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Do I Have To Blog To Be Successful At Writing? Other Questions Answered By Orna Ross And Michael La Ronn In Our Member Q&A Podcast

Do I Have to Blog To Be Successful At Writing? Other Questions Answered by Orna Ross and Michael La Ronn in our Member Q&A Podcast

Do I have to blog to be successful at writing? This is among the questions answered on our #AskALLi Members Q&A hosted by Michael La Ronn, author of science fiction and fantasy novels as well as author self-help books; and ALLi Director, author, and poet Orna Ross.

Other questions include:

  • Should I traditionally publish my book?
  • Should I hire someone to manage my social media?
  • I’ve been approached by a legitimate traditional publisher! What do I do?
  • How can I stop people pirating my self-published books?
  • Is there a way to improve photo quality with IngramSpark?
  • I’m struggling to find readers for my book, should I use a traditional publisher?

And more!

Our Members Q&A Podcast is brought to you by specialist sponsor Kobo Writing Life, a global, independent ebook and audiobook publishing platform that empowers authors with a quick and easy publishing process and unique promotional opportunities. To reach a wide audience, create your account today! We’d like to thank Kobo for their support of this podcast.

Find more author advice, tips and tools at our Self-publishing Author Advice Center, with a huge archive of nearly 2,000 blog posts, and a handy search box to find key info on the topic you need.

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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Watch the Q&A: Do I Have To Blog? And More

Do I have to blog to be successful at writing? This is among the questions answered on the #AskALLi Members Q&A hosted by @OrnaRoss and @MichaelLaRonn. Click To Tweet

About the Hosts

Michael La Ronn is the author of over 30 books of science fiction & fantasy and authors self-help books. His books include the Galaxy Mavericks series and Modern Necromancy series. You can now find his new writing course on Teachable.

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: Do I Have To Blog? And More

Orna Ross: Hello, everyone. Hello and welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Member Q&A with me, Orna Ross, and with Michael La Ronn. Hi, Michael.

Michael La Ronn: Hello, Orna. Happy November.

Orna Ross: Happy November. Here we are, second to last month of the year, how did that happen, Michael?

Michael La Ronn: Yes, I don’t know. I mean, last year was only the longest year ever, and now we’re back to like a semi-normal year.

Orna Ross: Yeah, I feel like this year kind of sped up, as much as last year slowed down, so now we’re back at ground zero, but I actually can’t believe it’s November and we’re facing into the book-selling season of the year already.

But yeah, we’re here, as ever. Once a month we turn up here to answer our members questions about specific aspects of self-publishing, any questions that they have arising, and the idea of this show, of course, any member can email us anytime with a question or they can hop onto our Facebook forum and ask a question. But this particular forum is for public answers to questions, and sometimes we dig in a little deeper, and anyone can tune in and listen to this show, though only members can actually ask questions and have our questions followed up. So, the idea is that you’re a self-publisher, what you’re going through is shared by lots of other people who are self-publishing, who are at the same point in the journey that you’re on, and our answer to your question can help a lot more people than just you. So, in a way, you’re part of a public service. So, thank you for sending through your questions to us. So, Michael has the questions, and let’s start.

Do I need to blog to be a successful indie author?

Michael La Ronn: Okay. First question is from member Christine, and she asks, I just launched my first book and a blog that is similar to the title of the book, how can I get noticed through ALLi?

So, I think the more general question is, I mean, certainly we can talk about what ALLi can do, Orna, but also, I think there’s another part, or another route to this question that we should answer, which is, should I blog, and do I need to blog to be successful, to be a self-published writer?

Orna Ross: Fantastic. Okay. So, let’s talk briefly about the ALLi part of it. I think it’s important for people to realize that we are a self-publishing association, we’re not a marketing service, and we’re not really about marketing books on behalf of our members. That’s not what we do. We absolutely break news about our partners achievements, and book launches, and stuff. All of that, and we’re really interested, obviously, in what our members are doing. But in terms of reaching your target market as an individual publisher, obviously with thousands of members, all publishing in different genres, different subcategories, ALLi, you know, that’s not what we do. We don’t go out to readers on your behalf.

We do, however, have a list of marketing services in our directory and searchable database, which you can look up, and these are services that will help you to reach your readers. And we do provide guidebooks, and all sorts of other ways in which we enable you to reach your readers.

