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Annual Planning For Your Indie Author Business: Creative Self-Publishing Podcast With Orna Ross And Howard Lovy

Annual Planning For Your Indie Author Business: Creative Self-Publishing Podcast with Orna Ross and Howard Lovy

On the Creative Self-Publishing Podcast, we'll talk about annual planning for your indie author business. It's the end of the year, so it's time to think about what 2023 is going to look like. But it's not as daunting a task as it may seem. The way to do it is to break the year down into manageable chunks. And here to guide us along are ALLi Director Orna Ross and News and Podcast Producer Howard Lovy.

The Creative Self-Publishing podcast stream is sponsored by Orna Ross’s guidebook: Creative Self-Publishing. You can purchase the book at selfpublishingAdvice.org/creative. ALLI members receive the ebook edition, and all ALLi guidebooks, free.

Find more author advice, tips, and tools at our self-publishing advice center. And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at allianceindependentauthors.org.

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Listen to the Podcast: Annual Planning

On the #AskALLi Creative Self-Publishing Podcast, Orna Ross and @howard_lovy talk about annual planning for your indie author business. Share on X

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Show Notes

About the Hosts

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. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.comLinkedIn and Twitter.

Read the Transcripts: Annual Planning

Howard Lovy: Every episode we discuss how to become a profitable self-publisher, while also retaining your unique creative voice. There are many paths to self-publishing, and we help you discover yours.

Well, it's the end of the year, so appropriately we're going to talk about annual planning for your indie author business, and you can be like me and wing it from week to week or you can develop an actual process.

Here to guide us through the process is ALLi Director Orna Ross. Hello Orna, and happy holidays to you.

Orna Ross: Happy holidays to you, Howard. This is our final podcast until after the big day. Joanna and I will be doing our advanced podcast at the end of the year, but yes, we'll be taking a break after this, a short production break this year.

So, it's great to be here to talk to you about this topic that's really close to my heart because I didn't plan for years. I just had the huge to-do list.

Howard Lovy: Right. Well, it's almost New Year's resolution time and every year I vow to get more organized, and it's usually one of my annual failed resolutions. So, maybe you can help guide me along here.

Orna Ross: Well, I think one of the reasons that we as “creatives” fail to get organized is because that way of thinking about planning doesn't really suit us, and if you look at most of the planning systems that are out there on the market, and a lot of us have tried lots of them, and for some people they work. That's great, it's fantastic if they work for you. Or if you don't need it, if you're somebody who's found their way to their own thing, then that's great, forget about this podcast, go and do something with the Turkey or whatever instead.

But if you are not producing as many words as you would like, or if you're not getting books out the door, or if you are not doing your marketing, or if you are not making a profit from your publishing, then chances are you could do with a bit of help on the processing planning side.

So, I had a painful journey to here, really. When I was a third party published writer, when I had a publisher who did all the publishing tasks, I got by with the to-do list. That's all I needed. I was really on top of most things, but when I started publishing myself, it took me a very long time to get to a point where I didn't feel like I was chasing myself in circles. Then there was running ALLi as well. So, I needed, a planning process.

But as I was saying, I found all, actually, of the planning programs that were out there, they were too linear, they were two boxy, I couldn't fit in, they didn't really take account of creative flow and how the unexpected happens, and how you go off in different directions, and also the multi-layered nature of the work, and also the need that we've been talking a lot over the last number of weeks about, the rest and play aspects of being a creative. So, there was no room for any of that. People only ever planned the work part; they didn't plan anything else.

Howard Lovy: That's what always stumps me, the planning for the unexpected, and your business kind of ebbs and flows, so how do you plan for things to get really busy and then not so busy another month.

Orna Ross: Yeah, it is about time and about rolling time and money forward a little bit. It's simply about taking the time in advance to look at it. So, you can, especially if you've been up and running for a while, you can get a sense of, for example, what your word count productivity looks like, how regularly you publish a book, how regularly you do certain tasks.

