How can I set my first book up for success? 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:
- Do I need to purchase barcodes for my paperback book?
- Offset printing vs. print on demand? Which is better?
- Is there any way to create a spine for a short book (32 pages)?
- Would ALLi ever consider doing a loot box or a member-based box set?
- Who manages a traditional publisher's sales pages? What can authors learn from that?
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Find more author advice, tips and tools at our Self-publishing Author Advice Center: https://selfpublishingadvice.org, 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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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: Set Your First Book Up For Success
Orna Ross: Hello everyone, and welcome. We are back with our Member Q&A after a break for our summer, and I am here with Mr. Michael La Ronn. Hi, Michael.
Michael La Ronn: Hi, Orna. How are you?
Orna Ross: I'm really good, thank you. All rested after our summer. How are you?
Michael La Ronn: I'm great. Rested up as well after summer, and it's hard to believe that we're almost near the end of the year.
Orna Ross: Heading into the last quarter, I've given up, just rolling with it now. I'm not even going to say how surprised I am, but it really does feel like the year just got started.
Michael La Ronn: Yes, it does.
Orna Ross: Yeah. So, you have questions, I believe, from our members that need answering. So, shall we launch into it?
Michael La Ronn: Yes, let's get into it here.
Do I need to purchase barcodes with ISBNs?
So, our first question is from Doreen, and the question is, do I need to purchase barcodes with my ISBNs from Bowker?
Orna Ross: Yeah. So, your barcodes are generally provided, so there is no need to actually make a separate purchase. Your ISBNs are used and generated, depending on the service that you're using.
So, if you're doing the standard indie author way through KDP and IngramSpark, as your POD supplier of your print books, then you're fine. If you are using an alternative printing outlet, you need to discuss with them what their requirements are. They made need you to, but they will generally be able to generate barcodes for you.
So, I suppose the short answer is no.
Michael La Ronn: All right. That is good, because I did not know that, so I learned something.
Is there a company that will print my 32-page picture book with a spine?
Next question is from Charlotte, and she asks, is there a printing company that will print my 32-page picture book with a spine? Ingram and KDP will not do this for me.
Orna Ross: This is just a technical thing. They would if they could. It's just not possible to make a spine that small, unless you were to buy a particularly thick paper, you know, one of the papers that is not provided by IngramSpark and KDP. So, depending on what book it is, you know, you can have these tiny little baby board books, which have only 10 pages, but they're nice big fat pages and so you can get a spine. So, it's really a technical thing about the width. A book just needs to be wide enough to create a spine and that is, as you say, wider than on standard paper, wider than your page count. So, the only other way would be to add extra pages for illustration or something that would take it up to spine width. So, yeah unfortunately I think this is also a no.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, I'm not aware of any way to do this other than extreme customization, with an offset printer, and it's probably not worth the money.
Orna Ross: Yeah, the thing about that, as well as the money, the cost of doing an offset print run, a particular run, obviously to pay for far more copies up front as Michael is saying, but you also have a distribution headache. You've just got the books in your own garage, or spare bedroom, or under your own bed, or wherever you're going to put them, and then how do you actually get them to readers? Are you going to post each one yourself?
So, IngramSpark and KDP don't just offer us a really good way of putting books together one by one on order, which is a really fantastic thing, but they also solve the distribution headaches for us. So, for all of those reasons, you probably want to, most indie authors will stick with that method for their print books. So, if you really want the spine, then you are going to have to consider offset.
Michael La Ronn: I agree.
Has ALLi ever considered doing a loot box?
Okay, next question is from Layton and the question is, has ALLi ever considered doing a loot box?
A loot box, I believe, is almost like a bundle where a bunch of authors include their books and then people purchase it, and then the authors split the proceeds.
