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Productive Self-Publishing During COVID-19, With Orna Ross And Joanna Penn: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast

Productive Self-Publishing During COVID-19, with Orna Ross and Joanna Penn: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast

In the last few weeks, much has changed as COVID-19 sweeps the world, impacting lives and the economy. In this special episode, Orna Ross and Joanna Penn discuss how indie authors can stay physically and mentally well, and keep writing, publishing, and sensitively marketing books—as well as how to prepare for potentially challenging times ahead. 

In this podcast, Orna and Joanna Discuss:

  • Dealing with forced change
  • Finding a center through writing and meditation
  • How to save money and make money during the crisis
  • COVID-19's impact on print and digital books

And more!

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The Advanced Self-Publishing salon is brought to you by Specialist Sponsor Ingram Spark. IngramSpark is the award-winning indie publishing platform that offers authors like you a way to publish your book and share it with over 39,000 bookstores and libraries worldwide.

Find more author advice, tips and tools at our self-publishing advice center, https://selfpublishingadvice.org. 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.

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About the Hosts

Joanna Penn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author, as well as writing non-fiction for authors. She is also a professional speaker and entrepreneur, voted as one of The Guardian UK Top 100 creative professionals 2013. She spent 13 years as a business IT consultant in large corporations across the globe before becoming a full-time author-entrepreneur in September 2011. For more information about Joanna, visit her website: http://thecreativepenn.com

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 Transcript: Productive Self-Publishing During COVID-19

Joanna Penn: Hello everybody, and welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Advanced Self-Publishing Salon with me, Joanna Penn and Orna Ross. Hi, Orna.

Orna Ross: Hi Joanna and hello everyone.

Joanna Penn: Hello everyone. Now, weirdly, when we planned this, it was just before everything really kicked off. So, this week we're doing productive self-publishing in challenging times.

We're into the fourth week of lockdown here in the UK, and those of you around the world, at the moment of recording, will be in similar situations, I'm sure. So yeah, wherever you are, we hope you're safe. And, we will be talking today about some of the things going on and what you can do during this time.

But we're going to start with a bit of an update. Orna, you have some personal experience of what's going on. Tell us what's been happening with you.

Orna Ross: Yeah, well, you know, tradition is that we open up talking about what we've kind of accomplished in the past month. And, I'm afraid I didn't accomplish very much because, yeah, I actually went down with the virus, which was not fun, not pleasant.

But I was very lucky. I mean, I got through it. Still lingering a bit but generally just nothing that a week in bed didn't cure kind of thing. So, I’m feeling pretty happy about that part. How about you? How's it going for you?

Forced Change is Challenging

Joanna Penn: Yeah, well, first up, you know, obviously those people listening, I've been aware of you being sick and my cousin's actually still in hospital with the virus, and so I was very worried about you, and I know everybody listening who loves you and cares about you would have been worried. I've been worried, so I'm really glad you're back. How could I do this on my own? You know what I mean? It's just unthinkable.

But, yeah. So, from that perspective, I'm physically fine, but like many people, this is not a normal time. You know, the idea of, ‘oh well you've got more time at home so you can just write more and create‘, you know, ‘oh, Shakespeare wrote whatever at home‘ and what was it? ‘Newton came up with something‘, you know, there's all this stuff going around about all the things you should be doing, but actually this is a time of great anxiety and worrying about family and friends and the economy and everything.

We've talked about creative routine only a couple of shows ago. And for me, my creative routine for my first draft writing is to go to the cafe at seven in the morning, put on my earphones and listen to rain and thunderstorms. That's how I write, and then I do my business from my home office.

So, technically I work from home, but I have a lot of stuff that is outside the house. So, I found that I couldn't write anything for about three weeks. It was three weeks, almost four weeks from putting down my novel at sort of 35,000 words and then I picked it up again this week because finally a couple of things happened.

I talked with a friend of ours, Mark McGuinness, and in talking to him, I realized that I was still in denial. My logical brain knows this is not just going to flip back to normal, but my creative brain, I think, was just thinking I'd be back at the cafe next week, so what was the point in coming up with a new routine because the old one works so well for me?

