Each month Orna Ross and Joanna Penn join forces to bring you The Advanced Self-Publishing Salon, a live online broadcast where they discuss what’s going on in the publishing industry, and provide an update on the latest tools and techniques that are helping them achieve their writing and publishing goals.
If you’re committed to being a successful indie author, this conversation between The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing” and one of The Guardian UK' s “Top creative professionals” shouldn’t be missed.
This Month's Advanced Self-Publishing Salon Episode
No matter how you like to consume your content, we have you covered. You can listen to the podcast recording, watch the YouTube broadcast, or read the full transcript of this Salon episode below.
Topics discussed this week include:
- An update on our personal writing projects
- ALLi's plans for the London Book Fair
- Changing the name of our event from Indie Author Fringe to Self-Publishing Advice Conference
- An update on Amazon, KDP, and Apple Books, Kobo, Nook, and Walmart
- Complete reliance on Amazon is not a good business model
- Author Earnings Report
- Rise of personal branding for authors
- Joanna focusing more on YouTube in 2018
- Selecting your social media outlet
- Orna finishing a white paper on Blockchain
- Joanna writing nonfiction book on how to write a nonfiction book
- Make your website your own – not Mark Zuckerberg's
Listen to the the Advanced Self-Publishing Salon Podcast
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Watch the Advanced Self-Publishing Salon Video
Read the Advanced Self-Publishing Salon Transcript
Joanna Penn: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors' Advanced Self-Publishing Salon, with me Joanna Penn and Orna Ross. Hi, Orna.
Orna Ross: Hey, Jo. Hi, everyone.
Joanna Penn: Today is very exciting. We're talking about the rise of personal branding for authors in an age of decreasing social media impact. Very exciting. That's coming up soon. But first, we're going to do a little bit of an update on our writing, since we are writers, too, not just talking about writing. So Orna, what have you been up to in your personal writing life since we last spoke, which was ages ago? It was in early December.
Orna Ross: Yeah, it seems a long time ago. When was that? Yeah, lots of writing going on, as always. Doing bits of poetry, but also more enormously, coming to the end of a script that I've been working on for ages and I was kind of struggling with that for some time. And then at the end of last year, Joni Rogers, who is an ALLi member, and I got together and she does a thing she calls plot whispering and she helped me to structure the script. So it is now galloping towards the end, which is brilliant.
And also revamping the Go Create A Books, have just pulled out in print now the starter pack again, with the new Target the Micro Niche Audience, we were talking about in the last salon. And the Creativist Compendium, which is also taking in, as well as Creative Life, taking in Creative Entrepreneurship and Creating Creative Works. So yeah, lots of different kind of topics at different levels. What about you?
Joanna Penn: Yeah, so both of us do fiction and nonfiction. I did three books that came out in December. The Healthy Writer co-written with Dr. Euan Lawson, which has just done incredibly well in the author community, especially with the themes of burnout and stress. And of course the Yew Year's resolutions. So that's really good. And my own health has been better as a result, so that's cool.
Map of Shadows came out in December and this January, I've just this week finished my script. So I've adapted a script as well. And I'm going on a course later this year. So it's interesting we're both doing that. I think … And you used the word structure, and I think while listening, sometimes people think structure means you are hemming yourself in, but actually structure enables you to figure out what the hell you wanna say within your story. So I think we'll probably have to talk about lessons from screenwriting another time. But that's been cool.
And then also I came out as Penny Appleton.
Orna Ross: Phew, at last.
Joanna Penn: I know, so me and my mom are co-writing as Penny Appleton. We've also now got a picture on the Amazon page. My mom has agreed to put her face in the world and we'll be talking about personal branding. So all of these things have been pretty significant, fiction and non-fiction. But of course, it's not just you. There is also the Alliance of Independent Authors. So what's been happening with ALLi? What's going on?
