In this month’s Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast ALLi Director Orna Ross and Enterprise Adviser Joanna Penn discuss how to make more money than the average author. Anecdotal evidence indicates that authors who take self-publishing seriously earn more, on average, than authors who are exclusively trade-published. As ALLi conducts research into independent author income, Orna and Joanna review some initial findings, survey the landscape, and ask: What levers can you pull to make more money as an indie author?
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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 Transcripts: Make More Money Than the Average Author
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. Hello, everyone.
About the #IndieAuthorIncomeSurvey, and other updates
Joanna Penn: Hello! Today we are talking about how to make more money than the average author, because we don't want you to be average. So, we'll be getting into that topic in a bit, but first of all, as ever, we are authors and we do work too, but Orna, first up, what's the news with ALLi?
Orna Ross: Yeah, so we are in the middle of the first ever independent survey into independent author income. So, it's pretty exciting. It's something we've been building to for a very long time.
Anyone who takes any interest in the topic of author income, and that's what we're going to be talking about today, how to make more income than the average author, and anyone who's interested in that topic will have read various author income surveys over the years that are kind of full of doom and gloom and author incomes are falling and so on, and they have been based on traditional publishing as well as self-publishing.
So, it's going to be very interesting to see if self-publishing authors are making more money than the average author in terms of those surveys. So, we'll be talking a little bit about that.
I'd like to encourage everyone to fill the survey, to do it, it's at selfpublishingadvice.org/survey23.
So yeah, that's what we've been largely thinking about this month. What are you up to?
Joanna Penn: I have been fulfilling my Kickstarter for Pilgrimage, which is around here somewhere, in terms of book marketing, I should wave the book.
So, Pilgrimage, yesterday, in fact, as we're recording this, I was up in Peterborough at the printer signing all the books, so that's all going out, but yeah, we are going to talk next month about lessons learned about crowdfunding.
But also I was in Colorado Springs speaking at the Superstars of Writing Conference, and Jonathan said to me, you realize you're not superhuman and you realize perhaps you should have put some buffer in for actually fulfilling this Kickstarter, which ended while I was in Washington DC on my way to Colorado, and again, we've talked about this before, about how much energy things take, especially as an introvert, and I am absolutely guilty, once again, for not allowing enough buffer for doing various things. So, there's just a little the thought for everyone, whatever you are scheduling, maybe just add in a bit more space for recovery time, let alone anything else.
You're just as bad, Orna, that's why you're laughing.
Orna Ross: We're all the same, and everything always takes longer than you think it's going to take. So, you're doing a Crowdfunder, and you think, oh, I'll do that in a few days or whatever, and it takes a couple of weeks.
Joanna Penn: I'm at three months now, this is the amount of effort that goes in, but yeah, it's surprising. But tell us, what, what are you up to?
Orna Ross: I've head down largely, I'm working hard on a final draft of fiction, which is a project I've been working on for a very long time, so that's all good and enjoying that. I've also, for the first time, hired a marketing agency, so I'm going to go all out for this novel, and working with somebody, and also exploring Discord.
As you know, and as regular listeners to the show will know, I left Twitter a while ago and I've been kind of looking at all the different options to talk to people. So, Discord's interesting, have you gone there?
Joanna Penn: Well, yeah, because I'm in the Midjourney and AI and NFTs and Web3 communities, and we all use Discord, but what's interesting about Discord, it's a bit like Facebook, it's like a system and then there's lots of groups within Discord. So, are you setting up your own little group?
Orna Ross: Yeah, exactly. I mean, what I like about it, compared to Facebook, is that you get to control who sees and hears what, you know, it's not moderated in the same way that Facebook is.
So yeah, I just thought it was interesting, of all the platforms I've looked at in the last while I found it the most interesting, yeah.
Joanna Penn: Okay, and I want to come back on the marketing agency. We will get into the topic everyone, but marketing agency is one of those things that pretty much we would say 99% of independent authors should not be engaging a marketing agency.
So, can you explain what you are asking them to do, what you're expecting, and why you've gone that route, because that's not something I've ever done or, you know, have really considered?
Orna Ross: Yeah, well the thing is that it's really down to lack of time, I think, for me, or where I want to put my time.
