A LOOK BACK AT THE Indie Author Forum

March 15, 2022

The inaugural BookLife Indie Author Forum lifted off on March 15, 2022 with a ton of informative discussions with experts in the industry. Attendees came from as nearby as New York and as far away as Germany and Brazil to share in the insights, energy, and experience of fellow indie authors.

Speakers included authors who’ve sold millions of books worldwide; publishers whose titles have been making the rounds on Netflix, the TODAY show, Essence, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert; award-winning publicists; children’s book authors; graphic designers; agents; and editors with decades of experience. Panels covered topics as varied as cover design, the art of mastering a social media presence, working within and beyond Amazon, and how to land an agent.

View the previous schedule below, including videos from some of last year’s panels.

Self-publishing continues to open myriad new possibilities for writers. This discussion spotlights the different paths taken by a select group of indie-authors to find success.

Michael AnderleMichael Anderle began writing full time at the age of 45, and since then he has sold over 4,000,000 books worldwide either under his name alone or as a collaborator with other well-known authors. He is a Dragon Award finalist as co-author with Craig Martelle for the Best Military Science Fiction novel of the year for 2018. Anderle has also established a publishing company called LMBPN® (for London, Milan, Barcelona, Paris, New York) which has authors from the USA, Australia, England, Canada, and various other countries around the world. Currently, Anderle resides in Las Vegas, Nevada. 
Tarryn FisherTarryn Fisher is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of nine novels. Born a sun hater, she currently makes her home in Seattle, Washington, with her children, husband, and psychotic husky. She loves connecting with her readers on Instagram.An Honest Lie by Tarryn Fisher
Christina C. JonesChristina C. Jones is a bestselling romance novelist and digital media creator. A timeless storyteller, she is lauded by readers for her ability to seamlessly weave the complexities of modern life into captivating tales of Black characters in nearly every romance subgenre. In addition to her full-time writing career, she co-founded Girl, Have You Read–a popular digital platform that amplifies black romance authors and their stories.No Longer Afraid by Christina C. Jones
Melissa MarrMelissa Marr writes fiction for adults, teens, and children. Her books have been translated into 28 languages and have been bestsellers overseas and in the US (New York Times, LA Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal). She is best known for the Wicked Lovely series (HarperTeen) and Bunny Roo (PenguinKids). Recently, she has published several indie books–including the Faery Bargains series (faeries, magic, & draugr), as well as the ebook & print versions of her Audible Original thriller, Pretty Broken Things. Upcoming releases include more indie titles, a graphic novel via D.C. Comics, and several books for Penguin. She teaches sporadically in an MFA program.How to Fold a Taco by Melissa Marr
The right cover design can make or break your book. In this panel, a team of graphic artists will critique book covers submitted by attendees, pointing out pitfalls to avoid and providing tips to help your book standout.
Michelle Arygle Michelle Argyle has been designing for over 20 years and creates covers and other design materials, as well as typesetting and formatting. In 2010 she created Melissa Williams Design for a small publisher. Since then, she has taken on many other clients. She finds no greater joy than transforming someone’s idea into a piece of marketable art. She believes details are everything. Michelle also enjoys writing and has 10 publications to her name. MW Design is now owned by MDA Books, which is the name under which Michelle publishes her fiction. Michelle lives in the Rocky Mountains where she finds every excuse possible to go hiking and be outdoors.
Amy M. Carlin Amy M. Carlin has been an avid reader since childhood, devouring literature of any and every genre. Amy has been typesetting and editing since high school and received an editing minor from Brigham Young University in 2013. Since that time, Amy has added cover design and audiobook narration to her skill set. Amy also loves yoga and music, has classical vocal training, and enjoys acting in occasional stage and film productions. She lives in Springville, Utah, with her sword-wielding husband and two cats.
Self-publishing continues to open myriad new possibilities for writers. This discussion spotlights the different paths taken by a select group of indie-authors to find success.
Mike Bray Mike Bray is CEO of Wolfpack Publishing. He is also a 24-year veteran internet marketer and a search engine optimization expert. Under Bray’s leadership and with his focus on rapid growth, the company has grown from a two-man operation focused on introducing out-of-print western fiction to the digital world to four imprints servicing multiple genres with a combination of both back-list and front-list titles.
Clayton Noblit Clayton Noblit is a senior marketing manager at Written Word Media. He is passionate about helping authors find their readers and finding ways to sell more books. When he’s not working, he enjoys spending time with his family, playing sports, and making beverages.
A well-crafted pitch can get your book noticed. In this session, PR professionals and agents will critique book descriptions submitted by attendees to show how a perfect pitch can open up opportunities.
Jane Friedman Jane Friedman has spent nearly 25 years working in the book publishing industry, with a focus on author education and trend reporting. She is the editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential publishing industry newsletter for authors, which was named 2020 Media Outlet of the Year by Digital Book World. Learn more at JaneFriedman.com.