Orna Ross: Always at this time of the year, we're in buildup to London Book Fair. And London Book Fair is probably the most significant live event that we do and each year, especially now since BEA and Frankfurt Book Fair really have showed that they have minimal interest in authors. We've decided that we won't be attending either of those two fairs anymore. And we're looking for a big author and conference to align with at the end of the year. But up here at the beginning of the year, it's London Book Fair. And we always do an online free conference for the indies who can't make those big events, kind of bringing the event to them and also just widening the reach of what goes on in those places for us.
So we will be doing that again, but we have been calling ourselves Indie Author Fringe. We're changing that because we don't feel that indie authors are fringe to anything, really, anymore, if they ever were. And it's now going to be called the Self-Publishing Advice Conference to match our self-publishing advice center and log, and another new publication that we're starting, which is our Self-Publishing Advice Quarterly. And that's going to be a magazine which brings together the best of and the most interesting, the most important trends of the previous quarter into one, easy-to-digest, easy-to-read magazine and that will launch at the fair.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, that's all super exciting. And things changing is a bit of a theme, as ever we cover some news upfront. It seems like the feeling at the end of 2017 was … Well, I certainly felt things are stabilizing. We know the big players. We can run a whole business as indie authors and yeah, things are stable. And then, like things have just gone off. It's even in the last week, it's so funny how many things have happened. And I for one am really pleased because there's some big movers and shakers in the space. So what stood out for your in terms of the latest news?
Orna Ross: Yeah, it was really funny, wasn't it? It's like hubris, don't say things like that. We'll show you. Indie author space, just doesn't stay still for long and that obviously is gonna continue into 2018. Big for me, what's really big is the way in which … You and I are both big proponents of going wide as the most sustainable business model long-term, despite the fact that we all understand completely that a lot of indies make their money by selective use of Amazon exclusive and KDP Select and all of that. It's very much, I think, important to diversify in any business and in any walk of life, really. So yeah, and it's interesting to see that other players have done some very interesting things. Apple iBooks seems to be really gearing up now again, which is brilliant because Apple does things that I think nobody else can do.
And also for authors, it's a pure target market where it's not a race for the bottom pricing. People are prepared to … Apple customers are prepared to pay more money and like a higher quality book. I'm talking in terms of picture books and all that sort of stuff. So that's great. Kobo has just signed an interesting agreement with Walmart in the US. And lots of other things happening on the going wide front. So for me, probably long-term is the most significant thing that has happened in January 2018.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, so just to round up there. So Apple is revamping iBooks. They're gonna just be called Books. And I think what is more interesting is that they're going to be linking them with audiobooks, and I have long said “Why the hell are they not on the same thing?” I think they'll still be on different tabs, but at least there should be some relationship between the ebook and the audiobook, which will be amazing. As you mentioned, Rakuten Kobo going into Walmart, with co-branded Walmart Kobo e-reading devices, eBooks and audiobooks again. We're seeing, as we've been talking about for years, the rise of audiobooks. Maybe this year it will be the big year. Also, we've got Google Play has also launched audiobooks, which is interesting and I'm now using Publish Drive to get to Google Play. I haven't really seen much going on there yet, but I'm hoping that will improve.
Also we have Barnes and Noble relaunched Nook Press as Barnes and Noble Press. Now interesting because I left Nook Press a while back, annoyed at the way that they shuttered their international stores. But it's interesting that they're still kind of clinging on. I didn't expect that, because I thought everything would just be winding down. So I thought that was quite interesting from a “Are they even going to fight for the US market?” But I agree with you. I think iBooks and the Kobo … Again, the Kobo Walmart thing is kind of crazy because I thought everyone had rolled over and said the US market is just Amazon. I have my doubts as to how much Walmart readers will buy more than just blockbusters, because that's what Walmart tends to sell. But like WH Smith in the UK, Kobo is also a partner there. But I think what the message for people listening is, it's not over. Amazon.com US is not the only game in town and this will mean that there's more stuff going on. So yeah, pretty exciting.
