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Reboot Your Author Brand With Orna Ross And Joanna Penn: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast

Reboot Your Author Brand With Orna Ross and Joanna Penn: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast

Is it time to reboot your author brand and reassess your business? As the world begins to tentatively unlock from social cocooning and quarantine, indie authors and others are reassessing what’s most important to them as writers and publishers. Both Orna Ross and Joanna Penn have used this as a time for reflection and reassessment, and they share what they’ve been doing to reboot their author brands.

You are invited to reflect and reassess too in the light of their insights. And to take away some practical advice on how to make the most of any author business today.

Among the topics they discuss:

  • What does your author business ecosystem look like?
  • Examine your author mindset
  • Creative business is not business as usual
  • What is your author DNA?
  • Branding, positioning and marketing

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.

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Show Notes

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 Transcript: Reboot Your Author Brand

Joanna Penn: Hello everyone.

I’m Joanna Penn and I’m here with Orna Ross and we are doing the Advanced, oh gosh, I’ve completely forgotten-

Orna Ross: The Alliance of Independent Authors, Advanced Self-Publishing Salon, at your service.

Joanna Penn: There we go. Well, you know, I’ve been doing this for several years and I think that’s the first time I’ve really got it wrong. I think it disappeared off our cheat, sorry everyone, I normally read it.

Well, anyway, welcome everybody. And in fact, this is an auspicious start to this evening because we are talking about reassessing your author business and rebooting your author brand and both Orna and I are sort of toing and froing and running around at the moment.

So, today we will be sharing some of that, being quite honest with you guys, as ever, and asking you some questions to think about. But before we do that, as ever, Orna, we should just give a brief update. So, what’s happening with ALLi and also with you?

What’s happened over the last month?

Orna Ross: Yeah. So, at ALLi, we are super excited. We’ve worked with Michael La Ronn, who lots of you will be familiar with, for a very long time and he’s just finished doing an amazing book for us. Michael does the other stream of this podcast, the Member Q&A, with me and we’ve been doing that for some years now. And he is actually going to join ALLi now as part of the team and we’re all really excited. He’s going to be the membership manager, essentially, just because we’re adding also a new category of member.

We want to hook up with the various author organizations around the world and just, you know, freely share with them what we know and have a dialogue with them about their members, and what they do and don’t know about self-publishing, because there’s still a lot of misinformation and people coming from a traditional perspective and he will run that.

We will also be formalizing an ambassador program and he’ll be heading up that as well. So, we have now got a sort of formal connection into the creative industry sector, more than the publishing sector, because it’s kind of more relevant, in seven key territories around the world. So yeah, that’s really exciting, and we’re delighted that he’s available for that. He’s only available because he stopped doing his law degree. He’s still doing his full-time job, minding his kids, and producing books at a rate of knots.

Joanna Penn: From my perspective, I met Michael years ago as well, and he’s one of those excellent people. You know, I think I’m efficient, and then you meet someone like Michael and you’re like, okay then.

So, welcome Michael, and really just brilliant addition to the team. In fact, you and I have talked about this, the number of young people who are kind of taking the indie movement to the next level is very encouraging.

And, you know, I say young, I still think, oh, we’re young, but you know, we’re forties, fifties, sixties whatever.

Orna Ross: Numbers. I don’t do numbers.

Joanna Penn: But it is exciting. And it’s interesting, you mentioned traditional publishing. Of course, we are recording this as things start to change in the pandemic situation but we are seeing a lot of change in the publishing industry, and I think we’re going to see a massive influx of people into indie in the coming months as things really change and cash flow situations change.

So yeah, now’s a very good time to be upskilling and getting more stuff and more people to help up that. So, what about your writing and website stuff?

Orna Ross: Yeah, so it feeds in, you know, my month is really all about the kind of things we’re going to be talking about here today. We were chatting earlier and I said, I feel like I’m taking the level of risk and the level of stride that I took when I started this whole thing, it’s been just a massive turnaround that started for me quite some months ago, actually. It’s like you take a step and you don’t realize, oh, that’s going to bring another decision and that’s going to bring another one.

