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When To Quit Writing And Publishing: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast With Orna Ross And Joanna Penn

When to Quit Writing and Publishing: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast With Orna Ross and Joanna Penn

In this month’s Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast, ALLi Director Orna Ross and Enterprise Adviser Joanna Penn discuss when to quit writing and publishing. Should you just keep writing and publishing even if it’s not going anywhere? Should you persist with the creative and business choices you have invested in for so long–or could you just walk away? Orna and Joanna talk about the times in our lives when we might need to consider quitting aspects of our writing, publishing, marketing, and business.

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About the Hosts

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

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

Read the Transcripts: When to Quit Writing and Publishing

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.

Joanna Penn: Hello. Yes, we are back. It is almost the end of 2022, which is crazy, and today our topic is, when to quit and what to quit, and all the things we've been quitting, but we will get into that in a minute. First of all, a few updates. Orna, what's going on with ALLi?

Orna Ross: ALLi has had a busy month. We have just issued the member magazine, which always is exciting, and lots going on there for everyone to read, lots of features, and just generally prepping for 2023 and the various things that are going to be coming up then, which we'll discuss in more detail, I know, in our next salon.

But end of the year is always busy, and then preparing, of course, for the busy book selling season. What about you? What have you been up to?

Joanna Penn: Well, I finally finished my pilgrimage book and got it to my editor, so that was a really big deal. It's actually been two years, over two years, since I did my first pilgrimage. Like many people, I thought one pilgrimage might change my life, but it actually took me three. So, this book is, who knows what it's going to be, but I'm really happy that it's with my editor. So, that was a big deal.

Also, hilariously, you're going to laugh, I've decided to do a Kickstarter this time, next year, after deciding I would never do one. I think what happened really was the sort of, I couldn't do a Kickstarter at the same time as a Shopify store, at the same time as other things. But I feel like this is a good chance, especially with a book that is really difficult to categorize and sits across so many genres, and it's a chance for me to do a limited-edition hardback, which will only be available, they'll be numbered. I'm going to do a special print edition, which you've done before, I've never done.

So, I'm going to take a chance to do some new things in 2023, which I guess obviously we talk about next time, but decisions about how to publish these more. When I say special, I mean they just don't fit in a particular box, and also, it's a lot of personal meaning with this book. So, I've been finishing that like a mad thing, so happy with that. So, what about you as Orna Ross?

Orna Ross: Yeah, I think that's great, by the way, and I think this is a great book to do your Kickstarter with because it's so personal as well, and I think they're the projects that seem to do best.

Yeah, me again, a busy month on the publishing side. I have been, again, moving along on the creator economy kind of thing, I'm taking all my reader patrons over onto the website directly. So, that's loads of management stuff in the background.

I have been producing special edition poetry books for the season that's in it, and also then going to launch another poetry book for Valentine's Day next year. So, that all had to be set up now because, with a big holiday in the middle kind of thing, and November's the month now that we update the ALLi guides and planners for 2023. So yeah, lots of management stuff going on. So, back to fiction on the 1st of December.

Joanna Penn: Yay! Yeah, it's funny, before this I was working on a story, and it's so funny when you finish a non-fiction project or too much admin, like admin-y stuff, and then it's like, I really need to just write a story, and there's this story that's been noodling around in my head for ages, and I think for me, the fiction side is that I have so many projects that I want to do, and until I actually commit to one, I can't seem to actually start. It's just all milling around and then I have to pick one, and I'm pretty sure I've picked one, and it will be a standalone, which is totally not what I normally do. It's horror/dark fantasy, and it just feels good to be thinking about things that are not so serious.

Orna Ross: Absolutely, and that's the great thing about being a multi-genre author, I think. It has its downsides, especially on the practical front, but the variety is always so interesting and as soon as you're bored or tired with something, you can flip over into the other things. So yeah, it's good.

Joanna Penn: Yeah. Fun times.

