How do I manage my privacy as an author? Our #AskALLi Member Q&A is hosted by Michael La Ronn and ALLi Director Orna Ross, and this month they’ll be answering this question and more.
Other questions include:
- What kind of contracts should I consider for crowdfunding my book?
- Where can I find free images to use on my book cover?
- What is the best way to advertise my book on Barnes & Noble?
- What is ALLi’s stance on licensing and collecting societies?
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About the Hosts
Michael La Ronn is the author of over 30 books of science fiction & fantasy and authors self-help books. His books include the Galaxy Mavericks series and Modern Necromancy series. You can now find his new writing course on Teachable.
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 Q&A Transcript: Author Privacy and More
Orna Ross: Hello there, and welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors Member Q&A, our monthly session where we take our members self-publishing questions and answer them here in this public forum so that other authors can benefit from the answers to the questions.
I’m here, as always, with the wonderful Michael La Ronn.
Michael La Ronn: Hi Orna, how are you?
Orna Ross: I am very well. You’re just virtually back from the writer’s digest conference, I here?
Michael La Ronn: Yes. Yes, I spoke there this year. They went virtual due to the thing that’s floating around in the air all over the world. But, yeah, it was a great event and a lot of engagement and I’m glad they were able to still have it despite everything that’s going on right now. So, very cool.
Orna Ross: Yeah, absolutely, and I think while, of course, you do lose something with not having a live conference, it is great when people all over the world can attend. So, I think, hopefully, when we finally get out of this stage that we’re in with COVID, I hope that people will keep a live stream dimension to their conferences, because I think it’s really valuable for people who can’t travel.
But you have lots of questions for us, and we don’t have a lot of time, so let’s get stuck in.
How can I manage personal privacy as an indie author?
Michael La Ronn: All right. So, the first question is the theme of this month’s episode, and I think that this is a great question. The question comes from Marie, and basically, she says, she’s a social media-phobe and is wondering how to manage personal privacy when you launch an author business. Would you advise setting up social media accounts for your author identity? Would you take on pseudonyms? What about PO boxes, and what are some examples of how I can manage my privacy as an author?
Orna Ross: Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s a growing concern for people. So, I’ll speak as somebody who does have a pseudonym, not a lot of people know that Orna Ross is not my name. So, pseudonym appealed to me, it was one of the reasons it appealed to me, not so much that I was thinking then, I don’t think we were very much in those days, about internet privacy and the way in which your personal data can be used against you and used to target you, but because I feel there’s a slight difference between ‘writing me’ and ‘real me’, and I kind of liked embodying that in a pseudonym.
Also, my publishers at the time wanted me to not use my very Irish name and unpronounceable first name, because they thought it would be a problem on a book cover. And I’ve been very glad to have that, you know, it’s a very, very slight, little difference, but it does afford me some kind of, not just privacy, but also confidence in that separation. So, that’s one thing that I do.
The second thing I would really recommend that everybody does is have a PO box or a separate business address. Don’t put your home address on your documentation because what’s happening now is that, emails go out with the address, sometimes you don’t even see it where you’re prepping your email, but your readers are receiving it as part of their email communication from you, and it can go around the web.
I actually know somebody, personally, for whom that became a real problem. So, I think, again, it’s business like, also to have a separate business address from your home address, even if you do most of your work at home and a PO box is good for that.
In terms of the technical stuff, I mean, how do you feel, Michael, about privacy? Is it something that you think about?
Michael La Ronn: Oh, absolutely, yeah. I, like you, have a pseudonym as well, because I have a career in the insurance industry and when prospective clients in that industry look me up on LinkedIn or something, I don’t care if people know that I write books, but I don’t want my Michael La Ronn to be the first thing they see, I want my real name to be the first thing they see.
Yeah, I agree with you as well on the business address, I think that’s really important. Because, let’s also just be honest, there’s some real weirdos out there who will stalk you and, you know, you just don’t want to deal with that if you can avoid it.
Another thing I would consider is purchasing privacy on your domain name. So, it’s like an additional, I think, $10 a month, $12 a month, $15, something like that, wherever you buy your domain name, but if you don’t buy it, what happens is, whoever registers the domain name, by law I believe in most countries, they have to list your address and they’ll list your home address whenever someone looks you up on whois.net.
So, by purchasing the privacy option, it stops that from happening. So, when someone looks you up, they don’t see your personal address. I think that is critical. That’s an exposure point that you definitely want to make sure you do because otherwise, you can take all the precautions in the world, but people will still know your real name and where you live.
