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The Indie Author Business Cycle: From Start-Up To Mature Business: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast With Orna Ross And Joanna Penn

The Indie Author Business Cycle: From Start-Up to Mature Business: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast With Orna Ross and Joanna Penn

In this episode: the indie author business cycle. All businesses go through a life cycle and in this #AskALLi Advanced Podcast Orna Ross and Joanna Penn consider the three stages of the author-publisher business cycle. Highlighting the main goals, challenges and opportunities of each stage, they offer their top tips for taking your publishing business from startup through growth to maturity.

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The Advanced Self-Publishing salon is brought to you by Specialist Sponsor IngramSpark. IngramSpark is the award-winning indie publishing platform that offers authors like you a way to publish your book and share it with over 39,000 bookstores and libraries worldwide.

Find more author advice, tips and tools at our self-publishing advice center, https://selfpublishingadvice.org. And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.

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Indie authors @OrnaRoss and @thecreativepenn consider the three stages of the author-publisher business cycle in this month's #AskALLi Advanced Self-Publishing #podcast. Click To Tweet

About the Hosts

Joanna Penn writes nonfiction for authors and is an award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author as J.F.Penn. She’s also an award-winning podcaster, creative entrepreneur, and international professional speaker.

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: Indie Author Business Cycle

Joanna Penn: Hello everyone, and welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors Advanced Self-Publishing Salon with me, Joanna Penn and Orna Ross. Hi, Orna.

Orna Ross: Hi, Joanna and hello everyone. It feels like ages.

Joanna Penn: It has actually been ages. So, we’ll talk about that in a minute, but in today’s show, in our topic, we’re going to talk about the indie author business cycle – from start-up to mature business, and we’ll take you through some of the phases.

But before we get into that, as ever, we are writers, and we want to just give you a bit of an update. So Orna, what’s the news from ALLi?

Orna Ross: ALLi is moving into September mode, which is always a busy time of the year or for us. So, we’ve got our conference coming up on October 23rd & 24th, the craft of writing, this time. So, it’s always been about publishing before, and this is the first time we’ve actually done a writing conference, so that’s really exciting.

We’ve got some really fantastic authors, audiobook authors, and people who are killing it in print and eBook, and who do all sorts of interesting things. And everybody will be talking about craft and what stops us getting our writing done, productivity, everything really. We have about 24 sessions packed with good stuff.

We’re also planning, we’re going to be 10 in April, so we have to start the planning for that now, and we are thinking of what we’re going to do about that, so there’ll be a bit more about that next time, or maybe in a month or two’s time.

And we’ve be working on our guidebooks. So, our latest release is about self-publishing children’s books with Karen Inglis, our children’s book advisor, she has contributed to that one. And we’ve also got a short guide out on book prizes and awards for indie authors.

So, all of those, as usual, at selfpublishingadvice.org/shop

What about you? What are you up to?

Joanna Penn: Wait, before me, where can people go to sign up for the conference?

Orna Ross: That is selfpublishingadviceconference.com.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic. Just so everyone knows, we’ll tell you again at the end.

Orna Ross: Yes, we will, and it will be in the show notes. It is free completely for three days and ALLi members get a free six month pass always. But yeah, it’ll be there in the show notes.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic. Well, it has been a while and in fact, I had COVID in July and you had it last year. And it’s so funny, so many authors I know have had it. Yes, vaccinated. Yes, wearing masks. Yes, avoiding the whole thing. Yes, with this whole Delta surge. I got it, Jonathan got it, and so I had to scale things back, as you do when you’re sick, and it’s been an interesting wake up call for me in terms of empathy with people who are sick, and really experiencing things I haven’t in a while; not being able to do the things that I take for granted with my energy and all of that.

So, we’ll talk about what happens with mature business, but I am so grateful that a.) we have an online business, and it wasn’t dependent on me physically having to do anything, but also that I was able to make money whilst sick from bed. So, yes, I think that was interesting.

I did manage to, Mark Leslie Lefebvre and I, I’d written most of my stuff before I got sick, which was useful, but we have The Relaxed Author coming out in two weeks, September the 18th, and we’ve both done the audiobook. So, this is the first time we’ve put both voices in every chapter. So, it’s co-written but each chapter has my section and Mark’s section, and the audiobook has my voice and then Mark’s voice, and I’m sure everyone knows Mark, but he’s Canadian and a man, and I feel like the audiobook is actually quite cool because he has a voice brand as well and so do I. So, that’s been very cool.

