In this month’s Advanced Self-Publishing Salon from the Alliance of Independent Authors, Orna Ross and Joanna Penn discuss how to position yourself for success in the next year. Catch up on the latest self-publishing news for author entrepreneurs, including search on voice devices and the importance of a good pitch.
The AskALLi podcasts are sponsored by Damonza: Books Made Awesome.
Topics discussed this week include:
- Orna and Joanna update us on their writing projects;
- An update on ALLi’s activities and campaigns, including Self-Publishing 3.0 and making the self-publishing economy more visible;
- New opportunities in virtual and augmented reality.
- What exactly is happening at Amazon?
- The need for business training of self-published authors.
- Focus on independence; build up your audience on other platforms.
- Have your own website and make it a functioning e-commerce site, where you can sell directly.
- What does “positioning yourself in your market” mean?
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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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 Transcripts
Joanna: Hello! Hello everyone and welcome to the December 2018 Alliance of Independent Authors Self Publishing Salon, with me, Joanna Penn and Orna Ross, hi, Orna.
Orna: Hi, Joanna! Hi everyone! Hello, hello. Here we are again.
Joanna: Here we are again indeed and this is exciting because what we’re talking about today is how to position yourself for success in 2019. Can you believe we are on the cusp of another year? It’s kind of crazy but awesome.
Orna: It’s completely crazy. I wrote 2018 in our notes. 2018 just went just.
Joanna: Just passed us by. So we are going to get into that topic in a minute, but first of all, as ever, Orna and I are writers first and we always like to talk about what’s going on. So first of all, Orna, what’s happening with the Alliance that you want to update us on?
Orna: Yeah, well, we have been for this quarter working on the Self-Publishing 3.0 campaign which I’ve been talking about from the author’s point of view a lot up to now, so we’re talking, for those who are not aware of what I’m talking about, essentially, we’re talking about authors now having the ability to develop scalable and sustainable business is for the first time.
So authors are no longer, you know, as self publishing authors, I think it took awhile for the penny to drop that we’re not really freelancer content providers as in the traditional system but we’re actually people who run digital creative micro businesses and so we have been doing a lot of work with our members and in other ways around this in terms of going on the author track but now we’re turning the attention around and we’re having some conversations with creative industry bodies and governments and we’re picking 6 key territories for 6 different reasons, which I won’t go into now but we’ll be filling our members in on all of this shortly, Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, U.K. and U.S. and making the argument to governments there that we’re essentially part of a dark economy, you know, everybody’s talking about falling author incomes in an arts councils and creative industry bodies and that is terrible and that is happening but there is a very lively, vibrant self publishing sector that they are not recording at any level and so we want to make ourselves visible at a minimum but we also want to see some training going in, some skills training for the kinds of publishing, you know, tasks that we face as authors and also mindset training as well, so that’s where we are turning there.
Joanna: Yeah I also think, like, there was a discussion in one of the groups about accountants and recommendations for things and I think there needs to be education in the financial bodies because they’re, you know, authors like us, we are defined as authors but our income is actually more like Internet entrepreneurs and so things like VAT, which sales tax in different jurisdictions, you know, people, accountants who are used to authors making royalties and paying agents are giving the wrong advice to authors who make their money online like we do through a third party site like Amazon or Kobo or whoever. So the education also needs to be in those different bodies, you think the same?
Orna: Absolutely and the point you make about creative entrepreneurship is really key because that’s what we are, that’s where we fall now and that’s not traditionally where authors would have located themselves and that needs a mindset shift within these bodies, within the services that we hire and but not least within authors ourselves to want to understand that actually takes quite a bit of a mental leap, particularly because we’re so focused on writing and working in the business, you know, that idea of stepping outside and how we work on the business as well as publishing books. It’s challenging. It’s doable because we have lots of members who are doing it but definitely authors need support and the kind of support that’s being offered to authors is very much a hand out mentality from governments, you know, it’s about funding you for time so that you can write this book, whereas we’re saying, “No, it should be ‘invest in our skills and we can earn the money ourselves’ sort of, you know, teach about fish and you know it’s not just for a day, it’s not just giving the fish or whatever the cliche is. Bungled cliche. But you know what I mean.
Joanna: Fantastic, yes. That’s awesome. So, and then we like to just give you an update on our creative work because, you know, we are both managing our creative side and our of business side so for me this month I’ve been doing all of publishing tasks, I’m getting my books into large print and hardback editions and I’m working, you know, obviously with Jane, wonderful designer, which is really helpful but still, the publishing tasks of uploading files and checking stuff, kind of soul destroying for me so I have started, even though I’m going to have to have a break in the middle, I’ve started my next Matt Walker fantasy, started researching the Black Death which is super exciting for someone like me. Destroy 30% of Europe-
Orna: Our idea of fun, people, Black Death.
