On today’s Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast: Your author business plan for 2022. To succeed as a working indie author, you must write and publish well—two complex skills that take years to learn. You must fulfill or exceed the expectations of your readers and followers—not just once, but again and again. And you must do all this at a profit, so that everyone—including you—gets properly paid. Having a good creative publishing plan makes all of this much easier.
In this advanced podcast for indie authors, Orna Ross and Joanna Penn discuss the importance of planning and Orna introduces her Go Creative! In Business Planning program.
The Advanced Self-Publishing salon is brought to you by Specialist Sponsor IngramSpark. IngramSpark is the award-winning indie publishing platform that offers authors like you a way to publish your book and share it with over 39,000 bookstores and libraries worldwide.
Find more author advice, tips, and tools at our self-publishing advice center, http://selfpublishingadvice.org. And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.
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About the Hosts
Joanna Penn writes nonfiction for authors and is an award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author as J.F.Penn. She’s also an award-winning podcaster, creative entrepreneur, and international professional speaker.
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
Read the Transcript: Author Business Plan
Joanna Penn: Hello everyone, and happy new year. Welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Advanced Self-Publishing salon with me, Joanna Penn, and Orna Ross.
Orna Ross: Hi, Joanna and hello everyone. Happy new year one and all.
Joanna Penn: Here we are 2022, and I think we’re all hoping that it will be better than last year in all the particular ways, but even if you had an amazing year, we can still have a better year this year.
So, today we’re talking about planning for 2022. We’re going to be talking about creative and business goals.
But as ever, before we get into it, we are writers, so we like to remind everyone of that and also talk about what’s going on. So, Orna what’s been happening with ALLi?
January Update from Orna Ross, ALLi and Joanna Penn
Orna Ross: Well, ALLi was closed for the holidays. We kind of take a break from just before Christmas until today. So, today was our first official day of opening.
You and I polished off an AI submission to the UK government again, a sort of a reply to the consultation that we originally worked on last year, so that kept us going. And essentially then we’re in planning mode for the next week or two, looking at the year to come, and particularly in this first quarter looking towards London Book Fair, hopefully a live event, and ALLi’s 10th birthday celebrations, our self-publishing conference will be happening in April as well. So yeah, busy quarter coming up with one thing and another. What about you?
Joanna Penn: Well, you might have noticed if you’re watching the video, I’m in a closet in New Zealand, and we actually missed our December session because I was in MIQ, the quarantine here and all this, lots and lots of fun which I won’t go into. But basically, I’ve been in New Zealand for family. Obviously, everyone struggled to see family during the pandemic, so great to have made it over here. So, it’s very hot, so it’s been a kind of Southern summer. But I did put out a surprise, short story, A Mid-Winter Sacrifice, and it’s funny because I wrote it five years ago, and I didn’t publish it, didn’t publish it, didn’t publish it, re-edited it several times, and I just never felt it was right, because it’s a bit dark, obviously, A Mid-Winter Sacrifice is not a happy Christmas story, but it’s set at a Christmas market. So, this year I was like, well, I’m in a heat wave in New Zealand and this story seems very appropriate. So, I published it, and really happy about that.
I actually put it in Kindle unlimited, which is not what we normally do, but as a short story, it just is difficult in many ways, so I’m trying that out. I also put out, Tomb of Relics went live after I left, and that’s available in lots of different formats.
So, I feel like I had quite a difficult year, but it ended with a few publications. So, sometimes that’s the way it works. What about you as Orna Ross?
Orna Ross: Yeah, me as Orna Ross, also doing a sort of experiment with Amazon. I spent last year doing a lot of writing on a book that turned into a series, essentially. And I have just hundreds of thousands, literally, I am not exaggerating, of words waiting to be knocked into shape.
Last year, I also did an experiment just for myself using social media, using Facebook to try and serialize a bit, and get a feeling for what serializing fiction might feel like. I was doing it on a sort of a daily and weekly basis, it was very experimental, very using my social media for me and not being very social at all, but I enjoyed the accountability. So, now I’m going to have a go at Kindle Vella and see if I can serialize this series, to do it in that way. So, that’s kind of exciting. I’m looking forward to doing that, just approaching it in a different way, and Amazon has so many great tools and different ways to use things. So yeah, in the same way as you’re experimenting with KDP select, I’ll be experimented with that.
