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The Power Of Indie Publishing With Robin Cutler: Self-Publishing Conference Highlight

The Power of Indie Publishing with Robin Cutler: Self-Publishing Conference Highlight

Join Robin Cutler, Orna Ross, Joanna Penn, and Sacha Black in this Self-Publishing Advice Conference Highlight: The Power of Indie Publishing.

Over the last few years, there has been a seismic shift of writers choosing to self-publish rather than navigate a traditional publishing path. This is partly because authors have tools that are available to make publishing both affordable and profitable as never before. But more importantly authors are choosing indie publishing as a way to better realize their creative vision.

In this session, learn why this shift is happening and how you can harness this power for your own work. The panelists discuss:

  • The best thing about indie publishing
  • Co-authoring
  • Perspectives on traditional publishing
  • Where they see indie publishing in five years

And more!

Listen to the Self-Publishing Advice Conference Highlight

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Watch the Self-Publishing Advice Conference Highlight

Join @rcutlerSpark, @OrnaRoss, @thecreativepenn, and @sacha_black in this Self-Publishing Advice Conference Highlight: The Power of Indie Publishing. #indieauthors Click To Tweet Find more author advice, tips and tools at our Self-publishing Author Advice Centerhttps://selfpublishingadvice.org, with a huge archive of nearly 2,000 blog posts, and a handy search box to find key info on the topic you need.

And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.

Read the Transcript

Robin: Hello, everyone. Welcome to Self Pub Con and this session of “The Power of Indie Publishing”. My name is Robin Cutler. I’m the director of IngramSpark and I’m joined by three dynamic, wonderful women that know, probably, more about indie publishing than anybody. Let me introduce Orna Ross. Orna do you want to say a few words?

Orna: Hi, I’m Orna Ross, as Robin said, and I’m Director of The Alliance of Independent Authors and an author myself, and a poet. And I indie publish now all of my own work and love it.

Robin: I have to say I’m a huge fan. If you’ve heard me talk about this. I’m a huge fan of Orna’s poetry. She makes me cry. I have to say if you do get into her work, it’s really astounding. I encourage you all to do that. We’re also joined by Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn. Hi, Joanna.

Joanna: Hey, Robin. Hi, everyone. I’m an author of fiction as J.F. Penn and nonfiction as Joanna Penn. I’m also a podcaster at The Creative Penn podcast, and books and travel podcast. And I’ve been an indie since I started in 2008, so 12 years now. It’s unbelievable.

Robin: That is unbelievable. I think I met you really early on when we launched IngramSpark. I think I met you at a conference somewhere and every time I hear you speak, I learned something. I mean, recently, I saw a blog post that she did on the future of AI and how that relates to publishing. Everybody should read that. That was phenomenal.

Joanna: Thank you.

Robin: And then Sacha Black, who is actually the organizer of the Self-Pub Con. Right, Sacha? Tell us more about you.

Sacha: I am indeed. I am also an indie author – have always been an indie author. I am a podcaster, as well. I host The Rebel Author podcast. I write nonfiction for writers and fiction for young adults and also for adults. Also, I run this very amazing conference.

Purpose of the Recording

Robin: And we’re glad you do! Let me just kind of give a little background here. This was a panel that we were going to do at the London Book Fair 2020. Unfortunately, because of coronavirus lurking in the world, we weren’t able to do that. We decided to bring this to you virtually so I hope this is going to go as well as we all think it will. Ora, let’s start with you. Tell us about your indie publishing journey – how you got started. This would be even before ALLi, right? Before you created ALLi.

