In this first episode of the new Publishing for Profit stream: Leveling up your publishing and taking a new turn. Orna Ross introduces Indian author Shanaya Wagh, aka Shana Frost, also an intern at the Alliance of Independent Authors. Both authors, at different stages in their publishing businesses, are leveling up. They discuss what led to their decision, how to know when a change is needed, and how to build a more profitable structure from what you’ve achieved already.
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About the Hosts
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 democratizing, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website.
Shanaya Wagh writes mysteries based in Scotland under the pen name Shana Frost. Born and raised in India, she is currently completing her MLitt Creative Writing in Scotland and mining the country for new story ideas. Shanaya joined the ALLi team in 2023 as a volunteer intern. She works on editing ALLi’s guidebooks and the blog. You can find Shanaya on her website.
Read the Transcripts: Leveling Up
Orna Ross: Hello and welcome to our new stream to the ALLi podcast. This is the Publishing for Profit stream, and I'm here today with Shanaya Wagh, also known as Shana Frost. Hello Shanaya.
Shanaya Wagh: Hi Orna, how are you?
Orna Ross: I'm very well. How are you?
Shanaya Wagh: Good. Things are going well, yeah.
Orna Ross: That's great. It's great to have you here.
Let me tell people a little bit about what's going on. A couple of weeks ago, we started back after our production break with a whole new revamping of the podcast, and if you're a regular listener, you'll have experienced some of those changes already.
One of the changes is that we are introducing this whole new stream called Publishing for Profit, and the reason for bringing this stream on board was because, we have been watching in ALLi, lots of authors doing all sorts of wonderful things, but not necessarily at a profit. So, sometimes it could be people at the really very successful end of the spectrum who are selling extraordinary numbers of books, but it's costing them so much, perhaps in advertising or marketing costs that profit is slim or nil. Or it could be at the beginning, a stage where authors are thinking about putting the books together and getting them up and out on the platforms, but that's as far as it goes, and they have no idea how to turn a profit in their publishing business; they may not even know they're in business, or they may not think about profit.
So, we wanted to put profit at the heart of one of the streams of the ALLi podcast. Obviously, it's not the only thing that we think about, but it is a very important lens because we, as indie authors, we are essentially running publishing businesses, and businesses need to be in profit to be sustainable.
So, there will be three speakers on this stream, and we'll be rotating each month. So, I'm here with Shanaya today and we'll introduce her in a moment. Next month will be Joanna Penn and the month following, Anna Featherstone, who is our Australian ambassador and talks specifically from a non-fiction angle, because very often when we're talking and thinking about books, we're talking and thinking about fiction, but non-fiction gets forgotten.
So, we hope that this stream will work out well. As everything we do, it's an experiment. We will explore, we'll see how we get on, and we'll modify accordingly. So, as ever, we'll be interested in hearing from you as to how it's going for you and whether it's useful to you.
So, let us now introduce Shanaya. Shanaya, I'm going to ask you to introduce yourself and tell the good listeners a little bit about, about, what you've been up to lately. You've been working at ALLi as an intern during the summer, but what else, what led to that?
Shanaya Wagh: So, I started writing when I was a teenager, and after that, during the pandemic, when I was home and waiting to graduate, I started writing stories. So, I did my undergrad in accounting, and I started writing in 2020 and I wrote a couple of books. Then I realized that I have the business knowledge that I need for self-publishing, but I don't have the writing knowledge. So, that's when I decided to do my master's in creative writing, and I came here over in the UK to do my master's in creative writing. So, the MLA in creative writing at the University of Strathclyde, and that's what I've been doing for the last year, while I've been also interning for ALLi.
So, over the summer, I did my dissertation for the MLA, and my dissertation piece was again, similarly crime fiction that I used to write before, but I was encouraged to start a new series by my mentor who said that, instead of writing the continuation of the previous series that I was doing, maybe this was a good time to step outside my comfort zone and write a new type of crime fiction.
So, that's what my dissertation was about. So, it was the few beginning chapters for a romantic suspense book.
Orna Ross: Fantastic, and that really feeds in very well to our theme today. We're going to be talking about how to take a profitable turn, essentially, how to level up your publishing, which is something that happens all the time as creatives. No matter what stage we're at, we're always moving into a new phase and a new stage, and you're very consciously doing that.
