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Essential Financial Strategies For Indie Authors: The Publishing For Profit Podcast With Orna Ross And Joe Solari

Essential Financial Strategies for Indie Authors: The Publishing for Profit Podcast with Orna Ross and Joe Solari

On the Publishing for Profit Podcast from the Alliance of Independent Authors, ALLi Director Orna Ross and Business Adviser Joe Solari discuss essential financial strategies for indie authors. They emphasize realistic budgeting, long-term planning, and understanding brand promise to create sustainable and profitable author businesses. They address misconceptions around rapid release strategies, the impact of survivor bias, and the need for a strategic, patient approach to succeed in the competitive market.

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Listen to the Podcast: Essential Financial Strategies

On the #AskALLi Publishing for Profit Podcast, ALLi Director Orna Ross and Business Adviser @Joseph_Solari discuss essential financial strategies for indie authors. Share on X

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About the Hosts

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 democratizing, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website.

Joe Solari assists authors in developing successful businesses as the managing partner of Author Ventures LLC. In his role as a business manager, he supports his private clients, who collectively achieved gross royalties of twenty-two million in 2023, with an average pre-tax profit of 44%. This remarkable success results from implementing disciplined business strategies and maintaining an unwavering dedication to enhancing the customer experience.

Read the Transcripts to the Podcast: Essential Financial Strategies

Orna Ross: Hello and welcome to the Publishing for Profit segment of the Alliance of Independent Authors Self-Publishing Advice podcast. I am here with Joe Solari, again. Hi Joe.

Joe Solari: Good to see you, Orna. How's things on your side of the world?

Orna Ross: It's all good. It's May Day as we record this podcast, so it won't be going out for some time just yet. But yeah, we're looking forward to warmer days. What about you? How are things on your side of the pond?

Joe Solari: Nice and sunny. We had some good weather. Not too much rain, so I can't complain, and staying busy.

Orna Ross: Excellent.

Today we're going to talk about the fact that you are our cover star. You are on the front of The Indie Author, ALLi Member Magazine, a long interview with Ro Morris.

We were chatting just before we came online and I was telling you, and now going to tell the listeners, that Roz said, I've done this great interview with Joe, and it is six pages long. I said, oh, don't worry, we'll cut it, we can't do six pages. And she said, I found it really hard to cut, I didn't know what to cut, and I said, don't worry, I'll do it.

I went in to look at it and I couldn't cut it either.

Joe Solari: Oh wow, I stumped the editor.

Orna Ross: It's packed with really good, not just the good financial stuff, which of course is your expertise and why you're here on the Publishing for Profit podcast, but packed also with the whole context. That's why I'm so thrilled to have you on board now as ALLi's financial advisor, because I feel we have money conversations completely devoid of any context, completely separate, and what I love about the way you work is the way you always set the wider context.

So, let's begin there. One of the things you talk about nicely in the article, and I've heard you discuss this before, is that there is a lot of promising going on to authors in our community.

This kind of idea of you turn up, write books, stick at it, and if you're not making money, it's your fault, you're not trying hard enough, you need to try something else, you need to buy this new service, you need to get this new expert. You need to do blah, blah, A, B, C, and authors that go off gaily trying to fix something without knowing what's broken.

Talk to us a bit about that.

Joe Solari: Sure. I think that also, you go to conferences, and there's an author up there who you might relate to. She's got a lot of the same characteristics of you. Lifestyle wise, you're like, wow, she's living my life, and now she's talking about how she became a seven-figure author, and she's saying, if I can do it, you can do it.

In her heart, she means it, but what we don't think about is the survivor bias, that she had that happen to her and then when you come in a broader context of the marketplace, and this being a popularity market where there is this really steep curve of success and failure monetarily, we have a lot of titles that just don't sell, for every 1 of her there has to be 999 not her. We're all the center of our universe, so it's hard for us to think that we're somebody else's 999, and what I'm trying to get normalized as a message is this idea of yes, give it a shot.

You need to take the shot because the only thing worse than taking the shot and failing is not taking the shot at all; that's the real failure. The fact that you go and do this, and like most people, it doesn't work out.

This very select few isn't a reflection on you. It's not a reflection on your personality or how hard you worked or anything like that, it's the dynamics of the market, and nobody talks about.

So, I think when we're looking at all of the things that are in the article, or we talk about on this podcast, it is really important to understand, you have chosen to do something super, super hard. You have a higher chance of success summiting Mount Everest and coming down alive than you do becoming a millionaire author. That's just a statistical fact.