But this week I was like, okay, I need to do something because this could go on for a long time and, regardless, I need to sort my life. So, I've come up with a new routine. I now do work in my house and I'm listening to the Game of Thrones soundtrack, which even if you haven't watched Game of Thrones, it's a great soundtrack. No words, instrumental soundtrack. And, I'm back into it. So, I've done eight and a half thousand words this week. Really happy. But it was also weird because I'm a morning writer and then I've been feeling guilty because I meant to go walking with my husband in the morning on our one government mandated walk.

So, I wanted to share with everyone this sort of guilt, this anxiety, this not knowing what to do with routine. And, I'm someone who should know what I'm doing, right? So, I feel a bit pathetic, but I know you've been hearing from a lot of ALLi members, so tell me, am I normal?

Orna Ross: What's normal? I hate that word. It's the only word I hate.

But yeah, people are suffering from all sorts of feelings, and you know, great change takes time to sit in and forced change is always challenging, especially for creative types who like to rebel. And then, as you say, the whole denial, getting used to it, you know, changing a habit.

Habit energy builds up in the brain. It's like a little groove in place. And then, especially if it's working well for you, it's very difficult to switch. So, yeah, we've been getting our post bag; our digital postbag is bulging in ALLi at the moment because of all the different kinds of situations that people are finding themselves in.

So, there are those people who just kind of jumped into it and thought, yay, everybody else in the world now behaves like me. You know, I'm sitting there, and it doesn't look so different from how I normally live my life and I'm going to use this time very productively. And off they went, but they were the exception.

I think just the shock, the distress, the tragedies we're hearing about, the mounting death tolls alone. Then the 24-hour news cycle and wondering what the latest update is and all of that. So, you can be at home in your own place, but your mind can be as busy as Grand Central Station.

And I think a lot of people, certainly for the first few weeks, were finding themselves there and then this terrible cycle of guilt, you know, I should be doing this and, you know, this is an opportunity, everybody says it's an opportunity and so on.

It's a global pandemic and we're all going to react in different ways.

And you know, this doesn't happen very often. Go with the flow, I think is, is the message generally but yeah, very strange time.

I do get the sense that people are beginning to settle back in, but of course, lots of people are also getting the virus in mild and all sorts of varieties of ways. And then unwell and wondering if they have the virus, and you know, there's just so much going on for practically everybody. So, what we are seeing and, there are a few kind of trends that we've noticed, which I think we'll talk about a little while, but we are definitely seeing that people need to think about what they're doing at the moment.

So, a lot of people seem to be taking this opportunity to pivot perhaps, or to really bed down into something. And, we're hearing a lot of people saying, ‘oh, I should have done a, B, and C, you know, and I would be so much better prepared for this and other eventualities if I had‘ and so they're now using this opportunity.

It's almost like permission to step out of what you do normally, maybe, and set up something quite different. So, yeah, all, all the different reactions.

Joanna Penn: Oh, you're such a good teacher. You said permission, pivot, and preparation. So, the three P's, which we'll be getting into as we talk about that. Well prepared and prepared.

Orna Ross: We don't just turn up here and chat folks.

Finding a Center Through Free Writing and Meditation

Joanna Penn: No, we really prepare. So, just to say that the Alliance does have a page full of lots of questions and answers and resources and help and stuff. So, the short link to that is selfpublishingadvice.org/covid19 and everyone should know how to spell that now, so you can go and find information and stuff on that page.

So, we're going to get into the main stuff now. So, we're going to start with, obviously, we want everyone to stay safe. We're not health professionals. We're not offering any health advice here. Please listen to your respective health agencies, wherever you are. So, we are going to talk about staying sane because, Orna, with your experience around meditation, free writing… I've been journaling quite a lot and I've even been dictating because you know, I've been angry. You know, these stages of grief that people go through, the anger comes in, the frustration, the grief as you say, the denial. What are your thoughts on meditation free writing and finding a center, I guess.

Orna Ross: Yeah, so important to have what I think of as a sort of a creative flow practice of some kind and, you know, regular listeners will know I am big on the whole free writing and meditation. I really see them as imperative, almost, for creatives in terms of this quiet-mind kind of thing. Getting that place where, you know, creativity always comes from a moment of silence, no matter. We may not realize that, but we can see that in the brain when we observe creative flow at play. So, getting that place where you can, as you say, stay centered enough to do what you want to do, to be able to, you know, put your intentions and your goals and get there and just to quiet the mind and stop thinking when it's full of thoughts about COVID-19 and all the implications, and there's no room for thoughts about what you need to be thinking about in your work. So, for me, free writing and meditation have always been, and they are, and they remain and have again helped me enormously in this time.