And I have a couple of poetry books now ready to hit and being uploaded this week from my 12 Poems to Inspire series. So, we’ve Valentine’s Day coming up, a big day in the poetry calendar, a book of love poetry, and then at the opposite end of the spectrum, a book of bereavement poems. So, both of those will go out very shortly.
So yeah, looking forward to lots of fiction and poetry this year.
Joanna Penn: Fantastic. Now, I am already getting glitches in my session. So, I’m going to stop my camera, we might just go to audio only. Orna might stay on the screen, but I’m going to stop my camera, but we will be carrying on.
So, let’s get into the topic for today, which is your author creative and business plan for 2022.
Why is it worth spending time planning as an indie author?
So, the first thing is, why is it worth spending some time planning? I mean, there are so many distractions and life goes on so fast, and for me, it’s definitely about if you don’t plan to achieve something, it might never happen.
I am definitely someone who plans at the beginning of every year. I actually don’t really like December. I love January. I love making plans. I’ve got my journal here next to me, and I’ve been sort of planning it all out. I like to consider what’s possible in terms of the year, and I know I pretty much won’t hit everything on my list, but I do like to give it a go.
So, Orna, why do you think it’s worth spending some time planning?
Orna Ross: Yeah, I think planning’s so important, and the reason I think it’s so important is because I hadn’t used to do it and I got myself into a right old mess with one thing and another. So, I think because we are both authors and publishers, I think that’s actually the key reason, because they are both highly complex skills and very different skills, and they require us to do all sorts of very diverse tasks. And while it may be possible for somebody to do that without an actual plan in place, I think it must make life much, much more difficult. I think I personally, when I used to just use a to do list, I found it all a bit overwhelming, and while I did get things done, I never felt great about things, you know?
So, for me, it’s as much about how you feel about it. It’s an inner process. It just makes you feel better about everything if you’re more organized, if you’re more on top of things.
I think without it as well, you know, as I said, these are two important and complex skills and as you do them, you’re growing and you’re learning all the time. The indie author environment is very fast moving, things keep changing, and so you can actually become derailed by what is actually just the process of doing the work if you don’t put a plan in place, I think. It just all gets too hard, and you don’t see clearly where you’re going and what you’re doing.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, I like to use that metaphor, I know it’s a sort of cliche, but the jar with the big rocks in. So, if you’ve got the jar, which is your time, you need to decide what the big rocks are first, before you fill it all up with all the little rocks and the sand. So, if you decide what your big rocks are, I mean, my plans, I mean, we are authors so generally our plans are going to be around which books we’re going to write, but this is where, you know, for example, some new authors will say, okay, well, this year I’m going to go from zero to finishing my first book and making a million dollars in a year, and it’s like, if you actually sit down and plan things, you can see that, that might not be possible. Well, it’s very, very unlikely that, that is possible. So, going through this planning process, can really help.
What does an indie author plan look like?
So, let’s talk about what is a plan anyway, because I think this is what stops a lot of people planning, because they think, oh, it has to be some massive spreadsheet with lines and, you know, different colours, or it has to be this big, you know, you see them in the shops, these sort of big planners, and they’re like, oh, that just doesn’t feel right for me.
So, I think a plan is a sort of variation on the theme, depending on your personality. It can literally be a post-it note if you want with three major things on that you want to achieve this year. I do like a document, I use mac, so it’s like a Pages document, but it isn’t very long, it’s still really realistically a one pager. And then we’ll talk about turning it into actions in a minute, but I definitely think it should be written down. I always write it down. I do a New Year’s Day blog post and podcast episode on the Creative Penn podcast, and I do that every year, and that really helps me.
So, Orna, what do you think a plan is?
Orna Ross: Yeah, as you say, they come in all shapes and sizes. I do feel that perhaps the less organized you are by nature, the more you need structure, and a more sort of in-depth plan. So, for me, I kind of spent one year, a few years ago, getting to grips with what I needed in a planner, because I used to try various people’s planners and I found them all too mechanistic and they didn’t account for the fact that author publishing is a creative business, first of all, and that creative businesses are, you know, messy, and they don’t go according to a 1, 2, 3 step, sort of thing.
