.

I've come back with the realization that many of the things I'm doing are not helpful right now. I only jumped onto the bandwagon that other authors — with significantly larger backlists and writing in different genres — have been doing and advocating.

Well, lessons well learnt. 😊

I realized I have yet another takeaway to share. And it's this.

  • Even successful authors are only human beings.

I sometimes make the mistake of believing that (financially) successful people must be made of something special. Something in their essence must be causing them to be so determined and persistent.

But, turns out they are just human beings who pursued what they loved doing and happened to be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and make the most of the opportunities that came their way.

For every such lucky person, I'm sure there are countless others who didn't get lucky. Only, we don't get to hear their side of the story because they are not the ones called on stage to share their experiences.

The other realization I had is that no matter how warm and welcoming someone may have appeared on their YouTube channel or over a Zoom call, they could very well be less so in a large room full of people.

Conversely, someone who may have across as standoffish over a Zoom call could very well turn out to be super helpful and encouraging in person.

I also had the opportunity to share learnings from my own experiences in trying to be a full-time author over the past few years. Perhaps that merits another blog post in itself.

I'm so glad I had all these experiences at the TIAC. It has helped me reevaluate my own journey, what I've been spending my time on, and what would actually be a better use of my time.

Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch suggest the practice of asking ourselves WIBBOW?

WIBBOW = Will I be better off writing?

Almost always, the answer is YES!