In this edition of the AskALLi Fiction and Nonfiction podcast from the Alliance of Independent Authors, Orna Ross and Sacha Black talk about the value of getting help with your author business when you’re feeling overworked, overwhelmed, or stuck. Where do you find good help? Do novelists need the same kinds of assistance as nonfiction authors?
This session will help you to decide when to hire help and how to ensure it improves your situation.
- What is the value of your time and expertise?
- Hiring freelancers—editor and cover designer.
- What’s next? Author virtual assistant for publishing and marketing help?
- What kind of help do you need? SEO, social media, scheduling or management, advertising
- Creative entrepreneurs wear three hats: maker, manager, marketeer
Our fiction and nonfiction salon is brought to you by specialist sponsor Izzard Ink: helping you navigate the publishing world while you stay in control of your work. Izzard Ink Publishing—Self-Publishing is no longer publishing by yourself. We would like to thank Izzard for their support for the show.
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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.
About the Hosts
Sacha Black is a bestselling and competition-winning author. She writes the popular YA Fantasy Eden East novels and a series of non-fiction books that are designed to help writers develop their craft. Sacha has been a long-time resident writing coach for website Writers Helping Writers. She is also a developmental editor, wife and mum.
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 Transcripts: Getting Help With Your Author Business
Orna Ross: Hello everyone. Hi and welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors Self-Publishing Advice podcast. Today, we’re talking about fiction and nonfiction and I am here with the wonderful Sacha Black. Hi, Sacha.
Sacha Black: Hello.
Orna Ross: So, this show is, as you regular listeners will know, is sponsored by Izzard Ink, and their slogan is, Self-Publishing is No Longer Publishing by Yourself.
In other words, they will help you and hold your hand and bring you through the process. And that’s very fitting, because what we’re talking about tonight is help; when to hire help, how do you know when you need it, and what kind of help do you need, because, I think, maybe knowing that you need it is one thing, but knowing the kind of help that you need is what we’re really going to be deep diving into here this evening.
So, Sacha, you’re kind of in the middle of this, right?
Sacha Black: I am. So, I have brought on, I mean I had an accountant last year, so that was the very first, sort of, external person, other than a designer and an editor, who I worked with. This was somebody who I would have an ongoing relationship with, but in the last month, I’ve had to bring on a VA as well. So, I’m now working with a VA. My whole business is going through a bit of an upgrade and so, I have had to suck it up and ask for help, which I think, for a lot of indie authors, not all, there’s probably two schools of indie authors, but there’s indie authors who will willingly ask for help, and you know, I wish I was them, but I’m a bit too much of a control freak, and I don’t really like letting go of things. And, you know, being an indie author fosters that, because we have to do everything ourselves. We build everything from scratch, from the start by ourselves, so it was really hard for me to both admit that I needed help and then actually ask for help.
So yeah, if there are people out there listening to this who are in that camp, I feel your pain.
Why it’s good to ask for help with your author business
Orna Ross: That’s great because, really, I think coming to the point where you need help is actually something to be proud of. It actually means there’s things going on. There’s activity happening. Your business is working. You’re busy. You’ve got more work or more opportunities than you can reach on. So, it is actually something to feel good about.
What we’re going to try and do, because this is actually a huge topic and could go in a thousand different directions, so what we’re going to do tonight is we’re going to talk and break down the different kinds of help that you might need as an indie author, wearing the three hats that we have to wear.
So, I think we’re all very conscious of ourselves as makers, people who make books, first in the writing phase, which is a making phase, but also then in the producing of an actual book.
So, that’s what we tend to think of as our job, but actually there are two equally important dimensions to the job, and we have spoken about these before and no doubt will again, and there’s a whole Facebook group, if any of you are interested, a Facebook group called, Go Creative in Business, which uses these three headings all the time to set goals and set intentions, and recognize accomplishments.