So, it's not a huge, big London agency. It is a local small-team agency, and the reason I'm working with them is they get the stuff out of me, and they can also help to do social media marketing largely, and also some work on advertising and digital ads, which, you know, anytime I've kind of gone there myself, it's fine for a while, and then I just get really bored and go away.
So, it's about keeping me there and me being accountable to them, and then they're accountable to me. So, it's very much like a collaboration. It took me a long time to find, I think they're the right people, we're going to trial it for three months on both sides and see how we get along.
Joanna Penn: So, are they doing PR for you, trying to get you news things?
Orna Ross: Yes, they're doing PR aspects and online social media advertising, is the main thrust of it, and that will take in some of the organic social media as well.
Joanna Penn: Okay. Well, that's interesting, and everyone listening, again, we're going to get into the topic now, and it's funny, we were talking about this beforehand. So, this is how to make more money than the average author, and we were both saying, oh, we don't really have any kind of rocket science secrets or anything to tell you, and then we figured that was actually the strength of this, because the fact is, everything changes, and everything stays the same.
So, the buckets we're going to talk about actually have stayed the same. Even though the tools have changed, the technology might have changed, a lot of this stays the same.
And it's interesting, like I've done my first Kickstarter in the last six months or whatever, I've built my first Shopify store, you are doing a full suite marketing agency, which you haven't done before. It feels like, even though things stay the same, we are always trying different things. So, that's what we are going to be talking about today.
Anything else before we get into the topic?
Orna Ross: No, let's dive in, because even though it's all good evergreen stuff, there's plenty of it. So, let's go.
An introduction to making more money than the average author
Joanna Penn: Okay, so let's get into the topic: how to make more money than the average author.
So, we're going to start with some of the research findings that have happened, you briefly mentioned them Orna, but give us a bit of an overview as to the surveys that you've started off with, and where you want to go.
Orna Ross: Yeah. So, pretty much every major author association has done an author income survey over the years, and some, like the Society of Authors, ACLS, which is the collection and licensing agency here in the UK, Authors Guild in the US as well, the Canadian Association of Writers, the Australian Association of Writers; they have all done income surveys over the past decade, and universally across the board, they have found that author incomes are decreasing.
They generally generate a lot of doom and gloom headlines. People kind of weeping into their tea about how are authors going to survive, and generally acting almost like self-publish isn't a thing, and you and I have both tried on various occasions too, and done, you know, filled in these surveys, but found it difficult, and we get feedback a lot at ALLi that it isn't easy to even fill out some of these surveys as a self-publishing author, because the questions don't quite make sense and there isn't an understanding that being an independent author means running a publishing business, and that's very different to running an author career where you're relying on gatekeepers, and institutions, and education, and libraries, and bookstores, and all of that.
So yeah, the general finding is that the average income for authors is somewhere between $6,000, it was as low as $6,000 in the last US Author Guild Survey, to about 10 and a half pounds in-
Joanna Penn: Thousand, thousand pounds.
Orna Ross: Sorry, yes. Thank you.
Joanna Penn: 10 pounds a year!
Orna Ross: Not quite that bad yet, but falling rapidly, and that was, I think, the Society of Authors here in the UK.
So, whatever way you look at it, not a lot of money, not a living wage even, you know, really, really not good, shall we say.
So, that's why we're very interested to do our own survey and see where the average income comes out for self-publishing authors, and we have done the same thing in terms of we're only surveying writers who spend 50% of their working time on their writing and publishing activities.
So, we can compare kind of like with like. So, we're really keen to see what sort of results we get there.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, and I think it was very interesting because I've read these surveys and the reports that go with them, and I also think it's very interesting how disempowered the comments around them are, in that there's a lot of blame for publishers, and for sure there can be some blame involved, but there's no empowerment of, this is how we change it.
It's more like, oh, contract terms are bad, freelance writing rates are down, pay per word on short stories is down, and it's all like, oh, it's just all happening to us, and we are just the kind of victims of a system that is designed to punish authors in some way. And again, when I did those questions, I just don't put myself in that bracket because I'm like, well, I'm empowered, I will make the changes I need to make because it's my business, it's my career, I'm going to sort it out.
