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The Biggest Self-Publishing Stories Of 2019: AskALLi Advanced Self-Publishing Salon With Orna Ross And Joanna Penn

The Biggest Self-Publishing Stories of 2019: AskALLi Advanced Self-Publishing Salon with Orna Ross and Joanna Penn

In the final AskALLi podcast of the year, Orna Ross and Joanna Penn round up the biggest self-publishing stories of 2019 and look back at the past decade.

What have been the most pivotal moments for authorpreneurs in that ten years and what does it mean for indie authors today?

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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.

Here are some highlights:

Orna, on Changes in 2019

I think the most interesting thing about 2019 is that it wasn't all that interesting. The last two years, last three years, I think, we haven't seen a huge game changer. What we have seen is lots and lots of small incremental changes that we know over time build up to be important things. And we're seeing a consolidation in the marketplace and we're seeing growth in author confidence, I think that's the two things that we've been seeing for for quite a while.

Joanna, on the Indie Movement

In 2012, the Alliance was founded and we've seen lots of author groups as well since then. There's a sort of proud Indie movement, part of the global maker movement and independent creators, force in every industry. We've seen it in music, we see it in art, we see it everywhere. I think the empowerment is hugely important, putting the power in the creator.

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.

Listen to the Podcast: Biggest Self-Publishing Stories of 2019

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Show Notes

“2009 will go down in publishing history as Year Zero for the upcoming ebook revolution.” JA Konrath

  • 2009 – authors could sell their own books to readers (USA)
  • 2011 (cheap ebooks)
  • 2014 (KDP Select – KU)
  • 2018 (Amazon Ads)

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

Joanna Penn: Hello, everybody and welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors Advance Self Publishing Salon with me, Joanna Penn and Orna Ross. Hi, Orna!

Orna Ross: Hi, Jo. Hi, everyone.

Joanna Penn: Hello and this is our very special December 2019 edition coming up to Christmas and if you're watching the video, I have my sparkly Christmas eyeshadow on so I'm in the mood. Orna's not.

Orna Ross: I'm not in the mood. It's only the first or the second or something. I'll be in the mood on the 21st.

Joanna Penn: No, fair enough. But today we have a really interesting show. We're going to do a little roundup of 2019, but also a look back at a decade of self publishing because the birth, let's call it, of modern self publishing in the digital age, really sort of started around 2009. So we're going to be talking about that. So it should be a really interesting show today. But first up as ever, we are writers first, we want to talk about what we're doing and also the Alliance. So, Orna, what is the latest for the Alliance and also for your own writing?

Orna Ross: Yeah, well, if anybody's been sort of on the membership site in the last couple of days or so you will have seen changes. So we're going through a rebrand and an upgrade of the website and you know, stuff that we've been kind of working on for a very long time is coming to a head and hopefully will all be done and completed by the end of this year. So we're in the middle of a really busy period, and lots of, you know, new advice downloads, the team is kind of consolidating.

We're doing a new organizational membership and new Ambassadors Program, Debbie who used to be with us and she was blog editor as a lot of you will know, and had left to work on her own books because she was, you know, the blog is a kind of daily commitment and it's a bit relentless, but actually, we found a little place for her to come back to.

So she is going to be working with the ALLi ambassadors next year to really take things global and to really begin to learn from the different territories that we're involved in but we don't feel like we're getting enough benefit from this kind of big global membership that we have and getting much more pointed around that and also working with the creative industries in six key publishing territories. So yeah, lots, lots going on as ever at ALLi. And for me myself, finishing the year with a book of Christmas poetry, which is the first of a series of gift books that I'm doing, so a nice hardback version, as well as the paperback and ebooks.

And I've been working on sort of my look back over the last 10 years of creative self publishing is how I'm thinking of it and really, everything I've learned from working myself as a self publisher, and from the number of indie authors that I've kind of observed and seen and the sort of picking out from all the confusions and all the things that go on all the time, the core stuff, the stuff that doesn't change, the stuff that I think is the most important and it applies to every indie. So it's taken me quite a while to put this book together but first off finished in the deep dig phase now, which is my favorite place to be in. So that's me.

Joanna Penn: Well, fantastic. Well, we've got to ask you about that hardback edition. Are you doing it through IngramSpark?

