In this month’s Advanced Self-Publishing Salon from the Alliance of Independent Authors, Orna Ross and Joanna Penn discuss how to assemble a team of professionals.
Topics discussed this week include
- News update from Orna Ross: Drowning in GDPR, but all ALLi sites are updated and there’s a downloadable guide for members.
- Orna is also setting up for Self-Publishing 3.0, launching a Patreon for poetry, and is finishing up a script.
- Joanna publishes How To Write Non-Fiction: Turn Your Knowledge Into Words, along with workbook, large-print editions, multimedia course, and audiobook.
- The difference between trademark and trademark.
- Has Amazon really banned ARC reviews? No, but there is a communication problem.
- Is traditional publishing shaking in their boots?
- When is an author ready to build a team of professionals?
- What are the different kinds of professionals you need to hire?
- Be prepared to cut your losses if one of the professionals isn’t working out.
- What should you outsource and what should you do yourself?
- It is a relief when you find the right person to help you. You get your writing time back.
- What tools to use for collaborative work.
- Contracts are a very good idea to protect you both.
- Map your week. Make time for your writing and publishing.
Find more author advice, tips and tools at our self-publishing advice center, https://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.
Now, go write and publish!
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About the 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. For more information about Joanna, visit her website: http://thecreativepenn.com
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 Advanced Salon Transcripts
Joanna Penn: Hello everyone and welcome to the June 2018 Alliance of Independent Authors Advanced Self-Publishing Salon with me, Joanna Penn and Orna Ross. Hi, Orna Ross.
Orna Ross: Hello, Joanna Penn, that’s quite a mouthful, you do it so nicely.
Joanna: I know, it really is quite long, but anyway, everybody, today we are talking about building your team of professionals as an advanced self-publisher. But we are first going to get into some updates and will say a bit of news because as ever, doing this once a month means so much happens along the way. So, Orna, start off with what’s the Alliance been up to this month?
Orna: OK. Well, we were drowning like a lot of people were in G.D.P.R. because we had to do it across three websites. We have our conference site, our self-publishing advice site, our membership site but also, of course, we had our members who were looking for guidance on this so we’re over it.
For anybody who hasn’t got around to doing it yet, there is a quick and easy guide in the member zone all about, really about email lists more broadly and then the regulations because it does set a high standard for our data privacy and just makes everything, well, would make everything very clear if people were very clear about exactly what was being asked.
Joanna: Yeah, and I think the overwhelming thing for me is, because I have three websites too, so it was quite a lot of work, but it’s also to think of this is a positive thing and we want better data protection and we all want better email privacy and I think it’s a very good thing, it’s a just a little bit of doing stuff and we will have a better future. I’m just rose-tinted glasses about it but what have you been up to personally?
Orna: For me, this month, ALLi is going to be doing this self-publishing 3.0 encouraging authors to think about educating their readers to buy directly from them, setting them to go direct so I have been, while I’ve always sold books on my website, I hadn’t taken it terribly seriously, so I’ve been setting up properly, I suppose, is how I would say it, for direct sales and also took a little leap at Patreon for poetry. So one of the things that I’m doing and realizing, as somebody who writes across a number of genres, is that you don’t have to handle everything in the same way, which is what I have been doing up to now.
Novels, non-fiction, poetry, I just did the book and put it out there, and now I’m looking at different ways of reaching readers, you know, doing what I feel is a good way to reach readers. So, I think Patreon is very interesting around poetry, I could be wrong but I’m going to give it a go and explore it and see what’s possible there rather than trying to sell poetry books, which I think is a hard sell.
And I’ve needed to do another pass on script that I thought was finished, and what I have now decided is I’m always going to a script before I do a novel, so that’s been really interesting. I’ve loved writing script and I think it’s a really great way for somebody like me to control myself and stay very story-based as I tend to go off on a riff and get distracted by research and stuff like that.
What that has brought, the script, is the whole thing now it’s finished, it’s going to be finished by the end of the month and definitely not doing another pass, we both, me and my co-writer agree, it’s done now as much as we’re going to do it, so next thing is kind of getting it out there and that brings you back into the whole submission process again, which as an indie, is always interesting how you feel about that and how you approach it and, I think, you know, you get used to selling direct, you get used to all the advantages of that, but if you’re going to then go into subsidiary rights in any shape or form, you have to think again about submission.