You mentioned coming to the UK, you didn't tell people where you're from, and that is one of the reasons that we're really happy to have you on the podcast, because you come from a world and a part of the world that has a fantastic literary history and is very much involved in the publishing world. So, talk to us a little bit about that.
Shanaya Wagh: So, I'm from India, born and raised in Mumbai, which is a hub for all types of books, especially books that are written in all kinds of languages that you can think of.
Because it's a city, it's a cosmopolitan city. So, I've grown up studying Hindi, Marathi, English, French. It's just a part of our culture, and we listen to stories a lot in vernacular languages, but I personally read only in English. So, that's been a very interesting combination for me because we also have a big culture on vocal storytelling, like storytelling in a way that's in a tune, that you would say, in a rhythm, but it's not exactly song. So, that's been an interesting combination for me all my life.
Orna Ross: Completely fascinating, and of course, loads of our members want to sell books in India, and that's something that you and I and ALLi are going to be working on this year and into next year. So, it will be great to have you here on the podcast to be able to report back on that as well and various initiatives that we're going to be looking at. We're currently exploring the whole world of rights as a foundation stone to that.
So, yeah, fantastic. So, let's move into our theme of today then. We're going to talk about levelling up your publishing, how to take a profitable turn. That's essentially the title of the podcast.
I think it's important to recognize that book markets, they're constantly in flux, and we as creatives, as writers, we're constantly in flux, and in our genre and our niche, it's constantly in flux. So, you've got new authors coming in, new trends merging, old ones coming along with a new twist; we're always changing. Change is the only constant as some wise person said once upon a time, and many wise people since.
So, we always need to explore where we are and what we're doing, and this stream of the podcast is going to look at how looking through the lens of profit can be a very informative and a very guiding way to do that.
So, a lot of what we'll be talking about here is based on the foundational ALLi guide, which is Creative Self-Publishing, and that book recommends four measures ongoing for you to look and explore your publishing through.
So, number one is satisfaction and your creative satisfaction of what you're doing. Number two is profit, your commercial success. Number three is influence, how much you're reaching your readers and other literary influencers and influencers in your genre. Number four is productivity, how many words are you getting out, getting down? How many books are you shipping and getting out the door?
So, looking at profit, tell us a little bit about where you find yourself right now. You worked with me on the second edition of Creative Self-Publishing, which we worked on over the summer, and that led you to thinking about ways in which you wanted to take a slightly different turn. Talk to us about that.
Shanaya Wagh: So, for the past year, I've been on a hiatus. So, I have not written or published anything to do with Shana Frost, and before that, I had just started. I had six books out, and they were doing very well, but I personally wasn't very comfortable with what I was doing.
So, in working on Creative Self-Publishing, I've realized that there were a few fundamental shifts that I had to make in my own thought process and in what I was doing. So, I thought maybe it's a good time now to relaunch, restart, and sit with myself and think about what I want to do with my own publishing.
Orna Ross: So, tell us a little bit about what you weren't happy with. The books were doing well, they had found an audience. Why weren't you happy?
Shanaya Wagh: So, the main thing was, I wasn't reading in the exact genre that I was trying to target, and that's not what was giving me joy. So, what I really liked in my own writing was the character centric tension, maybe some romance in it, the happiness and the hope and friendship; that wasn't getting communicated in the genre that I was trying to target. So, I was trying to target crime fiction, which is more on violence, not too much of blood, but it's more hard and fast paced. Whereas I was trying to go for a little more slow pace, and I thought, that’s not really connecting.
So, when I was doing Creative Self-Publishing and going through the exercises, that was a big game changer for me because it opened my eyes to what I was doing wrong and what I had thought it was I was doing, and what I really wanted to do were slightly different things.
Orna Ross: Fantastic. Okay, so let me share then where I am because I too am in a stage of levelling up and changing, making a change. And there's a profit focus to this, but again, like you, there's also a pleasure focus. So, the four measures are happening all the time.
So, I have made the decision to move away from using the book retailers, Amazon, Apple, Kobo, et cetera, IngramSpark, as my main focus. So, I've always been a wide publisher never Amazon exclusive, never anyone exclusive, and generally, not just I personally, but ALLi in general as a business decision recommends that exclusivity is something you use with great care, and only for certain things because if you put all your publishing eggs in one basket, it can lead to trouble, and we see that every day of the week in our association.
