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10 Premium Products That Authors Can Create And Sell To True Fans, With Orna Ross And Joanna Penn: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast

10 Premium Products That Authors Can Create and Sell to True Fans, With Orna Ross and Joanna Penn: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast

Premium products or services are high-value items that an author sells alongside their books to expand influence and income. A well-selected premium product can more than double the profit in your author business. But what premium products work for authors? Drawing on ALLi’s ten possible business plans for authors, Joanna Penn and Orna Ross suggest premium products across fiction, nonfiction and poetry from the obvious to the unusual.

They will discuss …

  • Premium print edition books
  • Stationery products
  • Online courses
  • Online membership
  • Premium newsletters
  • Premium audio subscription
  • Coaching, consulting, and mentoring
  • Webinars and workshops
  • Intimate performances
  • Merchandise

And more!

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

Find more author advice, tips and tools at our self-publishing advice center, https://selfpublishingadvice.org. And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.

Now, go write and publish!

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Premium products are high-value items that an author sells alongside their books, and they can more than double your profits. @OrnaRoss and @thecreativepenn show you how in #AskALLi #podcast. Click To Tweet

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 on Premium Products

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 Joanna, and hello everyone. How are we all?

Joanna Penn: Here we are again. We only have three months left of 2020. I think everyone is fine with the end of the year.

Orna Ross: The end of 2020, I don't think it's going to be mourned by many.

What’s happening at ALLi?

Joanna Penn: No, but we don't want to wish it away. We want to get lots done, but as usual, we're going to start off by giving a bit of an update of what we've done over the past month. Our topic for today is, 10 premium products that authors can create and sell to true fans.

So, that is coming up, but Orna, why don't you start by telling us what's going on with ALLi.

Orna Ross: Yeah, ALLi is in pre-conference mode, which is always a busy time of the year for us. So, on the 17th of October, we will have our 24-hour conference. Our theme this month is tools and tech for indie authors.

So, lots of really interesting technology and tools of all kinds. Lots of our partner members are obviously involved with this conference, more than usual. Our gold sponsor, as ever, is IngramSpark, which is marvelous. And then we have joint silver sponsors, ProWritingAid, Fictionary, and Prestozon.

We're going to be looking at everything from, sort of, writing software, Plottr through BetaBooks, you know, all sorts of things. We've got Dave Chesson talking about email marketing tools, surveys for authors, running online events. So, the definition of tools is really wide.

And yeah, really looking forward to it and then we'll do a guide to the top 100 tools from the ALLi team. And I know you've given us your top three, which we'll unveil on the 17th.

Joanna Penn: I don't think anyone will be surprised.

Orna Ross: No. Well, I wasn't but, yeah, it's great, I think, for people to get recommendations from people, you know, not just tools we think are great, but tools that we use ourselves and use every day, really. I think it's a top tool if you're using it every day.

So, yeah, really looking forward to the conference. It doesn't leave a lot of time for other things. What have you been up to?

Joanna Penn: Yeah, well, and I just wanted to add, on the whole tools thing, that I think new ones are arriving all the time. I mean, you and I have been doing this show for years, and this is like the fifth tool or something we've used, we're using right now, StreamYard. I've used different things. People use different things, new stuff arrives, like my accounting software, I shifted, and things change. So, it's always good. I will be looking forward to this too. I always find out new stuff from other people, so that will be exciting.

So, I have been full on writing mode. So, I'm now editing for Tree of Life, I've got the printout here. I'm doing my hand edits. I'm really, really happy with this book, actually. Today, I'm happy. I've gone through the classic up and down every day, but I did a reverse outline at about 40,000 words and that really helped.

So, I'm not an outliner, but I outlined backwards, and that helped me fill in the gaps for the last phase of the book. And I've started researching my next book, and we'll be talking about that next time, I'll come back to that later. But I also did a 50k ultramarathon, mainly because I felt like I needed to push my comfort zone. I've been staying in the house too much, you know, we are recording this in pandemic times. I think everyone feels like, well, maybe you're happy to be inside all the time, but I just felt like I need to push my comfort zone, because I'm not happy with the way my brain is going. And I just had a great day. It was all COVID secure, all full on safe, and I did my walk. I did it in just over 11 hours, no blisters. A beautiful day in the Chilterns and just lovely. So yeah, I'm really happy that I did that. And I wanted to say that, while I was walking, I always think about, everyone has different definitions of success, everyone starts at different times, finishes at different times, don't compare yourself to anyone when you're doing a 50k ultra, just think about yourself and your own journey. And that's the same with our writing. So, what about you?

Orna Ross: Beautiful metaphor.

Actually, there's lots of books, isn't there about writing and walking, or writing and running, because they do really complement each other in so many ways and definitely same kind of mindset needed for both, and they help each other too.

Me, I'm all launchy, launchy, everything seems to be about launching at the moment. So, I'm going to do, what I would call a full on launch, in January for my long awaited, by me, Creative Self-Publishing  book, which if my guide to self-publishing, which I've never done actually, personally. So, it incorporates obviously ALLi principles and things, but it also separates out my own thinking and my own journey and stuff like that.