But I use quite a structured plan now, I look forward to the annual sort of big intentions, but then I break it down into quarters and then months and then weeks and then days, literally, so I know what I’m kind of doing now, and it also allows for deviation and the things coming in and, you know, your surprise story would find its way into the weekly plan or the monthly plan, even though it wasn’t planned in the yearly plan. So, you’ve got to have that sort of flexibility, that’s really important, but for me, it’s quite structured and quite organized.
It’s also important, I think, for a creative business that you’re planning rest and play as well as work, that it’s not just work, and that your plan should serve you, the creative aspects of your work. And by that, I don’t just mean productivity, but I mean that you’re actually enjoying yourself, that you’re engaging with your passion, that it is satisfying you. I think that’s a really important aspect of planning. If it isn’t, if it’s making you feel stressed, if it’s making you feel overwhelmed, if it’s making you feel inadequate, like you’re not hitting your targets, then it’s time to change the plan.
Joanna Penn: Absolutely. So then, and again, it’s always funny when we look at you and I as personalities, because in one sense, I sometimes feel more organized than you, but in terms of planning, you are so much more organized than me. So, it’s quite interesting how we do things, but I also think that comes down to the definition of plan, because to me, my plan is a sort of overall list of my goals. So, for example, this year I will write my Arkane book 13, for example. I don’t know what that will be yet, but I intend to write that book and write a non-fiction book.
And my plan pretty much covers like that high level, but then I take it down to the kind of to-do list and the Google calendar where I plot in time for tasks, but I don’t kind of plan necessarily when I will do those things, that kind of emerges later on. Whereas it feels like you plan much earlier on than I do, would that be right?
Orna Ross: I’m not sure that I do a lot of the detailed planning earlier on, but what I do. So, this planning method that I kind of put together and I work with various indie authors on it, so I’ve had a lot of feedback on it over the years as well, what’s important to me is that, as I said, it includes the work the rest and the play, that’s included, and also that it looks at things through the lens of money and profit. So, it’s not just about, here’s what I’m going to do, it’s not just a to-do list. It’s a multi-layered plan, and I agree, it’s hilarious, but I think it’s because you are so, just by nature, you’re a good planner and you’ve got all sorts of skills in the planning arena that I think you don’t even realize you have. Whereas by nature, I’m much more, you know, less planned. My actual written plan needs to be more structured; it needs to give me that level of support that perhaps you don’t need. So, for me, what often happens with the plan, and the way I have devised it, is that problems and bottlenecks and kind of resistances and things that are likely to pop up for me, show themselves much earlier in the process than they would if I didn’t plan. And that’s one of the big values in it for me. So yeah, it’s quite, structured isn’t the right word, but there’s a lot of supports built into it.
What key things should be in your indie author plan?
Joanna Penn: Right. So, some of the things, I guess, that you can put into the plan, obviously we’ve both talked about what you want to achieve and then how you’re going to do it. I think, especially if you’re new to this, obviously you’ve been writing longer than me and I’ve been writing for 15 years now, but when I write down ‘write a book’, I don’t have to necessarily break that down into how that’s going to happen every month, but if you’re new to writing or publishing or marketing, you do actually really need to break it down so you can see that it’s achievable. For example, with writing, you will have to book an editor, so you have to figure out, you know, am I going to write three chapters a month, maybe one a week, is that 500 words a day, five days a week, you know, how am I going to actually achieve the goal and make the time?
Because I think this is the other part of it. For example, I know many of us, with 2022, are planning to hopefully travel some more, travel for holidays, not just for family, and maybe travel for author conferences or whatever. So, you know that you’re already filling up time, as you said, also rest and play and family and life, and most authors have a day job. So, where are you going to find the time to achieve the things in your plan, and another good thing is to kind of know how you’re going to measure that achievement. So again, publishing a book is easy to measure because it’s like, is it live or not? But are you going to just measure the fact that it is published, or are you going to measure how many books you sell, or how many emails on your email list, or how much money you make, and that kind of thing?
So, the angle of your plan is also based on your priorities as an author, and what you’re focusing on each year might be slightly different.