So, Creative Self-Publishing is my book de jour and, you know, this is happening, just as it was going to the proofreader, who also does my website. So, he was booked in to do the website some weeks ahead and to do the proofreading today. But we turned it around because my website decided to break, obviously in response to me making all these changes. It said, no, this is broken, start again. So, I’m going to do a major website upgrade alongside all of this that I’m doing. Just simplifying everything, which I’ll talk about in a little while, but then feeding some of this back into that book and then I’ll have that at the end of this month. And yeah, nonfiction is still where I’m at very much. So, there will be another guide straight after.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, well, I’ve got Map of the Impossible edits done to my editor and, it’s interesting because it’s really the first time I’ve had a trilogy, like I’ve done trilogies, but this is a real trilogy, you really have to read all three books. And to ending that character arc, when you’re a discovery writer and you’ve just written yourself into some deep holes, I mean, it was difficult. It was a difficult edit to be honest, but I got it done. And now you’re just waiting for that comment, did I pull this off, did this work?

So, I’m very interested in that. Part of changing my process, I think I mentioned this last time, sort of freed up by the pandemic to really examine so much, and I’ve started plotting Tree of Life, which is my next Arkane book, and goodness me, it’s so hard to resist just jumping in and writing.

I am working very hard to create some form of outline before I then dictate. I’m really determined to crack this, so we’ll talk about that at another time, but reinventing one’s creative process can be interesting and working on a business plan mini course at the same time as creating my new business plan.

And also, I’ve got a BookBub on Map of Shadows this week. So, the first in the trilogy. Again, we’ll come back to talking about marketing another time, but really just trying to do the ad stacking approach. So, as ever, just juggling lots of different things. So, that’s us, isn’t it?

Orna Ross: Pretty much. The other thing that’s happening for me, because I am going to be closing down a lot of nonfiction was needing to put the reason that I started a lot of this nonfiction in the first place, you know, put that into its place. So, changing some of the structures and things that have upheld that nonfiction and basically letting them go. So, I’m trying to find ways of just keeping that core mission in place.

But I guess we’ll talk a bit more about that now as we get into our topic.

Reboot Your Author Brand

Joanna Penn: Yes. So, let’s get into our topic today. So, we’re going to split it into reassessing your author business and then rebooting your author brand. So, we’re going to do those two things. So, first up, this is mostly advanced stuff, but we think the questions are going to help you.

This is the Advanced Salon, but if you can think about these questions, when you’re earlier on in your career, this will really help you. But to be fair, even if you do think about it, wherever you are, things will change over time. And as we talked about, in terms of timing, I had a significant birthday this year. I felt it was significant. I turned 45, I’ll admit it. And I really felt this moment. And also, I’ve been doing all of this for a decade and I felt like a decade on, I needed to reassess. So, that’s one thing, but then also the pandemic came along. Which, of course, we weren’t expecting, but has definitely brought a sense of memento mori, remember, you will die. We will all die. Let’s just hope it’s not anytime soon. But also, a time of honesty, a time of examination. What should we let go of? What should we reclaim? So, Orna, in answer to those questions, what have you come up with?

Orna Ross: Well, like you, it started for me a number of months back when I realized that I hadn’t given poetry any publishing juice at all, and I started on that trip ages ago, and I’m not going to talk about that because I have discussed it before. But as I said in the introduction, one thing leads to another and I came to realize, for me, what the lockdown and illness actually, because I did get the thing, I think I did, I haven’t had a test, but it certainly felt like it. What that all did for me was really looking at, but it’s been more the lockdown, sitting still not traveling, not doing my usual level of speaking or the other things that I have been doing for the last eight years since founding ALLi, just  kind of really looking at it in the face.

And I came to realize I don’t have room in my schedule to do nonfiction, fiction and poetry. And signs were on it because I had a lot of fiction projects and a lot of nonfiction projects un-finished, and they were kind of getting in each other’s way all the time. So, I’ve made the big decision, no more nonfiction writing for me at the end of this summer.

Well, for a very long time, until I get my fiction back up and running where I want it to be. Because, when I started out as a self-publisher, it was very much about the fiction for me, and poetry kind of snuck up on me and I’m really thrilled it did, and what’s been wonderful about it is you can fit poetry around writing fiction or nonfiction.

But, I think, because of my background as a journalist, I felt nonfiction will be easier. I thought it would just move faster and easier for me. And it really hasn’t, it’s where I’ve been getting stuck more. I did a series of books. I had to pull them. I wasn’t happy with them. Trying to reinvent them, they’re still not right, and it hasn’t worked. So, I had to be brutally honest with myself, I was trying to do something that I can’t do, no matter how much time I leave. Because I am very patient actually, I’m a very patient publisher and patient writer, I’m willing to wait until it’s right.