Right, let's get into the topic for today. We're doing ‘when to quit', and I'm going to put this into context. So, basically my friend J Thorn, who many people will know, author/podcaster extraordinaire, J Thorn recommended this book to me. So, it's called Quit: The Power of Knowing When to Walk Away by Annie Duke, and J recommended it to me. I recommended it to you. I've recommended it to Sacha Black, who's also talked about it on her podcast now.

It's going around at the moment, this book, and what is so brilliant about it, and what we want to do is reframe it as the book reframed it, which is, quitting doesn't need to have this negative context. What we want is it to have a more positive context, and letting go of things, and we're at that time of year when it's like, yeah, we need to let something go for a good reason. So, when I recommended it to you, Orna, why did you say, yes, that sounds like a good idea.

Orna Ross: Well, I was already in the middle of, I was thinking letting of it as letting go because that's my vernacular, but I periodically do this anyway, as a clear out. So, no matter how careful you are, how intentional you are, you accumulate dead wood and also you change, you shift, or things change, tools change, the climate changes, readers change in what they want, and so you can get stuck. So, it's good to do a bit of an inventory and have a look and see what's going on.

So, just at the moment that I was doing all that, we were chatting, and you said, oh, great book, quit. And then we said, okay, that's got to be the theme for our next podcast.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, well, this is it. I feel like so often we idolize grit and perseverance, and they have all these positive connotations. You'll often hear, for example, in the author industry, oh, all you need to do is stick it out. Eventually people fall away, and if you keep going, you'll make it. If you keep submitting to agents, you'll eventually get an agent, or if you keep writing more books, you'll eventually be successful, whatever that means, and we have all this stuff that basically says, you must keep going, whatever happens. And that is considered a good thing.

Whereas, the word ‘quitting' can imply negativity, and Annie Duke, who's the author, she played professional poker and she basically talked about that professionals quit more often; the most successful poker players quit more often, and we are not playing poker, but it's a game of skill and I think that's really interesting in terms of quitting more often.

Also, what I think's really important is we're not necessarily talking about quitting bad things like quitting smoking, although, great, or whatever else. It's more about quitting some of the good things, because we don't necessarily pile bad things into our life, we pile good things into our life, but then we can't achieve the main goal.

Orna Ross: Yeah, absolutely, and that is the point, particularly in creative industries, passion-based businesses, we love all the things we do and we'd love to do more, and it just keeps on expanding as well. All the lovely, shiny things you can do. It's just over a decade and a half ago that none of these opportunities existed, and now with every passing year there are more and more so it can be really tempting.

And we're not talking here about shiny object syndrome so much as things that have become embedded, and they may be fun and they may also be financially rewarding to some degree, but you have to check them for opportunity cost. In other words, might you be better off doing something else? It's not just about what you're doing, but you might be better off quitting something that's doing okay for you because something else might serve us better. The other thing I think is that not quitting and just doing the same thing can become a bit compulsive sometimes, or we do it by rote.

So, we talk about creative writing and creative publishing and the core of that is keeping things fresh and staying engaged, what we were talking about there at the beginning, the variety of switching out of non-fiction into fiction works for us in some way, but sometimes it's just about letting things go so that something new can come in.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and you mentioned there the opportunity costs, but there are also financial costs, time costs, which kind of come into that opportunity cost. But also, one really big thing that she talks about is sunk cost, and this feeling like, look, I've put this much into whatever it is, and we are going to go into some more examples in a minute, but you know, I've put all these years in, all this money, all this effort, and it may be if I just keep going a bit longer, it might be worth it eventually.

So, let's start on some of the examples. You mentioned it before, that your creative non-fiction books, you put years into these. What did you quit in that sense and how did you get over that sunk cost fallacy?

Orna Ross: Yeah, so I've always been really interested in the process of creativity and I wanted to do a series about the creative process, not so much about writing and publishing, but creative living and how you can apply the process that we apply to our writing and to our publishing into everything, because I really firmly believe that this is a way to approach life, except that we're all conditioned into a different way of approaching life. So, I did a long series, I commissioned all the covers, I put the covers out there, which I used to do as a way to make myself do things. I didn't after this one.

