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The Nimble Advantage: Indie Authors In An Era Of Accelerating Change: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast With Orna Ross And Joanna Penn

The Nimble Advantage: Indie Authors in an Era of Accelerating Change: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast With Orna Ross and Joanna Penn

What is the “nimble advantage” for indie authors? Are you feeling overwhelmed or uncertain about your author business? Fed up with technology and constant change? In this overview of what’s changing for indie authors Orna Ross and Joanna Penn focus on the mindset we need to adopt and the practicalities we need to know, so we can surf the change and benefit, instead of drowning in it.

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Watch the Podcast: The Nimble Advantage

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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

Watch the Podcast: The Nimble Advantage

Joanna Penn: Hello everyone, and welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors' Advanced Self-Publishing Salon. You'd think I'd get it right by now, after like years, with me Joanna Penn, and Orna Ross. Hi, Orna.

Orna Ross: Hi, Joanna. Yes, don't forget the advanced, very important.

Joanna Penn: I always forget, I mean, seriously, somedays we don't feel so advanced.

Today, we are talking about the nimble advantage – indie authors in an era of accelerating change.

I get quite excited about all of this type of stuff, but we are going to talk about some of the mindset things that we need to have in place, as well as giving you a glimpse of some of the next decade, and also some practical tips.

ALLi News & Updates

But before we do that, as ever, we are authors first. So, Orna, give us the ALLi news and updates.

Orna Ross: Yeah. So, lots of things happening on the big partner member front. So, we've been running a sort of summer, it's summer here in Britain, allegedly, somebody said, so we ran the summer webinar series. So, we've had a few seminars with Apple Books, we had our Australian one last week and European, and then we have another one on the 12th, and this week on the 8th, we have KDP, about getting more sales on the KDP platform. So, that's all good.

The other big source of news for ALLi members at the moment is that there has been a change to the Ingram discount code. Now, that's very popular, we have lots of discounts and deals for our author members provided by our partner members. One of the most popular is definitely the IngramSpark code because it allows for free upload of your book, but also free revisions, which is really generous of them, and, of course, they also sponsor this podcast, I should mention.

So, the change is that we have to now change the ALLi code every month. So, before uploading your book to IngramSpark, if you're using the ALLi code, you're going to have to log into the member zone and navigate to Approved Services, and under Approved Services you will find the discounts and deals page, and you'll get the code there each month.

It will change, and each month it will allow you five uses. So, that's five, including upload or revision, and if you've got more than five, you'll just have to wait until next month. So yeah, lots of questions about that because it had to come down pretty suddenly last week, but it's back in place now.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic. So yes, login and get the code. And yes, we should say just emphasizing that they sponsor this podcast. They sponsor my podcast, and that is because we use them and love IngramSpark, and I think that's really important to say. In fact, behind me are many IngramSpark books.

So, yes, in terms of what I'm up to, I am in the first draft phase of two books, which I hardly ever do, two at the same time, but this is a novel, now called Tomb of Relics, which is my Arkane book 12. I had to change the title. Although, working titles often change. So, if I mentioned last month, I think it was called Day of the Martyr, and now it's not, that's just life when you're a discovery writer.

Orna Ross: (Inaudible).

Joanna Penn: Everybody remembered that.

Very good point. Nobody actually cares, anyway.

Orna Ross: Well, until the end. Until it's a real thing. As you say, it changes lots.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and I think it's good for me to say that, because some people think that titles are set in stone. Of course, they're not, even after publication. I'm also, co-writing The Relaxed Author with Mark Leslie Lefebvre, an idea we came up with on a podcast episode, and we decided to write it.

So, that's happening, and I think, although I've known Mark for over a decade, I think he's discovering that I'm not quite so relaxed about co-writing. So, that's going to be quite funny.

