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Planning Ahead For A Creative And Productive Year In Your Author Business: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast With Orna Ross And Joanna Penn

Planning Ahead for a Creative and Productive Year in Your Author Business: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast With Orna Ross and Joanna Penn

Planning ahead is an important step for your author business, enabling you to make decisions about what you want to focus on as well as make time to achieve your writing and financial goals.

Kicking off our 2021 #AskALLi Self-Publishing Salons, as always, is our Advanced Salon with ALLi Director Orna Ross and New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Joanna Penn.

In this month's salon, Orna outlines her quarterly creative business planning process and how she applies it to her own novels, poetry books and ALLi publications, while Joanna talks about her high-level project approach and more granular time-blocking.

The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to create an actionable plan, so tune in to get started!

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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.

Now, go write and publish!

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Show Notes

Your Author Business Plan, from Joanna Penn

Orna Ross’s Go Creative! planning

About the Hosts

Joanna Penn writes non-fiction for authors and is an award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author as J.F.Penn. She’s also an award-winning podcaster, creative entrepreneur, and international professional speaker.

Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com

Read the Transcripts on Planning Ahead

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

Orna Ross: Hi, Jo, how are you?

Joanna Penn: I'm good and happy new year to everyone.

Orna Ross: Happy new year to all. Yes, it's a strange new year but here we are.

Joanna Penn: Here we are, and we think we're probably about to go back into lockdown in, as we record this live, in about an hour.

So, I guess we'll have time to do a lot more work, which is one of the silver linings. So, try and think about silver linings this year. But we're not going to talk too much about the pandemic tonight or today. Today, we are talking about how to plan a creative and productive year for your author business.

But before we get into the topic of today, we're just going to give a bit of news and updates. So, Orna what's been going on with the Alliance?

Monthly update from Joanna, Orna, and ALLi

Orna Ross: Yeah, well, we've had a rest. We usually close and take a long European style, rather than American style, break at this time of year. So, we closed up Christmas Eve and just opened back today, so a nice long rest.

We are centering very much at the moment on agreements between indie authors and our publishing partners, specifically the Audiblegate campaign, which we were talking about at the end of last year. Ingram Spark has a new agreement out.

All of our suppliers are bringing out new agreements and we're trying to get a way into both, you know, as an organization and encouraging authors to read the agreements but also to understand the agreements.

Essentially, what we're talking about here is, we're not writers signing trade publishing contracts, we're not contract content providers, we are actually businesses working with business partners and so the partnership has to be beneficial to both, and that's what the agreements should be also. So, yeah, that's our focus really for this month coming is looking at all the agreements that we make and the ways in which they can be improved and streamlined and so on.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and of course, we sign more and more of these, like, I just logged into Findaway Voices today and I had to agree the latest updates to the contract as they now distribute to even more partners. And I think we all do need to read more of the small print, so I'm glad you're going through all that.

So, I did also have a bit of time off. I put out three books within 10 days in December, as we mentioned last time, and obviously I had prepared a lot of that beforehand, but probably the only work I've done, apart from sleeping and resting, coming down off that high was that I did narrate my AI books, so, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, and Virtual Worlds.

It's now for sale, only from me, on my Pay Hip store, and this is something I really reflected on at the end of 2020. I do my roundup of the year and then my goals for 2021, and one of them was, I cannot believe how much better I did selling direct in the pandemic because I actually focused on it, and I actually asked people to click the link and buy from me, and the money was in my bank account within, sometimes minutes, but within the hour, whereas normally we're looking at months and years. So, of course, we've been talking about this for years, selling direct, but I think, I mean, hopefully this has really started to take off in the last year. And the reality is the more we ask people to do it, the more they will do it and the more it spreads throughout the community. So, I hope that more people will get into that and the Alliance has a great blog post on how to sell direct. So, maybe we'll link to that in the show notes, it's fantastic.

I'm also using Book Funnel for audio. So, selling audio direct now on the Book Funnel app. So again, this is brand new and it's brilliant. I've got people in my audience who are listening to audiobooks for the first time ever through the Book Funnel app, which is just crazy.

So, I feel like a lot of things have come together technically, and we're looking at a pretty exciting year in that way.

What about you?