It's taken me until now to write it, it's actually the first book in the ALLi series, but it's the last to be written, which is pretty typical, but I couldn't really write it until now, which  I think is interesting. And I think that is because of the whole understanding of self-publishing 3.0 and the changes that we have seen in the community in the last 18 months or so, and the things that are coming down the track towards us as we go forward.

So yeah, that's happening, but I've put so much work time and, you know,  everybody is in this; members, the advisors, everyone I've worked with, that I want to really put some juice behind it. So, I'm going to do a full-on launch for January, but a soft launch in between, and I've also got a poetry book, which I'm launching as well and trying different things with poetry.

Poetry is interesting and different and, you know, just kind of feeling out around that and writing away, that's me.

What is are premium products?

Joanna Penn: Yeah. Well, great, and always important for us to talk about that I think because we are writers first, talking about writing second.

So, let's get into our topic this month, which is 10 premium products that authors can create and sell to true fans.

So, just some definitions upfront, and why is this important? So, the reason we wanted to talk about this is, it's very hard to make a living from book sales alone, unless you have a lot of books in a popular genre and you have mastered marketing/advertising, some way of that. So, both Orna and I, we do make money from selling books, but we also make money from other streams of income, as we've talked about.

So Orna, what is a premium product? What are we talking about in terms of premium?

Orna Ross: Essentially, it's a higher value item than a book. Books are very low cost and if you want to make a living, and if you want to make money in this world, you've got two choices; you sell a lot of a low cost item to a lot of people, or you can sell a few premium, more high-value products to fewer people. So, it's very good in business generally to balance yourself out.

I first came to the concept of, I was doing it, but I had never thought about it in these terms, and I first came to this concept through Daniel Priestley, who's kind of a business mentor for me, and he talks about the product ecosystem and I've discussed that in other places and I won't get into that now, but he had some very interesting ideas around premium products, and I realized that the mentoring that I was doing at that time was a premium product. And I've done a few other kinds of premium products along the way. So, I think it really has been great for me. And at times where, you know, sometimes with a book, it can be a long time when you're working on a book and you need to go deep, maybe you don't have the time to be marketing other stuff, to have a premium product that keeps rolling on really does make a difference, I think. And we were talking last time about the thousand true fans, and I think it links very much into that. I've seen a development of that since we spoke last time, I forget her name, but I have it-

Joanna Penn: Li Jin, I think you mentioned.

Orna Ross: Thank you. Yes. She, with Kevin Kelly's complete support, has said that she feels, and he completely agrees, that she wrote the piece he wishes he had written, which is essentially saying that, in this day and age, actually a hundred true fans paying more money is distinctly possible in a way that it simply wasn't when he originally wrote his post, and in a way that it wasn't when you and I started self-publishing.

So, I think premium products are definitely something that everybody should think about. Maybe everybody might not decide to do it, but everybody should definitely consider it.

Joanna Penn: So, just to be clear, we are assuming, at basic, that you already have eBooks, print on demand paperbacks and maybe digital audio books.

So, we're not including those, they are not premium products. They are your basic. But we are assuming that you have some books, so let's get into it.

Premium Products: Print Edition Books

So, the first one is, premium print editions of your books. So, this is limited edition hard backs, can be fiction or nonfiction.

So, a couple that I know about is that, obviously, Brandon Sanderson's Kickstarter, now super famous for making $6.7 million. But I am right now, part of Mark Leslie LaFave's Kickstarter right now, which is called Feed The Obsession, which is an anthology with a limited-edition print book, which has raised over 10,000 Canadian dollars.

Now, I don't know exactly how much Mark will get out of that, in his pocket, but a lot of people love Mark and threw some money in to support him. So, Orna, you did this as well, didn't you? Tell us about that.

Orna Ross: Yes, I did a Crowdfunder for a book called Secret Rose, where I brought together a WB Yeats book and my own book together for centenary celebration kind of thing.

I used the Crowdfunder to fund the premium product that I would not have been able to fund myself up front. It was a bit of a risk because, you know, it was a very unusual publication. It was a very, very niche publication. You had to be a Yeats diehard superfan. I mean, there isn't a name for how much you had to love Yeats to love this book.

So, you know, I wasn't going to kind of just put it out there, I also needed to know that there were enough people who were interested in it. So yeah, a lot of work went into the paper and the cover and, you know, at a completely different level to the norm of a pod kind of thing. It was a brilliant experience, I absolutely loved it and I will repeat it someday. What I didn't love is the distribution. So, if I was doing something like this again, I would distribute it in a different sort of way. It was going to the post office and while I did like, you know, I enjoyed writing the dedication and the nice little card and wrapping it all up and all of that, I only enjoyed it as long as there weren't too many. If there were too many to be sent out, then I was losing the spirit of the whole thing. So yeah, I would have to rethink distribution next time, but I would really recommend it if you're thinking about it, and the Crowdfunder, as I said, really made it feasible.

Joanna Penn: I saw this years ago, I saw what Cory Doctorow did with one of his books, and this is what I'd love to do, he actually used a special paper, he hand bound at a letter press place, and used paper ephemera. I don't know whether he cut up one of his journals or something, I've thought about that, I could cut up one of my journals and put in little things that make this absolutely unique. And he only did, I think, 50 of them, and they're significant price, numbered, truly limited edition. Not just, we've printed 500 and number them, if there is something personal from the author inside, you know, that's incredible.