Orna’s Background

Orna: Yes, very much so. ALLi grew out of my own personal experience. I have worked in media and publishing in some shape or form since the mid- to late 1980s, which gives you some idea of how old I am. Around 2010, I was in a bit of a hiatus, I had had an illness and closed a business in Dublin and was moving to London, basically taking a step back from what I was doing before. [Unintelligible] were beginning to talk about self publishing and were trying it and loving it. So I began to investigate, really quite skeptically, not thinking it would be for me, because I’m not terribly techy. And still not after about almost 10 years here – just enough to get by. So, yeah, I tried it out. Firstly, with just a poetry pamphlet and a meditation book. Both were really geared to people who were already reading stuff or connected to me in some way. I instantly loved it. I just loved the creative freedom. I have been published by… I’ve worked with a small indie press in Dublin on my nonfiction Attic Press. It’s no longer there; it was a small feminist press. And I had worked with Penguin for my fiction. My experience with the larger corporate publisher hadn’t been all that positive from a creative perspective. Commercially, it had been great, but creatively I was very frustrated by the lack of input into the actual putting together of the book and the positioning of the book in the marketplace. So when I published my little poetry pamphlet, and my meditation guide, and they actually started to sell on Amazon, I nearly died with shock. Then I began to think about getting my rights back from my publisher. But I also began to think about how self-publishing changed – it wasn’t just another route to market. It actually changed everything for authors. And I loved the way that it was going to give a shake-up to the power sort of dynamic within publishing, which was very weighted in favor of publishers. Authors were really struggling to get their foothold into publishing in the first place, and to hold it when they were there. I thought, “Well, as well as I publish my own work, do I really want to take on an alliance of authors global, digital all over the world and…

Robin: You probably still ask yourself that question!

Orna: I’m glad I did. It was the right thing for me and I love that too. I just lovethat connection. And I love also solidarity and collaboration. I just think that is changing it. That’s what’s changing everything for everyone. So yeah. Delighted to be here.

Joanna’s Background

Robin: And Joanna. Thank you, you told me through a couple of emails that you’ve always been indie published. You’ve never been traditionally published. Is that right?

Joanna: Yeah, in English language. I wrote my first book back in 2006 to 2008. And in Australia, and when I finished that book, I looked at the publishing world. I didn’t know anything about publishing. I thought, “Oh, now I’ve written a book, maybe I should find a publisher,” like you do. I’ve been running my own businesses since the year 2000. I was already a businesswoman. And when I looked at the publishing world, I was like, “What it’s going to take me two years for my book to come out. And then maybe they don’t even want me,” and I’m not someone who asks for permission. So I was like, “Why do I have to go and ask people if I can do something? There must be another way we can do this”. And then that’s how I started to get into the world of self-publishing and learn from a lot of Americans. I mean, you know, the Americans at the time, were doing this stuff. The International Kindle wasn’t even available at that point. That was, I think, even before Amazon bought CreateSpace, like back in 2007-ish. That stuff wasn’t even really going. So I printed 2000 books. I self-published back in those days and tired traditional media. Tried all that, and just didn’t do well. Instead of giving up, I went, “Oh, you know, I can do better than this. I will learn how to do it online.” That was 2008 I started my blog. I started podcasting. 2009 before it was called podcasting. I decided I’m gonna have this global digital perspective to publishing instead of kind of Australian print publishing market, which seemed so tiny. So that was a decision way back. Since then, things have just gotten better and better. As you say, you know, IngramSpark means that you don’t have to print 2000 books anymore. You can do Print-On-Demand. We can reach people. You know, I’ve sold books now in 148 countries, which is kind of crazy and more than most traditionally published authors. I’ve always been indie for my English language. I’ve certainly done publishing deals for other formats and other languages, and still absolutely happy to license given a good contract. But I’m still a business woman, and I left my job in 2011. And you know, kind of haven’t looked back.

Robin: I just love this, and you’re so good at it. What I love about you, Joanna, is how you share your actual experience – I mean, to the degree of even sharing what you’re earning, and that is really unique. I really applaud your transparency with that; I think that has done a world of good for all of us and in the indie publishing world

Joanna: Well, thank you. I think it’s funny because I don’t come from the traditional publishing side. A lot of people say this – Orna said this to me before as well – but that was the world we’re in. And it’s weird because I think that was the online space I started in, the sort of blogging/podcasting world in those early days. It was all about generosity. It was all about sharing. And if you share enough, people will come to you. And hopefully they’ll throw in a couple of coins along the way. It’s a business model based on sharing. Certainly, all of us now do that. All four of us are sharing our knowledge as much as possible, with as many people as possible. So yeah, it’s a good way to be.