Orna Ross: I agree. Just before talking about me, because that's been fairly quiet around here. I completely agree. I think that the lockdown has actually moved readers forward in the way that we needed them to move forward in order for these things to happen. So, we've always known that it makes business sense to sell direct, not just because you make more money on each sale, but because you get that very precious email address, and because it's a direct relationship, and all that kind of stuff.

But it was bringing the readers with us, and what we've certainly seen in the last year, I've experienced it myself as well, but seen it really with lots of members, is that we have far more power with our readers than we maybe realize. We can encourage them. We can be the very people to bring them over to do that. So yeah, we have a whole heap of stuff and we will put it into the show notes, including an ad you can put on your website that tells people how to go direct, and that you are somebody who sells direct on your site and so on, well worth doing. Okay, in terms of my work, my exciting thing is that I've been finishing a lot of non-fiction. So, as people who listen regularly will know, I was to do a year of non-fiction, which turned into two years, unbelievable but are now almost finished, a few hangovers from last year, including planners, the topic that we're going to be talking about today, but I'm excited to now be able to focus more on my novels again and poetry in the coming year. So, that's very much where my focus is going to be. So, at the moment, just setting up, putting ideas together and everything, but it's just feels really, really great.

Why should indie authors be planning ahead?

Joanna Penn: Oh, fantastic. Right, well, let's get into our topic for today, which is planning the year ahead, creative planning, business planning.

So, we should say, just up front, before I ask Orna to start is, why do we bother planning anyway because, you know, what do they say, you make your plans and God laughs, but the thing is, if we don't plan anything, often nothing can happen, and the year can fly by.

So, I already have on my desk here a printout of the whole year and we'll talk about the detail in a minute, but the years just fly by, even in this weird time warp that we all live in at the moment, where it feels like every day is Groundhog Day and yet it still goes past fast and slow. We still have to measure our lives by what we create and look at, well, what are we putting out in the world? And if we don't plan it at the macro level and the micro level, then we might not get anything done, and then it's a year later and we're like, where did the year go?

So, those are some of the reasons to think about it, but Orna, why don't we start by you talking a bit about your thoughts around creative business planning?

Orna Ross: Yeah. So, the main thing to say about creative business planning, and it's really relevant at the moment, is that it should be flexible enough to cope with the unexpected, and I think that's really important. I mean, this time last year, we were making our plans and talking about our plans, and I think one of the reasons why this session is interesting is the way in which you and I plan in really quite different ways and have very different styles. It doesn't really matter exactly how you plan; the most important thing is that you do actually plan.

I used to be somebody that carried everything in my head, and I can definitely say that when I started to do a more formal, but certainly not fully formal, kind of planning, it really made a huge difference to everything, impact, influence, income, all of it. So, yeah, but I would have been somebody who resisted planning for a long time, because I don't like anything that's too-

You're very business-like, and a really organized person by nature, and I'm absolutely the opposite of that, and so I resisted planning because I did think of it as something that's very analytical, and it always felt constraining to me. I had to work out my own way to come at this thing, and it had to be, kind of, flexible and, yeah, creative is the way I think of it.

So, I ended up actually, based on the Creative Self-Publishing book, just putting together these planners that work, kind of pin down, because you can read books about self-publishing and completely absorb the facts and the information that's in there, but if you're not applying it to your own particular situation, your own creative conditions, then it's just more information and it doesn't actually make any difference at all to how you do things.

So, planning for me in the last year just grew into this huge thing where I now have a tier on my Patreon, I have a group of creative planner patrons and do a monthly workshop, which is a small group, personal attention workshop, not a big webinar like this kind of thing where we're talking to lots of people, and I really love that experience of working with this group and it has further helped my own planning and then, you know, produced these planners. So yeah, all about the planning, me right now.

Joanna Penn: Well, just tell people if they are interested in getting your planners because you can actually, well, as we record this now, they're not out, but they're going to be out soon.

Orna Ross: They're going to be out very soon, yes. So, selfpublishingadvice.org/planning, they will be available there shortly, and if anybody would like an advance review copy, you can just email [email protected], and Sarah will organize that as soon as it's ready, we're just there with the designer just waiting to be finished off.

Why it’s important to set goals for your author business

Joanna Penn: Fantastic. Okay. So, and then I wanted to say, I have a book, Your Author Business Plan, and also Productivity for Authors, both of which go into this in more detail.