Joanna: The Black Death. So, having fun with that but really, you know, you have to have that balance otherwise you go nuts, like you might as well go back to your day job if you’re kind of miserable in everything you’re doing, so I’m trying to balance that really hard, like, go do the creative, satisfy the creative, then do the business stuff, also prepping a business plan for my next, I’m actually going to start a new content marketing site for my fiction in 2019 but I am, instead of just jumping into it, I am actually doing like a business plan which I didn’t really do such a detailed thing before, but I feel like this has to be right so I’m working on that. I’ll be launching on the 10 years of my podcast episode in March 2019 so I’ve got, you know, a few months before that’s going to go out there which is kind of marketing but also something creative because I will be using my research process to, you know, offer my photos to the world through various, I haven’t thought about the licensing yet but, you know, stuff like that which is another creative potential income stream around my fiction. So really trying to future proof for my next 10 years, that’s the thing, I’ve also been getting into Amazon ads which we’ll talk a bit about later. So what about you, Orna, what’s your month been like?
Orna: Yeah, lots to talk about, again, a shift for me around marketing and it was kind of ignited here on this Salon, I think it was 2 or 3 sessions ago where we were talking, you were talking about preorders and it really kind of hit me and I have kind of come up with this new marketing, new way of marketing and promoting so I, my idea was that, you know, the traditional launch is built around time, so the date is set, everybody builds to it, you get your 6 weeks or whatever and all the activity goes in around that and I I don’t think that makes a lot of sense for us as Indies and we’ve discussed that lots over the time, you know, the way in which it is different for us and we’re kind of on a never ending tour but I still think a first book deserves and needs that kind of push at the beginning, so I decided I’d do this experiment of preorder marketing, so when I hit a certain amount of preorders then I’ll launch the book.
So I put it out there on 2 completely different projects, one being the first Go Creative book, the 2nd one being a poetry book and interesting, it’s just literally just a couple of days old but there has been reader objection which is kind of interesting, somebody wrote me a very long considered, a very interesting email so I’m kind of taking on board the fact that she didn’t like it, it’s just one person but we’ll see.
Also working on workbooks with Jane, I have this need of what you’re talking about there, of balancing, you know, the different sides of ourselves. I just have this need, I want to create something nice, something I haven’t done the kind of hands on print projects since the big Yates project I did a few years ago so we went back and we’re revamping to free-writing notebook and the starter pack that we did some time ago and I’ve two new that I’m really happy with, a quarterly planner for the Go Creative method which kind of brings everything in across a quarter, across a week, across a day, across the next hour, you can actually work out with this, you know, what you’re doing kind of thing in a very different way to your conventional planner thing, so it’s the kind of thing that will appeal to people like me, people who think like me and so I’m really enjoying that and infographics, getting all into infographics as a way to just get things across really succinctly, you know. The other thing that helped me was I had my first experience of VR.
Joanna: How was it?
Orna: Mind completely blown, I mean, I could do a whole show on it but it was just incredible and I was thinking about poetry online, particularly, because you know, poetry is having its moment now but it’s quite difficult online to get attention for the kind of poetry that I write, which needs attention. It’s not, you know, light and easy to absorb necessarily, well, some of it is but some of it isn’t for that kind of poem, this immersive experience is just so mind blowing but also I watched a few stories and lots of different things on it and just can totally see the potential, so I’ve found that it’s 30 grand roughly for 20 minutes a so I’m actually going to see if I could get some funding, I have of an idea for a very short project that I would really like to do, so off on that little jag as well.
Orna: So yeah, busy month.
Joanna: So, Orna, that’s interesting, so that VR, if people didn’t get your accent, some people don’t, virtual reality. And I think, I mean, I think for experiencing our fiction and also augmented reality, like I want to be, you know, you could see me walk alongside you along South Bank of London while I tell you a story and also, I think you and I could be doing this in a VR world like High Fidelity, you know, people could actually join us in wherever we want to set it, you know, and we would sit here talking, we’d be in this space but it’s great that you saw it because I saw it like 4 years ago, something and it’s come on such a long way but when you actually experience some VR, you know, thing, you’re like, “Oh OK and you turn around and it’s just crazy” So exciting.
Orna: Well you get in a way, I mean everybody was talking about VR and you were talking years ago to me about it and I’m always intrigued by the idea but the experience is so different and I didn’t even know what augmented reality was and I realize I’ve been doing it for ages, I go to a health studio where we have actually virtual instruction and you know, if you’re doing your yoga you’re on a mountain and there’s smells wafting from the butterflies going up the wall and so that was what augmented reality was. Who knew!? But I can really see the potential for writers and most of the people who are involved in virtual reality and augmented reality and games and all of that, they don’t know how to write and they are hungry for scripts and now the new headset is going to be about 500 pounds or something, the new one that is coming in spring so I would say within a few years everybody is going to be sitting on their cell phone with their headset on, you know, 4 different people in 4 different worlds.
