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 UKs “Top creative Professionals” shouldn’t be missed.
Advanced Self-Publishing Salon August 2017 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.
In this show, Orna and Joanna chatted about:
- ALLi Weekly Podcast Series
- Development of Writers
- Being Creative & Increasing your Writing Output
- Joanna at Thrillerfest in New York
- Writer's Self-Doubt
- Rebranding with New Book Covers
- Print and Bookstores
- Discoverability and Digital Marketing
- Being an Ethical Author & Self-Publishing Service Provider
- Amazon Kindle Storyteller Awards
Listen to the Podcast
Watch the Video
Read the Transcript
Joanna: Hi everyone! I’m Joanna Penn, this is Orna Ross, and we’re here for the Self-Publishing Advanced Salon for the Alliance of Independent Authors and this is the August, 2017 show! Hello Orna, how are you today?
Orna: I’m really good, she was saying she couldn’t remember what we were called, because we keep changing our name but [laugh] she made it, she does remember!
ALLi Weekly Podcast Series
Joanna: Yes, and I think, but it’s a good thing to talk about upfront because the Alliance actually has now organized the different podcasts that are available for people. Do you want to just maybe talk about that? Because we used to try and cover everything, but now it’s been split up?
Orna: Yeah, and I think it’s a measure of where self-publishing is at, which is kind of our theme for this show, this week, about how things are bedding down and settling down and kind of stratifying and breaking off into strands. So, yeah, we used to do the, it wasn’t called a salon then, I can’t remember what it was called, but we used to first answer members questions at one stage and we had inside seminars and so on, with various experts and blah, blah, blah. What we found was that the advice that, general advice is almost useless now, self-publishing advice needs to be tailored so, we have now got four shows a month, essentially one a week.
One for beginners which Jay Artale and Michael La Ronn are doing. So, that is very much focusing on people who are just getting started. They are, tend to be writers who know that they want to make a living at this. They’re not people who are just writing for family and friends. Although there may be a few of those on board. They are all very much at the beginning stages.
And then we have Debbie and David, Debbie Young and David Penny, both team members, who are answering our members questions each month. And that can be across the board, it can be at any level, but again, the questions tend to be in general, more towards to the sort of beginning, emerging indie than the more advanced.
And then you and me are going to be talking about things, really running an indie author business, the kind of stuff that comes up when you are making money but you want to grow and expand and do better and you know, take things further. So, we’re calling it the Advanced Salon and that allows us to also look more widely at the indie world and the trends that are happening in publishing, and trade publishing as well.
And then we use, for the fourth, and if there’s a fifth week in the month, we highlight one of our Fringe sessions. And so, yeah, it’s turned into a weekly podcast, which is great.
Development of Writers
Joanna: Yeah, I think the development of what this is and also what the Alliance is, kind of mirrors the development of what happens to most writers. So, let’s kind of, before we get into any other stuff, let’s talk about that stratification because one of the things that I’ve been noticing, and you have too, is the indie world is almost ending up a bit like the middlest? They’re a few, very few people at the top who are making seven figures, eight figures, similar to traditional publishing, you know, big, big names making big, big money. And then there are kind of the debut, the kind of new authors, where, if you’ve only got one book, either like in traditional publishing, they put a load of money behind you and see what hits the wall, and that’s the same with indie. Like, some indie’s do hit on their first book but it’s very rare. And then to be a successful middlest writer, whether you’re indie or trad, you need multiple books and other streams of income. Is that how you’re feeling, how do you feel it’s settling down?
Orna: Yeah, I think that’s a really good kind of summation of what’s happening. And this is the part that excites me and always did, you know? This was the thing that I really saw first, when I first self-published myself for the very first time. It was like oh wow, you can build a business here, like you can in any other field. It’s not about the outliers who make, you know, as you said, six or seven figures or, you know? It’s about the fact that, if you’re serious about your writing, you can actually get in there, into that middlest area, which always held publishing up and which, for a short time, I would say, in the seventies, in the late sixties, most of the seventies and the very early eighties, you could make a living as a middlest writer in trade publishing. Your publisher would support you to get up and get going through the first, second and third book and then you would be off. And you would, you know, produce roughly, a book a year, a book every two years and there will be enough in that to feed you, your family, your publisher, the book sellers, the distributors, the wholesalers and all the rest. Now, with self-publishing, the problem with that model, and for many people it wasn’t a problem at all, it worked very well, the big problem is that it’s disappeared and that I suppose is the heart of the original problem which is that it was dependent on others. And of course, to some degree, we are still dependant on others. We have one very big player in the market place as indie’s, some other ancillary platforms and things are growing. But, what does seem to be different here is that you can control your own destiny more. Nobody gets to control their own destiny completely but there’s quite a substantial difference. If you’re determined, you can keep going.