And I guess we should also mention the Written Word Media, which is the indie author community. I mean, the people who read Written Word Media are people interested in marketing. People listening, they do free booksy, bargain booksy, that kind of thing.
So, they are a marketing organization and they kind of looked at people, and the people making over a hundred thousand dollars a year have more book, a kind of average of 45 books, and also, they spend more hours marketing. So, 17 hours a week marketing. So, that's people earning over six figures per year.
So, like the top, and it's not really news, is that if you have more books, but also you actively market your books, you are going to make more money, and we'll get into this in more detail, but yes, I feel like that empowerment was also missing from the writeup of those surveys, and that that's just a mindset shift that I don't know if we can make that happen.
Orna Ross: No, I think it happens by doing, I think it happens when you start to self-publish, because in order to self-publish you have to become proactive, and you also then begin to understand the challenges that publishing faces. I mean, publishing's not an easy business. It's a very volatile business for everybody, including even the biggest of corporate publishers.
So, if you are an author who wants to stay at home and everybody else to do something for you, your ability to do that is, you know, you will see your income falling now, that is a cert almost, and that is the major problem with all of those surveys, is there is no way out.
There is nothing that they can recommend. They can't say, do this and it will be okay, and that is the major difference with self-publishing is that because it is business-driven as opposed to a career, a career always kind of relies on other people to advance you, and if advancement isn't happening, then they can't advance you. But a business, you are relying on yourself, and so that's why mindset is so important.
The Mindset of a Successful Author
Joanna Penn: Yes. So, we're going to talk about different levers you can press or pull, whichever metaphor you like, but the first lever is indeed mindset.
I remember this when I first got into, well, I got into kind of putting stuff out online before I really understood what self-publishing even was, but I always wanted to leave my job. So, I always knew I wanted to make a full-time living doing this thing, and so my mindset was always, I need to learn the money side, I need to understand how the income works, where the costs are. So, from day one, I was always doing that. I set up a business from the beginning, I had a separate bank account, all of those things.
And just so people know, I have a degree in theology, I don't have a degree in business or marketing or any of that. So, everything I've done, I have learned on the job, as such, and that is kind of the apprenticeship of being an independent publisher.
But it's understanding, look, I need to learn the craft because this is my craft, and then I need to learn the business because I actually want to make money.
I think what we find in general is, you meet people who are so about the craft, and the craft is amazing, and if you don't want to run a business, don't worry, just learn the craft and have a nice time. But if you actually want to make money, then you do have to learn this other skill. You have to put on your different hats. So, that would be sort of the baseline mindset, I guess.
Orna Ross: Yeah, absolutely, and in a way it's almost three crafts we have to learn. The craft of writing, the craft of publishing, and business craft as well.
So, it's like these three very different hats, which will pull on very different skills, and we can't be good at all of them. We'll get to that in a little while. But the main thing, if you want to make money, if you want to earn a living as an author, then you have to start there in a way. You have to think about profit and adopt a profit mindset, and think about things like your publishing model, what kind of publisher you are, and your business model, how you're actually going to set up and sell, you know, things like whether you're going to be exclusive, or go wide, or use a creator model, or a rights licensing model, whatever way you're going to go about it, you need to think about these things.
I mean, we start off publishing a book, but the sooner we can begin to think about that with a profit mindset in place, the better.
That means an investment mindset as well. A lot of authors go into this business trying not to spend any money and spending a lot of time, and that's completely understandable. But there is also the option of investing money and investing less time and balancing those two out. Everybody will have a different situation depending on their own life situation, their own work situation, and so on, but just thinking about things like investment, growth, and profit from the very beginning I think is really important.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, and in fact, it's even a fundamental attitude towards money. I think one of the kinds of shocking things I found when I came into this, in the more traditional publishing model, is the fact that people didn't even want to talk about it, that it was somehow dirty, and that if you talk about money you're selling out, you are a hack, or whatever.
And it's like, okay, fair enough if that's what you think, but I would actually like to write good books and make good money. So, that money mindset attitude I think is really important.