So, what you’ve got to think about as a self-publishing author is not reaching everybody and telling everybody about your book, what you need to do is you need to think reaching your right reader, as we call them, the right readers for your book, and a blog is a great way to do that. So, I am seeding into the actual broader question.

I’m slightly concerned when I hear that somebody has named their blog after their book, and the reason for that is you will probably go on to write another book, and your blog will always be associated with that first book. So, you might want to revisit that straight up. You might want to think of a more generic name, and you might want to think of a name that the right readers, not just for this book, but for books that you would write in the future, that they would actually search for in a search engine like Google or elsewhere. So, that might be one thing I would say.

To the broader question, do you need to blog as a self-publishing author, you don’t have to do anything as a self-publishing author, that you don’t like doing, but you do have to do something.

So, you don’t have to do anything in particular. So, you will hear people say, you have to blog. You don’t have to. You hear people saying, you have to do social media. No, you don’t. You hear people saying that these days you have to be on podcasts. No, you don’t. But you do have to choose something, some way in which you are going to reach the right readers for your books. Some way in which you’re going to take the fact that you have published this book and bring it to them as news. And if you can do that through a blog, that is an effective way to do it, as is appearing as a guest blogger on other people’s blogs who have already built up an audience, or on other people’s podcasts, or through PR, you know, trade media, newspapers, magazines, radio. Any of these are tried and tested methods where you can let people know about your book. I believe in blogging over time, particularly for nonfiction but you need to, these days, if you’re doing a blog, you need to write long, detailed, interesting, compelling posts that stand out from the rest, that have the chance of being the best on this topic on the internet, because that’s the only way you’re going to get to the top of the search engines, and research shows that people don’t look beyond the first, second or third option in the list. So, there’s no point in being the 10th best blog on the internet as Google decides, you need to be right up there at the top.

So, there’s no point in blogging unless you’re going to take it seriously, unless you’re going to have some knowledge of search engine optimization, SEO, and take that seriously, that your blog features on search engines. Otherwise, it can be a waste of your writing energy, so you spend too much time writing the blog for too little results, when you could actually be using that energy in writing a new book.

So, they’re my kind of thoughts. I’m sure you have a few, Michael?

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, everything you said was great and I agree a hundred percent.

I would add that consistency is key. So, don’t start a blog if you can’t finish it, meaning don’t start if you can’t publish a post consistently every week, or every month, or whatever your cadence is, you want to stick to that. And in the beginning, what a lot of people do is they start, and they start really strong, but then they realize there’s no audience, for whatever reason, it could be because maybe you’re blogging about the wrong topic, or it could just be that you just haven’t built your audience yet, but then they stop. And the key is to be consistent year after year, over and over again, and that will help you.

But then again, another thing I want to also mention is that blogging with fiction is substantially more difficult than if you’re a non-fiction writer. So, what a lot of fiction writers start off doing is they start off blogging about their book. Every post is about their book, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that if your angle is legit. So, instead of making every post about your book. Instead, I would talk about your experience and document your experience of what you’re writing about and talk about other things that might be on your mind. I think that’s ultimately what fiction readers are going to read your blog for. If you’re a non-fiction writer, it’s way easier, it’s considerably easier. You can focus on solving a problem and you find different angles and different ways to solve that problem. Way easier, a hundred percent easier, but with fiction it’s a lot more complicated. But I find that writers tend to gravitate more toward blogging because it’s just an extension of what they’re already doing, but you just have to be careful to make sure that you’re blogging something that your readers would want to read consistently week in, week out. So, just be careful there.

Orna Ross: Yeah, absolutely, and in a way, I think it sounds like a drastic thing to say, but I think it’s true, don’t start a blog unless you want to keep going forever.

You can do a blog for a year or two, but the amount of time it would take to build up your audience, to then walk away from it, and I have seen people, the other danger time Michael spoke about, the time when you realize, hey, nobody’s listening, and this is a lot of work and nobody’s listening. You’ve kind of got a crossroads there, two choices. Do I quit? Which is what a lot of people do, or do I now begin to concentrate the mind and find out, well, how do I make people listen, how do I bring people to this blog? And in a way, a blog is like a microcosm of what you have to do with the book, one way or the other you have to get people’s attention, and you have to be remarkable in some way, you have to stand out. You have to be, you know, extra good or extra musing, or extra deep, or something needs to be there that’s going to actually draw people’s time and attention. And the effort of doing that for your blog also helps you in doing that for your books, because they’re the same thing. It’s the same kind of pathway that you go through. And the other time that I see people falling away a lot, and you wouldn’t expect this as much, is when they’ve just got it established. It’s up, it’s running. They now have people who are paying attention, they’re maybe getting comments and other stuff.