So I’ve been reading my own book about how to sell publishing rights. Making lists and writing pitch letters, you know, doing all that sort of thing I kind of haven’t done for a very long time, so that’s interesting. I was also, it was a busy month, I was also exploring the possibility of digital rights for one of my novels, but I actually, at the end of the conversation we parted ways.
It’s the same problem for me always. It’s my vision of what I’m trying to do is not the same as how they want to do it and so we amicably parted ways. Busy month, all around rights, really, and different ways of selling.
Joanna: Yeah, and that’s really great you’re doing that and I’ve got a parallel thing going on with the script. There’s a sort of an internal warring about the submission process and I always say shocked to find that the film industry doesn’t seem open to indie authors as I thought they would be. Like, there’s very much the first question is “Who is your literary agent? Why aren’t they submitting the book” so I think this is really interesting and will be, you know, pushing the boundaries on scripts but I’ve been super busy this month, and it’s so funny, and if people have been listening to our conversations now for three years I think we’ve been doing these one on one conversations, amusingly, so How To Write Non-Fiction, Turn Your Knowledge into Words is out and for those of who haven’t been listening, I’ve spent several years telling Orna that I was not interested in print and fighting over ISBNs and for this book launch, I not only have a normal print which is a 5 x 8, I also have a workbook edition, I also have a large print edition, which is so not something that most people do anymore and I also have ebooks on all platforms, I also have an audio book which is hopefully going to make it through to Audible soon, and I also have a multimedia course, plus I am turning things into content marketing, so I have articles on the blog, I have videos on my youtube channel. I have basically been turning this content into so many forms of income it’s incredible. So, I’m truly sick of it.
Orna: Well, of course you are, but hat’s off, that’s absolutely brilliant. And in a sense, that’s become your process now. You get everything done while you’re in flow, really hit the book hard, wrap it all up completely and move on and it is a very good process compared to most people, exhausted at the end of the ebook, I must do an audio book, I definitely will, have I got the energy to even do a print book, never mind a course and all of that? But it is so much easier to do it while you’re there than to walk away, because what happens is you lose the energy and, oh boy do I know, you know, you end up with too many projects open, not finished. You know, whereas now you are moving back to fiction, yes?
Joanna: Well, yes, I’m off to Spain next week just to finish the research on the next Arcane thriller but I haven’t quite closed all the boxes because I’ve still got more of the course to do and of course they haven’t even launched yet. As we record this, I haven’t actually launched, it launches the 31st of May 2018 depending on when you’re listening but I think the interesting thing, as you say, is trying to get it all done.
I finished the e-book over a month ago and so it has been really hard not to just put that live but while trying to get all the other stuff live, so linking all the editions, you know, on the different platforms and getting all the links right and as you say, I’m doing like a blast, I’m doing Facebook ads, doing Bookbub ads, doing Amazon ads and then it will all be done, as you say, I’m just gonna finish it within a week or so and then I’ll schedule content, but I guess for, you know, for people listening, the kind of the more advanced self publishing approach, perhaps, is more like, well in fact, it’s not like traditional publishing because they don’t do that, they actually are putting out a hardback first and/or the paperback, and then coming with the ebook later or, you know, not doing it all the same time, but I think the good thing about doing everything at the same time is when you market one format, you’re marketing everything, there’s no break between the formats.
Orna: It makes total sense, it’s very reader-centric because they get to buy it in whatever format they like, and it is more like trade publishing than the average indie probably, in the sense that you do treat a launch a little bit more seriously, maybe than, you know, when you’re dribbling it out in different formats over time. If you’re putting everything into this burst, which is essentially what trade publishing does. It has a launch period of a number of weeks and so there are similarities and differences. I think it’s a great thing to do if you can do it. There she goes, role modeling for us again.
Joanna: OK, well, we’ll come back to this in team but I could not do this without the wonderful Jane, J.D. Smith Design, she does my interior for print as well as cover design and everything and all the different graphics and stuff, so yeah, we’ll come back to that in team, but let’s get on to some of the news this month, because we’ve had probably one of the most, I think and it’s very emotional but I think this is a very, very interesting case known as “Cocky gate”, you know, the word “cocky” being arrogant, obviously, but in the romance community it’s being used a lot and an author who we won’t name, it’s very easy to find, but has trademarked and had a trademark granted over the word “cocky” in a book series, the series name, and also in a certain font and, immediately, and that was granted, and then she started asking people to take down their books, and then a lawyer, an ex-lawyer, I think, has filed to take that down, then it’s just, it’s gone on and on.
