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What Are The First Steps For A New Author; Other Questions Answered By Orna Ross And Michael La Ronn In Our Member Q&A Podcast

What Are The First Steps For A New Author; Other Questions Answered by Orna Ross and Michael La Ronn in our Member Q&A Podcast

What are the first steps for a new author? That is among the questions answered on our #AskALLi Members Q&A hosted by Michael La Ronn, author of science fiction and fantasy novels as well as author self-help books; and ALLi Director, author, and poet Orna Ross.

Other questions include:

  • When should I set up my publishing company?
  • What should be my first steps in publishing a book?
  • What is the best place to find reputable agents to query?
  • How can I create Advanced Review Copies of my book?
  • Should I include the price in my bar code?

And more!

Our Members Q&A Podcast is brought to you by specialist sponsor Kobo Writing Life, a global, independent ebook and audiobook publishing platform that empowers authors with a quick and easy publishing process and unique promotional opportunities. To reach a wide audience, create your account today! We'd like to thank Kobo for their support of this podcast.

Find more author advice, tips and tools at our Self-publishing Author Advice Center, 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.

Now, go write and publish!

Listen to the Podcast: New Author And More

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Watch the Q&A: New Author And More

What are the first steps for a new author? That is among the questions answered on our #AskALLi Members Q&A with @OrnaRoss and @MichaelLaRonn. Click To Tweet

Show Notes

About the Hosts

Michael La Ronn is the author of over 30 books of science fiction & fantasy and authors self-help books. His books include the Galaxy Mavericks series and Modern Necromancy series. You can now find his new writing course on Teachable.

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: New Author and More

Orna Ross: Hello, everyone, and welcome as ever to our monthly Member Q&A. Our, being the Alliance of Independent Authors. I'm here with our wonderful outreach manager, Michael La Ronn. Hi, Michael.

Michael La Ronn: Hi Orna. Happy March!

Orna Ross: Oh, yeah, here we are. Can you believe it, last month of the first quarter already?

Michael La Ronn: Yes, indeed.

Orna Ross: Yeah, I must say, since getting back from COVID kind of quiet into more normal comings and goings, the weeks are just passing in a blur. I need to tap into activity again. How are things with you?

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, same here. Things are just flying by, but it's been a good year so far. So, just knock-on wood it hopefully it continues.

Orna Ross: Okay. Well, as ever, we are fully aware of world events where you are and where we are, but we are writers, and writers write, and we are publishers, and publishers publish. So, we welcome you to this Q&A where we discuss all things self-publishing, and our members send us their most pressing self-publishing questions each month, and we select the ones that we feel are most helpful to most people, or ones that we haven't come across before that are new or unusual. So, Michael is the man with the questions. Let's have the first one, shall we?

When should indie authors setup a publishing company?

Michael La Ronn: All right. First question is from Denise, and I'm going to summarize Denise's question. The gist of the question is, at what point, if you're a new aspiring writer, at what point should you set up a publishing company?

Orna Ross: Okay, and by that, I assume she means the full incorporating and all of that, as opposed to being a freelance author? I would say it's not something to worry about at the start at all. You're perfectly covered for most of your activity, indeed for all of your activities, as a sole trader, is what we call it here in the UK. What's the most commonly used term in the US?

Michael La Ronn: Sole proprietor or just individual in the United States.

Orna Ross: Individual as opposed to a corporation, right?

Michael La Ronn: Correct. Or a limited liability company.

Orna Ross: Or a limited liability company. Yes. So, that's a seminar is similar sorts of terminology, not surprising because our legal systems grew out of each other. But, yeah, here in the UK, it's a sole trader generally speaking, and that's absolutely fine, and covers you for all your activities.

The most important thing for you at the beginning is to get on top of what it takes to be a writer and a publisher together. And until you are in such a situation where you are selling a significant number of books, you don't really need to worry about this. There are exceptions, and I know Michael, wearing his legal hat, will be coming in with maybe a slightly different perspective on this.

If you write books that might land you in any sort of legal libel arena, then you might want to incorporate for protection purposes, and there are some other exceptions to that.