Orna Ross: Absolutely, and while some of these things vary from country to country, we’re just getting interesting and feedback here from Justine in Poland, who is saying that in her country, business addresses are public and that they reveal how much people earn, and I think that’s true in lots of countries, particularly if you’re registered as a company. Not if you’re a sole trader or a partnership, but if you’re a registered company, anybody can look up and see your latest accounts; that is part of being a company. But it’s a different thing to have your actual home address being beamed out to all and sundry.
For social media, I think the same sort of recommendations would apply in that, don’t use your personal, private Facebook profile, for example, use a Facebook business page. And there are all sorts of reasons, in addition to privacy, for doing that, but, you know, go out there as a business.
There is a reason why companies are given their own entity and are treated separately from you as an individual person by law, and in accountancy masters, and so on, is that there should be that, sort of, healthy distance between you as a person and you as your business. And I think for authors, when our business is our passion and our businesses is our hearts and souls, it’s terribly personal. The books that we write, yes, keep the, you know, the personal and the close connection for the books, but when it comes to actually setting up the business, having that healthy difference, a little gap between who you are and your business, is a very good way to approach all these issues, including privacy.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, and another thing to consider as well is, it’s kind of a simple thing, but when you’re signing up for new services, don’t give your personal email out, give out your business email, because what will happen is you’ll get spammed and, you know, there’s all sorts of things that can happen with email addresses and so, email is also another area where you don’t want your email falling into the wrong hands.
There’s also other little things like on your website, for example, use a contact form, don’t just give your email address in text, because then bots can find it and then you’ll get spammed. I mean, you’re going to get spammed anyway, but why invite additional spam?
So, little things like contact forms on your website, not giving email addresses out that way, is another way to protect your privacy, as well.
Orna Ross: Absolutely, and all of these are important. So, hopefully that has given you both some ideas and a way to approach it.
Is there a specific type of contract for a crowdfunded book?
Michael La Ronn: Absolutely. So, our next question is from Isabel. So, Isabel sends in a lot of questions to the show. She says she is planning to publish a book that was financed by crowdfunding by the author. I believe Isabel is a publisher, and she asks, is there a specific type of contract for this type of book? And what should I specify in the contract regarding royalties?
So, she’s publishing a book that has been crowdfunded, what should she do differently?
Orna Ross: Yes, this is one freely to be worked out between her and the author. So, it sounds like Isabelle runs a relatively traditional publishing company that presumably will require exclusive sign-up from the author in terms of the rights that the author is handing over, but we’re in a situation here whereby the author has already done a ton of work and on the marketing front, in order to raise the money in crowdfunding, and has obviously some money here to spend. And so, Isabelle, your big question for you is, what are you bringing to the party?
So, in terms of being able to put the book together and put it out there, that’s a very, very low-cost option for the author, particularly if they’ve, now it may be a specialty title, if she crowdfunded it, but it may not, but it may be something that requires extra, kind of, input financially for cover reasons or illustrations inside or whatever, a premium product. I’m not sure, but, regardless, the author is bringing a huge amount to your table. So, the question for your contract is, what are you bringing? And certainly, I would think in this case, a different sort of royalty split would be appropriate. An advance is not so key here if they’ve already raised some funding themselves, so that is also off your table. So, what are you going to bring? I think that really is the question that I would be asking if I was that author sitting across the table from you. Do you have any thoughts on it, Michael?
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, it’s my contract knowledge. I would say, the biggest exposure, I mean, this is not legal advice, please don’t take it as such, but the biggest exposure would be the delivery of the book, Isabelle. So, if you are contracted to deliver the book by a certain date, I’d make sure I hit that date, because there are readers on the other end that have been told through Kickstarter or Indiegogo or somewhere that they’re going to get the book by X date.
So, I would make sure that you deliver the book ahead of that date, if you can, because that can be a potential exposure for you, and then things like hold harmless agreements and indemnification agreements,, that’s something you’re going to want to pay attention to as well, but I would hope that you have that in your contract too.
Unlike, a traditional contract, that’s just between the publisher and the author, and readers really don’t know the book exists, here you have a situation where readers know the book exists and they’re waiting for it. So, I would tread carefully there and just make sure that you’re able to deliver on everything you say you can deliver to the author.
Orna Ross: And definitely have a good conversation with the author about what they have promised the people who have signed up for the crowdfunder. I would certainly, at a minimum, go into the crowdfunding page, find out what’s been promised. You can help, and presumably you’re going to be the person who’s going to be doing the delivery in what has been promised, but there may be things outside of the actual publication of the book that you’d be able to help with as well.