Now, I've actually got a whole load of books on my site, thecreativepenn.com/money books, and I read everything that comes out, you know, from law of attraction to the fundamentals of investing, and that kind of thing, because it is another area, and both of us believe in energy around our business and, you know, there's energy around money as to whether you attract it or you are pushing it away. Like, oh, no, no, that's somehow wrong. So, if you are someone who feels like that's a side you don't want to deal with, well, you know, why would you make any money?
So, I think that's important too.
I'd also say that, if you treat your author business seriously, then you need to do things like pay yourself a salary, even if it's, okay, it's just £50 or something a month, and then over time it grows and it grows, and then maybe you end up with a company structure and you pay dividends, but also paying your pension.
So, I definitely didn't do that for a good few years, but as soon as I could, I started, well, I say as soon as I could, it was very small at the beginning, but putting money into pension, because if you if you work for a different company, they should be helping pay your pension, and we all need to invest in our future.
So, I think that serious business owners pay themselves, and they pay into their pension or superannuation.
Orna Ross: Yes, and they invest in their business. So, if you were starting up a different kind of business, like a cafe or something, you would have to invest a lot of money upfront. We don't have to invest a huge amount of money upfront, but we have to be careful that we don't undervalue our time and overvalue our own skills. So, I really encourage people to think about investment from the start.
Then also understanding that none of this is done overnight. Business development is kind of personal development, so as you reach a point of resistance or a challenge, problem and issue in the business, that's an opportunity for growth, both in terms of the business growth, but in order to grow the business, you probably have to grow yourself, and see why that resistance is there and what's going on with that.
You know, are there contrary intentions going on? Because there is no doubt that the author community is not, in the main, business minded. There are some very business minded and very savvy authors in the community, particularly in the indie community, but there are lots of people for whom this whole area is a real challenge. So, meeting that challenge, finding out what's going on there is a core part of it as well.
Joanna Penn: Also, as we mentioned at the beginning, it's about changing things over time.
So, I first published in 2008, and I've changed my business model multiple times, and as some income drops, I add in other income streams. Like I said, this year I've added Kickstarter and Shopify, and I've stopped doing some other things, like more webinars or live things, and that kind of thing.
So, it's about shifting the mix over time as well in all these different areas.
So, shall I move on to the second one?
Orna Ross: Yes.
How to deal with books and other products
Joanna Penn: Okay. So, our second lever is product mix, or we could say business model mix, or how you deal with books and other things. I guess we should say, when we're talking about products, it's a very business-y word, isn't it, Orna, but what do you mean by this?
Orna Ross: Yeah, so, again, approaching it from a business perspective, research shows that businesses that have a different kind of product mix make more money, generally speaking.
So, when it comes to authors, what does that mean? Well, we've got a core product, which is our books, and the recommendation would be that there would be a number of different kinds of products set up around that. So, our free giveaways. One of the things that that is recommended for business is some kind of free offering, no strings attached, just put it out there.
Then what they call a product for prospects, which in our community is the reader magnet. The “free” giveaway for a signup. It's actually in exchange for a signup.
Then there is the opportunity to publish in lots of different formats. So, eBooks, print books, audiobooks, and then premium products, and this seems to be where people tend to increase. So, we're talking about making more money than the average, the businesses that make a bit more money than the average tend to have a premium product, which has a higher profit margin. Books are extremely low profit margin, as we all know. They're very difficult, and so adding in some kind of premium product is probably a good idea if you want to make more money than the average author.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, and it's interesting doing this Kickstarter, because this is one of the sorts of positives of crowdfunding, is that you can offer these more bundles. I mean, we do bundling as part of digital usually, but one of my top selling products as such for the Kickstarter, was the hardback with the workbook and the eBook, the audiobook, sort of all packaged in. But even just a hardback plus a workbook is more profit than just selling like an eBook, for example.
So, a premium product through things like a Kickstarter, and some people add on things like an enamel pin or other things that are sort of value add, but you can make more profit on. And the whole idea is to make more income per customer than we can do when we use just an eBook on Amazon, for example.
So, we want to encourage people to think about how you can use these different tools to help you do more premium products, the most famous one being Brandon Sanderson's first Kickstarter, which was a leather-bound edition of the 10th anniversary of The Way of Kings, I think it was, and he only made about 6 million on that Kickstarter.