I’m finding this interesting because also there has been some other words in book series that has also been trademarked, so maybe you would explain the difference between a trademark and copyright because I’m sure some people are confused and then what is your take on this.
Orna: OK, well, copyright is simple, copyright was instigated to ensure the creators were seen as the actual people who own the work. That was as a result of a lot of fighting, a lot of actors, and a lot of pro-creator legislation was brought in around the world, and it’s in varying degrees in some countries copyright really does have legs, and in others, it’s absolutely just doesn’t exist at all, and it becomes less and less useful and relevant in some ways as content is digitized, but on the other hand, it is essentially what our livelihood rests on, if we don’t have copyright, if we can’t prove ownership, then why should anybody buy from us and if anybody owns it you can sell it, and it doesn’t stop piracy or plagiarism, but it is there and invest in the law.
Trademark is a much more-
Joanna: Just before you go in there, it’s very important, you can’t copyright a book title, you copyright the manuscript or it is copyrighted, but very importantly, you can’t copyright a title so anyone can use different titles, so why is that different with this “Cocky Gate” with trademark?
Orna: Yes, exactly, so in this country, in the US and in various other countries, there are countries in which title is copyright but in our jurisdiction and in lots of them, not, and where this particular scandal is happening, not, so trademarking is a much more robust form of intellectual property.
Copyright is a passive right and has to be a search, a trademark you actually go out, you purchase it, you make it happen. And you are essentially, you know, going to use it as a tool, whereas with copyright, very often you’re in a defensive position. If it ever does go to court and, to be frank, copyright cases are very, very, very few in number. Most people don’t go to court on copyright.
Trademark cases are two a penny, they’re always happening and so, I think, in terms of my own personal opinion, and the ALLI line, which we are only really coming around to and discussing it with various panels of people and trying to get an overall view on this. My own sense is that it’s going to be difficult to uphold this and we could be creating an absolute minefield because where does it start and where does it stop?
I think it feeds into, I’m not sure, I’d be really interested to hear your opinion as well, but I think it feeds into, you know, a protectionist sort of view around ideas and work. You can’t obviously copyright or trademark an idea and we all have ideas and whereas what’s being protected is the expression of the ideas. So fonts, as you mentioned, and as is relevant in this case are trademarked, which a lot of people don’t know, you’re not supposed to just use fonts. A lot of fonts that are in circulation are free, but lots of the fonts that are in circulation are not free, and you’re supposed to be paying for them. So it’s a very, very tricky area. it’s hard to see it standing, I feel, and I know that a lot of our members have been, you know, we have a number of members who are people who are people who were asked to take books down.
They were quite worried about it and people are very concerned, people are changing things even though they don’t have to because they feel they should. It’s a little bit like people are also leaving Amazon KU because they’re hearing about certain things that are happening there, so one thing that you notice in the author news is that when things like this happen, people get their fearful and that I think is one of the big problems, is these kinds of semi, I don’t know, I’m trying to find the right word, you know, ownership on claiming creates a culture of is a little bit, you know, doesn’t really sit well with the indie way, I’ll put it that way. What you think about this Cocky Gate?
Joanna: I think it’s a really, I just, I’m finding it very interesting from an intellectual property rights discussion and I have, you know, it’s very hard to comment away from the emotion. I hope that, as you say, I hope that it will not be upheld because then, well, what is already happening is like the rights grab is like a land grab, people will get out there and try and trademark other things.
And you know, I think, so it’s difficult, it’s very difficult to know what’s going on in that area. I do think that the bigger, the wider discussion amongst the community seems to be an ethical one, which is, “This is not the behavior that we are encouraging.” A person, we don’t know why you would bring down the wrath of the romance author community, it’s pretty hardcore about wrath.
I wouldn’t want to do that, but equally, there are many things that are law that we don’t ethically agree with, so as you and I talk, for example, that Ireland has just passed the referendum on the abortion law. Now, clearly there are people on both sides of that debate, but what is law at one point a lot of people disagree with, so this would be the thing, if that trademark is let stand, you could comment on it, but it stands, legally. So it would be very interesting to see how this goes on. And my opinion is if she hadn’t have done it, somebody else would be. So this is almost, again, as ever, the romance authors are ahead of the pack and this is almost the front of what is going on.
Orna: It’s like a test case, isn’t it?
Orna: And it’s funny you should mention the abortion law, which was constitutional law, brought in, just as an aside, back in 1983 and when it was brought in people said “This is bad law. This is going to bring problems.”
