ALLi Director Orna Ross expands on the organization's submission to the UK government's All-Party Committee on Author Income and the statement she made on the latest AskALLi Advanced Salon that caused controversy recently: Income should be a measure of self-publishing success. Where do you stand on this issue? Read the post then join the debate via the comments box.
There are very few “shoulds” in Indie Author Land. Ours is a dynamic environment, where the rules – where there are any – change rapidly and one of the great delights of our work is being part of a broad church, that attracts writers from every kind of background, with every definition of success.
Money is the measure of author success most often used by the outer world, with constant talk of bestsellers. In a different way, money is also a measure that each indie author can use ourselves, to track our progress and spur our growth, no matter what other values we may also be pursuing.
It's one of the challenges of our job, knowing when to take off the writing hat and put on the publisher one. Actually indie authors, like other creative entrepreneurs, have three jobs: making (the creative writer); managing (the creative director) and maximizing influence and impact (the creative promotor).
During last week's AskALLi Advanced Self-publishing Salon with ALLi's Enterprise Advisor and author advice guru, Joanna Penn, I found myself saying:
“Let money be your measure of success.”
It got a strong reaction from those who may not have caught the rest of the context. I was addressing the way in which authors expend a lot of creative energy, time and money chasing Facebook Likes, Twitter followings, Amazon rankings, positive reader feedback, or reviews. The suggestion was that money–profit– might be a better metric than some of these in tracking our value to our readers.
Indie Author Earnings: Income As A Measure of Success
There were those who agreed. Historical fiction author Jane Steen made this public comment on the video on Facebook Live:
“Loved ‘let money be your measure'. We're too inclined to be shy about saying how much we earn – at first because we're earning so little, and then eventually because we don't want to sound like we're bragging! I loved it back in 2011-2012 when the early self-publishers posted earnings reports.
Then there were those who vehemently opposed the very thought. Much of that correspondence was private. I'll let this paragraph from a member I'll call John represent that position.
“I was horrified to hear you say that authors should make money their measure of success. The very reason I write is to escape all that. I get quite enough of it everywhere else in my life, thank you very much. My boss, my wife, my bank. It’s not what I expect from my authors' group. Or, Orna, to be frank, from you. I'm very disappointed.”
There were less polite messages and it’s interesting to me that so many of those negative responses were private. I've given them all consideration, but I stand by the comment, made in the context of our AskALLi Advanced Salon. That monthly salon is aimed at author-publishers who want to sell more books and reach more readers. In short, to be better publishers.
Income is the best measure we have of our success as publishers.
The more businesslike among you are likely scratching your head at why we're even having this discussion. For you, it's obvious. Of course, money should be the measure! That's what running a business means! But I also get where people like John are coming from.
An author business is a creative business and these have different drivers to conventional business. Writers–alongside other creatives, coaches, activists, artists and suchlike–don't have profit as the overarching motive, or we wouldn't be doing what we do in the first place. (There are easier ways to earn a profitable crust).
Creative businesses are powered by passion and mission as much as profit. But income is the measure of whether we're fulfilling our passion and generating the influence and impact that fulfils our mission as authors.
Indie Author Earnings: From Professionals To Business Owners
Until recently writing books was a career, a profession. Authors were content providers for other businesses (publishers) set up within a scarcity business model. In this model, only a few of the many authors who write can be accommodated (receive a publishing contract and bookstore opportunity). And only a small subset of that lucky few can be afforded the sort of marketing that makes financial success likely.
Since the onset of the internet and online commerce, that has changed. Authors now also have self-publishing, which is set up within an abundance model. Key difference is: self-publishing puts us into business ourselves.
Now we're not freelancers, trading our time for money. We're not content providers pitching for some of the tiny bookshelf space available. We're business owners.
We own the rights in our media and publishing enterprises, we own the assets, we own the money flow. Problem is, we don't necessarily know how to access that opportunity, or what to do with the abundance of opportunities exploding all around us.
We may not have yet caught up with the implications of the changes. We can be enmeshed in the old way of thinking. We may not have thought through how going indie changes things for us.
We can be carrying an unconscious bias against business, or some other kind of mindset that comes between us and success.
Indie Author Earnings: Profit Mindset
The profit mindset that you need to succeed as an indie author has three components:
1. You need to believe that you can make money as an author-publisher, writing the kind of books you want to write.
2. You need to understand what that asks of you, creatively and commercially, and be willing to do the necessary creative work, rest, play, and practice.
3. You need to commit to paying yourself first.
The psychologists speak of this in terms of intrinsic, inner-directed and extrinsic, outer-directed motives and rewards. As writers, we're primarily motivated by the intrinsic, as publishers by the extrinsic. And so, as author-publishers, by a fine balance of both.
In practice, holding this balance means understanding, measuring and integrating our passion and our profits into our plans, our degree of influence and actual income into our records.
So many authors undervalue themselves and give themselves away. Let's not be one of those.
Indie Author Earnings: The New Author
The difference between the old way and the new for authors was forcefully brought home to me during a recent appearance before the UK government's All-Party Committee on Author Income. Other writer representative organizations like the Society of Authors were fixed on local issues (Brexit) and how the profits of the trade-publishing industry might be shared more equitably with authors. Their recommendations were around copyright restriction and negotiations with publishers.
For them, Amazon is all bad, a blight on the publishing landscape.
For us at the Alliance of Independent Authors VAT and other sales taxes, the changed position of the author in the 21st century from hired professional to creative business owner, the need for business skills training for authors and the issues arising from global, digital distribution in ebook, audiobook and print-on-demand e.g. sales tax attributions. For us, Amazon is a mixed blessing. Indie authors will always be grateful to the innovative company that freed us from a closed system but we also have challenges in working with them as a business partner, and concerns about their dominant position in the marketplace.
Our deposition centered on the recognition of self-publishing and selective rights licensing by authors as a new way of getting words to market that offered significantly more opportunity for improving author income for most authors. We also pushed for government to support the training needed by indie authors, alongside other digital creative entrepreneurs, to avail of that opportunity.
(See ALLi's Self-Publishing 3.0 campaign for more on this).
Indie Author Earnings: Making Money a Measure
What the responses to my podcast comment make clear is that our connection to money is a relationship that stirs strong emotion. If you take the emotion out of it, however, I do still think the profit in our author business is the best measure we can have of the value we are offering our readers.
It's an opinion arrived at from my own experience as an indie author, and the experience of observing thousands of other indie authors, close up.
I'd personally love to see more authors earning a decent living from their writing. And I think the best way to see that happen is for more authors to take money more seriously as a measure of success. And intentionally begin to take the steps that will see them earn more.
What do you think? Is there a better measure of publishing success? How do you define success in your publishing business?#Indieauthors - how do you measure #selfpub success? ALLi Director @OrnaRoss makes the case for measuring it by MONEY! Read why & join the debate! Click To Tweet
Indie Author Earnings: Further Reading and Advice
- Orna runs a creative business planning membership for authors who want to do creative business the creative way, which includes a monthly private workshop. More details here.
- Join the Go Creative! in Business Facebook Group here.
- Purchase Creative Self-Publishing: ALLi's Guide to Independent Publishing for Authors and Poets