Orna Ross: Yeah, exactly. I think the measures is the most important thing. Once you know what yours, and each indie author will have their own personal success definition, you know, what does success look like for them, and their own way of measuring that. But there are also key measures, I think, that every indie author shares, and one is productivity. And we’re very conscious of those, I think. The number of words that we’ve written, or the number of books that we’ve published, also our platform, it’s growth in terms of engagement and reach, and our profits, I think. We’re not very good at thinking about and measuring that, I think that’s really important, and profit in terms of the money that’s actually paid over to you, as opposed to just covering your expenses in your business.
And then also, I think you should have some way of measuring your own personal satisfaction in the process as you go. So, depending on the book as well, and the author, books can take a very long time to write. A good planning method will actually map and log as you go, so you’re always getting a sense of achievement without hitting those big milestones, and stressed out in between because you feel you’re not going fast enough, that’s sort of the way a lot of indie authors approach their work, and it’s not all that enjoyable. So, yeah, I think putting all of that into the plan, putting those measures there, and mapping and logging them as you go is really important.
Joanna Penn: Okay. Cool. So, let’s talk about the aspects of an author business plan. And of course, this is the advanced show. So, we are going to talk about what we have in our plans for the year, and we’re going to break it down into a couple of areas and hopefully this will help you, our listeners, with your plans. So, we’re going to break it down into writing and craft, book production goals, marketing goals, financial goals. And we’re just going to talk a little bit about what we’re planning individually in the hope that, that will help you.
So, first of all, in the writing and craft area, so this is definitely where you’re going to put the books and the stories you’re going to write, and that might be under different pen names in different genres, and as ever, it might proliferate over your career.
So hilariously, I wrote down, I did write down some very ambitious goals for this year, but the fact is for the first time ever, and you might find this interesting, Orna, I also have about 200,000 words of drafts across about six different projects, and that is something I’ve never really done before. I think I definitely had some problems in 2021 that stopped me doing a lot of things, COVID being one of them, but I have a lot of books that I need to wrangle into publishable work. So, I will definitely do one non-fiction, but I have three works in progress, like actual drafts. I’m going to do at least one novel and I also want to do short stories every month, because I’ve got to this point where I feel like there’s so many ideas backed up in my brain that short stories might be the way to get rid of some of them and just move them out of my brain. I feel like when ideas back up too much, that they start, I don’t want to use the word block, but I feel like they’re you know, just sort of backed up, and if I release them, then that will help bring in whatever’s next in our life. But I don’t know, what do you think about that, Orna, what are your writing and craft goals.
Orna Ross: I completely agree with all that. I’m fascinated that you find yourself in this place, because you know I had to tough year a few years ago, and I ended up opening up so many projects that I still haven’t fully closed down at all. So yeah, that’s really interesting to me that you found yourself in the same place, because I always think of you as the great finisher. You used to always finish one project before starting the next, and I wonder, is it connected to, you know, when things are a bit challenging that maybe we find comfort in new projects, and then when we’re feeling a little bit stronger, conditions are better for whatever set of reasons, then we’re able to get them across the line.
In terms of them tripping over each other, I agree. It’s not quite that they block the other, but the progress can feel very stalled if you’re going from one to the next, to the next, to the next, you’re not really getting that sense of satisfaction of taking the thing across the line into finished, done and dusted, kind of thing. So, it can feel like you’re blocked even though you may well be quite productive.
So, this is why measuring, I think, is really good, so that we’re not just relying on those big milestones. So, yeah, for me, the way I manage to kind of make it all integrate and hang together is that I don’t think about writing and publishing anymore. I think about three things. Because I find that whenever you have a binary, like writing and publishing, it can become a bit antagonistic, you know, one against the other. Or, you know, you hear a lot of authors saying, for example, I love writing, but I don’t like marketing. So, when we put two things down, very often it polarizes things.