And you can see this is exactly the same sort of situation that we have here and I feel very much that one of the great things about and, not quite so much from an ethical perspective, where I know exactly what you’re talking about there, and that is definitely generating most heat and very little light, maybe, in the community but there is this sort of sense that what’s great in the self publishing revolution is that it allows you to go out there as yourself, choose yourself, put your stuff out and attract readers, you know, as you’re talking about their rights grabbing and all of that, that was the behavior of the publisher, and the agents and the people who kind of “preyed on” or just made money from, in a perfectly acceptable way, everything on that range from the creator, now to have creators themselves saying, you know, “I own this. It’s mine, you can’t have it.” It definitely creates a potentially dangerous situation, so I don’t think it will stand. And I would kind of from here certainly hope it wouldn’t.
Joanna: Hope that it will. What I would say is trademarks have to be paid for in every jurisdiction so even if that passes in the USA, it doesn’t mean it’s passed in the U.K. and/or every other country in the world, so there are interesting thoughts there too. Another interesting thing that’s brought up the fear in the community, a lot of disinformation is the digital reader has reported on Amazon banning ARC reviews.
Now we’ve heard this from a number of reports that basically you’re not allowed to review a book unless you do have a verified purchase or presumably a verified download of the book on to your KU account for example. So we can’t necessarily comment on whether or not it’s true, but what’s going on with all this stuff around KU and accounts being closed in and ARCs and like ahh.
Orna: A lot of rumor, a lot of speculation, certainly the last time we checked on the ARC issue that was not the case, so unless there has been a change of policy since. Problem with Amazon is a communication issue at some level, you know, so maybe there is no way you could communicate to the wider community and keep everybody happy. There is so much rumor and speculation; people are constantly coming to me and telling me things as fact that I know to be not fact. It’s just something they heard from somebody and we, I don’t know whether we’re more that way inclined as storytellers, and as writers, you know.
Orna: Like to pass on a good tale or whether it’s just human nature because the community is so dependent on Amazon as an outlet. I would say to everybody, stop worrying, first of all, just do what you do, publish your books, get them out there. None of this actually affects you, do what you normally do and I doubt very much if you have to have a verified book in order ARC in order to, I doubt it, but I’m not going to say until I’m sure and that is not the case but just carry on doing what you do, getting your books out there. The other thing about it is it’s such great distraction, isn’t it? It’s such a lovely displacement activity to be talking about all of this, rather than kind of getting on with the work. So we are going to have a meeting both private and public with Amazon over the next couple months and hope to put a lot of this stuff in its place where it should be.
Joanna: To be honest, if they do say the reviews just become whatever they become, it would be just very similar to kobo or ibooks or nook where reviews aren’t really part of the ecosystem. So, and as a reader, to be fair, I do pay some attention to reviews, but I also have authors I love and, you know, I’m pre-ordering so there aren’t any reviews, so I think again, it comes back to what we’ve talked about before, about the personal brand, about building up readers who love you, who trust you, and trust that you’re going to put out what you’re going to put out and it’s just a slow, it’s a slow journey.
One thing that is interesting, I think, on the ARC because they couldn’t, if they are doing that, they couldn’t distinguish between Indies and traditional publishing, just because I just don’t see technically how they would do that, so traditional publishing would be highly affected by an issue with ARC and traditional publishing, I think, will have something to say with today’s news which came out just before we got on the line, which is that Amazon publishing has just signed Patricia Cornwell. And I remember a few years back people were like, “Oh when the big name traditionally published author goes Indie then everyone will see, you know, that we’re the best.”
It was back in the Us and Them days but what’s interesting now by, you know, this is really the first big name who has signed with A pub, I think it’s Thomas and Mercer, which would make sense, so this is a brand new series by one of the biggest names in crime and thriller, huge author. And with the dominance of Amazon publishing in the charts, will we see, you know, well, first of all, into the High Street, these books are going to go into High Street bookstores. This will probably be the first big print dominance. So what do you think? Is traditional publishing shaking, are they shaking in their boots?
Orna: Yes. I mean, they have been shaking in their boots since 2008, so, you know, the rise continues. This is another big step, as you say, a huge step forward in the sense. It was inevitable, what it was going to happen, it was only about who it was going to be so it’s the first one, it’s going to be the first of many. So Amazon publishing dominance in the digital space is huge, it’s getting bigger and this is only going to make it bigger again, you know.