I also just wanted to mention that I did do my book sales breakdown, based on revenue, not volume. Yeah, so I didn't do one last year, so this the first one for two years, and I wanted to share, well, thanks to IngramSpark who are now 6% of my revenue, Kobo is also 6%, but very excitingly direct sales also 6% of my revenue. So, that is selling eBooks and audiobooks from my website, and that was less than 1%, two years ago. And also, two other interesting things, audiobook share is now 21% of my revenue, so that's almost a quarter of my revenue is from audio, and I sold eBooks in 126 countries last year. That's also very cool because, you know, people say, oh, I can't do that now, but remember I started out in 2008 and it was about two countries back then. So, it's all a matter of growth. Those we'll link in the show notes, but there's breakdown by format, by author name, by country, by platform, by fiction nonfiction and all of that. So, hopefully people will find that useful.

Orna Ross: It's fantastic, and it's so interesting because to hear how it develops over the years. Yeah. So, that's your Kobo map that tells you where you sold, is it? Or are you taking also IngramSpark and other providers into account, or is that just Kobo?

Joanna Penn: No, I do take other providers into account, but the Kobo one is still the best map, in my opinion.

Orna Ross: Oh, I love the Kobo map, it's just fantastic. You always find your sold something in, you know, Papua New Guinea or somewhere, and you think, I have a reader there? I can't believe it. It's fantastic!

Joanna Penn: And what about you, Orna?

Orna Ross: So, I’m writing away. I think last time I was talking about waiting for some awards and things. So, I'm preparing really, I suppose you would say, to do more licensing, because, partly out of investigation, wanting to investigate, but also because I think licensing is becoming, and we'll talk a little bit about this as we get into talking about the changes that are happening and coming, that licensing has become more and more important. So, I submitted for some awards and got a couple of indie awards, which is very nice.

I've also started working with an agent again, which means pitching again, and her making suggestions that I should do things, like submit to magazines and things that I really don't want to do, and then I think, well, do I have to? It's really interesting. It's very challenging, and it's very interesting to revisit it all a decade later and decide, well, you know, I started self-publishing because I fully think it was an emotional, intuitive kind of thing. I just thought, yeah, this is definitely huge, and I want to be part of it, but it's interesting now, 10 years later, what was it in me that I didn't work to do in the trade side. So, I'm finding that out, I'm kind of revisiting everything and seeing what I do, and I don't want to do. So, yeah, that's been me this month, so I just need to get something out.

The Nimble Advantage: Why indie authors should embrace change

Joanna Penn: The topic of today is the nimble advantage – indie authors in an era of accelerating change. So, we are going to talk about the mindset of surfing the change and not drowning in it. Then we're going to give you some points on some of the things that are changing, and if you follow my podcast, I've talked about some of these things, but we're going to get into some of the other stuff, and then we'll talk about some of the tips about staying nimble so that you can take advantage of what's going to happen over the next decade.

Orna, anything else, or should we just get straight into it?

Orna Ross: Let's go to the topic, yes.

Joanna Penn: Okay. So basically, the main thing is that things will always change, that is the only certainty. As I've mentioned, I've been doing this since 2008, and if you compare what we had, what's so funny is indie authors are like, I heard something moaning the other day about why pre-orders are a certain way and not the other, and it made me laugh because I remember for years, wanting pre-orders and we weren't allowed them, and now we've got pre-orders for e-book and for print book, through IngramSpark, and that is pretty exciting.

We've got so many things that we didn't have. And in fact, right now the business model for an indie author is pretty much the same as for a traditionally a traditional publisher. We can pretty much reach all those markets. Yes, it takes some work, but really, we can do pretty much everything, and many indie authors are.

So, that's the first thing, is that things will always change, and we need to embrace the change and live with it, rather than fearing it and moving away from it. So, Orna, you're very much in touch with the indie authors in ALLi, why is fear such an issue when we talk about things changing, and what can people do about it, I guess?

Orna Ross: I think indie authors are fearful of change because human beings are fearful of change. I mean, science has shown us that there is a biological underpinning for this, and then socially, we are conditioned to try to stay safe and secure and, you know, keep things as they are. It's just a natural tendency. And the response that kind of rises up in us physiologically is a fear response. We may not always recognize it as that though, because our minds are very clever at coming in and presenting it to us as logic or as a different emotion, perhaps it could be disdain for, you know, marketing for example, or it may not present as fear.