Orna Ross: Yes, of course, the wonderful Ingram Spark, sponsor of this very show.

Joanna Penn: Yes, so we do want to thank IngramSpark for the support of the show. We both use IngramSpark and many indie authors do to do a lot of print editions including hardbacks which, you know, we can do print on demand hardback. I do every book now in hardback as well. I love it. I'm doing my backlist. Like there's just no reason not to. They look good on the vanity shelf. I have one here. So, yes, so thank you in response, it's your content, do more with it. Thank you to them.

So just in terms of what I'm up to. So one of the, in terms of publishing, my Productivity for Authors is out. This is the second time I have managed to get all the editions ready for launch, 10th of December 2019. So I've got ebooks on all the stores, obviously wide ebooks, the audio books are also wide on all the stores, paperback, large print, hardback, workbook editions all on the same day. So I'm pretty proud of that. And as I said, it's only the second time I've managed to get everything together. Now, of course, you know, it doesn't all come together live on the same day. And many people say, “How can you launch a book, you know, with all the editions on the same day?”

The point is, you have to get them all loaded up, and then you just announce it on one day, once they're all there and like audio, you can't control when audio arrives, you just have to load it and wait and see if it gets there. So, as it was, my audio got there faster than expected. So I just wanted to mention that. So it is possible to launch all editions at the same time. You just have to have a bit of patience and put everything up, you know as as it happens, so I'm doing that.

I did NaNoWriMo officially, but I only managed, I'd say only, I did around 15,000 words on my third Matt Walker trilogy. And I just wasn't, you know, because my writing process is very much deep research. Like, I love the research process. So I can't necessarily just write a lot of words, I wrote some words, and then I needed to go back to research. So I moved on to another book. So I started my Audio for Authors book, which I had started back in August. So aiming to get that first draft done.

So and that's another tip for people, you know, if you're not feeling it with one book, one of the good things about writing multiple genres is just start on something else. And, you know,I've been zooming along on that. So I've got about 40,000 words on that now. So that will be out in February 2020. And that's about audio books, podcasting, and voice technologies.

So yeah, and I mean, that's the book I've been trying to write all year and I feel like now it's just pouring out of me because I have done all the research. So now it's a case of, you know, really putting it together and it's so funny because we've had this talk about writing evergreen content. I've just been trying and I can't make this book evergreen because these voice tech things change so fast. So I anticipate a kind of every three years new edition type of thing.

Orna Ross: I think that's the nature of the world we're in. I also think this is a very important book for the community. We don't really have a full guide like this at the moment. I'm not aware of one. I think-

Joanna Penn: No, there's books on audio books, there's books on podcasting, but there's nothing on everything. And I've got a whole thing about audio ecosystems and audio first mindset and things that, yeah, you're right. haven't really been done yet. So once again, I feel like it's an important thing, but who knows, but the other thing and you've heard it, I've put it on my podcast as well, Descript, who I've been working with for a voice double gave me my first iteration and which is my AI voice, essentially. Tell me what you thought about it.

Orna Ross: I heard it, it's incredible. I was blown away, absolutely. I was slightly moved, actually, which was a really kind of funny experience. And I'm not even quite sure why that is. But it definitely sounds like you, without a doubt, it sounds like you. It's not 100% natural, but it was far more natural than I expected it to be from what you had described and, you know, how they're describing it. And I know the tech is moving really, really fast. So it seems to me that it's almost ready. Would you agree?

Joanna Penn: Yeah, I mean, I think, if not, by the end of 2020, it will be 2021 when we're going to have, I mean, already in the last week, Alexa now has emotion, they've, you know, you can now have and they've opened it up to the developers, which is the key point. So I think, yes, we're going to have emotional voices. The main question, the next question will be do we want AIs to sound exactly like humans, which is a whole ethical piece that we'll probably come back to another time but it certainly I didn't expect to have a workable voice double by the end of the year. And it's certainly, it's certainly workable, although I won't be doing audiobooks with it yet.

Orna Ross: It's amazing. And just in case people don't quite get what it means, what it means is that we can actually have our own voices reading our own books without us having to go through the excruciating pain of reading them ourselves. And so, you know, we are seeing in the marketplace that there are two kinds of readers, those who love to hear the author read their own stuff and those who do it really can make superfans out of people, that sort of voice connection's very intimate and they really, really love it.