But I came to realize this was never going to be right because the whole thing wasn’t right.

How you spend your days is how you spend your life

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and similarly, I looked at it, you know, how you spend your days is how you spend your life. Was that Maya Angelou, or someone like that, said that?

Orna Ross: Somebody wise and wonderful.

Joanna Penn: Yes, and if I look at my business over a decade, so I left my job in 2011. So, I’m almost at 10 years there, but I started writing in 2006. So, it’s been over a decade, and if I look at the percentage of time that I have spent on my nonfiction versus my fiction, and when I say nonfiction, I also mean the podcast and the website and webinars and doing all of that.

And I really just was like, okay, well, of course, I’ve got 10% of the result because I’ve spent 10% of the time. Now, that’s not on the creation side. So, I’ve written what 17 novels at this point. So, I have definitely done the creation side, but I have not necessarily spent so much time in the marketing area for fiction, and it’s really that I feel like it has been harder. So, when you say nonfiction is easier, it is easier to market. It’s so much easier to market. When you write cross genre as I do, that can be hard. And I think I’ve just approached it several times and gone, oh, this is way too hard. I’m just going to go over here and make money that way.

And now the business is mature, and I feel like, as you say, I can take a little bit of effort and move it over. So, I’m not giving up nonfiction and I’m not giving up the podcast. I’m not giving up that stuff. I’m just changing some of my focus and I have reduced the amount of time I’m spending on the website, for example.

Orna Ross: Sorry, could I just pop in on that just to reassure people. ALLi is not giving up nonfiction. Just, I won’t be writing it in future. It will be run by other people and our podcasts and everything that upholds all the guides and everything that we do, all of that will keep running exactly as it always has. It just won’t be me who’s providing the content.

I have said all I have to say, once I finish this Creative Self-Publishing book and the rest of the nonfiction, I’ve said all I have to say on those matters. It’s not the kind of information that needs updating really. It’s more evergreen principles, and I can’t see that I ever really have anything. Never say never, you know, it may pop up eventually, but it’s off the table for me as a writer, for now.

Examine your author mindset

Joanna Penn: Yeah. Yeah. So that’s the first question for everyone is, what have you been thinking about in lockdown?

Think, considering during the pandemic, you know, if you know that you’re going to die, what do you want to achieve in your time that you have, however long that may be? So that’s the first one.

The next thing, I think, is to examine your mindset. And this was really interesting. As Orna said about running around, you know, we didn’t have London Book Fair, which for many of us is about three weeks or more worth of work.

So, we all had that time and then I wasn’t in Nashville. I wasn’t doing all the things. So, this time to really think. So I have very much examined my mindset and I’m going to be open and honest with everyone because we tend to be, and I don’t know if I’d really admitted it to myself before, but I come across as very confident and I am in many ways, but for my fiction, I am very vulnerable. And I think many of you can associate with that. I feel like my nonfiction is useful. I know it’s point in the world, but my fiction, I sometimes struggle with that. And in the early days of being an indie, back when things were very different, you know, there was a lot more hate to be honest, there was a lot more negativity.

There’s still some, but back in those days, I had a lot of nasty stuff. I was early in this space and I was also a new fiction writer. So, to be honest, some of those comments may well have been correct, probably were. But I feel like I’ve been afraid.

I’ve really been afraid of pushing my fiction out there and yet, in this time, I’ve been going through my many thousands of reviews and really going, it’s okay, you know, you just have to be stronger. So, J.F. Penn, Jo Frances Penn has not really had a voice for the last decade and I’m now stepping into that voice.

So, that’s the next question is, why haven’t you done this before and where is your mindset? So, Orna, over to you.

Orna Ross: Yeah, I think I see Lorna there talking about how she’s going to take a sabbatical in the summer to focus on writing, rather than helping other writers. And I remember, I don’t know if Lorna remembers this, but I remember having a conversation with her, it must be five years ago now, where we talked by the shadow career, which a lot of people in the creative arts live. So rather than, you know, step out there as the writer yourself, you help other writers or you might go into editing or take a support role in some way, or just do something that’s related, but not it. And it is fear. And I’m not saying at all that that’s how it is for Lorna. And I definitely know that for me, having ALLi is very important and the two feed each other very much. I know that because when I tried to write full time, I never wrote less in my life, that didn’t work at all. There’s a big part of me needs to do that.

And we’ve discussed that before, you were like that too, Jo.