For Indies, for trade publishers it’s very scary because they need those big salaries, you know, they are their people, that’s what keeps their big buildings in Manhattan amd London, that’s what keeps the expense lunches flowing, you know, and all of that. For indies, I think, it is less relevant because we’re back again to that idea, you know, which we were always coming back to, its you and your circle of readers and the number of people you need to make a living on the various ways that you have shaped up your business to bring in money to keep you going as a writer.
You don’t need anything like they need. You don’t need to be Patricia Cornwell, you just need to have enough readers to give you a living, so it’s less relevant in that sense. On the other hand, you know, if Amazon publishing gets to the point where it’s taking over everything, but I don’t think it ever will, because there’s always going to be that upsurge of creativity that’s going to come up through KDP and the other platforms. Yeah, definitely then A pub comes in and creams off the people who are doing well but we’re now seeing, you know, Indies who have gone into A pub or trade publishing and have come right back out and just not loving and not loving it at all, so there is something unique about the Indie experience that I think is always going to be there.
I do think trade publishing will be there, we will have more than just A pub and I would certainly hope that would be the case. I wouldn’t like to see one layer dominating absolutely everything. But yeah, interesting, another big step forward for Amazon and you have to say, “Hat’s off!”
Joanna: Yeah, I know. Well, I do have some shares, you know I’m not in KU, but I have some shares. That’s why I’m like “I’m an independent author but I have shares in them.” But it’s so interesting and I think this will continue to be a discussion, but it’s so funny because there was an article in the British Bookseller, I think quite recently, with Owen who is in the U.K. Amazon and it’s talking about and they asked him specifically about High Street print books and like why aren’t the Amazon print books in bookstores, and it went and they said something like “Oh, biding our time” and this is exactly biding our time and yeah, really fascinating, I think, and as you say, I don’t see this is any kind of threat to Indies, it’s just a really, an interesting thing, it’s not what we expected back in the day. We were like, “Oh, you know, Patricia would set up her own company like JK Rowling and she would just do that” but when I’ve talked to some of these really big names, including someone like Lee Charles, you know, I actually asked him and he was like, “Why would I? Why would I do that amount of work when I have these people to do it for me?” – which leads us in nicely to our talk.
Orna: Beautiful segway.
Joanna: Beautiful segway. If you can find people to do stuff for you, as in build a professional team, so before we get into exactly, you know, finding people and then managing people, when is an author at the point of needing to build a team of professionals.
Orna: It’s a very good question. I mean, some people go in and work their way up to the point, so, you know, they actually do everything up, absolutely cost, you know, at first and just invest, I hope, in an editor as their major expense, and then cobble everything together and then when they start to make money, start to pay a team.
There is an argument you made for starting a business as an author like any other business and actually doing a business plan – aha! I know, radical. Thinking about your team, straight up ,thinking about what are my strengths, what are my weaknesses? What do I not want to do? What do I want to outsource in the beginning and, you know, start from there but I don’t think that’s your typical creative mentality and I think what happens is that, you know, you spend a very long time learning to be a writer and then you spend a very long time learning to be a publisher, and then eventually you have enough income left over to actually begin to hire people to do some of the things you don’t like doing.
Joanna: I think you’re right, I mean, even I’ve run my own businesses for years and I did it, I started at the bottom and thought “I’ll do this myself.” I actually think the reason is because you don’t know, so the people listening to this probably now know what is involved, because this is the more advanced level, but certainly when I started writing that book and then getting into self-publishing back in the day, like 2007, when, you know, I didn’t know what I was doing. So you don’t even know that you need people.
So the first person I hired was actually a bookkeeper and, yeah, well, you know, my first book was nonfiction and I think you can, as a business consultant for thirteen years, I think I used a proofreader, but I think you can get a way potentially without an editor as a nonfiction author writing in your sphere of influence, as such, and I used a printing company who then did the cover design, but let’s just cover the people that we think you need.
So editor, and editors of different types, depending where you are. Cover designer, really important for me, I have a bookkeeper and an accountant who I absolutely rely on and I have a virtual assistant. I have a number of different people who do different jobs for me. So that’s just a sort of a top level, who else or who do you have?
Orna: Anybody may also want a specifically formatter or you, perhaps tech help with websites and stuff like that, a lot of us have our own WordPress websites but again once your site gets to be complex in anyway, you’re probably going to need a bit of technical support, or if you’re like me, you’re going to need technicals support.