Orna Ross: Yeah, very exciting. And it's interesting what you say about Apple and audio because they've rebranded iTunes as well to become Apple Podcasts, or just Podcasts, which is great because I think aligning those three things, eBooks, audiobooks, and podcasts it's something that works very well for authors so you can develop the brand, which is what our theme of today, with your podcast and that is going to travel across, I think, to some degree. It makes it easier and for that to happen. So yeah, all good news, I think.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, and I think the other thing is, the interesting thing that kind of happened was this mistake where a 50 percent royalty rate appeared on a KDP dashboard. A few authors in America, I believe, saw it. Some people took screen prints. David [inaudible 00:09:45] got it out there and in fact, he and I were just quoted in Forbes talking about it. Now I had a very positive spin, which is I would go with the 50 percent royalty in order to be non-exclusive and use KDP Select. I want both worlds and I'm happy to take a lower royalty to do both. Now maybe that will happen because with ACX, as we know, if you go exclusive with ACX you get 40 percent and if you go non-exclusive, you get 25 percent. So they have already done this exclusive or not with a lower royalty rate. So I'm really hoping that's what it is. There was lots of speculation. Some people had other thoughts. Did you have any thoughts on that 50 percent?
Orna Ross: Well, you know, John Doppler did the analysis for it and the ALLi Self-Publishing Advice Center, selfpublishingadvice.org, it's a really good interesting piece and really balanced, as John always is. What interests me most about these things is how much anything to do with Amazon causes such enormous great ripples within the community. And it is very understandable. But I would love us to get to a point where Amazon kind of maybe thinking about doing something some time, doesn't create as much far more noise than something that is actually happening in real time, in real life, in an indie author's real business. And I think it's part of our theme of today. We love Amazon. I just wanna say that very loud and clear. Amazon's a great partner of ALLi. They allowed this whole thing to get started. They're a fantastic, innovative company in loads of ways. They're not a perfect company by any means. But for indie authors, Amazon's presence has been hugely positive and whatever you feel about the company, that is an undeniable fact.
However, complete reliance on Amazon is not a good business model. We've long argued that and will continue to. And I think you see it with these panics, you know? Amazon turns over and the whole community goes crazy and spends a lot of time and creative energy analyzing and reacting and responding and fighting and opinionizing and so on. I don't think it's … I think it's a sign of disease in the community and I would love to see a maturing, whereby we realize it's not the only game in town. There ar many ways to reach your reader, which is essentially what we're talking about and make a living as a writer, which is long-term sustainable and sustaining of you and of readers, and or fiction and literature and writing in general.
Joanna Penn: Yeah
Orna Ross: Big round. Big speech.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, but this is further exacerbated by the new author earnings report, which is our final news item, which basically it goes into … Very long report, because they haven't done one for kind of nine months. So lots of interesting things. But Dean Wesley Smith posted a great article saying “It should not be author earnings,” because it is literally just Amazon.com US sales for eBooks and print books. Now author earnings are not just Amazon.com eBooks and print books. It's so much more than that. I calculated that that would be … That Amazon in total is something like nine percent of author earnings. And so it's kind of crazy to think that the things that were posted on there give the impression that that is author earnings. And you and I, again, we do fiction, non-fiction, we have sponsorships, we have speaking, we have memberships, we have Patreon, we have all these different things go into what an author makes from their writing. So yeah, any other comments on author earnings?
Orna Ross: I agree 100,000 percent. And I think it has to be taken onboard by authors and the model needs to change. People need to realize that there are all sorts of ways to earn income as an author and that you begin by thinking about your reader and what your reader needs and wants and expects of you and also what you want, the effect that you want to have on that reader and put out into the world. And then you think about all the different ways in which you can make that happen. And you think long-term. You think five years, 10 years, not just … Because writing books is not a short-term thing so I really honestly feel that a lot of the people … Not everybody, by any means, but a lot of the people who are experiencing short-term current success on the one outlet model will, in two or three years time, find that that isn't sustainable, hasn't sustained them and probably they may make very good money in the short-term, in the long-term, it doesn't work, I don't think, and that will be the lessons of history, I think.