Joanna Penn: Yeah me too. Yeah. We want to help. We’re not giving that up, it’s just, there’s a bit of a focus shift.

Orna Ross: It’s just the focus shift. Exactly, and the thing is, when you’re in the helping mode, it can be much easier. If you like helping people, which is why we’re doing it, we get a kick out of it at some level, God knows what,  but that’s why you do something like that, and it can be easier to chase that kick. It’s probably a dopamine hit of some kind in our brain that we’ve become addicted to or whatever. It’s easier, anyway, to do these things than to sit down and make up stories. And especially at this time, when there’s so much going on in the world, almost every day, I have people saying to me, it just feels so trivial what we do, you know, I don’t know how to even keep going in the face of what we’re seeing in the US at the moment, never mind all the virus stuff and, you know, how are we going to live from now on, and all of that kind of thing, sitting down and making up stories or poems seems very trivial, but of course it isn’t. But it’s very easy for our rational, reasoning minds to tell us that it is.

And I think the other reason why, and certainly for me, when I was looking at it and I think it might be worth people are having a think about this, there are a lot of tasks to publishing. There are seven different processes. You’ve got to get the editorial, the design, the production, the distribution, the marketing, the promotion. And if you go that way, rights licensing, to be a good publisher. So, this is certainly what was happening for me. I was doing some of those well, and that blinded me to the fact that I wasn’t doing other parts of it well.

And you’ve got to be very honest with yourself, and when you’re busy, it’s very easy to not be honest with yourself. That’s why creatives lock themselves away and, you know, live remotely and everything else because it’s part of the job. So, you have to find a way to get that space, and I’m kind of grateful to this time that I got that space to see it very clearly for myself.

What does your author business ecosystem look like?

Joanna Penn: And with all the negativity and darkness, like looking for the gifts of the pandemic, I think, are important, and I think people are starting to recognize that. So, that’s the first set of questions, but we are not just writers, we’re also businesspeople. So, we have to talk about the business side.

So, the first question is, what is your author business ecosystem right now?

And so, let’s do a sort of audit on what we have. So, for me, obviously for my nonfiction for Joanna Penn, I have The Creative Pen. I have a website, I have podcasts, email lists. I make money with affiliate tutorials, the website, the book sales, courses, and I have social media. But I have a very developed, multiple streams of income, nonfiction business that is 90%, probably, of my business right now in terms of income.

So, then with J.F. Penn, I pretty much have books, well done me, and I have different types of books, obviously, even box sets and audio and all the business. But I have jfpenn.com, the website is not much more than a hub, to be honest, and email list gathering. I also have, one of the biggest things I did this month, is pivot Books and Travel Podcast. I now say, you know, I’m Jo Frances Penn, thriller author. And my call-to-action, I’m just changing all the backlist, it’s now to my free thriller. And so, that’s giving me a voice. I’m actually really starting to be Jo Frances Penn, so much so that people email me and say, should I call you Jo or Joanna? I answer, to both by the way.

So, yeah, I have that and then I have some social media, but essentially, if somebody came along as a consultant and looked at my nonfiction business, they’d be like, that’s brilliant. Look at that, that’s perfect. And they’d look at my fiction business and go, that’s not a business. You might as well be traditionally published, you know? Yes, I have an email list, but I am not doing the things that I do with my nonfiction. So again, it’s like, really honest, what does it look like right now? Write it down. So, this is why I’m updating my business plan. So, Orna, what does your author business ecosystem look like?

Orna Ross: Yeah. So, mine have always, and I think yours too, they fed each other and that will continue, but not in the same way and not as much. So, ALLi pays me a salary for doing what I do there. It’s small, we’re a nonprofit. It always will be small. It’s deliberately kept that way. That’s how we’re set up. It was never the jam and it was never going to be.

So, writing books and my publishing business has provided the other side. Now over there, I’ve had a multiple stream of income business, because I have the creative mentoring that I have been doing for years, and did for years before that, physically, I had moved that into an online thing, and various other bits and pieces around the track is how I’m going to describe it. Based around nonfiction fed the whole publishing business. So, it kept going and it was fine, but it certainly wasn’t impressive, but the two together were fine because I don’t have huge needs.

And you know, I’m at that stage of life, I’m happy with what I have kind of thing. So, it’s easier. But what I’m doing now is I’m taking away everything that isn’t fiction and poetry. It’s going to be book sales or something.