If people don't know, he made 42 million on his most recent Kickstarter, which was four books.
So yeah, I think the premium product, we have now the ability to do beautiful things that previously was kind of out of reach. I know you've done crowdfunding with beautiful gold emboss for Secret Rose, and we can do these lovely products. It doesn't mean they have to be digital, for example, but there are other ways to add products, aren't there?
Orna Ross: Yeah, sure. So, digital courses is a staple no in the author community, of all kinds. Live events, paid events, affiliate marketing. There are lots of ways that we can repurpose content from our books and turn it into something else.
So again, we see that the authors who are making more money tend to do a lot of repurposing, they don't just put a book out.
Then this very much depends on which model you're using though, what your publishing model is. So, within the community, there is a very established books-only model, where you just write books, and that's where we get the Written Word Media, you know, the 45 books kind of thing, but that works only in particular genre. It's not going to work in every genre. It works where you've got a lot of readers who are kind of consuming a lot of your product.
If you're doing a more creator-based model, then that's where you bring in other things like courses and affiliate marketing and premium editions, and so on.
You might even add a service offering, or productize a service is another thing that people are talking about. So, say you like, well, teaching is an obvious one, you can turn that into courses. But if you're doing different kinds of services where you can actually turn them into a digital product as well, or if you love that whole thing of doing a service and you incorporate it into your business, that can be an alternative to doing a day job, for example.
So, there are lots of ways to think about your product mix in that business sense.
Joanna Penn: Yes, but the fundamental is, and I know we've said it before, if you're a regular listener, but you don't have a business, if you just have one book.
I mean, realistically there might be some people who manage that, as in they turn it into a keynote, for example, where they get paid a full-time living to just go around doing keynotes. But usually you do need multiple products, and Dean Wesley Smith talks about this with his idea of a pie shop, the magic pie. You don't go into a pie shop or a bakery and there's only one thing, you want to see lots of things there, and then you might buy lots of things.
So, that's kind of the same for us. So, it's thinking about, for example, doing a series, even if it's non-fiction or fiction, then people buy multiple books and then you still have multiple streams of income there.
So yes, these tips are sort of meant to help you make more money. So, if you only have one book, or if you have one book and you don't really have any ideas for anymore, then that's your action, is to go think about how you're going to have more products.
So, let's talk about the third lever.
Orna Ross: Just before we get to that, just one more thing on the product mix. I would say, until you have your marketing well worked out, and that probably will be on book two or book three, don't leap into doing big investments in repurposing and other premium products and things. So, getting your marketing running right is kind of key.
I see sometimes authors who are, you know, they think another book, another book, or a translation, or an audiobook, you know, investing in these more expensive products, it's best done when you have learned how to market the basic eBook.
Why the testing and iteration around marketing and promotion is essential to success
Joanna Penn: Yes, and in fact, maybe we'll change the lever metaphor to the sort of slider. Instead on off lever, we'll have the slider because all these things, you know, yes, go up and down, and so yeah, you want to move them all up a little way and keep moving them all up as you increase your skills.
So, our third slider is the testing and iteration, which is really around marketing and promotion, and we have made some assumptions here, which is you have understood the basics of metadata, you know, professional book cover, editing, and then email, an email list, which we assume to be a basic of marketing these days, and then some way to reach people, and that is where things change.
But there's also, I guess, more advanced marketing, and again, this changes all the time. You just mentioned Discord, which is a new way, or it's not that new, to be honest, a new way for authors to start communicating, whereas say Facebook groups would've been the thing a few years back.
But I guess the advanced marketing is, like you've said, testing and iteration, and making changes over time. But what are some of the other things you suggest?
Orna Ross: Yeah, so I think, some kind of system whereby you can test and see what's working, and drop something quickly if it's not working, and go with something that is working, is important. Again, this is something you build over time.
So, you're not going to make more money than the average author is straight out of the, you know, we've said it already, I'm saying it again. So, when you are up and running, you begin to test what you're doing in terms of creating a consistent and repeatable process. I think that's really important.