Orna Ross: Okay. It's a great idea, and ALLi absolutely adores author collaboration, and loves to see collaborations of this sort happening. We encourage people to use our Facebook forum and any other method that they want, you know, searching the database for other members who write in your genre, anything like that. Any way that we can facilitate our members to get together and do things that are mutually advantageous for a number of members, we are really happy to facilitate that in any way that we can, but we don't organize such bundles ourselves. It wouldn't be possible for us, because how would we choose among all our fabulous members, which ones are going to be in and which ones are going to be out, it's just not something we would or could do, unfortunately.
But yeah, as I say, if you've got a really good idea and you'd like to reach out to other members in your genre, that's a relatively easy thing to do as an ALLi member, because you could just go in to find an author member in the searchable database, key in your genre or whatever other requirements you might have, I think you can also search by territory, not individual country, but we break our membership into individual territories. If that's a factor, it probably isn't, often it's much more important to collaborate across a similar genre with similar needs, similar micro-niche, and you can do that kind of searching on the database and then reach out to other members. You could also pull to call out all on the member forum and tell people what you're thinking about doing, and they can message you directly. So, it shouldn't be a relatively easy thing, but you'd have to do the actual putting together.
Michael La Ronn: Yep, just putting together a bundle, it's a collaborative effort that all of our members are free to do themselves, but it's difficult for us to administer.
Orna Ross: Yeah, there's lots of work to it, whoever decides to do the organization, and when they work, they work really well, and we have had lots of our members who have done it. Some who have taken their collaborations all the way to the New York Times bestseller list.
So, it's very doable, but there is lots of work and everybody that comes on board needs to know clearly what they're doing and so on. So, you need to get somebody who actually runs the thing and makes sure that everybody else does what needs doing.
Michael La Ronn: Yep, I agree. I'm taking part in a collaboration right now, actually. It's a bundle, and all the authors are expected to promote. Everyone had to sign a contract, just saying that sort of thing. And we all have to brainstorm different ideas on what we're going to do to promote the bundle, which is going to run for a few months. So, there's a lot of work to it. A lot of people make it look easy, but it's not easy.
Orna Ross: It's like everything in indie author land, the end result looks fantastic, like a great idea and like something we should all do, but behind it is generally a good deal of work.
So yeah, keep us posted, Michael, it will be interesting to see if you feel, at the end of the day, it has been worth it. You're not actually organizing it, are you? Somebody else is organizing it.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, I'm not organizing it, thank God, but I'll be involved.
Orna Ross: Yeah, and there's still quite a bit of work to make sure that you're being fair to everybody else who's putting their bit in. So yeah, let us know how it goes, whether you feel it was all worth it in the end.
Michael La Ronn: Yep, will do.
How do I manage four or more pen names on Amazon Author Central?
Okay, this next question is, it's a couple of questions in one, so let's just start kind of piecemealing it out.
So, this is from Nathalie. In a few months she'll be publishing her partner's novel, and they already know how to set up an author page on Amazon central, so that's all good. First question is, because he has four pen names, Amazon author central only allows three. How does one manage four or more pen names?
Orna Ross: On Amazon, that's not possible. You've got your three, and three is reasonably generous. The only way you could get more than that is to open another Amazon account on a different email address, but you're getting into logistical nightmares there, I would have thought.
It makes me feel, you know, that's all a bit tricky, but if the pseudonyms are really important to you, that's your only option.
At what point does an indie author become a publisher?
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, that's what I thought as well. So, the next thing is, is there such a thing as an Amazon publisher central? So, at what point does an indie author who is publishing multiple pen names, become a publisher? And is there ever a threshold that affords them a different type of dashboard experience on the back end?
Orna Ross: I hear what you're saying. I hear the question. Our expertise is author-publishing, and that's micro publishing. So, there are authors who publish some other authors as well, that tends to be on an informal basis. When you're getting into the point of becoming full-on publisher. I know that small indie publishers do use KDP, and the tools in KDP are absolutely fantastic. I mean we, as authors are lucky to have them, lots of publishers have to go through different ways, and there are different kinds of options. There is the white glove program, I don't know if you've had a look at that? That is designed to think mainly for literary agents who have lots of different clients, but there may be an equivalent and for the small to medium publisher.