So, I kept going for a long time between, I think, 2013 and 2016 I was working on it on and off as I was doing all sorts of other things and kept going back to it, kept going back to it, and then one day you said to me, maybe it's time to realize it's not going, because it just wasn't coming together for me.

Joanna Penn: It was your birthday, that's what it was. It was the year before your big birthday, a big birthday, and you said, I want to finish on this particular day, and you hadn't, and that's when I said to you, how much longer are you going to do it?

Orna Ross: Yeah, and I went home with my tail between my legs, and realized, you know what, this is best; quit. So, what I did was, I put the core of it, the nuggets of it, into one book, and I was satisfied with that. And I still every so often find myself drifting back over and thinking that I'd love to do that again, and I realized it became and could be, still could be, but I won't let it, be a sort of a procrastination thing, an easier thing to do in a way than some of the other things that I want to do more.

So, that was the biggest thing I think, that I ever quit, because I am somebody who sticks it out. My fiction takes a very long time to put together and even writing a short poem, I can take a long time over that, and I am somebody who prides myself on my grit and my resilience and my bounce back and all of that, and what I found very interesting about the Duke book was the examples she gave of people who were at the height of their game and then were watching things falling apart. Muhammad Ali being the very well-known example, but lots of business examples as well of people who, the evidence was clear and in front of them, this is not working, but there's this mental and emotional attachment to something that you've invested lots of blood and sweat and tears into, and just letting it go becomes the hardest thing to do.

But of course, when you do let go, and when I let that series go, it was such a sense of lightness. I really felt like a great burden had been lifted off me and I was free to do other things. I got much more serious about poetry publishing, which was much more fun and much better integrated with the busy schedule that I had in those years.

Joanna Penn: Yeah. Well, I guess before we get into all the other details, I'll just do the big one that I came to after reading the book, which was to quit my Books and Travel podcast.

Orna Ross: No, you didn't tell me! Oh, wow.

Joanna Penn: Oh, didn't I, thought I told you? Yeah. So, basically, and it was almost like that book gives permission to let something go that you've been feeling for a while, and so I started my Books and Travel podcast and the website back in early 2019, obviously before the pandemic. I thought I was going to write, and move into more travel genres, but what I've learned, and I love my Books and Travel podcast, I may still do an occasional episode, or a solo show or something, and I'll keep the website. That's all going to be there.

But doing a new episode every couple of weeks, you know how much work a podcast is, and then it would suck me in with all the awesome show notes and I would find all the right photos, and I was doing all that because I really enjoyed it. But it was probably taking like a day and a half a week for something that ultimately has not brought me any income and has actually cost me money, costs me hosting, costs me time, all of that, and also I've discovered a lot about the traditional publishing industry around travel books. It's a very different genre. It's a lot of writing for hire, a lot of commissioned work. So, I learned about the genre, I learned about how, and I also just decided not to follow a business model that I'd set up for that website. It just wasn't going to work.

So, I decided to give it up and the moment I decided I felt so much better. Again, it's like, you know when this is the right decision, when you just feel like, oh yeah, thank goodness for that. And it's freed up my time and now I feel like I can, I finished my pilgrimage book; it's almost released me from a whole load of stuff, and all the stuff I thought I was going to do with it, I've now just let that go. As I said, it's still going to sit there and it's all kind of evergreen because it's travel stuff, but yeah. So, I didn't know I hadn't told you that.

Orna Ross: No, that one escaped me. I've been very head down, I have to say. Interesting. Yeah. So, wow. I'm still suffering from the latest let go that I've done though, I've found it really hard, which is my personal blog. So, that was the big one that came out of the book for me. I hadn't even been thinking about it. I just blog because I blog, if you know what I mean. It was a way of me getting thoughts together. I've used it in all sorts of different ways over the years, it's grown with me. I have been blogging since 2008, year in, year out, and just always did, and then, I just thought, you know what, I'm going to let go of the blog.

