The Book Bums: Iowa Indie Writers Convene on Zoom

The Book Bums meet in pre-COVID times at the West Liberty Public Library.

Admittedly, the idea of a bunch of indie (that is, self-published) authors discussing what they are working on, what they are struggling with, and what they have learned since last they got together isn’t exactly the stuff of a bestselling thriller. But a February 12 meeting of the “Book Bums”—held via Zoom rather than in its traditional spot at the West Liberty Public Library—reminded me that while writing is often a solitary task, there is a lot to be gained by participating in the wider community of writers.

The Book Bums have been gathering together annually now for quite a number of years. The members of my writing group, the Writing Lads, were always honored when we were asked to be part of various panel discussions, and it was always a joy to get together with other writers (some published, some working away in hopes of publishing) for a daylong celebration of our shared passion.

Of course, the pandemic upended the annual meeting format, but the Book Bums stay connected via a Facebook group. The idea of convening on Zoom has bubbled up now and again, and I was pleased to sign in with six of my fellow indie authors on a Saturday morning for about 90 minutes of conversation.

I should note that the Book Bums are a loose confederation of writers; there are no membership dues, no level of acclaim or experience required, and no specific expectations for participating. Instead, the group, spearheaded by Karen Nortman, comes together primarily, it seems to me, to encourage one another to stick with our writing.

This, in the end, is probably the most valuable aspect of any gathering of writers.

The seven of us who gathered virtually that Saturday morning included:

Me: Author of Murder by the Slice and a fellow who seems wholly incapable of completing its sequel, It’s All About the Dough.

Karen Nortman: Author of the cozy Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries and the Time Travel Trailer series.

Elaine Orr: Author of the Jolie Gentil Cozy Mysteries and much more—as she is likely the most prolific of us.

Teresa LaBella: Originally a romance writer who now pens romantic suspense and political thrillers, the most recent of which is Capital Strings.

Dennis Maulsby: A writer of poetry and prose with a number of awards to his credit whose work is often grounded in his experiences as a member of the military.

Joanne Salemink: Author of Scout’s Honor, a novel in which a motorcycle plays a central role. Its sequel is in rewrites, and she has ideas for a third entry.

Marian Hart: A retired pastor in West Liberty who is at work on a novel.

Our conversation touched on a number of topics—how or if TikTok can be used to promote books effectively, how to come up with good copy for back covers, issues related to plotting, editing, and the like, and a variety of resources for writers—but I was struck by a recurring note.

The pandemic, as well as various challenges in the lives of several of the authors, has upended—or at least delayed—a lot of writing these authors had hoped to complete by now. (I must note that I upended myself long before the pandemic came around!) And it is that fact, that common sense that writing is tough sledding for many of us right now, that makes this sort of convening so helpful. There is something almost paradoxically encouraging about hearing that others are struggling to move their projects forward. It’s a reminder that writing is hard, and that most everyone encounters difficulties from time to time—and sometimes for long periods.

Equally central to this sense of encouragement are those writers who have been writing, publishing, and promoting throughout this period. They serve as a reminder that the books (and other projects) can in fact be written, published, promoted, and enjoyed by readers.

I know I am hardly offering profound revelations here. It may seem obvious that getting together with like-minded people with similar goals and challenges can be an encouraging experience. But sometimes obvious things can be easy to forget. I’m grateful to have the Book Bums to remind me that we all struggle from time to time—even when we are doing something we love—and that the struggle is just another part of the experience.