Thanks for all the fish: Lessons from two years of Indie Publisher

Outgoing Editor H.G. Watson shares lessons learned while overseeing the Indie Publisher newsletter

Two years ago, Indiegraf CEO Erin Millar sent me an email asking me if I wanted to chat about an idea for a new newsletter. Indiegraf was quietly getting started behind the scenes, and she wanted to get the word out about her new plan to help build financially sustainable media outlets.

70 issues of Indie Publisher later, we’ve supported 58 independent publishers across North America. I got to see this happen from day one. (I was Indiegraf’s second employee — now there are 18 of us!)

I’m moving on from Indiegraf to focus on writing and teaching. But before I head out, I wanted to look back on some of what I’ve learned during the past two years.

Building organic connections

Since early 2020, we built an Indie Publisher newsletter audience that exceeds 1,000 subscribers with mostly organic marketing beyond word of mouth.

How did we do it? We started with a good product idea. Over the past few years, it’s become clear that more journalists want to make it on their own. But at the time we started Indie Publisher, there weren’t a ton of resources explaining how people could actually do it.

Our newsletter has always been focused on advice anyone can implement. Some of my favourite pieces include stories about small publishers who figured it out on their own as well as our how-to guides around essential topics, such as leading a revenue campaign.

One of the biggest success signals is that many of our active publisher partners started as Indie Publisher subscribers before they even considered participating in one of our programs.

What marketing teaches journalists

Before I joined Indiegraf, I had no idea what a lead generator was and barely knew anything about marketing funnels. For me, there was a hard line between marketing and journalism.

But learning how to use tools that originated from the marketing world have made me better at my job. All journalists want their work to find readers and make an impact. The promotion of that piece can make a huge difference in whether that happens.

I’m currently advising another journalism project. The other day on a call, I found myself talking about how we needed to think about lead generation enticement — clearly, something has rubbed off!

Feedback is love

Our CEO Erin Millar often says: Feedback is love. I’ve always taken this to mean that being honest and kind while giving constructive criticism can help us grow.

While I’ve always promoted my own work, I never worked as a “marketer” until this job. My learning curve was steep. But I didn’t mind — I took it as an opportunity to learn more and challenge myself in new ways. Every time I received feedback, it felt like I got a little better at what I do.

Had I not received that input from Erin and my colleagues, I don’t know if I’d be leaving Indiegraf with the skills I have today.

Find a good team

“Team work makes the dream work” is a cliche for a reason. At Indiegraf, we’re surrounded by people who are intensely passionate about growing startup media outlets. Most of us worked in journalism for stints, and even if we’re not writing or editing all the time, we care very much about where this industry is heading. It’s been a pleasure to not only work with these folks, but to share journalism stories and talk about our own dreams for the future.

Say hi!

It probably won’t be long before you see me in this newsletter again — I am a freelancer now! But if you’d like to say hi, please do. I’d love to hear from you again.

I pass over the editing of Indie Publisher to the capable hands of Joe Lanane, our publisher success manager, who will manage the newsletter until Indiegraf hires our next digital marketer. Is that you? You can apply here!

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