Orna Ross: Yeah, this is Joanna with COVID.

Joanna Penn: Sorry, your end just got a bit noisy there.

Yes, and also, I’m writing Tomb of Relics. This is a little tip for people. So, I was intending to write a novel, but with everything that’s been going on and my lack of ability to travel and get excited about things, I’ve decided it’s a novella.

So, this is a tip for people, if you’re struggling with a novel, just make it a novella, and suddenly your word count is halved and everything’s good. So, I’m really happy with that decision and going to finish that in the next week. So yes, just scaling things back, I guess.

Orna Ross: That’s really interesting. And, of course, you scaled back is just approaching a normal output for most people. But the novella thing is really interesting, because I too am looking at, I mean, I have written the longest books of all time, they’re crazy, and they take such a long time to put together. So, I have personally, not ALLi now, talking about needs of the writer and publisher, took some down time in August, which was very much needed, and did a creative retreat with my daughter, which was brilliant.

And as I was saying, ALLi is 10 years old next year, and so I want to do a new ten-year plan for the next 10 years to see what was there. So, that was really interesting, but one of the things that came out was definitely about shorter books and even breaking longer books down into shorter ones, and putting my patrons at the heart of what I’m doing.

You and I have spoken a lot about that over the last year, and I want to take that very much into the author business. So, breaking down some of the books that are, for me, both for me and for patrons, it’s a really nice thing to break down a longer book into a series of novellas. So, that’s what I’m doing, and patrons get them exclusively, and it keeps me working and outputting. And it actually ensures that each section of the book is very complete in and of itself. So, highly recommended, so far, so good.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, absolutely. Okay. So, let’s get into the topic of today’s show, which is the indie author business cycle – from start-up to mature business.

And we’re going to talk about three phases, the start-up phase, then the established author years, and then we’ll go into the mature years when you feel like you have a mature business.

So, let’s start with the, well, I guess we should say upfront, Orna, when can people know whether they’re in a different phase? As in, what if someone’s been writing novels for 20 years, but they’ve just started in an indie, or someone has a business outside of indie but has never written a book before, so how do they know where they’re going to be in this?

Orna Ross: Yeah. So, I think we are talking about the business of publishing, of becoming a publisher, a good established and mature publisher. So, you might have been published by other people and have been writing and successfully selling books for many years, but if you have never, actually, you know, if you’re just starting off and looking at hiring an editor, then you’re at the very start of this cycle that we’re talking about here.

Joanna Penn: Yeah. Okay. Now, I think that’s important because I felt, when I came into the indie space, that I didn’t know anything about writing a novel, for example, but I knew a lot about business and that gave me some advantages and other disadvantages.

But let’s talk about the start-up years first, because I feel like so many people coming into ALLi, for example, are at this phase, a lot of people who email me, and the obsession is all the stuff at the beginning; it’s finishing the first book, for example, it’s just selling any copies at all, it’s trying to, I guess, make money back in some way, even though that’s not necessarily realistic, it’s struggling to balance everything. So, what do you think are some of the other things in that first phase?

Orna Ross: I always think the first two years is about survival. Is this baby going to get up on its legs and walk, kind of thing?

So, there’s an awful lot going on. I mean, it’s a huge growth period personally, so it’s almost like you have to grow as an individual, as a writer, as a publisher, in order for the business to grow. So, things like establishing writing and publishing routine, understanding the different hats you have to wear as a writer and publisher, getting to understand the reader’s perspective, you know? So, as a writer, you’re just thinking about the words, as a publisher you have to think how you get your books into the hands of readers, how readers receive them, where your positioned in the marketplace, and you’ve got to do all of that while managing and budgeting time, energy and money.

So, there is a lot going on, and the word we hear most often in this phase is definitely overwhelm. I’m overwhelmed. And I think the thing is to just keep going. It almost doesn’t matter what you’re doing as long as you are progressing, you’re making some kind of intentional choices each week, and you almost certainly won’t be meeting all your plans, most people in this phase way overestimate what they can get done in a week, but it’s a very exciting time, I think. And in the learning, there’s a lot of illusions that, when you’re a trade published author, or if you haven’t published at all or tried to publish, you can go around in a bit of a fuzz of dreams and illusions about the publishing business about publishers, agents, other writers, all that kind of thing. You lose some of those illusions in the practicalities and the hard-headed business of writing. You have a lot to learn.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, I think, like you mentioned, you have to learn a lot. I think the language, you and I have talked about this so much over the years, the words we use within the indie movement, really, and the acronyms, you know, from KDP to KWL, and all this different language, if you don’t know what they, a permafree, you know, people are like, what do all these terms mean?