So, I really would recommend that you take this up with Amazon. It's really outside our jurisdiction of expertise, we're really about authors who publish their own work, and maybe take in another author or two, as we do here with ALLi; we have a few books that are co-authored, but that's a very different proposition to setting up.
And you're seeing it already when you're running into these different names, this is clearly because you're publishing a lot more than one person. Three pseudonyms is a reasonably generous allowance for most authors, most authors are not going to go beyond that, there are some who will for different series, but in general, three is enough.
So, you will be looking for, you may not really be an indie author, you may well be looking for a different kind of program.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, and also, we want to clarify, when we say you can only have three pseudonyms, we're talking about Amazon Author Central. You can publish, on KDP, as many pseudonyms as you want, to my knowledge. I have four pseudonyms, and no one's ever said anything to me about that, but we're just talking about managing your author profile so that you can upload an image, attach it to your books, the author profile so it looks a little bit nicer, that's what we're referring. Just want to make sure we're clear on that.
Orna Ross: That's a really good distinction, thank you for making that distinction. Yes. So, author central is where you can see all your reviews in one place, you can see your sales stats and all of that in one place, but yes, you're right, there's nothing to stop you having as many pseudonyms as you can manage, it's just the more you have the more management there is.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, like I said, I have four and it's a process, but it is what it is.
Where can I find the IngramSpark discount code?
Okay. Next question is a pretty common question we get here, where can I find the IngramSpark code on the ALLi dashboard?
Orna Ross: Okay. You just go to the discounts and deals page. So, you log into the member zone, and you will find it there.
So, this is a question we're being increasingly asked. There's a lot going on in Ingram at the moment in terms of them needing to preserve the integrity of their catalogue. There was abuse of the codes, they were widely abused, and were found online and, in fact, were being sold by third parties and all sorts of stuff was going on. So, the process has tightened up somewhat. Where there was an annual code, there is now a monthly code.
You need to be an author member to receive the code, and if you download the code in the first month of your membership, by doing so, you are reneging your no quibble refund, because we had people who were coming in, grabbing the code, and going, and taking their refund, which is against the spirit of the code, for both IngramSpark and ourselves.
So, those few tweaks have been made to the process, but for the ordinary indie author who's just looking to avail of the code, or indeed any of the many lovely discounts that our partner members provide for our author members, it's simply a matter of just logging into member zone and navigate your way to discounts and deals, and there you'll find them.
Should I use POD or offset printing for my hardcover book?
Michael La Ronn: Okay. All right, and next question is from Phyllis, and Phyllis is trying to determine if print on demand versus offset printing is the best way to go for her hardcover book.
Orna Ross: Okay for hardcover, yes. So, there is no best way. So, in order to ever judge the best way, to do anything in this crazy business of ours, you need to know a lot of the detail of what you are trying to achieve, so there are advantages and disadvantages to consign a print versus POD, and vice versa.
So, it's really about you and your situation, Phyllis, and what you want to achieve with your book, how you want to distribute it, where you want to sell it and so on. So, if you are looking to, for example, supply local bookstores, with your book, you may choose to go POD and distribute through IngramSpark, or you could choose to do a consignment print and set up with a local distributor who would take your hardback books into bookstores. If you're looking to send them as a result of an online purchase from your website, then you might choose to it.
So, it really depends on who you're trying to reach, and what your goals are. There is a recent post in the Self-Publishing Advice Center, which is selfpublishingadvice.org. If you just go in there and search and POD versus consignment print, or any of those kinds of keywords, and we will put the link to the actual blog post in the show notes for the podcast on Friday, and that goes into detail about the different options for indie authors, and when you might choose POD versus consignment, and that would give you some more guidance, because you can then decide, okay, this is my situation, that is my situation, which works best.