You know, when I was sick as well, they helped me to be patient, to realize that this too will pass, all those kinds of things. And the benefits are just enormous from both of those practices. So, just to say that if anybody's listening and they feel like they need a little bit of support in that direction, there are two Facebook groups, they're very small ,they're private, they're nothing to do with books or anything like that, but they're just a place where a few of us meet. And there's a flow practice Facebook group and also one where you can set your intentions at the beginning of the week and kind of come back in and record what you've achieved at the end of the week, and for some people, that's a kind of a nice stabilizer. So, if that will be useful to anybody, again, the notes and the links will be in the show notes. So yeah, having a practice, whatever it may be, knowing what your is, yours is journaling, right?

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and I think it's important to remember that, you know, being a writer and writing being your default way of expression in the world, it doesn't mean that every word you write has to be published, you know, it can just be writing for your own mental health, and I think that's really important at the moment. And, we use writing to figure out what we actually think and it was only when I was really writing about what I really want in my life and like, I'm sure we've all had these thoughts of, well, what if I did get the virus? What if I die? How angry will I be about what I didn't do, and what do I need to change?

So, we're going to come back to the P for pivot in a minute. But I do just want to say that community is also important. I think at the moment, also for introverts, we all have our online connections already in place, and then suddenly everyone else is joining in. Like my family, I'm the eldest of five siblings and now suddenly, we're all talking a lot more than we normally do, which is kind of crazy. So, there's a lot more noise for introverts, which is strange because, you know, we're not so used to that. But community is important, but just be careful of not overloading yourself, I guess.

Orna Ross: Yeah, definitely. And I think, you know, we set up in our work very often, we control it, but when family and friends come in, it's quite difficult for us to actually control that in the same way. So, I think one of the things that I find most effective is time-blocking. There are times for looking at WhatsApp family groups, and there are times when you just don't, because if you do, the day has gone. So, I think when there is no structure in the week, when there is no form in the day, when nobody is driving anything, you know, we can't even go to the cafe for a cup of coffee, it's ever more important to have that sense of, you know, to introduce that sense of structure for yourself.

How Can I Save Money During COVID-19?

Joanna Penn: Okay, so let's talk about business and financials because, as well as health issues, there's a lot of economic issues that we're seeing all over the world and this is, you know, a sort of unprecedented global impact on economies and a lot of people are very worried. Even if you're not effected physically, you're certainly worried whatever age you are, it might be, you know, your job, it might be your pension, it might be your family, you know, and those of us who are authors are obviously worried about different income streams. So, let's talk about that because regardless of what's happening, we're all effected. Like literally, we're all affected. So, what are some of the questions or I guess, you know, how do you want to do this? because I've got some questions that people can ask themselves.

Orna Ross: Yeah, so let's perhaps consider those questions and take them one by one. Yeah, if you want to lead.

Joanna Penn: All right. So, the first thing, and I kind of went through this a couple of weeks ago, Christine Catherine Rush posted an article about business triage. And yes, we're in a good way. Indie Authors we'll come back to the publishing side in a minute, but the first question is, what can you turn off, shutdown or put on hold so that you can control your cash flow, you can stop spending money, so that you can also just protect what you have? So, for example, I had some recurring monthly payments on SEO tools. I got rid of that. I'm very lucky to be able to overpay my mortgage so we cut that; you know, you can take a mortgage holiday if your bank offers it. There's lots of ways, I even, this kind of feels pathetic, but it was also quite significant for me, is that I stopped my Nespresso coffee delivery and bought some instant coffee and I'm such a coffee addict, so, that was quite big for me. But you know, that's another 50 bucks a month or something. Obviously, I'm not going to the cafe, and what's interesting is how much money we're not spending now we're all at home all the time.

But that was the first question. The other thing is also, considering in your business, what is the fat in your business that has grown? What are the things you're doing that perhaps you don't need to be doing? So, I really looked at my books and travel site, and because the travel industry is down the tubes right now, I've pretty much decided to pivot that into just being a J.F. Penn fiction thing and not to try and build a travel brand, a third brand at this time. So, continue with the podcast, but really focus back on having it direct into my fiction, which conserves time to do other things. And we'll come back to the second question in a minute but, Orna, what are some of the things that you've thought about shutting down or putting on hold or that you've heard from other people?