Sorry, can you hear that coming through? Someone called me. Okay. Just needed to switch that off and turn on my do not disturb.

Yeah, the other time is when people start to get attention and this, I think, has something to do with the creative mindset. It’s almost like, when you’ve done it and achieved it and succeeded attach it, you get tired of it. Now you’re bored, now you want to do something else, and that’s a bad time to run out. So, staying there through that period and maybe adjusting the blog, refining it, constantly improving it, building on your success.

You can also start to take in guest bloggers. Once you’ve established yourself with some degree of success, you will probably find people who want to write for your blog. There are ways to make sure that you stay consistent, and you keep going with it, but just as you shouldn’t begin a book from first impulse, it’s likely to fall away without a bit of planning and thinking and organizing, a blog is very similar. It’s not something to be started light-heartedly, and definitely don’t think, hey, I’ve got a blog, that means I’m going to sell lots of books. It doesn’t work like that. It takes a year or two to build your audience on a blog, just as it takes a year or two to build a following for your books.

Michael La Ronn: Yep, and it’s a year or two talking to yourself with nobody that will respond for a while.

Orna Ross: Yeah, and I mean, we’ve all been there, I think. And I think that’s the important thing to say. When I began blogging, there were far fewer bloggers in the blogosphere, and it was much easier, and everybody was kind of, oh, blogging, you know, and everybody was commenting like crazy, and it wasn’t unusual back in those days that you’d get 80 comments on a blog post, that was fairly ordinary and not terribly inspiring or standout-ish. That just doesn’t happen now. Anybody thinking about starting something. I actually start something tomorrow, and I’ll start pretty much grind zero too. Even though I’ve built an audience somewhere else, if I start something new, it’s going to be from scratch, and all I’ll bring is the experience of building. And so, yeah, I think you’ve been there too, Michael.

And there’s this whole thing of fake it till you make it, you know? So, for the first number of months you have to act like there is somebody reading, and imagine that ideal reader, and then over time they start to come, and as you get better, because you get better at it by doing it.

How can I stop people pirating my self-published books?

Michael La Ronn: Yep. I agree. All right. Our next question is from John, and John has a piracy issue. It looks like, I won’t say what his specific situation is going on, unfortunately, but it looks like he’s having some issues with, I guess, people just regularly pirating his books. How can he stop that?

Orna Ross: Well, the classic way is to send a notice, look up DMCA notice. Also look up, we have an actual blog post on the self-publishing advice website, which is selfpublishingadvice.org. And if you hop on there and then you go to the search box and you put in plagiarism and piracy, you will get, we did a three-part series on that this year, or was it last year, I don’t know, but not that long ago. So, everything you need in terms of the practical and the technical aspects of coping with piracy is there.

And one of the things we say in that post, and I know you say it, Michael, in your 150 Self-Publishing Questions Answered book, and I also address it in Creative Self-Publishing, both of these are ALLi guides, which members can read as part of their membership, or other people can come purchase. We emphasize the fact that sometimes it’s not worth your while, that what appears like pirated work is actually click-bait websites, and they’re not worth your time and attention. The real challenge, and this is connected to the question that we just answered a moment ago, the real challenge for publishers today, and this is everybody, at the blogging level, at the books level, every level, is not piracy and people ripping off your work, it’s obscurity and nobody knowing that you exist. The people who buy books from piracy sites are not legitimate buyers. They’re not your right readers. They are never going to pay. And so, in a way you might do best to just forget about them. There are even authors, and famous and well-known authors, like Paulo Coelho being the most famous, I think, who have used piracy as an actual marketing tool.

I’m not suggesting you have to take that mindset, but I am suggesting that you need to think about selling books, and getting too concerned by piracy, which is a feature of the digital age, getting too concerned and spending a lot of time and effort chasing down pirates can be distracted energy, energy that could be going into actually selling books to people who are prepared to buy, who don’t visit these sites anyway, and who wouldn’t be buying from there anyway. You’re never going to shut the whole thing down completely. It’s very, whack-a-mole, you cope with one, and another one pops up over here. And a lot of indie authors decide, you know what, this isn’t how I want to spend my time, this isn’t how I want to spend my energy. I’m going to focus on the people who actually buy books.