So, yeah, I think all the standard trade publishing contract terms and conditions will apply. In terms of subsidiary rights, I would argue that they should remain firmly with the author as they’ve done, again, all the work of funding it up to here. That’s something for you, again, to work out with them and come to an amicable arrangement. But, yeah, sounds like a good project for you both.
Can I use free, royalty-free images for my book cover?
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, absolutely. All right. So, we’ve got a question from Leo and the question is, I’m trying to find a suitable cover for my book, but it’s proving to be incredibly difficult. Where I have searched for “royalty free images”, there is, of course, a charge. It’s kind of a misnomer, isn’t it? If for a publication, I could run into a lot of money if the book is successful, or I’m looking to do that, but I’m just struggling to find royalty-free images that are truly free. Where might I find them?
Orna Ross: I love unsplash.com. That’s my favorite source. It is supplied by photographers mainly, some artists too, around the world who put their work up there under creative commons license and are happy for you to freely use them provided they’re credited. So, they would want a credit on your cover and in your acknowledgements and on your copyright page, wherever you do your credits in your book. And so, definitely that is one.
There are a number, so maybe you need to go to page three of Google, because a lot of these things are taken up with ads now; page one and two is not the helpful place it used to be. So, there are quite a few, but unsplash.com is my personal favors.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, I have to be the kill joy here, I’m not a fan of royalty-free, like free, royalty-free images. One, there’s a significant amount of risk when you use an image that is completely free. Unsplash is great, but here’s another scenario that people don’t think about and that is, what if someone uploads an image to a website, says that it is public domain through the creative commons, that it’s free to use, but it’s actually not free to use. What if it’s stolen? And then what happens if you use that image on your book cover and you use it under the impression that it is free to use, but it’s not actually free to use.
Well, who’s going to get the cease and desist letter? Who’s going to get the demand letter? Well, you’re going to get that. So, one of the reasons I always recommend purchasing royalty free images or using a site like Storyblocks or Shutterstock, or something like that is, one, because you get that assurance, you can rest assured that you’re going to have true permission to use that image, and that is worth its weight in gold. And if, for some reason, you don’t have permission to use that image that’s on Shutterstock or Can Stock or Depositphotos, or whatever, there’s lots of sites out there; those sites usually offer some sort of a hold-harmless guarantee, where they will protect you if something were to happen.
So, I know there’s a lot of people out there looking for images for free, and I get it, I understand it. But you just have to understand that that comes with a significant amount of risk because, just because something’s free, doesn’t mean it’s actually free. So, just tread carefully. I always get a little nervous when people are looking for free images to put on their book covers, because you just never know.
Orna Ross: I love that you always bring the legal dimension into these questions. With Unsplash, just for clarity, and not to say, you know, you can listen to, as ever, listen to both of us, Michael and I have loads things where we completely align and then a number of things where we approach things slightly differently, I would always, in terms of using an image from Unsplash, the first thing I do is get in touch with the person, the actual photographer who uploaded it. And I actually haven’t ever used it for book covers, I use it almost weekly for social media images.
Michael La Ronn: Blogs. Yeah. Different story, that makes perfect sense. But for book covers, it’s a little scary.
Orna Ross: Because you’ve got the commercial, I was just going to draw the distinction that you’ve got the commercial dimensions, when you’re actually going to make money from selling your book, which is a slightly different thing from using it on the blog.
However, you know, if you are in touch with that artist and they took the picture, and you’re confident that they did and you’ve had a conversation, and so on, perhaps it’s fine to use it. As I said, you’ve heard the legal side, you’ve heard the working author side. So, it’s really up to you to make up your own mind, but definitely, with full awareness of the legal implications.
I have also been on the receiving end, completely unwittingly, of a cease and desist, way back at the beginning, when I had knew nothing about such matters and the internet was brand new, I used a Getty image and got, almost by return, got a letter and they wanted, I can’t remember what it was now, it was something like £10,000 for this photograph. So, anyway, I didn’t have to pay £10,000, obviously, I just wrote back and said, look, hands up, I had no idea, taking it down, you know, blah, blah, blah. You can do that with a blog, but you can’t do that at all, you know, easily with a book. So yeah, definitely be careful.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah. And we got a comment from Justine, if it’s stolen, that’s not stolen by you, for sure, because there is no guilt on the shoulders of the person who didn’t know who did what.
