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How Do I Grow My Email List? Other Questions Answered By Orna Ross And Michael La Ronn In Our Member Q&A Podcast

How Do I Grow My Email List? Other Questions Answered by Orna Ross and Michael La Ronn in our Member Q&A Podcast

How do I grow my email list? 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:

  • I acquired the rights to my book from my publisher, but they won't take my books down from sale. What do I do?
  • If I upload my book to the British Library, does that violate Amazon's KDP Select Exclusivity clause?
  • What language should I use on my website for GDPR and privacy policies? Is there a boilerplate template somewhere?
  • How does Amazon count pre-orders? Does a pre-order count immediately or when your book goes live?

And more!

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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!

Listen to the Podcast: Grow My Email List And More

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Watch the Q&A: Grow My Email List And More

How do I grow my email list? This is among the questions answered on the #AskALLi Members Q&A hosted by @MichaelLaRonn and @OrnaRoss. #selfpublishing Click To Tweet

Show Notes

How to ignite your email list with Joel Friedlander and Nick Stephenson

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: Grow My Email List and More

Orna Ross: Hello, everyone. Hello there, and welcome to our final ALLi, Alliance of Independent Authors, Member Q&A of 2021. I'm here with Michael La Ronn. Hi, Michael.

Michael La Ronn: Hi Orna, happy end of 2021.

Orna Ross: End of the year, where did that year ago and what a year it was, so much to look back on, which we will be doing in the blog over the next little while. We'll be on the podcast, between now and the new year, we will be doing highlights of the year. So, this is our last actual live event. So, good to see we have a few people coming in to join us for that.

We have lots of questions, as ever. This is our Member Q&A, where our members send us through their most pressing self-publishing questions, and anybody can listen to the answers, because very often if one author is having an issue it's something that applies to lots of other people as well.

So, you're the guy with the questions. What have we got this month?

How do I remove older editions of my book from Amazon?

Michael La Ronn: All right. Our first question is from Jenny, and she says that recently she acquired the rights to two traditionally published books that she wrote. They were published in the past, and the publisher gave her written confirmation that she is now the rights holder. So, she succeeded in getting her rights reverted. However, the publisher still has the books for sale online.

Her question is, whose responsibility is it to remove the books from sale and how should she proceed?

Orna Ross: She needs to nag them. It's their job.

So, things can happen with print books that put them outside of our control, unfortunately, on Amazon.

So, there is such thing as third-party sellers who can actually purchase the books from the publisher and put them up for sale, and Amazon will take them, and there's not a lot of point in writing to Amazon about this. They won't take responsibility. The only person who can take the books down is the person who's put them up, and even then, that may not succeed.

So, this is a problem that comes up again, and again, and again for authors, and there's not an awful lot you can do beyond just requesting of the person who, as far as you know, put them up, takes them back down again.

Your edition is the primary edition. So, you're the publisher, you're the rights holder. Nobody else has the right to publish this book as far as you are concerned. You can make that point to Amazon, and over time these older editions will fall, they never go away, because a book that's been published on Amazon remains there; they see themselves as a cataloguer, as well as everything else. So, it never goes away, but it kind of falls to the bottom of the heap so that it doesn't present itself in as obvious a way as it is presenting now.

So, the advice would be to try writing to the original publisher and asking them to remove it. You can drop Amazon a note and say, I'm the rights holder, this is the edition that I want to be sold, I don't want any other edition to be sold, and see how you get on with that. And then the third thing is, write more books and get on with your writing and publishing, don't get stuck on this. One book syndrome is a much bigger problem for authors than having the wrong edition of a book up there.

If you're doing your marketing and your promotion, yours is the one that's going to sell, and in that way, it becomes the one that's presented to people more often.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, that's such a good point. People that tend to worry about this the most are the ones with the fewer books, because when you have a search result, it's there, it just sticks out. But if you publish more books, then eventually this problem goes away, particularly if you've got a book that's showing up as out of print or something like that. So, I think that's the answer, is just publish more books and try not to worry about it too much.

But if the publisher has not fulfilled their part of the contract, as they said they were going to do, I would definitely pursue that and make sure that they do what they're supposed to do.