But if you are doing the general sort of writing that 90% of writers do, then at the beginning, your structure is not the most important thing. The most important thing is you developing a rhythm to your day and to your processes, and understanding what's involved, and what kind of indie author you want to be, because there are lots of different ways to do this. And in the creator economy now, the ways in which you can make money from your writing and from your books is just expanding all the time. So, until you've settled into your own way of doing things, that's the time I think, at which you begin to give this structure business some serious consideration.

So, I will tell you that I was self-publishing, I think, for six or seven years before taking the leap across into incorporation, and there are lots of reasons why you might hold back, financial, and otherwise. So yeah, that would be my take on it. What do you think, Michael?

Michael La Ronn: I would say, I agree generally with your advice Orna. I would say, if I had to go back and do things again, I probably would have started my publishing business sooner, probably on day one. Just so, at least for ISBNs here in the United States, if you buy a block of them, you have to commit to whatever name you're going to register them in. So, I think I would have been more intentional about naming my company in the beginning, I wasn't, I kind of picked a terrible name. So, the sooner you figure all that out, I think, the better, but to Orna's point, you don't have to figure that out right away.

There was something else you said, I just wanted to make sure I called out. I don't know how it works in the UK, but actually it doesn't matter whether you're publishing under an individual, or a corporation, or an LLC, you actually have no legal protection, even if you do commit libel. So, even if you are sued, you can still be sued personally, so there's really not much protection, and choosing your legal entity wouldn't be my first concern if you were concerned about that. The big thing is just don't write libel in the first place and you'll be okay.

Orna Ross: Definitely. We have some tips on that, if you want to search those out in our Self-Publishing Advice Centre, about how to avoid being libellous.

That's an interesting thing, because I think there may be a difference in UK and US law, because certainly that was always something that was mentioned to us as a reason why you might, but again, these things change, and we will check that and see what the situation is in our various global territories around the world and report back on that. But as Michael says, you don't want to end up in libel court anyhow, so the thing to do is to avoid that. So, it's kind of a side issue really on the incorporation thing.

So yeah, I guess our summary would be, if you know right from the start, what your business model is, what you're about, what you want to call yourself and all of those things; if you've got those ducks in a row, off you go. But if you're at the, as 90% of authors are at the start, if you're at the, I don't really know what I'm doing here, and you're making it up as you go along, and you're still in a state of kind of confusion, then it's much easier to make your mistakes as a sole trader. And then later on, when you're a little bit more sound of foot, then you can make the change.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, you're right. It's much easier when you're a sole trader and you've only got a handful of books to your name. When you're like me and you've got like 80 books, then it gets a lot harder. It's a lot harder to make changes. So, the more books you publish, the harder it gets. So, that's why you want to do it as soon as you can, but don't feel like you have to do it right away.

Orna Ross: Yeah, that is a very good point, because that does depend. When I made that switch, it was when I thought, okay, now we're going to start racking up the titles here. So, yeah, you want to get it in line.

What should my first steps be as an indie author?

Michael La Ronn: So, our next question is from Doug, and Doug's question is a really interesting one. So, I'm going to summarize it, paraphrase it. But let's just say that you are completely brand new, you have not done anything as an aspiring author. The only thing you have in your brain is this idea to write, and publish, and start walking down this path of becoming an indie author. What should be your first steps?

Orna Ross: I would say, obviously, writing. Every day. If you can't do every day, then do absolutely write every moment you possibly can, and set up an author website. It can be very simple, but get your domain name, begin to think of yourself as an author, and put an email sign-up form on that website. And I think that those two things, until you actually have a book, there's not a lot else to do.

You can, if you want, particularly if you enjoy it, you can start some social media activity around the topic of your book, so you begin to attract some readers. But to be honest, you're not going to attract many people unless your social posts are stellar and hugely interesting. The same goes for blogs, you're not really going to attract people until you have some books under your belt. So, there's not a lot of point in putting a huge amount of time into marketing at the beginning, I would say.