Fear doesn't always present as fear, but the most important thing, I mean, the whole point of being a creative is that you feel fear and you do it anyway. That is what distinguishes creative people from people who opt for more conventional ways of living, and so everybody in the creative industries is now being challenged by technological advances that are happening at lightning speed.

And as we were discussing before the show, they're leapfrogging over each other, it's impossible to say what's coming next. We've been talking about some of these changes for a long time, but we're constantly taken, even you and you really keep in touch with stuff, constantly surprised by what's surfacing.

So, I think the response is 100% natural. I think that's the most important thing to say, but it's not something to give in to, because you will, such is the pace of change, and so much of that change is positive change, but if you don't embrace it, then you're actually going to find it difficult to maintain an author business, and even to keep up with authors who do embrace it. So, I guess that's what tonight's show is about. It's about saying we actually have the advantage that allows us to respond in a very nimble way, which bigger corporations and businesses don't have. And so again, we led the technological changes of the last decade, trade publishing is only now beginning to do things and talk about, even, doing things that we've been doing for a decade, and that will continue, and that's something to be proud of.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and I think this is so important to talk about now, that this fear aspect, because I feel like we're in a really weird period of the pandemic. Now, this time, last year we were in terrible fear, and I know some people still are for health reasons, but we're in a much better situation than we were a year ago in terms of what's going on with the pandemic. But fear is something we have all felt in some way in the last year, 18 months, and I think that's part of it. I feel like there's been a lot, and as we come out and we start trying to get into the world again, there are so many levels of dealing with fear that makes a difference.

And yeah, I mean your tolerance level, like today, I was saying to Orna, they were resurfacing the road outside our house, and I got very, very angry, and anger is one of those things that happens when you're stressed, like, I'm not an angry person, but when I get that angry, it's because I'm stressed, and I can't cope.

So, I guess, what we're saying about fear as well, and what Orna mentioned there is it might manifest in other ways. So, for example, I've been talking about AI writing. I introduced Orna to Sudowrite. We'll talk about that in a minute, but I've had a lot of people email me and say, why are you talking about this? This is going to ruin writing, and this could destroy us all, and all these things. And yes, of course, there are problems, and there are always going to be problems in every sphere, but it's like, okay, so I understand fear of technology, but what are we going to do about it? Because we can't just make it go away.

So, maybe there's a way to take some action that will help you. And for me, the action is generally, learn more about it, read more books. I have about 50 books on blockchain and AI, and all these things that I feel are happening, because if I understand it, then I will feel less afraid.

This is why I did a demo for Orna on Sudowrite, the AI writing thing, because I thought if Orna could see it, then maybe other people might. So, just tell us about that, because you were a bit doubtful?

Orna Ross: Yes. I mean, even the words, artificial intelligence, make me scared, not now, but they did. And again, that is an ignorance kind of thing, because also we were fed all those scary movies, and all of that, and also, I think I would have had a sense that, you know, getting the machine to do the writing for you, that's just not on. That's not writing, that's crazy.

And, of course, it isn't like at all. It's just another tool. And that's what you realize when you get stuck in, and you go there, and you work with it rather than allowing your assumptions to dictate what happens. It helps when you have friends who hold your hand along the way.

But I have found that experience to be fantastic. I'm really, really enjoying it, and I think that's the thing, I can see that not every writer would, and it's not going to be for every writer, this particular tool that I'm using, but it really suits me. And I think that's the thing, back at the beginning of self-publishing, I remember people had very strong opinions, one way or the other. I was hearing two completely different stories from my author friends, and I realized the only way to know, for me, was to actually try it and yeah, I absolutely loved it. And it's the same with all of these tools, I think, and all this change, if there's something that appeals you've got to go there and give it a try. You're not going to know by talking about it, so it is very much about throwing yourself in and bringing a growth mindset to it.

So, I love that book by Carol Dweck, which is about Growth mindset; what it takes to actually grow, evolve, and move with change, rather than, opposing that to a fixed mindset, which presumes it knows the outcome.

It's being seen by psychology, building on her work as more essential in today's rapidly changing work and home environments. Everything is changing rapidly, so without a growth mindset, you tend to suffer.