So, there are two key resources when it comes to planning. One is time and one is money, and they're very closely aligned. So, when you look forward, what we do with this planning method, and it's called the Go Creative! Profitable Publishing, publishing for profit, and it is a whole system set up around that, which integrates different aspects of your publishing business and the need for you to get your writing done as well.

So, on one side we've got profits and process, which is the manager tasks. So, we've spoken a little bit about this before here on the Creative Self-Publishing podcast.

On another side, we've got the marketeer tasks, which are about influencers and readers and the public and the going out there. And then on the other side, we've got the maker tasks, which is about getting the books made, getting the words written.

So, you've got these three different dimensions of yourself which need to integrate. They need to harmonize, they need to come together, and when they do, when you actually plan it, and each one has its space and place in your month, then there's a whole load of creative energy saved in that process.

The other thing is when you look ahead, so what we do with the annual planning is we take a look at the year, but we do that in order to come back into the quarter, and back from there into the month, and back from there into the week, and back from there into the day.

So, when you look ahead at a quarter, instead of just looking at what's on your desk, and what's coming up maybe next week, when you're looking ahead at the quarter, you know what your creative intention is for that quarter. You know what your number one thing is and you keep going back to that.

And when you do a money day, twice a month, where you actually sit down and you look at the money that's coming in, and you allocate your money into different places, the money that's going out, and you look at your time in a similar fashion and you see the resource that it is. That's when it begins to balance out.

So, you get a sense of the quarter, and then you get a sense of the month, and you pitch yourself to only fill the time with the amount of things that you are likely to get done in that time. So, it stops you from the overestimating, underestimating kind of thing, so you allocate it out accordingly.

Howard Lovy: You start big and then work smaller. But within that there are the three categories of maker, manager and marketer.

Orna Ross: Yeah, exactly. So, the difference about this planning method is that you look at work, rest, and play, and you plan for rest, and you plan for play, because you recognize that's really important to you as a creative publisher, as a creative writer, that you need those. That's one big difference about it.

The other big difference is that it breaks the work part of it down into those three hats, so you get clarity around that. So, that's incredibly liberating, when you see that, for example, your pace of work, which is a manager task, is actually mapped out for you. When you see that your expected profits for that time is mapped out for you. And things start to become clear and settle in and you're not trying to do everything in the heat of the moment and with a pressing deadline, everything calms down and you're freed to do these different things.

The problem with, well, I'll speak for myself, before I worked out this way of working, and before I understood the different dimensions of my work as an author-publish, I didn't understand it. I came in as an author and I learned how to be a publisher on the hoof, and I think that's the experience of most ALLi members and most indie authors that I meet, we come in as writers and nothing prepares us, nobody even tells you that you're becoming a publisher and you need publishing skills, and here's what publishing skills look like and they break down over seven different processes, editorial and design, and production and distribution, and marketing and promotion, and rights licensing.

Nobody tells you any of that at the beginning. Well, nobody told me. I hope now that ALLi does tell people and help people and support people, and there's a lot more information out there than there used to be. But nonetheless, still we don't necessarily think about publishing skills for authors, and certainly the literary establishment and the publishing world generally is not talking about empowering authors with publishing skills.

So, we're doing it for ourselves. So, you've got a situation where you are learning a new skill, teaching yourself this new skill ,at the same time as you're actually trying to do the thing, and get the book out the door, and get the book sold, and find out what niche you're in, and set up your categories, and make sure the money flow doesn't fall off, and get some sleep, and see your family, it can all just become very overwhelming. And I see a lot of that in the community, to the point where people become burnt out or fall away, and it wasn't that they couldn't get the skills together, it was a planning gap, and that's really why I've put this program together.

It started off as something that I needed just for myself, but then it does actually seem to work for some other people. Now, it's not for everyone, I will say that it. Planning is very personal, and I think that's the most important thing that I would say, is that you need to find a planning program, a planning method, a planning way that suits you.