So, I've always been wide, but in recent times, I've become more interested in the direct sales model, being even more indie; can't be indie enough for me.
So, I've been gradually moving my attention away from selling on the retailers as primary. So, books are still there, anybody who wants to buy through the retailers, absolutely 100%, that's fine. Obviously, the reader is King and Queen, they get to decide how they want to buy.
But I am encouraging going forward, starting in the next quarter in a real way, I've been doing all the setup for the last while, but in the next quarter, I'm going to be doing a Crowdfunder, more direct sales model. I now have a patron option on my website for my fiction and poetry, and I'm going to move into a quarterly project model whereby I sell directly to readers and foster engagement.
So, it's very much a publishing decision, but it is fed by the fact that I'm back writing fiction, and I'll talk a little bit more about that in a while.
So, for you, the listener, thinking about whether a change is needed, when do you need to consider making a change? I think there are a few pointed indicators, all of which fall back into those four measures that we spoke about at the beginning, but if you're not reaching readers or you're not making money, that isn't the end of the game, that's information that tells you that you need to change something.
So, if you're not reaching readers, if you're not making money at all, or making very little, or reaching very few readers, then something needs to change in your publishing business, and that's where you need to begin to think about levelling up, and that's where a profit motive can help you.
Another indicator that you need to change is that you haven't found a way to enjoy marketing, which means you haven't connected with your reader, with your genre, with your world, and I think it's really important to say that this is a process. It's learning to be a good publisher, it takes time, and if you haven't found a way to enjoy your marketing yet, that's fine, but know that is the aim and that will lead you in the right direction.
Similarly, if your readers are not engaging or you're not reaching the right people, or you're generally feeling stuck, all of these are indicators that it may be time to take a turn.
How did you know it was time to take a turn, Shanaya?
Shanaya Wagh: So, as I said before, I had a yearlong break, and I wasn't happy with my own marketing. I was reaching readers and I was getting a few negative reviews, but it just did not feel right with the kind of genre I had, the books I had, because the people, I checked my read-through rate, and those who really liked the books read all the books, and those who didn't like the books just really hated the books, and I realized I wasn't probably targeting the right audience for my kind of novels.
I also wanted to make sure that the way I am setting up my author career and my business needs to be something that I really enjoy doing in the long term, and not just trying to literally throw spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks. That was not what I wanted to do, because that's a very easy way to overwhelm.
Orna Ross: Very good, yeah. I think there's so much in what you're saying there, and I think your own enjoyment, back again to that sort of pleasure measure, if you like, is so important, because actually, there's nothing wrong with those who don't like your book disappearing, and those who like it sticking around. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, that's what we want. We want those who are not going to like our books to go, even before they buy. We want to make our marketing so clear and so obvious that a reader can tell in a second, this book is for me, this book is not.
But when you feel yourself that you're not enjoying it, you know the road is going to run out; it's not sustainable. All the time, and particularly at the beginning, what we're looking for is sustainability, and that's why profit is important.
Shanaya Wagh: I think it's also about getting the right readers, the more amount of right readers. I had less amount of right readers and more of the wrong readers coming to my books. I wanted to switch that percentage around.
Orna Ross: Yes, that's absolutely great, and that is the way to do it.
In a way, I think we can't necessarily know. What you know now, you couldn't know until you had written those books.
Shanaya Wagh: Definitely not, because the first series always comes from your heart; it's not something that you write to market as such. So, I think it's always difficult to position those books because they've come through you in a way that's not anything to do with the market.
Orna Ross: So yeah, you're talking already like a very experienced publisher and you're in your early twenties, and also, I have to take issue with you calling the last year a hiatus. You've been doing a masters, you've been working hard on your work, and on your fiction, and on your change. So, though you haven't been putting books out for publication, it's not like you've been, twiddling your thumbs under a palm tree.
Shanaya Wagh: No, I can't, I don't think I can sit still like that. I'll drive myself nuts.
Orna Ross: Typical indie author. So, for me I think why it felt like a good time to make this change, and I think this is something again for people who are listening to think about is, I was feeling a low level but growing feeling of discomfort with how things were going for me.
So, it was fine, selling books all across the board, happy with all of that, but a sense of discomfort with the increasing cost of advertising, for example, and with the increasing difficulty in reaching readers on social media, all of these things with big tech feeling less and less helpful, if you like, and trying to take advantage, almost, of the creative.