Orna Ross: Exactly, and actually it's funny, just returning to the first point there, it's funny how often write more books and promote more is the answer to a lot of these kinds of problems.

So yeah, that can be a bit frustrating to hear if you're kind of really annoyed or feeling upset about a book being out there, but this is a long-term game and your best to keep a long-term kind of viewpoint, and that's what wins in the end.

Do I have to send my eBook to the British Library, and does it affect my exclusivity agreement with Kindle Unlimited?

Michael La Ronn: Agree. Okay. Our next question is from Maria Franklind. She says, I understand that eBooks can now be uploaded to the British Library, is this also mandatory for us in KU? And do you know whether we would be in breach of the exclusivity clause by uploading our books to the British Library?

Orna Ross: Okay. So, yes, eBooks are now acceptable. It's a poorly kept secret. They're still asking for print books in lots of places on their website, but they will now.

So, what we're referring to here is, in the UK, there are libraries of record, where you have a legal obligation as a publisher to submit to your book to these six libraries of record.

So, the British Library manages it for the other libraries that are involved and yes, publishing on KDP is publishing, so yes, you are expected to send it, and no, it does not breach your exclusivity. It's nothing to do with that.

Libraries and KU are not, you know, you don't have to worry about it, especially with this. This is a legal requirement, you're supposed to do it as a publisher, and Amazon can't get around that any more than you can. So, just go ahead and do it, and be glad that we can now send electronic copies because we don't have the expense of six books, by however many books you have, for each library.

What’s the best method for growing my author email list?

Michael La Ronn: All right, and the next question is from Reita, and she asks, what are the best methods for growing an email list?

Orna Ross: Yes. Well, that depends. That depends on what kind of book you're writing. So, there are lots of ways to grow an email list, and it will vary. If it's a poetry book, if it's a novel, or if it's a nonfiction book, your approaches can be different.

I think though, the one that's common to all books, and the one that everybody should do, and the best one in this sense that the reader is most primed to sign up, and that the reader is most likely to be your ideal reader, is that sign up at the back of your book. The one that captures them when they've just finished reading and they sign up from the back of your book, that is an engaged reader who likes what you've done, because it's not just about growing your email list, it's about growing your email list with the right readers.

So, that's why some of the methods that are sometimes recommended for growing lists may not be all that effectual. So, you might get more people on your list, which can make you feel good. But in terms of them being a list who will respond to your call to actions in future, which is buy your next book, or become part of your review team, or whatever.

I mean, I'm going to call out some, I'm sure Michael can add lots, but giving away something free is the time honoured, giving away something free that is allied to the kind of books you want to sell to those readers.

So, first book in series is a very common giveaway for authors. Or some other reader magnet that your reader is going to like to get and that is, as I said, it's very important that it's allied to the kind of books you want to sell to those readers, and that's why a number of authors segregate their lists. You know, it's not one giveaway for every kind of reader that you may have if you write across different genre, for example.

For non-fiction people, you can do things like run a competition or do a quiz; sometimes these kinds of things are more attractive and more attention-getting than the straight giveaway. But again, being careful that you don't just get a lot of people who are interested in the quiz, but not going to be interested in buying your book. So, the quiz, or whatever it is you're giving away, should be quite reflective of the content of your book.

Doing a swap with other authors, whereby you can each sign up for each other's emails, that can be really effective. So, they present you to their list, you present them to your list, and people sign up across them, perhaps give a dual giveaway, and people would sign up across the two lists. Again though, being really careful that it's an author who is very like yours and will appeal to your readers.

That's a few, kind of off the top of my head. Do you have any, Michael, to add to that?

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, the ones you listed are good. I would say that having the right plugin on your website that presents your email offer to people to sign up is actually, I think it's underrated.

Some people don't like the idea of pop-ups, right?

So, somebody lands on your website for the first time, a thing pops up that says, join my mailing list, get a free book. A lot of people in practice hate that, but it works. It really does work, and so having a good plugin that can do that is, like I said, I think it's underrated.

I forget which one I use. I think I used Bloom for a little while, that was by Elegant Themes; they're the same folks that make the theme Divi. There's lots of them out there, just do your research on that, that's an effective way.