So, we see a lot of trade published authors now coming out of trade because the relationships with their publishers are not good and they can turn around and they can rebuild themselves their own business, and their connection with their readers. And in the same way, somebody can start off not having a clue what they’re doing, and still, over the years build up. And what they can also do, and I find this also very exciting, the day job can be writing related. We’re seeing that more and more, that a lot of people, while they’re building to a point where their book sales become their income, they’re actually getting involved in all the many different services that indie draws on, from editorial, to formatting, to, you know, all sorts of ancillary services. Or they are coming up with a non-fiction idea or course based idea or club based idea, or a subscription model or something that is aligned with their mission as a writer. So, it’s not exactly the same as say, their fiction books or their non-fiction series or whatever it is they’re writing as books but it shares something with their reason for writing those books and it’s easier to make money that way because selling books is hard.
Being Creative & Increasing your Writing Output
Joanna: In the mean time, just reflecting on the same thing but being creative is so important and creating these multiple works because I was in New York for Thrillerfest, which we might talk about in a minute, but basically I went to the Museum of Modern Art and when I’m in New York, and I’ve been to New York a number of times for Thrillerfest which is the premium thriller convention, I go and see Van Gogh’s Starry Night, which is probably one of my favorite paintings and it’s beautiful. And it’s the only painting in the Museum of Modern Art that has its own security guards and people are standing in a queue taking selfies with this painting. Now, when he painted that, he had no idea that it would be, maybe, one of the biggest paintings in the world and that people are feeling so emotionally attached to this painting that they’re taking selfies with it. And I loved that, I loved that it has its own security guards. And I was standing there thinking, you know, surrounded by Picasso and Matisse and loads and loads of famous people that you have in the Museum of Modern Art, thinking we don’t know which of our works, which of our words, which of our poems, of our blog posts, which of them will touch people. And there was a study out a couple of weeks ago, on The Next Web, about producing more. And the study basically said that creators don’t know which of their works will resonate and the important thing is creating more. So, you know, don’t spend years obsessing over that one thing but just create more and you just never know what can happen. Now, as a poet, like you spend quite a long time on your novels and your longer works but you do a lot of poetry. So, do you ever feel that way, like the poems that resonate surprise you and might have been a snap to create, but are the ones that hit?
Orna: Yeah, I think, as authors, we’re poor judges of what actually is, as you say, going to touch people. I don’t like to use the word best or whatever, but what is going to have most legs, let us say. And I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of writing something and thinking yeah, that wasn’t bad and then going back and going back and going oh my, what on earth was that and vice versa, you know? You think that you’ve done something that’s really awful and actually when you read back, it’s not as awful as you thought it was. We’re so emotionally invested, we’re very poor judges of what works and what doesn’t. I really do love the create more thing, and, you know, within a context, different writers, you know, different types of writing, it think, need different kinds of cooking times. But I think everyone benefits when we loosen up, let go, let flow more. I would certainly like to create more, that is certainly an aim of mine to, you know, move a bit faster than I have been moving and to continue to do that. And I think indie authors have really challenged everybody, you know, we’re all challenging each other and sometimes that pushes us to do things that, you know, don’t serve us that well but its well worth trying and seeing because, you know, I was talking to an author last night at an event, which we’ll talk about in a while. And she was saying that for two years she listened to me talking about dictation and its value, and she resisted, she resisted and then she finally did it and she thought, why didn’t I do it two years ago! It has upped her productivity hugely and, you know, so, that kind of thing is going on all the time.
We’ve got to try things and see, do they work for us and I think the fact that we all talk to each other so much now, and, you know, the fact that we’ve all found each other in a way because until ALLi existed, I didn’t realize there were so many people who kind of went through the same sort of motions around writing as I did. I wasn’t a typical writer in my old world, I wasn’t like the rest of the writers around me. And I think it’s been really interesting to watch the way in which all that connection and collaboration is pushing us to write more, write better, write faster and those things are not as, some people would say, mutually exclusive, definitely not.