Guest authors and illustrators examine what makes a picture book pop and discuss strategies for attracting readers.

Spike Adams Spike Adams is a retired Colorado judge and DIY publisher of his late son’s posthumous book, The Mask, a best Indie book of 2021 by Kirkus Review. Learn more at cjsparrowpublication.com. The Mask by Clayton Marshall Adams
Thomishia Booker Thomishia Booker launched Hey Carter! Books after being disappointed in the lack of representation of Black boys in children’s books. Her brand and books are inspired by her son, Carter, and focused on building self-identity in young Black boys. Her vision is to curate a series filled with “happy Black children loving their happy Black Lives!” Recently, Thomishia’s book, Brown Boy Joy, was featured in the Netflix original series, Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices. She was the only indie author among the cast of celebrities and New York Times bestselling authors, Jacqueline Woodson and Derrick Barnes. Her book was chosen for Bookmarks using a social justice education framework and as such it has received the endorsement of the Black Caucus American Library Association and the Association for Library Service to Children. Thomishia is a member of Building Leaders and Activists with Collective Knowledge, a group of Black authors in the Bay Area working to decolonize educational spaces. She tells stories of difficult lessons learned, self-doubt, and connecting with her community. Apart from her literary life, Thomishia is a licensed therapist and works full time as a healthcare administrator. My Brown Skin by Thomishia Booker
Erin Nelsen Parekh Erin Nelsen Parekh has worked in magazine and book publishing as a writer, editor, and copywriter with both indie and traditionally published authors. In 2016 she raised $17,000 on Kickstarter to fund a Shakespeare-for-babies board book. Published on-time and on-budget 5 months later, Behowl the Moon garnered favorable reviews in Publishers Weekly, Literary Review, and the Houston Chronicle, and was named among Kirkus Reviews‘ best indie picture books of the year. She then crowdfunded the second book in the series, The Wild Waves Whist, a Kirkus-starred best indie picture book of 2019. Erin is a freelance editor and copywriter and currently developing a novel and several picture books. She is a member of SCBWI and lives in Houston, Texas. My Brown Skin by Erin Nelsen Parekh
Naibe Reynoso Naibe Reynoso is a Mexican-American, multi-Emmy award-winning journalist based in Los Angeles, California. In 2018 she created Con Todo Press, a publishing company celebrating diverse cultures. Her first children’s book, Be Bold, Be Brave, was an Amazon #1 best seller and was awarded best nonfiction picture book in the 2020 International Latino Book Awards. It was also a 2020 Moon Beam Gold winner and was listed on the Tejas Star Reading 2021–2022 list. In 2021 her first fiction book, How to Fold a Taco, won the Publishers Weekly Selfies inaugural grand prize in the children’s category. Additionally, Reynoso is the author of the bestselling Disney Encanto, a Little Golden Book, and Antonio’s Amazing Gift, both published by Disney Books. How to Fold a Taco by Naibe Reynoso
Creating characters and situations beyond our own lived experiences that are believable and reflect today’s cultural sensitivities presents a formidable challenge. This panel emphasizes the importance of getting it right. Learn the best ways to achieve authenticity in your work, including the potential use of sensitivity readers and having an understanding of #OwnVoices stories to ensure that every character and book can have the most impact.
Raquel Shante de Lemos Raquel Shante de Lemos is the cofounder and creative director of Big Black Chapters, a platform dedicated to showcasing the literary works of Black and African American indie authors. When she’s not writing, Raquel spends her time managing clients, scrolling social media for relatable memes, and running a sex positivity blog.
Renee Harleston Renee Harleston is a sensitivity reader and founder of Writing Diversely. Prior to becoming a sensitivity reader, Renee followed her fascination with American history and culture, which led her to work in museum education and history nonprofits. Renee received her M.A. in Cultural Anthropology at Hunter College and her B.A. in Marketing at Pace University. She lives in Brooklyn by way of Florida and Virginia with her cat Sunday Blue. She’s fond of candy, imperfect women, and magic.
Chloe Liese Chloe Liese writes romances reflecting her belief that everyone deserves a love story. Her stories pack a punch of heat, heart, and humor and often feature characters who are neurodivergent like herself. She is best known for her slow-burn, family saga contemporary romance series, The Bergman Brothers. When not dreaming up her next book, Chloe spends her time wandering in nature, playing soccer, and, most happily, at home with her family and mischievous cats. Always Only You by Chloe Liese
Marshall Thornton Marshall Thornton writes several popular mystery series, most notably the Boystown Mysteries and the Pinx Video Mysteries. He has won the Lambda Award for Gay Mystery three times. His romantic comedy, Femme, was also a 2016 Lambda finalist for Best Gay Romance. Other books include My Favorite UncleThe Ghost Slept Over, and Fathers of the Bride. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America. Fathers of the Bride by Marshall Thornton