But number one is the maker, and number two is the manager, the person who looks after the process in your business, and your profits. So, how you’re doing things is in the hands of the manager and then the marketer, the marketeer, the person who gets the sales, who goes out there. There’s no point in making a fabulous book and having wonderful processes that produce lots of books, if nobody knows about them, and if you don’t actually succeed in getting money for them. So, if you don’t do that, you’re simply not in business. So, the marketeer is the person who kind of goes out there.
And the way I think about it is, the maker works in the business, the manager works on the business, and the marketeer grows the business.
Sacha Black: Oh, I like that.
Orna Ross: Do you like that?
Sacha Black: Yeah, I do. I really like that. Say that again, just in case people missed it because I think that’s a really, really good way of describing it.
Orna Ross: Okay. So, the maker works in the business, making what needs to be made in order to be sold. The manager works on the business and actually, kind of, protects the maker and the marketeer, so they can do their job, by having clean processes that are actually profitable, as opposed to doing lots of things that aren’t. And then the marketeer grows the business; it’s their job to get out there and shout about it and tell people what’s going on so that people have the opportunity to actually buy.
So, we are going to break it down in that way, I think, as we look at the possibilities, but before we dive into those three hats that people have to wear, and what help each of them might require, is there anything else we want to say as a, kind of, an introduction?
Sacha Black: I don’t think so.
Orna Ross: Let us leap right on in then.
So, I think, when we’re thinking about help, we possibly instantly think about people, but tech and tools can be incredibly helpful also. So, we are going to include tech and tools here, in terms of thinking about what we might need help with. So, yeah, go ahead.
Sacha Black: I was just going to say, on that note, we recently had a Self-Publishing Advice Conference, which was all about tools and tech. So, if you are listening and watching, and you are an ALLi member, then you can log into the allianceindependentauthors.org website.
Orna Ross: Yes, .org, we are a nonprofit.
Sacha Black: Yep, into the member website, and you can navigate to Advice Conference and get all of the login details.
If you’re not a member, then you can purchase a six-month or a lifetime access pass by visiting, just type into Google, Self-Publishing Advice Conference, and you will find all about it.
And there were stacks of tours and amazing presentations and speakers in the last conference, all about the tools and tech that can help you in your business.
Orna Ross: Yeah, it really was an eye opener and, I think, those of us who do this all the time, we were surprised at how many tools we came across that we hadn’t heard of before. So, yeah, good catch.
And it’s worth saying, for those who are not ALLi members, that there will be a sale coming up around Black Friday time. So, keep an eye out for that.
How to use tools, tech or people to write faster and better
Orna Ross: Okay. So, let’s talk about writing, and let’s begin maybe with the technology and the tools.
Do you have things that help you to write faster or write better?
Sacha Black: Yeah, so I use Scrivener. I think a lot of people probably use Scrivener. So, I draft in Scrivener, and then I edit in Word, just because, when I draft, I write all over the place and out of order. So, Scrivener helps because it has the functionality to separate scenes or chapters.
So, that helps me to draft, and then I chuck it into Word, and then I also use software like ProWritingAid to help do a proof type edit, before I send it off to an editor. What about you?
Orna Ross: Yes, I use, I think, everything you’ve mentioned so far. I’ve also investigated Plottr, which is really good novel plotting software, plotting and planning. It just does that. It doesn’t do anything else, and it does it really well. And I think this is the development that we’re seeing in the indie author tools marketplace in the last couple of years, these very specific tools for very specific parts of the process.
Fictionary is another great one, which actually allows you to self-edit, as you go, before you hand your book over to a professional editor. It really guides the self-editing process.
Sacha Black: Yeah, and that one focuses on a developmental story edit, rather than ProWritingAid, which focuses much more on the line work. So yeah, they actually both work together really, really well.
Orna Ross: That’s very true, and in fact, one of the sessions in the Self-Publishing Advice Conference that you were talking about is ProWritingAid and Fictionary together, talking about how to use their two platforms together. So, yeah, they’re really good tools.
And then for writing, are there people who can help? Do we have to sweat every word out, you know, through beads of blood coming out of our foreheads?