There are those who prefer a more sort of polished actorly kind of delivery and that's fine too. But, and yeah, it's really exciting and as well as cutting out a lot of time and effort on the author's part, obviously it will also be a lot cheaper to produce audio books. So audio books are going to, they're already booming, they're going to boom even more in the indie space. Yeah.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, not just in the indie space, in the international space. So we're going to and you'll be able to license voices. So yes, you'll be able to license my voice to read your audio book, I think from 2021. That's my pick. But we're going to come back to our future show in January. For now, we are going to get into our topic for today, we're going to start with a look back at 2019. Because Orna, at the beginning of every month, you post an article on the Alliance of Independent Authors blog at selfpublishingadvice.org and today, you did post a roundup of 2019. So give us a quick overview of what you think were the kind of key points from 2019.

Orna Ross: I think the most interesting thing about 2019 is that it wasn't all that interesting. The last two years, last three years, I think, we haven't seen a huge game changer. What we have seen is lots and lots of small incremental changes that we know over time build up to be important things. And we're seeing a consolidation in the marketplace and we're seeing growth in author confidence, I think that's the two things that we've been seeing for for quite a while.

So some of the platforms had very good years where they brought really interesting and useful things to the indie community I think PublishDrive had a standout year, they brought in lots of different innovations and new ebook conversion tool, collaboration tool, book categorization tool using AI and a new pricing option, which was great.

And Findaway Voices in the audio world also had a great year and now I think audio is kind of settled much more. There was not that long ago Indies thinking about audio only thought about Amazon ACX. I think now people are approaching audio very much in the way and as ALLi recommends this, I know you do too, very much approaching with the same kind of mindset which is non exclusive and reaching as many people and as readers as possible. And with print you do that by combining Ingram Spark and Amazon and KDP print and in the audio sphere you're doing is really with combining somebody like Findaway and ACX. So there are lots of things happening in the wider print world.

From a UK perspective, we have watched our biggest chain bookstores, physical bookstores chain, Waterstones transform itself in the last few years and down to the CEO who was brought in a few years ago to do that job and has succeeded in doing it, James Daunt and he has now taken on Barnes and Noble not instead of Waterstones, as well as Waterstones, so he's obviously a man with an appetite for work. So big, big job, physical stores, obviously trade publishers got a lot of thinking and thought around that and some indies to have a print store model but as we know, they're very much in the minority.

We were thinking more about Nook and what might happen there. And it looks like it's going to be held anyway for a while because there was talk about it being axed. So it's still there and he intends to to improve that and bnn.com as well. So, yeah, lots of, Bookbub brought in Chirp, the first advertising platform aimed at audio books, so you know, they're aiming to do for audio books about Bookbub has done for ebooks. It's only in the US at the moment, but presumably will be coming to the rest of the world as well and there's already kind of taking off.

Google is indexing podcasts now and it will be easier for authors to use podcasts to advertise their audio books. So all in all audio is getting easier and easier. I think that we will continue to see that development. And the other big thing I think that happened with advertising was Amazon has extended now Amazon advertising into the UK and into Germany and the rest of the stores. It's just a matter of time.

So yeah, nothing that I could find that was kind of really major game changer. But sometimes the game changers emerge when you look back and it seemed to be a year of incrementals is how I would kind of think of it.

Joanna Penn: That's true. I do want to add that I think this year, like about libraries. I think in the past, we've had a few tentative approaches to libraries. You know, we thought when Overdrive went to Rakuten, which owns Kobo, we thought “Oh, yay, libraries gonna take off!” Then, you know, we've had even Joe Conrath, like years ago, came up with LibraryThing. We've had selfie thing, but nothing has done much for libraries.

But what I've personally seen and I know a lot of other people have seen, is with Findaway, the distribution of audio books to libraries and the pay per checkout model, which you can get through Draft2Digital and Findaway means that you can say, your marketing can be, “Hello readers, you can get my ebooks and audiobooks for free if you go to your library and ask them to request my back catalogue.” And I'm seeing growth in library checkouts and sales because it's free for the reader to go and get it from the library.

And it's much cheaper, especially because we've also seen one of the big publishers particularly deciding not to put books into libraries within the first couple of months, because they want to maximize sales rather than borrows. So I think, you know, for the library market, which I know is not, like, massively significant, but it It's been so small for indies that this maybe has been a pivotal year for library.