Michael La Ronn: Correct. Yep. You said everything I was going to say.

I’m struggling to find readers for my book, should I use a traditional publisher?

So, our next question is from Francoise. Looks like the question is, I’ve published a number of children’s books, but I just can’t seem. I’ll summarize the question. I just can’t seem to find an angle with self-publishing to be successful with it, particularly with distribution. So, Francoise is looking for a traditional publisher, and they’re asking, what is the process for doing that?

So, Orna, I know what you’re going to say.

Orna Ross: Yeah, there is so much help out there for those who want to take the traditional route, and ALLi is actually an association for those who want to self-publish. So, I will only say that the traditional route is to find an agent or a publisher who will actually, you know, you either approach the publishers directly, you’ve got to pitch them, you’ve got to present them with a case which says, I’m going to make you money, because that’s ultimately what they will be looking at, more than they look at the quality of the work, or anything like that. They’re going to take your proposal and they’re going to say, can I make money from this, how do I reach the readers who need to buy this?

So, essentially what you’re doing there, Francoise, I think, is you have a publishing challenge, and you want to give that publishing challenge to somebody else, but you’ve got to think about it from their perspective. Why should they take that on? Until you have actually solved the problem for them, you’re unlikely to have any more success seeking an agent or a publisher than you are seeking a reader. In fact, it’s much easier to reach readers than it is to reach agents and publishers, which is becoming ever tighter and more difficult as publishing changes.

So, I think, yeah, the short answer is, you pitch publishers and agents. The long answer is, you know, who are your readers for this book? And unless you already have sales, if you have already put this book out in any kind of self-published form, which I’m not sure from the question whether you have or you have not as yet, if it has gone out there, then what a publisher or an agent would be looking for is evidence of sales.

The other thing I’d like to say that we’ve just published a guide to self-publishing children’s books. And if you’re a member, if you’d like to pick up your member copy of that, or if you’re not a member, well, you are a member because you’re asking the question. So yeah, if you’d like to pick up your member copy of that, and it specifically addresses the seven stages of publishing, including distribution. And so, it may answer your problems. It may actually solve your challenge, and you may find that actually you are ready to move on to the next stage of self-publishing.

Should I hire a social media expert to help market my books?

Michael La Ronn: Okay. Next question is from Graham, and Graham is essentially, I’ll just read the question.

I have two brands I’m promoting, Chass Cann Publishers, where we sell our books, create blogs and help authors to self-publish.

And then he’s also publishing joke books, and he says he wants to direct more traffic to this website where he’s publishing some of these joke books and he’s just finding that there’s a lot to it. So, the question is, should I take on a social media guru and use that, or is there something that he can do personally to help grow the book sales and social media outlets?

Orna Ross: Yeah. So again, I would guide you towards our guidebooks, which specifically, there’s sections of the guidebooks, Michael’s 150 Questions and my Creative Self-Publishing, the sections about marketing and promotion. Because regardless of the topic and or genre of your book, there are basic principles of marketing and promotion that every self-publisher needs to get on top of.

So first of all, you need to make sure that you have all of that in place, and then it’s a matter of choosing what way you’re going to, so essentially this is a marketing and promotion question, and this is a question that every publisher meets every week of the year, how do I get more people to know about my books? As you rightly say, there’s a lot to it. There absolutely is. It’s challenging, especially at first. So, essentially, you’ve got three options. You need to have some kind of signup mechanism on your website, whereby those who are interested in your joke books can receive a magnet of some kind, a reader magnet, from you, and you begin to build a mailing list of the right readers for these joke books. And that’s something that’s a process over time. A lot of these things are, and that is what we call access marketing, which is essentially about drawing and attracting readers to you, and having a place where they can sign up, and then once you have them on your email list, you can begin to ask them to do the things that you want them to do. So, it might be buy your next book, or it might be review your last book, or it might be go out there and tell people about the work, or whatever it is you want them to do. Once you have an email list of readers who are interested and enjoy your work, you’ve built an asset that you can use in lots of ways. That’s one form of marketing.

The second is what we call influencer marketing, and that will be going through podcasts or media, which we mentioned earlier, or other people who already have an in with the audience that you’re trying to reach. So, you appear on their podcast, you get an article written about you, you pay an influencer to tell people that you exist. Influencer marketing is where use somebody else’s influence to reach the people you want to reach.