Orna Ross: Yeah, so I think it is very much about this idea of pivoting if it's appropriate and in some cases just cutting off. So, like you, I've just noticed my software bills and you know, things that I've been paying for that once were useful, not so useful, or not so used anymore, that kind of stuff. But yeah, I think also then we've got the question of income, you know, what can you do, what particularly good forms of income that should be protected in this time? Because cutting gets you so far, but not very far. But, what a lot of people are kind of thinking about as well, I think is how to, you know, essentially get more money in the door. And, what we have witnessed very much in Alli is those people whose business was print-based and physical, you know, outlet-based.

So, the people with speaking gigs in the back of the room, a surprising number of fiction and poetry writers who sold a lot of books at the weekend markets, and this was something we didn't really know was a thing, and we knew a few people did it, but, you know, such people found themselves in a very fragile sort of situation.

So, a lot of people are saying, I know I should have moved my business online more, I should have set up that mailing list, for example. And selling direct, having a transactional website, this is something that's really important. You've been going heavily on the direct selling, I know.

How Do I Make More Money, Quickly?

Joanna Penn: Yeah, so as you say, the second question is, well, how do I make more money, more quickly? Because you know, hopefully people have a bit of a cash buffer, but if you can bring in more cash more quickly, then you will be able to survive longer. But, the problem with being writers, well most of us, I know there's some amazing indie authors who write really fast, but most of us can't put out books very quickly. And even if you can put out a book really quickly, if you publish it on the stores, you're not going to get paid for 30 days, 60 days, whatever. So, it's not actually instant money unless you sell direct. So, what I did was use payhip.com, I know people use different things, but basically I sent out an email to my email list saying 50% off everything, eBooks and audio books, if you buy direct from me with a coupon. And, I made a good four-figure income straight away, and what's amazing about selling direct is that money arrives in your bank account within 10 minutes. And, I've had direct sales for a decade, but I have never focused on them as my first order of book sales.

So, it's actually changed my focus, because, of course, you also get an email address, you get a physical address if you want to, you suddenly know who's buying your books, so it's much more powerful. So, I also uploaded a ton of other things. So, all my wide audiobooks I put up there as MP3 downloadable files. I put up more box sets, nine book box set. Surprisingly, fiction is selling for like 20 bucks. So, I just decided to go hard in that area and the other thing I did is some more mini courses.

So, many authors teach, teaching is part of most authors repertoire. And I did a couple of really fast mini courses and put those up on teachable and you get that money, again it's a bit delayed, but again, it's quicker to do a course than it is to write a book for me, cause I've got the technical skills. So those were some things I did really fast, and that just made me feel so much better because I'm in control of that income and I know while I write my books that I can continue to do those things; the direct sales, more mini courses, and they will protect the other side of things, like the print stuff, which we're gonna circle back to. So, anything else that you know about or have heard?

Orna Ross: Yeah, I think that's fantastic. I think you know, what's happened to you, there is an example of what's happening to an awful lot of people.

So, you know, with your books and travel, you have now decided to focus on J.F. Penn, which may ultimately be an opportunity and we're going to talk, a little bit later in the show, about the opportunities that might be embedded in this thing. But again, you've had direct sales, you know, the ability to do it for a long time, but that kind of going hard on it and really concentrating on it.

So, in a way, allowing these new conditions to move you in directions that you know, you want to be moving in any way. And I know that one, the thing that people are going through at the moment is that they're feeling very confused about what they should do, what they shouldn't do. And you know, I think the simple answer is, let money lead, do whatever is most lucrative.

It is the sensible thing to do at this time. So that always translates back into what your readers want most, or what they're willing to value most, you know, what they find most valuable in what you're putting out. So yeah, I think that simple decision to just follow that can help to see that maybe you're doing a lot of things in your business that are not actually business related activities, which is completely fine so long as you're not thinking that you are doing business when really you're doing something for yourself. So, you know, money is the great measure in that way, to allow it to speak to you and let it lead you along the way, kind of thing.

Joanna Penn: And we should totally acknowledge that for many author's services, money for time is something that can make you money more quickly.