I know ALLi has a glossary of terms, but it’s almost like you need, that’s why I like to listen to podcasts. When I was learning about financial management, for example, if you listen to things long enough, the penny starts to drop. So, if you’re in this phase, this early phase, you almost have to listen to things and read things and wait until these pennies drop, you cannot learn it all at once.

And I guess the other thing is, the very good thing, is that no one knows who you are, and you might hate that, but it’s actually a good thing because you will make mistakes, we all make mistakes and mistakes are how we learn. We’ve had a good show on all the mistakes we’ve made, which was quite fun earlier this year I think, goodness knows, time flies, but I think the point is that you have to balance your time.

When I was in this phase, I would write in the morning, so create in the morning before I went to my day job, and then in the evening I would learn things, podcast, start my blog, email. That’s when I met you on Twitter. Separate your creation time from all the other stuff time, otherwise you will literally never do the writing because there’s so much to learn, I guess.

Any other tips on sorting it out in the first couple of years?

Orna Ross: Stay core. Don’t get dragged around on different things. I mean, the core things are you have to establish that writing routine and where you’re going to fit in the publishing tasks around it, and you have to establish core marketing structures. So, you have to set up a website and an email funnel and a way of attracting readers.

And you can begin, you know, you can be tipping way at all of that while you’re writing your first book, so that when the time comes, you’re more ready. And thinking about your marketing while you’re writing, learning who your actual readers are, what your niche is, what your categories are, what keywords, where you’re positioned in the marketplace, all of that can feed very nicely into the actual writing as you come to understand more, start reading people in your genre, really beginning to drill down into what you offer, and all of that kind of thing. Stay with that core stuff, and try not to get dragged off onto, like I know people who haven’t finished their first book who are investing in courses on advertising and stuff like that, and it’s much better to stay with the core of things, and bring in ads and stuff like that when you’ve got more than one book, frankly.

Joanna Penn: So then, let’s move into the established author years, but I feel like in order to move to this next phase, you actually have to make a decision, which is that you want to keep doing this.

I feel like before you’ve written that first book, all you can see is the first book. I mean, we always say, oh, I’ll maybe try and write a series or write multiple books in a genre, but when you haven’t written a book, you’re all focused on that one book. It’s everything, and either you get the bug, or you don’t, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with writing one book or two books or a couple of books, and then not moving into another phase, not running a business. And in fact, in the relaxed author, one of our questions is, do you really want to run an author business? And if you don’t then awesome, this can be a hobby, but we’re assuming, because this is the advanced show, that this is a decision that you’re going to take and you’re going to move forward.

So, we’ve said three years, but I also think it’s dependent on how much potential time you’ve spent. So, this is three years actually applying yourself to writing, publishing, marketing, as opposed to three years where you haven’t done anything on these topics, but sales are increasing, you definitely have more than one book, people know who you are, you have a bit of an email list, and you’re really thinking about, do I want to grow this? How do I get further?

And it’s funny now, you talk about the overarching thing, I do think one of the biggest things in this phase is, I have too much to do, I need to outsource. I feel like when you feel that moment of, I have to outsource, but I can’t quite afford it, you’re in this phase. Which, congratulations, you’re in this phase.

How else can you know that you’re in this phase?

Orna Ross: Yeah, I think that’s great. And I think the other thing is that you stop fretting about what you’re spending and think more about how to get return on investment. So, you actually begin to adopt more of a money mindset. At the beginning, you’re just trying to scrape together what you can to pay an editor and get a book done and made, but in this phase, you’re beginning to think about, okay, if I spend a dollar, I can make $2, kind of thing.

I also think you necessarily become more planned, even if your planning is very organic and loose, you have to, kind of, know where you’re going, because an author business is not something that happens by accident. Nobody falls into this one. It is a very intentional business, because in order to preserve the writing self, you have to be really intentional about your time and your energy. And so, the amount of time that you have for the other tasks, you really have to get very proactive.