Joanna at Thrillerfest in New York & Self-Doubt
Joanna: And it’s interesting as well, like, what we go through as authors, so, you know, talking about what resonates. So, I did a podcast and I wrote an article which I basically then read on my podcast about going to Thrillerfest and the, basically, emotional rollercoaster, so I was nominated for the award, and as we announced last month, I did not win the award. But what happened, because of that, I spent five days going through chronic anxiety because of course, the awards were the very last thing of the conference on the Saturday night, when I got there on the Monday. So, I had all the physical associations with anxiety which were not pleasant and all the way up until that moment, when your name is read out and then not announced, the lovely James Scott Bell won, who is a fantastic writer hybrid, writing teacher, amazing chap so good on Jim!
But as well as that, Thrillerfest is one of these places, like we were saying, with this polarity, it’s some of the biggest names in the world, Lee Child honored as Thriller Master, Clive Cussler was there, you know, there were a lot of very big names in the thriller niche. And then there were a whole lot of debuts who were honored as debuts and then there’s all the people in the middle and I always go through that sense of need for validation in that environment and there was barely any mention of indie this year. It was quite missing, I felt. I just had that moment of self-doubt and comparisonites and all the things I go through. And I’ve had the most emails and tweets and comments on this post, because people are like, oh, I didn’t know you felt that way. I thought you were always confident and always certain about your path and it’s important to acknowledge that we all go through these moments of self-doubt about our own writing but also about our career path, you know? I love being indie but I often, with a book, I’m like should I submit this, you know, should I have an agent, should I do this with it, I don’t know, so, yeah. You go through that too, right, it’s not just, you know?
Orna: No, I think everybody goes through that. I think, in a way, if you’re not going through that, if you’re not pushing yourself at that emotional edge, in a way you’re not being creative. You’ve got to be in the places that make you anxious and I think that’s very retracted to it, let’s not get too philosophical about it, you know, it is because we want to unpick that and understand that and grow in a sense. I do think the anxiety lessons with age and experience and all that kind of stuff but nobody is a machine, not even Joanna Penn [laugh]. And writers are sensitive creatures by definition. If we’re not sensitive, we’re not going to be much of a writer. So, you know, there is that and I think a lot of people avoid the kinds of situations that I know you make yourself do and, you know, I read your piece and it was very interesting about that kind of dual side of the writer. The part that wants to kind of just stay home and locked away in a room, and doing mediation and yoga and, you know, not seeing anybody and just connected to the work. And then the person who actually does want to be in the world, and wants the work to be out in the world and wants the work to be read and you know, the only way to do that is to get out there and kind of get behind it. And I think, in a way, that’s why indie authors are balanced, because they have to hold those two, nobody is doing it for you so, you know, of course trade published writers are also put in situations but they blame their publisher, you know? We actually, the responsibility comes back to us and we know that it’s, you know, we’re making ourselves do it and therefore we really have to engage with it at a different level. But I’m not surprised that you got loads of tweets, because people do think you’re a machine [laugh].
Joanna: And I’m so not, although I will say that today I went back to the book and this is another, on our creative side, you and I always give an update on our writing, and I had started, I’m 40,000 words into a first book in a new series, it’s fantasy and I’m discovering that fantasy, you know, world building, is a whole other thing, and I had, I was, again, full of self-doubt and it’s been 14 days since I wrote anything on this book and I was so worried that I had, you know, I had forgotten it completely and I was like oh no, and then today, like, I’m feeling very happy because today I spent three hours getting back into that book and it wasn’t as bad as I remember [laugh] which is a relief. And then tomorrow I’m, you know, back into the writing of that first draft. And that’s the thing, after all that rollercoaster, at the end of the day, what makes you feel better and a big tip for everyone, like, if you’re feeling crap, maybe go and do some writing [laugh].
Orna: A radical concept.
Joanna: You can spend so long being afraid of it like I was, I was like, I don’t want to read this, it’s just going to be awful, I’m going to feel even worse about myself because it will be terrible, and I mean it wasn’t, it was still a first draft but it was better than I remembered and I was like ok, yeah, I remember this now, I can get back into it, this is great. And I kind of, I wrote some notes on it and just got into it. So, don’t second guess the need to write, just go write.
Orna: Oh, no, definitely, thinking about writing is a very bad idea [laugh].
Rebranding with New Book Covers
Joanna: Yeah, don’t think about it [laugh]. But I do want to ask, again, kind of on this self-doubt or second guessing or whether it comes under marketing, but you sent out an email today to your email list, which is always a fantastic email, from Orna Ross, at www.ornaross.com, separate to your Alliance self. But you have some new covers for your Irish books, which, I really like the new covers but of course, you and I have talked about recovering books before. How many times have you recovered these books and why again or are these different ones?