But I will say that for the vast majority of our membership, and indie author in general, POD makes most sense. You don't have to pay out a big chunk of money up front, and your distribution problems are solved. It doesn't get your book into bookstores, if that's your aim and objective, by itself. What it means is by publishing through IngramSpark and Amazon, you get access to…sorry by publishing through KDP and IngramSpark, you get access to the Amazon ecosystem and the Amazon online retail store through KDP, and you get access to bookstores, libraries, and lots of other distributors through IngramSpark. It doesn't mean that they're all going to buy your book. In fact, they won't, you will still have to do the normal marketing that always has to happen for a book sale to happen, but they can.
Most bookstores won't order books from Amazon, but most bookstores are, and particularly in the United States, are very happy to order books from the Ingram catalogue.
So, all I can tell you is that for most indie authors that works best, but in some cases, consignment works best, and I understand that's not a particularly satisfactory answer, but if you wanted to come back in and give us more details, we'd be able to address the question at a more detailed level.
Should I spend money on ads if I don’t have a back list?
Michael La Ronn: Alright. Next question is from Judith, this one is also a bit of a multifaceted question. So, she is about to publish her first novel and has been diligently following advice about learning marketing, reader magnets, all that good stuff, and she recently read that if an author doesn't have a back list, then it is a waste of money to advertise on Facebook, Amazon, and other platforms.
First question, is it true?
Orna Ross: Yeah. So again, there is no always, always answer. So, one of the problems with the advice that rolls around our community is that often it's very good advice for the person who's giving it. So, it's what they have found, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's good advice for you.
In general, this is true. The more stock you have, the more likely you are to get a return on advertising. Facebook ads are expensive, and books are not expensive, really, given the amount of time they take to produce. So, if you have more than one book there, it means that if a reader likes your book, then they're going to read some of your other books, and particularly series work well for this. So, you get what's called read through, so it's not just the first sale that you're looking to pay back your ads, and pay back you, and your editor and designer, and everybody else who had a part in making the book, you've got more than one piece of stock to make that return.
So, in general, yes, this is true. Having said that, single book authors have used Facebook ads to great effect. It is possible, and a lot will depend on, is this an expensive book? Is it a rare book? Are you the only person writing about something? Is it fiction or non-fiction?
Fiction is punishing, you know, fiction is a really tough market. It's much harder. It's a great market in the sense that fiction readers read a lot, and if a book does well, it does really well in fiction, but it's hard to get that traction because the competition is fierce, but also because pricing is fierce. Whereas, with nonfiction, you can price more comfortably, you can put prices up higher and build in the cost of your advertising and get a return on one book.
So again, the answer is, it really depends on your situation.
Michael La Ronn: Agree. Readers tend to skew into two different camps with fiction, some readers don't mind buying a first book in a series, don't mind buying it if the other books aren't released. I myself am probably not one of those readers, but there are a lot of readers out there, if you start advertising that first book, people will buy it and they'll read it and they'll join your list and wait patiently for you to publish your next one.
There are a lot more readers, I think, this is just my opinion, that will not buy a book in a series unless there are either more books that are published in that series, or the series is done. And the reason for that is because they've been burned in the past; an author will write book two and three and then die before they finished the series or the author will write a couple of books in the series, get tired and then move on, and then they just leave readers hanging.
So, I think that those feelings are real, and so generally, your series has more power the more books you have in it, and it has the most power once you finished it. So, what I tell people is, if you can, consider publishing one or two books at the same time. That's not always practical for a lot of people, but if you do that then you'll find that your ads have a lot more power when you start sending ads, because if you publish book one and two together, then you can start running ads to book one and then book two is already there, and that gives you a little bit of cushion. If you can't do that, at least try to publish book two as soon as possible afterwards.
If the book you're referring to is a standalone, then I would just start advertising, and then just focus on list building, get a good reader magnet, as you mentioned in the question, and that will be a good way to start building your platform.
Orna Ross: And can I just congratulate the questioner on how much has been achieved here, and how much you've taken onboard, you're starting off with a really great mindset, even to be asking these questions at this stage of your publishing journey is impressive. So, good for you.
Is there a service to send signed eBooks to email subscribers?
Michael La Ronn: All right. And then the next question here, like I said this was multifaceted, I seem to remember a service that would send signed books to email subscribers, but I can't remember the name of the service. Is this even possible?