So, I did, but I still find it hard, and I have things that I want to express in a certain way, and I'm not quite sure how to do that as yet, but I know it's the right decision. But I'm still feeling this sort of habit energy of having it there and it feels like a bit of a hole in all my nice things. But I know it's the right thing to do because I really have to focus my energy.

Fiction writing is very different, and that's what I've realized, how much energy it takes. By not doing it for a while, on my coming back to it I realized that I just didn't have enough time, enough energy, enough creative energy.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, I feel like both of us, well, in fact, you hear this from everyone, whether you are a rapid release person or more like us, everybody does seem to need to sink into the fiction and you have to allocate a specific amount of time. With nonfiction, I can be like, oh, I've got an hour, I'll write some stuff and bash out some words, but I can't do that with fiction. I need more time to sink into it like you do, but let's get into some of the questions we've got for the listeners.

So, we'll stay with writing and books, first of all because I feel like this is what we're talking about right now. You've talked about quitting writing those creative books, we've talked about quitting blogging. So, some of the questions here are, when to quit writing that book. So, you've really talked about that, although you were already writing those. We hear from indies, and not just indies, people who've been writing the same book for more than a decade, or people who've just been working and working on the same book. Maybe one could write something else, or can we get blocked by that old idea?

Orna Ross: Yeah, definitely, and I think the main thing to say about these questions is there is no right answer. It's just going to resonate with you if you feel that actually maybe it's time to let that go.

I mean, there are two, especially at the beginning, you can keep working away at something that you would be better off doing something maybe a little bit less ambitious, getting it through, particularly if you are keen to be a successful indie author and to publish regularly. The whole experience of putting a book out, actually getting through the publishing thing, so if it's something that has taken years and is going to take years, like my first book, maybe it might be do something easier first and do one or two easier projects and then come back to the great magnum opus rather than feeling that has to be your first time out.

Joanna Penn: Yeah. So, some of the other possibilities around quitting, when to quit a series. So, if your read-through is dropping and dropping over time, and maybe you've put loads of marketing money in it and it's just not taking off, should you write something new?

Also, even quitting an entire genre. I've recently interviewed Dan Padavona, who's a great example. He just wasn't making the money he wanted for the amount of books that he was writing, and he switched genres from horror into thriller and just found that immediately things started to take off. I think this is something that, I'm actually considering this around genres is that I have some ideas that don't fit into my normal genres, and it may be that I might find it easier to write some of these ideas in other genres than the ones that I've been writing for, sort of, over a decade now. So, that's interesting too.

Orna Ross: Very interesting, and I think it's easy enough to know you should quit if money is falling, but actually, if money is still fine and you're selling reasonably well, but you know that creatively you're in a rut and you know you're bored or worse; you can really have quite negative feelings where you turn your writing into the worst sort of day job and you have to whip yourself in and all of that. That too is time to quit. I think if you're not balancing both the commercial and the creative, then that is a sign that something needs to change, for sure. Maybe not all out quitting the full thing, the full series or the full genre, but something needs to go. So, it's not just about commercial reasons, which can make it easier to make that judgment.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and then a couple more in the writing bit is when to quit an author name. This is a big one, and especially, I almost feel for me that both my author names are my actual name, which means emotionally, like J.F. Penn for my fiction, I have written all over the shop and I am really thinking not to leave, not to quit J.F. Penn, but maybe a bit like Books and Travel, park it and write a new genre under another name to almost start again, or do something in secret.

This is a problem when we do everything in public, like we do, but you have, I mean, Orna Ross is not your actual name, it is a pen name for the first instance, but you also did add an initial for your non-fiction, didn't you? So, what are your thoughts on quitting author names?