And but also what authors do. As authors, we write books and it's a long-term endeavor. It takes a long time to write a good book and a long-term in terms of developing your craft to be able to do that well and to continue to reach readers and to become the kind of author that people look forward to your book and they want the next one and it goes on over the years rather than catching a trend, I think is something that we're trying to crack. But in the meantime, there are many different ways to make money and there are lots of different models that writers can follow. Harnessing ourselves to one model, I think is a really bad idea.
Joanna Penn: Hm. Which leads onto our topic which talking about the rise of personal branding for authors. And I think that this is important because, as you say, having these multiple streams of income actually works if you develop a personal brand, which is your recognizable name, like Orna Ross is separate to the Alliance of Independent Authors. Joanna Penn is different to JF Penn is different to Penny Appleton is different to the Creative Penn, to be honest, my website. But each of those brands … And let's just point out what brand is. Brand is a promise to the reader or the customer. So the brand of the Creative Penn is a positive spin on the world of self-publishing, Independent author, Independent creative entrepreneur. That's my brand as the Creative Penn. So talk about Orna Ross, because you've had some … I mean, Orna Ross isn't even your name, so you can talk about personal branding and how you've built Orna Ross and how you've decided what goes under that umbrella.
Orna Ross: Yeah. I think of it slightly differently. And even though Orna Ross isn't my name, I think Orna Ross and Orna McCarthy, which is my name, are very aligned in terms of values and so on. So there isn't a huge gap between the brand, inverted commas, and the person who's doing the writing. I think it's very interesting when you get somebody like you who has different brands and different kinds of things that they do and put different names out there. But for me, it's very much about understanding. As you say, a brand is just another word for bottling the effect, I think, is how I think of it, you're trying to have on the reader.
So Penny Appleton would be having a completely different effect and target market and micro niche within which you will operate, than Joanna Penn when she's writing author guides, for example. That much is clear and obvious. But as authors, most authors are not even a brand in that sense. They haven't thought about branding in that way. They come to writing as a person and they are building their books and they care a lot about their books. They may not even think that much about a reader when they're starting off. So it's a slow development from writing your first book to beginning to think of yourself as a brand. And it's a crossover that a lot of authors are not maybe particularly comfortable with.
Maybe more comfortable with just thinking about what is the effect that I, as a person, am trying to have on the reader, and how do I represent that? So if it's something, an effect I'm trying to have, obviously it's something that's important to me as a person, then how does that link in with the kind of person that I am and what I'm doing day to day? And for me, building that personal brand, if you wanna call it that, or building that reader connection, if you wanna call it that, is about sharing what you're doing as you do it. So sharing your process. And I hold my hand up as somebody who isn't very good at that and is constantly trying to do that in a better way.
I started daily blogging, again, which is something I used to do some years ago and I'm loving that. I find that is my best way in and I have plans around how I'm going to develop that in this year, 2018, for me is about that. It's learning to do … I'm thinking of it in two terms, pitching and dispatching. So a pitch is kind of where I'm trying to link up with somebody that I think I can work with to take something out into the world, but a dispatch is just me, what I do at home, kind of private stuff that I'm not good at sharing and that I think people … It helps people to know what you stand for if you share something. So I'm challenging myself to kind of pitch something everyday and dispatch something everyday and that's kind of new for me. I'm also doing a workshop once a month and a free online workshop once a month with on the go creative books, because I think again, that will help people to understand what they are about. And even if they never read the books, for some of those ideas, and the effect that I want those books to have to circulate out into the world.
So for me, it's in that arena and it's about you as a person not being a bot, not being somebody who is just trying to fire stuff off. And brand and these words, they can be quite off-putting for authors I think. But if we think about it in terms of the effect that we're trying to have in a reader's mind and heart, I think it might be an easier way in for some people.