So, I think we also have to acknowledge that a lot of their stuff is not necessarily, you know, you might not love doing it, but as you say, at this point, it's more about survival and making sure you can support yourself and your family during this time. So, the other thing would be services, a lot of authors do editing and cover design.

I have heard from a lot of editors that there's a lot of editing work and there's a lot of book cover design work. So, people are working on their novels. Possibly not the professional writers, but those people who may have been furloughed or getting paid in other ways, are now working on the novels and their books.

What Can I Start Building During COVID-19 Pandemic?

Joanna Penn: But then the other thing is to think about, as we mentioned, what do you wish you had in place and what can you start building? So, one question we've got here, what if we don't have much of a mailing list? And look, to be honest, this is true for most authors, most traditionally published authors don't even have a mailing list.

So the big thing is to start one and to figure out, you know, there's only some basic things you have to do, which is figure out which service you want to use, put it on your website and then you have to get traffic into it. And how you get traffic is up to you. It could be a podcast, it could be a free book.

My permafree, first in series, Stone of Fire, that still drives traffic to my email list every day. Permafree still works if you're wide, people. So, you know, what else? So, for example, our friend Mark, who I was talking to, said, oh, I wish I'd got that audio book done.

Orna Ross: Yes, me too, Mark, me too.

Joanna Penn: Yes. So, what do you, what would you want to have in place? And then if you think about why you want that in place, it's because that would be earning you money, right? So, what have you done? Why have you put that off? Is that something that you should be looking at next? What else can you do?

And, because of course I do too much, I totally acknowledge that, but when I looked at it, the things are, create intellectual property assets and of course, license them, and then even build an email list so you can reach people and then do one thing very, very well.

Like, you have to do some marketing to drive people into that list and for me, that really has to be, podcasting is my number one thing. So, how can I make those three things the best and everything else, you know, yeah, I still love Twitter, it's how we met like a decade ago, but it doesn't sell books for me anymore.

Maybe it never did, but it's how I can have community, but I need to focus on the things that matter. So, people listening, those are the two questions. What can you cut down or shut down or put on hold to give yourself a bit more space? What can you do to make income so that you can do it from home and that can keep you going and what would you like to change as well, I guess?

What if I Don't Have Much of a Mailing List?

Orna Ross: And I think Nadia is question is really fantastic. She was the person who said, what if you don't have much of a mailing list? The point is to start where you are. So, when you hear, you know, somebody like Joanna talking, don't forget that she has been putting this stuff in place for many, many years as, as we have.

You know, it doesn't happen overnight for anybody. And if you're listening and you're thinking, oh, well, I don't have to have a mailing list and therefore that's not going to work for me. You actually have to have a mailing list. You really, really have to have a mailing list, so don't wait any longer.

You've waited long enough, so get that one going. Also, the transactional website. It really is important for indie authors to have a transactional website. You might see a lot of author websites, you know, traditionally published authors, they don't need one because they don't make any money if somebody buys a book on their website, it doesn't work for them. It's going through their publisher in the same way as it would through a bookstore. But for you, it makes a huge difference. Not just in the fact that you get your money immediately and you get more money, but also that every purchase builds your list as well and your more  engaged list, because when you get into mailing lists, you realize it isn't one list. You have a number of different lists and, you know, that's something for another night.

Joanna Penn: I was going to say we might need to do a, a special edition on email.

Orna Ross: Yeah, because one of the things that I am doing is improving our lead magnets and stuff and realizing, you know,  (inaudible)  to the funnels behind some, you know, what sorts of communications people are receiving after they sign up and how that works together and all that kind of stuff.

So, there's lots in your email list, but it's really, really important. And I think it's so striking that whenever we come back to fundamentals, which we do on this show, it is the advanced show, but every so often we just keep touching all of these fundamentals, and have been since we started this back in the year dot, back then we were talking about email lists and intellectual property, building more assets, getting more stuff out there, doing more with your stuff and having a premium product. And that is really the three-legged stool and then whatever you're going to do to market. Stop trying to be everywhere. Focus on one thing, work out how that one thing…so, Twitter can sell books, but only if you're very, very strategic about it and not if you're just posting links or turning up for chats. Instagram can sell books but again, you have to have an actual plan. You have to understand how it works, how the reader's mentality works.

So yeah, we'll get off that one now, but important stuff.