For me, it was really helpful a few years ago to split my work into maker, manager, and marketeer. I have kind of stuck with that, and I’ve offered thought to a lot of other indie authors who have found it useful as well, and that really moves me along, because I think sometimes the managerial work, you know, where we’re looking at our process and our profits and all that kind of stuff, it’s very easy to overlook that and not plan for it, and not realize how much time it can take, for example. And then also when it comes to something like social media updates or advertising, and lots of other things, we have to make those before we can actually put them out there. So, putting those in under the maker hat can make me realize that sometimes writing time is being consumed by making these kinds of things that are really actually, the marketeer will then go off and use them in social media or wherever, but the maker has to make them in the first place. So, breaking it up in that way was something that was really kind of useful for me.
Joanna Penn: So, if you’re calling it maker, then what are your goals in the maker category for this year?
Orna Ross: For this year? So, my main focus is going to be that fiction. So, it’s getting started on the Vella, which is kind of like your short stories in a way, except it’s one theme, one topic, one long series, but each one will be a shorter, more discreet, piece of work with its own climax and so on. So, I really would love to see four of those through by the end of the year. So, one a quarter, that’s kind of my aim for that. And then I will be publishing another, these two poetry books at the beginning of the year, and I’ll do another two at the end of the year.
They’re my publishing goals. So, last year was all about getting the words out, and this year it’ll be about editing, and getting stuff over to the editor, and getting them finished and through. So, they’re in various stages of un-dress, some of it is quite finished and some of it is quite raw, so that’s kind of what I’m looking at.
I’m also looking at audiobooks. I have my first fiction audiobooks coming in February, and hope to get more books into audio this year as well.
And I did my first licensing deal at the end of last year, so I hope to do two more this year, is kind of what I’ve put into the plan. So, we’ll see how that goes.
Joanna Penn: Well, I do like to separate things into the writing and then the book production and publishing. And so, under the publishing, so again, we haven’t talked properly about this kind of stuff for a while, but I am going back to the backlist of my Arkane books. So, this is the advanced show, everyone knows when you’re an advanced author, if you have books in a series, then that is your best chance for making more money as a fiction author, it’s sort of 101, if people like your series, they’re going to buy more books.
And I am a very different writer now than I was when I wrote those first few Arkane books, and so I am actually going back and re-editing the first three, at least, and I’m in Stone of Fire at the moment, and I’m so glad I’m doing it. And the thing is, the reviews have been great, the reviews have stayed really good, but I just feel like, if you read book 12, you’d be like, this might be a different author.
So, one of my goals this year, as a better publisher, is to re-update that back list so that it is more worth it, in terms of marketing, doing paid ads on that series, in the hope that it will, by picking up my pacing and all the things I’ve learned since, with the craft, I’m actually going to make it have better sell-through.
So, that’s one of my goals in kind of the publishing/marketing, but also as you’ve mentioned, audio. I record my own audiobooks, so I’ll be recording some more. I’m also hopefully going to have my voice turned into an AI voice and license that in 2022, that is on the cards now, but I will make it very clear whether it is human Jo or AI Jo reading things. So, I think that’s interesting. I’m also updating book descriptions. So, I’m kind of trying to make more of my backlist as well as creating new books as well.
Orna Ross: Fantastic. I think it’s really useful as well, when we’re thinking about those marketing goals for the year, to think in terms of splitting out marketing and promotion, in terms of thinking about marketing as all those things you’re talking about there, the updating, the metadata, the descriptions, you know, all of those are really important and can make a huge difference. But promotion is something slightly different, where you actually, you know, have a campaign where you decide you’re going to go out on one particular title and, you know, do an ad campaign or whatever on that particular title. So sometimes, I think, authors can get the marketing and the promotion, mix them all together and it can seem like just this never-ending wave of tasks to both think about the positioning of the book in the marketplace, the covers, the descriptions, you know, there’s a lot to think about at that level, but that in and of itself is not going to shift a lot of books. It’s almost the basics you have to have in place, and every few years, as you become a better writer, a better publisher, you’re going to do those upgrades. But promotion is something separate and needs to be planned out in a separate way, I think.
Joanna Penn: No, you’re absolutely right, and I think it’s interesting. Like the promotion, the ad campaigns, you know, I tend to focus on promoting that first book in series for fiction and, you know, you can make more money on a bigger series. So, that’s why my biggest marketing goal is clearing this up and improving my sell through. But that is a kind of bigger marketing goal. And then of course, as you mentioned, I will be doing campaigns with the new books, and I have lots of things going on for marketing in general. But maybe our overarching tip here is that the goal setting is more about, almost taking it back, trying to simplify it to what is the most important thing. Because as you’ve said, all these tasks, they can all seem out of control, and it never does end. I mean, that’s the nature of life, until it ends, but it’s almost like, well, what’s my main focus?