So, what I’ve done with the mentoring is that I’m doing one workshop a month, a planning workshop, which will have some teaching for a small group. And that feeds my need. I love teaching and skills-based training rather than the big webinar, kind of, put out the information. I don’t get as much of a kick out of that.

So, one workshop a month is replacing a whole load of activity that used to go on at that level. Now, I do believe that every author business needs to have a premium product of some kind. I think it’s very, very difficult, unless you’re in genre fiction or it’s a particular type of nonfiction, it’s very hard to have an ongoing business, for the long term, just on books.

Because books, you know, it’s a very, very volatile business. It goes up and down for all sorts of reasons and in all sorts of ways. So, I will come up with something, I have no idea what it is yet, that’s not my priority now. My priority now is to get really good at publishing what I have already and to get new product made and published and out there.

That’s what I mean by, I feel like I’m taking the sort of risks I took back at the beginning. It’s completely stripping away all my safety nets and comfort blankets and just pure exposure in the cold winds of trying to sell fiction and poetry, and the kind of fiction and poetry that I sell, or sorry, that I write, but it is Testament to my faith that anybody I believe now can, and we’ll see if I can, anybody, I believe, if you get it right and that’s something that may well take time, but we have a global audience. They’re out there. There are readers out there who want the kinds of books that I write, that you write, that we all write. If we write well enough and we publish well enough, publishing well enough means finding them and making sure they know about your books and taking them to you. So that’s where a huge amount of my thought is at the moment.

So, I’m starting a new fiction only podcast, Family Histories, Family Mysteries, and even thinking about podcasting from the perspective of the reader is changing things already, you know? So, I’ve only ever podcasted to authors before.

So, yeah, big changes.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, I must say, I love books and travel, you know, I just absolutely love it. I stopped it, early days of the pandemic went, oh, I can’t do this, and then I realized where it fit in my world, and it was such an aha moment. You know, sometimes you just have to start stuff and see where it goes. I didn’t expect it to be like this a year ago. I mean none of us did,

Orna Ross: Yeah but it’s gone in such a different direction, I mean, books and travel, it’s gone in such a different direction, but it is working for you better than the plan you made for yourself. And that’s very often what happens.

Creative business is not business as usual

Orna Ross: I’d love to pick up on a Peter’s comment there. My accountant is telling me to review all my income buckets, how much cash each one attracts and how much effort it takes and focus on the most profitable, efficient to free me up to do the things I really want to do. And I think therein is, and thank you for raising that, I think it’s Peter, or whoever has raised it and-

Joanna Penn: I think it’s somebody else, I think.

Orna Ross: Okay. Well they have put their finger on the nub of the issue, because for us, creative business is not like business as usual. If you’re starting a business, you just set up for profit, you test it properly, off you go, and then it’s still hard to make it work. But creative business is even harder because it’s not purely about profits, it’s always about balancing  the profit and the passion, you know, the meaning and the mission, all of that needs to be in there as well as. But if in doubt, and I think this is a question to ask as well, if you’ve got a whole load of things going on, which a lot of us have, either as distraction or for whatever set of reasons. If you’ve got lots and lots of things going on and you know, in your heart, you should streamline. Using, you know, those two, do I want to lead with passion here or do I want to lead with profit? Money can actually be a great decision maker. If in doubt, let the money lead because, you know, most of us are not valuing our work enough financially, were valuing it too much, perhaps emotionally and money means that you have to engage with your reader. In order to sell a book, you have to actually nurture that relationship and that relationship can lead you to somewhere that you haven’t managed to imagine for yourself.

Joanna Penn: Well, which leads us nicely on. First of all, that was Henry. Hello Henry. Thanks for the question.

Orna Ross: Sorry Henry, I don’t know why you were coming through as Facebook user.

What is your author DNA?

Joanna Penn: Yeah. He wasn’t logged in or something. Anyway, we’re going to move into the next question, which is rebooting your author brand, because this actually is part of what you were talking about, about engaging with the readers.

So, the question here is, how do you know what your brand is anyway?

So, we think we can construct it top down, whereas actually, if you’ve been doing it for a while, like we have, and many of you, you know, this is the advanced salon, then you should have some books, you should have some reviews.

So, one of the things I’ve been doing is mining thousands of reviews, trying to understand where I fit. And this idea of author DNA, I can’t remember who I heard this from, but what are the things that are common to your books? Even if you write different series, cross genre, as I do, what are some of the things that your readers consistently say?