And again, people's advice varies on this, but do begin the rhythm. Again, I spoke about rhythm, it's probably the thing I'm thinking about an awful lot at the moment, the rhythm and the process of writing and publishing is served by you thinking about the marketing at this point, who is my ideal reader? How are they going to find me when I do have this book written and published? Where are they online? Go where they are, start hanging out there, start listening. So, more about listing than producing words or feeling the obligation to join in the conversation, but just beginning to get a sense of what genre you are writing in, and so on. So yeah, I would say that's the bare minimum start-up. What do you think?

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, those are good steps. My first step would be avoiding scams, and just educating myself. I would be concerned about taking the wrong first steps, because I think it's easy when you're that new, you can be pretty vulnerable and because you don't know what you don't know, it can be really easy to take the wrong advice or listen to someone who maybe doesn't have the expertise that you're looking for, or has the expertise in the wrong area, because you don't really know who to trust. And when I say trust, I don't mean, there is the scam part of it, but also just trust in terms of who you should be listing, because again, like I said, you don't know what you don't know.

If I could go back to 2014/2012, when I started, the advice I would choose to follow would probably have been a lot different. So, avoiding misinformation or bad information, I think, would be my first step. And joining an organization like ALLi, I think, would it be a high priority, but the listener has already done that, so no issues there.

I think the second thing I would focus on is, I would also focus on the fundamentals. So, as Orna alluded to, writing to me is a fundamental. But even more fundamental to that is, I would focus on mastering whatever writing app you've chosen. So, if you are a Microsoft Word person, take a Microsoft word course. If you're a Scrivener person, take a Scrivener course. Why do I say that? The reason I say that is because the sooner you can find that writing app that fits you like a glove, you'll be more productive. Because I remember when I first started writing, I was using Microsoft Word, and God bless the people at Microsoft, but I just felt like I was beating my head against the computer every single time I sat down to write, to the point where it wasn't even fun anymore. And I remember finding Scrivener and I just remember being so energized, and every time I sat down, I had a lot more fun, and I got a lot more words in, because I found a writing app that fit me. So, if you can find that writing app, and maybe it means you're going to have to experiment a little bit, all that's fine, but find that writing app, master it, and it'll pay off dividends in the long-term of your career.

Orna Ross: Yes, absolutely brilliant tip. And as ever, when you're starting off, you're not going to know without trying. So, I think the most important thing when you're setting out is to have an attitude of exploration, and experiment, and independence. So, you don't believe everything you're told. Lots and lots of authors are online giving advice that isn't very good sometimes, not because they're trying to put you off or anything, simply because they assume that what worked for them in their genre is going to work for you in yours, and there's such variety in how we are indie authors that it's very difficult for one author to recommend to another.

There are certain core things that are there, but yeah, we have the book, How to Choose a Self-Publishing Service. And so, in terms of avoiding bad advice, and in terms of knowing how to evaluate any service and see whether it is of use to you, that book is very valuable. And we'll put the title in the show notes for the podcast on Friday.

But yeah. So, the attitude and approach you take to this is the thing that's going to shortcut stuff for you more than anything else. So, being independent minded, it's there, we're indie authors, that means we don't jump into anything. We bide our time, we do our research, we look and see, and we go back to ourselves all the time as the arbiter of what's right for us.

It's a very exciting time to be coming into writing and authorship. So yeah, we wish you good luck, keep us posted.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, and just remember that it's not too late. There's always that undercurrent going through our community of people that are like, ah, if only I could have been publishing in 2013 or 2012. There are so many more resources available now than there ever was 10 years ago, so never feel like you're late. Now is the best time to write, and that is what it is.

Orna Ross: Absolutely. That's a really good point. I'm looking back over 10 years of ALLi at the moment, for our 10th anniversary, and it's really interesting to see how many periods there were where people thought they were kind of golden ages. So, at the beginning where you could just be instantly up the charts if you had any sort of decent book at all, or when KU came in first. People look back at these as, if only I'd been around then, but actually they're all the outliers. They're all the tricksy things, that's just luck and being in the right place at the right time. The advice we're giving here, and throughout ALLi and Michael's own Author Level Up is the stuff that's going to stand to you all the way through, in 10 years’ time. These are the things that always published a book and always got a book to its readers, and it hasn't changed. The tools have changed, and things are getting easier and easier, and more expansive, readers are getting more used to buying from authors. All of that is great, but the challenges are actually exactly what they were 400 years ago.