But for me, I start at a really macro level, as in, I actually ask what has to be done anyway, and this is something that I've done every year for the last, probably three years. I've done it iteratively, it's very hard to do all at once, this kind of Marie Kondo decluttering, it's a bit like that with your author life.

Now, obviously, when you start out as an author and then you get into the indie space, you add more and more and more things to your list, because you have to do this and that and the other, and then I kind of reached a point of going, I need to do less and less and less of all that other stuff and more of the stuff that really matters.

And so, what are the things that really matter? And for me, and for all of us, they are produced books. Write and produce books. We are authors, that's the basis. And then for me, my podcast is my audio body of work, and I have two podcasts. So, you know, those things are non-negotiable for me. And in fact, I'm going to do more podcast episodes in 2021, because that's the way I like to produce and create a lot of content. But then other things, so for example, I read a lot in the groups and things, oh, where can I get someone to do my social media marketing or, you know, the things to me, social media is the least important thing now, for example, building your email list should be much higher up than even considering anything you do on social media.

So, that would be my first thing for when you're thinking about planning, don't immediately jump into how I'm going to schedule my diary next week, think about, well, what are the big things that actually make the biggest difference, and I think we can all say that the pandemic has taught us that life is short, getting shorter, and that we should focus on the things that only we can do. So, that's the first thing, what can you cut out? And then you say, right, what do I want to produce?

And for me, I always start with my book. So, I have my nonfiction books, my fiction books, and I always aim for a number of books, and I have never hit the number that I aim for, but at least I hit some of them and sometimes other books arrive, like they did last year. I missed the two I said I would do, and then I did two different ones. And that's the muse doing its thing and that's fine, but you know, having a goal in that way. And then for me, it's really, sorry, Orna, do you want to mention on that before I get into the time blocks?

Orna Ross: Yeah, well, I think the main thing, you've just hit on it there, how important it is that it's flexible and that it serves you, rather than you feeling completely constrained by it, I think that's really important. And then, in terms of the annual goals, so you look at the year and definitely that process of selection and what am I letting go, that's the most important question to ask yourself at the beginning of the planning cycle, and then breaking it down. I found breaking a year was useless to me, because I would imagine I would get all sorts of marvelous things done in a year, and they never happened, and it was only when I began to focus in on quarters that I found planning really took off for me, because the quarter was, I would plan my days and weeks and I would kind of have a big plan at the back of my head for the year, but breaking it into quarters, a quarter is just so manageable time-wise, and it's enough time to get something significant done. It's enough time to experiment with an ad, or social media, or whatever. It's enough time to give the project a real focus and direction, but you don't lose focus in that time, which you can do if you're thinking in terms of a longer time period.

So, getting into the habit of planning in years, quarters, and then breaking that down into months and weeks, until you come down to the day, and you actually know what you're doing on that day. Not in a really strict, kind of, linear way, but it just evolves organically, but the habit is everything and putting everything into the planner. So, not having things in other places, actually keeping it all in one place, that was the other thing that really made a difference.

How to use time blocks for planning ahead

Joanna Penn: Yeah. So, this is where we differ, and it's funny because in a way, you seem to do more planning than me, even though I do things in a different way.

So, what I do, so let's say my next book will be, How to Make a Living with your Writing: The Third Edition. This is one of the issues, as we've talked about with non-fiction, every few years you have to write another edition. So, I know this has to be done, I know this is what my audience wants, so it's number one on my list. So, I know that's in my yearly plan and then, basically, all I do then is I have, two time blocks every day. And I would say it's five days a week, but it's not, it's really six days a week. I pretty much work six days a week. I love what I do, such is life, plus lockdown.

So, two time blocks every day, and the reason I do this I think is because this is how I did it when I had a day job. So, my first five years of being an author, I also worked as an I consultant. So, I would get up at 5:00 AM and I'd write between 5:00 AM and 6:00 AM, and then I'd get ready for work, and that would be my creative time. So, my creative time block, and then when I came home from work, when I was knackered and didn't have much of a brain left, I would do podcasting, I would do online courses, I would learn, I would read books. I met you on Twitter back in those days when I still had a day job, I did my social media.