Orna Ross: I think that is right. And I think Kobo Rakuten being in that space has made a difference. And you know, that again, like most of these things, it's slow build. Libraries don't make your fortune but they are fantastic discoverability outlets, and real readers are there and borrowing and there is research that proves conclusively that library borrows will lead to sales for indies as well as in trade books, which has long been the case and yes, there is that standoff between a number of publishers actually in the US and the US libraries and also some academic publishers and libraries as well.

There's kind of a copyright row going on, which to me doesn't make a lot of sense, I have to say, and which does represent a real opportunity for Indies, and we love libraries. Don't we? I mean, as always, you know, I think we all have a love affair and find libraries to be romantic places. So it's great. Yeah.

Joanna Penn: We do. So a big tip everyone, first of all go and request your favorite indie books into your library, local libraries, but also tell your readers to request their favorite books in libraries. So I think the more we can get the word out, the more that's going to help. Okay, so that is a great roundup of 2019.

But what we're going to do now is step back in time and do a decade of Indie which I really got quite excited about doing and spent some time preparing this today because I was like, “Oh my goodness, this is so exciting.” Because I have, you know, both of us have been around, you know, this long.

Orna Ross: The grand old dames of indie.

Joanna Penn: People call me, like, grandma, and I'm not a grandmother, you know, it's fine being a grandmother, but I'm not a grandmother of Indie by any means, but basically, I'm going to start off because we're not going to go through excruciating detail of a decade. What we're going to talk about some of our highlights, but also some of the main inflection points in the indie author movement and the indie author business models.

Because what I feel is that, you know, things have really taken off, particularly in the English speaking markets at this point, but people don't necessarily realize that the business models have changed over the years. And if you take a year like 2019, where it seems like not much has changed, not much does change in a year, but a lot changes over a decade. And we can see that in our own lives as well as in Indie. so I'm going to start by just popping back to 2009. JA Konrath.

If people weren't around back then we are going to put links in the show notes, JA Konrath was one of the first traditionally published authors to really make a big name in the early indie space and on one of his blogs he said 2009 will go down in publishing history as year zero for the upcoming ebook revolution. So what do you think about that quote, Orna?

Orna Ross: I think Joe is American, and I think it was year 0 For the US, absolutely. Kindle, I think, about 18 months before, 2008 was when Kindle came along. And it was 2009 when US authors began to really see the opportunities and a lot of the opportunities indie, to this day, as we see break first in the US, and they get rolled out into the rest of the world. And I think that was the year when it became viable to make a living as an indie author and the early adopters saw that and it definitely was driven by Amazon.

And also the iPhone came along at that time. People were generally, yeah, just availing of this opportunity and also began to talk to each other and you had this thing that emerged for the first time where trade published authors were kind of doom and gloom and those who had started to self publish there was quite a bit of, “Oh, I never would. Oh dear, no,” you know, from a lot of authors, but the ones who are doing it were quite obviously having a great time. And those early adopters, they definitely got the benefit of that.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, definitely. And although I self published my first book in like 2008, 2009 was when I put my first book on the Kindle. I also started my podcast in 2009, which is kind of crazy. I bought my first iPhone in 2009 and was using, before that I had one of those Nokias so it was my first smartphone and I joined Twitter in 2009. I met you on Twitter, it must have been 2010, 2011.

And realistically, it was the beginning of the transition to the consumption of digital media, which we can also put down to podcasting, audio books. Before then it was really was a, you know, we were kind of an mp3 stage with audio, but it was downloadable stuff. Ebooks had been around but they were downloadable PDFs from websites.

So there wasn't like a reader particularly, and the Sony reader was around. But then, you know, the Kindle really made it mainstream. So 2009, a decade ago, US first, it really became viable for independent authors to make a living with their writing. So that was the beginning. Then we're just going to skip ahead quite quickly. So 2010 Apple iBooks launched.

So after Amazon being a pioneering company, iBooks launched. 2011 was when we really saw a tipping point with US Kindle millionaires, so the first Kindle millionaire Amanda Hocking. It was an era of low priced ebooks. So put up books at 99 cents. You didn't even need much of a good cover, like the covers were really crap back then. And you could you could make a million. So we had Amanda Hocking, we had John Locke and we had a couple of other people at the time. It was, yeah, before the era. Oh, sorry.