Sacha’s Background

Robin: So Sacha, tell us about your journey. I know you have a couple of series that that you’ve authored. Tell us about how you got started in the indie world.

Sacha: I am one of these people who probably should have started writing an awful lot longer before I did, but I wasn’t particularly self-aware. I was one of these kids who was always in libraries and binge-read everything. I had to change libraries I read so much, but it wasn’t really until I’d finished university that I even came back to that love. And, you know, I was told to get a proper job. So that’s what I did. I went and got a corporate job and hated it. I hated the control that somebody else had over me and hated the authority. Then I started listening to podcasts. All thanks to people like Joanna and Brian Cohen and Mark and lots of people in the industry who were giving out lots and lots of education. And that is literally how I chose to go indie. I just educated myself on the business models, the rights, the opportunities. I think the biggest principle of freedom and being able to go in any direction that I choose, and that’s really why I chose to go to go indie in the end.

Robin’s Background

Robin: And, so, my background – a lot of people might not know this, but I actually was a publisher. I first started working for a university press as a book designer, and then I became all the different jobs that a university press has, up to the Assistant Director. Then, at the ripe old age of 40 ( I mean, I am just so ancient), I decided to start my own publishing company, which was insane now that I look back on it. Now that I look back on it, I would never have done that. If I were going to be a publisher today, which I probably still won’t do, because I’ve already done it, I would be doing it definitely using all the indie resources and probably have a more of a hybrid model with helping authors self-publish their own work. That’s probably what I would be more about today. I actually worked with Amazon before I came to Ingram and actually worked at CreateSpace. So, I’ve been around a long time. I’ve done this stuff for…it seems like millennia already, and so I’m really happy to be talking to you today. Okay, let’s ask a few questions here. Orna what do you think is the best thing about publishing yourself?

Orna’s Perspective: The Best Thing About Indie Publishing

Orna: I do think it’s there in the word. It’s independence. It’s what Joanna was talking about. It’s that ability to run things yourself and to, in a sense, have a business that you shaped and you sized. So as you grow and develop and learn, your business is growing, developing, and shaping all along with you. At every step of the way, I was thinking about the others you were describing yourself, there, Robin. It’s just as exciting right now in indie publishing as when you were an indie publisher. That was in a completely different shape and form. I think that’s the thing. You’ve got the independence, and I think it’s important to say that not everybody who self-publishes is independent, necessarily. Independence is a state of mind. It’s a way of approaching the work. It’s a way of thinking about yourself as a business. It’s a way of understanding the value of independence, of the value of your intellectual property, how you take that to readers, and how that is completely different now to how it was some years ago. It’s always about that continual evolution and learning and growth, I think, and to me, that’s the best thing about it. It’s also the most challenging thing.

Robin: Yes, because you have to take off your writer hat and put on your publisher hat. And there are two different hats, right? Yeah.

Orna: Well, I actually think of us in terms of three hats. I think there is the maker who makes the books, obviously, but also makes the ads – makes all the stuff that goes around the book. Then there is the manager who processes, from the creative process to the actual process that needs to be processed through the business. Then there’s the marketer. Those three kind of need to be worked on all the time, if you’re going to see success, I think.

Robin: Yeah, I agree with that.

Joanna’s Perspective: The Best Thing About Indie Publishing

Robin: So Joanna, I know you teach about this all the time, the best things about indie. But, if you can, put it in a nutshell.

Joanna: Well, I think it comes back to what I said about permission, like I can write whatever books I want to write – and I do I. I have a lot of traditionally published friends who say their book isn’t available in America, for example; they don’t have the right anymore to put that book out, say, in America. And I’m like, “Well, why would you do that? Why would you sign that contract?” So for me, it really is the freedom, the creative freedom as I mentioned, and the ability to make the decisions you want to make with your own intellectual property. All of us are very passionate about this idea of IP, but it’s something that most authors are not very educated about, so that’s part of our mission – educating artists about the value of the of the rights that they hold. Not to license them just willy nilly, but to really think about it. For me it’s about being empowered, as well. Understanding that I am empowered as a creator and a businesswoman to create but also to make money. Let’s be clear: I like making money. I think that is something that goes hand in hand to be successful in mobile, and as an indie author, I do like to make some income. But then some of my books don’t make much at all. What I like is to be able to write more and more books so that, if one doesn’t work, then another one might. You just have to see what happens.