So, I think that’s the real feature of this phase, and the people who get through this and start to really grow here, are those who become less reactive to what’s going on around them and very focused and proactive about what they want to do, and have got that ability now to balance the two sides of themselves, you know, the public side of publication and the private side of creating more books, maybe thinking about an online course, or maybe have a couple of courses going.

And also, I think a feature that comes in here, as well as hiring assistance, is collaboration with other authors in your genre and niche, you see that happening in this phase.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and in fact, on that collaboration, it’s also about community. So, we absolutely realize how hard it is in that first phase, you want to approach other authors, you want to meet more people, but you feel like you haven’t got very far, and to be honest, this is completely true. The number of people we see who pop up, or people who email me and say, how do I do this? And then we never hear from them again, they disappear. So, it’s almost like, if people have been around a couple of years and you know who they are, more than you do when they’d just arrived, and the reality is that people disappear. There is a pyramid and that people fall away. So, after a couple of years, yes, your business is more established, and look, this is true in any business, in any niche, it’s not just for authors, this is anything, whatever business you start, it takes time to become more established.

So, you mentioned collaboration. So, community, getting to know people is more likely once you’ve been around. And also, you take people more seriously when you see that they are taking themselves seriously and they are writing more books, and I’m far more likely to answer a question about this phase if I see someone has a couple of books and they’ve, you know, tried hard with their brand and got a website and things like that. So, look, there’s plenty of information out there, it’s choosing what you want to apply and setting up. And as you say, that planning, it doesn’t have to be, I’m going to write four books next year, but you at least should know, I am writing another book and it’s going to be in this genre and that’s my target audience and that type of thing.

And then in terms of the money, I would say that in this phase, you should be making enough money in this sort of phase that you can, as you said, you can focus on return on investment, that you have money to pay editors, that you are making some profit. But I don’t think most people are going to be making enough here to give up a job, or, you know, you might be, as Hugh Howey famously said early on in indie, if you can pay your mortgage for one month of the year with your indie money, or you can go on holiday with your indie money, that’s success, and that’s great. That’s probably in this type of phase.

Orna Ross: Yeah, and I think a lot of this depends on how business-minded you are and how much you want it, how hungry you are.

If you really want to become that full-time author, then you need to really take yourself seriously. And one of the ways that you show that to yourself, I think, and one of the signs that somebody’s going to come out of this phase and into the next one is that they begin to pay themselves first. So, they start to take money out of the business and realize that, if I want this to pay and to become something that is going to go somewhere, I can’t just keep putting myself last and paying everybody else and I get nothing. So, I really feel personally, I have a strong thing about paying yourself first, and then organizing everything else around that is a core part of getting from this phase to the next phase. Otherwise, it never happens. There’s always an expense, there’s always something else to try, and you’re not taking yourself seriously as a businessperson. The business doesn’t really stack up if it’s relying on, it’s absolutely necessary to bootstrap at the beginning, maybe, but if you’re relying on that, people don’t do that when they start a business and they intend to succeed. They assume that they’re going to pay themselves for their own energy, and I think writers are very slow to do that. So, it’s kind of a mantra of mine, pay yourself first.

Joanna Penn: Yes, but as you said, it’s in that gate, as you move up. You can’t realistically do that in the beginning phases because the money isn’t enough.

Orna Ross: Oh no, in this phase.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, in moving into the mature phase. I think you almost can’t exit the established phase unless you have at least, you know, you have to have that separate bank account that’s for your business. I mean, I’m so surprised at how many authors don’t even have this. I suggest you do that as early as possible. Like even my mum, who’s Penny Appleton, who doesn’t make a ton of money, she’s set up, to be honest I made her set up a separate bank account early on, so she could track it all.

And she’s actually, right now, she’s away somewhere in England on Penny’s money. So that’s nice, but she can track it all. But then you also, as we move into the mature years, which we’ve said is kind of year seven-ish. But again, this will differ per person. We’re not saying it’s a number of years or a number of books, it’s more the serious level of your business.

So, the other question at this point, as you start to earn more money, is whether you’re incorporating or whatever you call it in your jurisdiction, how are you managing that business as a separate entity to you personally? Then you’ll be paying more attention to contracts, understanding intellectual property and licensing. And again, it’s almost more like you’re learning the deeper aspects of all of these things, and the pennies are dropping on that stuff.