So, that's our first one, these premium print edition, limited edition. And what I was going to say, with your Secret Rose book, I not a super fan of Yeats, but I'm a super fan of you, and so I supported that Kickstarter. Well, it wasn't the Kickstarter, it was on a different platform, but I bet you, a lot of people bought that book to support you and your project, and like me, perhaps have never even opened it.

Orna Ross: Oh no, don't tell me that. I thought you'd read every word.

Joanna Penn: But I bet you that's true, and that's true fans.

Orna Ross: That's it. That is absolutely right. Yeah, it was evenly divided and that's a really important point, between those who absolutely loved Yeats and those who absolutely love me.

Joanna Penn: I'm saving my big ask. At some point, I will have a big ask around a Kickstarter or something. And so, I'm waiting until I have a big ask that I really care about, and then I'll ask, and some people will feel like joining that at some point, God knows when that will be, but let's move on.

Stationery Premium Products

So, the next one is number two, workbooks journals, notebooks, annuals, and other kinds of stationery type products, which is where we're leaving space for people to write their own material.

So, for example, I buy the Trigg Life Mapper every year, I've got it here. I absolutely love it, you know, I just love that planner. I've got workbooks. Oh, Joel Friedlander did a premium journal, which I interviewed him about. So, what about your workbooks and journals, et cetera?

Orna Ross: Yeah, I had a whole publishing sort of disaster with a series that I was going to do. A Go Creative series, which everybody who listens regularly to this podcast heard about for years, and then I withdrew. So, I have contained a huge amount of the knowledge and stuff that I was writing about into a planner, which I am now producing, and these are not premium products in the sense that I'm trying to make them as affordable as possible, it's a completely different project to, to the last one. What's interesting about planners though, and stuff like that, is that with very little update, somebody has to buy a new one.

So,, I have a quarterly on a monthly and I'm not going to do the big annual thing, it's very much based around this concept of quarters, which completely changed my life and gave me back so much time. And also, based around creativity and why planning a creative business is a completely different thing to planning a conventional business.

So, yeah, but I've had a bit of a Go Creative starter pack on the go for a long time. I have free writing notebooks, which people buy who got into my method of free writing and yeah, they're great. Pod makes it so easy, really, it's extraordinary. And just that the paper, you know, the ordinary paper that Amazon and KDP and IngramSpark.

Sorry, and Ingram, both. It's fantastic, it really works for a notebook, which is great. There isn't a big see-through kind of factor at all. So, yeah, well worth thinking about if you have that kind of mind.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, definitely and I do them now for each of my nonfiction books. I did look at doing a premium journal, but I really just love the lie flat, and to have a lie flat journal, you can't do pod and I never wanted spiral bound. So, there are some things that you might love as a stationery geek. I'm a bit of a stationery geek, and at the end of the day I went, nah they already do it better, they're are already better products. So, you do have to definitely look for what fits, but think about that, how can you turn some of what you have into something that people have to buy over and over again, instead of just the once?

Online Courses

Okay. Number three, online courses. Now, again, we've talked about a lot of these things in different shows, we just wanted to put them all in one show.

So, obviously I have courses, so How To Write Nonfiction, for example, I've got a book, I've got a course, I've got a workbook and obviously, I'm not reading the book, it's not like the audiobook, I'm presenting it with slides and making it much more, me presenting. So, it is quite a different product.

And then I also wanted to mention masterclass.com because people are always like, Oh, well it's okay for nonfiction authors, they can get away with it. But Dan Brown, James Patterson, Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates. I mean, these are very different writers, they all have classes on writing. So, even as a fiction author, you can do this.

So, Orna, comments on online courses?

Orna Ross: Yeah, courses are fantastic. I mean, I haven't gone there but, I will sometime, but I think they're absolutely brilliant. And what I've seen is authors who were teaching, you know, and being barely paid, in a local tech or whatever, the local community hall or the local university, being so poorly paid, then taking that knowledge, turning it into a course and, you know, really getting decently and properly paid for it. I'm very excited, I love online courses and I would go so far as to say, we all should have a course in something, we're all an expert in something. And the other thing to say is that it doesn't have to be by writing, it could be about something completely different. You're an author and to a lot of people, that's really cool and if you can do a course in something that's completely unrelated to your writing, that's completely acceptable as well. It doesn't have to be about your writing or even tied into your topic, your genre or anything like that. So, yeah, definitely.

Joanna Penn: You just gave me an idea there.

Orna Ross: Ideas are definitely flying.

Yeah, go on.

Joanna Penn: Well, when you said that, I was like, of course, because I was going to say, it doesn't have to be an expensive thing. Because I think a few years ago it was all like, Oh, it's $2,000 or, you know, these big mega, mega courses, and the problem is, if you do a mega, mega course it takes ages, and then if it doesn't sell, you're pretty screwed. But my last course, Your Author Business Plan, it's like $99 US dollars, and I put it on special now and then for $49. And that is a short course, it's like three hours and people love that. And I was just thinking, as you were talking, I could do like a preparation for multi-day walking mini course to go on Books and Travel because people just feel like, what do I do, how do I do 50km or how do I do a six day walk? And that could be something that I start doing under my other brand. So, thank you for that idea.

