It was a cold, but beautiful day in October back in 2011. I had read somewhere around 65-75 books in only six months, which was a first for me at the time. All by women. Most of them unknown, self-published authors. One of those books was formatted as a square, entirely in bold “ink,” and all one paragraph. And I could NOT put it down. It was that good.
I knew then what I was going to do. I just knew that these women needed each other. That these women needed a safe place to talk about hot vampires without getting the side eyes. That they were acting on their desires to be and do more. They were walking into unknown territory, and wanted to know how to connect to each other and to the resources that would make the work better, make them more successful, proud, and confident… more than dreamers.
I walked into my writing group and said, I want to meet these women. I want to find ways to help them. Who’s with me? And everyone in the room raised their hands…right after we all agreed it was completely nuts. No one had done a conference for unknown, indie writers. No one had thought to create awards that included their contributions to the literary world. No one also wanted to invite traditionally published authors to celebrate alongside them the changing landscape of publishing that was actually helping everyone think and do new things, discover new possibilities, and share war stories along the way.
After that very first utopYAcon at Scarritt-Bennett Center in July of 2012, I knew I’d found my tribe. I’d always been helping creative indie-preneurs, and demystifying marketing for companies, but this had my heart soaring. Did I really get to write off the books I read? I was soooooo in.
I had this 10-year vision for UTOPiAcon. At our five-year mark in 2016, I started asking myself why was I still holding on to the 10-year thing? We’d accomplished 99% of what we’d set out to do already with UTOPiAcon in the first three years. When no less than 15 events grew out of the seeds of the con, I was awed. Had we played a part in inspiring those? The mission and message was spreading, and evolving.
And on a parallel trajectory, romance writers and multi-author signing events were being created because the old school book store author tours had been dying (I’m glad to see that this isn’t the case anymore).
These days, there are hundreds of events a year, many on the same day or weekend. So I asked myself? What’s next?
My job was to always be innovating the con, always be improving it, and always be inspiring if possible. But something happened to me along the way — I think I started feeling a lot like some of the authors out there — overworked and exhausted. I was having panic attacks, and losing focus. People would mention it when I’d see them at UTOPiAcon. I’d just sidestep it with well, it’s my job. I’m working the event, not playing. I was working harder, and I was feeling less inspired, and a little trapped.
I am a seeker of adventure. I am a massive risk taker. I wish I could tell you how many times my husband and my mom have rolled their eyes at me and said you’re insane, it won’t work, why are you doing this? My answer really boils down to — I don’t know how to be anyone else but me (and I wish I had a dollar for every one of those eye rolls).
I started asking myself is there perhaps a different and better way to serve this community? I meditated, I took long walks, I journaled, I got real with checking with myself and how I want my future to look and feel. I let it all marinate in my heart and mind.
In the meantime, I dipped my toes in the publishing pool with Regina Wamba and WaWa Productions. I created the Next Chapter Writers Retreats, private, invitation-only retreats for writers and industry folk who want deeply immersive, highly-focused retreats focused on topics important to them. By bringing in experts who have award-winning and national recognition and expertise, they are able to take their passions to the next level. I created the Lift As You Climb Corps membership group to inspire creativity, to share practical marketing advice, to generate synergy between like-minded people.
I re-read The Dip by Seth Godin, and this blog post by biz idol, Derek Sivers, the gist of which is this — In order to create something new, you need the space to do so. You need to release that which takes up space now. Eighty percent of my workload is directly on UTOPiAcon. The other 20% is divided between everything I just mentioned above and my private clients. That was a severe imbalance shacking up in my psyche and on my to-do list.
I didn’t mind so much I guess because I can’t…or I couldn’t imagine my life without UTOPiAcon, and all of you, in it. I had found such inspiration and love in this community. I hear about trolls and hate and drama, but I guess I just don’t catch wind of it or I really am surrounded by the most amazing people on the planet.
And the bottom line was (and is)…I didn’t want to let you down. Being a part of your success and struggles, of your spiritual and business journeys was something I did not and do not take lightly. Helping first time authors, first time signers, as well as the New York Times bestsellers to learn and do new things, meet and connect with brave and creative people like themselves…man, it’s the bomb.
But, thing is, I was starting to feel unfulfilled and uninspired. And I knew if I was, then you were probably feeling that way, too. It was time for something new…something different and fun and adventurous and inspiring. It was time for a change.
I am extremely proud of what UTOPiAcon has accomplished. We’ve seen romances turn into wedding proposals. We’ve worked with amazing charities like Book ‘Em and Build A Library in South Africa. We have seen unknown authors become best-selling industry idols influencing a whole new decade of writers.
I, personally, have gotten to work with amazing sponsors, vendors, and a team I could not and will not ever forget — Deena Bailey Graves, Susan Burdorf, Jamie Anderson, April Robbins, Angela Sutton, Lindsey Snyder, Doris Orman, Ashley Bodette, Ren Reidy, Chelsea Starling, Victoria Faye, Christina Mercer, Victoria Faye, Kelley Lynne, Jess Campbell, Erin Fitzpatrick, Angela Trumbo, The Elend women, Maria Pease, Jo Michaels (all the bloggers – you know who you are!),Crystal Bryant, Mindy Ruiz, and all of the volunteers over the years!
So, what I’m trying to say is this… #UTOPiA2017 will be the last UTOPiAcon. This year’s format is what I’ve been working toward for awhile, and I want to go out on a high note. We are bringing in heavyweights who get the meaning and mission of UTOPiAcon, which, in a nutshell, is Lift As You Climb. Give, share, create, dedicate, shine, laugh, and love who you are, what you do, and don’t chase your dreams — LEAD THEM.
This decision was not made lightly. But it was made decisively. The minute I put it out there, the Universe responded boldly. I am excited about the future again. I am excited about what I get to bring to you in new and exciting ways.
Listen to your heart. If you feel a tug in a new direction, get clear with yourself about what you may need to make space for. It’s infinitely better to regret something you have done than something you haven’t because maybe the fear of change or of what others will think is holding you back from new chapters, new characters, and many more new happy endings.
In the coming weeks and months you’ll hear about what will happen to the web site, the Awards, and more. And, if you’re interested, you’ll hear about what’s new in my world, too.
I hope you will join us for UTOPiAcon 2017. It’s going to be a very special event.
Thank you for the memories and the love and the laughter. I’ve truly had the time of my life…and I owe it all to you.
Janet Wallace, founder