And also, I think you really have decided that this is the life for you. Again, you can change your mind, but it’s like, yes, I want to do this and I’m going to keep doing it, so I need to set up all these things so that I can keep doing it.

Orna Ross: Yeah, and it happens gradually over time. The way you we’re calling it out here, it can sound like this is impossible, but it isn’t, it unfolds, and the needs of the business call from you what is needed to respond and, you know, you grow another bit as your business grows.

Again, I think the mature years, as a business is maturing, and we were talking about this earlier on. For me, the Alliance of Independent Authors, while it’s a non-profit, it is run very much on business lines, and it is a mature business. Whereas, my publishing business is still in those interim years, and I feel that the mature years, again get very exciting, but that interim phase is very much about you being tested a lot of the time. Do you really want this? You know, and it is an amazing thing to be an author publisher, actually, to tap a freedom. When I talk to other creatives in other industries and other places, nobody has the creative and commercial freedom that we have. It is incredibly free, but it is also, well, you know, the other side of that is that there is a lot of responsibility and a lot of stuff to sort out. And I think in those middle years, you’re constantly trying to get those together in a way, and then as you come into maturity, there’s those great pleasure and the creativity can always come back in then. It’s like you were saying, you see the advantage when you’re ill, the business can actually function without you.

You also then get to step back a bit and maybe do some more creative things, and things that are not purely about surviving and thriving. You can actually get more fun back into things again. So, if it tickles your fancy, it is definitely a wonderful phase to get into, and it’s a wonderful job to be in.

Joanna Penn: Although, I think the word exciting is interesting, because I feel like you have to have things that are boring in this phase. So, dealing with my accountant every month or the VAT return, or actually publishing. Let’s face it, when you know how to publish a book, the publishing bit is a boring task that has to be done. Like early today I was uploading audiobook files to the various places, I mean, that’s not exciting, but the only reason it becomes boring is when you’ve mastered it and people in the earlier phases like, Ooh, but your business processes, actually having them being boring is quite good because it means you know what you’re doing.

The danger then is that you let everything become boring, and we see this with people who do just write the same book over and over and over again, or are going too fast and it doesn’t suit them, because actually it is write, publish, repeat, and sometimes that can be boring unless, as you say, you change up the creative side.

So, for me in the last year, I guess I’ve been getting a lot into the AI side and the futurist stuff, and that excites me a great deal, and I’ve also been doing a lot more on the travel side, on my Books and Travel podcast and website I’ve been doing blog posts, which I don’t do on The Creative Penn anymore. So, it’s, as you say, it’s keeping the stability of the core stuff and moving your energy into other things. But in order to do that, I’ve had to turn off some income streams. I don’t do webinars anymore, for example. Those are some things that I don’t do in order to have more time for the exciting stuff that doesn’t pay now, but it might do in the future.

So, what do you think about the level of boredom or established process in this phase?

Orna Ross: Yeah, I think it’s very much about outsourcing the stuff that you don’t enjoy doing. And you can now, so earlier on you can’t, but now you can.

So, if there are book production tasks you don’t like, or finance or things, outsourcing as much as you can, keeping those things that only you can do or that you absolutely love to do. I think that’s the key here, and then the freedom to expand to the next level, because creativity is always about expansion.

So, it is very possible to get stuck in a rut, and it’s very important to don’t. Again, there’s a lot to manage, so there’s the backlist, everything’s always changing in this world and you’re changing and the books are changing, and particularly if you write nonfiction that needs updating and all that kind of stuff, there can be a lot there, and then keeping up with the tech and the tools and all of that, that keeps you on your toes, but can also be a bit draining.

So, knowing yourself, and I personally feel creative rest and creative play built into your structures, so that you do have the retreat time, you do weekly, daily as well, but weekly, monthly, and yearly, that you’re building in the things that keep you in the creative zone, otherwise the job could become pure grind, really. It’s really important to know yourself and what you need to nurture yourself creatively as you go on.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, absolutely. And you mentioned the backlist and managing what you already have, managing your existing assets is really important as well as growing new ones. So, for example, this A-plus content that has come up in the last month, which is images on your Amazon pages. And for someone who’s new, it’s like, oh, that’s not a big deal, I’ll just create one. I have a lot of books at this point and I’m looking at it going, oh dear, and yes, this is something I could outsource, but no one’s that good at it yet.