Joanna: And lots of it.
Orna: And lots of it. Yes, general administration, I find, that was my first thing, just general. So I’ve got kind two perspectives on this, one would be as an author and one would be with ALLI, obviously, there’s a team there and obviously has been from the start.
Whereas, as an author, I kind of worked up to a bit more slowly. But I had administration on both sides from the start, things like for a start up, I’m hopeless at keeping a diary, you know, calendar of events and travel and all that kind of stuff, basic e-mail, you know, so there are certain email that I answer and then there are certain email that Sarah answers, that kind of thing but I think if anybody is at the point of thinking about this, I really would recommend Chris Ducker’s book about virtual assistance, it really is very good and he starts off from the premise of anything that you don’t like doing, that you’re no good at, don’t do it, you know, get somebody else to do it because it just releases so much more time for you and I think authors are terrible at not valuing our time. And overvaluing money and undervalued time, you know, not realizing that time is money and how valuable the time is and how important it is to keep yourself as free as you can of stuff you’re no good at.
I know that a lot of people who would be doing well if they did hire a bit of help are struggling and giving up so I do think this is the key, actually, to developing a proper author business, you cannot do it all alone.
Joanna: I totally agree with you, and it’s so funny, because we see on the ALLI forum regularly, “Where can I hire someone to do all my publishing and marketing for a royalty share?” and it’s just like, “No, if you want that, get a publisher, like get a publishing deal. There’s a reason that you only get 10-25% of royalties when you get a traditional publishing deal and it’s because they have a team and whether or not they do everything according to what you like is a question but that’s what they do.” So if you, and I think that’s a personality issue here, that you’ve just touched on which is part of the reason we are Indies is we are a little bit control freakish.
So, like for me, I still do my own formatting on Vellum because I love Vellum, I absolutely love it and I did outsource formatting for a while before Vellum arrived and it was just a nightmare because I wanted to change stuff.
Orna: Same here.
Joanna: Yes, exactly so now I’m like, and I enjoy doing Vellum so I keep that for me. Now I love doing my own calendar, I’m like obsessive about my calendar and so, just back on the Chris Ducker interview, so it was, I interviewed Chris on my podcast on the Creative Pen podcast back in, I think it was 2014 or 2015 when that book came out and it was that interview that got me to find my first, a virtual assistant, so I had the accountant and the bookkeeper.
But Alexandra, my wonderful V.A. I got after Chris. I talked to Chris and he basically convinced me that I was, I would be better off spending my time, for example, I was formatting the transcript for my podcasts which is not value added material. Although it is for Alexandra, thank you so much.
So let’s just come back on how do we find those people?
Orna: Yeah, I think that this is trial and error. This is another place where we see people giving up too soon. So, I have had at this stage, some people who are literally with me since the very first day and are still there and others have come and gone and that’s because I didn’t suit them or they didn’t suit me. Or it worked for a while or, there’s also a distinction between people who do ongoing tasks that you would want to be around forever and people that you hire just to do a specific task and that’s it, maybe to optimize your youtube channel where once it’s done you don’t need to do it again.
So, you need to get clear first of all about exactly what you’re looking for and then, I think it is, because we are authors, and our needs are pretty uniform across the board, it’s well worth asking other authors who they use and if you have a community, reach out there.
It’s really important that you get somebody you can trust because you’re going to be giving over passwords and a lot of stuff that’s really kind of key and important to you and so trust is a really important thing and that’s why reaching out through your own community and through your known contacts can be a good way. I have to say, though, I have also found some fantastic people, the aforementioned Sarah, I just could not cope without Sarah now, she’s like another limb and was a PeoplePerHour person hired for a small job.
So, there is no one set way to do this, but I think it’s always worth saying it’s a trial, even if it’s something you feel you want to run forever and ever and put a limit on it, say “We’re going to try this for a month, three months, whatever is appropriate” and give yourself time to get to know each other and be prepared to cut your losses. It’s a total pain when you’ve just spent three months with someone saying, “This person’s not right” but it’s much better to do it then and go again and look again than it is to keep going with it and I know it’s all that effort, it’s very typical of the Indie experience, you know, doing the hard stuff up front saves you years down the road but it can be hard to make yourself do the hard stuff up front. And it’s stopping a lot of people. What about you? Where do you find your good-
Joanna: Yes, well, amazingly, oh, well I can’t remember how I found my first V.A. and then it didn’t work out, as you said. It’s a bit like, sometimes editors as well, you know you hire an editor if things don’t work out and you’re not happy with how the partnership is going, and then you find someone, and it’s a bit like dating. A lot of this stuff is a bit like dating, you often have to try a few people to kind of find someone you who fits with you. And also-
Orna: Like kissing frogs.