Joanna: I agree and it’s so funny because I just looked back, I wrote an article for the Future Book in 2015 about this and I said “Hey everyone, let’s create some kind of group where we can look at the future of publishing in VR” but of course no one ever got back to me because I said it will happen in the next year and of course we’re 3-4 years on, so who knows, I mean, I’m usually early on this stuff but-
Orna: You are right, it will happen though.
Joanna: Yeah, it totally will, I mean, it’s so cool. OK, so let’s get into the news and before we get into our thing. Now we will kind of talk about this in more depth when we get into our sort of recommendations but probably the biggest thing that’s being talked about in every single Facebook group is Amazon kind of craziness that’s been going on, you know, also boughts disappearing, there was one moment and it affected me, you know, almost all of my books seemed to disappear from the Amazon store and Amazon.com and you know, the established wisdom was to resubmit all your books and I have a lot of books so I spent, you know, half a day resubmitting on my books only to find that didn’t work and then, of course, we found out that was a bit of a glitch but then also we found out about this new beta reporting which does split the world into country specific stores, a bit like Apple so there has been, there’s obviously changes going on in the back end of Amazon that they’re not telling us about and we’re just being affected by.
Also, people are seeing changes in “also bought”s, we’re seeing, you know, ads, questionably things whether they’re working or not but no one’s told us anything so Orna, you have a way into Amazon in some sense, so what are your thoughts on all of this?
Orna: Nobody’s told us anything. To be blunt, I mean, there’s lots of talking but no information, really, because I think this is much bigger than we were talking about this before we came on air and this is bigger than just authors, but it’s affecting us hugely.
Now, there are two things going on and it’s until the dust settles a little bit, I know people, indie authors say that it’s been going on for 3 months but 3 months is not a big, it’s not a long time for the kind of shift and change that’s happening here, so up one level ,we’ve got glitches. We’ve got lots and lots of problems and in a sense, that would be OK because yeah, they’re horrible when they’re happening and when it affects your book and particularly if it affects a launch or something really important for you, that’s really horrible, I’m not belittling that in anyway.
But there is a sense that it may be a much bigger change in actual approach and you know, Amazon has always been unique and the reason it has worked so very well for indies is because it has always put the customer first so it has given a customer whichever book they wanted at the best possible price and that’s always been their way and they differ from that in that way from other services that we like and approve of, Kobo and Apple and people like this who have a different, have different approaches that are more aligned with the traditional approach, which you get in the book stores which is put the stuff out front that pays you to be put out front and they aren’t bad thing.
So there are indications that Amazon is moving into an advertising led environment and we certainly don’t know that, but certainly as authors we need to think about that possibility and what that looks like and you and I were kind of speculating about that before we came on and it is speculation at this stage, I hasten to add it’s not definitely policy and nobody has confirmed it or anything but there are indications, and there are lots of reasons to think, it’s not just idle speculation. There are lots of reasons to think that this is serious major shift is happening. So, yeah, maybe you’d outline a few of the things that it could mean for Indies.
Joanna: Well, I think, I’ve certainly, you know, looked at my own data and I’m wide, I also have multiple streams of income so I don’t sit on Amazon every day, I don’t, I actually only look at my sales, I look at income and money in my bank account like all the time because it’s my business, but I don’t look at sales figures of individual books until the year end usually but when this all was kicking off I was like, “OK let’s look at my sales figures just on Amazon.com and .co.uk which is where I’ve seen the “also bought” change, you know, for the last year and just see if there’s any trends that you can see and there’s a very clear trend from September-ish and some of my books even went to 0 sales, as in they literally, there is 0 sales in September.
Orna: They stopped selling.
Joanna: Yes, September, October, November whereas before that they had kind of, you know, ticked along I do enough general marketing and these are fiction, so I have none of, all my nonfiction has carried on selling but my fiction very much because I don’t do, like, active push push stuff generally has been quite variable so and this is a series that didn’t have a release this year as well, so this is part of, anyway, the good thing, so there’s two sides to this coin as such. The bad side would be “Oh my goodness, everything’s gone wrong, we now have to pay to play and like we do the other stores which have merchandising, as you say” and the other side of the coin is to say “Oh, now we know what we have to do in order to sell books” and I actually, the good news is, we started doing Amazon ads on these particular books that haven’t been selling much and we are now selling books.
Now I know some people listening will be like “Yeah I’ve been doing Amazon ads for ages” and we have been running some but the point is that it seems to have shifted the organic, it’s the organic stuff that seems to have disappeared or lessened over time.
Joanna: Yeah, so but to me it’s like a positive, like the positive thing is you now have more control than anyone and if the scales are tipping to the people who will take this seriously, I guess.
Orna: Yeah, I think it’s important to say that what you experienced is not a unique, an individual’s thing, it’s been happening. September was a key moment for a lot of people and a lot of people saw the same thing happening and I think, you know, we have a unique moment at the start of this, you know, which we will have with VR when it gets going in awhile I hope I pronounced that well enough for people to hear it. You know, which was: if you’re in at the beginning of something and there are certain conditions in place, you can be very lucky and you can make money easily but that is not becoming an author publisher.