COVID-19 Impact on Print and Digital Books

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and just to say, bookstoread.com, if you sell wide, you should be using their links. It gives you one link that will link everywhere. They now include Payhip and authors direct, which is selling audiobooks direct with Findaway Voices.

So, that's great, that's new. Come out of the last few weeks. Thanks guys at Draft2Digital. Okay, so we're going to move into the biggest impact of the COVID-19, which is really on print, and the publishing industry is heavily dependent on print and I think they are really finding this right now.

It is affecting a lot of people. So, Orna, do you want to start with some of the impacts we've seen? We're not going to tell you everything. We're just going to pick a few things that have been interesting.

Orna Ross: Yeah. There's just too much to talk about. But essentially, we're seeing an industry heading for crisis.

At the moment we're down HotSheet, Jane Friedman's wonderful news sheet came out today and she's telling us, quoting publisher's lunch, that the market is down almost 10%. 8.9% overall, but I think we're going to see an awful lot more than that. Of that mix though, adult titles are down 26% already.

So that's the people that most of us are kind of writing for. The biggest losers are adult fiction bestsellers and travel books and business books. And I would stress, we're talking print here. So, do take a look at hotsheetpub.com. It is a paid service, but that newsletter, if you're serious about indie publishing, is really worth the investment.

So, a lot of independent bookstores look like they are going to go to the wall in this, so they're going to find it very difficult to survive.

Joanna Penn: But there are positive things, things like City Lights bookstore in San Francisco was saved with crowdfunding. Lots of people loving their independent stores. James Patterson's got a thing in America, lots of things going on. So, I think we see a lot of positive energy towards bookstores that people love.

But potentially the big chains won't be supported in that way. And what we've seen out of Italy, obviously Italy is in front of everyone else in terms of their shutdown, and they've seen a 25% to 50% drop as reported by The Bookseller, and this is to do with physical bookstores being shut, but also the delivery.

So, I don't know about everybody listening, but I've certainly cut down on my deliveries because I don't particularly want delivery drivers having to do stuff. There's illness in warehouses. In some countries like France, Amazon has been told not to deliver anything that's non-urgent. So, that will depend on the country because that's certainly not true in the US but, we are a global organization, and things are different in every country. For example, I've heard from South African writers, they're very locked down in South Africa. So, lots of different things going on. Publishers like Lonely Planet, who are a travel publisher, have shuttered operations in Melbourne and London.

Libraries have reportedly stopped ordering print books, moving to digital, and we'll come to good news about that in a minute. But certainly, the sort of, is this the end of print in libraries, is interesting, but what we are seeing on a positive side is people moving to consuming more eBooks and more digital audio.

So, we're seeing growth in that area for both libraries and for online sales. So, positive side of things, Orna.

Orna Ross: Yes, libraries are an opportunity that Indies are becoming much more aware of. And what's happening a lot with the virus is that it's accentuating trends that were already in place.

So, you know, print was already slightly in trouble, not that print books are ever going to go away, and bookstores I don't think are ever going to go away. And I do believe that the indie bookstore sector will live again, you know, there is a need for that, but that's beside the point.

Libraries are now switching to digital purchases, well, not switching to, but they're adding them in, and at the moment, they're closed for print. And so, they are very active in this area, and that's really good for us. So, if you haven't, members, downloaded your How to Get Your Book into Libraries, now would be the time to do that.

And again, the link will be in the show notes. So, I think it's really accentuating that trend where more librarians were becoming aware. At first in libraries, eBooks were a big no-no for a long time. So, you know, print-centric, physical outlets have been the slowest, for obvious reasons, to move with the digital development.

But now we're seeing that it was going to happen anyway. But what this is doing is really speeding things up in that way. So, for authors, and for the people who are buying our books. So again, the message is very much, get on your digital outlets. Find out the ways in which you can distribute.

because the first point in terms of, of getting your books out there is to ensure that you are widely distributed and that libraries can access your work and that you know how to bring it to their attention. And so on.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and we should say, on print, just to be clear, Ingram Spark, who sponsors this podcast has not a closed down.

I have been in one of their warehouses. There are very few people in there. So, I imagine they're all distanced. So, Ingram Spark is still printing and delivering print books to the various chains.

Orna Ross: And that's important in relation to something that you might be hearing about Amazon not supplying books because it's slightly different.