Orna Ross: Yeah, it's that thing of freshening it up, isn't it? And like you say, it's the beginner's mind, you give yourself permission in a way that, if there's a whole lot of baggage attached to the name, both your own internal emotional baggage, and then what readers expect, that just by changing your name, you can really lighten your load.

So, I think there are definitely times to think about doing that. When I was a journalist, I had about six names.

Joanna Penn: That's funny because Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch talk about this, between them they have 50 names or something that they've written under. Traditional publishing does this all the time, right?

Orna Ross: All the time. You meet people and you realize they're writing steamy erotica under one name, and domestic tips under another, because we are all many things, we contain multitudes. So yeah, there is absolutely no problem with that, and parking things for a while.

But also, I think one of the biggest reasons here to let go is if something is completed, then let it go completely. We do tend to keep a door open, and sometimes that makes sense. And again, there is no right answer here or no right way to do things, but it is worth saying that sometimes keeping a door open, creative energy can leak out that door. And doing the hard thing of quitting while you're ahead is a really great thing to do. You see it all the time with TV shows and other creative projects that, it just goes from bad to worse and people are so attached, and they just can't let go.

So, it's definitely worth asking you yourself these questions at the end of the year as we're beginning to look at another year.

A publishing model is the other thing, business model and publishing model. So, if you've been KU from the start, is it time to go wide with some books or vice versa, if you're always wide, is there something that should go into to KU? We would say that it is definitely time for people to think about quitting some things in order to put them onto your own website.

So, for example, I'm quitting Patreon at the moment, taking my reader members over onto my website because I think I can, well, one reason is because Patron doesn't allow you to put things up and, and put up the amount that it costs, and I initially went in at a very low level and it's years ago.

Joanna Penn: Me too.

Orna Ross: Yeah, and it's years ago and you can't make that change. Also, I just feel I'd be able to serve the, something about the communication being more direct, I think, will suit my readers. I'm not going to move my author patrons. So, yeah that's another example of just thinking about different ways of doing things, because of course, letting one thing go means taking on something else, or not necessarily taking in a new thing, but it does mean you're going to do something differently. So yeah, you finish one chapter, you open another.

Joanna Penn: And just on that, so the direct sales model, software is another thing. You and I have been doing this long enough now. We've seen so many different software and new software comes along all the time, and it, again, this is not shiny object syndrome, this is look at the software and does it actually suit what you need better than another type of software. So, for example I moved from, Payhip is wonderful if you just want to do some direct eBook sales or whatever, but moving to Shopify for me was about being able to do print-on-demand, being able to do a lot, merchandise, a lot more functionality with Shopify. Also, they're getting into crypto and NFTs, and all of these things. So, I've got this kind of futureproofing, I've been using Payhip, before that I was using various WordPress plugins and email software.

Someone asked me the other day, I use ConvertKit, but it's the third service I've used. Hosting platforms, I think I've used four hosting platforms. So again, the service you use as part of your business model, you can move this stuff. And again, it takes a bit of energy to move from one system to another.

But Patreon, I'm also thinking about how I can achieve what I want to achieve with that, or whether I have to find something else. So, this is part of it too, isn't it? Again, quitting can be pivoting or moving and changing, not just giving it up entirely.

Orna Ross: Exactly, and advice too, where you're getting your advice, where's it coming from? Are you listening to the same people saying the same things for many years? There's so many new podcasts now. When's the last time you actually went out and looked to see what is newest?

Same with technology and tools. Things are really changing, and changing very rapidly, but are you doing things the same old just because that's the way you’ve always done it? There may well be a tool that would really lighten your low that you're not even thinking about.

So yeah, I would say at least once a year, well worth doing an inventory of what you're using and just looking to see whether it's been upgraded.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, or even just looking at your monthly subscriptions, because often we sign up for things, we go, oh, it's $5 a month, whatever, and then you realize that you haven't looked at this stuff. Or you've done a yearly, this happened to me recently, a yearly subscription renewed for something that I didn't use anymore, but because it was on annual, I didn't notice it was there. It was a social media plugin thing for my website, and I was like, oh, that's really annoying. Then, of course, they wouldn't refund me, and I was like, well, now I only do monthly, but that's another example. You just have to look at things and move on.