Where can I find an agent for my book?

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, absolutely.

All right, the next question is from Jeremy, and the question is, for hybrid authors interested in querying agents, do you know where to find some of the best places to find agents?

Orna Ross: Yeah. So, I suppose the short answer to this is, an agent is somebody that you hire when you have something to sell. So, most agents are not interested in hybrid arrangements. They need to be able to sell all your rights to one buyer, and I'm speaking in the main, loads of agents are not particularly interested in self-publishing authors, until you have proven yourself on your selling well, and at which time the agents start coming to you, so you don't have to worry about it.

So, they are different pathways when you're starting out, and they come together later on. Later on, you can sell rights to publishers, and agents are interested in representing you to overseas markets, and all sorts of different rights sales. But at the beginning, you won't find an agent to take you on, and that search is going to be, I mean, I shouldn't say you definitely won't, but you 99.9% won't, because an agent needs to know that they're going to make money from you. That's what an agent does, they represent you and take a percentage of your income. So, if you don't have income, they can't see income there in front of them.

So, if you by some chance, have written an absolutely extraordinary book, that's right in the heart of something that's very, very topical and hot at the moment, and you happen to get that book in front of an agent, and sending them your manuscript is by no means a guarantee of that. If that all went well, you could be the outlier that made a success, you know, the literary lottery, the golden ticket. But we don't recommend that approach.

Michael La Ronn: No, sorry, I didn't mean to cut you off. I was just going to say, yeah, I agree with what you're saying, and we don't have any resources we could point you to, to find an agent, as we're an organization advocating for self-published members. So, best of luck in that journey.

Orna Ross: Yeah, there is the Writer's Market in the US, and the Writers' and Artists' yearbook in the UK, and there is a list of agents there, but hand on heart, do I want to recommend you go off and start writing to those agents? I do not. You're wasting your time.

Michael La Ronn: Agree.

Orna Ross: Unless you've already got an income source that you can guarantee them.

Michael La Ronn: And just remember, I keep beating this horse and somebody will listen one day, but if you want to be a hybrid author, meaning you're an author that has traditionally published work and self-published work, just remember, there are do not compete clauses in contracts that you have to be aware of, and that can hamstring your production.

So, if you want to get one book traditionally published, but you want to stay indie, if you're not careful you won't be able to do that. So, caution with contracts out there.

Orna Ross: Yes, both the self-publishing agreement, if you have signed a hybrid-publishing arrangement, that is actually a self-publishing service, it's not really a publisher. So, be very careful about the rights clauses in those self-publishing agreements. And similarly, if you were to find a trade publisher who was to take on your book, being very careful about what rights you actually give them, both in terms of territory, what area of the world, and also in terms of what format you're actually licensing.

So, it's very tricky, and it's the old way, it was the only way when I started writing. There was no other way, but I'm self-publishing now because it's not a very creative way. A lot of energy goes into asking people to do things for you that they're not going to do, they don't have time to do, they're too busy to do et cetera, et cetera.

So, as Michael says, we are the Alliance of Independent Authors, and self-publishing is primary for us.

How do I make advance reader copies and how do I send them to readers?

Michael La Ronn: Yes. All right. Next question is from Yolanda, and Yolanda has just finished the last edit of her novel and intends to send out advanced reader copies. The first part of her question is, how do you make advance reader copies and how do you send them out?

Orna Ross: Well, there are lots of different services who will manage that for you. I personally use BookFunnel, but people use different ways of doing it. I can highly recommend BookFunnel as a service, and ALLi's arcs are also handled there. Who do you use, Michael?

Michael La Ronn: I use BookFunnel as well, but I'm very familiar with Story Origin, and Book Sirens, and Book Sprout is another one.

Orna Ross: Yes, all of those are closely connected to ALLi. I think a number of them are our partner members, and we can highly recommend all of them. So, what you essentially need to do is just put a copy of your book together. If you've done the actual compilation yourself, you'll have your Vellum, or whatever, and you'll print off your PDF, usually for arcs, and use one of these services to distribute it. You'll get a link, which your reader, your arc creator can go to, to take it down. It's not a terribly complicated process, it's just a matter of getting stuck in. Any tips, Michael?