And a way to test, you know, is that cover working, for example. We've both done cover changes over the years. You can do that in a very intuitive way, but if you can kind of test, and test blurbs and advertising, it definitely if you have that kind of mentality, it's very helpful.
Again, a lot of authors don't tend to like to do things in that way, but you do need some sort of regular consistent repeatables. So, once something is working, setting it in place so it runs almost in an evergreen way, and you can be testing and experimenting and exploring with something else.
So, advanced marketing will probably take in some kind of advertising, if not digital advertising, then some kind of other advertising. It may be reaching out to literary influencers like chain store book buyers, or rights buyers, or maybe libraries, people who will buy books in bulk.
And I think it's useful, I have found it very useful as something that for some years now I've been running, but I remember when I started to do it, it was a real kind of revelation to think in terms of quarters and quarterly campaigns. So, here's what I'm doing for this quarter, and putting the energies behind that knowing I'll do something else next quarter, because there can be a real danger, I think, that there's always something to do and always something different to try, and you can just leap around from one thing to another and get very distracted and just go around in circles being very busy, but not actually increasing your profits at all.
So, your kickstart campaign is a perfect example of something that fits into a quarter, but you could set up a podcast tour, or do a collaboration with another author in your genre, or some kind of hyped, PR stunt. It could be anything, but giving it a go, seeing does it work, and then integrating it into your system.
So, for example, I'm sure you'll do another Crowdfunder now that you've done such a successful one.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, for sure. Although, it's funny, and again, this is something we differ on. I'm more like a project focused person, so I can't seem to think in quarters, I think in projects. So, for example, when I was like, right, I'm going to do Shopify, I'm going to set up Shopify, and it probably did take three months. So, it probably was a quarter, but that was a project approach.
I mean, like you said, this Kickstarter has probably been a quarter, probably a bit more than that actually, but again, it's kind of a project approach, and I sometimes call myself a binge writer, but I feel like it's a project approach where, like when I finish Pilgrimage and finish the project of Pilgrimage, then I will set it up for the evergreen running. I'll set up the ads, set up the whatever, and then I'll move on to the next project, which will be the next novel, and I've kind of decided on that project.
So, people listening, it doesn't matter how you decide, whether it is the time-based thing or the more project-based thing, but you have, you have to decide somehow and then focus on that.
We've talked before about the different kinds of energy, and the finishing energy, a bit like a house renovation or any of these things, it always takes longer than you expect, and that last push to get everything over the over the end and to kind of learn the last few things is really important.
So, for example, with Shopify, people always say the tax is too difficult, I don't want to deal with the tax, and I felt like that too. But when you actually just spend the little bit of time you need to learn this element of e-commerce, then everything else it is not as complicated as you thought it was.
So, I think that any of these processes, or however it works for you to think about, but we all have to create some kind of system that works, even if it's an intuitive system.
Orna Ross: Yes, it doesn't have to be, and I think authors fall into two types. Do you enjoy the measuring and like to see things, you know, so measuring your productivity, how many words you've done, or how many words you've edited, your platform, your reach, you know, how many people are engaging with your stuff, your traffic, whatever it might be in terms of measuring that, gives some people great pleasure, and watching those numbers go up is a core part of how they keep themselves motivated, and also make sure that they're not just doing busy work. Because it is very, very easy in publishing to be very busy but not making progress.
So, you need to find, if that's not happening for you in an organic way, then you need to find a way that you can measure that and recognize the accomplishments and the milestones along the way, because a book is a very big project and takes a very long time for a lot of people. So, you need some way to measure the milestones as you go and see the progress, and obviously, your bank balance, because we're talking about money today, is your measure of that, but what's going out as well as what's coming in and measuring all of that too.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, and I'm just aware that behind me on my wall, I have, ‘measure your life by what you create', which is, you know, every year I do kind of all the books I've created, and I consider my podcast to be part of my body of work as well.
But yeah, I mainly measure income and my profit and loss statement, but the other thing is, since we're talking about marketing, is it needs to be sustainable for the long term.
I've talked before about how, one of the reasons my Creative Penn podcast is successful is because I've been doing it since 2009, and no one can catch me in terms of how many episodes I've done and how many years I've been doing it, essentially, because it works for me.