Joanna’s Perspective: Co-Authoring

Robin: Yeah, and you’re unusual, I guess, in where you co-author some of your books, right? What is that experience like for you?

Joanna: Oh, it’s super challenging. I’ve co authored with a medical doctor for The Healthy Writer, so that was actually really interesting and a book I never would have written on my own. I’ve also co-written with my mom with some sweet romance – again, would never have written those, but my mum wanted to do it and I wanted to help her. I’ve also co-written some horror. So we’ve done a number of different co-writing things. I’m pulling back a bit from it because I am such a control freak, but it’s one of those things that I think is really good when you have a project that could not possibly exist without those two or more people. I know Orna’s done it. I think Sacha, as well maybe, but it’s something that many authors are trying now. And again, because we’re in control, we can do these types of projects, and we can take a risk and see what happens.

Sacha’s Perspective: The Best Thing About Indie Publishing

Robin: Mm hmm, so Sacha, are you writing with your mother? I love that.

Sacha: My mother is more of an illustrator and painter, so I get nice creative skills.

Robin: Is she doing your covers?

Sacha: No, no, no. This is a complete tangent, but she like portraits and chalk life and pen and ink illustration.

Robin: Tell us about your the best things for indie publishing as far as you’re concerned, Sacha.

Sacha: I think, for me, I speak very much in terms of tangible benefits and intangible benefits. Some of the tangible benefits are things like higher royalties per book sale. Obviously we’ve already mentioned the creative control. I get to decide what’s on my cover. I get to decide how my story ends. Those are the things that I really appreciate. Also the freedom to be able to experiment. I mentioned before feeling quite restricted when I was in the corporate world, whereas that is the complete opposite now. I can experiment, be it in my marketing, what genre I go for. I can experiment. Co-writing has been mentioned. There’s lots and lots of ways that they can experiment. Then the intangible benefits are the things like freedom, genuine freedom. I went for afternoon tea with my mother yesterday, just because I could. If my son’s sick, I can go and pick up my son because I dictate my time. Sometimes I have to work really late, but yeah, having control over my time, and not having to answer to anybody. Also the lifestyle changes. If I want to go to the museum or to go to France or wherever, because I want to do research for a particular project, I can do that. And that is work. It’s those more lifestyle, intangible lifestyle changes, that just changed my entire life. So, yeah.

Robin: Well, that means you’re successful that you can afford to do that, right? So congratulations! That’s fantastic.

Orna: And I should mention, it’s her one year anniversary since leaving full-time work.

Robin: Oh, wow

Orna: It shows an incredible amount of progress in one short year, and it does show the power of indie publishing just to see what Sacha has done.

Orna’s Perspective on Traditional Publishing

Robin: Yes, it does. Everybody should follow all of us, our leads, right here. It’s interesting because I go, and I know Orna and Joanna as well go, to a lot of conferences. I know Joanna, you took kind of a year off in speaking, but I go to these conferences – these writing conferences and publishing conferences. Sometimes they’re still like a traditional publishing sort of approach where they’ll have agents there, editors there. All of the participants are lined up to talk and to get into this traditional publishing model. I’m always kind of amazed that we’re still dealing with that, right? Because indie seems so perfect. And I don’t even understand why anybody would do anything else. If a traditional publisher like came to you and offered you a deal would you even consider it, Orna?