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, everything you said was great. I also like to include EPUB just in case somebody wants to read it on their device, like a phone or a tablet.

But I also think, the big thing with communicating arc's is communicating the arc. So, make sure you set expectations when you go off and find people. Just let them know the need by date, and I like to reverse engineer that need by date. So, if you need the feedback by April 1st, don't give the readers the feedback by April 1st, because life happens. Inevitably, if you send an arc out to five people, probably only three will get it back to you, and that's just life. So, if you need it by April 1st, I would maybe set your deadline for March 15th, and I would also make sure that you send several emails. So, send the email with the arc, and then send a follow-up email a couple of days later just to make sure everybody got it, and then send another email about halfway through the campaign, and then send another email probably right before the deadline, and then you'll know who you get the book back from.

But with an arc, I mean, typically you need a book published so that people can send a review too. So, if you haven't published the book yet, you might be putting the cart a little bit before the horse, but there's no harm in it. You'll just have to make sure that if you don't have the book published, you're going to have to follow up with people again when the book is published, and the more you have to follow up with people, the more time goes by, the less likely they are to post the review. So, maybe just keep that in mind. You may want to hold onto that just a little bit until you're closer to publishing.

Orna Ross: Yeah, I agree. I would recommend that actually, because I've seen people fall off that often, and it's organized people who are well-organized in advance, but yeah, I think you want to be able to send them to a live link where they can straight away. It's good to line them up for that date, and very close to your publishing date line them up so that when the book is out you can quickly get some reviews on it.

Should I register copyright and ISBN’s before sending advance reader copies?

Michael La Ronn: Yep, I agree. And then the second part of the question is, should I register the copyright and ISBN before I send out my arcs?

Orna Ross: Your copyright is yours from the moment you started writing the book. US copyright law is, the US is the only territory, to our knowledge, where you have to register copyright now for it to have legal standing should there be a query or a case brought against it. So, in terms of getting your ISBNs in order, I would say, yes, you can get your ISBNs in order at the start, register your copywriters if that's what you're going to do, there is no harm at all in having us in advance.

If you're asking that question because you think if you don't register your copyright you're going to be hit by plagiarism or piracy or something like that, copyright is a passive law. It's not, if I register my copyright, then these people that I'm trusting with my brand-new shiny arcs, can't run away with my stuff, and if I'm registered, I'm protected, and if I'm not registered, I'm not protected. It isn't like that. So, arc readers, people who volunteer to read your work and review it, are highly unlikely to be plagiarists or pirates.

And as a beginner author, a lot of beginner authors are thinking a lot about protection, and stopping people from taking their work. But the real challenge you have as an author starting out is obscurity. Nobody's going to notice your book, and it's going to take some time for you to be known for what you do, and so you've got to trust your arc readers.

So, yeah. Get everything lined up, get everything sorted because they're admin tasks, and it's good to have them out of the way before the excitement of your launch and everything else takes over, but don't do it because you fear that if you don't your copyright's not protected. It is.

Should my book have a barcode with a set price?

Michael La Ronn: Yep. Very good. The next question is from John, should I have a barcode with a set price or a generic 9,000 barcode? Hopefully you know the answer to that, Orna.

Orna Ross: Yeah, I'm not sure what a generic 9,000 barcode is, but if you are publishing POD, print-on-demand with Amazon KDP print and IngramSpark, which we recommend, particularly at the beginning for print, until you're absolutely sure that your book is settled and you know what's in it and all of that kind of thing, there's no need for short runs. And again, unless you have a distribution outlet for any sort of short run that you would do POD is fantastic because the reader buys the book and the book is printed to need, to demand, print-on-demand, what it says on the tin. So, in that case, you don't need to worry about the barcodes, the services will look after your barcodes for you and that's all fine. If you're doing a short run and you may well, depending on why you're doing it and who your outlet is, and whether they have pricing involved and they want the recommended pricing on the book and all of that, you may have to do it.