So, my creative time was one time block, my marketing/business/publishing/everything else time block was after work, and now I'm doing this full-time, obviously, I still have one time block for creative work, which is usually my morning, and then a time block for everything else, marketing business, et cetera in the afternoon.

And some days I do entire creation. So, Saturday, I spent seven hours just narrating audio stuff, and so that would be, you know, different. And then sometimes I might do book research trips, but I have found that, essentially, just making sure my day is split between creation and everything else in two separate time blocks has meant that I've been able to do this long-term without planning down to the massive detail. And then, obviously, I use Google calendar for like a daily thing, but that is essentially how I do everything, which sounds less organized than you in a way and yet it still manages to get stuff done.

Why bringing in a profit focus can make a big difference to your bottom line

Orna Ross: Very surprising. I think this is the first time either of us has ever said you're less organized than me, but I do need to go into three, and the reason for that is I think because business doesn't come naturally to me. So, when I thought about things, I used to think about things in terms of writing and publishing, and I still kind of do have a day job, because ALLi is like a day job for me. So, my writing and my publishing takes place around that, but it wasn't until I began to really home in on the third aspect, which is the business aspect.

And actually, looking very closely at money and the activities that I was doing, and what was actually profitable and what wasn't, and incorporating that into the planning, that was when it made a big difference for me. So, I need to think in terms of three, as the maker who makes stuff and that might be writing, but it might be producing the book, it might be the covers. It might be, you know, anything that falls under the maker category. And then there is the manager, who I see as kind of looking after things so that maker can do her thing, and then there's the marketeer, which is marketing obviously, but also selling, bringing people, bringing readers across the line.

So, bringing in a much more conscious, kind of, money focus, a profit focus, really made a big, big difference. It was where the plans actually started to make a difference to the bottom line, and to everything else. So, if I don't have those three, and balance those three, if I don't make room in the month for those, I'll just spend my time writing or doing covers, which are the two things I love doing most. I need to actually plan for business in a way that it's still fun for me. So, I try not to label just the bits that I enjoy most, like the writing and the cover, is as that's creative and everything else is, you know, I hate it. My goal with my creative planning is to make everything as creative as possible and to bring in a creative kind of sensibility and approach to every aspect of the job so that I don't now ever say things like, I hate marketing, which I used to say years ago. I kind of think, well, how can I make this as creative, as interesting, and as lively and enjoyable as possible. So, that is the approach that has worked for me.

Finishing Energy – The importance of finishing what you start

Joanna Penn: Yeah, I mean, obviously, I love all of it, but I schedule it at different times, but then the next thing that I think is possibly something I do have a bit of a superpower on, which is finishing energy, because we do see a lot of authors who start projects and then don't necessarily finish them.

So, for me, what I'm calling my creative block, which is when I actually write first draft words, or do my editing, like work on books, like output of books, it is one book at a time. So, when I say my next project will be, How to Make a Living with Your Writing, that is what I do in that slot.

And I do not work on anything else in that slot until that is done, and when that draft is done and edited and with either my editor or proofreader, only then am I allowed to start on something else. And this is something I think I've probably always done, but I also heard quite early on in my writing career, in those early days, when you just read loads of books and you've listened to people and you haven't actually done any of your own writing, and I heard that a lot from people which was, you know, finish what you start. I {inaudible} Heinlein's rules as well, I think, that Dean Wesley Smith, finish what you start. And Dean Wesley Smith now says, publish what you finish, which is fantastic.

So, that creative block has always only one thing in, and then for my other slots, what I also wanted to say was, please do one thing at a time there as well.

Again, when you have time for one thing, it is not the posting on social media, it is setting up your website, setting up your email list, setting up a separate bank account. This is something so many authors resist, and yeah, it's a bit of a pain in the neck, you have to do some kind of paperwork, but it's one of those things that underpins actually having an author business is you have to have a separate bank account. So, if you have not done this yet, please do this. It will change your whole mindset, I think, around money because you actually have to look at it.

Accounts planning for indie authors

Orna Ross: Absolutely. Well, I go much further than a separate account. And you're absolutely right, at the beginning, authors can get their personal and their business stuff all mixed up. But actually, I feel I need, and I recommend other people, and I've seen it make a big difference for people, to have four accounts, one for your tax.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, I've got like five different accounts but start with one.