Orna Ross: You're welcome. The ideas are flying. Michelle has just written a comment to say that she's now going to do a limited edition of her poetry book. Go, Michelle. That's fantastic.

Romantic Romps, I'm not sure who that is, exactly, but asking, when you create a premium product do you keep your writing name or change to a pseudonym?

I would see no reason to change.

Joanna Penn: Well it depends what it's on. I mean-

Orna Ross: Well, yes, of course. Unless you have a good reason to change, you know, make it part of your ecosystem.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and I mean, if I do a course on walking, I'll put it under J.F. Penn, because Jo Francis Penn does the fiction and that side of books and travel. So, that wouldn't be on the creative penn. So, it's about your brand and curating your brand. We've talked about brand here before, so we won't go into that, but yeah, definitely.

Unless, like, if I did, I mean, I don't even have kids, but I just thought, like if I did something on kids, that wouldn't fit at all with my existing brand, or my life. So, that would be somewhere else. So yeah, definitely think about it that way. Okay. Let's get back to it.

Online Membership

So, number four, online membership, or online community access.

So, Orna, do you want to start on this one?

Orna Ross: Yeah. I'm big into membership and, you know, ALLi is a membership organization. I just love membership as a way to do things because it's very real community leads, you know, bringing people together and it's a very good model for lots of the things that we do as authors and so I, as well as ALLi, I also have a membership, through Patreon, for business planners. You know, again, who work from the creative business planning perspective and it just allows me to have a relationship with a smaller group of people, in a very meaningful sort of way that I really love. So, I'm a big fan of membership models.

I think it's really important though, that you have a sort of service mentality. You want to really love the people that you are going to have as members, and you need to have a clear idea of what your value is, and you need to just enjoy the connection. That's really, really important. If you're not that kind of person, then the membership model is not going to work, but if you are, then again, you can get quite creative about what membership model actually means. It doesn't necessarily mean a big membership size where you're trying to have a whole lot of people or anything like that, it can be, particularly for what we're talking about here, it can be all about exclusivity, keeping it very small, the smaller it gets, the more you charge, you know, and it can also again go outside your day to day stuff. If you can take in different kinds of things into your membership once you have clarity of the value that you're offering.

Joanna Penn: Personally, I have never done memberships and I don't want to. I'm not someone who wants to commit to that. I think it takes a lot of time, and especially if you haven't got an existing audience, some people start these things and then they've only got like 10 people and then they feel like they're spending too much time over not enough people.

So, it's definitely one of these things that you have to commit to. I do know people who do things like that for sort of author masterminds and stuff like that. I am part of some communities, obviously, part of ALLI, I'm part of the unemployable community, which is for entrepreneurs, a lot of creatives.

And so, I like it in principle, but I do think, as you say, you have to want to serve a group and you have to be committed and you have to allow for the amount of time that it's going to take and price accordingly. I think that’s important.

Premium Newsletters

Okay, so the next one. Five, a premium newsletter for an industry.

So, this is one you added.

Orna Ross: Oh, did I? Okay, yeah, yeah. Well, the obvious example is in our own industry, is Jane Friedman. She used to do it with Porter Anderson as well, Jane goes alone now, The Hot Sheet, and pretty much everybody who cares about what's going on in the publishing industry has a subscription to The Hot Sheet.

It's a really fantastic, publication. And so, if you can, again, this is very much also about serving, also takes a lot of time. So, all of these things, you know, are not for everybody, we're throwing out lots of different ideas so you can think about what suits you. Your personality is a big, important part of this as well.

You know, I mentioned the kind of the service mentality. Some people actually get a buzz out of that, other people feel completely oppressed and weighed down by it, and it's the same with the paid newsletter. Because it's paid, you can't miss out, you can't do it scrappily, you know, you have to be really dedicated. It becomes a core part of your writing and what you're doing each month, and you just need to be committed. But if you can find something that people are prepared to pay for in that way, and you really do love writing about that particular thing, then it can be very rewarding if you get the mix right.

Joanna Penn: Well, I'll just mention on that unemployable community that I'm part of, and it's the seven figure small podcast, if people are interested, but I was listening to one of the private membership things on that, and a woman was talking about doing a newsletter for people who love horses, but don't own horses. And that's just a brilliant niche because, people who love horses, love horses, right. But most people, I would think who love horses, don't own a horse and perhaps go out and rent them sometimes or whatever.

But it was such a good idea, and it's not related to writing. So, again, this doesn't have to be related to your writing. Whatever you're into, you can find an audience who might be interested. And again, it doesn't have to be expensive, I think Jane's is $10 a month, or something. It's not loads of money.

And the model is a curation model. So, you don't actually have to make up all the material, you just have to be someone who enjoys finding out stuff and writing coherently and linking to things, that  you act as, you know, as a curator. That's kind of what I do in the introduction to my podcast every week, and that's sponsored by patrons, but we'll come onto that. But yeah, I think the premium newsletter is becoming a more and more powerful tool in an era where people don't know who to trust and they don't want to spend all their time surveying all this information.