And there are new things that pop up, like, NFTs, we’ve mentioned that before. I’m thinking that I want to do an NFT this year. So, it’s learning the new things, maintaining the backlist, learning the new things, but only applying the things that you think are important to, as you said, your core, and also that will make a real difference. For example, I’m not on TikTok, are you on TikTok?

No, exactly. So, I see all these authors.

Orna Ross: Never.

Joanna Penn: No, exactly, and I’m just not interested. This is the only video I do now, with you. I don’t do video; I don’t want to do live stuff. I’m just not interested in picking up another social network. And in fact, when I look at my business right now, I could happily give up all social media, and I have thought about it quite a lot. But I’ve spent so long now, I just automate a lot of it and rarely on stuff, unless it’s automated. I still like Twitter, we met on Twitter, but I feel like for me, social media is not worth the time. I would rather, for example, do another podcast interview or send an email or do something like that, and I focus on audio.

So, as you move into these mature phases, I feel like you start cutting things away. So, I mentioned I don’t do webinars, for example. Never say never, but cutting things away to focus on the stuff that really works for you, because now you know what that is. You know what sells books, you know what makes money and you know what you enjoy.

So, audio creation is one of my things. So, what do you think around that? Have you cut some things away, for example?

Orna Ross: Yes, yes. For me, the whole process seems to be cutting things away. So, when I started off, I was so excited by the fact that, because I’m a certain age and I worked in publishing for a long time, when self-publishing came along to me, it was like a fairground. I just thought, we can do this, and we can do that? I can’t believe it. So, I was bouncing around all over the place. So, yeah, for me, maturity, in the business, has been a process of letting go and I think it is for a lot of people.

I think also the, and I’m going to argue against myself in another way now, I think another feature of this time though is that you can do both. You don’t have to just do one thing, and what I’m thinking of is very specifically, you may be exclusive to Amazon on some books, but you may go wide on others, for example. Or you self-publish some books, but you might trade publish others. You can do that kind of thing in a mature business, which I think if you’re doing it earlier, it can get very confusing, and also, you’re not in demand. You don’t have rights buyers coming in, looking for your stuff anyway. This is what I’m talking about. Sometimes authors spend a lot of time thinking about this stuff way too early, but in this mature phase it definitely happens.

So, it’s like you’ve got this core, I think, when it comes into the mature phase. You’ve got this core, it works, it works well, it could work well without you; you’ve got enough books that are actually producing an income, or whatever other services or things that support it, that’s working well. And then around it, you’re doing all these other experiments and explorations, you keep that experimenting, exploring side open and alive while doing the work that maintains the core.

Joanna Penn: And then I was also thinking about the mindset side. I feel like there is a confidence in, I know what I’m doing, and it’s definitely not there at the beginning and you’re trying to figure out what you should be doing, and you’re going to do it wrong, and I think when you get to our point, in the maturity level, which is, yeah, I might do it wrong or it might not work, but I’m going to do it anyway, and I feel more confident. I mean, it’s easier to be more confident, even in your craft.

People don’t know, I’m not traditionally published in English, I didn’t come out of traditional publishing like you did, but my confidence comes, I guess, from a decade full-time as of this week, actually. Yeah, I just realized it was a decade this week, September 2011, and book sales and income and reviews and all of those things so that I can feel more confident.

Now, the self-doubt never goes away in a creative sense, but I can be confident in my business. And so, as I said earlier, when I had COVID and I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t do anything for about two weeks. And then for about a month, I could only do one thing a day. So, one thing a day for me is a very difficult choice, but I was able to pair it all down and actually I had a really good financial month because I could pull a few leavers, I did some direct sales, 50% off my books and courses, which I didn’t have to do anything for, it was already built. So, that confidence that your business can survive a downturn, that you have enough leavers to pull, I guess, to keep it going, and also the confidence with the books. So, for me to say, oh, I’m just going to change it to a novella and then co-write this book with Mark, which was a surprise book that came out of a podcast we did together, and we came up with the idea and then we were just like, let’s do it, why not? So, I think that confidence grows in this mature phase as well.