Never underestimate the importance of knowing your genre and audience. During this session, authors talk strategies for identifying where your book fits in.
Karen Booth Karen Booth is the author of more than 40 contemporary romances full of breathless kisses, messy family dynamics, and more than a few things she’s glad her grandmother never read. She is the co-founder of the 4500+ member Facebook reader group, Seasoned Romance, dedicated to the promotion of romance with characters well over the age of 35. A midwestern girl transplanted in the South, Karen was raised on ’80s music and repeated readings of Forever by Judy Blume. In her spare time, she indulges her cat, snuggles with her husband, and texts too much with her two college-age kids. It's a Widow Thing by Karen Booth
Alexa Kang Alexa Kang is an author of WWII and 20th century historical fiction. Her works include the novel series Rose of Anzio, an epic love story that begins in 1940 Chicago and continues on to the historic Battle of Anzio in Italy; and the Shanghai Story trilogy, a saga chronicling the events in Shanghai leading up to WWII and the history of Jews and Jewish refugees in China. Her current work, the Nisei War Series, is a collection of stories about second-generation Japanese-Americans in war situations around the world during WWII. The Girl with a Star-Spangled Heart: A WWII Novel by Alexa Kang
Derek Taylor Kent Derek Taylor Kent is the author of 17 books, including titles published by HarperCollins, Holt/Macmillan, and Evolved Publishing. He has published 12 indie titles through Whimsical World, the publishing company he runs along with his wife. Best known for his children’s books, his bestselling, award-winning titles are treasured in hundreds of thousands of homes across the world. They include the 4-book, middle-grade series, Scary School, the bilingual picture book series, El Perro con Sombrero, the thriller Kubrick’s Game, and many more. His newest book, a collection of children’s poetry called Hysterical Rhymes and How You Can Rhyme Too! was released on March 15, 2022. Learn more at DerekTaylorKent.com. My Homework Ate My Dog by Derek Taylor Kent
Kathy Meis Kathy Meis is the founder and CEO of Bublish, a complete publishing solution for today’s independent authors. With more than 30 years of experience in the media and publishing industries, Kathy has served in a wide variety of editorial and management positions at some of the industry’s leading companies. A professional writer, editor, ghostwriter, and successful publishing entrepreneur, Kathy speaks and blogs regularly on the subject of indie publishing, book promotion, author branding, social marketing, and discoverability. She has been a guest speaker at many conferences, including Book Expo America, Women in Media, GrubSteet, PubSmart, AuthorU, The San Francisco Writers Conference, IndieRecon, and New England Crime Bake, among others. She lives in Charleston, South Carolina.
The right cover design can make or break your book. In this panel, a team of graphic artists will critique book covers submitted by attendees, pointing out pitfalls to avoid and providing tips to help your book standout.
Amy Epright A 22-year veteran of DIY Media Group, Amy Epright has designed everything from cassette tapes to cookbooks. As a member of the BookBaby design department, she leads a team of enthusiastic designers toward the goal of making every author’s dream come true in the form of a beautiful, professionally-designed book both author and artist can be proud of.
Amy M. Carlin Becky Rodriguez-Smith has been a graphic design professional for 18 years, and has helped thousands of independent authors and musicians bring their creative visions to life. As the Director of Design Services at BookBaby, the nation’s fastest-growing self-publishing company, she inspires and mentors a team of designers dedicated to transforming raw manuscripts and cover concepts into professional published books. She lives in Philadelphia, PA where she enjoys crafting with her family.
Reviews and contests can boost the profile of your book, help you improve its quality, and boost your marketing plan. This session will help indie authors find the best opportunities and avoid getting scammed along the way.
Kilby Blades Kilby Blades is a USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance. Her debut novel, Snapdragon, was a HOLT Medallion finalist, a Publishers Weekly BookLife Prize semi-finalist, and an IPPY Award medalist. She’s been lauded by critics for “easing feminism and equality into her novels” (IndieReader) and “writing characters who complement each other like a fine wine does a good meal” (Publishers Weekly). When she’s not writing her own novels, she teaches craft and the business of writing at the Berkeley Writing Salon. Kilby is an oenophile, a cinephile and, most of all, a glutton for a good story. Forrest for the Trees by Kilby Blades
Sarah Hawkins Sarah Hawkins is the Collection Development Manager for Anoka County Library, a suburban public library system located in the Twin Cities metro area. She also manages the statewide local author initiatives MN Writes MN Reads and the Minnesota Author Project on behalf of Minnesota’s public libraries.