Orna Ross: Start with one, absolutely, but get the money out of it, because when you look at it, you think you have more money than you have. See, again, you have a natural sort of good with money thing, but where I was, you know, if I saw X amount of money and my business account, expense and income account, I think, oh yeah, I'll hire another thing or I'll get another whatever, but actually some of that money was tax money and some of it should have been paid to me.

The other thing about money that I think is really, really important, and this was huge for me in a previous business and I've carried it over into my author business and everywhere else is, pay yourself first. Don't wait until the end of the month to pay you, set aside an amount of money that's going to go across to your personal account and pay it over, because I see indie authors working for years, decades in some cases, without ever making a penny, it just all goes straight back into business.

Joanna Penn: It's interesting, I actually have a whole section on this in Your Author Business Plan, which is a financial section and you're right, the plan has to include the money plan for both the income and the expenses. I mean, we'd all love to spend $10,000 on ads, wouldn't we? But we can't all do that, unless you have the income to spend and then all the other things we have to pay for.

And as you say, I mean, I've got these different tiers, well, they're not tiers, tiers is a bad word in England, but the levels of where you are as an author and your author income, because there is a time where you can't pay yourself because your money is just going back into-

In fact, you're losing money, you're funding your author business. And then you're in the stage where maybe you're just about breaking even, and then you're in a, sort of, okay, I'm making basic money, maybe I could start doing a bit more, maybe now I can pay myself. But I've said, pay yourself $10 if all you can pay yourself is $10 bucks.

And then you're looking at where I am and where many of us are, which is starting to invest in other assets and all these other things, and superannuation and all the things that you do if you had a proper job.

So, you're right and that has to be part of your plan too. You can't say, I'm going to write 50 books and I'm going to also spend a hundred thousand a month on ads, that just isn't a plan. It's ridiculous. So yeah, you have to be reasonable with your time, but also reasonable with your money.

Orna Ross: Yeah, definitely, and they are the two things, I mean, time is money as the business people say, and they are so connected. If you're not thinking with the money lens on, you can actually waste a lot of time doing the wrong things.

Joanna Penn: Hence social media.

Orna Ross: Well, you are just too against social media, now I'm going to have to come in on this.

I know social media, you've left it behind and it hasn't been your thing, but for some people, social media and social media advertising are really, really great, you know, so everybody is different. Do what works for you.

Why you need to measure more than just your productivity

Joanna Penn: Yes, but actually measure it. I think people say, oh yeah, it works for me because I've got all these followers or whatever. I've got like 85,000 followers on Twitter, but I sell more books by sending an email or doing a podcast. So, you actually have to measure it and then make a decision, and that's another part of planning, budgeting, and in fact, looking at your financials again, it's say looking at how much did you spend last year on all of these different things, and how much of that was really necessary?

So, for example, Amazon advertising for my fiction is a complete waste of money. So, I have stopped spending any money on Amazon ads for J.F. Penn, but I'm now spending a lot more money on Joanna Penn because it's just so much more optimized and it's working so much better, same with Facebook ads. So, by looking at what actually delivers results and what doesn't, that can help you plan for next year.

But what we're talking about here, everyone is the business head, not the creative head. Because, for example, I know that I should have written that third edition of How to Make a Living with your Writing, last year. In fact, I should have written it this time last year, but I didn't want to, my brain didn't want to, my muse didn't want to. But now I'm like, get on with it.

Orna Ross: It has to be done, yeah, and just on the measuring front, I think it's really important that you do have measures. In my planning method, I recommend that you measure much more than just your productivity, your output, and that you do think about your profits, how much you actually made, but also think about your influence and your impact. And that can be measured in terms of your platform, the engagement that you're getting around your mission and the stuff that's most meaningful for you. Book sales, obviously, but engagement is huge.

But also measure your personal happiness and your pleasure in what you're doing on a monthly basis, just looking at what you are doing, because a very good reason for letting something go is that you don't really enjoy it, and I know you've done quite a bit of this in the last year, haven't you, letting go of stuff that isn't core and that isn't the stuff that you do most, and got lots of time back as a result of doing that. And, you know, you've got to defer, delete, delegate, whatever is not actually working for you. And that means either in terms of profits or in terms of personal happiness, because that's what we're all here for. I mean, if we just wanted to make money, there are far easier ways to do it than this.