Sacha Black: You could! No, I mean, it really depends where you are at and what your goals are. So, of course, you could work with a co-writer and a collaborator to co-write something together, and there are many different ways to work that process, but, obviously, you’re going to do less of the work and it’s going to be more of a collaboration.
And in the same vein, you have ghost writers, as well, who would write on your behalf, usually with guidance, sometimes in the style of your voice, unless it’s your first book and you are not publishing necessarily in your own voice, or, you know, they’re very good at, what’s the word, well, ghost writing. So, embodying whatever tone, whatever style, whatever cadence you want them to create for you.
And then, critique partners or beta readers is probably another one. They are more or less one and the same. People will argue the toss over the difference between them, but typically, I see a critique partner as somebody who is a writer, they will look at your work, give you feedback on it, you will then do another edit based on their feedback, and then it will go to an editor. And then beta readers tend to be readers. But I don’t know if that’s just my definition or whether it’s an accepted definition, but lots of people like to argue about those two.
Orna Ross: I think that’s a pretty good breakdown of the two, and then you can get tools that kind of meet people, because one of the tools, again at SelfPubCon was BetaBooks, and they actually provide a platform now, because beta readers are so widely used in the community. They provide a platform for actually managing the whole process of getting your book to beta readers, and getting it back on time, and making sure they tackle what they should and, you know, managing the whole flow of that. So yes, a nice tool as well.
So yeah, and I think when it comes to ghostwriting and things like that, you really do need to think about you and your business, and why you’re doing it. I mean, for some writers, the idea of getting a ghost writer is just completely and utterly, why would I do that? I’m here because the whole thing I want to do is write. For somebody else, it might be, you know, what you want to do, what’s most important to you is a business, and you can see, I’m not going to get enough books written between now and whenever to have a business, so I need to get somebody else in to, kind of, help that.
And you said something very interesting before we came on the air and I’m not sure if it refers only to writing or to all the different aspects, but you said that you feel non-fictional authors are more likely to hire help and need it sooner, or something like that?
What you need to know before you hire someone to help with your author business
Sacha Black: Yeah, I think non-fiction authors are more likely to need help sooner. Purely because the tendency is for them to have multiple streams of income, which means the amount of admin in their businesses is probably tenfold. You know, if you have a fiction author who’s writing in four different genres, they’re probably going to need help very quickly as well.
But for, I guess, what you would class as “normal” indie author, who’s writing in one genre, compared to a nonfiction author who’s likely to have some kind of business around that book, I think a nonfiction author will probably require help sooner. Yeah, just for all of those reasons, you know, they have multiple streams, they are often running a business as well. Sometimes their book is a business card rather than, you know, being an author as their predominant field.
Orna Ross: So, complexity of business and ultimate aims and goals, and these are the things that you need to think about it. So, I think it’s also worth saying that, before you hire help, maybe make sure that you have simplified your business and that you’re not carrying a lot of dead wood where you go off and you hire somebody who’s going to help you to do things that ultimately won’t be that profitable or that pleasurable, and that you won’t get the benefit from them.
So, you do need to be very clear, before you hire, and it can be a great way of concentrating the mind, because when it comes to actually paying somebody to do something, rather than doing it yourself, you may well find, actually, it’s not worth it to me. And if it isn’t worth it to get somebody else to do it, then why on earth are you doing it?
Sacha Black: I have just been through that. So, I can a hundred percent vouch for that. The minute I had to hand over cash, I was like, wait a minute, should I be doing this? I don’t enjoy doing this.
But, before you make decisions, I think there’s a couple of things you have to do.
The first thing you have to do is assess, is it a pain point for you, and is that why you want help?
I needed help because I was in pain; I wasn’t enjoying some of the things that I was doing, but they were making money and therefore I couldn’t not do them. You need to assess, you need to look at some kind of data, or metric, or statistics, to show you whether or not the thing that you’re asking somebody else to do is having some kind of beneficial outcome.