So, obviously we are creating new work, but for example, BookTok on TikTok. I’m like, I am not going anywhere near that stuff, I’m just not doing it. Now, maybe some of you are really interested in TikTok, or may be using it already, but I’m not into video. I just don’t have the bandwidth to do another social media. So, that’s not something I am going to do. So, included in my plan is what I don’t do, and that is one of them.
Or for example, I’ve pretty much taken professional speaking off my plan entirely, apart from the bits I’ll do with ALLi and some other online stuff. But taking things off your plan can also really help, and that’s why writing it down will make it clearer, because you can write down all the things you want to do and then realize that there’s absolutely no way you can possibly do everything. What do you think?
Orna Ross: Absolutely. As part of the GoCreative planning method, there’s a page, it’s called the ‘let-go list’, and it’s as well as, you know, striking stuff off your over ambitious goal list for the year. The other thing to do is to look at what you’re doing already, and what is serving you well and what isn’t.
So, if you’ve been putting a lot of time, energy, money, or effort into something, and it’s not going particularly well, shake it up, do something different, drop it. You don’t have to do social media. Sometimes writers ask, you know, do I have to do social media? Well, the answer is no, you don’t have to, but you have to do something.
You have to decide, if you’re not going to do social media, how you’re going to let people know that you exist and let people know that your books exist. And if you are going to do social media, you’re much better off to focus on one and do it really, really well, and it should be something that you enjoy, and not something that you’re doing because you think you have to do it.
I see a lot of indie authors doing social media in a sort of duty-bound way and it’s not actually selling books. So, if it isn’t working for you, and I do accept that there isn’t a lateral line, you know, I do my social media today and I sell more books tomorrow. It’s not like that. But nonetheless, you get a sense of whether you’re getting engaged, you’re getting responses, and if you’re not, it’s not working, so you need to change it.
And sometimes the best and easiest change is to just draw a line through it, just stop doing it and go and do something else instead that you enjoy better.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, absolutely. I have pulled back and pulled back from social media in general, especially when it turns a bit doom-scrolly, you know, toxic Twitter. So, I’ve definitely pulled back a lot, and it’s about your mental health as well. As you say, I think that emotion, how you feel about something, is really important. So, for example, we both podcast and I love podcasting, I find it creative. My audience, hopefully, find it useful. Your audience do. There are things that we love and that we settle on, and then there are things that we might have to do, but you can’t sustain it for the long-term unless you find a way to enjoy it. So, just on podcasting there, obviously I’m continuing with my Creative Penn podcast, we’re continuing with this podcast for another year, I hope, we haven’t discussed it, but I presume we are.
Orna Ross: Yes.
Joanna Penn: Yes, we are. But to me, podcasting is brilliant marketing because it’s partly content marketing, it provides useful things for people, it also can provide an income stream. It’s long-term. It’s on multi-platform. It’s all these things that I feel turn one thing into multiple things. Whereas to me, I just haven’t found that same feeling of contentment, I guess, with social media. But again, we’re not saying that this has to be the thing that works for you. Just try and tap into that feeling of, yes, I really enjoy this.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre, a friend of ours, co-writer with me on The Relaxed Author, he loves videos. He spends his fun time, like with his fiancée, making parody videos and putting them on TikTok of songs and things, that’s fun for them. So, Mark loves TikTok, but that’s something for him and not for me. So, think about that, are you doing something just because other authors found it worked, or is it something that you’re happy to sustain?
Orna Ross: Sorry, I was just going to say on that, because I think it’s also important, to watch out for mental noise. You mentioned the mental health question there, and I think a huge amount of over busy-ness in the head is not conducive to your best creative work. So, the more you can streamline and simplify and focus in on one key thing that works, whatever it might be, the better. Simplifying is something that, I think, should be in our plan every year.
