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Advice From SelfPubCon And Amazon UK’s Storyteller Award, With Sacha Black And Orna Ross: Self-Publishing Fiction & Nonfiction Podcast

Advice from SelfPubCon and Amazon UK’s Storyteller Award, With Sacha Black and Orna Ross: Self-Publishing Fiction & Nonfiction Podcast

In this session, ALLi Director Orna Ross and author Sacha Black talk about lessons learned about current trends in self-publishing fiction and nonfiction from taking part in two key indie author events: the Self-Publishing Advice Conference (SelfPubCon) and Amazon UK’s Storyteller Award.

They discuss the experience of judging the award and overseeing the conference and invite your questions about the top takeaways for authors.

Orna and Sacha discuss:

  • The Storyteller Award – Shortlist & Winner
  • What makes a prize-winning book
  • Tips for indie authors looking to enter Storyteller Award 2021
  • SelfPubCon – Tools & Tech for Indie Authors

And more!

Our fiction and nonfiction salon is brought to you by specialist sponsor Izzard Ink: helping you navigate the publishing world while you stay in control of your work. Izzard Ink Publishing—Self-Publishing is no longer publishing by yourself. We would like to thank Izzard for their support for the show.

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ALLi's @OrnaRoss and @sacha_black talk about lessons learned from two key indie author events: SelfPubCon and Amazon UK’s Storyteller Award. #AskALLi Click To Tweet

Find more author advice, tips and tools at our Self-publishing Author Advice Center: https://selfpublishingadvice.org, with a huge archive of nearly 2,000 blog posts, and a handy search box to find key info on the topic you need.

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.

About the Hosts

Sacha Black is a bestselling and competition-winning author. She writes the popular YA Fantasy Eden East novels and a series of non-fiction books that are designed to help writers develop their craft. Sacha has been a long-time resident writing coach for website Writers Helping Writers. She is also a developmental editor, wife and mum.

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

Read the Transcripts: Storyteller Award and More

Orna Ross: Hello everybody, and welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors Fiction and Non-Fiction Self-Publishing Advice Salon with Sacha Black. Hi Sacha.

Sacha Black: Hi Orna.

Orna Ross: And me, Orna Ross.

This show is sponsored by the wonderful Izzard Ink, and their slogan is, where self-publishing doesn’t mean publishing on your own.

They believe in a very collaborative process, so if you’re the kind of person who would like somebody to hold your hand from soup to nuts then check out Izzard Ink.

Storyteller Award – Shortlist & Winner

So, we are talking, this evening, about two events, two big events that have just happened in the last, well, one of them just literally, in the last hour and the other over the past weekend.

So, this year, Sasha was a judge for the Storyteller Award, which is the biggest award in independent publishing. And we have just finished the SelfPubCon, the Self-Publishing Advice Conference from the Alliance of Independent Authors, which is the biggest self-publishing conference in publishing, well, in self-publishing, well, we’re saying so anyway.

So yeah, talk to me, we’ve just come off the virtual awards, which is not quite the same as having been at the nice, well, it’s always a nice evening out at the Storyteller Award. Talk to us a little bit about, well, first of all, we want to talk tonight about events and how they can help to sell books, but also what judges are looking for in books that are nominated for competitions, and also some of the tools and technology that was highlighted in SelfPubCon this time round, because that was our theme, tools and tech; for those of you who haven’t had a chance to go there yet.

So, talk to us about the Storyteller, it was your first time to judge it. It’s good fun, right?

Sacha Black: It was super fun. I have done judging before, but this one was obviously on a much larger, more prestigious scale. So, it was very interesting. It was interesting to see my mindset shift as a judge, as well.

We were given a set of criteria. It’s the Storyteller, and so some of the things that you might presume, like really high-quality prose, or “beautiful prose”, I say that in air quotes, weren’t necessarily what we were looking for; we were looking for story, really solid story. So, that was an interesting exercise for me to put that hat on and I guess you have to remove your biases, you know, I know what I like in story, but you have to look for a good story.

So, that was interesting. Should I tell you what the final-

Orna Ross: Yeah, do introduce us to the shortlist.

Sacha Black: Yeah. Okay. So, the shortlist, and this is in no particular order, but the first one was Of the Blood. So, this was by a Cameo Renae, I hope I have said her name correctly, and this is the first book in a young adult, vampire series. Now, it was truly fantastic world-building and, you know, so that was one of the things that made her story so compelling, just the richness of her.

Then we had, Amanda Bradley and Fitting In. This one was contemporary, it was a romance, it had an autistic love interest, and it was LGBT, as well. So, that was really interesting to have diversity and representation, and it was a super lovely romance. I really enjoyed the romance.