Orna Ross: And there's too much stuff coming at us. Brain Picker is another very good example, and that's voluntary. It's not actually paid upfront, it's subscription, or donation I should say, only. But she has done really, really well with it.

So, you don't have to make it a subscription, though I think it's much more acceptable now to do that than it was when the internet started. Everybody thought that we had to get everything for free and it was just pure donation, but now I think people will pay, as you say, so much information coming at us, if I can get it all just in one place.

It's kind of what we do as well with the self-publishing news, every Wednesday, Dan Holloway’s excellent column. You can just go there once a week and find out what's going on and, you know, you're sorted, and then you go back to your writing.

Premium Audio Subscription

Joanna Penn: Yeah, absolutely, and kind of related is the number six, premium audio subscription.

So again, you know, as people who do audio, we always prepare in writing, obviously Orna and I have crib sheet that we prepared earlier.

So, premium audio is, you know, you're still a curator, you're still producing material, but you're doing it by audio.

So, Making Sense podcast with Sam Harris, which is a really big podcast, now has I think, like five minutes for everyone, then it goes under the premium edition and you need a subscription.

Now, there are all of these services, and we're going to come to tools in a minute, but there are services now that allow you to do all this kind of thing easily. And I have actually about this for my pretty niche interest in AI, which I talk about on my podcast, but I think I want to talk about it more often. I want to talk about it more than people want me to talk about it. So, I've thought about doing something separate on that. I'm still considering it for 2021, who knows, but again, you have to have enough interest and to be fair, I don't even get enough interest in what I'm interested in. That's important people. If you want to make money, there has to be an audience. Anything else on premium audio, Orna?

Orna Ross: No, that's more your area than mine, but the same principles apply. Everything we said about doing a text, or indeed doing a course. So, you know, the same principles will come up again and again, in terms of, as you say, but you know, we're getting so fragmented now. It's like with our books when you start off, we've forgotten what it's like to be like this because our brands are established, but when you start off, you have to go where your readers are. You have to find out where these people hang out, you have to find your comparable authors. So. If you're thinking of starting a subscription model on anything, or a curation model on anything, you need to go, and particularly if it isn't connected to your existing books, you will need to go and find out where those people are. So, you need to go find some AI geeks. Not publishing people necessarily, you know, AI geeks who are interested in publishing on the side, rather than publishing people were interested in AI on the side.

But I would definitely sign up for that. Go do.

Joanna Penn: Well, and this is the other thing everyone, we should just say, we're not saying that you should do all of these things, in fact, do not try. Over time you might do some of them and consider other things, and obviously there's more potential for more money, but there's more time involved in different things.

So, you have to weigh it up, we're just giving you some options.

Orna Ross: So, Julie has come in just saying, I have a monthly newsletter for my nonfiction, which curates government announcements. I've just opened a ‘Buy Me a Coffee' and got great response. I used it to announce my book and my course launches. I wouldn't feel comfortable about charging for it, so this is a halfway approach for me.

Maybe it will bring you all the way and you will realize, you know, you could do a follow up and see, would people be interested in doing a full-on paid subscription, but yeah, thank you for that. Great.

Joanna Penn: Yeah. And by the way, I can't see the comments, so I'm relying on you picking anything up just so you know.

Coaching, Consulting & Mentoring

So, then number seven, coaching, consulting, mentoring online or live. So, this is really much more of the one to one, or one to small group. So, I did this years ago, and then I just decided I could serve more people by doing more podcasting and things like Patreon, where I do Q&A. So, I don't do this anymore, I haven't done it for years, but Orna, you do, or you have?

Orna Ross: I too quit, but much, much later. I loved mentoring. I loved the one to one, one to few, but, same thing as you, it comes to a point where you have to think about where your energy is being spent and how many people you're reaching and all of that kind of thing.

And that was actually why I started the small membership, Creative Business Planning group because, it's still small, it's not big webinar or anything like that, it's still a small workshop, but it's fifty to a hundred people instead of, you know, two to five people or one to one, which I was doing before.

But, if you love what you're doing, and you like one to one connection, again, you have to then charge appropriately though. And that's the other thing I think is quite difficult with this particular model. Authors can find it really, because we're used to selling books, and some of the {inaudible} goes 99 cents, $2.99, you know.

Joanna Penn: Everything I know for 99 cents!

Orna Ross: I know. Stop that people, but anyway, moving on, it can be quite difficult for an author to get the mindset of actually charging properly for time. And I've seen people run themselves ragged doing one to one mentoring, consulting, coaching stuff, and just not charging appropriately. So, you need to recognize the clients that you can help on a one-to-one basis and you definitely need, if you have that mindset that doesn't allow you to kind of charger worth, and charge more than you're comfortable charging really, that's what it comes down to, this model will not work for you, and I wouldn't recommend it.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and you have to be like, for me, I certainly find it's very intense and I want to give everything. And so, it's exhausting. So, I started off at $99 per hour, but I would also spend an hour preparing. So, it was really $99 for two hours. Then I went up to $299 US dollars for a session, and then I kind of felt like I could charge more, but I don't want to charge more, and I'm feeling like I'm already working too hard for that money, and it's not scalable. At the end of the day, I prefer scalable income, but I would say that some people are born for this and are really brilliant at it.