Also, just making sure, I think Orna mentioned this, but including a link in the back of your book to sign up for your list.

And if you can, and I think this is where we're list management is kind of everything. So, people are always wanting to know, how do I grow my list? I think it's more important to ask to answer the question, how do you take care of your list once you have a list? Because, for example, if you get, say a thousand people on your email list, but then you never email them, then it's as good as having maybe 200 people. Because if you go a year or two years without emailing them, they're going to be like, who is this person, unsubscribe.

So, having good autoresponders, so these are automated sequences that first they should deliver your free book, but then over time you send messages that basically get people acquainted with you and your brand.

So, if you were to sign up for my mailing list, I've got a series of autoresponders that goes out for like seven weeks, each with a different topic that's kind of punchy, and each one has a call to action to kind of get you up to speed with who I am and what I'm doing and why I write.

And then also combining that with contacting your readers on a regular basis, I'm kind of guilty of not doing that, but I have a pretty lengthy autoresponder sequence. But just make sure you're thinking about how you take care of people who are on your list.

And then also think about ways that you can segment the people on your list. So, for example, do you know if the people on your list are Amazon readers, are they Kobo readers, are they Apple readers? Anything you can do to glean some data on that is important so that when you have a book launch, you don't send a mass email with Amazon links to people who aren't Amazon readers. So, it's also, you know, Orna hit the growing your list part, but the longer I've been doing this, the more I realized that growing your list is great, but if you can't maintain it, then it's almost pointless to have a list.

Orna Ross: It's so true, and I'm really glad that you brought up that side of it.

I think the other thing that I forgot to mention, when I was talking about the growing, is advertising. There are a number of high-earning indie authors who have used Facebook ads to grow their list, and it's more challenging now than it used to be some years ago, but it's still very doable. If you have a niche and clearly identified audience that is on Facebook, that can work very successfully.

I think in the same spirit as Michael was saying about nurturing the list when you have it, what I see authors do a lot is, you know, tell me how to grow my list, and then you have this kind of discussion where you give them options, give a link in a moment, but you have this kind of discussion, but actually it's not a one-off thing. So, if you wanted to, for example, use Facebook ads to grow your list, then you need to experiment with that over time. You need to see what kind of ads draw your particular readers in. So, it's not a one-off thing, oh, hey, I'll put up an ad and I'm going to get hundreds of subscribers over a few weeks and then that's that sorted, kind of thing.

Whatever you're doing to grow your list, and whatever you're doing to nurture your list, you need to set time aside for that monthly so that it's an ongoing thing that's always going on.

So, the back of the book one and the one on your website, these are auto, which is fantastic. They're working away for you, set them up once and they're done. They're the best. But some of the other methods are things that you will do periodically that you need to kind of sit on.

Two great people on email and list growing got together for ALLi some time ago, Joel Friedlander, now deceased, but a great friend of ALLi in his time, and his advice is so evergreen that it still completely applies in conversation with Nick Stevenson, who I think of as Mr. Email list, and we'll put the link to that in the show notes. It's a podcast episode that's really well worth listening to, and that has lots and lots of ideas. But, again, to labour the point, the idea is one thing, but the practice and the implementation of the process of list growing and list nurturing is a bigger thing. So, the question is bigger than it sounds.

What’s the best mailing list provider for indie authors?

Michael La Ronn: I agree. And Gwen Garfield-Bennett asked a good question that's apropos to the topic, any recommendations on the best email provider to use? I've been on MailChimp a while, but I'm thinking of switching to MailerLite.

Orna Ross: Yeah, MailerLite is…

Michael La Ronn: I can take this one if you want, Orna?

Orna Ross: Oh yeah, do. I'll just say that MailerLite is a good option. I use ConvertKit, which I love. Not the cheapest, but I find them great. But yeah, you go ahead there, Michael, because I know you've done lots of research on this.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, I would say MailerLite is fine. I use GetResponse. I love GetResponse. They just do some things that just make things really easy. MailChimp, like you said, kind of have a tarnished reputation at times, making some decisions that a lot of people don't like.

AWeber is one, I think they're still around. That's kind of one of the original OGs of email newsletters. I'm trying to think, I think SendFox is another one that people use.