And even when you find something that works for you, you'll probably modify it so that it's a little bit different to what you receive. But I do think it's really important for authors that we take on board the creative needs that we have and that they get planned for. They're not an aside or something you get round to when you have time, but they're actually baked in.

Howard Lovy: Yeah, and like you say, you tried to find a pre-existing program that worked for indie authors, and it just didn't exist, so you had to write it yourself.

Orna Ross: That's how it was, yeah.

Howard Lovy: Yeah. You know, I'm a little different because I work in kind of the periphery of the indie publishing world, I'm also a developmental and copy editor. So, I take on tasks that are mainly editing tasks, but at the same time, I'm also working on my own writing. But my primary mover always is what's making me money tomorrow, not what might make me money six months from now. So, that's a rut I have to get out of.

Orna Ross: Yeah, and that's where the annual planning comes in. So, ultimately that book that you are working on, getting it up and out the door, and then getting another one up and out the door, would liberate you from the money for a task kind of work.

And they work very well together, by the way, it doesn't mean that you need to stop your editorial work, which you obviously enjoy and are good at. Thinking about money only in terms of short term need always creates that problem, you never get out of there, and the only way to get out of there is to take that step back to step forward.

So, that's where the annual planning comes in. It recognizes that I'm going to do something today that isn't going to actually yield money until maybe a few months down the road or even a bit longer, but ultimately when I get that up and out the door, it's an earning vehicle that will go out there and be working for me while I do other work, and that's the miracle of intellectual property. That's the amazing business. We are in the IP business, all of us, no matter what we're writing, what genre we're in, and that's the miracle of IP is that it's not passive income. I laugh when I hear people talking about it as passive income. No, it's not. You work for your money, but you can never get with editing work for somebody else, you can never get beyond so many hours or so many words yields so much money, and you might put your prices up a little bit as you become more experienced or whatever, but there is a range, there's a limit to what you can do with that.

There's no limit to what a book can do with the right publishing skills behind it, and writing skills obviously, as well. There is no real limit with global self-publishing. There are all sorts of formats. There are all sorts of ways you can get it out there. Then there is your own language. Then there are other languages. There are so many opportunities. We are not short of opportunities, earning opportunities, commercial opportunities, creative opportunities are there in abundance for us at this time.

So, that's not what's missing. What's missing is the ability to harness our creative capacity, our skills, and our time, and our money, into a workable, harmonized, sustainable, and scalable profitable publishing entity, and that needs to be planned.

I will go so far as to say that very few people, unless they're super organized and really know what they're doing, and also very experienced, are going to be able to do that without some kind of formal plan, I think.

Howard Lovy: Okay. So, let's say it's a few weeks from now and it's January 1st, and I want to sit down and come up with my yearly plan. What do I do?

Orna Ross: Well, I can't do it with you in five minutes, unfortunately. So, I am doing a two-hour workshop on this. So, I will give you a summary of what will happen in the workshop, but it takes the time, and each person works at their own pace and finds out their own thing.

So, the first thing you need to do is a review. You need to have a look back, and the patrons who were on the profit publishing program who've been working with me this year, we did our end of year review in our last workshop, and that's very much about looking back again through the lenses of work, rest and play, and wearing the three different hats looking back and mapping.

So, there are four measures of success for any indie author. Productivity is one, and that is both words that you manage to get down and the books you manage to get out the door. Profit is another. And the most important one is pleasure, your own joy and satisfaction in what you're doing, and planning is fundamental to that. So, we look at the four measures and we map how you're feeling about everything.

Then with that review in place, you turn to the pre-intention, which is looking at what you'd like to do for the next year, and that might be embedded in a longer-term plan, for some people, of a five-year plan or even a 10-year plan, depending on how big your ambitions are and what you're aiming to do. But we work with the time bucket of a year and break that down into four. So, looking ahead at the year, just pre-intention, before we set the intentions for the year, go through a pre-intention process, which is about opening up and allowing things to come in, and talking a little bit also about what's out there.