Because we know we think we’re being original with every book, but we come back to the same themes. We come back to the similar stuff. Like for me, religious relics just turn up in all my books, you know, I love architecture, I love culture and art and international locations. And all of those things end up in my books and the themes of good versus evil is really my big thing. You know, defeating the monster, defeating the demon. These are my things. Common themes. And they come up in different guises in each book. But until you actually look at what people say about your books, and I have literally been afraid of reading my reviews. I physically feel it when someone says something horrible.

I get that flush, you know, that flush of almost cold as if, you know, you have a shock and that’s fear. That’s absolute fear of judgment. It’s still fear of judgment for me, I’m being totally honest. But delving into this is the only way that you can then think about, how can I serve that market?

So, neither of us write to market, but I want to write to the people who love my work and how do we tap into that? So, Orna, how about you? What is your author DNA and how do you know about your brand?

Orna Ross: Yeah, I’m finding this one interesting, because what you were talking about when you start off and when you go out. You’ve got a completely different perception of yourself and I’m finding it difficult to see where the nonfiction that I have been doing, and I see where it connects with poetry, but I’m actually finding a difficult to see where that carries over into fiction. And I may need somebody else to help me with that part of it.

And just seeing, because, I mean, I’ve been talking to you about that for years, you know, what is it? So, you say it’s, you know, deeper relationships. And then somebody else says, I love the lyrical language. For me, the only thing I’m sure of is, when it comes to fiction, is that it’s resolving your past so that you can carry on into the future. That’s essentially what all the books have, and then they’re all family. Mystery, murder happens there, but lots of other things happen too. Intense mother/daughter, female relationships. The women are the stars of the books and the men kind of feed that.

So, you know, that’s that and then the other stuff seems to be quite different. But liberation, freedom, you know, that’s where the indie stuff comes in. Living your own life, all that kind of independence is definitely a theme for all of us, for all of us. Yeah, exactly. And our mode of publishing, kind of, is part of that.

And I think that perhaps it’s something that could be integrated in that might be more interesting to readers. I’m not sure, it would have to be done very cleverly, but the point remains, each of us looking and seeing the touch points, the crossroads really, about where these things intersect is useful for branding.

But for me, what I’m actually doing is the opposite. I’m stripping them out. Somebody will know me as a novelist, wouldn’t know me as a poet, wouldn’t know me as the nonfiction writer, that’s the way I’m kind of going. So, I’m trying to just set up separate everything for each of them.

And even the language, the way in which I’m talking to people, I find. This is really helping me to get to grips with it and to get it clear in my own head, and it’s just organically working better that way than when I was trying to see what my unifiers where. It’s actually going better for me to strip them out. Though, I do suspect at the end, then I’ll probably see something I don’t see at this stage.

Branding, positioning and marketing

Joanna Penn: And, I guess, how I want to put it together for people is that when we’re looking at positioning, so branding, I think, is also positioning. So, my series, of which there are some pictures behind me, so I see Barry Hutchinson is talking about his JD Kirk pen name, and I’ve actually been looking at these covers, JD, I’ll call you JD, for my London crime books. And these are so hard to market. The people who find them, love them, but boy, they are difficult. You know, cause they’re not straight crime, they’re not supernatural, they’re not paranormal. There’re so many different aspects.

So, what I’ve been doing is really looking at this promise, and what do readers like in this? And by delving into the reviews, I’m actually finding language that we can use in marketing. So, this is where it’s all going, people it’s going to, how do I market it?

So, I’m having much better success with Facebook ads now I can use language and do things that fit. So, somebody asked me, sorry, the questions are going passed quite fast tonight, which is nice. But I have not had much luck with Amazon ads with my fiction because it’s cross genre. I feel like it works for fiction if you are clearly in a genre and you clearly have a cover that resonates with other people in that genre.

Whereas, my books don’t do that. But with Facebook, I’m having much better success and BookBub ads, much better success, because you can do more kind of cross genre type stuff. So what I’m now doing is doing pitch documents for my books, or I’m calling them repositioning documents like keynotes or PowerPoint decks with, what are the things that I can pull out and who are the true comparison authors, not Dan Brown, for my Arkane series. Because let’s face it, you know, not Stephen King, because these people are too big. They’re just too mass market. We are not mass market. So, this is really interesting work and I am just loving it, I’m loving this investigation.