Orna: Oh no, I’ve never recovered these, this is the first time. Well, it’s because I’m tipping away at number three in the trilogy in the background and so my thoughts have turned to these books again, which I haven’t touched for ages and just frankly, the covers had become dated. I think they were fine when I started. It’s also, probably interesting that I had an image in my mind when I was writing my book, and I had a title in my mind, and the title, this was the first part of the trilogy, the title I had in my mind was After the Rising and the image I had in my mind was a hand coming up out of the sea, the sand kind of thing. Because there’s a grisly murder in sinking sands, you know, in this little Irish village. So, I had that image and that title in my mind. When my publisher got this book, because it was originally trade published, their vision was so completely different and when I took it back, I just wanted to put the title I had in my head and the image I had in my head and I, you know, just had the creative freedom to do that. But, I don’t think that, you know, a few of the reviews said that the cover gave no indication really of what was in the book and a lot of people, an awful lot of people connect to the Irish dimension of that trilogy and, you know, I get a lot of Irish American people particularly. But Irish, you know, you don’t have to be Irish to like Ireland.
Joanna: Yes, I’ve read it, it’s awesome, the first one.
Orna: Yeah, and so, you know, just re-branded it as being a bit more Irish, also it is a double story so to give, it’s a four generational story, so to give a sense of, kind of, the present and the past and just to try and make the covers a bit more, yeah, to signify more what is inside and also, to match what is now selling in that genre. Because, when I started to self-publish, that genre was absolutely tiny, it was almost non-existent and now it’s bursting at the seams. And it has its conventions and everything, like everybody else.
Joanna: I think there are two really interesting points here, one, the dates issue and the fact that we have the freedom to update our covers as things change. And I mean, I don’t think any of us, would expect, in ten years time for our covers to be the same as they are now, it’s just not likely. But we’re so lucky, or, I’m grateful, I should stop saying lucky, I’m grateful that we have the freedom to do this. But the other thing is the trilogy thing which is interesting because I’ve written, I did the same thing with my, I still don’t know what they are, what I call my London psychic books or my London crime thrillers, I still can’t settle on what the hell those books are but I changed those covers after I’d written the three because when you’ve got a fuller story, it kind of gives you a sense of the book. And I’m feeling that with this fantasy, I’m just like I don’t know if I can release this first one. You know now, that there’s this thing that maybe we shouldn’t release the first one until we have more and I’m thinking maybe I don’t know what these books are either. So, it’s so interesting and of course you had the first thought in your head, your publisher had a thought and now you’re on a third thought that are about the same pieces of work, I mean, is this just a crazy thing we do [laugh]?
Orna: Well maybe it’s just like, you know, painting your living room, you just get tired [laugh] at looking at the same old cover but it feels a bit more deeper than that and I’m interesting in what you’re saying about the fantasy and waiting, you know? That’s what I’m doing with my non-fiction, I actually, because I go further on in the series, I’m going back and making changes and I want, when these go out, not to be doing that, when they’re actually published I want them actually out and done in that way. It’s the same as I write the trilogy, I know I’m actually going to go back into the first book, not major changes, nothing that, you know, anybody who has read the book is going to be upset by, but just things that will make the whole thing hang together. And it’s inevitable I think. And it’s great to be able to do that. I remember studying the work of a short story writer, Frank O’Conner, and he had written, you know, he’s written all his life but he spent, and, you know, and he was in his sixties, and he was going back and still working on stories that he had published, you know, in his twenties. He was constantly at them and doing them up. And Yeats went back and did a whole segment of his work, that he had done six years previously and you know, the were really quite different stories by the time he had finished them the second time, and of course analysts now have a great time working out which version is better and which they prefer and what he changed and what it meant and blah, blah, blah. So, if only to keep the academics busy, you know [laugh], in future life, we can do these things.
Joanna: Well it’s interesting to hear you say that because I think there’s this thought that, you know, the books should be set in stone or, when it goes to print, that’s it. But of course indies are changing their books all the time. Even if it’s just adding back matter or I opened up one of my books and went, I just want to change the formatting a bit. And then as I went into the formatting I was like, oh, you know I can just see a few things, and I was like stop it, stop it otherwise I’ll end up re-writing the whole thing but …
Orna: Having to send it to the proof reader again [laugh].
Joanna: Yeah. [Laughs]
Orna: As I did.