Is it bringing you referrals or clicks? Is it making sales? Is it a social media scheduling? So, for example, one of the things that I was doing was tweeting out loads of blog posts, you know, based on my podcast. But actually, when I looked at the statistics, I was getting a lot more referrals from Facebook and Pinterest than I was Twitter.
So, actually why bother doing it? I’m not going to pay anybody to do that, and Twitter is one of the ones that takes the longest for me to format. So, I’ve just stopped doing it because it’s not having any impact. So yeah, definitely, that’s what happens.
Orna Ross: Sweet. Very good. Okay. So, when we move on then from writing into the publishing arena, I think this is where people do hire help and hopefully are more inclined to. I hope every ALLi member now realizes that we need an editor and to hire somebody, you know, after the self-editing process to get a professional editor, as soon as you can, and the best one that you can afford. Designers, formatters, these, what you might call the production part of, you know, just making a great book. And ALLi, of course, has a directory of approved services that you can look at it, and be sure that you’re able to assemble the perfect, kind of, team to put the book together, because while we call it self-publishing, it doesn’t mean that you do, or can do, absolutely every aspect of it yourself. And I think, Sacha, even the most DIY person is going to find areas that are not their skill set, and wasting time trying to do something that you’re never going to be that good at, you really have to think about how much your time is worth.
So, yeah, let’s move on then to the processing, the actual management stuff.
Jules, in a comment here, zooming in from Scotland, Hi Jules. She’s talking about collaboration multi-author platforms, where you can get together to do things. And I think, are you particularly talking about marketing, but I think perhaps also, we can help each other when it comes to those things like formatting, design, editorial. Other authors may be skilled editors, for example, or maybe skilled designers and you can perhaps get together into a collaborative group so that you can actually manage the full production of a book between you by swapping skills if money is just not possible.
The irony of this business is, when you most need money, at the beginning, when you most need the help, at the beginning, is when you have the least money.
So, you have to balance the needs out there in some way.
Sacha Black: Absolutely. Yeah, I completely agree.
Orna Ross: So, management then, processing, and profits. Let’s start with profits, shall we?
When’s the right time to hire an accountant or a bookkeeper to help your author business?
Sacha Black: Yeah. So, I think the most obvious place you’re going to need help is with your accounts. I know, and obviously, in each different country there will be different tax laws, different sets of requirements, and I and ALLi, always advise that you seek out professional accountancy help when it comes to your books, if you are unsure.
But there are many different things. So, once you’ve got your business or separate bank accounts set up for your income and your business, you will then need some kind of bookkeeping system.
Once you get a couple of books, or a few different streams of income, it is much easier to do that bookkeeping on a monthly basis than it is to leave it until the end of the year, which I did the first time, and it saves you a very big headache. So, there are lots of bookkeeping bits of software, like Xero, for example, Sage, there’s various different ones. Xero, which is spelled X E R O is my favorite. That’s the one that I use and it’s so intuitive. So, I always recommend that.
And then, of course, you can have a bookkeeper, you can hire help. They can go in, you can give account permissions for them to do your bookkeeping on your behalf, if that’s something that you don’t want to spend your time doing.
And then, at year end, if you’re not an accountant or you don’t know how to do your books, then you’re probably going to need an accountant, which is separate to your bookkeeper.
Orna Ross: Yeah, absolutely. And I would say that, if I had to do my own bookkeeping, I would never have been able to do any of this, because I simply cannot do it. I don’t have those skills at any level, I’m just number blind.
So, at the beginning, I think, as authors, we don’t want to invest in our business, generally speaking. And I think it is worth thinking about, way up front, what you do want to invest in. And again, that idea of valuing your own time and how much time, you know, how much your time is worth, because you can be spending time doing things that you could easily, you know, use to bring in more income, which has a higher value and is scalable over time. And you might need to buy yourself a bit of time at the beginning. You might actually need to take some sort of, I mean, I often compare us to somebody starting a restaurant or, you know, almost any other business is going to have to invest some money up front, and in some cases, a really sizable amount of money up front. And it can be very helpful at the beginning to think about, and so few authors do this, but, in fact, the more authorial you are and the more into writing you are, probably the less likely you are to think about it this way, but it is really helpful for you to take a step back and think about your production as a business, and to think about, if I had to present that to a bank manager and get a loan based on this business, does it add up, does it make sense? Most writing businesses do.