Orna Ross: And of course, not everybody goes into this because they want to be a millionaire author.

But I'm really interested in how money distorts that conversation, and that's a different podcast for another time.

But I love this idea of survivor bias. That was a term I hadn't heard before, but it's quite a widespread term in business circles. What I think you're doing is you're bringing very understood concepts in wider business into the author world, and experiencing some resistance maybe from authors who don't always get what you're saying, or always agree with it. Talk to me a little bit about when you bring business concepts to authors, how open are we, how receptive are we?

Joe Solari: Very resistant. I'm the guy in the room at conferences with 20 people. if I'm ever put up against somebody that's the current marketing hotness, nobody shows up, because the stuff that I talk about is usually either complex marketing ideas, like high strategy, or it's around these concepts of, how are we tipping probabilities in your favour through the use of business tools, and that's not what people want to hear.

There are some traps you can fall into as an author.

One is, I'm really determined to do this, I'm going to do whatever you tell me to do. So Orna, I will follow your recipe to the T. If you tell me I have to get up at four in the morning and write 10,000 words, I will.

So, now I'm mimicking you. I'm just an imitator. It doesn't bring in the broader context of, why am I writing? I see you, and I put all these perceptions on what I think your life is like and what you're doing, I have no idea really if you are as successful as you say you are or if you're having nervous breakdowns because of all the stress of your business. None of that stuff goes in it because I live in this grass is greener world. So, I don't want to stop and think about what I need.

This kind of boils back down. When you start to think about the first thing every author needs, is to have it where their books break even financially. So, when I go through my publishing process, which is going to cost me money and time, when I exit that at some period of time, I have more money than I started with. That means I can continue to publish. It can be a self-sustaining enterprise on its own.

Every author has to do that.

When you then back that down and you think about it's a business, and it's something I say a lot, when an author decides to do this, you're doing a startup with an unproven product in a saturated market, with no audience, what could go wrong?

Orna Ross: When you put it like that.

Joe Solari: So, when we look at those four things, what are you doing to address those things over time? If we back up another layer and we say, what does this mean for you as an author?

Just take that startup business part. If we look across the entirety of business history, all startup businesses, any industry, any economic conditions, doesn't matter; it takes most businesses three to five years to break even. They've got a 50/50 shot of being around in five years’ time. They have a 20% shot of going out of business in the first 12 months.

That's the real mountain you've got to climb.

None of that has to do with the stuff that you might be hearing in that marketing presentation. That's the stuff with business stuff, like, do I have enough money to get me through three to five years? That sounds like math and accounting and boring stuff, I don't want to learn that. But that single one thing is what will make most authors succeed, even with a mediocre book, because you have the money to get you to the point where you can refine that message to the market, you get your voice, you find it, and you find that audience. That just takes time.

That's a long description to what you asked, but I think that's why people don't like this stuff because it's not, just do these three bullet points.

Orna Ross: It's harder work, isn't it, and it draws on different parts of us.

We need the inspirational as well to keep us going, but we definitely need, at some point, and the sooner the better, that's your message and I think that's ALLi's message as well, bake it in from the beginning. Understand what you're getting yourself into and yes, draw on your sources of inspiration to keep you moving, but don't swallow the Kool Aid.

Joe Solari: One example of this where you can take a marketing strategy and what I just mentioned, and when you apply them together, that it's just not going to work.

For me, a realization of this was, I was at a conference where I spoke and I was meeting with authors, and it was right at the apex of rapid release. A lot of authors were talking about, new authors, that they were going to apply the strategy.

I would ask them, so how many books are you going to release? I'm going to release four books.

How much are those covers going to cost? How much is the editing?

When they added it up, this is a significant number. This could have been $4,000-$6,000, and I would say, so what we just added up here was like five grand, do you have that money to spend in the next 30 to 60 days?

They're like, absolutely not, I was hoping the first book would generate that.

I'm like, see, you just laid out a plan that's destined to fail because you can't expect that book to do that, and the people that are succeeding with that model, it's because they put them out in such rapid succession that the third and fourth book really is where the rocket launches off the pad.

Now that you know that, I'm not saying don't do rapid release. What I'm saying is, does the timeline shift. Does your whole framework shift?

Like, oh, I don't have to write all these books really quickly. I can write them over time while I save up the money so that I can do this rapid release 18 months from now and drop those books in a six-week window.

Then it's a successful rapid release strategy, planned properly with money. Laying that all out gets you to the point where now it works, but we get impatient; I want that to happen now.

Orna Ross: Definitely. Indie authors are impatient by nature, I think it's one of the reasons we choose it.