So, what's happening in the world, what tools are now available? We've got a lot of change in our business. Are you making the most of the tools that are there? All of that kind of stuff. So, a bit of pre-intention, and then going through various exercises that bring you to understanding what your intentions are for the year under the three hats.

So, setting success measures for yourself for the year, and then breaking that down into four, first of all, and then breaking that first quarter down into the three months, and breaking that first month down into the coming four weeks.

Then there are a range of supports to help you through that, and one of the main ones is a Facebook group where you state your creative intention for the week and come back then at the end of the week and log what you have accomplished.

Howard Lovy: Right, and just the act of stating it makes it almost come true.

Orna Ross: Absolutely, and there's research that shows that just the act of writing down your intention makes it, I don't know, I can't remember the number, but so much more likely to happen than if you don't.

So, just the mere act of writing it down is one thing. Another big trench of research shows that if you say it to another person that also brings in more likelihood that it's going to happen, and the great thing about the group is they're all indie authors, all doing the same thing, all working, juggling the three hats, and all understanding that things happen, life happens, but you keep returning to that core intention.

So, you're definitely not beating yourself up, and it's definitely not about another stick to beat yourself with because as authors we really do not need that. It's about putting it out there and then if it doesn't quite go, fine, what happened? Something better could have happened, that is the creative way as well. It's not always something that stops you, something better could have come along. Whatever happened, you just write it down under the three hats, and it's the act also of recognizing the balance between the three.

So, over a few weeks, if you haven't done anything on the marketing front, for example, or if you haven't done your manager tasks, you just see that and just the act of observing it is enough to shape what you're going to do in the next week. So, there's always the opportunity to change, and there's always the opportunity to change your mind, nothing is set in stone, but you are constantly, it's almost like meditation, where you return to the breath or you return to a sound, you return to your intention, and you modify it or whatever you need to do, but often all you need to do is just do it.

So, you're not letting yourself off the hook and going, oh, six weeks has gone by and haven't written a word. That can't happen, it just can't happen if you turn up for the actual mapping and logging.

Howard Lovy: And it leaves room for the creative mind to get distracted and do other things too. I've been a non-fiction writer for most of my career, but just a couple of weeks ago I had a great idea for a novel, and now I'm obsessed with it, planning out these characters and everything. So, I'm trying to weave that into my time also.

Orna Ross: Wow, that's great. That's really brilliant. Yeah, so with something going on at that level, that's really exciting. It will be great for you to get the publishing tasks up and running on the non-fiction book and get that. So, busy year ahead, Howard.

Howard Lovy: Yeah, it's all in my head and I need to actually put it in action. So, I'm busy taking notes on everything you're telling me here.

Orna Ross: So, the main thing I would say to people who are listening is, plan, do have some kind of plan, but make it a creative plan. Recognize your needs, recognize your own situation, your own time, your own space, your own resources. That's absolutely key. Don't start with a shoulda, coulda kind of mentality, go with what is real and what's really happening for you, and allow what is to be. That's the start of any creative project, and the year becomes a creative project in that way, and can become immensely fulfilling because one of the things about the creative rest and play, when you start getting intentional about them, and you start to see them as nurturing your work and your work nurturing the rest and play, when that sort of harmony between those three aspects comes in, you get such a lot of creative energy and strength from that, and your capacity just goes way up.

So, getting clarity, getting a clear mind, and getting a clear space where you can actually be creative in it and foster flow. So, I think that's the other important part of this creative planning method, is the understanding of the dynamics of resistance and flow, and how they work in writing and in publishing, which are very similar in lots of ways, but then there are slight differences.

Also, how we get in our own way when we're wearing different hats. So, almost like we become a different person maybe as we don our marketing hat, for example. So, getting very conscious of that and talking to other people who are also going through the same kind of understandings or who are looking at it from the same sort of perspective.