But this is not so much a question for you, your book designer should be able to help you with all of this. If it is an experienced book designer, who's used to doing print covers, then they will know the barcode requirements. So, work closely with them, depending on your needs, and how you're distributing; that's really at the core of this question.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah. If you need a barcode, somebody is going to tell you that you need a barcode, essentially.

Orna Ross: That's a good way to think about it.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, because I've never had to use one, but I've never done offset printing. So, that's a really good answer because I didn't even know that. I thought maybe there was some reason out there I needed to have a barcode, but I don't have to worry about it.

Orna Ross: No, you don't, if you're POD. Another reason, I mean, POD was the best thing that ever happened to authors and print books, because I did a print run, I self-published before POD and I had that, kind of, all the books up in the spare bedroom, under the bed, and everywhere else, and the distribution headache, and the invoicing, the distributor, and the returns coming back, and all of that. Absolutely. It’s so time consuming, you basically need somebody to do all the admin of that. So, print-on-demand is just amazing, and I think the indie author gods definitely deserve thanks for that one.

Where can I find the IngramSpark discount?

Michael La Ronn: All right. Next question is just a reminder question, Orna. We had two people ask this month. Where can you find your IngramSpark discount?

Orna Ross: Yeah, you log into the member zone, and you go to the discounts and deals page, and it is there. It's changed at the end of every month. So, you'll need to log in again next month. You get five uses, each month, of the cod. So yeah, that's where you find it.

And while you're there, have a look around at the other discounts and deals, which our partner members are providing for our author members as well. There's lots of good stuff in there, and it's a good place to also find cost effective services of all kinds, reasonably priced editors, and designers. Our partner members are all approved and vetted by ALLi. So, you can be sure that they are used to working with indie authors, and they are supportive of indie authors. So, hop in for your code and maybe you'll come out with some other nice discounts too.

How can I quickly find the right cover designer for my book?

Michael La Ronn: All right. Next question is from Caroline. Just need to read her question here and wrap my head around it. Okay. Caroline's question is, what is the best way to find the right cover designer quickly?

Orna Ross: Don't do anything quickly, and definitely don't do your book cover quickly.

Michael La Ronn: And let me, let me clarify. The reason Caroline asked that is because she's a new member to ALLi and is a little overwhelmed by all of the different resources we offer, and just is concerned that she might have to spend a lot of time wading through resources.

Orna Ross: Ah, quickly in that sense. So yes, time, I get it. Great, I thought it was like you had set a deadline and you were rushing against the clock trying to produce your first book cover, which we wouldn't recommend because you need time to think about these things and to find the right person.

So, from our perspective, again, I would refer you to our partner members. We have a number of really good book cover designers used to working with indie authors. Your designer, interviewing two or three, at least, designers, maybe even more. Having a discussion with them, talking to them about how they do things, and working at the brief for them, that is the job that you have to do.

So, in terms of narrowing down the number of people that are out there, because there are countless numbers of designers on the internet, in a sense we've done that job by vetting and approving these people that you can trust. So, we would recommend that you have a look through those and see how you get on, and you should find somebody who's going to be able to make a cover.

There's an article on the Self-Publishing Advice Centre about how to commission a designer, and also, I know Michael, you're 150 Questions goes quite deeply into this, the ALLi guidebook, all of which are free to members. The eBook versions, you can just download them from the publications page in the member zone again. Take a look at that section.

So, all the ALLi guides are divided into editorial, design, production, distribution, and so on. They're designed in that way so you can hop to the part of the process that you're currently in and ignore the rest. So, you can read the guidebooks from start to finish and then go back if you want to, but you can also just jump in where you're at, and kind of go from there. So, all of the guidebooks will have a design section, so you can read what I have to say about commissioning a designer and how to choose a good one, and what Michael has to say as well. Also, John has a section in his book about Choosing a Self-Publishing Service. So, that is the work of maybe 90-minutes to read those chapters and the post on the Self-Publishing Advice Centre. And from there, you should have a clear pathway of the next steps to take.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, and I would also just figure out what your budget is. So, just do a quick Google search or even look at the partner members, or the folks in our directories, service rating directory that Orna mentioned. Look there and just figure out what the average price is, and then figure out what your budget is. That's going to help you find the designer you can afford to begin with. So, if you're really on a budget, one of your options is to go with a pre-made cover. That is a viable choice, it depends on how much you've got, but those tend to be a lot cheaper than your traditional designs. And that is an option.