Orna: I don’t even think of it that way now. At the Alliance, we talk about selective rights licensing. If anybody comes waving a contract and some money at me, I am going to talk to them, sure. I’m going to hear what they’re actually offering, and I’m going to do everything I can to limit it if I’m interested at all, if I feel they’re a fish or not. There will be lots of conversation to have around that. So much so that none of these conversations have ever, ever resulted in a deal. Let me say, I have had these conversations and they haven’t gone anywhere and for various reasons. That is very often about fish because once you’ve had a taste of doing it yourself, you enter a conversation with a potential publisher or rights buyer in a very different spirit with a very different mind. I have the conversation, and if they were to be a fish, we would then be having negotiation where I will be trying to limit the territory, the terms, the format, everything, to be as small as possible, and they will be trying to take as many rights as possible, and so that’s where it falls down sometimes. It’s just not possible. I think that’s the way to think about it now. I think when you get to a certain level as an indie, you will have people approach you. They will ask you. And they will assume very often, with traditional publishers, sometimes it’s the end of the conversation very quickly because they automatically assume they can just offer you the same contract that they would offer an author who has absolutely no experience. As far as I’m concerned, end-of. That’s just not even at the races, but the concept of selective rights licensing is what I’d like to get across to people. But you’re right is not just a book. If you think of it as a sort of an apartment complex, with lots of different properties under one roof and each one can be licensed in different ways to different people in different parts of the world, in different formats: print, audio, ebook, hardback, large print. These are all different rights, and the old way of selling rights – selling your book to a publisher, selling in inverted commas was that they licensed all rights across the world, very often for the life of copyright, which is outrageous. So we’re trying to get that term down to be as short as possible. You’re trying to get the territory down to be as small as possible. You’re only giving them one form. And then you have the conversation on that basis.

Joanna on Traditional Publishing

Robin: Yeah. And Joanna with your platform, you must have people approach you all the time for you to publish with them. I can’t imagine that.

Joanna: I have done some foreign rights deals. But I did want to come back on what you were saying about you don’t know why anyone wouldn’t go indie because I think that this is a mindset difference. If people were not understanding those words, it’s okay. Because none of us knew this before we learned it. So many people don’t know this stuff until they start getting educated, and that’s why I think a lot of people go the traditional publishing route. Because they don’t want to do this stuff themselves. Now, that might be a completely valid reason. You know, maybe they just are very happy to give up 90% of the royalty and all control in exchange for someone else doing everything for them. Or they don’t understand yet what they’re signing. And so I think it’s really important for us to try and understand people who don’t believe they can do it. I’ve met a lot of people who are like, “Oh, you can do it, because you know how to do it.” And I’m like, “But we all learned how to do it.” And, also, you kind of need that empowered mindset, the mindset that says I can do this, and I can learn. It’s like you said earlier about how many years you’ve been in publishing, but you’ve changed your mind over things. You’ve learned new things, and you’ll continue to learn new things as things continue to change. We have to all the time as well. So I think you can be a successful independent author if you are willing to learn and are willing to take a chance on things. Willing to experiment. Willing to take control, and some people don’t want that. I think that’s important to say. But yes, as I said, I would very happily take a deal when there was a contract that was to my liking.

Robin: That matched up. The other point is that we don’t really know how our industry is evolving. I mean, it’s evolving as we’re sitting here talking, right? So why would you lock yourself into something that’s long-term when you don’t even know what’s ahead of you and all the opportunities that are going to be available?

Sacha on Traditional Publishing

Robin: Sacha, is that is that the way you kind of feel about it? Have you traditionally published? I think I may have missed that.

Sacha: No, no, no, I knew you wouldn’t consider it now. Whereas it’s not really about considering it. I think it would be a per book or project basis. There may come a time where I write something that may have some benefits by pursuing the traditional publishing route. Obviously, lots of us still want some kind of validation. That’s always another reason for doing it. But to be honest, I prefer control and money. So, for me, I’m happy being indie published now. I think there are occasions where both Orna and Joanna mentioned selective licensing, be it translation or some length [unintelligible] rights or something. And there comes a time where you have to decide what’s my time worth, because lots of indie authors can pursue foreign translations and don’t need an agent to do it. They can do it themselves. But how much of my time do I want to expend doing that versus creating something new? I could give some of those rights away for foreign translations, and, actually, it’s probably a better use of my time not to do that myself. So yeah, I’m not saying no to anything, really. But, you know, I have educated myself not to give away all my rights.