Orna Ross: And we have me. Not a millionaire by any means, the opposite ends of the spectrum.

Joanna Penn: I wasn't a millionaire. I'm still not a millionaire.

Orna Ross: But no, I think 2011 was, so it had been there. And I had been hearing about it. And I was having, you know, I wasn't happy with where I found myself as an author and so I kind of jumped in. No, I didn't, I dipped my toe very tentatively in this thing called self publishing. “What is it? I don't really get it. I'll give it a go.” And so yeah, I just thought I'd say that was when I started.

Joanna Penn: So 2011 but you'd been watching the space, hadn't you?

Orna Ross: Can't say that I had been watching it all that carefully, to be perfectly honest. I had, I knew it was there, I had author friends who were doing it. They were all very techie types. I'm not a techie type. And I thought, Oh, you know, I thought, “That's kind of interesting.” And I was wondering a lot about the rights stuff, that was that bit that always intrigued me, “Oh, you get to keep your rights. That's interesting.” But it wasn't until I did it that I became interested. So I really did do it very, very much in the spirit of an experiment. And I did a tiny little book, a tiny poetry book.

And, you know, it's interesting about that early adoption thing because I put that tiny poetry book up and it sold. And that, to me, was hugely surprising, you know, I was saying to you earlier on, I think it sold about 50 odd copies within a few weeks, which for poetry and me, you know, I just thought that was astonishing, to be perfectly honest, because I know I had worked as a literary agent. And I know that loads of poetry books don't sell 50 books in their entire life.

So again, it's down to what you said, a decent cover at that time was all you needed, no matter what the content was, it was, you know, all you had to do is put up there. And when I put my novels up, they were all, you know, they all just very easily rose up in the ranks. You put a book free, you got to the top of the free store, you switched over, and you gain-

Joanna Penn: And you kept your ranking.

Orna Ross: You kept your ranking. And that was marvelous, wasn't it? Remember those golden days.

Joanna Penn: I remember those golden days. And this is why we wanted to do this because these changes have happened so many times and each change people adapt. What I was going to say there is 2011 was when the authors were the backlist. So Barbara Freese and Bella Andre who come out of romance publishing, had a backlist, I think, of 30-50 books.

And they were the authors who early on went “Whoa! We're going to put our backlist up” and they were, you know, they were the big name indies in those days. Hugh Howie came in around then and also we saw a big discussion in the media even of self publishing versus traditional publishing, especially because Amanda Hocking took a traditional deal and then disappeared off the radar. But what do you remember, I guess, of that dominant time, I feel, where everyone was like “Ooh, self publishing, ooh traditional publishing!” like, bit of a fight.

Orna Ross: Yeah, there was and, you know, and it still is to some degree and I really think it's time we forgot about all that. It's not a useful way of thinking about things for Indies. We really need to think about this bundle of rights that we own and the multiple platforms and the multiple formats that we can put our books out in. In fact, it still remains that is the big fundamental thing that kind of intrigued me at the beginning, that fact that you keep your rights, you don't sell them. You can license them selectively for short terms as an indie but you don't hand over the whole lock stock and barrel.

So there was then and there still is in some quarters, it's definitely has lessened, but it hasn't disappeared completely sort of prejudice against self publishing as an option. There are all sorts of very specific historical reasons for that around vanity publishing and other things, which aren't really that important. But to the media, I think it's it's worth saying, do not get your information about self publishing from trade media press, because still to this day, it's reported in very inaccurate ways. That was true, a false war was set up between authors and between publishers, you know, indie publishers, trade publishers, indie authors, which isn't useful, isn't real and yeah, I'd like to see back off.

I hope that with this decade, turn of the decade, let's see that one out. And I think the next biggest change everybody would agree was the launch of KindleUnlimited, and so in 2014, this was the next pivotal kind of big important move and big important shift. So we saw Kindle Unlimited, which was KDP, Amazon KDP Select, changed, really, the way in which authors could publish and could market their books. And it was a subscription model.