Joanna: If you have to be careful but it is a very interesting shifting, I’d love, you know this is an idea on an article on the Alliance blog, you know some evidence of other author’s, who people you know, like you’re saying with Yeats. Evidence that this is not the first time author’s have done this, like you know the other “name” author’s have done this re-writing over time so, that there really is no monolithic idea.
Orna: No I think it was you know, it was a function of the printing press as it existed, authors were always doing this. Maybe not every author, maybe something that only certain author’s do, I’m not sure about that, but I know it definitely used to happen. But of course your publisher wouldn’t give you another print run until you had her in doubt on your first print run, and then changed would be made often for a second edition, even for fiction and not necessarily, but you know, if the author wanted, so, that was certainly something that did happen. And obviously on non-fiction there would be updates and …
Joanna: New versions.
Orna: Yeah, new versions, new editions and so on. But the idea that a book is set in stone has always been bit of an exaggeration but now it’s becoming just more and more and more fluid so, it’s, you know, it’s a writers dream, it’s a librarian and publishers nightmare.
Print and Bookstores
Joanna: That’s true, ok so on, just kind of coming back to some of the other things going on, how to get your self-published book into bookstores, the book by the Alliance, Debbie Young, obviously and you as editor of the series, is out now. And what are the thoughts on books stores? I mean, it was interesting, I’ve been to a few conferences this year and for the first time I’ve had one of them actually order books from Ingram and have them in the store that Crimefest which was awesome. Thrillerfest they asked me to bring copies, but they said please bring copies and then they did all the forms and then when they sold I got money and all of that. So, they were very good and then other, another conference just like no, you’re self-published, go away [laughs]. So, what is the up shot of book stores right now do you think? Or are we hard core print on demand?
Orna: Yeah, I think we can be both now, I suppose that’s the biggest development that book stores can now with iPage in Australia and Canada and the UK and spreading out to more countries, that’s Ingram’s way if you like of letting the book stores know that your book exists, with that in place now, book stores can order POD, however POD is an expensive way to get books and that makes our books not that competitive when compared to trade publishing. So, there needs to be a reason why a reader would want to pay that bit extra.
But the bookstores book, I suppose, was only really possible this year because of a few developments like that that, which is making easier and also we are finding, we have had a campaign, #Authors4Bookstores, for a while now, whereby we were trying to enable booksellers to see that indie authors and indie bookstores can come together in a useful way that is actually mutually beneficial. And we’re definitely seeing doors more open to that idea than before. And, you know, a big chain here in the UK, Waterstones, had made it a head office decision as to whether self-published books would go in, now that power has been given back to the individual store manager in a particular area. And there’s just generally, you know, all around the track, more acceptance and so for those writers who want to see their books in bookstores, now, we’re completely aware that there are loads of writers that don’t care about this at all, they’re just happy to be online. When we’re saying bookstores, we are talking about brick bookstores on the high street. And for those who want that to happen, the book is a guideline to that, as to how you can make it happen and we have lots of members who are making it happen in different ways. For some, it might just be, the local store is now able to order copies of the books, you could do an event at a local store, you can bring in a few books on consignment or whatever. But, some people are beginning to approach book selling quite seriously and I’m going to do a personal experiment later on this year with a non-fiction book and just see what is possible.
Discoverability and Digital Marketing
Joanna: Yeah, I think it’s really interesting and coming back to Thrillerfest, they had a session, and again, lots more notes on my blog. But a group who did a study a couple of years ago, followed up that study and they looked at discoverability. And the actual quote, I didn’t quote too much because I was taking hand written notes, but one of the, they actually said ‘discovery is broken’. And they talked about how readers discover a book. Now, it’s funny because from the reader perspective, discovery is not broken. I don’t ever have any problem finding a book and I’m surrounded and my Kindle is surrounded by too many books for me to possibly read as a reader. But for us, as authors, the discovery is broken. But, what was so fascinating is two years ago, they presented it and 40% of books bought in the last 30 days were from physical bookstores and this year, two years later, 20% of books were discovered in physical bookstores and there was almost an audible gasp in the room at this. Because most traditionally published authors, the physical authors, the physical bookstore is the cornerstone of the business model. And of course, this was in America, and the study was done in America and of course it was a study and they probably had a certain demographic. But, that shift was just so significant and they talked about physical retail being in decline, 19% of discovery was author marketing and 11% recommendations, 11% digital marketing. So, I don’t know how they kind of split this out? 10% e-promotions and 8% e-tailor browsing, now personally, I put author marketing, digital marketing, e-promotions and e-tailor browsing in the same bucket [laugh].
Orna: All called digital marketing.