Orna on Future Fluidity Between Indie and Traditional Publishing

Orna: The thing we’re seeing is that, for example, print and print distribution into bookstores in particular, which is something that a lot of authors do want. That isn’t that easily done. It can be done and is being done by some authors. But it’s quite challenging. And it’s takes a lot of time and effort. As Sacha was talking about, time is always at a premium. Because we can do so many things, we’ve got to draw very strict lines around what we do, what’s best for us, as writers, as creators and as publishers. But you can do something like sell your North American print rights to somebody who has the ability to sell those into bookstores, Costco, things like that, while retaining print rights elsewhere. Or you might be selling say paperback rights while retaining hardback. We are seeing indies now beginning to make those kinds of deals where they draw lines and draw distinctions between what they are selling or not selling, and it’s always a negotiation. I think this polarized kind of way of indie route versus trade publishing is kind of breaking down now, isn’t it, the next 10 years? I don’t think we’ll be talking about it in quite the same way.

Robin: Yeah, it’s gonna be very fluid, I think, between the traditional and the indie.

What Would Orna Want for Indie Authors and Publishers?

Robin: Orna if…and I know you that you do actually have a magic wand…and if you could wave it and get anything you want for indie publishers and authors, what would that be?

Orna: I think a great big bottle of confidence. I think most of us are capable of far more than we’re actually doing. And I think we are beginning to see, I think it’s really important to recognize, we’ve talked a bit about traditional publishing and the effect that has had. But I think the biggest effect it had was that whole idea that the supply chain was so narrow, and so many people enjoyed so much rejection. I was rejected 54 times before I got my deal.

Robin: Oh my goodness.

Orna: Yeah, and if you talk to trade published authors, that is the general flow of experience. It’s completely about resilience. Now some of us are very stubborn and just keep on sending it out. But a lot of people just give up. Confidence. I think. It really battered author confidence that 20 years where it got harder and harder and harder to actually get a publisher who would look at your work, and that polarizing between the big bestsellers and the new names and new voices, which trade publishing started to focus on. It became easier to sell your book as a newcomer than if you had two or three books behind you if they hadn’t hit bestseller, complete bestseller. I thought, you know, authors really suffered in that and that “Publish me please” mentality took a toll on the whole community. And I see now 10 years after we’ve been enabled with this new way, we’re beginning to see all the confidence rise again, but not as much as it needs to. What Joanna was talking about – having that empowered position; you need to have confidence in your own ability and in your own work. So yeah, a big bottle of confidence.

Robin: Confidence.

What Would Joanna Want for Indie Authors and Publishers?

Robin: So Joanna would you wave your magic wand and get?

Joanna: Okay, well, first off, I’d like to give big thanks to IngramSpark. You’ve allowed us to do pre-orders on print, and that’s fantastic. We didn’t have pre-orders. People who come into indie now forget that at one point, we couldn’t have pre-orders for ebooks, and then we got that. Then Ingram has pre-orders for print. I want pre-orders for audio because it’s so annoying to me right now that my audio book is available on some platforms. I had a book launch nearly a week ago, and it’s not available on other major platforms because we don’t have pre orders for audio books. That’s something I’d like. And presumably we’ll get that at some point because things march on. The other thing I’d really like – I think nonfiction book marketing is pretty easy. Because we can do very easy keyword marketing, content marketing. People know whether want a book on a particular topic. But fiction book marketing is incredibly hard. You mentioned I have a thing on AI, and what I’m really hoping for is that we get some kind of better AI search engine for fiction, particularly, that will analyze the emotional content of a novel and that will recommend things like that. At the moment, we are relying on seven keywords. Publishing on Ingram it’s some emphasis on certain keywords and some stuff in the description, but there isn’t a nuanced fiction recommendation engine that is looking for what people emotionally want. You just can’t get that from what we have right now. Those are my two desires.

Robin: Yeah, and I’ll reach out to you offline because I might know something about that. I could help you with.

What Would Sacha Want for Indie Authors and Publishers?

Robin: And Sacha, your magic one, what would you wish for?