Becoming an author publisher is something different. It’s about, you know, perfecting those 7 different process of publishing. So it’s the editorial and the design, the making the book and the production and the distribution that puts the book out there and it’s also the marketing and promotion of the book and this is the aspect that a lot of authors struggle with and Amazon, in a sense, has allowed us to not really have to think too much about that within their ecosystem. If they are now changing the model and if it is going to be an advertising led platform, then we need to rethink a lot of that and I think it just emphasizes self publishing is not an easy choice, it’s a very empowered choice, it’s a very creative choice, it can be commercially very rewarding but it takes time to build, always if you’re doing it and a huge number of our members didn’t hit the Amazon, you know, the Kindle gold rush at the beginning and aren’t on Amazon and never have been and aren’t in KU for various reasons and you know, so have never really experienced that, lots of them have just done the slow steady build year on year thing and the people who have done that are less affected by these changes, obviously, than those who have put all their publishing eggs in one basket.
Joanna: But also, again on the positive side, I’ve heard from children’s authors like Karen Inglis who’s been talking, who was on my podcast, Mark Dawson’s podcast, talking about her success based on Amazon ads because she can finally target people who are buying popular children’s books and also I’ve heard from literary fiction authors, can’t name names, they haven’t said it said it publicly but who have said that they are selling books with Amazon ads and they never really sold books before so it’s very, well I think we see this as ever, you and I both, well I’m very glass half-full, I mean, I’m always like, “Yeah!” and I feel like this is almost a call to arms, a call to action, you know, a sort of “OK” and I feel, because I probably, no, I definitely have taken some things for granted and you can’t, another thing, you know, like my business is 10 years old now, I can’t just rest on what used to work. We have to keep learning more and we have to keep renewing our skills, renewing everything and that’s exciting because we love to learn, right? Creative people love to learn.
Orna: Yeah, I think it is exciting. I think we also need to recognise that it can be overwhelming and particularly at the beginning when there’s an awful lot to learn. It feels like all at once and you know, and that first effort of getting a book up there, out there and just out of the world at all is in itself, I mean, just writing a book is a huge, huge endeavor, never mind all the rest of us, you know, so the first time of just putting getting the book together, getting it out there in any way shape or form. Amazon was fantastic in that, look, I’m already talking past tense, it’s still happening in the sense that some people could put it out there, but it’s very much depended on genre and so on and you couldn’t count on it and this is the point, I think, this is the point that we need to grasp as self-publishers is we’re in business and business is never easy and creative business is even more challenging than your average, you know, well established business because it’s always about change.
Things are always changing but there are certain key and core principles that always apply and if you stay with those, if you actually stay with it and if you’re patient for long enough, but you do need to realize that when you’re going into self publishing, you are going into a business and you are going to have to invest time and money and you do need to look at your ROTI, your return on your time investment and your ROMI, your return on your money investment, in order for it to make sense and what this does, I think it forces us back into being more businesslike and this feeds into what I was saying earlier on about a lot of us need some help here, we actually need some skills training.
You’re quite a business-like person, you have a business background, a lot of authors come into self-publishing because frankly, they couldn’t get a publisher and they would have preferred to somebody, some mythical angel who would come along and take their books and put them out in the world and you know, get them a big audience but that, it doesn’t happen for most authors that way and so they come in to self-publishing and they don’t realize that in doing that they have come into business and they don’t understand what it is to be in business.
The wonderful thing about creative micro-businesses, it’s not business as usual. It is different and it is definitely, if you can write a book, if you can write a good book, you can crack this stuff no problem. You just have to give it the time and you also have to think about investing some money because nobody starts a business outside of authorship expecting not to spend any money. Authors, I think, are the only people who go into business thinking they can be in business without having to spend any money, they’ll get their friend to do the design, and they’ll get their high school teacher to do their editing and so on and it doesn’t work like that and they make those time expensive mistakes and waste a lot of time and then come around to understanding what it is to be an actual professional publisher, so that is the challenge.
Joanna: Yeah and the fun challenge, I would say.
Orna: Yeah, well we love it, and lots of authors love it but I’m just speaking to those who might be feeling at the moment “I can’t do this!” and just saying, “Look, you can, you just need to give it some time and then you, too, will have fun with it.”
Joanna:Indeed and of course, the Alliance has podcast episodes for people at different levels of their author career and this this is the advance salon so if sometimes if you’re listening to this and you’re not feeling like you’re advanced yet, well, we’re going to carry on talking about this stuff, so you can always tune in again. OK, so we’re going to skip on, I think, to our main topic, is that OK?
Joanna: Yeah, OK, so we are going to talk about positioning yourself for success in 2019. So I wanted to start by saying the number one thing that I’ve been thinking again is focus on independence. Now that might not be, like, a headline, because that’s what we’re talking about generally but I think this stuff with Amazon, the just in general the kind of the changes that we’re seeing in different markets, this shouldn’t be a surprise, it happened with Facebook and you know ,we’re all dependent on these different platforms.