Joanna: Yes, and that is around 40-50% of discovery there, is essentially online, now, if they had literally put physical bookstore versus online, then I think it would have at least been 70-30 to online with what they split out. So, this was fascinating. I also visited the Amazon bookstore and the Barnes and Noble. The Amazon bookstore on Columbus Circle, which is quite up-market, and then the Barnes and Noble, on 5th Avenue, which again is up-market shopping in New York. And I was just quite saddened by the Barnes and Noble, they made it hard to even buy a book, let alone discover a book in the store, were actually, the Amazon store was very well set out and even integrated with Goodreads, easy to buy and entirely directed towards getting people on Prime and into devices. So, it was so interesting to feel this physical environment happening. And then a couple of other things happened this week, just one thing is the biggest digital streaming song, ever, in the whole world, has, did you see this, this week? Is a Spanish language song by guys in their forties that no one had ever heard of and it had become this huge streaming hit in Latin America, and thus has taken over. And I found the congruent of these two things amazing and just how much of the world is going discovery through digital and consumption through digital and what that will mean for those of us who are comfortable with digital. I love bookstores, yes, but this has got to be the future.
Orna: Well, it’s not just books, you know, physical shopping is deteriorating for almost every sector. I think there’s something happening in physical shopping that is interesting for us to think about. And it’s back to this idea, you know, a book is a really cheap product, books are actually too cheap in lots of countries, the UK being one of them, and the US, other countries value their books more and readers are prepared to spend more on paperback and significantly more on a hardback. But wherever you look, it’s not an expensive product at all. Writing can be delivered in more premium ways and I think what’s happening in physical shopping is, you know, it’s really splitting between the bargain basement sort of thing and the premium goods. And I think there’s always a market for premium and books should be premium because they are bought by people who buy premium, you know? That is their, kind of, I don’t know the proper marketing terms for these things, but the buying demographic are educated, good jobs.
So, I think it’s time for us to really break this open and think about ways in which our words can be sold that is not confined to the book, as we have had it to date, because also in an environment where anybody can create a digital product, and anybody can market a digital product with a very small budget, the authority that was invested in a book, when it was a more scarce commodity, is slowly kind of dwindling away. And we have to, as writers, I don’t think discoverability is a good word for us because I don’t think we, you know, just hanging around waiting to be discovered, isn’t going to do it. It’s not how we think about it, discoverability again, is a sort of a publishing term that is around newspapers, bookstores and trade publishers. For authors, it’s not about discoverability so much as, you know, creating your readership and being worth reading and, you know, all these kind of things. And then matching your delivery mechanism, which includes the way you will shape up your words and put them out into the world, and then how they will reach a reader and so on. All of this needs to be rethought about. We’re not going far enough at all, I don’t think, in terms of breaking the whole thing open. We’re still very caught between the square box that is the codex, you know, the text, the book. And it’s time to kind of, yeah, burst that open a bit I think, with a bit of lateral thinking and I’d love to see somebody doing that and maybe we will?
Being an Ethical Author & Self-Publishing Service Provider
Joanna: Yeah, well that’s the thing, we always get excited about what’s happening and I think looking at the music industry is so interesting because of course, they are ahead of us in this digital market. So, I’m kind of looking at that. The other thing in the news, that I think is interesting about that kind of, well, kind of now but also future and whether things are a bit broken, is the David Gaughran, who is a wonderful reporter and very activist on these things. Reporting about KU scammers breaking the KU store, talking about click farming, and I think, you know, I know a lot of people would have seen this, a number of books and talking about the weekend, you know, when people aren’t watching at head office or something, and, you know, paying for clicks and getting page reads and whether this is affecting people and the big thing on K boards and I think it’s important to acknowledge that there will always be people who are trying to scam the best intentions. But, a while back, you know, we had this discussion of the, back on the sock puppet days, probably a couple of years ago now, we talked about the kind of ethical author and maintaining, you know, so, how do we balance the pushing into the boundaries of new things and taking advantage of new technology and also remembering, or trying to stay on the side of ethical.
