Writer’s Digest magazine has hosted conferences for years, but this month marks something new: indieLAB, a weekend aimed at equipping writers of all stripes to actually make money doing so—and their first hosted in the mag’s hometown (that’s Cincy) on September 29–30. We caught up with Sam Sanders, the event content developer, to get the low down on why to go and what to expect when you get there.
Talk to me about the conference origins.
It’s a brand new event for us. It came about out of a desire to serve the growing entrepreneurial writer market. [Writer’s Digest does] a lot for writers who are interested in learning craft and getting published—the standard fare. But we were hearing from our readers that people really wanted more actual, actionable information about how to get paid for your writing, whether that’s your end goal—you want to be a freelancer or a freelance copywriter—or if it’s your goal to pay your bills while you’re writing your novel. The reality is, anymore, that’s just something that has to be a part of any writer’s career.
F+W hosts conferences all over. Why Cincinnati for indieLAB?
The magazine has been around for almost 100 years, and we’ve always been headquartered in Cincinnati. So it was important for us to be there, but also we wanted to do something in the Midwest. We have events on either coast, but the Midwest is another area where it’s really important for us to be represented. Cincinnati is also a huge brand marketing town. There are so many freelancers and people doing that work already.
There’s a lot of talk with entrepreneurial pursuits—tech or otherwise—about mid-size city cost of living making these ventures more feasible. Is that part of it?
It’s a huge part of it. And one of our keynotes, Tobias Buckell, is a New York Times-bestselling novelist, but he lives in Bluffton, Ohio. He lives in Ohio because he’s able to keep his cost of living low, but also work full-time and support a family as an independent writer. That is his only job, and he’s able to have that career because he chose to live somewhere where the cost of living is lower and where his kids can have a better quality of life. You don’t have to live on the coast if you don’t want to, and you can still have a writing career.
Who is the conference geared toward?
There are four different audiences. One is you’re already a published author, whether that’s traditionally or you’ve been self-publishing, and you just want to stay fresh in how to continue to market your work. The other is the straight-ahead freelancer. Another would be if you’re a small press—the Midwest has a ton of small independent publishers. We want to offer something substantial to them. And also, if you’re aspiring and you haven’t been published yet, you’re just trying to figure out. There are so many paths to publication now. We want people to be able to make an informed decision, whether it’s the traditional I’m going to query the big five publishing houses or it’s I’m going to go on my own and crowd-fund my career or I’m going to self-publish.
Does it focus on fiction, nonfiction, ad copywriting…?
It’s everything. And it’s not going to be craft-specific. So fiction writers and nonfiction writers can feel like it’s presented for them. It’s genre-agnostic. It’s: You want a writing career? We’ll help you.
What makes indieLAB stand out from other conference out there?
There are a lot of conferences geared toward the more business-minded entrepreneurial writer, like I want to do content writing solely for companies and I want to learn sales and all that. That is not what we’re about. We want for people to be able to make money, but this is really: You have an artist spirit, how are you going to pay your bills? We want to come at it from those directions, and we feel like that’s a worthy, huge, and growing audience. There’s a whole country full of other people like me who are looking for answers to these questions, and when everybody starts to talk to one another and starts to learn from one another, then we all become more empowered. That’s what I think is pretty critical right now.
What should attendees expect coming in?
It’s a multi-track conference, and you can build your own schedule. So you can go to the sessions that make sense for you and where you’re at in your career, but also nearly all of the sessions are going to be taped. So in going to the conference, you are not only getting the ones that you can go to, but you’re also getting access to all of the other ones as well. You have that information to go back to. I would say that’s a huge highlight—that the information will always be available to you. There’s also a private LinkedIn group so that people can continue to network within Cincinnati, there is a networking component of the conference too.
Since it does have “lab” in the name, we’re going to have several multi-session intensives within the program itself so that you’re actually walking away with something, either something you’ve created there, that you can take come and continue to use as a resource, or you’re set up so that you can create something once you get home.
We want people to come away with actual information that they can use; it’s not just a sit-and-get, like you’re sitting and listening to people in a black turtleneck and the mic and the TED Talk thing. It’s not like that. It’s actual workable information that you can put to use in your career.
Lastly, tell me about the name.
We wanted indie or independent—some variation on it—because that’s what this crowd is. And we want to embrace that. And lab: We didn’t want this to be just another conference where you go sit in a chair. We wanted to convey that this is active, that you’ll be a participant, you’ll be learning.
September 29–30. Get more details at indielab.writersdigestconference.com.