In fact even in the last week Jeff Bezos spoke at a private gathering that somehow CNBC got a hold of and said Amazon will go bankrupt. Amazon may only last 30 odd years. Now, I fully intend to be doing this for more than 30 years, so the example here is build up your audience on other platforms and also look at direct sales, particularly with 3rd party services that deal in EU tax issues, because it’s not just EU any more, what we’re seeing is sales tax on digital is only going to get bigger so I’ve been with one particular company and I’m going to be moving into PayHip next year so I’ve been doing direct sales since, well, since 2008 but I’m kind of, again, looking at different tools to spread that. What else, Orna, should we be focusing on in terms of independence?
Orna: Well, I think it, first of all is to focus on the fact that you value independent and what it actually means to be independent and if all your publishing eggs are in one basket, you’re not and so also looking at the fact that books can be hard, especially when you’re starting out and learning to write well is something that, you know, for most of us, isn’t something that happens overnight so you may well want to think about other forms of income and traditionally, that’s been kind of do a day job while I do my writing on the side but because of the digital revolution you can actually corporation other ways of earning money into your author business.
We see people who are doing that really quite successfully and there are kind of 7 roughly models that you can use to amplify your book or augment your book income and just having a chat with this, about this, with one of our members Jessica Bell, who some of you will know and she was talking about she is now what she calls herself a multipreneur, so it’s not just her books, it’s also her. She sings and she does design and she runs a literary magazine so some of that is, yes, writing related but there are also parts of her income streams that have nothing to do with writing at all but it’s all there, part of her presence and one thing feeds another and so highly creative. So yeah, think about that, think about ways in which you can actually make money using your website. Think of your website and this is the one thing I think, there are no rules in this game, but this is a rule if there is one and that is have your own website and make it a functioning e-commerce website where you can sell directly and build that up over time.
Joanna: Yeah that’s certainly, as you know, I’ve built my business, the nonfiction site with the Creative Penn through these various methods and 2019 I want to start doing that for fiction, so it’s going to be a really interesting year, you know, I feel for my investigation into independence with the fiction side. I think it’s much easier to do with nonfiction, but I see, you know, the multiple streams of income around fiction is, you know, obviously teaching is a big one, speaking but I think there’s other interesting models that can be done.
Orna: I think so too and I think this is, again, part of the measure of the confidence of the community. I think when we were starting out, you know, we would think, “OK, well I’m not going to make money with my fiction or my poetry so I better do something else that will, you know, but if you look back, maybe, and I’m not saying this is you, but some people who have done that, you know, would look back and say “If only I had put all my time and attention in to other ways of, you know, building my income around my fiction or my poetry or whatever.”
I mean, I’ve spoken here on the show before about what a revelation poetry has been to me this year. I just assumed, you know, just assumed, no money in poetry because there wasn’t in traditional publishing and how wrong that was so I think, you know, as the community grows in confidence and as we learn the business skills and what it takes and so on, you can now take all you’ve learned with your non-fiction and apply it to fiction and I know you’ll be sharing that journey with us all next year as you always do so generously, so looking forward to to all of that because I think it’s easier than we maybe think it, I hope.
Joanna: Yeah, I agree. OK, so then what we want, the second point is “back to basics.” You know, sometimes we focus so much on the little, like, technical things, do this, click this button, that we forget to kind of take a step back and take a step up and look at the kind of more strategic questions of positioning yourself and really thinking about what that means. So, Orna, what do you think this sort of positioning yourself in the market means for people?
Orna: I think this is super important to do this every year, you know, so that’s the thing that I would encourage everybody to kind of take this inventory at the end of the year because things are always changing and they always will be in this business that we’re in and also, we change and develop with every project we do and every book we do. Even if we’re, you know, it’s not progressing for us, we are changing, learning more and I think the more we bring a sort of exploratory and experimental attitude to everything we’re doing the better and keep revisiting, you know, “Who are you?” is the kind of question that we need to ask ourselves as authors every now and again.
What are we trying to achieve here? You know, what do I, as an author you’re trying to have influence, you’re trying to have an impact or trying to affect a change, trying to entertain and inspire, educate, whichever, you need to kind of think, revisit, at least once a year, where you’re coming from there, because once you get it, it doesn’t mean that you’re there forever but it does mean you have to be clear about where you are right now so that you can actually be clear in talking to your reader and put a coherent message across to them so I think that’s really important to, you know, a lot of us, we’re more than one person.
You may be more of them but once you get who you are and what you’re trying to do that gives you your micro-niche, that gives you your categories, that gives you your keywords, everything becomes clear once you know them but if you don’t know that, if you’re kind of floundering around that area, you can be wasting a lot of time.
Joanna: And also, I just wrote down the “Not To Do” list. I’ve been struggling with this for a number of years and you know this, I said probably 3 years ago I need to stop doing so much speaking because it takes so much out of me and finally, so 2019, I’ve turned down every single speaking thing including one with you which I-
Orna: I know. I got it. She’s really serious.