Now, when TikTok came along, there's lots of people doing amazing things on TikTok. I have no problem with that, but for me it was never going to be a good fit, so I just did not do it, and we talked about this before Christmas, I think.
So, yes, you've got to try new things, but equally you have to know, and I think this comes with confidence over time, you have to know what will suit you, what will suit your book.
So, both of us still do Instagram, right? Yeah, we both put stuff on Instagram. I put pictures there, you often put poetry there. I'm still on Twitter and you are not on Twitter, so that's a change for you, not for me. So, there's things we can change over time, but it has to work for us for the long term because, like you said, if you're not consistent and showing up time after time, then people don't even have time to find you, and you've told me before, by the time you are bored with whatever you are doing, some people are only just discovering you exist. .
Orna Ross: Absolutely, I think that's just a thing with a book, or any aspect of our work, and there have to be things that we just love to do and keep on doing, and you have to think carefully before you take a new thing in.
If you're taking something new in, you're probably likely going to have to let something go.
Somebody said, a measure of how successful your business is, is when you're letting go of things that you're good at and love, that's a sign that things are going very well.
How to use tools and your team to build success
Joanna Penn: Okay. So, our fourth slider, or lever, is tools and team, and I guess that's outsourcing. For me, I still have people I work with, but over the years I have also found tools. So, for example, in the last six months I found Hindenburg for audiobook mastering. Now, I do record my own audiobooks myself, my own books myself. So, I used to have to pay someone to master them, but now I can use Hindenburg and it was, I don't know, $150 or something. So, that's saving me a lot of money, and it literally is just kind of a one-click output and it does it in the right format. So, that's one example.
Buffer for social media scheduling. I've used that for years, and that saves me time. I do outsource my Amazon ads for nonfiction. I have someone who helps me with my podcast.
So, I kind of do both, but I want to encourage people to think of, is there a tool that I could use before I hire someone, because sometimes you might spend too much money, or you might just get the wrong person. So, there's kind of pros and cons with hiring, but what about you, Orna?
Orna Ross: Yeah, exactly. As tools get better, you know, we've seen in over the last 10 years, tools coming in for things that we would've thought we would have to hire other people for, and you know, ChatGPT now can be used to do your ads and your copy and give you first drafts for your book descriptions and so on. So, AI is increasing the number of tools that we can take into our businesses that can do things for us, that maybe we would've outsourced before, maybe we would have completely relied on ourselves.
So yeah, I think, take a look at the tools and the tech, but I do think it's also really important to think about team. Somebody said to me the other day, I don't have a team, and I've no interest in having a team. And I was just saying, well, do you have an editor? Yes, they had an editor. Do you have designer? Yes, they had a designer. Yes, they had an assistant. So, they didn't think of these as a team, because it isn't in the conventional sense, but no book is made by one person, no good book. It is a team effort, and self-publishing is not about doing everything yourself.
So, I think it's really important to recognize your own strengths and then to hire out your weaknesses. Either get a tool that does it for you, but I mean, there is no way with all the tools in the world I will ever master an audiobook, it's just not going to happen. So, I know that about me, and so that will be something that I would be outsourcing. So, each person needs to decide for themselves.
Maybe give it a go, there are a lot of authors making their own covers, for example, still, you know, is really that the best use of your time, making your own ads. It may or may not be. I'm not saying there's a right answer for this, but it is definitely a question you should be asking yourself, particularly if you're not making as much money as you feel your books should be making, and you have a few books under your belt and things aren't going as well as you would like them to be going, you know, a really cold, hard look at what you're doing, how you're doing it, and whether you are the best person to be doing everything that you are doing.
I would say, the more you can focus on the essentials and the things that you are really, really good at, and generally that means things you love to do, and the more you can get other people to help you with things that you're not good at and things that you don't love to do, the quicker you will see a profit.
So yeah, it's important. Of course, hiring anybody to help is challenging and it takes time to onboard an assistant, you know, and it's always something you should trial and do in an exploratory way at first. But yeah, there is a guide to hiring assistants on the self-publishing advice blog, and we'll include the link to that in the show notes.