You know, there’s some merit to that, Justine. Ignorance is not going to protect you, ultimately. At the end of the day, the law is the law and, you know, nine times out of ten, it is unwittingly, just like Orna said, you don’t know you did it, and getting a legal demand letter is not something I wish on anybody. And once you get one, you’ll make sure you never do it again, and if you can avoid it, yeah, avoid it.
How do indie authors get exposure on Barnes and Noble?
Michael La Ronn: All right. Let’s see. Our next question is from Keith and Keith asks, does anyone have any experience with attempting to advertise on Barnes and Noble? I get no traction at all from Barnes and Noble, they don’t price match with Amazon. They seem like a dead zone for anyone trying to sell books, as if they’re from a bygone era. I’ve had some modest success with Amazon sponsored ad campaigns and my good reads giveaways have been very good value, but how do I reach out to Barnes and Noble?
I’ve got to say, that’s a comment of the year right there. We’ve never had a candidate for comment of the year, question of the year, that’s it. So, how do we get exposure on Barnes and Noble?
Orna Ross: We should run a prize session in December, where we go back over the best questions of the year and award a prize for the best one.
So, there are things in there that we could talk a lot about if we were to pick up on them, like it being something from a bygone era, and so on. So, let’s just, very quickly say that Barnes and Noble was set up as a physical company selling physical books and, while there has been an eBook wing to Barnes and Noble for over a decade now, and NOOK, which is now called Barnes and Noble Press, a self-publishing platform there too, it has not received the attention that we would like to have seen it receive, and so it is quite difficult. The people who do well, the self-publishers who do well on Barnes and Noble are people who already had a strong trade back list and took it in. So, they just built on that and kind of went from there, and some of our members sell extremely well on the Barnes and Noble platform, but they tend to be American authors who had a history already of selling physical books in the stores. And there are exceptions to that, and sometimes books take off and you never really know why, but they certainly don’t make it easy for you to make things happen there.
The second thing is, just to say for the sake of saying because it’s important, authors don’t always think about this, is that on all platforms, things won’t happen unless you make them happen. So, if you’re not bringing anybody to your Barnes and Noble book, if you like, your book on that platform, you’re relying on people kind of stumbling across it, and, you know, it’s no different to any other platform, that’s not likely to happen.
The hope on the horizon is that we are assured that things are changing, and that eBooks are now moving center stage in a way that they haven’t to date. So, we’re hoping that things will improve and that there will be ways that you can make things happen there.
You can use BookBub and other advertising vehicles, promotion people like Written Word Media, who do, you know, Bargain Booksy, Freebooksy, The Fussy Librarian, those kinds of promotion sites, you can use those to drive traffic specifically to Barnes & Noble, but you would have to ask yourself question, why would I drive them there instead of driving them to Amazon?
Have you thoughts, Michael on Barnes and Noble Press?
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, Barnes & Noble, there are a lot of retailers out there, Google Play, Draft2Digital, Apple, might your term time be better spent focusing on them, rather than Barnes and Noble? I mean, Barnes and Noble is great, I mean, I sell a decent amount there, but I don’t do any kind of focus on the marketing. I just think your time would be better spent at another retailer where you maybe could get some additional exposure, like Kobo. That’s just my, Michael La Ronn’s opinion only, but-
Orna Ross: No, I agree completely, and I think this comes back to a core question that we all must be asking ourselves all the time. We have no shortage of opportunities as indie authors, we have far too many opportunities, far more than we’re ever going to be able to use. So, the thing is to go and do the things that are working for you. If you see something is working for you and, you know, you mentioned your Amazon ads and your GoodReads, if you’ve got something that’s working, double-down on that, and get that really humming before you think about adding in something else, because you scatter your energies. And I think it’s really important for each of us to decide, you know, what’s our top platform, and for a lot of people that will be Amazon, for some of us it would be our own websites, for other people it might be Kobo, might be Google Play or Apple, because they’re less crowded. Whatever it is, you need to know what your top platform is, and you need to be sending the people that you bring to the party, you need to be sending them consistently to one, rather than, you can have the others they’re available and definitely have your books on all platforms in all formats, as widely as possible, but in terms of the work that you do to bring people over, you need to have a preferred outlet.
How do I get an ISBN number?
Michael La Ronn: Yep. I agree. All right.
Our next question is from Robert, and this is a common question we get pretty often on the show. He says, getting an ISBN number seems so confusing. How do I get one?
Orna Ross: Well, it depends on where you live, but essentially you have to find out where the ISBN agency in your territory resides.
