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Opinion: Why Creative Assets are Key to Income and Influence for Indie Authors (and What They Are)

Orna Ross Headshot Black and White

Orna Ross, ALLi Founder and Director, considers creative assets for indie authors

Orna Ross, ALLi director and author of the Go Creative! book series explains why keeping control of creative assets is essential to the indie author’s success in self-publishing. 

What does being an indie author mean to you?

For me it’s about having the creative control that allows me, over time, to build three things:
  • a readership
  • an ecosystem of assets that yields  a sustainable income
  • a body of work that fulfils my creative intentions
In business, income and influence tend to go hand in hand, and creative business is no exception. Yes, there are outliers who endure years of poverty to produce highly influential books.
And, yes, at the other end of the scale, some highly forgettable bestsellers earn enormous amounts of money.
Most of us, though, occupy the middle of this bell curve where creative and commercial impact are intertwined.
I never wanted to make a killing from writing or self-publishing, just what I deem a decent living. Enough money to live a good life, as I define that.
Enough to keep on doing what I do: poetry and literary historicals. Not the most lucrative of genres but the forms in which the words and ideas come, for me.
I’ve worked hard as I can and as smart as I know how … and I like to think I’m getting smarter. Step by step. Book by book. Follower by follower. Asset by asset.
Ah yes, assets. Creative assets are the fulcrum of our income and influence as creative entrepreneurs.

Why Trade-Published Authors Fail To Earn

picture of sparkler with sparks in palm of hand

It’s essential that you retain control of your creative assets (Image: Mervyn Chan via unsplash.com)

There is one core reason why an author who works only with trade publishers is not making money. If you think about it from a business perspective, it’s clear:

If you don’t have any control over your metadata, your marketing, your pricing, your distribution network, or your rights, you’re not in business as an author.
Other people are looking after the business. You’re an artist, at the financial mercy of a system built around a few winners (which means most are losers).
Without the ability to build assets, success for writers becomes a literary lottery. Your books become an asset on your publisher’s balance sheet, not your own.
Many self-published authors are poor too. The 80-20 rule applies there too. Most who are self-publishing will not succeed but it’s for a different set of reasons, which I’ll write about next time.
The difference is: poverty for the majority is not systemic. It’s not built into the business practices, as it is in trade publishing.

Why Self-Publishing Authors Fail To Earn

There are five core reasons why an author self-publishing digital books to a global market might not be making money:
Either our books are not good enough, or our marketing is not good enough, or our business processes are not good enough. Or–and this is the one we’ll look at next time–we haven’t set the intention to succeed commercially.
As indie-minded creatives, we can improve on all of these. Creative attention to our writing and publishing with an intention to succeed yields writing and publishing success
If we understand what good writing and publishing are comprised of,add time and energy, keep on writing and publishing, with the intention to improve, and a willingness to learn from failures and mistakes, we will improve. It’s inevitable.
It’s how the creative process works, if we don’t get in the way with doubt or resistance. If we turn up and play our part.
In the same way, creative attention to our author business with an intention to succeed yields commercial success.
If we understand how income follows assets, add time and energy, keep on improving our author-business practices and processes, with a willingness to learn from failures and mistakes, then we will improve our financial return. It’s inevitable
It’s how the creative process works, if we don’t get in the way with doubt or resistance.  If we turn up and play our part.
And therein lie the fifth reason: we don’t understand how income follows  creative assets. Or we don’t act from that understanding.
We allow ourselves to be derailed by confusion, distraction or ego.

Creative Success Follows Creative Assets

An asset is anything that puts money in your pocket, without you having to redo the process again. Assets release us from the time-is-money equation that runs the working life of the employee and the freelancer.
There are many other kinds of assets in a creative business.  Creative assets include:
1) Product and services assets e.g.
  • Books and other information, inspiration or entertainment products.
2) Business process assets e.g 
  • Data about your readers and followers
  • The process that produces your products or services and gets them to market

3) Marketing Assets e.g.

  • Your author brand that conveys to readers what you stand for
  • Your mailing list that connects you to your readers and lets them know about your books
The Go Creative! Show Orna Ross

Find out more about the Go Creative! books at Orna Ross’s website, www.ornaross.com

See the Go Creative! books for more on this.