Joanna Penn: Actually, that is a really good point because, I don't want to sound like I'm only doing things that do make money, because as you said, the things that I have cut out in the last six months, really, one big thing is webinars for me, I'm sure some of these people listening would have been on some of my webinars, and those made a good chunk of cash for me, but I did not love them. And although I believe all the products and services, I did webinars with are great, I'm not a night person and they're always in the evening for the US audience. And I was like, if I won the lottery, what would I do? Not that I'm going to do the lottery but, you know, if I won the lottery, if I had all the money in the world, what would I not do, and I always write down webinars. So, when the pandemic happened and I was like, I haven't won the lottery, but life is short, oh, I'm just going to stop doing webinars. So, I stopped doing that and got time back. And as you said, social, well, I do some social media, but I just stopped doing a lot of that. I stopped doing a lot of ads and yes, actually my income has gone down, but my time and my purpose, you know, I'm so much more fired up about the future.

In fact, we'll be talking about this next month on this show. I'm happier. I'm more driven and I think I can make a bigger impact in the community by what I'm doing now. And actually, nothing I'm doing now is going to make money, probably this year, possibly next year for me personally. So, it's actually something that I'm doing for the future, and my plan is that eventually it will start making money.

For example, my books and travel podcast also isn't monetized, as such, but I'm doing it partly because I love it, but slowly, it's building me a content marketing audience for my fiction. So, we're not saying that everything you plan to do will make money right away but thinking about where it might fit into your business ecosystem in the future is also a good way of looking at it.

Orna Ross: Absolutely, and you might take a hit this year, you know, giving yourself more time to do things that are not going to yield for a while, and that's a really valid thing to do.

Why self-talk is important and how it can affect your planning

Joanna Penn: Okay, so what else? Personal happiness. We said that. Anything else? So yeah, don't try to do everything. This is a bit about saying what is important and what's not. So, maybe you want to write two books this year. It's much better to just get the one done than it is to try and start two, to find yourself struggling later on. So., I think if you can try and just do one thing at a time, I know it's really hard for a lot of people, but that really is an important thing.

And the other thing is, you've mentioned here about, Orna has, paying attention to your self-talk and what are the things you're saying to yourself.

So, for example, if you have not achieved what you wanted to do in 2020, hey, there's a global pandemic on, don't be so hard on yourself. I mean, seriously, if you're alive, well done. I mean, it's a difficult time and we have to acknowledge the mental health issues, challenges that people have kids at home, caring for people's sickness, there's all kinds of things. So, that's the other thing about planning, as we said right at the beginning, you know, God laughs because life happens, things happen. And as I said, every year, on the 1st of January, I post my goals and on the 31st of December, I round them up and I never ever hit them all. So, be gentle with yourself.

What about you Orna, how have you managed to talk yourself around this two years on nonfiction?

Orna Ross: Yeah, when I think about self-talk, I think about just asking myself, whenever I catch myself saying something that doesn't serve me very well, I just have this thing, you know, is it true, and how do I know it's true and what would happen if I turned it around?

So, I think it was Katie Byron who I learned that from years ago, she runs a thing called, The Work, and this was her thing. If you turn it around, what does it look like? So, you actually turn the statement around and see what you get.

That process of questioning what I'm saying to myself, has served me really well in terms of what I can take on, and what I can get done, because a lot of what we say to ourselves, even about the pandemic or the effect that it's having, as an example, it may not be true.

It's an emotional response, and it's a very understandable response and that's a different thing, but if we're thinking about planning, I think it's really important that we don't just set goals, but we also set our attitude. And that whole idea of the creative attitude where, yes, things go wrong, but now what, and might something better come out of this. How do we turn it around? How do we do this? And I mean, that can sound awfully Pollyanna and painful if you're struggling and if things are hard, and forgive me for that, but it does serve us better in the long run.

Also observing our habits and taking back as much control as we are able to take in any particular moment makes us feel better, and the more we can empower ourselves to notice what we're doing and to get into habits that foster flow and help to dissolve resistance, the better.