Joanna: I am, but it’s interesting because I’ve really come up against my ego because my ego says “I want people to like me. I want people to think I’m important enough to be a speaker,” and then I’ve come up against “Oh, but it’s good marketing” you know, it might not be fantastic income for speaking to groups of authors but it’s like, it’s really good for marketing for my brand and I’ve sort of come up against a lot of mindset stuff and then I’m like “Well, seriously, if you want to start a new brand, a new website, a new podcast, where’s the time coming from and what do you have to say you don’t do in order to say you do?”
Like we have this discussion around script writing, again, I just, you know, I want to do script writing but I don’t have the bandwidth. We have to think how, you know, kind of that Not To Do. And we might do it again another year, it’s just I can’t do it at this point. So really interesting to keep revisiting and again, people don’t look at Orna and I and think that we’ve got it all sorted out, like we’re permanently reinventing what the hell we’re doing, but what we are doing I think is consistently producing, consistently creating and consistently doing business stuff, because yeah, we enjoy it but also we have to.
Orna: And we have to, it’s our lives and our livelihoods so there is no choice and often with these things there may be something that you realise you should be doing as an author that you’re not getting around to and I find something that’s useful is to kind of lock myself in to create a scenario where I have to do it, you know. That can be useful but everything, as you said, everything you’re choosing to do has a corresponding Not To Do and everything you choose not to do has a corresponding, you know, will give you more time and going core and staying core just in that moment and realising it is a long life and it will be a long career, because we can now do, it’s not like before where you got one book and a big rush and then it was all over, maybe.
You are step by step, asset by asset, book by book, building slowly over time, you can count on that, you can relax and do whatever you’re doing now fully and leave some of the other things that you’d like to do for a little bit later.
Joanna: Absolutely. OK. So then the next thing we’ve kind of put under “Become a better publisher” and I was thinking about this because I know a lot of traditionally published authors and the kind of the common thing is Publisher X has not been doing this properly, publishers, my publisher hasn’t done this and it got me thinking, how much should we complain about ourselves as a publisher?
So think of yourself, so is you, the author, happy with the way you, the publisher, is actually treating your IP and it made me think “Ooh, that’s a tough one” like, I should be moaning about how my publisher has not got my whole backlist into audio, for example or, you know, and again that’s financial, depending on where you are in your career but for me it’s like “Why didn’t I have hardbacks? Like, seriously why do I not have hardback books and, you know, again, why am I not taking my Amazon, why am I not selling more books? Why is this book gone to 0?”
These are the questions that, it’s that two head approach, you know, keep the writing in the creative head in the creative space forget all of this, but then when you look at your business, becoming a better publisher, are you doing the best for your intellectual property assets and I’ve had to answer, “No. There’s some things I could do better.” So what about what about you, Orna?
Orna: Oh, hugely rubbish publisher. You know, I mean, if we’re on a scale of 10, I am about 3 in my own estimation. I really want to get so much better at publishing. I mean, I do OK, you know, but I could do so much better and-
Joanna: Give us some specifics.
Orna: Well, I think you’ve already talked about different formats would be one thing, so audio. I have half-done audio lots but I’ve never actually gone all the way and got some books out into audio and up and selling, that will be one thing.
I am in the process now of doing the hardback and the large print because they’re relatively easy wins, I think. But also, just being much more, because I’ve been over four different genres, which is not, you know, it certainly makes for a longer lead in, so I kind of have to go a little bit easy on myself because it took me a long time to work out what I was doing in each of those and to realize that I actually needed very different approaches so you don’t market and sell poetry in the same way that you market and sell a nonfiction book, I mean, in a sense, obvious, but you know, as a publisher you kind of had your tasks so you did your thing and you kind of patted yourself on your back if you managed to get them done, so this is what I’m talking about revisiting and going back there. For me, this year, I think I really took a step forward as a publisher that will become visible next year, which is in understanding the different ways in which the different genre need to be approached but also that holding myself accountable as a publisher, you know, realizing that it’s not good enough to just kind of get the book together and put it out there, thinking more strategically about the launch ideas. That was where the preorder launch marketing campaign idea came from, you know, questioning everything that I’ve been handed because I was part of the traditional system for many years, so I carry a whole load of stuff that I don’t even know I carry so questioning everything. Yeah, all that kind the stuff I think I would be much a better publisher/ I might get to 5 in 2018.
Joanna: And obviously these tasks, like, when I was, like, “Oh, I should do hardbacks and they’re great and by the way, people listening Ingramspark for hardbacks, print on demand and of course Ingramspark for any print, but you can actually also do normal print and large print on KDP print, there’s like a button for large print so I do it on both services and we’ll put some links in the show notes about that, I’m sure, whoever is doing the show notes.
Orna: Yes, we have a specific question here on a reference for the large print books so could you actually give your, do you have it off the top of your head?