So, I just wanted to explain that the branding is not just abstract. You know, some designers might say, it’s your font and your colors. That’s not what I’m talking about with branding. It’s more a positioning, and also how can you in future not end up where I have, which is all these different submarkets. How can I offer the promise going forward?

Learning and moving forward

Joanna Penn: And I know, sorry, everyone, we are a bit all over the place with this because we’re right in the beginning of the process.

Orna Ross: Yeah, and we will come back and report how it has gone because it’s bound to take some windy steps along the way, but it does seem important though, to talk about it now, and also to kick it off so that everybody sees it. Because what happens too much in this business, is we see the end product. We see when people are doing well, but we don’t actually see the steps that led to it working out, which very often takes quite a bit of time, trial and error. So, well make mistakes, so you don’t have to, is that what they say?

Joanna Penn: Yeah, exactly. The other thing, or do you have anything else on brand or writing to your readers? Because, for example, Orna you said you don’t really know, but what did you call it, Family History-

Orna Ross: Yeah, so that was a big eyeopener. Family History, Family Mystery, that essentially will cover everything I ever write.

And, you know, I’m going to start off my podcast, which will be, I’m actually going out to my Facebook page after this, my first little 15 minutes is going to be really short, but I’m actually going to start off by just talking about that and inviting people to tell me as readers what they would actually like in an author podcast.

Because I don’t really want to go down the road of interviewing people and stuff like that. I want this to be much more personal and about the stories and, you know, I’ll probably read a poem and that kind of stuff in time. So yeah, Family History, Family Mystery that basically covers it all. But the thing that has definitely been most important for me is separating it out.

So, talking to poetry readers in a completely different way, putting my Instagram for poetry only, my Facebook page is going to be for fiction only, and my Twitter is going to be for the nonfiction and ALLi stuff. So, you know, stratifying that out has also been important. And I’m getting a new author name, I’m sticking an A in the middle between Orna and Ross for my nonfiction. This is really for the stores.

I’m setting up mainly on my own website. That’s another kind of thing that people would say you’re crazy, you’ve got to do the Amazon thing. Well, I’m not. And so, of course, I use Amazon. I will continue to and want to grow Amazon backup to where I had it before. But my own author site, selling my books is working well for me and I bring people over there and I want it to become a hub for my readers. So, the website redesign will really make it all about the books. But on the store people will be able to buy on my website and anywhere they want to buy. I think that’s really important to keep giving your readers all the options they want.

But just splitting out the fiction and the nonfiction, because my author bots were all over the place because I just had poetry, fiction and (inaudible.)

Joanna Penn: It’s so funny because you spent years telling me I needed to take print seriously. And I was like, yeah, yeah, yeah. And I spent years telling you, you needed to split up your author names. So, even when you’re like really good friends and you’re both really good at what you do, you tend not to listen to each other.

Orna Ross: Yeah, it’s true. You don’t do things until you’re ready.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, exactly.

Orna Ross: You can’t and that’s fine.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and I dread to think that people going back and listening to this backlist, over the last three years, we’ve probably changed what we’re saying. But that’s why we do this as well. It’s so important, I think, to listen to people who’ve been around a long time and they all do this kind of thing because you can’t stay the same over two years, five years, 10 years, 20 years, Orna, however long you’ve been publishing.

Orna Ross: 100.

Joanna Penn: And why I listen to Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Kevin J. Anderson, you know, 40 years publishing, still reinventing themselves every couple of months, which is brilliant. So, that’s why we’re being honest with you guys and asking you the questions. So, just to finish up, because we don’t have too much time, what I want to say is that I now, after even my initial investigation, I feel like I have way too much work to do. Down to things like why didn’t I update the formatting on that description on that large print edition six years ago? Why have I not got into my keywords for the last five years? You know, this type of thing. And so, what I wanted to say to people, and a number of people have said they’re finding it difficult to get the focus back, they’re becoming the motivated, motivation has waned, there’s quite a lot of difficult stuff there. I actually feel, and I totally get you, I still have these days, like yesterday, I was really mad, you know, lots of things make you angry at the moment, but it’s this, okay, that’s move forward and make a plan.

So, that’s what I’m doing at the moment. I’m making a plan and trying not to get overwhelmed because, you know, I do have 17 fiction books, plus short stories and things like that. It is easy to get overwhelmed for all of us. So, what you need to do is get out another document. However you want to do it. I quite like keynote actually; it quite helps because you can do lots more pictures and stuff and write down your plan and then start working on the plan. I mean like literally and execute slowly.