It was a good idea. You could see where it was coming from. The payment method was different to it was done on pages read. And but one of the issues was that the scammers came into the store in a big way. That was one problem.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, well, I think and one of the, why we wanted to bring this up is that so many authors now came in after this shift. And there is a big mindset difference between those of us who have been around longer. Because for me, like people question why we would be wide, whereas a lot of, like, we all started out as wide. Like Smashwords, which has been around wide since like, 2007, I think. Mark Coker has always been wide and has always counseled against being exclusive with Amazon. What we saw in 2014 was suddenly there was a reason to be exclusive to Amazon and of course, because most, you know, there's a big, the biggest market is the US still, and the US, mainly indies, were based in the USA, and they were like, “Oh, wow, you know, this is great.” So they all piled in.

But then what we saw, what we have seen since 2014 is incremental changes in various algorithms. And suddenly that became the dominant conversation amongst the, you know, sort of growth indie blogs and Facebook groups and various other things. So we wanted to point this out, like, one, this was a significant shift, you know, before that we had, you know, in the years before we'd had Kobo Writing Life, Draft2Digital, ACX, you know, ACX we mentioned that, you know, IngramSpark, we had all these new companies that enabled people to go wide, and yet then in 2014 people were opting to really just go digital Amazon only and the ramifications of that change were huge.

So I can certainly say, from my perspective, that my book sales dropped at that point on Amazon and most people's sales, you know, without advertising, which we'll come back to, have not recovered from that pre 2014 moment, because it used to be that customers could only buy, and then suddenly, they could be in KU. So for authors, was this great? It's questionable. But all of these things are incremental change. Well, this was not an incremental change. This was, like, a pivotal shift in the business model of being indie. So any further thoughts on that?

Orna Ross: I think the answer is that for some authors, it was good and for some it really wasn't and then the question is, is it good for the community as a whole? Which is a different thing. Again, we saw the early adopters who went in who cleaned up, you know, some people did really, really well at the beginning without having to do a whole lot and but going, you know, KU now today is a very different place and space to the space that was there in 2014.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, definitely. And I think the other thing that has changed, the conversation shifted from kind of trad pub versus Indie, and then it became exclusive versus wide. So that's been the kind of dominant conversation between indie authors since then, and also a lot of misunderstandings about what these things mean. Like exclusive only means your ebooks, your print books can be wide, your audio books can be wide. But I think, you know, things have not stopped changing with those algorithms since then. And we're going to talk in the next show about what might happen in the 2020s. But, yeah, so that was 2014.

Orna Ross: Yeah. And there were only a few little things between then and it was almost four years later before the next pivotal thing. So you know, we have Barnes and Noble pulled out off the rest of the world and focused on their US business. They sold the UK Nook to Sainsbury's, who then sold it at a supermarket, who then sold it out to Kobo, which was fine. And we had the merge of CreateSpace and KDP Print in 2018. That was a significant thing, but not as significant as Amazon ads.

Joanna Penn: Yes, say 2018 was probably the next big shift in the in the indie author business model. Up until 2018, you really could just load a book onto Amazon and have some kind of organic reach. And of course, the same had been true on Facebook up to probably about a year before that. You'd been able to build a business on Facebook without paying for advertising. So what we had 2017, 2018 was suddenly the pay to play model came in, and it was sort of September 2018, 2017, something like that when the big name authors suddenly reported a massive drop in organic reach and also boughts and the big discussion with suddenly, “Oh, right, right, we have to do something.”

And certainly I've noticed this, you pretty much now, we are past, we are a decade beyond being able to upload a book to Amazon and expect it to sell. And you and I both hear from authors every day who think that publishing involves loading a book up on Amazon. And yes, that's true, but no one's going to buy it, because no one can find it in the store. So this was possibly the biggest shift in terms of mindset to the independent author movement, because we had always been, up until then, under the sort of idea that you could just put stuff out there for free and have it sell. So that was a huge moment. I think people are still trying to come to terms with this and what you have to do. So what do you think about this, Orna?

Orna Ross: Well, I think, you know, one of the things that I believe is that, again, it's a discussion that people, there are various discussions in the Indie community that are had very publicly and then they're taken as being true of the entire community and they're not. So what happened was the people who were kind of already successful already selling books had, you know, came in on the ads thing and then went an ads worked and then when ads stopped working so well for them, you know, this becomes kind of the conversation and it is assumed that everybody's experiencing the same thing.