If you've got more money and you can pay for something more professional, then definitely do that and hire a designer. The only thing you've got to keep in mind is what kind of calendar the designer has. So, there are some designers out there that it could take months just for them to even get around to designing your book. And if you've got that kind of time to wait, that's great. Over the long-term, that's not really sustainable; if you want to write more than a couple of books a year, you really can't afford to wait six months for a designer. That's my opinion. But that's another thing you got to keep in mind. But yeah, if you wanted to keep it simple, I would just start with the service ratings directory. Start there. If all fails, ask other authors in your genre who they're using, and that should get you a pretty sizeable list of designers that you can wade through pretty quickly.

Orna Ross: Yeah, and the pre-made option, as you say, is a very good option, particularly in certain genre. So, with non-fiction and stuff like that, it's fine, it's a hundred percent fine. Pre-made covers work really well. So, yeah, you'll figure it out.

The thing is that it is overwhelming, I think self-publishing is overwhelming if you think about everything all at once. But if you break it down across the seven stages and you only focus on that stage while you're in it and learn, go in there again with that attitude of exploration and experiment and learning, so that on your first time you're not just doing the thing and making it happen, you're also learning what works best for you. Then second time out it becomes easier, and third time it actually is easy. And after that, usually at this point, I give very little thought to the actual process of putting the book together. It just kind of happens. It's very low down on the list of what I'm spending time thinking about. I'm spending much more time thinking about the marketing end of things, and how this book is going to reach readers and stuff. But at the beginning that production, all these production questions and distribution questions are very live, and it does take a little bit of time to grapple with them. But one step at a time is the way to do it.

Michael La Ronn: I agree, I love what you just said. I spend almost no time thinking about the formatting, or layout, or any of the technical stuff anymore. Like you, it's almost all exclusively spent marketing, and it kind of goes back to one of the first questions we had Orna of, what are the first steps? You know, mastering that tool and getting an understanding of the process, I think it's everything.

Orna Ross: And that takes time. That kind of comes back to my, don't try to do anything too quickly. These things take time, and there are some shortcuts, and we offer those, and authors will help you hugely with that. Keep talking to people on the ALLi forum, and in other author groups, you will get useful shortcuts, but you won't get anything that takes away the fact that good books take time.

Can I transition from a pen name to my real name, and what do I need to think about?

Michael La Ronn: Yes. And our final question for this month, Orna is from Kaitlin and Kaitlin says, she's done eight editions of a book using a pen name. She wants to start using her real name but does not want to lose traction or loyalty. Any suggestions on how to make this transition from a pen name to a real?

Orna Ross: Unusual transition, and did you say eight editions of a book? Does that mean eight books in a series, maybe?

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, I'm not quite sure what she means there, she says she has eight editions of a book.

Orna Ross: Oh, the book has come out again and again, I am guessing, in eight editions over time, and now she wants to actually get her name.

So, you're going to have two things here. First of all, you're going to have the readers, and the people you want to bring with you. And then you're going to have the distribution services and so on, depending on who you're using and how you get your books out into the world and all of that.

So, the actual physicality of the change is pretty easy. You can just put your own name and you can put ‘previously writing as your author name' in there as well. Put that on your cover, put that in all the information, in the metadata, in everything related to the book so that the book continues to show up when people, because a lot of people won't know and will never know actually that you've made this change. They'll still be referring to by the first name for a decade to come. So, just make sure that you use the two of them, certainly for a long transition period.