A lot of what people are talking about is bulk deliveries to their warehouses. The warehouses are being kept for essential items. Well, of course, Amazon, like the rest of the world, uses IngramSpark to actually fulfill their print. And so, POD from Amazon, there are delays, but they are two completely different things.

And I'm hearing wild things, through talk on Twitter, you know, going around. It's saying to people, no, actually that's not right. Because people get, you know, it's Chinese whispers. They hear one thing. And, you know, Amazon are forcing people to buy secondhand books is something that's going around on Twitter at the moment.

No, they're not. They're really not. But this is about essential services and warehouses being kept for that. So, if you are somebody who, and again, we were very surprised to find how many indies do actually supply their books in that way; they do a consignment print and then they send bulk book orders around the place, including to Amazon, and use Amazon in that way.

It's a far less effective way to use Amazon. It's much more troublesome paperwork-wise and everything. So, now might be the time to switch to the KDP print model using KDP print and Ingram Spark together to maximize your reach. So, Wanda has asked me to repeat a website, but I'm not sure which one because we're throwing out a lot of them.

Joanna Penn: I believe it's the hotsheetpub.com, the hot sheet published by Jane Friedman, which has a lot of information about the publishing industry for Indies and authors. So, hotsheetpub.com which will be in the show notes as well.

So, in saying that, absolutely, we think it's a difficult time. It is a difficult time for a lot of people. Traditionally published authors, there's, you know, a lot of difficulties on that side, but if you are in control of your intellectual property and you can publish digitally and you can do all this stuff, then you know, things are much more in your control.

So, let's pivot to what opportunities there might be, and also how things might change in the next few months because of this. So, we've talked about some things, like you're saying, acceleration of library adoption of digital, might be one thing. I also think that we're going to see more traditionally published authors come into independent publishing because they're going to see the problems. I mean, the stats on Italy was some crazy number of books that just won't be published. The publishers will keep the contract. The book will just not happen, and those authors are left orphaned, they won't get their books back, but you know, they got paid already, but they won't see their book out there.

So, I think we're going to see authors coming over to Indie because of this. What else do you think Orna? What else will we see?

What Opportunities Are There?

Orna Ross: I think in terms of thinking about the opportunities that might be inherent here. So, you are at home and, you know, you are in a place where you can actually, in a sense, draw a line around it and think about what is central and core to your business.

So, doing the things as we were talking about that you may have been putting off, creating more. What books can you write now, what could you turn into a course? Your own learning: it's a very good time to think about where you might lack skills as a publisher, as a business owner and to upscale in those ways in this time.

Everything is going to be more digital, more online, more reliant on tech, and so it really is important, and I speak as somebody who is not technologically enhanced, to put a mildly, it's really important just to learn how to do those things that really do make a difference to your bottom line.

So, I think we will find that a lot of what used to happen probably won't happen in future and things that we haven't thought about are going to come in and, definitely at the simplest level, the trend towards digital is accelerating already and that will continue.

Joanna Penn: I think also, what's interesting is a lot of people who've never used Skype or Zoom or any of these online things are suddenly using online technology to connect and do online things like this.

So, what I think we're going to see is an acceleration of online events, digital streaming from conferences, if they do go back to being live, I'm sure some of them will, but also I've been very pleased, to start getting paid to do things like this. So, maybe authors will get paid to do more online conferences and it will actually make more money. Even if you get paid like a hundred bucks to do an hour's talk, if you do it from home and you don't have to travel, you're actually going to make more money doing that. So, I'm really hoping that the technology that is being developed at speed, will turn into much more effective ways of speaking at conferences throughout the world and speaking to readers groups. And, you know, imagine how many readers and schools that people can reach once this technology is widely adopted, which it will be by the end of this situation.

So, definitely if you haven't upscaled into this type of presentation, you need to get used to it. You need to think, well, do I need to learn to speak better? Do I need to practice? Do I need to just know my stuff so that I can speak extemporaneously without being completely freaked out? Which to be fair, we all are at the beginning, but these are the types of things that will definitely accelerate.

I mean, I'm thrilled that like the Hay Festival is going to go online and stuff like that.

Orna Ross: Yeah. Cause we love access as well. As well as what we can do ourselves, we're going to have access and to everything, and it's not likely that they're going to go back to nothing and to just being purely physical ever again.