Tim Slee Tim (TJ) Slee is a past winner of the Allen & Unwin Ink Short Fiction Award, Publishers Weekly‘s BookLife Prize, the HarperCollins Banjo Prize for Australian Fiction, and twice winner of Best Political Thriller at the Readers’ Favorite Awards. His novel Taking Tom Murray Home will be released by HarperCollins USA in June 2022. Taking Tom Murray Home by Tim Slee
Sandy Smith Sandra (Sandy) Poirier Smith is the president of Smith Publicity, Inc., an award-winning book promotion company dedicated to helping authors, experts, and publishers create awareness about their books and expertise through media coverage. Celebrating 25 years in business in 2022, Smith Publicity has promoted thousands of authors and publishers since 1997—from seasoned New York Times bestsellers to debut titles. Sandy’s passion is working with clients to create and execute tailored book publicity strategies. She regularly writes and speaks at book industry events on the topics of book marketing and author/expert promotion. She earned a BS in Art and an MBA from Northeastern University. Find Sandy on LinkedIn.
A distinguished panel of literary agents will discuss what they’re looking for in query letters and pitches, what makes a letter or pitch stand out, and what best practices to follow when contacting an agent.
Mark Coker Mark Coker serves as Chief Strategy Officer at Draft2Digital, the world’s leading publishing platform for indie authors. Draft2Digital helps 250,000 authors and small independent presses around the world publish and distribute 900,000 ebooks and over 10,000 print books. Mark is the founder of indie ebook pioneer Smashwords, which was acquired by Draft2Digital on March 1, 2022. Mark is an outspoken advocate for self-published authors, a former contributing columnist for Publishers Weekly, and the host of the SMART AUTHOR podcast where he teaches evergreen best practices to help authors publish ebooks with pride, professionalism, and success. Learn more about Draft2Digital at draft2digital.com. Mark blogs at blog.smashwords.com. Follow Mark on Twitter @markcoker.
Victoria Dillman Victoria Dillman is an associate literary agent with Howland Literary. Before Howland, Victoria was an assistant and foreign rights associate at Sobel Weber Associates and an intern at Linda Leith Publishing as well as a reader for the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) Awards. She holds a B.A. in English from McGill University and an MFA in Fiction from The New School. Her pronouns are she/her.
Wendy Keller Wendy Keller is an award-winning former journalist, respected literary agent, author, speaker, and acclaimed book marketing consultant. Wendy has worked for PR Newswire; the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain; as managing editor of Dateline magazine; and as associate publisher of Los Angeles’ then-second-largest Spanish language weekly, La Gaceta. She founded what is now Keller Media, Inc., as ForthWrite Literary Agency in 1989.
Successful authors share tips and strategies on how to grow your social media platforms and build an engaged audience.
Suzie Elliott Suzie Elliott is a social media manager and blogger. A Pinterest and Instagram specialist, she has worked with hundreds of authors, bloggers, and businesses all over the world to boost their social media platforms and grow their online presence. She lives in Birmingham, UK with her husband and loves writing, musical theatre, and exploring new places.
Janine Hernandez Janine Hernandez is a #1 bestselling author, speaker, and founder of the Book Publishing Academy. From the age of nine, Janine knew she’d become a world-famous, self-published author whose first-hand experiences would lend credibility to her work, and at the age of 26, Janine self-published her very first book. She coaches aspiring authors and speakers on how to self-publish their books. In 2011, Janine was awarded the Mitch Akin Mentor of the Year award for the New Pathways Program. Janine sits on the Board of Reach Family Services, a local, non-profit organization that focuses on assisting families raising children with behavioral health and emotional challenges. Janine received her Master of Arts in International Business from Western International University and currently resides in Phoenix, AZ. Taking Tom Murray Home by Janine Hernandez
Sassafras Lowrey Sassafras Lowrey’s books have been honored by the American Library Association, the Lambda Literary Foundation and the Dog Writers Association of America. Sassafras is a full-time freelance writer and content creator whose work has appeared in leading publications including The New York TimesCatapultWIRED, and with The American Kennel Club. Visit SassafrasLowrey.com.
Tiffany Richardson Tiffany Richardson’s writing career has spanned over 15 years. She’s the author of one novel and three poetry collections. She’s well-versed in poetry, song writing, and all genres of literature. When she is not working on her own novels, she’s running Big Black Chapters, a movement and website started to promote and mentor indie authors of color, in partnership with her lifelong best friend. Tiffany hails from Houston, Texas, with roots in Louisiana.