Sacha: I find this really hard to answer because I’m so much happier than I ever was. But if I if I could give something to people who are coming through the pipeline, it would be patience, probably, in so many ways. Joanna was just saying hopefully we’ll get audio pre-orders, as I am sure we will. Just like all of the other things that we have managed to get like Print-On-Demand. I think all of the things that we want are coming. Yet, I see so many authors who are just starting out. They’re just publishing their first one, or they’re just starting to write their books, so frustrated. And that was me three, four, or five years ago. I was so frustrated that I never stopped to enjoy the process and that’s all that we have. We only have this journey and the process because once you get to the end, it’s all over. So yeah, I think patience with yourself and with the industry. All the good stuff is coming, and just stop and enjoy the process as you’re in it. I think it’s a bit philosophical.

Robin: Yeah, I love that. That’s really good. I tell authors that decide they want to try traditional first, and I recommend that. I mean, I was a publisher. I know a publisher can add value to an author’s work, no doubt about that. And I say give yourself a period of time that you’re willing to be humiliated and rejected. And then don’t go past that time that you’ve allocated ahead of time and then go on to this other option that you have. But decide ahead of time what you’re willing to do.

Where Orna Sees Indie Publishing in Five Years

Robin: Okay, so here’s our last question. Orna, where do you think indie publishing will be in five years?

Orna: Bigger. A lot more authors in the space. Better. People writing better, publishing better, running better businesses. Understanding more about what this job actually entails. What I’m hoping to see from the literary industries that publish, and the creative industry in different countries, more support. I think indie authors need skills training in publishing skills and in business skills. In every other creative field that I look around that’s widely available. In our industry it’s not available at all, and I think that’s because our literary infrastructure and ecosystem in most territories is still very embedded in a system which is no longer how people write, publish, and buy and consume books. So that’s the change I’m hoping for. But I definitely think we’re going to see a lot more in these. And the big trends that I’m kind of predicting are that authors will take back more of that power and begin to see the value of their own infrastructure on the internet – gathering their own email lists so when they’re working with other services, they are choosing to work with services that allow them to build our businesses, not just to kind of outsource their IP.

Where Orna Sees Indie Publishing in Five Years

Robin: Joanna, you’re always way ahead of all of us. We’re waiting to hear our canary in the mine.

Joanna: It’s funny, though, because you said five years. Five years is really difficult. Orna and I did a decade thing. What’s the difference between 2010 and 2020. Five years is really difficult because a lot of things don’t happen within five years, but they do happen within ten. So I’m actually going to come at this from an angle. I don’t think we’re going to have fully fledged AI everything in five years. But what I do think is that we’re going to see a significant amount of income rise from outside the US. At the moment, most indie authors make the majority of their income from the US for both ebook and print and audiobook sales, but my own personal journey now I’m about 60% US. About three years ago, I was kind of 90% US. The reason this is happening is a growth in digital – mobile phones and internet access by 2025. The rest of the world will be online, and most of them have android phones. That’s one little trend I think we’re going to see, hopefully a lot of a lot more growth in digital, including Print-On-Demand, ebooks, audio books in across the world, so that the US is no longer the most dominant market for indies. I think that will be very good because there are lots more companies out there who serve other markets. I think that will also be more empowering. As Orna said, if there are specific companies that dominate in specific countries where the money is, then people think that’s the only choice. But as there’s more and more growth globally, I think that will be the big shift in the next five years. I also think I’m talking of empowerment that more indies will sell direct. So yeah. Orna’s mentioned this – I sell ebooks direct; I sell audiobooks direct. Hopefully we’ll have Aereo so we can do more print direct. There are lots of opportunities for indies to take more control and more revenue in these ways That’s kind of what I’m hoping for.

Robin: Yeah. And the great thing about selling direct is you know who’s buying your content, right? And then you can nurture those readers as buyers for additional content that you want to sell. If you’re only pushing and selling through Amazon, you never know who the Amazon reader is, right? So that’s something I think you’ll definitely start seeing some movement there and in selling to direct,

Orna: I know it’s really important to say… sorry, to cut across you…but I think it’s important to say that you’re no more independent as a self-publisher if you’re exclusively tied to one self-publishing service than you are independent as an author who is exclusively tied to one publishing house. It’s the same thing. independence is that ability to publish in multiple formats across multiple territories in multiple ways.

Robin: Absolutely. No, I totally agree with that.

Where Sacha Sees Indie Publishing in Five Years

Robin: Sacha, where do you think you’ll be, or we will all be, in five years?