Joanna Penn: Well, I think about it … You know, we're in a very busy space and we talked a bit about KDP Select. There are more and more and more books arriving everyday. Some of them will be written by bots very soon and it's very hard to know who to care about. And this is why I think personal branding is something to embrace in the same way that we've embraced independent authors. I think personal brand is important for standing out in a very, very crowded market. So why would you read one of my thrillers? Well, maybe because you heard me talk about it on my podcast. Maybe you've been listening to my podcast for years and then you're like “Oh, yeah. I wanna read a thriller. Oh, yeah. She has a thriller.”
This is why I think the idea of know, like and trust is so important. It's caring … It's a bit like in fiction. You have to set up a character that people care about before you then blow them up, or something, so people actually care what happens. It's why there's a problem with people giving to anonymous charities. So you have to put a person, a face there. And so for me, the idea of personal branding is your face, your … Like you put a haiku on Instagram everyday, I think. Everyday, right?
Orna Ross: Not everyday, but yeah, I do lots of days.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, and I … You put pictures on. I know it's hard to do video, but my big shift in 2018 is going really focusing much more on YouTube. I've used YouTube as a passive vehicle. I've put my podcast on it and various other bits and bobs since 2009, but in the last week or so of putting up short videos, the engagement has just gone up, the subscribers have gone up, the ad revenue's gone up from going from 45 minutes to seven minutes and putting my face on the thumbnail, people want to connect with people. And I know this is so hard because as introverts we wanna hide behind the screen, but I can't see how else we can do this when AI is going to be creating more and more content, as well as people. There are lots of authors writing a book a month now. But for me, that's not sustainable or something I even want to do. So how am I gonna stand out?
And I mentioned the age of decreasing social media. As we talk in January 2018, Mark Zuckerberg has said he's going to fix Facebook and part of that is decreasing the organic reach even more. So you either have to pay for advertising or to push your book on people, or you have to attract your readership, and that may be not through reading. It might be through listening, it might be a podcast, it might be a visual through YouTube. There are lots of way … It might be pictures on Instagram. There're lots and lots of ways to build a personal brand through giving useful, entertaining, inspirational stuff that leads people to your multiple streams of income.
Orna Ross: Yes, one of. And I think that's the important thing. I think sometimes when, again, we talk like this that it can seem frightening to people and you named Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and people think they have to do all of those and it's absolutely not about that. It's about selecting, selecting your medium and also selecting quantities that you want to put onto that medium. And that's where you need to get clear about the effect that you're trying to have or the influence that you want to create in the world, or whatever it is that you're … And get clear about your motives for writing and all of those things. And I like the way having to do this as an indie author makes you think about these things because they're important and writing in a vacuum where you don't really understand what it is you're doing is not as satisfying creatively or personally. The other big component, of course, of a personal brand is story. What is your story, and what has brought you here and why these books? Why this genre? Why this micro niche? Why this particular facility? Why YouTube and not whatever it is? There's a story behind the books that you're creating and why you chose to create them.
And you might not even know what that is. It's one of things in the go creative method is about finding out more about yourself and about your own story and your own growth and where books come into that. And then the third thing, of course, is the reader. It takes a great reader to make a great book. You need people who get you and get what you do in order … Lots of people won't. It's always a numbers game with writing. Lots of people won't understand what you're trying to do, they won't like your writing style. Dah dah dah dah. It doesn't matter. That's fine. It's about finding those people who do get you. And the way in which you do that is, as you so rightly say, you attract them.
And how you attract them is you actually put yourself out there. And you find a way, as an author that allows you to put yourself out there, while still allowing the deep work to happen. So it can't be something that jeopardizes the deep work that is necessary for a book to be made. And for some people, they need to go deeper and longer than others, but you need to find an integration and that's not easy. But nobody said being an author was gonna be easy. And nobody said being an indie author was going to be easy either. And it might look easy when you see somebody, you know, doing a certain thing that looks oh, that's just easy, it's not. It's never easy. It's actually challenging and that's why you chose it, actually. You could have done something easier with your life.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, it is much easier to have a day job. Gotta say that. I think my last point on personal branding is consistency over time. I get emails everyday saying “How do I make X amount of money?” And I'm like you know … My first book, Career Change came out 10 years ago. I'm just revamping the 10 year anniversary version. I mean, that's crazy. I've had the Creative Penn nearly 10 years now, 10 years since December, podcasting nine years. Nine years of podcasting. I mean, these things are crazy. And consistency over time is so important. And another thing I wanted to say was be careful what brand you choose. So I … thecreativepenn.com is my third blog because the other two were not going to last. And what's so interesting is I could pivot to become a painter, I could be an illustrator, I could be write a screenwriter and the Creative Penn will still fit me.