Joanna And also you might grow out of each other as well, like you know, very much, yeah, well one of the things I was going to say, Alexandra came to me after hearing me talk about it on the podcast, so if you do have an audience, if you have an email list, sometimes you can find your best people within your community, especially if they already know your voice and they already know your ethics, you know. So, you know, for example, Alexandra, you know, organizes the guest posts for the Creative Pen because she knows what I like and what the site is, you know, and she’ll reject people without even coming to me if she knows that they won’t fit. In terms of the publishing, you know, just for authors kind of specifically, not if you’re blogging and all of that, I think your most important people, I think, really important thing is to treat them professionally, with respect.
I pay on the moment I receive an invoice I will pay it from the people that I absolutely trust and want to keep. And also I respect their professionalism, like with Jane, our cover designer, you know, we’ve gone for so long together now she almost gets it first time. But I’m never going to go, “Oh, that’s like completely wrong,” you know, it will be a tiny iteration. So I think learning to work with other people is also difficult for some Indies, because we are used to during our own way, but sometimes someone else’s way can be just as effective, so you do have to kind of learn to take a breath and go ,”Oh,” you know, rather than go “Oh it would have been quicker to do it myself” which is true the first time, but it’s not the eighth, the tenth, the twentieth whatever.
The other thing I would say on this, I think, is really important, is you need to decide what you really want to outsource and whether it’s worth it. So, for example, many people say “Oh well can’t I just find someone to do my facebook ads or my social media for me” and the thing is it won’t be worth the money because I haven’t heard of anyone who’s been able to outsource the advertising effectively to get a profit. Like you can pour money into it but because the profit margin is so small and then with social media, how can you measure the return there?
So I think you have to be really careful and write down what you’re looking for and be clear about that and then find people in that, in those spaces and that’s another good point, it’s not just one super person, it’s lots of people in their spaces.
Orna: That’s right and that can feel a bit overwhelming at first. You know, we want to, I think, people with a natural tendency is to want to find one person who can do everything and only have to speak to one person and actually barely have to speak to them at all, you know, communicate by telepathy practically. And one of the skills that I really had to learn, and I think, there is, you know, when you when you’re coming to the stage where if you’re considering it from the start and presumably if you’re listening to this podcast you’ve been doing this for a while, but when you’re coming to this, you have to think about your own skills and how good you are at managing people.
It actually is incredibly effective, a productive way to have virtual assistants if you’re good with email and you communicate well in writing, which presumably as a writer you do, but I know that I have to stop and take more time over all the instructions and everything that I was giving to people. I was always kind of skimming it and, you know, just doing it too fast and then having to explain a second time or it wasn’t done properly and it was totally my fault because I hadn’t read it from somebody else’s perspective, so there are skills you need.
You become, effectively, a manager of people, though a very unusual kind of one, because you don’t you may never see them and, I mean, I have people everywhere from Bangladesh to all the way around to Australia, the long way around. So, you know, they’re all over the world, there is a difference between using VAs individually for specific tasks and running a team, which is what ALLi does.
With the team situation, and this would apply if you’re a nonfiction writer as well, maybe, you know, with a subscription kind of model in the background or a course-based thing that you’re taking quite seriously, with a team it’s good, I think, to meet online all together and periodically to make sure that everybody knows each other, as well as knowing you, and sometimes now, quite often now, too, the team will work something and, you know, they don’t even come through me at all. They just kind of communicate directly and that’s another stage again, you know. That’s a second step up.
And I suppose the main thing to say, in case we’re making all this sound extremely scary, is it is fantastic because you get your time back so the relief when you actually get the right person, and then that lasts for ages and you get writing time back, and you get, you know, thinking time back, and you get proper entrepreneurial time back.
It can make a real difference to your business so that these people should bring in far more money than they cost and that’s the way to think about it, money is a great reckoner here. It really is a useful way to think and if it’s something that isn’t going to be worth money then seriously consider just dropping it.