Orna Ross: Yeah, absolutely. And carries on. I think, if you get this right and you do get the right balance between the core activities and just keeping on expanding and growing and trying different things. If you get that right, you’ll never have to retire. And that can seem, I really understand that at the beginning, it just seems like this big mountain that you’ll never get to the top of, but you do actually get there, and then you can leap from mountain to mountain.

Joanna Penn: But there’s another mountain!

Orna Ross: Yeah, well, there is another mountain, but it’s never as hard again if you stay in this world, because there are changes coming and they’re always going to be changes. Our lives and societies are fast changing and going to get ever faster, that is without a doubt. But what lies at the core of this business, this strange, crazy business of being an indie author, there are fundamentals such as don’t change, you know, sitting down and doing your writing. However, you do it, you might use technology to help you, but it is the same act that went on around the campfires thousands of years go, and it will be the same.

It’s the same things that you have to do within yourself, and running a business is the same. Okay, we’ve only had money in the world for the last four hundred years but, you can tell I’m a historic novelist, can’t you? I’m always thinking about things across time, but the things that it takes to be successful in business, the ability to interest other people in your wares, to position yourself correctly in the marketplace, to understand things from other people’s point of view, to know what makes the sale and what gets people excited about your product or your service, those things don’t change.

Once you get those skills, you can apply them in all sorts of different ways and to different objects and different goods, as well as services, as well as your books. So, these are incredible skills to have, including writing, and they serve you well in life in all sorts of ways as well. But I keep coming back all the time, it really is a privileged lifestyle if you manage to get it all working, it’s great.

Joanna Penn: Yes, and then I guess just a couple more things.

I think in terms of taking it further, we’ve talked a bit about the money side, about paying yourself, but to me at this phase, it’s then setting up your pensions, your superannuation, your investments, the things that you would have done if you had a real job, or if this is on top of your real job, setting up for this business too. Because, while we might not want to retire, we might want to take some time off or whatever we want to do. So, having your, and I think COVID really brought it home to me again is, what if I do get sicker in the future? When we met, you were recovering from cancer, and people get sick, people die, who knew in a pandemic?

So, this is the phase where you also start to sort out all of those other things. We often recommend Matt Buckman’s book on estate planning. It’s looking at the legal structures of your business, that investment, that your health practices, you talked about rest, but if you don’t have a sustainable health practice, the number of writers who end up with carpal tunnel syndrome, or terrible wrecked backs and things. So, it’s making sure that it’s not just the writing bit that’s sorted, it’s the rest of your life too so that this becomes a happy, sustainable lifestyle and that you can keep doing it for the long-term. So, you can keep creating. Those are important things too.

Orna Ross: Absolutely. Yeah.

Joanna Penn: Okay. Well, does that pretty much cover it, do you think, Orna?

Orna Ross: I think so. I don’t think there’s a lot else to say, though if you have questions, folks, you can send them in, as ever, to [email protected], and we will answer them.

So, next month, what are we doing next month?

Joanna Penn: Yes. Next month we’re going to be talking about focusing on your strengths as an indie author, three ways to beat comparisonitis. We might have more than three, you never know. But we both have done some strengths assessment recently, Clifton Strengths, and we’re both really interested in this and how it might help people. So, we’re going to talk about that next month.

But before then, Orna, where should people go to check out the self-publishing conference?

Orna Ross: Yes. The Self-Publishing Advice Conference, SelfPubCon, is at selfpublishingadviceconference.com.

You can register for your three free days right now, and we’ll be sending emails over the next while revealing all our great speakers and sessions.

Yeah, what are you up to for the next month?

Joanna Penn: Finishing Tomb of Relics, Arkane 12, which is a novella. I’ve also got some other things going on. I’m actually going to be doing, hopefully, I’m back trying to walk further, going to do another pilgrimage to the St. Cuthbert’s way in the north of England, and I’m starting to work on some travel books.

So, as we talked about, kind of, moving out from my core, but I’m really hoping that this will be a hell of a month because I feel like I’m playing catch up to all the things I wanted to do this year. What about you?

Orna Ross: Yeah, I’m on fiction at the moment, and setting up this new kind of structure. So, nothing is changing, but there’s a lot of shifting around and juggling and chucking stuff out and taking new stuff in.

Joanna Penn: Oh, I should also mention The Relaxed Author, out on September the 18th in all the usual formats, in all the usual places.

Right. So, I guess we should say happy writing…

Orna Ross: and happy publishing. See you next time.

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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