If you haven't read that book, I would recommend it and we will post a link to a nice infographic about it, if you're not familiar with it, in the show notes.

Joanna Penn: So, I guess what we're saying about the mindset is, really, if you feel fear or something that might be fear manifesting in a different way, like anger or frustration, or any of these emotions, then just take a minute to examine it and decide whether you could address that by learning something or taking some action, or finding a trusted voice to listen to, and it doesn't have to be us, you can go find out the trusted voices, because sometimes having people who are a little bit ahead of you in the pack can really help, but you do have to choose the right direction to follow, because that is also a problem in the indie community is people end up following things that don't actually suit them very well.

So, you have to make a decision, but that's why we want to talk about the mindset upfront.

So, should we get into some of the changes?

Orna Ross: Yeah, just one last thing before we go there, I remember you saying about when you're fearful about financial decisions, for example, when you got into KDP, you invested in Amazon, it was a security thing.

When we take risks and when we're negotiation change it's also really important to do it from a place of safety, and sort of build up security in other arenas, if you are stepping into change and one place to not kind of throw everything into the wind, to actually secure your creative conditions, make sure there's good self-care there, and all of that will make negotiating it much, much easier. So, yeah, let's talk about the changes.

Joanna Penn: Just to reiterate the grounding. So again, today when I was angry, I went for a walk. So, some of the things we're talking about, if you do feel that fear or resistance, or whatever, then, as Orna said, that grounding, that self-care, the things that don't change, and this is really important, we are going to come to the tips at the end, and of course, the tips that we often give are the things that don't change, but, Orna, do you want to take the first one?

What changes can indie authors expect in the next 2-10 years?

Orna Ross: Looking specifically at the changes? Yeah. So, the first thing to say is that change, again, there's a negativity bias in us all, it's a natural, it's a given, and to be aware of that and to be aware of the fact that change is equally positive as negative, at least, if not more so.

So, one of the great things about the changes that are happening is that every year, every few months, we've got more opportunities to create and reach readers.  Kindle Vella is something that's just come on, there are new audio platforms, social, everybody's talking about Clubhouse, I haven't gone there myself, but audio platforms is a whole new thing. We saw during this month just gone, ALLi partner member, Lawrence O'Brien at BooksGoSocial just sold an eBook for a hundred dollars as an NFT, non-fungible token, I'm not going to get into explaining what all of these things are, but essentially a way to sell a premium and special digital product, which we didn't have available to us before.

There's Spotify, all the other platforms are getting into subscription stuff. So, there are lots and lots of opportunities for the author who has held on to their rights, hasn't gone exclusive with any trade publisher or self-publishing service, but is going wide.  It's kind of, what will I do, which will I select to do, because there are so many different opportunities, and I remember a time when there were no opportunities. So, that's just really, I think, the most important aspect of it.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and that would be a tip already, which is, you cannot do everything. You have to focus down. Also, you don't have to jump now. We're talking about some of the things that are shifting over the next 2, 3, 5, 10 years. So, for example, Kindle Vella and the other serial fiction, Wattpad's been around for more than a decade, but it was only last year that they were bought by the massive South Korean company that owns Webtoon and other ones. They have TV studios now; they have all these things. And Kindle Vela, like many of us think, Kindle Vella was launched because suddenly, serial fiction is really happening. Personally, I don't read serial fiction and I don't write it, so I am not going anywhere near Vella or any of the other platforms like that.

But I am interested in audio platforms, audiobooks, and also NFTs. And again, we're not going to go into detail on any of these things, we're just giving you a strategic overview, and there'll be links and things in the notes.

So, one of the other things that I find fascinating is, I've sat on a number of sessions at various things, including London Book Fair online over the last few weeks, and we are entering a more competitive, specifically book market. So of course, we've got all these other things that are new, which traditional publishing won't be catching up to yet, but specifically e-books, digital audio, print on demand. It's like traditional publishing just discovered this, as you mentioned.