The one thing I would just say to be careful with email providers is that there's a lot of email providers coming up, and it feels like sometimes it's a race to the bottom, like everybody wants to offer the lowest prices, but then people kind of fall for that and then they get in and they realize, oh, wait a minute, this doesn't have auto responders, oh, wait a minute, this doesn't have a form you can put on your site so people can sign up easily. Just be careful, just be wary of that.

I would compare them to the leading email providers. Don't just fall for price because sometimes what they do is they get you hooked in and then they're still building it. And as an author, you're a professional and you really don't want to pay to train an email service providing company, you want to try to get as many professional tools that you have available.

And fortunately, they're not terribly expensive, but just be aware of that because I've seen, I'm not going to name any names, but I've seen providers in the past that offer rock bottom services and everyone's like, oh, I’ve got to switch there, I’ve got to switch there. And then if you read the fine print, oh no, they can't do auto-responders. If you can't do auto-responders, to me, that's a deal breaker.

Orna Ross: Yeah, all but useless. And the other thing that can happen is the base cost seems good, but actually other things are add-ons, and they start adding on, or the cost is good when you've got a low list, but as soon as you actually start being successful. So, plan for success, don't plan for when you're starting out; they can take big, big jumps. So, when you're doing your price comparisons, take note of that.

As I said, people talk about ConvertKit being very expensive, I find it worth every penny because they've fantastic templates, everything is very easy and simple, they're constantly improving the platform and they've got a load of extras there which you can decide to use or decide not to use. So, I do recommend them, but I know it's not for everybody.

And then fiddle around with them a bit, get acquainted with it as much as you can before you make a full annual commitment or anything like that.

What should indie authors write in emails to their reader list?

Michael La Ronn: All right. Ray has another question that is appropriate to the topic, what do you say in your emails? He struggles to know what to say in fiction emails to keep people reading.

Orna Ross: Yeah, I think what fiction people love, once a reader likes a book, I think they like to know a bit about the background to the book, the setting of the book, photographs and music, things that appear in the book, things that inspired you as an author. I think readers tend to love that kind of thing. New chapters, extracts, character sketches. I think we can underestimate how interesting it is to be a writer, if you think about it in that way. So, that's one approach that you can take.

Any other ideas, Michael, for fiction?

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, to me, the most important thing for fiction, the most important thing for email, period, it doesn't matter whether it's fiction or nonfiction, but it's particularly important to fiction writers, is the actual visual look of the email.

So, what I see a lot of people do is they will just throw paragraphs, gigantic blocky paragraphs, into an email. That doesn't work.

The easiest way to do it is to break everything up. So, what I do, and this is a trick that works really, really well for me, it gets me really good open rates, really good click rates, is I try to do only one sentence per paragraph, because psychologically what that does is it pulls the reader's eyes down the page. And then I use short sentences, and it sounds a little elementary, but you'd be amazed at how well that works, and if you're struggling to get people, to read your emails, try that and see. And if you'll notice, that's what a lot of the email masters do. If you look at their emails, their emails have a certain visual look, and that look is almost always one sentence per paragraph. Usually a bigger than normal font, like size 16, size 18, and you know, one sentence per paragraph, and it's usually pretty punchy. Try that, see what happens. And that works well for fiction, that has worked well for me in my fiction autoresponders and my newsletters as well.

Orna Ross: Fantastic, and one final idea is, if you blog, if you are blogging, is that you can send, you know, you can actually just put a tiny bit about what it is you're talking about and then send them across to your blog, which hopefully, ideally, you also have a bookstore on your blog.

So, in other words, you can use your writing to tempt people in, and get them over to your website, if you think about it in a strategic sort of way.

And I suppose that's the final point I would make here is, when you are thinking about what you want to put into an email, there are two things to consider.

First of all, you should be enjoying yourself when you're writing to your readers. There's something paralyzing about it, because so many authors find that this is a task they don't get round to, or this is a task that fills them with dread. You have to, in some way, bring the spirit of the books into the email. Whatever is making you sit there and write the book from start to finish, there's some core of something in there that's really important to you. If you can find out for yourself what that is and bring that, transfer that over into your email, I notice that the authors who have really big email followings do this.