Orna: It is a balancing act isn’t it? A number of our campaigns are being kind of dusted up and brushed up at the moment. Summer is always a time for that, looking at how we are going to handle them in the years, we’re kind of going ahead. And I think David’s piece has stirred people up and John Doppler and I were talking about ethical author and looking at it and seeing within, you know, we had a long sort of list that we asking authors to say, if I am an ethical author, but that they would sign up to and click farms didn’t even come into it then. So, it’s interesting. So, we’re kind of revising some of that and we have a new logo and we have a new badge and all of that, not just exclusively around this but it’s one of the things that has changed. And it’s difficult, I mean, I was talking to an author who said I did that, I didn’t know there was anything wrong with that, I thought that just, like, marketing [laugh]. And you know, yeah, I can totally see how that will be and then I’m sure there are people who say well, you know, I don’t see anything unethical about that whatsoever. And somebody else will draw their line somewhere else. But yeah, I think it is important, with creative freedom and control, there comes a responsibility, you know? And I think we can’t have our cake and eat it, so, we do have to think about what’s right and what’s fair and you know, misrepresenting readership by buying it, is, you know, it has happened in the book industry always. Because front of store placement is another form of doing that. It’s just a different way to do it. So, you know, these are very, 40, 50, 60 shades of grey around what it is to be an ethical author but the point is, I guess, is that we all need to think about it and have good reasons to do what we do and being able to stand over what we do. So, if we’re hiding something, if we’re doing something that we would prefer other people didn’t know about, then chances are, we shouldn’t be doing it.
Joanna: Yeah, and it so interesting, because it was funny, because one of the panels that had some, again, really big names on, you know, multi New York times best selling author, this guy said, you know what, when my hardback books come out, I have people in every, because they’re a New York Times Reporting bookstores and he admitted, on this panel, in front of hundreds of people, I send people to those reporting stores on day one to buy my hardback books in order to effect their rankings. And then, like two seconds later, he goes, oh and then those self-published authors who go and get their fans to post reviews on day one of their book launch and I was sitting there going what? You just admitted this yourself and he did not see the connection. Now, both of those things, I don’t actually consider unethical. I actually think both of those things, asking your legitimate fans to go buy your book on day one and post a review. So, there’s nothing wrong with that. The click farms, yeah, I do see something wrong with that. And just to remind everyone, you know, ALLi has the Watchdog service and whenever I, I get people pitching me every day and I say, my first question is, are you a partner member of the Alliance of Independent Authors [laugh], or I check them out on the Watchdog and if they’re not there, I’ll email John Doppler, and maybe you can check these people out? I mean, it must be a constant job now, checking out who is valid and who is not, and have people move back and forwards over that line?
Orna: Yeah, and we will also work with people, I mean if they genuinely want to, it’s not our job to give free consultancy to services, but we do end up doing exactly that, if somebody means well and has got it wrong. So, yeah, the Watchdog and the Partner Membership Services area has always taken a lot of our resources and time. But I think it’s really important because we are only as good as our services and we have definitely seen a sort of author pressure that has been there, and you know, the highlighting of not good services and the promotion of people who are doing a good job is changing what’s available now, when somebody decides that they want to self-publish. They’re not as likely, it’s still possible because, you know, some bad acts still dominate the Google stream but it’s far more likely that they will also, you know, if they Google a bad service, number one will be the company and number two will be the ALLi report on the company [laugh]. So, yeah, and John does an amazing job, he is absolutely fantastic. And Jim also, and all the people who feed into that desk, Victoria Straus, David Cochrane, Mick Rooney, Ben Galley, sometimes, yourself, you know, and lots of members as well, it’s collective power that makes it possible to change things and we are definitely seeing that in that arena.
Joanna: And of course that, you know, we’ve seen some discussion in some groups about the value of the Alliance of Independent Authors and I think this is a really important part, you know? This is not a Facebook group, this is not a page, you know, like, course, this is a professional organization for people who are taking this seriously to come together and be stronger together, right? That’s your vision for this alliance.
Orna: Yes, this alliance, yes, that’s absolutely it and the power is in the membership, it’s just the most incredible group of writers who are so generous with their time and so clued in to what it is to be Indie and how being an Indie author is changing everything in the world of words and words is one of the most important things in the world, so yeah. People sometimes get confused, they don’t understand that, you know, what a writers association even is, often, you know? If you haven’t encountered a writers association, you don’t know what it is and what it does and perhaps question the value for that reason. And then of course, there are lots of writers that aren’t joiners and don’t need an association and, I mean, this is the indie world so that is absolutely great too. That’s absolutely fine. But, yeah, for those who do feel it’s important to band together and who believe in the power of the collective and of the grass roots sort of power from down up rather than from up down, then it works. And hopefully will work more as time goes on.
Amazon Kindle Storyteller Awards
Joanna: Yeah, now we’re almost out of time but there is another interesting that happened just last night, you were at the Amazon Kindle Storyteller Awards and, maybe tell us about what lessons learnt from that since you were involved?