Sorry, over to you.
Sacha Black: No, no. I was just going to agree with you. That was actually the question, somebody said to me, do you actually know how much it’s going to cost you to hire somebody per hour, and do you know roughly what you’re earning per hour, and I hadn’t actually done the math and it wasn’t until I did the math that I was like, oh yeah, it’s really not beneficial for me to be doing half of the things that I’m doing that I could pay somebody less than my hourly earnings, essentially, to do.
So, yeah, and I think so many of us just assume we can’t afford it because, you know, you don’t always have to hire somebody in the same country as you, you can hire somebody in a different country where the cost of living is lower. There are always ways and means of getting help on your budget, you just have to be clever and spend a little bit of time looking or asking for recommendations.
Orna Ross: Absolutely. And again, there is the ALLi directory, and the searchable database, in the member zone. There are also really good marketplaces where you can hire help. Reedsy is obviously a fantastic place, not just for editors. People tend to think of it for editors, but for lots of the other things that you might need in terms of production, particularly.
There’s Upwork, which I use when I want to hire somebody to do a discreet job, you know, that isn’t part of the team, kind of, ongoing. I use Upwork but there’s Fiverr, as well, and you know, lots of these marketplaces where you can actually get the kind of help that we need, that we tend to need, at a very reasonable price.
So, yeah, do think about doing that.
Why process is so important when hiring someone new
Sacha Black: So, I think it’s time to talk about the elephant in the room. I didn’t mention this to you before we started, but for me, the whole elephant in the room for this conversation is about process. Because I think if you, as indie authors, are anything like me, you just made stuff up as you went along and you created random processes that may not have been efficient, they may not have been the best way, but they worked for you and you didn’t have time to make them fantastic. And so, you got to the point where everything was a bit of a kerfuffle and a mess, but it worked because you knew how to do everything. The problem is, when you then bring on help, you have to be able to explain your process to somebody else. And that’s where the most important aspect of bringing on help is clarifying your processes, and I have had to go through a whale of a time being able to hand over stuff.
So, if I talk about some of the things and maybe you can add a few things in.
I had to create a file structure, like a file naming structure, because I just stuffed stuff in that folder, and then I stuffed other things in that folder over there, and only me knew where anything was, you know? So yes, you need a very clear file, even a file naming structure so that if, whoever’s working with you has to add files in, they know how to label and name files so that you can then find them independently of each other.
You need some kind of communication system. You need to work out how you are going to communicate with each other, be it WhatsApp, or Messenger, or Slack or whatever.
So, I’ve sort of talked about file structure, but you need a mutually, what’s the word, where you can both access storage? So, for example, I have a VA helping with my podcast now, and we’re putting all the files into Google Drive because both of us can access it.
You also need to think about your passwords and protecting your passwords. So, Last Pass is something that I’m using, and I put my passwords in, and they have the ability to copy the password, but without seeing the wording. So, that’s another mechanism go to think about, like your security and those kinds of things.
I’m just trying to think. You also need to be able to communicate instructions and step-by-step processes. So, what I did, because I just could not get it onto paper, was I did a video and I walked through every step of my scheduling a podcast and uploading and all of that stuff, and that’s how I was able to communicate.
And we’ve changed and edited and updated processes, and that’s one of the things that I think you need to be cognizant of, is that you may have to change some of your processes in order to accommodate both something that works for you and something that works for the person that you are working with.
Orna Ross: And in my experience, a lot of authors can find that quite a frustrating period, but it is actually, if you can understand how much it is improving your own processes to have to do it that way, because if they’re not making full sense to somebody else, chances are you’re wasting time searching for files that you can’t find, or doing things in a long roundabout way that you don’t necessarily need to do.