So, the email that arrives, Michael was talking about the visual look of the text, think also about the visual colours. It should have sort of visual feel as your book covers. They should get the same spirit and sense, because sometimes authors send emails that are completely different in tone and texture and visuals to the work, and that generally creates a sort of a discomfort, even if the reader doesn't understand why, or you don't understand why, that creates a sort of discomfort. So, think strategically about it.

Number one, enjoy it yourself. And then number two, what will them a bit of value. And finding the point where those two things meet will probably give you what you need to work on.

It's a bit of a process, I think. Over time you see what people like, and keep an eye, as Michael says, on your open rates and your click rates and you get a sense of, oh, they liked that one more than that one. Not that you're going to just slavishly follow it, but you get a sense of it. So, you're developing a relationship over time with this group of people who are very important to your business.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, and another thing too, it's more of a technological update is that open rates aren't what they used to be, and that's because email service providers like Apple mail and Google mail are now starting to get on the privacy bandwagon and not allow you to see the open rates for people on their platforms. So, just be aware of that too. So, just because your open rate might be low, it may not be as low as you think. So, I think Apple is in the process of doing that right now. So, just be aware of that.

Orna Ross: Email marketers, the world over, are crying, and anyone who relies on it. So, yeah, but if you keep your focus on being entertaining, being awesome, being brilliant, just as much in that email as you are in your book, then you won't go too far wrong.

Where can indie authors find templates for GDPR and Privacy Policies?

Michael La Ronn: Exactly. All right. Our next question, just lost my question here. Okay. Our next question is, can ALLi advise where members can look for templates for privacy and/or GDPR policies for their websites?

Orna Ross: Yeah, we haven't got an actual privacy template and GDPR template. We did have a GDPR template, I think, we had one made when all of that was going on, when it was introduced in the first instance. But now a lot of, like WordPress provides its own, email providers provide their own, and the tech and tools that you are using yourself will give you, generally speaking, a template that you can adapt that suits their particular circumstances. So, that seemed to be a better option for people, so we don't have it.

So, privacy policy and GDPR, if you, in the first instance, look to your website provider, look to your email provider and see; they are very likely, if you're using any of the established ones, they are very likely to provide you with that, and you're best to use the one that's allied to the technology that you're actually using.

If that isn't there or available to you, then look at authors who are in your own sphere and who are sending the kind of emails that you are sending and have a look at theirs, and use that as a template. So, you know, ALLi has its own, obviously, all you have to do is click on our own one to see an organization one, I'm sure Michael has one, and I have one. So, you're best to look though, as with everything template-wise and in every way, you're best to look at people who are working in a sphere similar to you. So, the policy that somebody who is in non-fiction may not be exactly the same, and somebody who has say a membership site, you know, has reader members and different layers of membership or, you know, different sets of circumstances, then their policy is not going to be perfect for you.

So, it's about getting one that's good for you. Do you have anything to add to this, Michael?

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, I would say, your level of risk depends, because when people want to do privacy policies, they want to do it because they want to comply with GDPR or they feel that, from a privacy and security perspective, they should include something like that on their site, and your exposure, to use an insurance term, goes up the more financial stuff you have on your website.

So, most authors are probably just going to have an email list on their website. They might have a digital store, right? If you are allowing people to sign up for accounts, or you're allowing credit card transactions, or things like that, through your website, that is not through PayPal or Stripe, you know, you're just taking them directly, then you have a massive exposure, and you absolutely need a privacy policy.

I think everyone needs a privacy policy, I think it's good practice, but I would be more concerned if you're doing more complex stuff on your site. So, everything that Orna mentioned for your average author, I think makes perfect sense. Just make sure you understand what you're putting in your privacy policy. Sometimes I'll see privacy policies that just don't make any sense. Like Orna said, they'll take something from something you saw in a casino privacy policy or something, just to use a silly example, and it won't make any sense at all. So, just make sure you understand what you're putting in your privacy policy, and then just make sure that you can abide by whatever you put in your privacy policy. Just keep in mind that 99% of people are never going to read your privacy policy anyway, but for those that do just make sure it makes sense and you can abide by it.