Joanna Penn: Right. Let’s talk about financial goals, because I do think this is important. This is the advanced show, we are running author businesses, and again, this helps you be realistic. So, if you have been running an author business last year, then you can at least write down what happened last year. So, you’re looking at your income, you’re looking at your expenses, and some of your plan is, how can I increase my income? That’s often a goal, but it doesn’t have to be, and I think that’s really important too. But also, do I need to reduce my expenses? Are there things I’m paying for, so often we sign up for recurring things every month and then we end up not using them, or we do need to sign up for something that is a monthly thing or an annual thing in order to save us time elsewhere.
So, there are definitely tools that are super useful, and then things like, for example, I found that last year, I didn’t actually spend so much money on paid advertising as I probably should be, as an author at my level with the number of books I have. And so, actually one of my goals this year is to get more into paid ads because they are something that clearly do work when you have a bigger back list. So, that’s something I am looking at expanding. So, that’s slightly different, but for example, I know also that potentially I could expand my business by, let’s say, publishing other people’s books, but that is not something I want to do, so I’m not willing to expand my business in that way, doing something I don’t want to do.
So, it’s not just expanding for the sake of expanding. It’s really looking at, how do I want my life to look, how does my author business work, where does my money come from, do I want to carry on with that revenue stream and that expense stream, for example?
And also, to think realistically, you are unlikely to make, you know, a million dollars in revenue. Some authors do, but many authors don’t, I’m not one of them, in a year. But something like the 20 books to 50K, it’s a group, obviously, but I like the 20 books to 50K number, because I certainly found that with 20 books, I was making 50K, and I know a lot of authors that’s worked for. So, that’s a type of interesting goal, but again, that can take a number of years to get to.
So, Orna, what do you think about the financial goals?
Orna Ross: Yes, I think, back again to your measures, I think this measure should be in there, and definitely you should, as an indie author, as we say this is the advanced show, you should be including profits in your measure, and balancing it with that pleasure thing. So, that’s when you look at it through the two lenses of passion and profit, then you immediately know what you want to eliminate and what you want to focus on, and I think another thing that’s really important for indie authors to think about is planning around value rather than the cost.
So, I hear a lot of authors talking about the cost of this or that, it’s too expensive. So, it’s interesting that you are taking on the advertising now at this point, because you understand that your return on investment, now that you have the right number of books in place, is more likely to tick the box. And so, return on investment is what we should actually be planning around, not how much something actually costs. You could spend a lot more money and make a lot more money by doing that, and I’m always saying this and I’m sure some of the listeners have heard me say it before, but if we were in any other business, it would cost us an awful lot more just to do business.
The costs of doing business for us are really quite low. So, in terms of planning what will yield the best results for us, very often indie authors think too small, they need to stretch themselves and look at it through the return it’s likely to deliver rather than the actual cost of it.
Joanna Penn: Right. Okay. So, that’s some of the categories, and whether you want to call it maker, manager, and marketeer or, as I do, break it down into sort of more functional.
I come out of business consulting, so I work in these functional categories, but it’s whatever works for you and your goals.
How can indie authors stick to a long-term plan?
So, let’s roundup with, how can you make sure you keep focusing on your plan?
So, I’ll talk about what I do. So, first of all, I just have time with myself in my calendar. So, I diarize. I use Google calendar; I use it for pretty much everything. If Orna and I are just going to have a chat, we put that in the calendar. Everything is in my Google calendar, so that works, and I make a date with myself for writing, and then I use that time for writing or podcasting or whatever. I organize my days and my months and my years in Google calendar. So, that’s one thing.
Then I also use my kind of to-do list/external brain is Things, the Things app, and it is Mac only. But there are loads of these different tools, you have to find what works for you. But in Things I actually have some kind of tracking things, like a task that I’m just opening up right now. It says, what is my daily writing, my daily log, for example, what am I working on right now? And then it also has this sort of overarching to do, and that’s my top project at the moment. So, for me, it’s re-editing Stone of Fire. I’ve booked an editor for that.
So, that kind of keeps me focused on the next task in the list, which might correspond to Orna’s more detailed planning. But essentially, I don’t use my plan for that, I use other tools for that. And then I have my weekly podcast, on a Monday, the Creative Penn podcast, where I always talk about my personal writing situation and publishing and all of that, and I feel very accountable to my audience. How can I say anything in the author space, unless I am at least working on some kind of writing? Also, this is my full-time job, so I have to do that.