Or you also find, as you do a process document for a virtual assistant, you find, oh gosh, I’ve got four steps there, I actually only need two, because that’s just the nature of when it grows up organically, it just is a bit messy and it just needs a bit of tidying up.
The other thing I found back when I started hiring was that I then looked at my own writing and publishing process and how, you know, just the steps between idea, notes, you know, how I hold notes and things on different books and different genre, and how it turns from notes into text and how then goes on through the editing process and design, and so on. Just making that process as smooth as possible.
And I think a lot comes together when you begin to get a bit of a team who gets you, be it one person or more, who actually understands your way of doing it and they know the way you think, and they can bring their strengths to balance out your weaknesses.
And I think this is one big important tip is, don’t hire people who have the same strengths and weaknesses as you. Hire people who have different strengths, and I think that’s really, really key.
Sacha Black: We’ve got a couple of questions.
Orna Ross: Yeah, do you want to have a look?
Sacha Black: Yeah. So, Vicky says, I’m in the US, so this may not be applicable in other countries, but my file system for financial stuff; receipts, invoices bills, statements, is based on my federal tax return. Each line on schedule C is a separate category with multiple file folders within each. Other files, research, marketing, et cetera, are color coded so I can find them easily.
Orna Ross: I think that’s great, and I think it would apply no matter what country you’re in, you know, look and see how your particular tax people work out the expenses that you’re allowed and so on, and follow their method, because that makes it all so much easier at the end, rather than you having different terms for say marketing expenses than they have, or whatever it might be, or dividing things up in different ways. Thank you.
Sacha Black: Yeah, no, I think also it is a really good tip. Just to reiterate that point, whenever I bring on something new or do something new in my accountancy software, I always refer to my accountant and say, how would you like me to categorize this?
So, for example, when I started paying a contractor or a freelancer, I’d never done that before, so I didn’t know how to attribute it. And that just means, at the end of the year, there’s no confusion about what anything means.
What skills should you look for when hiring a VA?
Sacha Black: Jules Horne says, did you find a VA who already had processes you could tap into?
I’m guessing that’s directed at me. So, I found a VA via a recommendation from a friend who had a VA already working for them, and they are also an author.
So, they knew a lot of the things that I would be asking them anyway, and so I trusted that recommendation because I trusted the person. And they have skills that I do not, they are frighteningly efficient when it comes to administration and detail and consistency, and I’m none of those things.
Orna Ross: You’re not so bad, I would say. I work with you and I’ve seen a hell of a lot worse, including myself, she laughs. Hollow laughter from Sacha.
I think Author VA is a growing job category, lots of people are getting into this, because 10 years ago it just didn’t exist. You had a handful of bestselling authors who ever would even think about hiring assistants. Now, it’s becoming so much more common, and it does help if you have somebody who understands what it is to be an indie author and some of the needs and things.
Especially when it comes to the third category that we’re going to be looking at, which is the marketeer category.
Somebody who has social media experience may not understand what it is for an author to do social media, because it is quite different, to just take an exaggerated possibility, but in a lot of businesses, social media is very pushy and can be quite, you know, out there and brash, even crass in some cases. That will not work, mostly with readers who don’t tend to like that sort of approach, they just move off it.
So, in terms of the, kind of, subtle, soft stuff that’s hard to communicate, and that’s also so embedded in you that you may not even know how to give that instruction, it may be just so inherent to how you do things that you’re not even conscious of it, I think it can really help if you get somebody who has experience, but it isn’t necessary.
One of the people that I work really, really closely with hadn’t any experience working with authors until she worked with me and she’s absolutely fantastic. So, it isn’t necessary, but I think, to answer Jules’ question, that it certainly can help.
Sacha Black: So, I think there’s just one other point we should probably make, which is, with the exception of cover design and editing, I think it’s important that we, as authors and business owners, know how to do the task we’re about to ask somebody else to do, because there’s a tendency that, when we don’t want to do something, because we don’t know how to do it, or we don’t like doing it, before we’ve really mastered that action, we’ll just throw money at the problem and get somebody else to deal with it. The problem with that is, you are then not able to know whether or not they’re doing a good job, and you’re then not able to help them if they go wrong or they’ve broken something. So, I think it’s always really important, especially because we are empowered indie authors, to know how we need to do something before we then pay somebody else to do it for us. With the exception of those two I mentioned at the start.