And in fact, I sat on one session where one publisher was hailed as revolutionary by uploading an eBook and publishing globally at once. And I was like, really? We've been doing this for a long time, why is this revolutionary? But what this means, also what happened last year in the pandemic is that 67% of publishing revenue in the US, according to the various surveys, was from the backlist, which was a reversal from previous years.

So, what's happened is the traditional publishers have gone, oh, blacklist, digital, metadata, online sales, online marketing. So, plus amalgamation coming in traditional publishing. So, Random House and Simon and Schuster, with all the other small ones happening. So, essentially, I think what we're going to see is traditional publishing taking some of our things like easy ad revenue, or things we have been seeing, but the prices will go up.

We'll also see a number of, I think, traditional publishers will make bids for back lists of big authors, because I think they now understand that having a massive backlist of IP is actually going to make a difference. So, I think that's going to change. What do you think about this?

Orna Ross: Yes, I do, and I think the mindset has changed.

So, traditional publishing was always organized around the launch and the next book and that eight-week window to make or break a book and, as you say, they woke up, I think, to audiobooks, first of all, and began to digitize the audio.  Then began to understand that an eBook is not just an alternative print book but is actually something that has a full life of its own, and that this idea of front list and backlist means nothing to readers. The day they discover the book is the day they discover the book, and they don't care necessarily if it's evergreen. I mean, we're all still reading classics that were written 200-300 years ago. So, they don't care that the book was published five years ago if it's a timeless tale. So much of what happens in publishing is convention and has built up around selling books into bookstores, and everything else, kind of, tagged on to that. Whereas now, I think that people who see where the money is, are thinking very differently.

Another thing we're seeing happening is organizations and universities, and, you know, people like the Economist Magazine or, you know, people who have just loads and loads of great content are realizing, oh, I can actually put this up for sale through Amazon and monetize it in a big way.

So, and like (inaudible), and there's a link in the show notes, has written very interestingly about what he calls enterprise publishing and that's, again, a competition for the little author publisher who is offering something different and offering something unique.

I think, no matter what happens with big organizations, corporations, corporate publishers, or these big organizations, it's a type of publishing, but there are things that authors can do that nobody else can do, and I think that's what we need to be hyper aware of, and that's where our strength lies and so we should play to our strengths here rather than trying to compete.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, absolutely. Okay. So, another big thing. And in fact, this has started happening today, which is structural changes, I've called this. A couple of things. So, one, Jeff Bezos has stepped down as the CEO of Amazon after 27 years. And in fact, Jeff himself has said that Amazon will be disrupted and most business models only last 25 years. And of course, Amazon started in 1994 with the sale of books online. So, I think this is fascinating. I also feel, Andy Jassy who's taken over, has basically grown AWS, Amazon Web Services, into the behemoth that it is. It runs a lot of the internet; this is Amazon's cloud service.

Now, on top of this, we've also got the five bills going through the US Senate about breaking up big tech. We've got the digital markets bill, or whatever it's called, digital services act and digital markets act, going through the EU. So, what we've got is regulation, I don't think it will be breaking up big tech, but it's regulation of big tech. Now this is coming, it doesn't matter which side of the political spectrum you are on, this is happening. And they're like, okay, we need to sort this out. So, from the one thing that means that we're going to see some disruption in these companies, they might divest some things. If you can't own the store and play in the store, what does that mean? But certainly, something's going to happen, but they will talk about it for probably a couple of years.

So, it's not going to happen next week, but I do think that, even though people are saying, Jeff moving on won't make any difference, that's just crazy, because a new CEO and the end of, essentially an era, there are going to be some changes.

The other briefly mentioned structural change is digital money. Again, this is a two-year, three-year thing, which is, obviously people have heard of crypto currency, things like Bitcoin, but this is digital crypto currencies that we already use. So, China has launched the digital Yuan or the renminbi, and the UK is looking at the brit coin. I so hope it's called brit coin. The US is looking at the digital dollar. So, I think what we're going to see are different changes in the payment system and changes in the platforms that run these systems. This is a very simplified version of a lot of stuff that's going on, but Orna, what are your thoughts on this?