How to scale your author business…and do you even want to?
Joanna Penn: Yeah, and then the final one, the fifth lever or slider, is knowing if you want to scale and then how to scale. Whether that's, for example, for me, I'm always interested in scaling my income, but I don't want to scale my staff. I'm the only employee in my business. There are some authors now, Michael Anderle would be an example, who have a much bigger business, and I don't identify with wanting to run a big empire like that, as much as I respect it. I want to be an individual author making really good money and working with freelancers, and that kind of thing. But I am very interested in, for example, more licensing you know, reusing my content in different ways.
Investment, I'm very interested in investments in other kinds of assets, that kind of thing, and these special projects, like a Kickstarter. I do have a plan for a much bigger one that will bring in sort of bigger chunks of money. But you mentioned a cold, hard look, and I think this is really hard, but you have to almost put your other hat on, which is the strategic business manager or the CEO, and take yourself out for a coffee and your journal, and really think about what you actually want, and look at your business and try and be less emotional about the product, which is the book.
We know it's hard because we are just as emotional about our books, but if you want to make more money, you do have to think this way. So, anything else on this final scaling option, Orna?
Orna Ross: Yeah, if you take scaling as another word for growth, then that continuous improvement that will continue the growth.
So, I mentioned at the beginning, you know, business development being personal development; that doesn't stop. So, the next creative challenge is always going to feel a little bit uncomfortable, feel a little bit like resistance, maybe even full-on block. So, there's a quote from Alison Maslin who wrote the book Scale or Fail, and she said, “if you want to expand your business by 50%, you must grow personally by at least 60% to be able to attain that station, carry the weight, and have the emotional, physical, and intellectual reserves to lead.”
So, if you do want to keep growing your income, then you will come up against these challenges, and it's back to the mindset thing that we spoke about at the beginning. A mindset of continuous growth and continuous improvement keeps you growing and keeps you creative.
You spoke about the emotional attachment to the writing, all of this is about strengthening your ability in the publishing side and then that feeds back into your writing, so that the next book you produce, you're carrying all that information and knowledge about your reader, and about your projects, and how you will be marketing, and what you're going to be thinking about for your next campaign, your next project, your next quarter, whatever it might be.
And after a while, there comes a time where it all clicks, and you get this kind of nice integrated system where the publishing feeds the writing, and the writing feeds the publishing.
So, then it's possibly time to think about going full-time, and I would say go full-time as soon as you possibly can, because when you can give it your full attention, then you really do see a difference.
So, if you're thinking about that, I would say be brave. Take the leap if you can, but obviously don't do anything dangerous if you have a family to feed.
Joanna Penn: Yes, it took me five years to go full-time, from deciding to doing it. Absolutely. So yeah, and we've talked about that before, but we are out of time today.
So, just a reminder, if you spend more than 50% of your work writing and self-publishing, please fill in the survey: selfpublishingadvice.org/survey23 for the Author Income Survey.
You will feed back on the results from that, Orna, won't you, at some point?
Orna Ross: Yes, definitely. We'll be launching the results at the London Book Fair, but obviously we'll be feeding back to everybody who helps us, and our members in particular.
So, we tested this survey, it only takes five minutes, and it really will help us to see what's happening in the self-publishing sector. So, please do take the five minutes, the literal five minutes that it will take, it will be really helpful to us. And thank you in advance for that.
Joanna Penn: Yes, so selfpublishingadvice.org/survey23.
Next month, we will be talking about crowdfunding special editions, lessons learned, tips. Orna did hers almost a decade ago now, you were in the early days of crowdfunding. I have only just done my first one and we'll talk about, when is it a good idea, when to wait, tips and things from that. So, that will be at the end of March.
In the meantime, Orna, anything else?
Orna Ross: No, that's it. Do the survey. Do the survey.
Oh, actually, one more thing. Yes, members, if you are coming to the London Book Fair, and we'd love to see you there, we'll be doing lots of education sessions. We won't have a stand this year, but we still have our discount and free tickets for members, so check out your newsletter for that. It'll be going out later today.
Joanna Penn: Fantastic. Well, happy writing.
Orna Ross: And happy publishing, everyone. Bye-bye.