Joanna: Well, I I mean, I have one on the Creative Penn, you know, just Google the “Creative Penn large print” I’ve got a whole thing on it, so you can have a look at that but it’s, I can’t remember what I was going to say, oh yeah, I was going to say, you said, “OK, I’m questioning you already, you said ‘Obviously you can’t market poetry in the same way’ but Amazon ads for poetry totally can, I mean, it is actually, you know, you would be putting your poetry book on those insta poets and the other thing I was going to say around print is, 2019 we could be, this could be the year that things really shift ,I mean we’re seeing, in quotation marks, death of the high street in Britain, we’re seeing the shift online. I think 2019, I’m willing to kind of, but I’m always earl, but I think Indies are going to take print market share for online sales from traditional publishing-
Orna: I think it’s happening.
Orna: I think it started. I think we’re going to see this, definitely growing, without a doubt.
Joanna: Yeah. So don’t be afraid, like, don’t listen to the “Oh, hardbacks don’t sell, oh large print don’t sell,” Actually, these things are awesome and now I’m getting, you know, people asking for them, librarians want them, you know, this is stuff we can do.
Orna: Definitely and we always said “Be in as many formats as you can, on as many outlets as you can,” and that guiding principle still holds true. Acknowledging that, you know, as many as you can at first might be one and then it’s two and then it’s three, you know, so you keep on spreading the circle out and certain things get easier as you go, but there are far more formats than we ever thought about and I think one of the things that I find interesting in myself is I resist all that abundance.
I kind of, I find myself, I have to make myself “OK, it’s OK to have 5 or 6 versions of this book” and you know, it’s very little extra effort for me and if, you know, let’s see what it does but my automatic thing is to kind of keep it more tight for some reason and again, that’s probably because I’ve been so used to working in the scarcity model of traditional media, you know, where everything goes into a funnel and gets smaller and smaller. It’s kind of hard to turn that funnel around and go bigger and bigger and bigger and take in more and more and more but anything that’s an easy win, just do it. Just do it. Don’t think about it. Just do it.
Orna: Well, I mean, obviously there’s some formatting things around large print hardback and there is a question here about timing, so I think we should do saying, “Is it true that hardback should be released before paperback and ebook?” and the answer is no, because that’s a traditional publishing model that I’m putting hardbacks on books I wrote years ago, I’m taking the time to update my back matter, but the point is there is no time pressure, almost, I mean and I can put an ad now on a large print edition of a book I wrote 5 years ago and it will start selling because of that it will be found.
Like, I’m discovering within Ingramspark, the Thema text, the Thema choices, that I’m going back into older books and adding more metadata so there’s no time issue with the way we do stuff. If you have a 10 year old book you could do an audiobook now, you know, you can do all of these whenever you want.
Orna: The thing to be guided by is your own profit, commercial and creative profit. So traditional publishers do it that way because they make far more profit on a hardback than they do on an e-book so they will really delay sometimes the ebook launch, even though readers are craving, you know, and jumping up and down and demanding the e-book they won’t release it so, you know, they do it for profit reasons but if you use profit as your guiding principle here, you know, and put them on beside something that makes financial sense, that can actually help you to make the decision “Oh, OK, that’s the one I’ll do” because there can be so many different options but be guided what is most profitable for you.
Orna: For your business.
Joanna: Yeah and I have some money to invest in doing, you know, my back list and then, just for some other, if you publish those books, you just go to your Amazon Author Central and you ask them to link that I S.B.N. with your other format. So if you have a look at, for example, my Valley of Dry Bones by J. F. Penn, you’re going to see all of the formats, in fact, End of Days, now because that also has the audiobook, so and what’s so amazing is only the biggest traditionally published authors have hardback, paperback, large print, audio editions even and the price comparison is incredible. So you might have a $25.99 hardback and then it will say, you’ll save $20.00 if you buy the Kindle, so I think there’s lots of reasons why we want to be looking at all these different things but as Orna says, you know, this is the Advance Salon, so you know, you don’t do this with book one, day one, so work up to it.
Orna: Yes and having said that, we have a question here about the most affordable way to create the audio book and that is actually a question to go to the Beginner Salon for any of those kind of maker questions and we have a recommendation here for Find A Way Voices which is an ALLi partner member and I know Jo loves them as well, they are a good recommendation.
Joanna: I do. Yeah and let’s talk about audio because I did have some really good chats to Find A Way when I was at NINC earlier this year, Novelist Inc in Florida and I think this is another one of the predictions for 2019 and you talked about Digital Book World, this voice first movement so and when I came back from Florida I said to Jonathan, my husband, “Everyone’s got these Apple watches and everyone’s speaking and doing stuff with their voice with their watch and it’s crazy and they’re listening to audiobooks, they’re talking like, and then they’re using Google, not Google, Siri on their watch” and then all this stuff came out about the voice, you know, devices in home, the Alexa, Amazon echo, and now Alexa is going into all these different things and then of course the Google Home Pod and the Apple, like there’s loads of new devices.