Orna Ross: Yeah, I think it’s absolutely key, and the more you know about editing and design, you can feed in, but you won’t have the hands-on experience of those.
I find this problem is worst with marketing. There is a sort of a fantasy that goes around that authors have, especially when they start out, that they can give the marketing to somebody else.
And it’s probably the aspect of their work, after the writing that they really cannot hand over. You’ve got to be part of the process that actually works out who your ideal reader is, you know, who are your comparable authors; all of that is something you have to be very involved in.
And a lot of the time, authors are still thinking about traditional ways of marketing rather than the kinds of ways that actually sell books for indie authors. So, just to talk a little bit about some of the tasks that are very handover-able, if that’s a word, in the marketeer zone of the book, the person who’s growing the business and out there kind of shouting about it, the book promotion and marketing.
So, obviously launching a book, you can get a lot of the actual administration, a lot of the work there, while you will have to craft, probably, the descriptions and the creative that goes into your launch materials, a lot of it after that is really quite administrative and can be handed over quite easily. And it really helps. It keeps your energy for actually launching the book and talking about the book. So, you know, setting up podcasts, blog tours, any of that kind of thing, your email marketing, while you might write the actual content, and same with your social media, you can get help with the actual setting up of it, and everything can pre-scheduled now, it doesn’t all have to be done at the time. You can plan it out well in advance. Advertising, similarly, you will be involved in the creative, and the making of your social media posts and ads is part of the maker, but the actual getting them out there and making sure they’re reaching the right people, that’s the marketeer who has to do that.
SEO, search engine optimization, we don’t have time to explain why that is, but look it up. It’s very important in terms of making sure that your book is found, or at least that you’ve done your best to enable it to be found by somebody who wants to discover a book like that.
These things are best handed over, especially if you don’t fully understand what you’re doing. You can get some help with it once you understand the principles of what you’re doing, you know the categories, the keywords, the kind of reader you want to read, comparable authors that you have, but they can actually then help you to set up the structure. Prizes and giveaways also.
Anything else on the marketeer end? That’s about it, I think.
Sacha Black: Nope, I don’t think so.
How to develop good working relationships
Orna Ross: They’re pretty much the major ones. So, yeah, and I think the final thing to say is, in terms of help, you know, working with somebody consistently is a lot better for you, and for them, and creating a relationship over time. Getting somebody new all the time is quite wearing, because you have to keep training people in, and it takes a long time sometimes to explain all that soft stuff that we were talking about.
So, the way to make sure that that happens is, be decent, be a caring person to work with, be fair, pay your bills on time. Pay quickly, a lot of people who will be helping you will be relying on that money. They’re not big corporations who can have a 30, or 60, or 90-day waiting period, you know, pay as quickly as you can.
See the time that you’re putting into your assistants as an investment and take your time. Take care to actually communicate well. Slow down, probably. Things that you can kind of boom, boom, boom, bang out yourself, you need to just take a step back, take a breath, and make sure you fully understand before you commission them. Try to not muddle people up, and just generally being respectful of their time, and their skills, and their energy, as well as your own.
Any other tips on working with people?
Sacha Black: I don’t think so, no.
Orna Ross: Okay. So yeah, that’s it folks.
How do you find the balance between scaling your author business and making time to write?
Orna Ross: I just will read Jules’ comment here, the final one, because I think she’s saying some really sound and interesting things, it takes so long to learn everything yourself, two to three years to get your head around processes, ads, SEO, et cetera, which I agree it’s necessary to understand. So, for me, it’s taken that time to get to the point where scale becomes possible. Wondering how you find balance between this and the writing, which for me has taken a back seat. It’s like a uni-length education, I think.