Orna Ross: Very true, and also understand it, don't put anything up on your website that you don't understand. So, if you, for example, don't do Facebook ads and you are looking at a template which talks about using the visitors to your site, the cookies, you know, using those for advertising purposes and so on, that's not relevant to you. And therefore, the person who does take a look at your policy, who is somebody who is concerned about privacy, they would be reassured to know that they're not going to be used for advertising purposes. So, don't have those clauses in your privacy policy just because they're standard clauses, if they don't apply to you. So, take a little bit of time over it and just get a template that matches what you do and where you understand every term that you're putting through. And if you are having difficulty, even after that, do write to us at the support desk and I'm sure we'll be able to help. That's [email protected]

Michael La Ronn: All right, and Ray chimed in and says he finds Termly for sites very good. So, that's a name of a service, Termly. Thank you for the recommendation.

When does Amazon credit authors for pre-orders?

All right. Our next question is from Paulette, and the question is, I've heard conflicting information about how Amazon credits authors for pre-orders, some saying that they are credited at the moment of sale, others saying that they accumulate and are credited during week one. How does Amazon handle pre-orders, Orna?

Orna Ross: They're not all credited together, is essentially how Amazon handles pre-orders. There was a time, the reason you're getting conflicting information is because it changed over time. So, they will be credited at the point of purchase, but not all credited on the day when the book actually goes up for a sale, unlike some other providers who do it that way.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, unfortunately. That's kind of the downside with Amazon pre-orders. It's why I don't do them, for example, because you're really not, I mean, you can definitely get onto some of their visibility lists, like hot new releases, or I forgot what it's called now, but that may not be helpful for you. So, that's why I don't do pre-orders.

Now pre-orders on other vendors, like Apple, makes a lot of sense because they're the opposite, you know, all your pre-orders count on day one. But yeah, that's the answer to your question.

Orna Ross: Yeah, it's a straight and disappointing answer.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, it's straight disappointing. Exactly. But we just give the facts on this podcast, right?

Do I need liability insurance as an indie author or author-publisher?

All right. This question is from Rhonda, and this is a perennial question that we're getting, that I just happen to love.

We're going to be publishing other authors work as well as our own, we were told that we should consider professional indemnity insurance, also known as liability insurance, in case someone takes offense at something in our book. Does ALLi recommend any companies or any advice?

Orna Ross: I'm going to hand you over to Michael for the advice, but ALLi doesn't recommend specific companies because we're a global organization, and companies don't operate on a global basis. So, you would have to check with your local writer’s organization, or your genre association. Your national or local writers’ organization might be able to recommend somebody who has a good reputation with authors in your arena, but we don't make recommendations on insurance at all. But Michael knows a lot about this topic and has some good general advice to offer.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, I can offer general advice, I can't offer companies either. But what I would say is, it depends on your country. So, the thing that people are concerned about, here's why you would want to buy insurance.

You would want to buy insurance because there's something in your book that causes some sort of defamation to someone else, right? So, you write a book, you say something about someone, and it causes them to suffer a harm in terms of people not buying their books anymore, or people thinking something about them that may not be true, and so they sue you for the injury to their reputation. It's also what we call personal injury. All right. That's what people are primarily afraid of. So, that's why they go and get insurance for this sort of thing.

For authors, it's recommended, but it's not something that historically has been done, not because it shouldn't be done, but because it's kind of new for authors. Now, your traditional publisher can go off and get what's called a media liability policy, and that covers them for pretty much anything that they publish. If there's any kind of blowback from any of the material that's in their books, it will protect them essentially.

For authors, you can go off and purchase media liability policies, but they are very expensive. So, there are companies, depending on where you live, that offer what's called professional liability insurance for authors., And what that is, is it's kind of a mix between it'll pay for some of your personal injury stuff, and then it'll also pay for some additional things. So, you may see it referred to as professional authors professional liability, authors errors and emissions, or author liability policies.

What people should not do, and again, this is advice from my friends in the US, and I'm fairly certain, because I have contacts in the UK and Australia, that this would also apply, you're not looking for a general liability policy. So, if you go to your local hometown insurance agent, the policy they sell you is not going to do anything for you, for your books, because it excludes exactly what I just talked about. So, you need a very specific author-related insurance policy, if you're going to do it. And if you're going to do it, be prepared to pay, because it's going to be expensive, and it is something you're going to have to pay for every year. So, just make sure that you understand that.