Sacha: I think it’s a difficult one. I’ve got two things that I think will be really important. The first one, we’ve kind of talked already about this, but branding has always been important, but I think as we have more tech – which enables us to create more, be more whatever is “you” – is going to be more important and really digging deep into your niche. So I think that’s one area that’s going to be important. And I think that indie authors, or authors in general, have been cannibalizing lots of different markets. So we started with the word, we’ve gone to audio. I’m really curious what we’re going to do with video. I have no idea, but I think a lot of authors don’t really look at this as an opportunity. There aren’t many authors on YouTube. There aren’t many authors doing anything with video. Given that YouTube is one of the bigger sites and video is being consumed at an insane amount, insane rate at the moment, I’m really curious to see what authors will do to get into that market. Yeah.

Robin: Yeah. And I think everything, just like Joanna said, everything’s moving to the phone, everything. I mean, you see, you can’t go anywhere without just seeing everybody glued to their phone. I mean, that’s the relationship, right? I think all the content will be kind of consumed through that media, and, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Like you said Joanna, that totally opens up all of Africa. India is a huge growing market. We definitely see that, and that’s going to be a huge market for indie authors, as well, going forward.

Last Words of Wisdom

Robin: Okay, so last words of wisdom here. We want to go around the table. Orna?

Orna: I have words of wisdom. Keep writing and publishing, right? Keep an eye on your business, on your profit. Make profit your measure, but stay there. Don’t run away. It takes time. This is a long-term endeavor. It’s not something that happens overnight. You will have moments of frustration. The people who succeed are the people who stay there learning from the frustration and not being defeated. So yeah, just keep on keeping on – my words of wisdom.

Joanna: Yeah, you just took all the words of wisdom, Orna, but I’ll add to that, which would be the four of us didn’t know each other before the indie space. And we’re all in, I believe, slightly different decades with all age groups. And we all learn from each other. So if you’re listening, I remember this feeling back in the day 2006-2007. I had no author friends; I had nobody. I didn’t know what was going on. And so I got online. I met Orna online over a decade ago and made friends with other people who were going through the same journey as me. So don’t be scared of all of us and the community, the indie community, the Alliance of Independent Authors. There’s other communities online. People won’t understand you. We can promise that, but we understand in the community. We understand. I remember the frustration of just not having friends, not having family, or even my husband, understand what I was going through. But don’t worry. We are all here, and you can learn everything. You can find a community of other happy indies.

Robin: And Sacha your words of wisdom.

Sacha: I will echo what I said earlier and also what Joanna and Orna said about education. Don’t just educate yourself on the craft educate. Do that, but also educate yourself on the business side and the marketing side and the finance side because that is essential. Then, also, as I said earlier, just enjoy the process because you only have the moment that you’re in, and if you don’t enjoy that then what do you have? Why are you doing this? Try and enjoy every word, every pothole, every time that it failed along the way because you will only continue to learn and get better.

Robin: And I will end this by saying that we’re in the middle of a worldwide semi-panic around coronavirus, which is a good reason to stay home and write, okay? Box up everybody in your house. Order groceries. Stay home and write. The last thing I will say is just creating a book, without even thinking about how successful it’s going to be, I think it’s really important to create and document and write for your own well being. I know Orna talks about this for your own journey as being a human. And so you can do that. And I encourage you to do that. Collect your family stories; collect your recipes. Put them in a book. There’s just no more wonderful thing to do for your family as gifts that that you can do. So, anyway, I think that’s it for us. Ladies. Thank you all this has been just really so much fun. Thank you so much.

Orna: And just before we go, thank you for IngramSpark because, for those who may not know, Robin founded IngramSpark. Really it has made such an incredible difference to us as indies, particularly on the print side. So yeah, thank you for today, and thank you for IngramSpark.

Robin: Thank you, Orna. I appreciate that.

Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an editor and writer with more than 30 years of experience in journalism, from newspapers to magazines specializing in business, science, and technology. He has spent the past few years guiding coverage of independent publishing, amplifying voices of the marginalized. Howard is also a book doctor who enjoys working with authors to get their work ready for publication.

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