So, in that situation, as Orna said, charge appropriately and be very particular. Our mutual friend, Mark McGuinness, he's a creative coach for high performing creatives. He has an interview process to become a client, he doesn't just take anyone. He has to have a good match for, you know, a premium coaching service.

So, I think that's really important and you can certainly find models of coaching that work very well.

Orna Ross: And the pricing model is important too. I mean, for years, I only worked with people who were willing to commit to at least six months, but preferably a year, because mentoring, it doesn't work. It isn't just a one off, you know, you can give a little bit of advice and stuff, but that's not, I got nothing from that. Just dispensing advice to one person makes no sense to me when you could do something like this. So, you know, price annually, work out a program for people, it doesn't have to be just, here is an hour and I turn up and I do whatever the person wants. You can actually work out one to one programs, where the pricing model works better, and all authors can do this.

There is a great demand for teaching the craft, sorry, well teaching it, yes, but, from what we're talking about here, you know, doing coaching, consulting, manuscript evaluations, but the craft, once we become competent at self-publishing, we actually have mastered three crafts writing, publishing and digital creative businesses, which is a craft in itself. So, all of that can be packaged and mentored, you know, coached to people, and there is a great hunger for it, but yeah, again, check your personality type first.

Webinars, Workshops, Masterminds & Challenges

Joanna Penn: Yeah. Okay, number eight, paid webinars, workshops, masterminds, challenges. So, this is kind of in between the coaching, mentoring, and the online course type of thing.

This includes, I guess, speaking at other people's events and also running your own. So, we have both spoken at other people's, I mainly prefer to speak at other people's and just get the money, and I don't have to organize anything. We have organized our own and it's been both great and also a pain.

I think if you're going to do events, you have to love event management, especially if you're doing like bigger conferences. It's a lot of admin and organizing stuff that has nothing to do with the teaching and nothing to do with the people. It's all just in the background. Saying that, I mean, I am planning on doing some events in my local hotel, because one of the biggest things for me is the travel. Like when we speak in America, for example, flying over, the jet, lag the food issues, you know, all of that. And then you speak, and you don't know the venue, you don't know the town. And I thought, well, to get rid of a lot of stress would be to do things more locally for me. So, I'm definitely looking at doing this in Bath, once we are back into the world again.

So, yeah, obviously you can do it online, but we're also talking about doing live stuff in person.

Orna Ross: Yeah. And, yeah, both. I think an interesting development in this particular category is the challenge, which is something we've seen a lot of this year, which is a nice, compact thing that you can run for a few weeks, and then have a break. You know, so it isn't mentoring all year round or it isn't doing a course which constantly needs updating, or whatever. You can just do it as short and sharp and then it's over, and I think that's something that we're seeing a lot in the indie space, but in other places as well.

And I think that's a very good model. Say between books, or at a time where you maybe don't have a lot of marketing to do, and you do something like that, and then you put it behind you, you know, you'll do one a quarter or two a year, or something like that.

Joanna Penn: And remember, some of this, it might be $49 to join a challenge for a month to write more and just check in once a day and write online together or something. $49 is not that much for an experience, but that could be 25 times the revenue of an eBook sale. So, that's what you've got to think about when we're talking about premium products. You're going to sell fewer of these things, or you might not, but you know, you'll get more revenue and that's what we're talking about is these things that kind of magnify your income and bring in that money that, with books, takes a lot more work really.

Orna Ross: And when I started out, it was this kind of thing that gave me my editing budget, my designer budget, I literally would not be in business had I not had some of these extra premium products. Really good question here from Michelle Little, talking about, I mentioned soft launch earlier on, she's asking, could you make your premium product the soft launch, since it's limited and not for the masses?

And I think, yeah, that's a good idea in a way, but the premium product, because it costs more, needs its own launch plan in order for it to be successful. So, that might work, depending on what exactly-it depends very much on the content. Yeah, exactly.

Joanna Penn: It might be an event to your private audience around the launch, for example, but it's not the book itself because that's not worth a bigger amount of money, because you're still going to sell it for whatever you're going to sell it for. Okay.

Intimate Performances (Readings, Retreats, Experiences etc.)

So, then we've also got number nine, intimate performances, which sounds interesting.

Readings, story or poetry retreats, holidays, weekends, your settings, dining experience, pub crawl.

Orna Ross: I know a guy who did it. He charged, well he didn't charge enough, he charged the price of drinks and then a hat went round at the end of the night, but it was on his book based on literary-

Joanna Penn: Drinking?

Orna Ross: No, literary places in Dublin, but the pubs that writers used to go to, and it was actually really good.