And it's interesting because in the last week, Johnny, Sean, and Dave over at the Self-Publishing Podcast have announced the end of SPP and they're becoming the Story Studio. And what I think anything with a word that doesn't define you anymore in your title, in your URL, that's why you should generally use your name, or some version of your name that doesn't hem you in. Because if you think it's gonna take at least 10 years, or the rest of your life, to find what your brand is, then you don't wanna be starting again. And I've seen so many people have to start again and again and again because they've changed direction, they've set up another website and they've disappeared because it takes time. So again, you have Orna Ross. That, again, can be anything you like. But what are your thoughts on consistency over time?
Orna Ross: Consistency over time. A container … This is how I think of it. A container that's big enough to hold what you're likely to become while small enough for people to clearly understand what it is they're getting, you know. And I think author, the word, itself, allows for that. You can, as an author, go in lots of different directions, write in different genre, okay, it's not the best way to make money and develop a very clear brand, but you can do that under one author name and readers will … Some readers will follow you from one type of book across into another kind of book.
In these days of digital segmentation, though, it probably makes a lot of sense to segment your … If you do, like I do, non-fiction poetry, fiction, author guides, two different kind, non-fiction breaks down into two different kinds of guides, it possibly makes sense to segment that, if you have the energy and time if you're starting off from the beginning. Don't, though, so what so many beginner writers do. We see this again and again, the title of the first book becomes the website and the Facebook account.
Joanna Penn: That was my first website.
Orna Ross: Oh, okay. It's very common, it's very common. And you can understand it. I came into doing this, I already had written a few books, so I knew about that. But if you're starting off, when you're starting off, your first book is so important to you. So but it is … And this must be about the fifth time we've said this in this half hour, it is not a short-term thing, becoming a successful author. So yeah, make it big enough to hold everything you might be. And it might be also the kind of readers you want. I think that's probably … It's really good if you know you are a one-track person and that you are going to stay within a certain micro niche of readers and they have … Again, if there's an identifiable sort of category in the reading world for those readers, you could make that your website address, if it's still available. But yeah, generally speaking for an author, a name is a good choice because it gives you that personal touch in a digital age.
Joanna Penn: Yeah. Okay, so, we are rounding up. So what's coming in the next month?
Orna Ross: Next month is get ready for London Book Fair. I'm finishing off a white paper on the block chain for ALLi and for myself and the go creative first book in ebook, hopefully.
Joanna Penn: Fantastic. And I am writing … I'm actually doing a non-fiction book on how to write a non-fiction book. It's very meta. I get … You get so many questions all the time on the same stuff and I don't have a book on it yet. So I'm working on that and I'm doing another course. Basically doing a lot more video. So lots more YouTube as well as video courses and also starting the next Arkane novel. So busy busy … Oh, and I'm also going to the 20 Books to 50K conference. So I will give a bit of an overview of that in our next show, because a lot of the alliance members are going. So yeah, fantastic. Any closing remarks, or we'll head off?
Orna Ross: I think the one thing I would say on our theme of the day is that don't put any more time into anybody else's website and that includes Mark Zuckerberg's, than you do into your own. Your website is your home on the internet and that's what you should be putting the most time into, whatever that means for you, in whatever way you're choosing to reach your readers. Build that up. We'll talk again about going direct and how that is becoming more and more important. But yeah, put more time into your own website than you do into any other social medium.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, totally agree. Alright everyone. Happy writing, publishing, marketing, making a living and we'll see you next month.
Orna Ross: See you next time.