And then the third way is what we call algorithm marketing, and that is your advertising, digital advertising, social media advertising, Amazon advertising, anything that uses the power of an algorithm to get you up and out there and reach people that you can’t reach on your own.

So, in a sense, you can do all three of these, or some aspect of it, or you can choose one and major on it, make it your main thing that you do. And it’s not easy. It’s not easy for anybody. It’s easier in some genres than others. Joke books are a good genre, actually, because it’s the kind of genre where people turnover books a lot; as soon as they’ve finished one book of jokes, they want another book of jokes.

So, it’s a good genre to be in, and if you use good marketing techniques, and the books are funny to the right audience, and you know how to reach them, then you should experience success.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, I agree. And I would also say with joke books, another thing to not rule out is outside of the realm of books. So, I mean, I’m just throwing this out there, a dad joke podcast could be something that would be easy to create. I mean, you could have a joke every day and it wouldn’t take that long to do a punchline. You know, you have some intro music, you introduce yourself, or maybe you don’t even do that, you know, just say, my name is blah, blah, blah. Today’s joke is, you know, blah, blah, blah, and then punchline, for more great jokes visit blahblahblahblahblah. And that could be the podcast, and it could be every day. So, I think there’s something there too, like with multimedia that you could also use to grow your imprint.

I’m sure there’s probably other dad joke podcasts or joke podcasts out there, but I think that if you could build a body of work to where someone could just sit and binge listen to all the jokes, I think that could be pretty cool too.

Orna Ross: Yeah, that’s a great idea, and that falls into the first category, which is attracting people to the book. And then you decide then what you want them to do, what’s your call to action, to buy your first book in the series, maybe, and then you get read though and the rest, or is your call to action to sign up for your email list so you actually begin to get that group of people that we were talking about earlier.

So, you are limited only by your creativity, really, in terms of what it is and what you fancy doing in terms of how you get people. But I think hiring a social media guru, which was your question, is probably the least good way to do this. In my experience, the people who hire social media people to work with, the ones who do best are those who have a very clear vision already of their target reader and their own work and where it fits out there in the wide world. It’s quite difficult to get somebody to come in, into book social media, who isn’t a really good expert on it, and they will essentially be asking you to tell them what content that you want to fill your feed with.

So, Michael’s idea is a great idea, podcasting a joke. The jokes could go out on a social media platform, either, you know, you could make text jokes, they could be audio, little audiograms going out, it could be video of you telling the jokes, it could be something really elaborate where you actually put together a video trailer for each joke and just do one a month. There’s so many ways in which you can do this, but essentially the idea of the content, you’re not ready for a social media guru until you’ve decided how you’re going to get attention. Then when that decision has been made, very often we find we don’t need a guru, we were looking for a guru who would actually do the thinking for us that only we can do for ourselves.

Michael La Ronn: Yep. I agree. All right.

Is there a way to improve photo quality with IngramSpark?

Next question is from Janae who says, I printed my photobook with IngramSpark, the photos are not as good a quality as BookBaby. I want to stay with IngramSpark because overall it looks like a professional book, but is there a way to improve the quality of the printing with photos with IngramSpark?

Orna Ross: That’s totally a question for IngramSpark’s support desk, and I imagine that it’s a matter of paper and print process. So, by improving the paper quality maybe, or there may be other ways, you know, that’s really a question that’s a very technical question that only they can answer, I’m afraid. So, yeah, our advice there would be to contact Ingram’s support desk directly. And if, as a member, you find you’re not getting the answers you want, or you want some supplementary answers, let us know and we can contact them on your behalf. But your first port of call is direct to the support desk.

How should indie authors approach rights licensing with traditional publishers? 

Michael La Ronn: Okay, next question, and final question for today, is from member, David. Now, David has, I’ll sum up his question, it’s an interesting one. So, David is a self-published sci-fi writer with a book of series that he’s self-published, and he has been approached by a traditional publisher who’s interested in buying exclusive world rights. However, he has some concerns and some things that he’s really thinking through.

The first concern is losing control of what happens to the books that he’s already published, because they want to take his existing series and traditionally publish it. So, he’s concerned about losing control. He’s concerned about having to take the books down, and potentially lose reviews. And he’s concerned that it might interfere with some of his longer self-publishing goals.