But let's talk about marketing as well, because you have quit something that kind of comes under marketing and or communication. What else have you quit?

Orna Ross: Twitter. Goodbye. Really sad about this because again, I started my blog on Twitter at the same time, because they fed into each other.

Joanna Penn: We met on Twitter, Orna.

Orna Ross: We met on Twitter. I met so many great people on Twitter, absolutely. I think it is the best social network because it's got the thinkers and the writers in abundance there and all of that, but I just can't cope with the drama, the Musk factor. So, the alliance is still there, but just me personally, everything about the way he does business is the opposite to the way I do business, and I've just quit it. So, quit it, deactivated the account. It gets a month, I think, and then it's gone for good. So, yeah, I'm not going back.

Joanna Penn: Well, this is an interesting question. So, I'm the opposite side. I will go down with that ship. As much as there are some issues with that person, I also am a shareholder in some of his companies and I admire other sides of things, and I'm all in on Twitter. It's really my only network, like everything else is peripheral, not important to me, but I'm in Twitter every day and especially the AI Twitter, crypto Twitter, I'm in a lot of communities that aren't really elsewhere. So, I get a lot out of it, and so I'm staying but I did consider what would happen if it implodes or if it's blocked on Apple devices, blah, blah, blah, and I don't think I would go anywhere else. I think if it came down to it, it would be a case of quitting and not replacing it.

I've seen a lot of people go to Mastodon, go to Hive, go to other networks. Do we need to replace things? I guess that's the bigger question. If you quit something, do you have to replace it?

Orna Ross: Well, I'm not. Everybody says, oh, are you going to Mastodon? No, I'm not. One of the things about letting it go, it was partly that, you know what I've already said, it was also about, again, time and focus. So again, I loved spending time there and for lots of different reasons, but again, it's about letting go of something you like, letting go of something that you enjoy. But if you're just going to replace it and do the same thing somewhere else, then unless you've got a really good set of reasons for doing that, and I can't find good reasons for me to go to Mastodon, for example, I don't like it anyway. It doesn't feel right. Twitter felt right the moment I landed there, it always felt right, and I used to use it more for reading than for actually tweeting.

But all the information is available in lots of different ways. There are a thousand ways to get your information and you have to be really careful. So, yeah, I'm not sorry. It's gone and I'm not replacing it.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, but I think the overall message for people listening is, if you quit something, that doesn't mean you just have to jump into replacing it exactly the same thing. It's more like just take advantage of having that open space to, like you wanted to quit some things to make more room for fiction. Well, this is something else that gives you more space.

But let's talk about some other forms of marketing. So, I could say that my Books and Travel podcast, essentially is marketing. I will launch my pilgrimage book in February 2023, and I'll do a special episode, that kind of thing, but it was marketing for books I never wrote, and there is a danger of building up a marketing engine when you don't have a product, I know a lot of people make that mistake.

But let's talk about also quitting advertising, spending money on a series or a book that does not work. So, let's say you've changed the covers, you've rewritten the blurb, you've changed the metadata, and you still are not managing to make money with those books. What should you quit in that situation?

Orna Ross: Well, move on to another book is an option, and again, there is no definite right answer. It might be time to stop doing a particular form of promotion and change into something quite different. To get more creative about your promotion might be one option, or it might just be a matter of stopping, just giving it up and moving on to market another book or another series.

I think also part of quitting can be testing something new. So, you might feel, okay, I'll give that up and I'll go over here and I'll do this, but I think that the more I go on in this business, the more I realize that testing is the way to go, and testing things on the small scale before you run off and do things on the big scale.