But, yeah, this is something that's more creative and moves into probably your core competency. So, probably is more likely to be related to whatever it is that has made you popular in the first place, though it doesn't really have to be. But it can be online, or it can be live. Live generally will work better as a premium product because the premium is your actual physical presence, which people like, they want to get to know you. So, you know, I know people have done ‘dinner with me', kind of thing, for people who were, I don't mean me personally, because people wanted very much to pick their brains or just be in their presence and, you know, so it's that kind of thing. I had a lovely gig not long ago where I was asked to, it would have been a physical event, but because of covid, it wasn't, and it was a book club who wanted me to come and read from my book and talk about my motivations for Blue Marcy and, you know, the characters and all the rest of it to them.

It ended up being online. So, it was even easier for me, I didn't have to go anywhere. And, you know, so we sat, and we drank for a wine for two hours and I talked, and they asked me questions, and it was a really nice thing. Now, there were 12 in the book club, each of them threw in £50, and I got paid kind of nicely, and there was nothing to them.

So, that, kind of, I mean, I don't think I'd be going off and arranging and trying to make that a thing but, again, it's just about throwing out ideas.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, it's original and unique, a live event, you know, because everything you do will never happen again in that way.

Even if you repeat the weekend, it will be different people or whatever. And you and I have been talking about doing a retreat for years now. So, maybe one day we'll get round to it.

Orna Ross: We really should before all this started happening.


Orna Ross: Poets do well on these live events, anybody who has a performance component, you know, and you can get together with other performers, musicians maybe, and make a really nice kind of, so the you're enjoying a creative experience yourself as well. And you really can if you get the pricing right, these can be very, very successful.


Merchandise as Premium Products

Joanna Penn: And then, slightly different in number 10, merchandise. There's some great merchandise, and then there's some real kind of shocking tat, which I'm not sure if that word goes across cultures, but it's, you know, the real cheap looking stuff. And I think there are some great print on demand services, like there's some great t-shirt printing stuff, and mugs, and things, but if you're going to get into doing figures of your characters or plush, which is the children's stuff, I really think you have to do your research over the providers and then you also need to look at all the shipping stuff.

So, what do you think here, Orna, what's some of your thoughts on merchandise?

Orna Ross: Yeah, I mean, I've seen some people do really, really well with it and surprising, you know, I think it works much better in certain genre. Obviously, children's is the obvious one, fantasy people seem to do well with merchandise.

But again, creativity can come in and it's important that it does, I think, yeah. I'm always surprised at the public’s appetite for tat.

Joanna Penn: I suppose, but I just think, you know, you go to a conference and there's a table with literally a thousand bookmarks on that authors have spent money on printing, and go in bags and end up in, you know, hotel rooms. So, I would just be really careful what you spend your money on. And given that we're talking about premium stuff, that's meant to make you money, then make sure it's worth doing. The other thing here is to be very careful around licensing, just because you have licensed a book cover from someone, that does not mean you have the license to put a picture of your book cover or the art from your book cover on a tee shirt or anything else.

You have to check your contract, you may have to pay, well, you most likely will have to pay for licensing that image for other merchandise. Any other stuff on that?

Tools to Help Authors Create Premium Products

Orna Ross: Yeah. No, that's, that's all really important. So, will we look at some of the tools then?

Joanna Penn: Yes, very quickly. Why don't you do the first two and I'll do the second two?

Orna Ross: Okay, well I'll do Patreon, definitely, which I love, and I think it's great. And you've put together some really interesting figures here, which is-

Joanna Penn: No, you did that.

Orna Ross: Did I? Okay, I prepared for this way too early, I've forgotten what I've done. So, there are some, and I found them, I curated them, some very interesting figures about how much more people.

So, going back to what we were talking about at the beginning, about the hundred true fans who will actually pay, again and the author mindset that thinks, people won't pay for my stuff, Patreon has said that the average initial pledge amount has gone up 22% in the last 2 years. New patrons paying more than a hundred a month, so that's like $1,200 a year, has grown by 21%. Now, they don't say where that started but it's still a very interesting trend and it is repeated over other platforms as well. So, Podia, again, the number of creators earning more than a thousand a month is growing 20% each month. So, you know, we're talking about something that works is what I wanted to say.

Joanna Penn: Do you know what podia is because you put that there? I imagine it might be podcasting, but because you did it, I assumed you knew what you’re talking about.

Orna Ross: I did when I did it.

Joanna Penn: So, just a couple of other tools. Teachable, I definitely want to mention Teachable. I use Teachable for my courses, I highly recommend it, it's brilliant. And it's brilliant because I just do the creative bit, and then they manage all the uptime, the tech stuff, it's really easy to use. You just get your money. It's great, and you can have affiliates and stuff like that. So, I love teachable. And the figures here, in 2019, nearly 500 Teachable course creators made more than a hundred thousand dollars. 25 averaged more than a thousand per sale. And, certainly, I make a good chunk of cash every month from Teachable, and most of my courses are, you know, $49, $99, maximum $2.99. So, I'm not doing big courses. I'm doing small ones.

And Sub Stack for paid newsletter.


Orna Ross: Yes, I was in Sub Stack, I do remember. I was getting excited because I remembered how surprised I was when I looked at this paid newsletter platform.

Because again, I hadn't really thought about paid newsletters being so potentially lucrative.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and well, do you want to read the number?

Orna Ross: More than 500,000 a year from reader subscriptions.

Joanna Penn: That is pretty amazing. That's the top earner on Sub Stack.