Orna: Yeah, I had the honor of being one of the judges for the award. And it’s a very unusual award in publishing because it, well first of all, it’s a huge prize [laugh], a huge financial prize in terms of cash, £20,000 but also in terms of, you know, financial prize of having marketing on the Amazon store, behind your book and then there was also all sorts of lovely things, connecting with a mentor, you know, really a completely life changing prize. And it was very interesting also because it is unique in publishing prizes in being reader driven.
So, all of the books were nominated first of all, you know, they had to be entered by the author or somebody representing the author. And then, after that it was a combination of how many reviews did they get in that time and what were the sales like and you know, what kind of rose up to attention in that time. So, six extremely diverse books, I mean they couldn’t have been more different. Six books, I think, yeah, five of them in a genre that I rarely read, so that was really interesting. I felt like I got a real overview of indie writing in a different sort of way, just by being a part of it, not only with the six short listed books but just observing the scene and how they came through and so on. And we had a clear winner and a very experienced writer, David Leadbeater, The Relic Hunters is the name of the book and it is, I think you are familiar with his work you were saying?
Joanna: Yeah, he is a thriller writer, absolutely, and has a lot of books so, I, I mean in a way, I thought it was a discovery for new writing but actually it seemed like, you know, he’s a very experienced writer with an email list and all of that. So, do you think it was about discovery or was it about finding someone commercial?
Orna: I don’t think it was about, and I too thought, when I agreed to judge it, I was expecting a new voice, somebody, you know, that we hadn’t heard from before in indie was going to kind of rise up through the ranks. So, I thought it was going to be only, you know, your first time publishing, that will be allowed to enter but that wasn’t what was, what the aim here was to find really good story tellers. So, people who told stories to the satisfaction of their readers. And so, a few of the books it was their first time, maybe, under that particular pen name, nobody that was there, as far as I can remember, yeah, nobody expect maybe Jono, who was the guy who windsurfed around the UK and one of them was a non-fiction book about a windsurfer who did this crazy trip [laugh] and really, really interesting to, and who couldn’t make it to the award ceremony last night but appeared on video from windsurfing around Europe, he appeared from his board and held tight while he talked to us on camera, it was great. But apart from him, everybody was an experienced writer, they had worked in other genre or whatever, so that was interesting as well. And, you know, you’re trying to compare books that are just completely different and that was very challenging. It was very interesting, the discussions that we had among the judges as well. So, all in all, it was super interesting. I think there may be some changes to the competition for next time out, you know, the first time you do anything, it’s always a bit of a learning experience. But, yeah, a very worthy winner and one thing David talked about, you know, his job before that was, he worked in a timber factory and wrote his way out of that and into this. He was doing extremely well anyway, even before he got this. And so he has kind of, kind of what we were talking about at the start, he’s written his way up the ladder and now this has happened and he’ll go into stratifier from here, I assume.
Joanna: Yeah, which is, you know, it’s so interesting, at the end of the day, it comes back to writing the next thing and seeing what happens and you just, you know, keep putting yourself out there. It always does come down to the same thing, like, keep creating. Again, I’m grateful, we’re lucky, that this is what we enjoy doing and that it is possible to make a living from it. So, anything else you want to add or anything that’s coming up with the Alliance?
Orna: No, we’re still in summer mode, tiding up everything, it’s like we have three conferences and all the things that go on during the year and then when the summer comes, everything is in disarray and all needs to kind of, put back into place [laugh].
Joanna: And before you know it, it’s Frankfurt again [laugh].
Orna: Exactly, we have another few weeks before we have to start thinking about Frankfurt Book Fair, and what’s coming up in the autumn, but yeah, what about you?
Joanna: I’m just looking for our next show because I’m on a walking holiday when we’re meant to do our next show but there will be another show! It won’t be the last Tuesday of the month but we will be doing another show and we will be talking about everything. So, I guess we should say happy creating, happy everything, publishing, marketing, creative entrepreneurialness.
Orna: Absolutely and keep the faith and keep writing.
Joanna: Yeah, bye everyone!
END OF TRANSCRIPT
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Meet the Ask ALLi Hosts
Joanna Penn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author, as well as writing non-fiction for authors. She is also a professional speaker and entrepreneur, voted as one of The Guardian UK Top 100 creative professionals 2013.
She spent 13 years as a business IT consultant in large corporations across the globe before becoming a full-time author-entrepreneur in September 2011.
Connect with Joanna on Twitter @
Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”.
She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing.
Connect with Orna on Twitter @