So again, recognizing that we will fail, we won't be 100% perfect, unfortunately, and by setting ourselves that intention, we're likely to go 60% of the way anyway. Whereas, if we don't think about our habits, and we don't think about our self-talk, we can very easily talk ourselves down. We can very easily dissipate our creative energy in, kind of, moaning and complaining and feeling bad, and all of those kinds of things, or bad habits. Sometimes we're deflecting our creative energy into habits that don’t serve us well, and we will feel so much better if we just actually made something or did something or, you know, furthered the things that we really want to do. So yeah, keeping an eye on that resistance, that creative resistance, and how it presents itself in our minds, I think, is very much part of planning well.

Keep it simple

Joanna Penn: And then again, I would say simplify, simplify, coming back to what we said at the beginning. So, once you've written stuff down, what you then have to do is, again, probably get rid of half of it or more than half of it.

So, I have two business plans, one for Joanna Penn and The Creative Penn, and one for J.F. Penn, my fiction side, and they're both less than one page long. And I don't mean a page with loads and loads of lines on, I mean a page with, for example, for J.F. Penn, it will be two novels, it will be the books and travel podcast, which is every two weeks, and it is BookBub ads, and then applying for Free Booksy or Bargain Booksy every month. That's literally what I do. Oh, I do use Instagram, but I consider that more personal.

So, that's all my plan has on it for the whole year. The Creative Penn has a bit more. So, that's what I mean about keeping it simple, because I know that there's so much to learn in this space. Even if the only site you went on was selfpublishingadvice.org, you would just find so many things for you to do, but neither of us have done everything that's on selfpublishingadvice.org. There's so many brilliant things and different resources, and you can't do everything. So, my other tip is this idea of consuming and producing, consume-produce.

So, for example, over the weekend I wanted to learn how to master my own audiobooks, because I needed more things done quicker. Now I can publish audio on Book Funnel for audio, I'm like right, I need this under my control. So, I spent a bit of time looking at how to do that, probably only 20 minutes, and then I was able to master my own audiobooks, and that was awesome. So, consume, and I produced one and published it. So, that's what I mean by consume and produce. So, if you're going to go, if you're going to go look at some of the lectures on the last conference, what could you put into action and stop consuming, and then produce based on that?

Because I feel like so many plans are full of learn this, learn that, learn the other, without actually putting it into action. What do you think about that?

Orna Ross: Yeah, I find that's where the quarter comes in really useful, in the same way as you just keep writing one thing until it's finished, keep publishing one thing until it's finished, the quarter can be very useful for trying something that you've read about. Does this work for me? Can I do it? Do I want to do it? But while I can do anything for a quarter and see, because it generally takes more than the first day or two to get comfortable with any kind of creative process, you have to give it a little bit of practice. Everything's hard at the beginning and can become incredibly easy after a while. So, it was exactly for that, that I found the quarters were useful.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic. Okay. So, you can tell that we both have different ways of planning and that's probably our overarching thing, you get to do it your way but remember, we are writers and so writing your plan down is definitely part of both of our processes and we believe should be part of everyone's process, even if it's just a couple of lines.

And of course, I have my book, Your Author Business Plan, and Orna has, what's yours called again, Orna?

Orna Ross: It's Creative Business Planning, there's a workbook, a quarterly planner and a monthly planner. So, it's all there, it's a full system, so you can take or leave as much as you want.

A lot of it is actually about being more creative in your planning and going in at a deeper level and looking at things like resistance and why you're not doing what you're not doing and separating out the writing from the publishing and from the business and getting very clear about where your blocks might be and how to dissolve them.

Plans for 2021

Joanna Penn: Fantastic. Well then, we should just finish up by thinking about what are some of the plans for 2021? What have you got in terms of the Alliance? What is the focus of this year, if there is one?

Orna Ross: Yeah. So, in terms of following that principle of, kind of, the top thing that you do, which I think is another principle to follow in planning, that each day, each year, each quarter, you know what is the one main thing, and there will be other things going on, but this is something that you really want to get through.

So, for us, we just started last year, at the end of last year, we put in place for the first time since we found it back in 2012, a new category of membership, and that was an organizational membership. And the idea is that we have all these authors all over the world who are maybe in their national or local organization, but that these organizations are not that clued into self-publishing. So, this is a membership that will allow us to share the knowledge that we've built up over these years with genre organizations, with national organizations, with local organizations, with author organizations everywhere.

So, that's going to be our main focus for 2021. What about you?