So, I think, you know, our main point is that, we're not saying stop writing books or anything, we're just saying, you've got your baseline, your eBook, your paperback, your print on demand paperback, you've got your audiobook, maybe if you're at that stage. But then you're also looking at all these other things, and both of us have done a number of these, and still do a number of these over time.

So, we're encouraging you to really think about the different ways you can take the pressure off your book sales and bring in income from other sources so you can relax a bit more and enjoy the author journey. That would, kind of, be my point. So, any final words on that, Orna, before we almost finish?

The Product Ecosystem for Indie Authors

Orna Ross: I think it is worth probably just talking about, Priestley's idea of this product ecosystem and just briefly it's four things. One is a gift that you just giveaway, and you don't even think about it. It's a gift just to put it out into the universe and show people what you do. And, for me, it's poetry on Instagram, no charge. Off it goes, I don't think about it, it's not really doing anything.

The next one is your reader magnet, where you actually are looking for a sign up. The next one is your core products and that will be our books, and then your premium product. And there are your four categories of product and you get that, as an ecosystem, working together.

So, one thing leads to another. So, you're going to have far more people who are just kind of idly reading your stuff out here, the free thing. Then you have, you know, a percentage of them who will sign up for your reader magnet, and then you'll have some of those who will go on to read everything you've written. And then some of those are likely to be the people who are going to purchase the premium product. And if you think about it in that way, I think it's a useful way to structure it in your mind.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, no, that's fantastic. Okay. So, we're almost finished. Anything coming up this month for ALLi or for you personally?

#SelfPubCon News

Orna Ross: SelfPubCon, nothing else happens when SelfPubCon is happening.

Oh yes, and we have, in ALLi, we've been working hard on the organization membership and have a new publication for other writers’ organizations and associations empowering independent author publishers, a guide for associations. So, we're really kind of going out hard now on the idea that really, authors associations are author champions and, not having self-publishing, authors in them is just not okay anymore. So yeah, that's going on as well.

Joanna Penn: A few won't be so happy about that, but there we go. Just tell people where they can find the SelfPubCon.

Orna Ross: Yes, it's selfpublishingadviceconference.com. It runs on Saturday 17th and into Sunday the 18th, it will be free then for three days, and then it will be half price to get all of the SelfPubCons since 2018. And, yeah, there'll be more stuff going out in the ALLi newsletter, and stuff about it over the course of the coming week. But you can just go directly onto the site and register. It's literally just leaving your email address there, and then we will send you all the information that you need to turn up on the day and learn lots of, really amazing, I have to say, I learned lots from this conference, really amazing tech and really amazing tools.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic. So, that's 17th, 18th of October 2020, if people are wondering,

Orna Ross: Being precise.

Joanna Penn: Some people listen years later, so there we go and, if we are not locked down again, I will be doing a covid-secure pilgrimage this month from-

Orna Ross: I love this. Yes, tell the people.

Joanna Penn: From Suffolk in London, to Canterbury following the Becket way, where Thomas Becket was martyred in Canterbury cathedral, following like the Canterbury tales by Chaucer, that route. So, fingers crossed we're not all locked down and back in our houses. And if we are not, I will be wearing my mask and doing my walk.

So, hopefully that will happen. And I'm going to turn that into two books. One will be a novel about the Bones of Becket. Relics. I love relics. And the other one will be about the pilgrimage itself. It will be a pilgrimage travel guide to the Becket Way. So, it would be my first nonfiction under J.F. Penn, which will go out sometime in 2021.

So, I'm kind of nervous, kind of really excited, kind of, Oh yes, this is what I want to do with my life right now. So yeah, I guess we'll talk more about that later. But what are we going to talk about next month, Orna, so everyone knows?

Orna Ross: Yeah, next month, switching completely from products and premium and money, and all that kind of thing, we thought we would move back over to the creative side. A lot of people are finding it a little bit challenging at the moment, in terms of all that's going on, to keep the creative flow moving, because we're out of our normal creative routine, we've all had to adopt. It's okay to adapt for a while but maybe it's all stopped.

So yeah, we're going to look at, how do you ensure a constant flow of the good stuff, or the stuff that makes the books happen? Yeah.

Joanna Penn: I'll read the official title, which is, how to fill the creative well and ensure a constant flow of ideas for your author business.

Orna Ross: Isn't that what I said?

Joanna Penn: The good stuff, flow of the good stuff is brilliant.

So, we'll be talking about that next month and, oh my goodness, it will be November. Yes. Scary, scary stuff. So, please join us next month, as ever, please do leave a comment, whatever you'd like to say or comment on, or whatever you're doing as an author, we're totally interested. So, please do leave a comment.

All right. Well, thank you so much, everyone. And I guess, happy writing.

Orna Ross: Happy writing, happy publishing. This will go out as podcast audio on the self-publishing advice center on Friday next. So, you can get the show notes and links to some of the things we've been talking about there. All right. So, thank you folks.

Bye, bye.



Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is a novelist, nonfiction author, developmental book editor, and journalist. He is also the news and podcast producer for the Alliance of Independent Authors. You can learn more about him at https://howardlovy.com/


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