You see how much creative energy you leech in that resistance and block, and ideas, conditioned mind notions, that you impose upon the work, and the rest and play, but specifically the work for a moment. When you observe that and when it begins to dissipate it, you clear the clouds, and then by degrees, it's exponential. Once creative flow comes in, when we're in our conditioned minds, we're all distracted and we're all undisciplined and all these words we apply to ourselves, but when we actually access flow, then we're almost like different people, such is the level of energy that comes in.

So, you cannot guarantee that, you can't access that in a determined, willed sort of way. What you do is you clear the space that allows that to rise, and that's what most of us are not doing. So, we're down in the weeds and that is draining us, and this planning method is about clearing the space so that creative flow can do its thing and flow.

Howard Lovy: Right. Well, maybe that's why a lot of, at least for me, my creative ideas come late at night or when I have some insomnia, mostly at an inconvenient time, because that's when my mind isn't distracted by other work or the stress of the day, and my mind can escape a little bit.

But if I build that into my day then I can actually be in front of my writing pad or computer when these creative ideas come to me.

Orna Ross: Yeah, that liminal space between rest and waking, that in-between where the subconscious is much higher and there's much more activity going on at the subconscious level, it's coming to the surface more. That is an intensely rich time for us, and you can foster that. That's what the built-in creative rest aims to do, and the creative play, they both have the effect of actually, and you can see it now, the ancients knew it, I mean, Aristotle was talking about some of this stuff and before him too. But now we can actually see, we have instruments that can measure the brain activity that's going on while these things are happening. So, we can see clearly different parts of the brain lighting up when we're in that, I call it the create state, and you see a lot of people talking about it all the time in the creative community, the shower gods, the ideas that get poured on you when you're in the shower, or driving, or whatever.

This is not a personal thing, this is a universal thing that happens to human beings, and you can build that in, and that's the point. And when you do, you become immensely more creatively powerful.

Howard Lovy: Sure. Yeah. For me, it's running, all my great ideas while my endorphins are flowing and I'm feeling good and exercising. And then all these great ideas come, I sit back in front of the computer, I'm in work mode, and it disappears.

Orna Ross: Yeah, because you say, now I'm in front of the computer, I'm in work mode. So, it's about getting that capturing, isn't it? It's about, how do I capture the ideas that come at those times, and as you say, it's never convenient. You're all wet in the shower, you're all sweaty on your run, but one needs a capturing container for the ideas when they are on the flow, because when they're gone, it's incredible, they're gone. You can't reclaim them in the same way.

Even whole sentences and whole ways of structuring things come to mind, and they have that sort of perfection, because they've come in that way. So, it's about recognizing how important, as creatives, it is to have the tools, and the time, and the space, and to make sure that they don't just fade away.

Howard Lovy: Right. Well, wonderful. Is there anything else you'd like to say about planning?

Orna Ross: No, not really. There's not a lot more I can say, and I recognize very much that it all sounds very vague and obvious if you're just talking about it. The revelations, the insights, and the movement forward into real, practical usefulness comes in the doing, and not in the talking about it.

Howard Lovy: And if anybody would like to try it, they can come to your workshop. It's a two-hour paid workshop for £29.99 On December 30th. There will be a replay, and you can register at ornaross.com/annual23. There's also your Patreon, patreon.com/ornaross if they'd like to commit to monthly planning. And the Facebook group for weekly intention mapping and accomplishment logging under the three hats, and that's at https://www.facebook.com/groups/gocreativeinbusiness

Orna Ross: Great. Yeah, that's it really, but whatever way you do it, make 23, hopefully your most productive and prosperous year. That's what I wish for all ALLi members and everyone who's listening to us here today.

Howard Lovy: That's my plan anyway. Wonderful. Well, thank you Orna. Happy holidays and happy New Year. I'll see you in 2023.

Orna Ross: You too, Howard. All the best. Bye.

Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an author, book editor, and journalist. He is also the Content and Communications Manager for the Alliance of Independent Authors, where he hosts and produces podcasts and keeps the blog updated. You can find more of his work at https://howardlovy.com/


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