Then you're going to have issues around, if it's a new author name, that takes you into it as a new author in places like Amazon KDP, and if you want to carry over old reviews and stuff, you're going to have to get into conversations with their support desk and stuff about that. So, it's not something that's done lightly, but I'm quite sure you have good reasons for wanting to do it at this point in the game. So, I think the good thing is that it can be done, and there is no great reason why you should lose readers so long as you don't want to get rid of the old name completely.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, I I'm actually going through this in some respects, because I've got a pen name that I'm retiring. So, I have a pen name that I used for urban fantasy, and I'm going to retire that name and pull it under my Michael La Ronn name. And it's kind of similar to Kaitlin's issue in that I've got reviews, I've got readers who know me under one name, and now I've got to communicate to them that I have a new name.

So, there's the technical part of it, and the technical part of it is actually quite easy. It's unpublish the book, get a new ISBN, make sure the book is on the website of my new pen name, make sure that I regenerate all of my books to read links, and all of that stuff. The cover, like Orna mentioned. That's all the technical stuff, that's not too bad.

The other part of it is just making sure you communicate with your readers. So, making sure, like Orna mentioned, that you're putting in your book description, ‘previously writing as', making sure you communicate it with your email list, making sure you communicate it on social media, making sure you continue to communicate it because there's always going to be someone that says, oh, I remember you under M.L. McKnight. No, no, now it's Michael La Ronn. So, you may need to run advertising. If you can do it, I would just take a look at your entire platform. Meaning every area of your website, your email list, your email signature, your Facebook pages, your Pinterest, your TikTok, whatever. Do an end-to-end review of your platform, and come up with a plan to replace stuff, if you want to use that. Because what's going to happen is you're going to make the transition and then you're going to go, oh, I forgot about that thing, I forgot to change my name over there. So, it'll probably take you some time to transition everything but if you just look holistically at your platform, it'll make it a lot easier. Because this pen name retirement that I'm doing, it's a massive undertaking. I didn't really appreciate how massive it was until I got halfway through it, and then I'm like, oh crap, there's a bunch of stuff I have to do.

Orna Ross: Yeah, there's a lot to it, and it's something I think that brings me to the question for this particular author, in particular, if you had eight editions of this book, it's a much-loved book and it's going back a long time. So, I'm guessing that you are distributing through bookstores as well, and that this book may have started out in trad world, and that adds, you know, that's Michael's complexity plus a whole other big, enormous layer of complexity with booksellers and bookshops, and all of that.

So, I would ask you, are you absolutely sure you want to do this? And I'm figuring you've probably sorted that out, and you absolutely do, which is great. If you do go ahead, understanding all the things that we said, and that you are giving yourself lots and lots of work, and you're happy with that, that's fine.

But if you can live happily with it, I'd really say, stay where you are. If it's just an idea, oh, I'd like now to kind of go out there, you may have professional reasons why you may operate under your own name in another sphere, and it will be good for you to have the book in your own name, you may think that, but people are very used to the idea that authors use pen names and they're not a bit put off by that. So, I have a dual identity and I just say, well, that's my work name, that's my writing name or whatever, my real name is, blah, blah, blah. And I've done speaking gigs as me and given books under different pen names.

So, that can be done, and you might want to think about whether that might be a better option for you with less work and less confusion. It's the readers I'm worried about and the influencers, the booksellers, the librarians. There's a massive infrastructure underlying books, they go out into the wide world and we kind of forget about them when they're gone, but making those changes gives a lot of people, a lot of headaches.

Michael La Ronn: I agree, and I think that's a good way to end it. So, those are all of our questions for the month, Orna.

Orna Ross: Okay, great. So, that's March, and if you have questions now, that you'd like to send through to us, then we will have the link for that in the show notes, as ever. Until next time, we'll be back at the usual time, aren't we, Michael? Yeah, next month is London Book Fair, so things are a little bit moving pieces in ALLi, but I think we're back at the usual time, which is the second Tuesday of the month at midday, UK time, and some God-awful time where Michael is.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, like five o'clock in the morning. It's okay.

Orna Ross: He's an early bird. So yes, we will see you then.

Until then, happy writing and happy publishing.

Michael La Ronn: Take care everyone.

Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an author, book editor, and journalist. He is also the Content and Communications Manager for the Alliance of Independent Authors, where he hosts and produces podcasts and keeps the blog updated. You can find more of his work at https://howardlovy.com/


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