And my motto at the moment is yes, work on the plan, but every day I must do one thing for J.F. Penn. So, that might be scheduling a BookBub ad, or it might be updating one description, or it might be making a little video, or it might be a Books and Travel episode, or it might be putting a picture on Instagram, some days.

So, that’s my tip, is make a plan, but equally one thing per day, really small, to get you towards your goal. So, Orna, what are your next steps?

Orna Ross: Yeah, well getting the website sorted, getting the books, I’m doing refreshes on my covers also, because that’s also part of it and I have to change the author name anyway, I’m taking the opportunity to change a few other things. So, lots of work there. I’m just crazy lady, running around, chasing my tail. There are so many small bits of things that need to be done, and sometimes I look at things and literally, I’m boggling. I’m thinking, you didn’t do that? You know, it just seems-

Joanna Penn: It just slipped off the radar!

Orna Ross: -Or things that I thought, like my back matter on my fiction, you know, gosh, it’s so out of date. You know that kind of stuff, but anyway, just going through it all and, for me, what keeps me okay here is knowing this is long term, and I think that’s the most important thing.

We’re still here and able to reinvent what we’re doing, because we already have a flow that is working, and it’s set up to work over the long term. So, we haven’t just done one thing, and while that has given its own problems, they’re sortable problems, they’re not actually very big things. They’re not actually taking a huge amount of time, if you think about it over the span of being an author publisher’s life. It’s not a long time at all for the return that’s hopefully going to be there.

So, I think the long-term thinking is really important when we’re doing the kind of revisioning that we’re talking about here. You started with the memento mori thing, what’s the end game? What do you want to look back on when you turn around at the end of it all, and look back, what do you want to say you did?

And you, you know, you have a sense of that, you’ve known that for a very long time. I had, we all had, we know it, but staying close, you know, staying close to that is challenging always and we will always be inclined to kind of wander off and we have to pull ourselves back.

What’s happening next month?

Joanna Penn: Indeed. So, we know that this has been a challenging episode today. We’ve asked some questions, which hopefully I’ve got your thinking and we’re asking them of ourselves. I hope you appreciate our honesty as ever. We just try and keep it real here. But I guess as ever, I mean, if you’re just starting out, then you’re still writing that book. It’s taking that step by step and the basics are still here.

We’re still writing. I still spent this morning researching the garden of Eden for my next book, as one does. Because we keep writing, we keep publishing, we keep marketing, we keep connecting with each other and those things remain the same. So, Orna next month, because we are coming up to the end, tell us what we’re going to do cover next month.

Orna Ross: Social media actually. Because we haven’t done that for a very long time and, my experience and kind of stripping it all out and trying to set up different social platforms to match the branding that I want to have in the books and the ads, and all of that, I think, will be a good topic for us to delve quite deeply into social and using it to nurture us and feed our creative life instead of using it as a distraction into which our creative life goes kind of down the drain.

How do we actually really use social media well, in terms of connecting with our readers and also feeding and nurturing our creative selves. That’s kind of it, I think.

Joanna Penn: And selling books, I’ll throw that in as well.

And thanks to everyone who is saying that this was a helpful discussion. Mary Lynn says, loving your honesty, heartened to hear how much fear you feel, Joanna. It makes me feel a lot better about my own fear.

Well, thank you, Mary Lynn. I feel like admitting this stuff is really hard, but, as ever, the more honest that we are, the more we realize that other people feel the same way anyway. So, you know, and I wrote the Successful Author Mindset like eight years ago and it has a whole chapter on this. I need to keep bringing it back out again for myself.

Orna Ross: Well, yeah, the thing is that it’s a different mind.

We’ve got both of those minds going all the time and we’ll always have moments of fear. In fact, if you’re not feeling the fear, you’re probably not in the creative zone. If it’s all very comfortable and you’re just churning it out, then it stopped being creative. So, it’s good to be feeling fearful as long as you don’t let fear stop you.

Joanna Penn: Yeah. So, everyone, I guess that’s it for now. So happy writing,

Orna Ross: happy publishing. Bye bye.

Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an editor and writer with more than 30 years of experience in journalism, from newspapers to magazines specializing in business, science, and technology. He has spent the past few years guiding coverage of independent publishing, amplifying voices of the marginalized. Howard is also a book doctor who enjoys working with authors to get their work ready for publication.

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