Because, once people see what sense it makes and how much more people you can reach when you're online, then it very quickly becomes a no brainer .So, from that point of view, I think things are very hopeful for those who are going to do the work to get on board and to make it happen. It doesn't have to be video or even audio, but it has to be something online and it has to work.

And if it is video or audio, it needs to be good. You need to kind of work out how to link it in with what you're doing already, and you cannot think this stuff out in advance. I think that's the most important thing to say about all of this. You can have your idea and have a general idea of what would work.

As we said earlier in the show, let money make some decisions for you. Okay, there's money in that, there's no money in that, I'm going to do this one. And you can have some sort of a sense of that, but really you can't know for sure until you try it. And, the idea is you try everything in the spirit of experimentation, exploration, and then from the feedback that you get in terms of what you're enjoying, what's working, what's going well, you just get better and better at it. So, yeah, it's a time to think. In a way, if we turn it into that, it could be the time that you look back and say, oh gosh, you know, that was where it all started for me.


Joanna Penn: Yeah, well let's end with kind of a reflection. You know, I'm very much memento mori, you know, remember, we will die. You know, that's part of how we think about life, and you know, I love graveyards and all that stuff. So, you know, that is the biggest question, of course we are going to die at some point. Hopefully, not this month of COVID-19 and Orna didn't, well done. But the question is, you know, what are the things that you do really, really want to achieve? And then, how do you put in place the things around that? So, you know, when I really thought about it, I really do want to win an award; I really do, for my fiction. It's one thing I want. So how am I going to do that? I have to become a better writer and I have to submit my work to awards, and there's only a couple of awards that I'm interested in, obviously, not just any award, not just here's a good gold star.

You know, that's something that I really want to do so I need to focus on that. I need to get back to doing better with my fiction. So, Orna, while you've been sick, have you been thinking about anything?

Orna Ross: Yeah, I mean, one of my things is probably getting more centered and it's that whole thing of what you were just saying there a moment ago. What are the things you really want to do and really want to leave behind? And, I think this is a problem for Indies because we have so much control and freedom over what we do that maybe we're our own worst enemies in a way. We want to do a lot of things and we want to do them all at the same time.

I shouldn't say we, I should only say me, because that's definitely me. So, in terms of being a good publisher, it's very much about focus, and it's very much about sending out consistent messaging, and, you know, for me it's, at the moment, always wanting to be a better writer, always working on that.

Always and always will be, and I think that's one of the reasons we all write, just because it's never there. It's always this elusive thing that's disappearing over the horizon. In many ways, though it seems much more challenging at the beginning, becoming a better publisher is an easier task.

There is a kind of box you can draw around that and there are certain things that, if you're not doing them, you're not really a good publisher. So, for me, as I was laying there with my head spinning, it was about, you know, they were the thoughts about becoming a better publisher. And so that's my job for the rest of the year and closing down certain boxes and maybe throwing out some things and getting more core, I think, about what's really important. And, I haven't actually fully worked it out yet, but I know something about the conditions here have pushed me to do some things that I have been resisting doing for a very long time.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, so let's take that as a positive step. Amongst all this stress and concern, let's look at this in a positive light.

We always try and stay looking forwards into the future, because, you know, this too shall pass, as they say. So, next month we're planning to do the topic we were going to do this month. We're going to talk about different tools that we use in our writing and publishing business.

Useful tools and software, and potentially services. And, you know, because these things change all the time, but sort of where we are in our current business models, the different tools we use.

So, in closing, Orna, anything else?

Orna Ross: No, I think that topic will feed very well into what we've been talking about today and hopefully help people across the line in terms of getting in some core stuff that really does make a difference in terms of being more productive as a writer and being that better publisher we were talking about.

There's nothing else to say except, you know, hang on in there. Stay writing, stay publishing, stay connected. You know, ALLi is there. If you're having issues, jump into the member forum, talk about what's coming up for you. We concentrate very much on publishing questions in the forum, but it's always there also if you are running into difficulty, finding great resistance or block, or anything like that.

So yeah, do stay connected and do ask for what you need. It's, a good time for you to try and connect more deeply. So, if you need help and support to do that then just ask.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic. Well, happy writing, everyone. Happy publishing.

Orna Ross: Yes. Bye bye. See you next time.

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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