And then also, another thing I'll throw in, there are certain types of genres that if you write, you cannot get insurance for. So, for example, true crime memoirs, autobiographies, anything where you're writing about real people, you're probably going to get kicked to the curb, because those are the most risky type of writing to insure, and so insurance companies are not going to want to go out on a limb for you. But if you're just writing your average fantasy novel, sure, you can probably get pretty cheap rates.

But again, just make sure you understand what you're getting into, make sure you get a copy of the policy to understand what you're getting, and if you don't understand what you're reading try to reach out to someone who understands it, because that's kind of everything with this right now. It's still kind of the wild west right now, there really aren't that many authors that are purchasing insurance. And so, until there are more, it's going to continue to be kind of a wild west, but, as far as, do I recommend it? Yeah, if you can afford it, and if you feel that it's something you have an exposure on, that's what you want to do.

But just keep in mind, if you knowingly write something that's slandering someone, or libelling someone, you cannot purchase insurance to pay for that, they're going to exclude that. Insurance is going to pay for accidental things that just happened to come about that you didn't foresee.

Long answer, but I hope there's something in there for you.

Orna Ross: Yeah, it's important, and then this particular questioner is going to be publishing other people's books, so probably needs more than the average author.

Yeah, it's the typical thing with insurance. The more you need it, the less likely you are going to be able to get it, or the more expensive it's going to be.

Unfortunately, that's just the way it is. So yes, it's a new thing. As authors become publishers, we take on responsibilities, even as individuals and certainly for publishing other people, that traditionally publishers have had to bear on behalf of authors. So, yeah, if you're concerned and if you're publishing other people, and certainly if you're publishing in certain genre, you need to make sure you're protected, if you can.

Michael La Ronn: Right, and insurance companies have not caught up to that yet. I still don't think that they really understand what we do.

Orna Ross: Nope.

Michael La Ronn: And I say that because I'm an insurance executive, and I handle liability, oversee liability, I understand this stuff, and they just don't have a clue. There are some small companies out there that get it, but this whole author-publisher thing, you know, I'm going to be an author and then I'm going to publish a bunch of other authors, they don't understand that, and it's still very new to them. So, it's just something we have to keep in mind.

Orna Ross: You were the man for that question, for sure.

What service should I use to build my author website and implement direct sales?

Michael La Ronn: Yep. So, next question is from Linden, and Linden asks, if you were to spend $500, US, in a service to promote your book or build a- oh, I'm sorry, I misread the question.

If you were to spend $500 in using a service to promote your book and build a simple website with direct selling, who would be the most effective service provider for this. So, it's kind of a two-pronged question. If you had $500 to build a website and implement direct sales, let's just say that, who would you use, Orna?

Sorry, I'm struggling with that question.

Orna Ross: I understand why you're struggling with the question, because to be honest, the budget's not sufficient. It's certainly not sufficient for all the things that are in there because to get a transactional website up and running, nobody's going to be able to do that for you at a $500, probably, unless you're bringing a lot of the stuff yourself.

And the other thing is, it's impossible to recommend one service that covers every kind of author, and so often these questions come back to, it depends on what you're doing, and where you're doing it, and how you're doing it, and what kind of books are selling, and so on and so forth, as to how many books you have, all of that kind of thing.

The cheapest and easiest way to get a transactional website up and running is probably WordPress with WooCommerce, but you are going to have to bring to that. If you're trying to get it for that kind of money, you're going to have to bring an awful lot of time.

So, either you need to get a bigger budget, if you want to use a service, and in that case, I would recommend that you look at ALLi's directory and database of approved services, and you will see people in there who will set these things up for you, but nobody is going to be able to do all the things that you've mentioned in your question for that kind of budget. So, it's just not realistic.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah. I mean, if you implemented some of that stuff yourself, maybe.