One of the things that I liked very much in the Duke book was this idea of kill criteria. So, you set a date and a state, were the two components of the kill criteria. So, if I'm not in such and such a state, in other words, if I haven't achieved a certain thing by such and such a date, then I will quit on that date.

Of course, sometimes it is about keeping going and sometimes it won't let you go, and you want to quit, and you can't. But I think this idea, I really like this killer criteria idea, and the idea of the value of it. What is its projected value? Whatever you're doing, in marketing, I think though this is particularly relevant for, what is the projected outcome of the marketing that you're doing?

We can get very confused with marketing, because marketing really is all that base stuff. Ads and other promotional things are different, and so in terms of looking at promotions, what is the expected value that you want on the far side? It can be too easy to just say, oh, well I sold more books and more people know about me, and so on. It's about that return on investment, and it's not just financial. It can also be about wellbeing. It can be about your health, it can be about your happiness. It can be all sorts of things. But doing a bit of advanced planning and thinking around it and that idea of kill criteria. So, if I don't reach such and such a state by such and such a date, I quit that, and I maybe think about something.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and I do think this energy, I mean we talk a lot about energy and the feeling of, I'm really glad I just did that will tell you whether or not that's a good idea, and that book really gives you permission. Sometimes we need to be given permission, that's why we wanted to do this episode because we know some of you listening need permission to quit some of these things because actually it's not true, just because you continue doing something for month in, month out, year in, year out doesn't mean it will be a success, unfortunately, that's actually the truth, right?

Orna Ross: Absolutely, and you do need resilience in this business. You need it to absorb when it isn't successful the first time and there is such a thing as if at first you don't succeed, try again. There is such a thing as third time lucky. All of these things do happen and we're not for a second saying that they don't, and we're not for a second saying, if you haven't had success, give it up and go away, necessarily.

But we are saying, if you feel you should quit something, you have permission. Give yourself that permission, and you can always come back to something in a different way if in time you find that it doesn't work out.

But we get so much advice about, write more books, for example. When there is no marketing structure in place, often, just writing another book is not actually a strategy that is likely to deliver. And again, she talks in the book about the monkey and the pedestal, or something like that, and how we-

Joanna Penn: That bit confused me.

Orna Ross: Oh, I thought that was really good. So, you know, how you can spend a lot of time and building a pedestal for something that, I guess the Books and Travel would be an example of that. So, you spend a lot of time on the architecture, putting it all together and so on, without having tested, does this-

Joanna Penn: There was no product.

Orna Ross: Yeah. Does the monkey do the trick? So, test the monkey bit first before you put all the effort into the other part, and if it doesn't work, quit that and find, is there another way to get at the same thing that might deliver more value in a while.

Joanna Penn: But that comes back to what you said near the beginning, which was about, is it procrastination? Is it because it's easier? It is easier for me to build another podcast and a website because I know exactly how to do that. It's easier for me to record interviews than it is for me to sit down and write travel books in a genre or memoir, which is really hard it turns out, and I resisted, it was easier to resist doing that.

So, yeah, I guess, like you said, we're not saying you have to quit, but it's an option for you.

But in the last few minutes, let's talk about some of the bigger questions, because of course quitting your job to go full-time as an author, entrepreneur, or vice versa, quitting being an author full time to go back to a job. And I wanted to bring up the latter because I know quite a few authors who are struggling financially and felt guilty about going back to a job, and I'm like, don't feel guilty, everyone has to feed their family and pay the bills and whatever go.

You are allowed to quit, whatever, but it's the self-definition thing, right? You're like, I'm a full-time author, but then I need to go, as Michael Brent Collings shared on my show, he went to deliver pizzas because he couldn't pay the bills.

I quit my job back in 2011, and I had five years of building up a business on the side, and my quit criteria was, if I can't make this work within six months, I will go back and get a job, and I still feel that way. If this business went completely south, I would go back and get a job. There's nothing wrong with that. So, what are your thoughts on the career thing of either direction?