I think the uni-length education is a brilliant way to think about it. I mean, it’s one of the most ambitious jobs you could aspire to in this world, because it’s got three huge skills behind it: the writing, the publishing, the business. You need to get good at all of those.
How I balance, and I’ll ask Sacha how she balances in a minute, but how I balance is by putting the writing first. So, I try to write first, every day. Don’t open the email. Don’t look at the phone. Don’t do anything. Just get up, do my little morning ritual, which is all kind of nicey nice, and then go straight into a writing and stay there, and stay with the writing.
And I know, when I walk away from the writing, which is, I get up at, kind of, ridiculous o’clock so I can do all that, because then the day takes over and there’s always something that I haven’t planned for, always something unexpected coming in the door, but at least the writing is done for the day. And then I’m happy doing everything else. If I don’t get the writing done, then I’m constantly thinking, I wish I was writing. So, that’s how I do it. What about you? Are you a morning person, an evening writer, or?
Sacha Black: I was thinking more along the lines of like gin and chocolate for balancing. No? Okay, not relevant. Let me try again. So, badly is I how manage. No, okay, wait, let me start again.
If I’m honest, I think the way my brain works is that I take one project at a time, and so I guess batching is probably how I work. So, I wrote 20,000 words in like 10 days, and then now I’ve expunged everything from my brain and now I need a break. I can’t write for another two weeks.
So, now I’m working on website upgrades, and managing my inbox, and advertising, and stuff like that. So, for me, if I’m doing creative work, everything else falls away, and that is all I can do. So, I tend to batch now. Either I’m doing creative work or I’m doing managing, business-ing, marketing, that side. And then there’s a few things that I do every week.
But for the broad, what are words? Orna, I’m struggling now!
Orna Ross: No, but I think it’s interesting. We’ve given two completely different approaches, and they both get the words out. Really, it’s about experimenting for yourself, because sometimes the way you think it’s best for you, may not necessarily be. So, either way works, and there are other ways to do it too. The thing is, I think, to make absolutely core and central that the writing doesn’t suffer, because what’s a hundred percent sure is that the call of the outer world is bigger and louder than the inner call to write, and it can be too easy to find, oh my God, three months have gone by and I haven’t really written anything.
And so, quarterly planning is another big important part of how I do things. I have an intention for the quarter under each, you know, maker, manager, marketeer, and every week I’m working on another little chunk of that quarterly intention, if you like. Some weeks go well, some weeks don’t, but there’s enough time over a quarter to flag a bit and then catch up or get ahead of yourself and then have a rest, or whatever. And that’s really important to me, that I do, in my calendar, see it, that it’s balanced out, that I have allocated a balanced amount of time to each of these aspects, because it’s very easy for it to fall away.
Sacha Black: I’ve been finding more and more; I’m going in an intuitive cycle. So, I’ve noticed, I need an input phase and then an output phase. And I very much get a particular feeling or sensation when I’ve output as many words as I can. It doesn’t mean that I don’t know how the rest of the book is going to go. It just means that I have an input enough inspiration; books, TV, visits to museums, or whatever. I haven’t had enough of that in order to then go again. It’s like I’m a battery. Basically, I use all my inspiration energy, and then I have to refill.
I tend to go in six weeks cycles, but sometimes, like at the moment, I had a very hard sort of two-week binge of writing, and so now I’m empty and doing medial website updates instead.
Orna Ross: Yeah. So, the point is folks, it’s never perfect. It’s always a bit messy, everything we talked about today is about recognizing that you do muddle through to some extent, and sometimes you can find people who will hold your hand and help you to muddle through a little bit better.
So, hope that some of those tips were useful to you.
The way December falls, and the way Christmas, and then holidays fall this year, we won’t have a fiction and nonfiction podcast next month, December. We’ll be back in January with a new theme, and perhaps a new way of doing this. But, until then, happy writing and happy publishing.
We’re here, as always, for your email and on the Facebook forum if you have any questions or any follow-ups that you want to do. The podcast will be out on the blog on Friday, and that will have the transcript, show notes, and any links to anything that we’ve mentioned here today.