Because you're going to have to pay for hosting and, you know, most places, I mean, you can go a little lower, but I pay on average about $250 for my hosting and domains every year. I've got multiple domains, so maybe it'd be less for other people. But that's about what I pay, so that's half of your budget right there, going toward domains and hosting. Then you've also got to purchase a theme, if you go WordPress, a theme for your WordPress site. That's going to cost you additional money. So, the one I pay for is Divi, I think it's $89 per year. I got mine to where I don't have to pay per year. So, you know, you're looking at $89 there, there's more of your money. And then if you wanted to do a simple integration, I mean, WooCommerce is what Orna recommended, and it's probably what I would recommend to, if you really want it to do it right.

But if you want it to implement something like a Gumroad or a Payhip, then you wouldn't necessarily have to pay anything upfront to do that, but you would just have to make sure that you know how to install it on your website. So, if you did all that stuff yourself, then maybe you could do it, maybe you could do it, but I don't think you could pay someone to set all that up for you for that budget.

Orna Ross: The other thing I would say, and always with authors it's about trying to do things in the most inexpensive way, and that's completely understandable, especially when you're starting out, because we're not making a lot of money with our books, especially at the start, and it's when we most need to invest in setup. But having a return-on-investment mentality, rather than a keeping this as cheap as possible mentality generally generates more success. So, if somebody is thinking about going into business in a cafe, for example, you know, they have to buy tables and chairs, rent a premises, you know, get in staff, do a whole load of things. They budget for that, plus pay themselves for two years or whatever. They budget for that, they set it up, they work out how many meals are going to sell and what point in time they'll break even, and all of that kind of thing. I don't see a lot of authors doing that.

I see a lot of authors saying, you know, I want to do this as cheaply as possible, and that's not generally speaking a great business plan. What happens there is it can take years to get to the point of profit whereas you know, paradoxically, if you want to put it that way, actually investing more money at the beginning and thinking about things like break even, and how many books you need to sell, it concentrates the mind to be realistic about what the expenses are ongoing, and what you're likely to have to do.

So, these are business skills, business planning skills, which authors generally don't tend to lean towards, and it may be worth thinking. So, I'm just taking the question way out of what you actually asked, but just to say, it might be worth investing in a business planning course, which would enable you to approach this in a slightly different way, because trying to do everything as cheaply as possible is a recipe for putting in an awful lot of your own time, and then where does the writing come in? How do you produce the books? How do you get up and running and selling quickly, if you're going to be putting in a huge amount of time just in the getting set up and probably exhausted at the end of it all? So yeah, have to think about that.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, it comes back to that, you've got to spend money to make money. Right. And yes, there is a danger of going too far down that path. I think authors fall into three camps. So, there are people that get it, and then there are the people that just want to do everything as cheaply as possible, like Orna mentioned, and then there's the people who don't want to do anything and then they overspend, you know, they'll go off and spend $10,000 to get a website. You know, we're not saying to do that, but we're just saying, as a business, you have to understand how to operate a business.

And one of the things that I've always said when I was building my own websites, and when I say build, I mean use a WordPress theme is, how can I create a website that runs itself, and it runs like a clock so that the only things I have to worry about are the basic maintenance.

So, the only time I'm ever on my website is when I have a new book, and I'm uploading that book, or when I need to make a change or some sort of special announcement. Other than that, I trust my website to kind of do what it needs to do, and it's always working, it's always operating. And I check in every few months just to make sure things are good, but that's really where you want to be with your author website. It should not be something that's taking up a huge time suck. So, you just want to make sure you invest in a theme that can do that for you and lower your maintenance costs.

Orna Ross: Great.

Michael La Ronn: All right. Well, that was our final question.

Orna Ross: Oh good, because we're running out of time. I was just getting anxious there. Okay. That's great. We are out of time.

Michael La Ronn: We'll it's our final one of the year.

Orna Ross: It's always a bumper issue, and it was great. Lots of great questions, and thank you guys, thank you everybody for sending in your really good questions.

Thank you, Michael, for being there all through 2021 to answer the questions so well.

Our next session will be the second Tuesday in January. So, we will be back then. A whole new year, a whole new set of questions, and lots of interesting things happening in the author space. So, do stay tuned.

In the meantime, wishing you all a wonderful holiday. Have a rest. Don't forget to take some creative rest people, and have some downtime, and hopefully enjoy some writing and publishing too. Take care of now, bye, bye.

Author: 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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