It will either be a company like Bowker in the US or Nielsen in the UK, it might be your national library as it is in Canada and France, it depends. So, if you just Google ISBN agency and put in your country name, you will find the place where you buy it.
We also have, on the blog, the Ultimate Guide to ISBNs. So, we will include the link to that in the show notes. But again, if you just Google self-publishing advice, ultimate guide, ALLi guide or whatever, you’ll find that, and that really tells you all you need to know about ISBNs.
When will the Creative Self-Publishing ALLi book be available to buy/download?
Michael La Ronn: All right. Our next question is a question regarding some of your work Orna, and that comes from member, just lost my spot there, one second. Oh, okay. Sorry about that. It comes from member, Joy and she asked when will Orna Ross’s book on self-publishing be available?
Orna Ross: First of January 2020. So, it’s out of final edits now and on its way, as eBook, on first of January, and then the print a little bit later, and I’m considering doing what you did, Michael and narrating the audiobook. Not sure if I’m making a big mistake with my Irish accent, but anyway, I think I’ll give it a go.
Michael La Ronn: Can you tell people what the name of the book is?
Orna Ross: Oh, yes. Sorry. I’ll have to remember. It’s called Creative Self-Publishing, and the idea of the book is very much about applying the creative skills that you bring to your writing, applying them to your publishing and it’s really quite a comprehensive guide to the seven stages of the publishing process. It goes into each of those seven. It also offers a sequence of success, you know, ways in which to approach things.
It talks about creative business planning quite a bit, and the fact that you need to wear three hats in this job and not just the writing hat, the making hat, but also the manager and the marketeer.
So, yeah, it took me a long time to put this book together because I’m trying to bring in everything that you kind of learn when you’re watching all the different members of ALLi do things in very different ways. And there are a lot of books on self-publishing on the market, I know, but a lot of people write from their own perspective and feel that that is the way to do it, if you like. But what I’ve tried to do is bring together all the different options and the 10 different business models that an author can employ, 11 actually, now. We now have 11 different business models.
So, I’ve tried to make it as comprehensive and as wide ranging as possible. It half killed me, so I hope you enjoy it.
Michael La Ronn: That’s awesome. I can’t wait. I especially look forward to the business part. That’s always just something we don’t talk enough about in our industry.
Orna Ross: Yes, it’s so true, and in fact, another book has grown out of this called, Becoming an Authorpreneur, because I think there is, you know, a lot of indie authors want to go so far, but then I think there’s quite a sizable and growing cohort of people who want to go all the way and, not just make a living from this, but actually do really, really well, and that is possible now. So, that’s what I’m working on then, once this one is up and out.
Why can’t I get author copies of my book from Amazon KDP in Australia?
Michael La Ronn: Awesome. Well, do we want to do one more question and then wrap it up? All right. So, that question comes from Michael, great name by the way, I set up a print-ready version of my Kindle book with Amazon two days ago, and they emailed me here in Tasmania, Australia to say that it’s available for sale. But when I asked Amazon.com to send me author copies, or retail copies, they said it can’t be sent to my address. Do you know what the problem is here?
So, Michael is in Australia, wants to get author copies sent to his address. Is there a way to do that?
Orna Ross: He’s going through amazon.com rather than amazon.com.au, that may be the problem. It may be that you need to go through, amazon.com.au. You may be better off, I’m not sure if you followed ALLi advice and did your printing on both KDP, which is Kindle Direct Publishing Print, the KDP option, the Amazon option, and also on Ingram Spark, because getting copies from Ingram in Australia is relatively easy now, there’s a local supplier, they’re in the territory of which makes it easier, cheaper, faster, that kind of thing. It’s a little bit specialist, this question, Michael. So, if you want to actually email us and we can follow it up with Amazon for you, if we can’t solve it ourselves.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, I’m in the KDP dashboard right now, and I’m looking at, if you hover over the print version, you can order author copies, and amazon.com.au is not listed in the marketplaces. So, my guess is that it’s not available and you would have to use Ingram.
Orna Ross: Yeah. Okay. Well done. Nice little bit of research there on the spot. Well done. Yeah. So, that’s your, that’s your answer, and if you want to know more about any of that, you want to follow it up, and indeed, if any of our questioners wants to follow in with more questions on anything that we discussed today, please always feel free to contact us on [email protected], and your question will get a private email response.
Yeah, I think that’s it for another month. Thank you very much for joining us and we will see you again next month for more ALLi member questions, bye-bye.
Michael La Ronn: Take care, everybody.