Orna Ross: Yeah, the was a pen, a digital pen, for signing eBooks which I remember, but the name escapes me right now, but I will look it up and see if it's still current. I remember Margaret Atwood was actually promoting it when it came out. I'll look it up and see if it's still there and get the name for the show notes. Michael, do you know?
Michael La Ronn: I don't. I know that there was at least one or two companies at one point that did this. My opinion is, it's probably not worth your time or money. I'm not saying that the services are bad, I don't believe that they are, but I think that most people in the indie space tend to have better luck with either just print on demand or eBooks. I mean, if you want to do signed books, there's nothing wrong with that, just remember that, that's going to cost you more money.
So, if you do a signed book, there's all sorts of logistical questions you've got to figure out, first and foremost, how much are you going to charge for it? How are you going to ship it? And whether these services do it for you or not, are you going to offer the book internationally?
I live in the United States, if someone in England buys one of my books and they want a signed copy, oh boy, I'm going to have to get ready for some shipping. And that's not always a fun experience, and you get a little bit of sticker shock when you realize how much it actually costs.
So, if you decide to offer it, just make sure you understand the costs, and that you're doing it for your true fans, people who really want a copy of the book.
Orna Ross: So, I think Michael, you're talking there about print, and I think the questioner was talking about digital signing of eBooks, which is something slightly different. And as I said, I haven't heard about that service for ages, and I will check whether it's still there.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, there's two. I know that there are services that do allow you to do eBooks. I know what you're talking about, the signed eBooks where they stamp your signature in there. Yeah, I haven't heard about them in a long time either, but I seem to remember that there was a service that seemed to help you with print, as well.
Orna Ross: Yes, there are services that will help you with print, and we also have a growing proportion of members who are doing direct sales of signed print from their websites.
So, as Michael said, sticker shock can happen, you really need to do your pricing very well, but you can price more for these signed, dedicated books. I did a series of just 500, a special series some years ago, and I enjoyed the process, but not enough to keep it up. I might go back there again, but it's not just the cost of the sending, it's also the time and things. So, for me, it was very much while I was enjoying writing these messages and signing the books and packaging them up really nicely and sending them off, that was great. And then when it began to feel like a chore, I didn't want to do it anymore, because I didn't feel like I was in the spirit of the whole thing.
So, it's very much about whether you enjoy doing that kind of thing as well. I know for some authors, making lovely packages is the dream come true, and for others it's a nightmare come true. So, you have to decide where you fall on that list, but yeah, the digital one, we'll check it out.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, I have learned about myself over the years, I am not a package person. I can't get birthday cards in the post, there's no way I'd be able to get books in the post, it's just not going to happen. So, I've learned that about myself over the years. So, if you're like me, if you struggle with birthday cards, getting those in the mail, then maybe this is not for you.
Orna Ross: Yeah. It's a really good point, I think, for all of these things, doing it for a while can tell you, but it's really important to know yourself in this whole arena, as an indie author, it's really important to know what you do and don't like to do, what your strengths and weaknesses are. There are so many ways you can do all of these things, but you're only going to succeed at the ones that you actually enjoy and can keep going long-term and sustainably, and that includes the things we've been talking about already in the show, you know, ads are great for some people don't work at all for others. Social media is the same, or different social platforms; you might absolutely bomb on Twitter, but love Instagram, or you might use different platforms for different kinds of books. There are so many things you can do and so many ways you can do them, but your own liking for things has to be core for all of these questions.
Michael La Ronn: I agree.
Where can I get help with estate planning for indie authors?
All right. So, next question is from Patricia. This is the question we, I don't think, have gotten at all in the last few years, so this is an exciting one, my attorney is updating my will and is unfamiliar with the way to identify my author's rights to works that are already published. How can I help him do this?
Orna Ross: Okay. So, there is an excellent book by, I can never pronounce his name, it's not Buchanan, but Michael Buch…
Michael La Ronn: M.L. Buchman.