So, the heart of the question is, what advice can we give him in evaluating an offer like this, and what should he be looking out for?

Orna Ross: Fantastic. Okay. So, I’m going to answer the question at a number of levels, and then Michael may hop in with extra thoughts.

So, just at the level of the offer, straight up, ‘exclusive word rights’ makes my warning bell go, ER, ER, and I think you need to very carefully evaluate the contract that you have been given, because if somebody is looking for world rights, they’re probably also looking for various other aspects of things in the contract. There’s so much to look out for in the contract in addition to the actual rights, and the advance, and all that kind of stuff.

So, I would, first of all, at a very practical level, just contact the rights desk by sending [email protected] an email, and just asking for a contract review so we can take a look and see the specifics of the contract and how good, bad, or otherwise it is.

Our recommendation is always, and I’m moving into the second level, our recommendation is always to license only selective rights. So, not world rights of every format.

But to engage with this publishing house, you’re a publisher, they’re a publisher. You’ve already shown you can publish. You’re already reaching your readers. And you’re asking all the right questions, because you will give up control, and you will give up the things that you’re concerned about, that will happen. And therefore, the offer needs to make that worth your while. And if it is not worth your while, then it’s no thank you. And if it is worth your while, then continue the conversation and you will, in terms of that negotiation, you need to push for more than you are being offered. Because if it doesn’t sound like a great deal on this side of the fence, before you even sign it, believe me in two years’ time when you’re feeling what’s coming from the alternative publisher who will do things differently from you, who will bring things that you can’t do, fantastic, but who will also have ideas that you may not like.

At that point in the proceedings, you want to be able to look back and say, well, at least I got my advance, and here’s my plan, here’s my strategy, you know, I’m using them to publish this book and that book, maybe not the others. So for example, if you have a lot of books in your series, you’ll find that the publisher will automatically ask for that, but it’s not a good idea for you to commit lots of books in a series to a publisher up front, you want to see what they’re going to do with that first book or second book, certainly no more than three, before you decide whether this is worth doing for books four, five, and six.

And it definitely complicates things, if you have a series already, if you begin to work with somebody else. That’s not say you shouldn’t do it or consider it, but it is to say, do think very carefully, as you are. Do continue to think very carefully about what you want out of this deal. Sometimes authors are just so flattered to be offered that they sign almost because they assume that the other publisher can do a better job for them than they can do for themselves, and that may not be true.

One thing that is working very well for a number of our members with some trade publishers is to license the print rights. They’re the rights that we find hardest to exploit, and trade publishers have an in with the bookstore selling world, and the distributors and wholesalers that work with bookstores, and they can manage that side of the business better than we can, speaking generally. So, that might be a consideration, that you retain your eBook rights and your audiobook rights, while licensing your print rights. They may not agree to that, they won’t like it. They definitely want all rights, but you want them to take as few rights as possible.

So, in all conversations, you are limiting the term, the number of formats, and the territory. So, no world rights. If they’re based in the US, then let the print rights be for the US only, for example. You might then come to a separate arrangement around the eBook or the audiobook, but I would be very slow to let go of eBook and audiobook rights as an independent publisher. You’ve got incredibly good tools that they don’t even have access to, in terms of Amazon KDP and Kobo, and so on, the direct line-in that the author has there is very clean, very clear, very simple, and very, very productive. Also, once you exclusively license your rights to, and this is my last point, once you exclusively license your rights to a trade publisher, you can’t sell directly on your own website to your own readers. And I don’t know if you’re doing that already, but if not, it’s certainly something to think about, particularly as we go later into the 2020s, where blockchain, NFTs, and direct sales are going to become much more salient and much more profitable for authors. So, they’re some of my thoughts, but do contact the rights desk because we can help you very directly at a very practical level.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah. I mean, everything you said was great, Orna. I would add that you’re thinking about this the right way. I can tell by the way that the question was framed that you’re thinking about the right things.

One of the things that you were thinking about that I wanted to make sure we hit was ‘my long-term self-publishing goals’. So, just beware of ‘do not compete’ clauses in publishing contracts. A ‘do not compete’ clause says that you cannot publish other books under that particular pen name that will compete with your publisher. Usually, it’s within a certain time period. So, just make sure that if you sign a contract with this publisher, that you’re not signing a ‘do not compete’ clause, because then it’s going to take your publisher forever to take care of the book and get it out and get it distributed, and you don’t want to hamstring your own productivity.