Orna Ross: Yeah, I think, I suppose you've spoken very eloquently there about quitting to get a job to supplement, or to quit completely and say, you know what, I've been defining myself as a writer, but why? I can be all sorts of other things. It's one short life. You don't have to be a writer; you don't have to be a publishing writer. You can quit in that way.

But the other part is very often seeing authors of talent who are doing well, who hold on to the day job far too long and don't do that brave thing of quitting and throwing yourself out there in a way too. So, I wouldn't advise anyone to do that straight up. I wouldn't advise anyone to do that until they are seeing return on investment, until they are fully publishing, you know, have mastered at least six of the seven stages, which is the whole production thing and the whole marketing and promotion thing, and you're making good sales, but time is becoming a real problem for you, and you're just not able to, and you have a good reason to think that you could actually make a lot more money if you take the leap, then take that leap. Do quit the day job. I love to see people quitting the day job. I remember encouraging you to leave the day job and stay with what you were doing.

Joanna Penn: Well, and you also helped me not go back to my day job in the early difficult phase, when you were like, no, you will do better. Ironically, you will do better if you just keep going, and that was true in my circumstance.

Again, just before we finish, even bigger things that both you and I have done, which I feel also about energy, is we've changed cities and both of us have changed cities in the last few years. So, I moved from London to Bath, and you moved to the coast, a coastal town from London. Also, we've both moved countries. So, I moved from the UK to New Zealand, and then Australia, and then back to the UK, and you moved from Ireland to the UK and for both of us, I'll just speak for myself, moving back to the UK from down under, liberated me from a whole load of stuff and enabled me to be a writer. But equally, I had to leave the UK to almost become an indie author because it's such a staid environment, or it used to be back in the day, that I almost had to leave to escape. So, quitting can be an even bigger thing.

So, what energy did you moving, what did that give you?

Orna Ross: Oh no, absolutely. I moved three times to the UK back again, and then for the final time back in 2008, and at that time it was absolutely essential to me to leave just for creative sort of, all four in the family came across to London for creative reasons, to freshen things up, to give ourselves opportunities that we wouldn't have had in Ireland and so on. And the recent move down to St. Leonard's was very much about moving into a more creative environment.

London is super creative, obviously, and super interesting as a city, but I personally am more nurtured by things like the sea and the woods and all of that. London's still on my doorstep and I commute there all the time, but to actually live, this has been a great creative boost for me, and I think that's the end of my moving, but if I felt my creative juices needed it again and it suited, obviously spouse and family and everything, I wouldn't rule it out. I don't think so at this stage, but you never know.

The point being, if you are thinking of quitting a country, a relationship, or any of those big things because you know in your heart and soul that creatively you need it, then quit. Do quit. Leave them. Yeah.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, do whatever it is. So, I hope we've given you lots of examples from tiny things to really big things that we've both quit over the years, but moved into new things. So, that's the way to frame it, for people listening, this is about new opportunities, refreshment, as you've said several times, and the wonderful things that can happen when you make space for it.

So, we are out of time, but we will be back in December. We're going to record just before the New Year, talking about how can indie authors prepare for the opportunities coming in 2023, because once you've made some space, we are going to fill it with some ideas of things.

So, anything that you want to say before we go, what's happening with ALLi people for people who want to catch up there?

Orna Ross: Yes, just that it's the end of the year, we're planning next year. We're going on the road a bit more next year. Yes. So, particularly if you're in New Hampshire, we're looking for somebody to run an event there, and we're going to be out and about.

So, if you've got anything exciting happening in your area and you'd like ALLi to be part of it then drop us a line at [email protected], because we haven't got the travel schedule quite worked out yet. So, we'd like to hear from you about that.

Watch out for your member magazine, members, it should be landing in your inboxes on Wednesday. That's tomorrow. Yes.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic. Right, well, it just remains to say happy writing,

Orna Ross: and happy publishing.

Joanna Penn: We'll see you next time. Bye.

Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads.

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