Orna Ross: I think this has great potential for indie authors, if we can get it right for all creatives, but it's still very much in development and, you know, will it just end up being the author at the end of the payment chain again? Or can we actually use digital money and blockchain? Blockchain is just so interesting because of the way it just does away with middle people all over the place. You know, technology does the things that lawyers were needed for, and accountants were needed for. So, can we get that distributed currency and the blockchain facilitation, not just of the currency, but of the actual content, and bringing that together in a way that the artist, the creator, or the creative is the person who gets paid. And then from that person, everybody else gets paid. Instead of, as it is at the moment, where we are at the end of that chain. I'm not quite sure how we manage to make that happen, but a lot of it will be down to how much we feel empowered to do certain things with our readers.

I think that's why it's ever more important that we are aware of the value of our intellectual property, and of that direct connection that we have with our readers. Nurturing that growth and strengthening that is really important through all these changes, I think, but particularly that one.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and I think why this is so important to talk about is because, at heart, our business is we write words in some form, on some medium, and we get them to readers in some form, in some medium. So, our business is not handwriting or typing words into MS Word or Scrivener, and using Amazon or IngramSpark to publish a physical book, that's not the business model. The business model is not the tools. The tools enable the business model. So, if Amazon disappears, if PayPal disappears, you know, we can still run a business, because what we do at heart hasn't changed. And that's, I think, so important to remember.

But in terms of some of the others, and we're almost there, but there were just a few more things.

So, some of the AI tools, and I want everyone also now to think about AI, it's more like electricity as in everything's got AI in now, like I'm wearing a pair of headphones and they have AI noise canceling stuff at the same time. You know, we're on Facebook, that's full of AI, it's in there it's like electricity now.

So, everything we talk about is powered with AI, but there are specific tools that we're coming to you, like AI narration, Google auto narration, a few of us are trying to get into the beta for Google's tool. Sudowrite, we mentioned, which is writing fiction with an AI tool. ALLi had a post about this some of the other things; Authors AI, Booxby. Lots of things where AI is being used to help with creation, and also publishing in different formats.

But again, as I said, the AI stuff is in everything.

Should I just move on to the spatial web? Because I think we've talked about everything.

Orna Ross: Yeah, absolutely. It's really interesting what's happening there. Explain spatial web, first of all.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, sure. So, the idea of the spatial web, and some people are calling it web 3.0, this is going into the three-dimensional space. So, at the moment everything's on flat screens, so this is making it 3D through what people were calling virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, and now they're starting to just call it the spatial web. So, why this is suddenly sped up is that the rumors are that Apple will be launching their first headset this year to ship out next year.

Facebook, I mean, essentially if you're Mark Zuckerberg and you're looking at being regulated for your existing business model, you're looking at the next business model. And so, Facebook is really looking at Oculus. So, if apple and Oculus have these headsets, glasses, and essentially, they're looking at going from this device, which is a flat screen, and most people, I presume, watching this will have some kind of smart device, to something that you're wearing.

So, Orna is wearing glasses. I wore glasses for many years, I wear sunglasses, we're used to wearing them. And what it will mean is, instead of me having to have a physical device here to look at, it will just be in front of my face. So, the effect is the same, but the screen is a lot bigger. So, it's moving from handheld to, in front of your face, and so for us, what that might mean, and I was talking to Orna about it before, it's like, yes, there'll be cool things like, I was listening to something saying you could have Lady Gaga in your living room playing concerts, or TV becomes much more 3d, but that's not in our reach, right. That's not what we'll be doing, but what we will be doing is, for example, when I go to a cafe, instead of having to take a laptop and a separate keyboard and all the stuff, what I can do, or the ergonomic things, is I can just type on a table, or I can type wherever, I can use my hands and the world is a screen.

So, I know it's very difficult for people to think about, but this is actually going a lot faster than many people expected. This was also on my radar, because my brother who's a fashion designer has just got a job with Adidas as a 3D designer. So, what we have to think is, we're in entertainment, but we're also in retail. So, he's focusing on 3D retail, which is, if you want to buy some trainers, instead of, you know, when you turn things on a screen, on a flat screen, this will be, you put on the glasses, and you'll pop out from the screen and turn it in 3D. So, if designers are working right now for the 3D retail web, how is that going to change the way we sell books and also how we market?