Orna Ross: Oh, okay. Are we talking about the same person?
Michael La Ronn: I think it is. M.L. Buchman, it's like the guide to author estates.
Orna Ross: Yes, that's a fantastic book.
Michael La Ronn: I'll get the name of it.
Orna Ross: Thank you, and we'll put that in the show notes as well, and we'll put it into the chat.
M.L. you're right, his name is Michael. Yeah.
Michael La Ronn: I know because the initials are the same as mine.
Orna Ross: You're exactly right. That's a must read for every indie author. We have had conversations with him about this challenge for authors, it really is significant. We've also been in conversation with Ethan Ellenburg, our literary agent who represents lots of our authors, and does our contract advisory service.
This is a real challenge for us and not a lot of legal people are up to the mark on this whole question. They don't understand how publishing works, they don't understand the value embedded in publishing rights, and they don't understand how you can exploit them after your death, which can be done, but you need to find somebody who can do this and who's willing to work it for you, because books that aren't worked and marketed tend to just fade away.
So, it's a question that really goes beyond our ability to answer it here, beyond saying that you are absolutely right to be thinking about this and you need some expert help.
So, if you begin by reading that book, we also work with Kathryn Goldman, an attorney we've taken on recently for lots of different questions like this, and, you know, expect more from ALLi on this question, in terms of advisory, over the coming months, is what I would say.
We're trying to put together a short and simple advice pack that will be as helpful as possible to as many of our members as possible, while recognizing that everybody has different needs of what they want after their death. But, again, congratulations to the questioner for thinking about this because it's an important question. We all need to think about it.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, the name of that book is Estate Planning for Authors, and the name of the author is M, as in Michael, L, as in Larry, Buchman, and that's BUCHMAN.
I definitely recommend picking that up. I would echo everything you said, Orna. I would also say that this is a bigger problem in our community than I think people realize, and it's going to become a bigger problem the more people start dying, indie authors start dying, because what's going to happen is you have authors who are going to pass away, for whatever circumstance, and they're probably going to leave behind a portfolio of books to family members or heirs who have no idea how to manage these books.
And it's so much more than just marketing the books, because there's also, do you need to refresh the covers every few years? Does Amazon, or Kobo, or somewhere make a change that you've got to fix to your eBooks in order to keep selling them? There's all sorts of data and legacy issues that you have to think about, and if you don't have someone to do that for you, it's a concern.
I've said for the last few years that this is such a big problem, that I think that there is a business opportunity for some sort of company to come in and serve as some sort of liaison to help heirs and family members with this, almost like a traditional publisher, but for when you die, where they help you manage the rights and take care of what I call intellectual property management, but we're just not there yet.
So, the best thing you can do is exactly what the questioner did, is go to an attorney who can help you figure this out for yourself, and definitely read M.L. Buchman's book.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch also has on her blog, she did, a couple of years back, an estate planning series for authors. It's kriswrites.com. Just go to her blog and search for estate planning. She did I think a four- or five-part series on how to think about this as well, and her message was to take a look at authors in the past who have died and how their estates got managed, to look for lessons on how to do this, which I think was pretty good advice as well.
Orna Ross: That's great, and we'll put that link in the show notes as well for the podcast on Friday, but yes, stay tuned. It's a complex area. Literary agents have, in the past, traditionally managed estates for authors and traditional publishers, but speaking to Ethan, he's recognizing that there are huge issues here for anybody who gets involved. So, it's a lot of work, but we will do our best to try and shine some light on this murky area over the coming time.
Michael La Ronn: All right. Well, that's all the questions I had for today.
Orna Ross: Okay. Just as well because we're out of time.
So, that's great, Michael, thank you so much for the questions and thank you everybody for sending your questions in, please feel free to send us more questions for next month. We do this once a month and of course, ALLi members, you can question us any time through email [email protected], or send your question through to have publicly aired and discussed here. That really helps all their authors who are listening in.
So, thank you for this month. Happy writing and publishing. Until next time, take care.
Michael La Ronn: Take care, everybody.