I do look at my accounting, my Xero. I use Xero.com for my accounting. I look at that every day. So, I am aware of the money going in and out of my business, and because I sell direct, I get a lot of income every day, as well as expenses every day. So, those are some of the things that I do to stay focused on the plan. What about you, Orna?
Orna Ross: Yeah. So, like you, I feel very accountable to other people, and I think that’s what happens once you’ve succeeded to some degree, other people hold you accountable, but when you’re starting off, or when you haven’t got to that point, or if you’re selling on other platforms where you may not be as aware of your audience, as I would be in ALLi, or with patrons, or through social media, I think it’s really important that you hold yourself accountable, that you find some way in which you can make that happen for yourself.
So, I also, as well as being very aware of the people who are waiting for the work and writing to you about when is the next book coming and all that kind of stuff, I run the GoCreative in Business Facebook group, and at the beginning of the week we map our weeks intentions and then at the end of the week log what actually happened, and that’s really useful, I find.
I also use social media to make me accountable sometimes, Instagram at the moment, I write my poems first on Instagram and I have an identifiable kind of sequence there, and I need to keep it fed, I need to keep writing poems, basically or the whole page grinds to a halt. So, that kind of works for me as well.
And then just measuring, I only do money twice a month, and that’s enough for me. I do it on the fifth and the 20th of the month. I allocate my percentages across to the various accounts and I just keep a check on what’s coming in and what’s going out.
It’s so different for everybody, I think that’s the important thing, and it doesn’t really matter what you do or how you do it, and it evolves anyway. As you change, and as your business grows, and as things become more complex, you’ll need different things. So, for example, now for ALLi, because we’ve got a big team and lots of different things happening at lots of different levels, I use Asana, because that works best there. But for myself and my own writing, and the smaller publication team that I have in Orna, Ross publications, I just use Evernote for that.
So, different tools for different situations and for different people at different points of development in their business, I think.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, absolutely. So, hopefully that’s given you a few ideas, and I’ve put this quote here at the bottom of our notes by Annie Dillard, which says, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
And as writers as, I mean, I always come back to this quote because sometimes if a week goes past and I’m busy with all the admin or the metadata, or even the podcasting, which to me is creative, it’s still, to me, my creative body of work, my writing is the most important thing. So, that’s why sort of tracking, well, if you’re not reaching your goals on a quarterly basis, if you’re reviewing your list and going, okay, I haven’t done anything, well then how are you spending your days, which is of course how you spend your life?
So, do you need to reallocate some of your time into the writing or the publishing or the marketing, or whatever? So, I guess, make your plans, hold them lightly and keep revisiting. But of course, life happens, such is the way it goes.
And of course, Orna mentioned her GoCreative plan, I also have Your Author Business Plan, which is a book, and also has a workbook.
Orna, anything else you want to mention?
Orna Ross: No, I think that’s it on planning.
Oh yes, I do have, at the end of the year there’s usually a sort of a graduation of some people. I do have a patron program around this planning method. If anybody is interested in that, they can just drop me a line at [email protected] and I can let you have more details of that.
Joanna Penn: Fantastic. Right. Well, next month we are talking about the changing market for audiobooks. We’re going to be talking about subscription models and also AI narration, which is just moving really fast, and there’s a lot of interesting things going on and we’re both experimenting with some of that. So, whatever your thoughts on these topics, we will be trying to cover the pros and cons and the opportunities for indie authors as the world of audio just keeps on growing and growing. Doesn’t it?
Orna Ross: It sure does. It’s really, really interesting, and it’s not going to stop anytime soon. So yeah, I’m looking forward to that one.
Joanna Penn: So, we’ll just pop back on the camera and give you a wave. Hello! Yeah, it’s very weird to do this without the video, but I hope that you guys found it useful, and I guess all that remains to say is, happy writing.
Orna Ross: Yes, and happy publishing. Have a great 2022, and keep us posted, we’d love to hear about your plans.
Joanna Penn: Indeed. See you next time.
Orna Ross: Bye. Now