And what actually is happening with ads is that in any business, you have to market and in any business, you have to invest money and time and marketing. And the situation, I think, whereby you could just launch a book and put it out there and it would sell was never going to be something that would last forever, it is down to the early adoption thing. The thing is that people didn't realize that I think and that led to a false conversation. And it's a false conversation that that then everybody thinks is actually the conversation. And that's the problem that I see again and again.

So there are lots of people for whom Amazon advertising is not their marketing of choice who are selling books. There are other ways to sell books. And it's a big decision, you know, to decide to do Facebook advertising or Amazon advertising, I saw an ad for a course recently that said, “Advertising works.” Well, yes, but it works in certain circumstances for certain authors with certain books. And that's not said often enough. So advertising is just a way of marketing your books and you have to have some way to market your books. And the attention that we pay, the way in which we have the conversation worries me, I think that's the thing I'd like to say more than anything else?

Joanna Penn: Hmm. So I think, you know, when we consider it now, it's almost like if you wind the clock back a decade, you pretty much could do an ebook and upload it to KDP or Smashwords. I mean, because KDP was originally only for Americans, I did my first ebooks with Smashwords. So that was what we did first. And then, you know, and it was you who got me back into print around 2014, I think. I wasn't even going to bother with print. And then, as you say, where we are now, if you look at what's happened, we have had a huge expansion.

And yes, it's been incremental, but there's been an expansion of opportunities for what we can do as independent authors. We can do ebooks in every country in the world. We can do print books in pretty much every country in the world, print on demand. We can do audiobooks all over, like, in a lot of different countries, probably everywhere with Findaway and various places.

So and then we can also do licensing, many authors are now doing foreign rights licensing. We can reach people through all these different mediums, through the internet, we can make a living with our writing. So all of that has happened. But it's almost like it's happened bit by bit by bit. And yet, whoa, look at it! And now we've got so much choice. That's why it can be confusing.

Orna Ross: Absolutely, and so in some ways, somebody who's starting off now, coming in now, you know, sees three formats, ebook, print book and audiobook and the variety of platforms and you can choose to, you know, you can choose to go off, of course, exclusive to any player or you use a distributor to take you wider than that. And so it isn't all that complicated now, if you're coming in right now. I think the people who have had the most complex actually are the people who joined in the last two or three years. So, yeah, I mean, the most important thing for me, as I kind of sit here and observe things, is how hugely the confidence in the author community has grown.

And I think we cannot underestimate the effect that that's going to have in the next 10 years. And we're not going to talk about the next decade because that's the subject of the next show. But I do think that's the thing that as I look back over the last 10 years, as I think about myself 10 years ago, where I was, on the floor, actually, not knowing where to go next, feeling really stuck, because a lot of indie authors who come into the space now, don't remember the Dark Ages, when you only could publish through a trade publisher.

And if you had gone through a trade publishing deal, and it hadn't turned out the way you wanted it to turn out you really were in a very difficult place or if you couldn't get a publisher. You know, the number of books that we lost in those years because authors just couldn't were stopped from going any further. So for me that “Publish me please!” desperation that used to exist then, very understandably, that's still there a bit for some authors who want validation more than they want, you know, production or publication.

It's still there a little bit but back then is actually had a grip of our throat, you know, and author's were going into a negotiation with a rights buyer, a trade publisher, in a very weak negotiating position, you basically took whatever they offered and they didn't offer very much. So all of that's changed so completely. And I love that. That's the thing that's to me is the biggest and most important thing that has come out of the past 10 years.

Joanna Penn: And we should say obviously, in 2012, the Alliance was founded and we've seen lots of author groups as well since then. There's a sort of proud Indie movement, part of the global maker movement and independent creators, you know, force in every industry. We've seen it in music, we see it in art, we see it everywhere. So I think I agree with you. I think the empowerment is hugely important, putting the power in the creator.

And then of course, just to reiterate that although the fundamental, you know, hasn't changed, there have been these few inflection points that have made a big difference to how we make a living and of course, this is the advanced salon so we do talk about money, and I, in 2009, I had a day job and that's when I learned about, you know, how you could self publish. 2011 cheap ebooks, 99 cent Kindle millionaires, I left my job in 2011. 2014, which is when KDP Select and KU came in, and then 2018 Amazon ads.