But also, what you're talking about there is maturity, and I think this is one of the ways in which, in order to finish a book, to finish writing a book and get it all the way through to the end of your final draft, you have to change as a person.

I think it's the same with business and publishing. In order to become the person who is breaking even, you have to change as a person. Then the question is, how soon will you accept those changes, and how soon will you begin to embrace them? Because then you're giving yourself the better chance, as you talked about, tipping the improbable in your own favour.

So, you have a number of strategies that you offer people to tip the scales a little more in their favour. Can you tell us the top three that you would recommend authors to do to just make things more likely to succeed?

Joe Solari: Yeah. So, we touched on the first one already, it's that budget. It's in the article, that one of the free tools on my website at JoeSolari.com is a budget planner that's designed for authors. I actually designed this thing where you put in how many words per day you're going to write, how many days a week you're going to write. It's really from the author perspective. Then you put in a bunch of data about your costs, and it will push out a five-year plan of costs and when you'll get to your breakeven point. It's really rough, but that alone is a better plan than 99% of the audience puts out there.

Just doing that and following that puts you in the top one percentile of business planners on the planet, not just an author.

Orna Ross: Absolutely, and I do think at this point for most authors that it is all you need. It's really about the mindset shift that doing that exercise will actually bring about in you is the biggest change of all.

Joe Solari: Yeah, just like we'll talk about the next point, but a budget and a plan, they're reference points. They're not gospel. They're a place to set guardrails, and like you just said, which is so important, is like just that mindset of, oh, I've got $322 in my savings account, I thought that was going to get me there, and this thing says I need $3,000. That's not bad. How long will it take you to save the 3000? Now you can adjust your writing schedule accordingly. Think this thing through, and those things move from negative to positive.

Along with that, the next thing is a three-to-five-year production plan for your work.

Understand realistically, now that you have that framework for the money you need, what's the pace you're setting for this business and understanding how books are going to drop.

When you look at that plan, you have to flip the script. Think about how that's going to look from the reader's perspective. Think about how that demonstrates to the reading audience you're trying to attract that you are a regular and reliable producer of works that meet their needs.

Orna Ross: Fantastic, and that reader perspective brings us to point three, doesn't it?

Joe Solari: Yeah. Our third thing that I always talk about, and this is again, where now we start to slide more into the marketing is, you need to understand what your brand promise is and for what audience that is.

Too often with marketing, and this comes out of the digital marketing that we're all exposed to, it's like we just yell out in a megaphone and just try and get traffic, and then have a system that sorts through to the people that care.

I say flip that, and this isn't my idea, this is a Seth Godin idea of that minimum viable audience. The 2 or 3 people that really dig what you do, what if you could build a marketing system that grew from just word of mouth? That means you need to be very clear about the people that the message resonates with, and then that has to be impregnated into every facet of your business, the stories, the marketing, the advertising, your website, how you talk, how you write your emails, because the thing here is you're really in the experience business as an author. It just happens to be that experience unfolds when they read your words or listen to the words, but in the end, they're imagining this experience in their head.

The more that your marketing feels like that experience, the easier it is for them to be attracted to it. They'll come to you if they feel that in the marketing. Oh, I love how this ad was written. If the story is written like this copy is, then I would read that book, I'll go to that website. Oh, the website really sounds like something interesting, I think I'll give you my email. Oh, that reader magnet I read, I loved, I need to know what happens to those characters. Now, that customer just sold themselves going through that process.

Orna Ross: What you talk about so interestingly in the article is how you're inverting it. So, normally marketing speak is bring as many people as you can, get them into your funnel, and somehow magically everything is just going to happen, and X percent will automatically buy.

Joe Solari: I think that's something that is going to be a profound difference in the success and failure of marketing moving forward because people are trying to escape high volume digital marketing.

This is just stuff that I've seen where, in my Facebook feed I'll see something. Oh yeah, I want that grass fed beef, and I go, and I click on it, and I buy it. It worked. Now, when I go back to my feed, all his competitors’ ads are showing in my feed and now I'm like, this is not a cool experience.

So, I think the weird thing is, and I'm guilty of this as well, the things I detest then I turn around and do, because everyone's telling me that's the right thing to do to make business, that's not on brand. If it's not on brand, I shouldn't do it.

Just because Orna is doing it doesn't mean I should do it. Does it fit with my brand?

That becomes now something that, and we talked about it in the article, becomes informative to everything you do. When you've got those three things in place and you go to a show or you watch a webinar and you're like, oh, that sounds so exciting, and it's the magic formula. Why? Oh, no, it doesn't fit with my brand, I'm not going to do it.