Joanna Penn: Well, just on the one thing, I don't know if you can see, this is the one piece of paper I have on my desk, it says How to Make a Living 3, and the one that's crossed off is narrate AI audiobook, which I did at the weekend.

So, that is my January bit of paper. So, just to prove to people, I'm not making this up. Literally that is every day, that's just what I see, and that's what I do, and that just keeps you focused. There's always hundreds, thousands of things you could be doing, so it's good to have that focus.

Yeah. So, my overarching principle this year is a year of expansion, because I feel like 2020 was constricting both physically, the world is constricting to the size of a screen, to the newsfeed, to all of this stuff, and so I want to expand my creativity in what I'm writing, but also my curiosity around this AI and technology side. But having that attitude of what expands me in terms of the positive attitude, because there's so much I could be looking at that is negative and would continue to contract me, and I don't want that. So, that's my attitude for the year and I've got lots of practical things, but that is my attitude. And what about you?

Orna Ross: Yeah, just before me, that feeds very nicely into a question from Bonnie who was saying, how do we change our habits if we can't change our environment? And I think it is in exactly what you're saying, it's about changing our mindset. In any environment, one thing we can control is our response and how we actually approach things.

So, if the habits that are lingering are ones you don't like, well then take the opposite attitude to that and start thinking, if I was to create a mindset that is that opposite quality, what would I need to do? What would make me feel good about that? What would actually bring that mindset around?

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and that's what I struggled with back in April when I was just like, I can't write because I can't go to my cafe, and it was Mark McGuinness, we talked about this last time, Mark McGuinness, he's a coach, really helped me, and in the end, it was a Spotify playlist. So, I just changed my playlist and put my headphones on as I did at the cafe and I just now can write at my desk. It was crazy, but I had to change my mindset, and I had to change my playlist, and then I just had to get on with it. So, that's the other thing. So yeah, you can change your mental environment, even if you can't change your physical one.

Orna Ross: Yeah, and it's about giving it the time and attention to actually work that out for yourself. So, sometimes we want to rush a process like that, and it can take a little bit of time.

So yeah, for me, as I said at the beginning, I'm just super excited to be getting back to my literary work and for me, the sounding note of 2021 is quality, rather than quantity. So, with, non-fiction, it was very much, I have these books that I need to be done.

The information is there, the knowledge is there, the blog posts are there, I just need to repurpose this content and turn it into these books and get them out. Whereas now, I'm interested in just getting deeply into the literary end of things again, and really looking forward to the that.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic. Right. So, next month we are going to be talking about writing in an age of artificial intelligence, which if you've been following my podcast is what I'm into, but Orna is also into it too, and we're going to be having a discussion about natural language generation tools and we'll be asking and answering the question of, how can we work with AI tools to improve our writing process and how will AI writing impact the author business.

As you know, we're both reasonably positive people, and also, we are thinking about how this will impact people in the future, this is not like next week, this is coming, but it's going to be fascinating. So, that is coming up in February.

Anything else, Orna, you want to add?

Orna Ross: No, just to say to people, don't run away, artificial intelligence are scary words, Joanna says I'm into it too, and I am because I'm into the idea of what it can do for us as authors, I have no interest at the level she is interested in, which is just a complete fascination with the whole processes and what's going on and so on.

So, next month it will be very much me talking to Joanna and trying to simplify it for heads like mine, who don't naturally lean in this direction, but we all should be interested in how we get to work with the robots and bring that into our author businesses. So, I'm really looking forward to next month, I have to say.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic. Well, happy writing everyone.

Orna Ross: Yes, absolutely, happy new year, happy, shiny new 2021 regardless of all of the things that are happening in the outside world, we can still create a little bit of magic in our writing and publishing. So, that's all we wish for you for 2021.


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/


This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. Interesting stuff!

    I completely agree with the points you make about different kinds of planning. You have to find the methods that work for you.


  2. Hi Mr. Lovy, I have finished a non-fiction however I am looking for someone to rewrite it in an American culture English style because I feel it is best to be rewritten rat being edited and proofread so the multi-purpose messages wouldn’t be overlooked or over emphasized…

    The book includes the following issues politics, business plan, economics, financing, history, monetary, strategy, 12th – 21st centuries, middle class, creativity and fundamentals…

    It is meant to be self-published and I am looking forward to your consultation, guidance, and recommendations please.


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