Orna Ross: Yeah, and I mean the chances of it containing such a clause are very, very high because, from their perspective, they’re going to invest money, presumably there is an advanced here and a decent royalty and all of that, which the contract will reveal, they don’t want to invest a lot of money in you while you cannibalize, basically, their sales and use them as a marketing tool. So, they’re going to be thinking about that.

The other clause to keep an eye out for, and the rights desk can help with all of these, is the rights reversion clause, so that if they don’t do a good job, again to Michael’s point of your long-term career, if they don’t do a good job, that you get your rights back in a timely fashion is very important. So, that’s another important clause to look out for.

And thirdly, they may treat audiobook rights as a subsidiary right, a lot of traditional publishers do that. Whereas, for indie authors now, all your rights are pretty primary. We’ve got a very good way, you know, they’re a digital file, essentially, we can sell them directly to our listeners, we can use the Amazon tools and other tools, Findaway Voices, and various other really good services to take us directly to audiobook listeners. So, treating audiobooks as something that gets sold as a separate package onto an audiobook publisher who will give you not a great deal, that’s not a good idea either.

So yeah, there’s a lot to think about for sure.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, and just remember, I’m not sure where you’re located, David, and I’d be curious if the UK has a similar option, Orna, but if you make a mistake and you sign a contract that you realize, oh, maybe I shouldn’t have signed this, here in the United States, you’ve got, it’s called the 35-year rule. So, you’ve got to wait 35 years and then there’s a clause in the copyright law here that after 35 years there’s a certain procedure you can follow where you can get the rights to your work back.

35 years is a long time. I mean, 10 years ago, authors weren’t selling direct. It was still not quite easy to get your books into audio. Tools like BookFunnel, I don’t think BookFunnel was around. I don’t think Vellum was around. Let me just think of, look at all the tools we have today and go back 10 years and things were substantially different, and things are going to be substantially different 10 years from now. And so, 35 years is a long time to rectify a mistake that you make today.

So that’s why I try to instil in people the gravity of the decision, especially when you’re signing these contracts, because it might seem like fun and games when you’re signing, but you don’t really realize the true consequences of it until one day you wake up and want to do something, and then you can’t do it because of a contract you signed.

So, just something to keep in mind. Not trying to discourage you from it, but I’m just a big fan of people going into contracts clear-eyed, and with a true understanding of why you’re doing it and an understanding of what you’re potentially giving up too, because you’re not always going to know what that’s going to be.

Orna Ross: Absolutely. Especially at a time where things are changing so rapidly because we’re going into, some writers are already in self-publishing 4.0, with, as I said, blockchain coming down the track and all sorts of ways of direct selling and special editions, and really exciting things happening in self-publishing. Which is not to say don’t sign, but it is to say, be really careful. Limit the term, do not do it for life of copyright. Limit the term, limit the territory, and limit the format, and then it’s worth maybe an experiment. But yeah, as Michael said, read all the causes and it’s time for authors to read our legal agreements, to read our contracts, to value our work. Our rights are intensely valuable. Hugely, hugely, potentially very, very valuable, some not to be given away lightly.

Michael and I disagree on a few things, not very many, but we definitely are so agreed and aligned on all of that, as is anyone who cares about author publishing. So, yeah, be careful.

Michael La Ronn: Yep, and remember too that, whatever you sign, your heirs are going to have to deal with too. If you happen to pass away prematurely that’s another thing you’ve got to keep in mind too.

Orna Ross: Yeah, life of copyright’s a long time, 70 years after your death, and for most writers actually, that’s when things start to get valuable.

Michael La Ronn: Exactly.

Orna Ross: Okay. That’s a nice cheery note to end on, your death.

Michael La Ronn: Well, it’s something you’ve got to talk about at some point.

Orna Ross: Yes, absolutely. We’ve got to think about these things as we sign contracts.

So, that’s it for this month folks. Thank you so much for your questions, really great questions this month as ever, keep them coming. We have the form, and all of the links and everything will be on the podcast version of this talk, which will be on the selfpublishingadvice.org website on Friday next, and that will include links to everything that we’ve mentioned that during the chat as well.

So, yeah. Thank you for being here. Until next time, happy writing and happy publishing.

Michael La Ronn: Take care everybody.

Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads.

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