Subscriptions work for a lot of people. They also don't work for a lot of people. Figure out which one you are. I've seen a lot of people going into that and then it's like, what is that experience for the customer, because if you're trying to get the typical subscription customer, they're looking for serialized fiction. They love serialized fiction. Do you want to write in a serialized fashion? It's hard work. Not all writers are built for it. Some are machines and to put out 10,000 words a week is no big deal. If you're not that, you're painting yourself into an uncomfortable corner.

Orna Ross: So, take more time with your decisions is the theme across all three of your tips. It's really about not rushing into anything, getting to know yourself, getting to know your readers, getting to know your books and your value and your offering.

Joe Solari: When you're having these things as guardrails and guideposts, you have them so that you can go back to them when it's time to make decisions.

I'll tell you a story. I was in the oil and gas business. We had this opportunity come up, pretty terrific opportunity. We were going to pursue this thing; it looked like a really good pivot point. There was conflict within the management team if we were going to do it, there was a whole thing about what we would have to tell our investors.

We went back to this one sheet of yellow legal paper that we set out the business premise on. Handwritten, it had six things on it. We went through that list and we're like, it doesn't hit any of these points. Just because Joe and Matt think it's cool wasn't one of the opportunity things that the business was built on, and so that stopped me from pursuing that. Now, I could go back and rehash that and say that for somebody else that turned out to be a really good opportunity. But again, what am I trying to do with my business? If I have a real clear understanding of that brand promise and that customer experience I want to deliver, then there's times where I'm going to be like, as cool as this sounds, I have to let it go and focus on what delivers, on what was working for that little audience, because what you don't realize is behind the scenes that little audience is compounded.

Fantastic. All right, we will develop this a little further next time we meet in the next quarter. Before you leave us, tell us a little bit about Author Nation. How's it going? It's getting intense. We're starting to make some of our bigger announcements. Chelle Honiker, who's the head of our programming committee, just started releasing our first round of speakers.

In fact, today there should be stuff coming out on the social media channels and on the website, because people are getting their contracts back and we're getting it all going. So, you'll start to see that.

At the end of this month, the early bird pricing is going to end because we'll have the majority of our speakers up there.

We just announced a program we're doing with a group called Story Wars. Do you know Kelly Lytle?

Orna Ross: Yes.

Joe Solari: So, he's got a thing, it's like a rap battle improv thing. They do it live in Cleveland, and we've partnered with them, and we're going to be doing virtual Story Wars for the opportunity to win a trip to the show where we'll be having our final on Wednesday night, where our different regions will compete and we'll have one winner that'll win a full trip to the 2025 show, and the crown of the story wars champion.

So, we're doing some really cool stuff around the community, and what I loved when Kelly and Gabby, actually Jay Thorne connected us, when we all got this going, is this idea of, they've got this really amazing process for sparking creativity, and it's so community based, why can't we scale it up? Why can't we bring it? And, you know, Kelly, there is no, no.

Orna Ross: Hasn't changed then? Good.

Okay, great. So, we will have a link to AuthorNation Conference in the show notes, and a link to your website, and to the article in TIA, and anything else that was of interest that you think we should put in.

Thank you so much for coming by, taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to ALLi members and friends about money, and the money side of what we do. It's so important.

Joe Solari: Anytime, and on my website, you can always sign up for a free call. I know past members have done that. It's private, it's 20 minutes, and we're just going to talk about your business, and hopefully we can find some things for you to do. I'm not going to sell you anything. It's just a way for you to tap into some resources and get me thinking about your business specifically. I still do that even though I'm running the show.

Orna Ross: I don't know how you do it all, I really don't.

Joe Solari: I've got an amazing team, and maybe that's something in the future we talk about.

I hope that people are getting a little meta and looking at what we're doing with AuthorNation as far as a learning experience on how I built bringing in the right people and empowering them to get the job done, because there's some things I'm good at, and there's a lot of things that not only am I not good at, but I don't like to do.

Orna Ross: That might be a good thing for us to talk about next time you could share with us how you manage that, and how you make your decisions about hiring good people. Because in my experience, authors don't tend to be very good at hiring people, they tend to hire friends.

Joe Solari: Friends and family, which Lisa and I are like, Oh, please not the drunk uncle again.

Orna Ross: Okay. That's a decision then.

Joe Solari: All right, good talking to you.

Orna Ross: Thank you again, and thanks for all you do. Bye, bye.

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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