Those are the kind of biggest shifts that I think have impacted our business model of how we make a living. But of course, I, all the way, have made multiple streams of income, as have you, we have never made our entire income stream from book sales. This is really, really important. So yeah, what are the other fundamentals that don't change, Orna? We always talk about multiple streams of income, what else doesn't change?

Orna Ross: Well, you know, understanding the value of copyright and understanding the concept of what we're now calling selective licensing. I think that is something that you need to be aware of. You needed to be aware of it 10 years ago, you need to be aware of it now, you will need to be aware of it forever. That's a sort of a core thing. Taking a creative approach, not believing, you know, there's a lot of conversations, a lot of heated conversations in our community. We have a fabulous supportive community, but we can be a little dramatic at times.

So don't believe everything you hear. And if somebody tells you something about self publishing, test it, try it for yourself. Because we're all different. We all have different readerships. We're at different stages in our career. And as we can see, things are constantly changing. So the only way to know whether something works or not for you is for you to give it a go and do everything in the spirit of “I'm trying this out. If it doesn't work out, no worries I've learned.” So I take that learning into the next thing. Trying to get it right, trying to second guess the market, trying to do something that somebody else did. I see that not working all the time.

And understanding that we are in business. I think that's the other core fundamental. It's not the same to be in businesses as to have a career. They are two different choices in life. And if you're running a business, up your business skills a little bit. I know a lot of authors have an aversion to business skills as a concept. On the way they're taught a lot is very dry and very boring. I get all that. I am that kind of person myself, but knowing the fundamentals of how business works, and what, you know what a good business person does.

So for example, that marketing is part of publishing, publishing is a business that isn't just production. It's also about marketing, promotion, selective rights licensing and running your own business. So understanding that and giving yourself plenty of time to learn and to grow. So not putting a lot of time pressure on yourself, realizing this is, you know, a long term thing, owning your rights, you own them forever, for 70 years after you, your family will own them. So there is no mad rush here. It's important to just get it right as you go.

Joanna Penn: Yes, and of course, what also doesn't change is creating valuable intellectual property assets, which is, I think, how I'm framing it for 2020 in my goals is “I create intellectual property assets,” which goes beyond “I write books.” That's how I'm really trying to think about it going forward, which again, it's two parts of the brain, I know, the creative side, the business side, but they have to go together. And that's how we're going to do this for at least another decade. So any other thoughts now, or should we look forward?

Orna Ross: I think let's talk about it next time because I think that idea of intellectual property assets from our old copyright is a great way to finish this look back at the last 10 years.

Joanna Penn: Yeah. Brilliant. So next show is going to be on the sixth of January 2020. And we are entering the 2020s which is kind of crazy. And so in our next show, we are going to think and Orna and I are both going to really have a think and do some research. You know, I'm obsessed with all of this futuristic stuff, and Orna knows a lot about, a lot more than she gives herself credit for around some of this technology. So we are going to really, in the next show, look at what we think the trends are going to be for authors and creatives going into the 2020s. Obviously, we can't make predictions but what we can do is look at what some of the things are that we're interested in that we think might impact you guys and also the things that we are personally doing to position ourselves for continued creative and business success. Anything, Orna?

Orna Ross: And the fact, I think, that the future is here. A lot of the things that we're thinking about, as you know, “This is coming” are actually, they have arrived. And I think it's important to kind of recognize that and to begin to shift the thinking around that a little bit more in the community and get out of the, you know, the things that we talked maybe too much about and start talking about some of these incredible opportunities and potential that's coming and already here.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and also just to say we picked three or four inflection points from the last decade. So you can expect there to be three or four inflection points in the author business in the next decade and again, we can't pick what they are but we have to expect that change will come and we will be ready and we'll be here, won't we, Orna? We're always here.

Orna Ross: The roaring 20s, here we come.

Joanna Penn: So I guess all I'll say is happy holiday season to everybody, hope you stay sane and get some creative work done amongst all the festivities wherever you are.

Orna Ross: Yes, have a great time. Happy writing, I hope, and happy publishing until the next time. Bye bye.


Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an author, book editor, and journalist. He is also the Content and Communications Manager for the Alliance of Independent Authors, where he hosts and produces podcasts and keeps the blog updated. You can find more of his work at https://howardlovy.com/


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