If you don’t understand assets, you’re likely to find yourself following the latest author get-rich-quick idea, putting all your books into one publishing basket, giving a self-publishing service inappropriate levels of control, or making one of the many other business mistakes that lie in wait for the unwary author.
The ability that digital publishing gives to create assets is one of the reason why I, and many other trade published authors who like the idea of making a living, turn to self-publishing.
And why I am an advocate for digital publishing and creative entrepreneurship today.
Most important is that self-publishing is fostering the greatest asset of all: the independent mindset that creates all the others.

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11 Responses to Opinion: Why Creative Assets are Key to Income and Influence for Indie Authors (and What They Are)

  1. Jane Davis July 17, 2018 at 12:49 pm #

    There are other reasons why self-published authors fail to make money, despite producing good work, despite employing all of the advice and best practices. Two of these are ever-shifting market forces and big players such as Amazon moving the goal posts. We can anticipate change, even prepare for it, but the moving of the goalposts is more subtle and has crept up on many of us.

  2. K.S. Trenten May 13, 2018 at 8:03 am #

    Excellent pep talk, Orna, while pointing out some key points we should think about in our career. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Orna Ross May 17, 2018 at 9:35 am #

      Thanks Karl… next steps… with pep! 🙂

  3. Judith Ashley May 12, 2018 at 5:23 pm #

    To be successful also takes the willingness to learn tasks we don’t think we can and are not necessarily fun. Having an analytical mind is critical to the business model. Not all creatives come by that naturally but it can be learned. Thank You, I needed this pep-talk today.

    • Orna Ross May 16, 2018 at 5:19 am #

      And thank you Judith, for your feedback. The other option is to outsource the stuff you can’t do, don’t like to do or are no good at doing. We’ll have a post on that another day

  4. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt May 9, 2018 at 6:42 pm #

    Usually we don’t get mentioned – it was nice to see ‘there are outliers who endure years of poverty to produce highly influential books’.

    Maybe not the poverty part, as I am fortunate not to worry; but definitely obscurity. I’m getting readers and reviews one at a time, and have taken a lot of time to make what I’m writing right. I have an ultimate agenda of humanizing the way people view disability and chronic illness, by having a MAIN character with ME/CFS (of three), who neither gets bettter nor dies by convenient suicide or illness (way too many of those books out there). The reviews have been highly complimentary, but it’s mainstream, not genre, and I haven’t quite figured out how to market.

    So I keep plugging away at the second book in the trilogy, started a Patreon for those who really care about seeing it before I publish (at least another year), and am reluctantly looking at the need to market the author as well as the book.

    • Orna Ross May 16, 2018 at 5:18 am #

      HI Alicia, I’m so excited by the potential of self-publishing for authors like you and very interested in your definition of mainstream, not genre. Perhaps these are trade-publishing definitions? Whichever minor category your books go into on the online stores, that’s your genre, no? The quality of the books within every genre vary a great deal. I’m not sure if that’s the distinction you’re making. I’d love to tease out this discussion which I think is of interest to many authors..

  5. Karen Myers May 7, 2018 at 8:50 pm #

    I’ll take it one step further and endorse the whole concept of looking at your business products in writing as a variable annuity.

    You put in X hours at a Y$/hr pseudo-rate, and Z$ out-of-pocket as an investment in creating your titles in their various formats. And each year, you earn money for those titles.

    The goal is to make, say, 10% on those investments year after year, in aggregate. Some years you add to the investment cost (a new format, a new cover, a translation). Your biggest investment is typically your time (25$/hr = $52K/year — after all, you could in principle be doing something else with your time). And some years you make more or less from sales. But if you can see your business both growing (new titles, aka new investment) and earning at a reasonable return on investment (ROI), you can expect the business model to be healthy enough to cover all the non-title-specific costs, too.

    It’s important to understand what you spend (hours and money), or you can’t measure the effectiveness of what you’re building as a business model, just as it’s important to understand what you earn, at the most detailed level available to you.

    • Orna Ross May 15, 2018 at 1:02 pm #

      oh yes, hours and money. Thank you Karen, and for all the business advice you share so freely. Priceless.

  6. Maggie Lynch May 7, 2018 at 8:27 pm #

    Great article, Orna and right on target! So many indie authors don’t think of their books as assets and don’t think of their brand, blogs, and teaching as assets. There have been two times when I’ve been unable to write for several months due to medical things or family emergencies. Both of those times being able to simply repackaged my assets were able to sustain my income.

    • Orna Ross May 16, 2018 at 5:14 am #

      Thanks Maggie! I’m thrilled to hear you’ve worked out how to make your business an independent entity. Now that’s true independence.

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