All of that kind of stuff was driving a new level of wanting to be more indie, and again in working on the second edition of Creative Self-Publishing, seeing the different kinds of publishing models that ALLi authors were undertaking, a lot of the authors were adopting models for their particular books that didn't suit them, and there was more than one publishing model. That became clearer to me, and I began to realize more and more that I was a craft publisher model, and a lot of the publishing that I was doing and the things I was putting energy into were more suited to a volume publisher. So, making that switch made sense.
At this point in time, I have to say, looking at the profit lens, nothing is proven, I have to see how it goes, and I'm giving it a year because it takes time to turn something around, but certainly how I'm feeling about it feels great in comparison. The feeling is different, and I've put a lot of store in that, because I think in terms of feeling good about what you're doing is part of that sustainability.
Shanaya Wagh: Yes, I think it's also worth mentioning the three different types of values when it comes to publishing. So, it's mentioned in the Creative Self-Publishing book, but we have the volume publishers, the engagement publishers, and the craft publishers that you were talking about, and I think when that lines up, there's more pleasure in what you're doing. What do you think?
Orna Ross: Yes, 100%, because if you're working in a genre that lends itself to volume publishing, then you're going to enjoy that, you're going to be in the right place if that is your genre, and that is the kind of genre that we hear a lot about from the more successful indie authors.
But if you are in a genre that doesn't lend itself to that type of publishing. So, if you write literary fiction, for example, or certain kinds of poetry, certain kinds of non-fiction, memoir, creative non-fiction, then that volume model is not going to feel like a good place for you. You're essentially trying to do something that isn't easy to do and isn't going to feel right.
With those kinds of genre, I think the craft model, which emphasizes the personal, and the human, and the being weird and wonderful, being different, not being your mainstream, but free to be who you are, is the craft end of the spectrum, is going to feel a lot more comfortable.
Then for the engagement publisher, the person who really thrives on responding to readers, doing customisable work for readers, loves engagement and engaging with influencers in their field and so on. Again, you're going to enjoy that.
Whereas I'm just talking stereotypes here, but you might find that the craft publisher tends to be a bit more introverted, and they still obviously engage with their readers, in terms of understanding what their readers want and knowing their genre and all of that, but they may not enjoy the actual social engagement, the people stuff, in the same way that an engagement publisher will.
So, these are all different strengths that we can have as people and as publishers, and pressing down on our strengths, I think, is really important.
Shanaya Wagh: Definitely.
Orna Ross: So, to wrap up then, let's just talk about the fact that wherever you are, unless you are writing your first book, wherever you are as a publisher, if you've one book behind you, if you've ten books behind you, if you've found your way of doing things but you want to make a shift, it's important to build on the structure that you've already put in place.
So, you don't throw everything away. You engage very much with what you've already done right, and I think as authors, we're always too inclined to notice what we've done wrong, and not good enough at observing what we've done well.
So, I recommend doing a SWOT analysis, which you may have heard of before, that's analysing your strengths and weaknesses, which are internal, that's you, who you are as a person, who you are as a publisher, and who you are as a writer, and then opportunities and threats, that's the outside world, what's going on out there, what are the opportunities for you, and what are the threats that are in your particular arena, in your particular genre, in your particular niche.
Doing that sort of analysis regularly, once a quarter, twice a year, something like that, to see where you are, but particularly when you're thinking about making a shift and doing things differently.
Shanaya Wagh: I think it's also worth mentioning here that sometimes you might have a good foundation, as you said, but a few things in those foundations might be unclear to you. As you mentioned, when I was doing the exercises in Creative Self-Publishing, there were a lot of things that I had already done intuitively, but when I had them on paper, and I could see what I had answered to each of the questions, I realized there was a common theme in that. That's when you figure out what you've been trying to do unconsciously, but now doing it more intentionally, and maybe SWOT analysis is the beginning of that.
Orna Ross: Yes, it certainly can be, and I think that word you use there, the intentionality is really helpful in and of itself. Even if you set an intention and you do something that isn't right, once you're aware of your own intentions, you can get the information back from whatever you're doing much faster. So, you can process and get to the next level. It's easier to do that. It's quicker, it's clearer, and it's it doesn't take as much out of you as when you're just feeling your way there blindly. Which sometimes we have to do, that is the creative world. Sometimes that's the only way to do it, and especially at the beginning, you're much better off to be trying this, trying that, not knowing what you're doing, than sitting there paralyzed and doing nothing. You'll always learn from doing.