Joanna: And you can drop it in the middle of something. So, in terms of tools, like, I use Google Docs, so you and I working on Google Docs right now, with sharing a document, and I also use Asana which is a free project management kind of task tool. There are premium levels, you know, but I find the free one fine and then Skype occasionally, but generally, like Alexandra and I’ve been working together for years now and we just work by email and also various Google Docs and a shared Dropbox with documents and things on. And I think that virtual thing is so important, you know, again in the ALLI forum thing, we see people saying, you know, “Who knows an editor close to me, like who lives in my town?” and it’s like “Why would you do that?” Yeah, editors don’t even want to talk to you, they just send you a document back, you know, I mean some of them you talk but it will be on Skype. So generally this virtual thing is really good.
Also from a employee/tax and we’re not financial advisers, legal advisors, blah blah blah, but if you have, like, I’m in the U.K., Alexandra is in Canada, Dan, my audio guy is in the Marianas Islands in the middle of the Pacific, you know, and we work on pay, so I pay them in different currencies by PayPal and there is no way they can be my employee because they work for lots of different people, so from my perspective as a company owner, that protects me but it also means they can work for other people as well.
One really important point, and again, this might sound scary but it’s not, is a contract and even if that contract is just a document that explains expectations, privacy, you know because again, you’ll be sharing things, you know, how you will work together, how you will address any issues, as if you were doing a co-writing thing or anything, you need to write down what is going on and that will help a lot.
Orna: Definitely a written process document and agreement at a minimum if you don’t want to do a whole contractual thing. Problem with a contract is that if you’re at the point of a contract, with this, it’s over, you know/
Joanna: I guess I mean a list and it acts as a contract, like a contract doesn’t have to be a legal document prepared by a lawyer, it can just be people agreeing something, right?
Orna: Absolutely, I know that some people do look for a contract, I want a contract and I was just making that point that, you know, often if you’re waving the contract around, your working relationship is probably over.
Joanna: Oh yeah, fair enough. Yeah, and also, I do not give anyone to access to my Amazon, KDP or any of my publishing, I still do all my own publishing. I don’t give anyone access to my PayPal or my bank accounts or any of that stuff. Oh, another tool I use which Jonathan sorted out when we started working together is OnePassword, so you can set up, so that is a password management system so that you can share a vault for certain things that you want to share logins for.
So for example, my Facebook page I have several people who can get into that as being admins or I have, you know, different things that people can log into but still protect my personal stuff. Yeah, and we, I think, another time we’ll talk about working with people that you love that.
Orna: That’s another whole show.
Joanna: The virtual people. But it’s, I mean, I think, probably the other thing is budget, you don’t have to be spending thousands of dollars a month, although you may end up that way eventually. But you can just start, like for me, I said, with my bookkeeper it was, I think, twelve pounds a month for my bookkeeper and that to me was the thing I did not want to do. I was not going to reconcile my accounts. I mean, I’m just not going to do that and if you don’t have a business yet, then maybe it’s the editor, the cover designer, you know, those types of things that you really should start with and save up for if necessary.
Orna: That’s about as much, I think, as we can cover in this short time.
Joanna: I think we’ve gone on too but it is a really massive issue and, as you say, it’s probably the difference between someone, and I think I remember Chris saying, this is the difference between like a five figure business, six figure business and, you know, a six figure business. It’s a growth step, because you have that time and you have that life and it’s the only way to scale. So if you want to scale, you don’t have to ,but if you want to scale, this is the only way, or get a publishing deal and have someone else do it all for you.
Orna: Write to A pub.
Joanna: That’s a really good point. OK, so any last, so June, and Dean Wesley-Smith calls the summer “The Time of Great Forgetting” where everyone just ignores writing and then comes back in September. So any advice for the summer of writing ahead of us in the northern hemisphere?
Orna: I’m the opposite, I have to say, I write really well in the summer. I love getting out with a laptop outside. It’s my writing time as well because things quiet down in the publishing world and I so it’s the opposite for me, the same advice that kind of applies all the time, do map your week, do make room in advance for your writing and your publishing, know when you’re going to do it, have a target. You won’t meet it. You’ll skive off, you’ll miss some days, et cetera, but nonetheless, mapping the week again, every Monday becomes, is just really important. Yeah, don’t forget to enjoy it. Because some people seem to be forgetting to enjoy it. We are incredibly lucky to be able to do what we do the way we do it, especially in the summer, have fun, people!
Joanna: Yes, happy times! Alright, I’m off to get a gin and tonic so we will see you next month so happy writing, happy publishing.
Orna: Happy writing, happy publishing, everyone. Bye!