And then I spoke to a couple of people who said they are encouraging their children to interact with the home speaker because they want to limit screen time for the kids. So the kids can say, you know, “Alexa, read me a story” and they will prefer that to the kid sitting on an iPad and all of these things together I’m like, “Whoa, this voice first thing is going to be huge” and so what we need to start thinking about and I’ll be talking about this more next year is SEO for voice.
So when you ask a device a question you often will use different language then when you type a question. It’s fascinating, so and I think podcasting is going to be the key because when we talk, we’re using natural language and natural language processing is what’s going to be used for this voice search, so I think this is a fascinating interaction between content production value for a customer and being found in different ways, which is why I’m starting another podcast to try and get my fiction out there because it might be a sort of gateway drug into my audio.
So there’s a few points on audio first but you were at Digital Book World which had a lot of that, what, any thoughts on that, Orna?
Orna: Yes Bradley Metrock who runs Digital Book World, his whole gimmick is voice first and he was very persuasive and again, it was very interesting and we had the Amazon Alexa guy actually came and did a hands on workshop so I actually, again, I have to do it to get it, I can’t get excited about tech stuff reading about it but having experience was was really illuminating and you know, anybody who’s not in audio as yet, I really would encourage you to think about ways that you can use audio. You know, I hear a lot of people saying “Oh, I can’t. It’s my accent, my voice, my this, my that, my” it’s really is superly, you can get training on this and skills training on this You’re getting some, aren’t you? You’re doing-
Joanna: Yes. I’m actually, this week.
Orna: A course around voice. Yeah, it’s not set in stone, you know, we can get better at all of this and you know, voice and performance is something the authors can actually improve on hugely and I’ve seen some members really transform, people who are extremely nervous not good voice wise learned how to slow down, how to do it well, so if you can find a place for alternative kinds of content as well to supplement your text, so obviously we write books, we love books, we’re book lovers and always will be, but do recognise that audio is just going up and up and up and a huge number of people will not read you, but they would listen and think about what that means for you, even before we get into the voice SEO stuff which, you know, I think is the whole other thing all in itself, yeah.
Joanna: Yeah, it’s crazy, I mean and this, I think, you know, we’re coming to the end of our time this evening or wherever you are in the world at this time, but it feels like to me, like we were saying before the call, earlier in the year, maybe 6 months ago, it felt like “Oh, everything stabilized. You know how to do things. We’ve got an established model.” I think we even said this in one of these sessions.
Orna: We did.
Joanna: Yeah we were like-
Orna: June or May.
Joanna: Yeah, we were like, “Wow, it’s like everything’s stable, we know what we have to do” and then what we’ve seen, like, coming to the end of the year, I almost feel that 2019 is going to be a really massive year. I think we’ve realized that some of these changes happening in 2019 could be a really big shift and I know sometimes I’m a bit, you know, excitable about these things but all this stuff coming together feels like, yeah, it feels like a big year to me, 2019, and that is exciting. I think, yes, sometimes it gets overwhelming but also, like Orna said, we are able, because we’re indie, we own our rights, we can move and we can kind of surf that wave and try not to get overwhelmed by it and to, you know, learn from each other, enjoy the ride. So that’s kind of my view for 2019.
Orna: Absolutely, and I agree. I think 2018, all these subterranean changes that have happened we’re going to see them manifest in 2019, but I think once we stick to core principles, core good writing principles, core good publishing principles, core good business principles and I know it’s words that a lot of you are allergic to, I used to be allergic to it myself, if I could change, you can change.
You know, these core things that don’t change, that were the same always and always will be, no matter what’s going on at the level of technology and so on, there are core principles that don’t change and the closer you can be to those and stay with them, the safer you’ll be and also the final thing to say, I think, is to be comfortable with discomfort, you know, being creative means you will be sticking your neck out, you will be experimenting, you will be exploring, you’ll be doing daft things, you’ll be doing things that won’t work and but, you know, that’s all part of it and you will feel sometimes, “Oh God, why didn’t I just go into a 9-5?” you know, you definitely will, but that’s OK.
You will feel uncomfortable and if you can reshape your kind of anxiety, if it stops you doing things, you can kind of think of it as actually, this is creative anxiety, this is how I feel I’m doing something that’s really important and really different and that’s growing me and making me a better writer, a better publisher and so on and the people who do well are the people who have learned to kind of tolerate that discomfort and in a sense use it as adrenaline, use it as fuel.
Joanna: Fantastic, right, so we are skipping December because everyone’s busy so we’re going to be back for January, or I guess February?
Orna: It will be our February show at the end of January.
Joanna: Yes, so we’ll be recording that and we will hopefully have some more, like, updates on what’s going on and exciting things, so I guess happy writing, happy publishing, Happy Christmas, holidays New Year.
Orna: And happy business!
Joanna: Bye everyone!