So, what I would expect is, within a couple of years, probably, you'll be able to put your glasses on and see Orna and I in quite a different way, and that we'll pop out from the screen or whatever. It will be much cooler.

Orna Ross: Or much more scary.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, or much more scary. But the other thing is, they're looking at a new app ecosystem.  So again, the companies, the apps, everything we use now, you know, many of us pick up new apps all the time, pick up new tools all the time, and this will be another iteration of new tools, new apps, new things that are coming that will help us. But I think it'll be quite a big mind shift. But again, when Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, I said, I don't need one of those, why would I need one of those?   I'm fine with my Nokia, just texting people, and then I got an iPod and then I got a beginning iPhone and, you know, now I use it for everything. I run my business on it. So, what do you think Orna, about this idea of the spatial web?

Orna Ross: Yeah, I'm interested, but I don't know a lot. That particular one, I'm finding it difficult to see how we'll fit in. So, a book at the moment is a digital object, a 3D object (inaudible). But what's important in the book is the words. So, I'm interested. I need to think about it, I think it's in the arena of marketing more than anything else, more than retail.

I mean, if you've got a stunning and amazing cover, it could help to sell your cover, because you'll get a sense of it as a 3D object, but I think it's really in the marketing, getting creative about how that extra bit of sensory detail will feel to people, and what you can do with that, that you can't do in 2D.

Joanna Penn: Okay. So, I've got an example. So, I've been postulating for years about the 3D bookstore, where instead of having a flat payhip.com/thecreativepenn, where you see my flat covers, I create a location where you come and it's my curated bookstore, where you actually can look around you and you see my books next to other books, and it's more of a curated experience. I think that's what we've got to think. Instead of just a flat site, it's a curated, 3D experience. So, that's why it's exciting, because I think it's got a lot of potential, far more potential for the direct sales, because that's the environment that we live in, in real life. I went to a bookstore today, and I'm surrounded by different categories and all of that, so that's how I think about it.

Orna Ross: That's lovely, because I think a huge number of authors have a dream, especially authors who have a big catalogue; imagine if I could have my own books, I would love to, but nobody could ever afford to do that, but now you can, or very soon you can. Within that space then, it could happen, if you're somebody where teaching is part of your module, or something, then you can have it in there and you can take your books down off the shelf and yeah, there's all sorts of things you could be doing. Okay.

Joanna Penn: Yes, exactly. So, duh, everyone, just think, what do you do in real life, and how do we make it so that it's easier to do? Because first screen is so fake, really.

Anyway, lots of things we could talk about, but we are going to move into the final bit. What we might do is, if these things do emerge towards the end of the year, maybe we'll do something special on the spatial web, because I do think we could both use some time thinking about it and learning a bit more.

And if people are interested, there's a book called the Infinite Retina by Robert Scoble, which I've been reading, which is excellent.

How indie authors can have the nimble advantage—ALLi’s top tips

Joanna Penn: Okay, so let's get into, how do we stay nimble? So Orna, with all this change, oh my goodness, so many things changing except the fact that we still write stuff, what do we need to do in order to stay nimble for this future?

Orna Ross: Okay. I think we said this already, but it never can be said too often. IP is the center of all of this. So, intellectual property, making as much stuff as we can, and we all write at different rates. Some people are very slow, some are much faster, but the aim is to be productive and to have lots of books in lots of formats. And then to selectively license, you know, if you are licensing to somebody, not to give a full and exclusive license to anybody without really thinking it through.

So, those two to me would be big, and I think you agree with both of those very, very firmly as well? We're always saying these.

Joanna Penn: Yeah. So, obviously we're writers. We like writing. That's what we do anyway, and most of us, we don't like some of the other stuff. So really at heart, we still are creating more books, because if you think about that cool bookstore, you want to have different areas. But the main thing that I am, sort of, cautioning about is this clause that is so common in publishing contracts, which is ‘all formats existing now and to be created for the life of copyright'.