A panel of authors and editors will explain the importance of having a professional editor review your manuscript and how, with the help of a skilled editor, you can take your book to the next level.

Alesha BrownAlesha Brown is an award-winning entrepreneur, a book and magazine publisher, and the CEO of Fruition Publishing Concierge Services. She served as a magazine managing editor and celebrity interviewer for two digital magazines, before recently launching her own. She has been a podcaster since 2016 for multiple brands before hosting her own. She also serves as a non-profit executive, ghostwriter and copywriter for individuals as well as business to business.Sometimes All You Have is Happy by Alesha Brown
Robin Cutler

Robin Cutler is the President of LMBPN Worldwide Publishing as well as the CEO of How To Publish Books.com, a consulting service for indie authors and publishers. Robin both created and led the development of IngramSpark, an international, award-winning self-publishing platform from 2013–2020. She has published over 1,000 books as Assistant Director at USC Press and as CEO and founder of her trade imprint, Summerhouse Press. Robin also worked for Amazon for six years.

Robin served on the board of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) from 2014–2018. She speaks frequently at writing and publishing conferences worldwide including Book Expo America, Frankfurt Bookfair, London Bookfair, SFWC, and NINC to name a few. Robin has in-depth knowledge of indie, academic, and trade publishing and is an expert in content creation, distribution, on-demand models, and author strategies. Currently, Robin is working on a screenplay. Follow Robin on Twitter @rcutlerbookpub.

Nathan RobersonNathan Roberson is the Editorial Director of Gotham Ghostwriters, where he manages an extensive network of writers, editors and book doctors working on a wide array of nonfiction and fiction. Prior to joining Gotham, he was a senior editor at Crown. 
Brooke WarnerBrooke Warner is publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress, president of Warner Coaching Inc., and author of Write On, Sisters!Green-Light Your BookWhat’s Your Book?, and three books on memoir. Brooke is a TEDx speaker, weekly podcaster (of Write-Minded with co-host Grant Faulkner of NaNoWriMo), and the former Executive Editor of Seal Press. She writes a regular column for Publishers Weekly‘s BookLife.Write On, Sisters! by Brooke Warner
A well-crafted pitch can get your book noticed. In this session, PR professionals and agents will critique book descriptions submitted by attendees to show how a perfect pitch can open up opportunities.
Nathan Bransford Nathan Bransford is the author of the Jacob Wonderbar series (Dial Books for Young Readers) and How to Write a Novel. His writing and publishing blog has consistently been named one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers by Writers Digest. He works as a freelance editor in Brooklyn. How to Write a Novel by Nathan Bransford

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