So, there's no such thing as a mistake. The only mistake is to stop trying and not do anything and be paralyzed. So, if you are contemplating a change and thinking, if you do have some of the things we spoke about earlier, you're not reaching readers, you're not making the profits, things are not moving, you're feeling stuck, pick something small.
Don't try and change something enormous, unless this conversation has completely ignited you and that your creative energy is soaring and you know exactly what you want to do and it's huge, off you go, that's fine. But if you're listening to this and you're thinking, oh my God, I don't know where to start, then try something small.
Think about profit. Think about what might increase your profit. Think about pleasure. Think about what would increase your pleasure. Think about productivity. What would increase your productivity? And if you bring those three together around something, do something very small that you can test and try, and learn from that experiment and then the next step becomes a little bigger.
Shanaya Wagh: I think when starting small, it's easier because it's just the next few things instead of taking everything and deciding to make a change all at once, because that just leads to more overwhelm and our time is already very little when it comes to indie publishing because we don't have much time on our hands anyway.
So, for me, what I realized was, I thought I'm going to rewrite the first two books of my own series and my perfectionism led me to think, let's do all six. Then I had anxiety thinking, I don't know how I'm going to manage this. So, now I've decided I'm going to take my reader magnet, which is the shortest of the six and a half books that I have, and make changes on that, and slowly see how I'm progressing with it, if that's helpful.
Orna Ross: That's fantastic. I think that's really exactly right, and then from that, you learn the next thing. Maybe it's about starting a whole new series and just leaving those books there. Maybe it's about rewrites, but you become informed by something real. So, I think that's perfect. That's fantastic.
Again, listeners, if you're not sure, talking to other authors is really helpful, or if you don't want to talk directly about it because you fear it might add to more confusion, more overwhelm, going deeply into your genre and looking around and seeing, is anybody else doing what you're thinking of doing or something similar, how do they do that? What would you do differently? How would you do it better? How would you make it more you? All of these things.
The other thing that we talk a lot about is values, understanding your publishing values and your values as a writer. So, I think we're going to delve into a little bit that more the next time we speak, looking closely at how values can lead us into good change and lead us to profitability.
Final tip from me, and Shanaya will give her final tip in a moment, but final tip from me is to do everything little and often. So, small and regular. So, I often hear authors saying, when I finish the book, I'll start the marketing. Much, much better to do a little bit of marketing now before the book is finished, and the act of just doing that, you do it for the sake of doing it, not even for the sake of the effect it will have. You do it to test and to try and explore marketing, because if you leave it until the book is finished, almost guaranteed you'll start to write another book and you won't do the marketing on the first book.
So, doing a little bit all the time in terms of profitability and in terms of marketing is my big tip. So, you make big change by doing small things.
Shanaya Wagh: That's really helpful. I would say that my tip will be reviewing. Sometimes the good thing is to move ahead and do something big, but it's also good to go back and audit yourself and what you've done, and see whether things are not matching up, or whether there are holes and you've not thought about a few things intentionally, and seeing what changes you can do. That was one of the main reasons I thought I needed to make some changes in my own publishing because I realized I wasn't happy with the foundations that I had set down.
Orna Ross: Fantastic. Okay, and before we leave you, we have two resources for you, and the links to these will be in the show notes from the Self-Publishing Advice Centre, and Self-Publishing Advice Centre is ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors, outreach to the wider indie community. So, it's there for our ALLi membership, obviously, but it's also there for anybody who wants to read the blog or listen to the podcast.
T ow posts that are particularly relevant for this topic is selfpublishingadvice.org/indie-author-pivots and selfpublishingadvice.org/rewriting. So, as I said the links will be in the show notes and next time out, I think we'll talk about values, Shanaya, yeah?
Shanaya Wagh: Yes, that's a big topic for me.
Orna Ross: Big topic for you and a big topic for us all because we have values as writers and we have values as publishers and we have values as people, and our readers value certain values and so on. So, values can be confusing, but they can also be the opposite and that's what we want.
So, we'll go deep into our values as writers and publishers next time, but hopefully this was useful to you, particularly if you're thinking about levelling up your publishing, making a change, taking a turn.
Thanks for joining us, and until next time, happy writing and happy publishing.