Now, I know people who've signed clauses like that for just a couple of thousand dollars, and essentially what that means is people will say, well, my audio rights, I can't do my audio, but that's just the beginning. For example, NFTs, which we really only learned about at the end of last year, you can't do that either. You can't do a digital special edition, which is basically what an NFT is, because you've signed away the rights, and who knows what else is going to emerge. I'm really thinking about, well, what happens in the spatial web, do we just publish an EPUB, or will there be another format?

Because a lot of the formats that have been created, are created for flat screen devices. So, don't sign away all formats existing now and to be created, because we don't know what they might be. Or even, for example, I was joking years ago with Dan Sawyer, he's a big audio guy about off-world rights, because at the moment you sign world English. But what does that mean? Because, of course, we've got Jeff Bezos going to space in a couple of weeks and we will have, in our lifetime, more people doing space stories, and now what is off-world rights? Can people have the right to read on their device off-world?

We used to laugh about that, but not anymore. So, what is the space tourism in-flight entertainment options. So, these are the things we want you to think about when you're signing licensing, and we are recommending licensing. Absolutely license your stuff, but selectively license.

What else, Orna?

Orna Ross: So important. So, the other thing, and it's sort of a trio, and they go hand in hand, is to nurture that relationship with your reader. That direct relationship with the reader is the one thing that nobody else can do except the author, and that is the magic relationship at the heart of a book really. It's such a quiet and simple act where the two imaginations come together in a book, and to really double down on that, you know, the fact that you are the author and, not that your interpretation of the book is the only one that exists or anything like that, but that you are able to do things with your reader and for your reader that people can't.

And we see that readers are really hungry for this authentic relationship with creators in this time, and all the platforms, like Patreon, Podium, and all of these that are providing this kind of direct relationship, and indeed, you were talking about your direct sales going up, our direct sales are going up and up. Anybody who's in direct sales is finding that readers are now really quite comfortable with going and buying a book, a digital book, directly from the creator. They like to do it, especially when they know what sort of difference it makes to you. So, really important for you, first of all, to understand that you don't need anybody else, all you need is a transaction, a way of taking some money in, in order to sell a book. And when you do that, you start a relationship, because you've got an email address and then it's up to you how you send them that book, what they get along with it, you know, what you surprise and delight them with a year later when they've forgotten all about you.

There are so many things you can do when you go direct. So, I think that's the other thing that's really, really important. Whatever change happens, that direct relationship, whether it's on a blockchain or PayPal, it doesn't matter. They're all tools, but the heart and soul of that relationship is the same. The more you can, kind of, emulate and replicate the heart and soul that went into your book, and put that into the relationship, then you're doing something really unique that won't change.

Joanna Penn: Exactly. And we'll just use those tools to take our relationship onto whatever the next platform is.

Finally, is educating yourself, and as we talked about at the beginning, learning things and keeping your eyes open for opportunities, and when things are ready, then to jump on them. Now, as much as I talk about these things, I don't jump on them as fast as you might think.

So, I have not done an NFT yet. I do want to do one this year, but I'm waiting to see how the things, kind of, shake out. But I have been selling direct 2009. So, these are things that we can do.

Finally, I did want to recommend a book that we're both reading, which is called Undisruptable: A Mindset of Permanent Reinvention by Aidan McMullen, who's Irish Orna, did you know that?

Orna Ross: Yes, I heard, he was brought up at the Phoenix Park, which is just about the most perfect place you could be brought up in Dublin. Yeah, he mentions that en route.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, in the book. Yeah. So, it's a great book. It's called Undisruptable, and I'm finding that super useful.

Okay. So, we are done. We are out of time. We're taking August off. Hopefully everyone is going to enjoy themselves. We'll be back in September talking about something else.

Orna Ross: Audio. We're going to talk about audio in all its shakes and formats, you know, audio books obviously, but also all the things that are happening in audio and podcasting as well.

Joanna Penn: All kinds of updates, because so much is happening in audio, we need to do an update on that. So Orna, anything else?

Orna Ross: That's it for now, I think, nothing jumping to mind.

Just to say, yeah, have a good month, everybody, a good two months. Happy writing and happy publishing.


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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