Then we had Sunshine and Second Chances, which was an over-fifties, contemporary romance, which, before I started reading this, I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to relate to any of the characters and, you know, I would find it difficult to enjoy, but the art of good storytelling is to make anybody relate to your characters, and I really did. And so, I found that wonderful, and I loved the fact that I could connect with her characters and the story.

What else? So, then we had J M Dalgliesh and, Hear No Evil, which was a crime book and sort of set with ex-military type characters, and the characters who were all involved in and around the crimes.

So, this was really interesting to have, although it was set in Norfolk, it had a lot of, you know, like army information and that kind of context. So, that was really interesting for me to read that one as well, especially because I use to be in the {inaudible} and then, the last one was the winner.

So, this one was Llama Drama and, oh my goodness, this book was so funny and so fantastic. It’s nonfiction, and it’s about Anna McNuff and she literally cycled 5,000 miles across South America, and it was just exquisite. I found it really interesting that a non-fiction book can have such a compelling narrative story, and it didn’t matter that it was nonfiction and that these are real people. The prose was beautiful as well, and I think that’s one of the lessons that I have taken, there were some stories that I didn’t expect to enjoy, but because the story was so good, you know, that can trump prose and I think the only other additional that I would give is that story can really sell a book, but prose can make it exceptional, and this had fantastic story, and fantastic characters and relationships, but it also had beautiful prose.

So yeah, that was the shortlist.

All of the judges loved all of the books, but there was just something, there was a quality in Llama Drama that really called to all of the judges. And I think it was the fact that we laughed with her, we felt the pain with her because, you know, she had some really bad injuries along the way and, you know, the fact that her descriptions were so vivid that we all found ourselves almost able to picture these completely alien landscapes that none of us have ever been to, and so, you know, it was inspiring and mesmerizing. And, you know, she had laughs in there and she had tears in there and yeah, so everybody loved that book.

What makes a prize-winning book?

Orna Ross: Yeah. So, one of things we want to talk about, and the reason that we’re bringing it up, is not just to highlight and say congratulations to all of the winners, which is an incredible  achievement and well done, everybody, we are thrilled for you. But what we’re really talking about here is, what makes a prize-winning book, and it is the Storyteller Award, as you have pointed out, and so we’re looking for the ability to shape a story, construct a story, take the reader and really kind of bring them through those narrative twists and turns and all of that.

Did you go into the awards with a preconceived, sort of, list of things that you were looking for as a judge? How did it go for you?

Sacha Black: I tried very hard not to because they are clear that it is about story, and so I tried very much to keep my mind on story only. I think, because of that, that’s why I was surprised by some of the books.

For example, the Second Chance Sunshine. I was like, there’s no way I’m going to be able to relate to people who are 20 years my senior or whatever and, you know, having experiences in life that I haven’t necessarily had. But the surprising thing was, you know, I think her name is Kim Nash, she had this fantastic way of ending chapters with hooks and really making me want to read on and her characters were so lovely and you know, you couldn’t help but want to see them have a good ending. She’d woven in their back stories really well, and I think that’s really important. If you can weave in your backstory into your theme and your characters’ big why, and all of them were a different representation of, you know, second chance at love.

So, that is a really important aspect for me in terms of story is, how do you make all of the characters connect to your why your book’s why, your book’s theme. So yeah, I think the only preconceived thing I was aware of is I have a love of really good, beautiful prose, so I was trying to dampen that down, and it just so happened that the story that I loved the most also had really beautiful prose, but thankfully everyone else enjoyed that one too.

Tips for indie authors looking to enter Storyteller Award 2021

Orna Ross: So, for people who are listening in who want to enter Storyteller Award next year, any tips or advice that you would give to them?

Sacha Black: Yeah. So, everybody talks about your opening chapter being really important, and it is really important but, do you know what else is really important?

Your second chapter, and your third chapter, and your soggy middle, don’t let yourself have a soggy middle, and your ending. So, a couple of things in particular, I think you should treat your first line, like a tagline.

So, everybody always talks about the importance of having a really good tagline in your book description. But actually, I think your first line should also be as close to a, sort of, really hooky tagline as you can possibly get.

So, yes, and I think everybody focuses on their first chapter and then sort of lets the reins go a bit in their second and third chapter. And I certainly felt that there were some books that did it better than others.

And also, the ending as well. So, one of the things that bothers me as a judge is when there are elements opened up in the beginning of your book, and then they get lost for whatever reason during the middle of your book, and then they come back at the end. And actually, you lose that golden thread and the connection from the start to the end of the story, and then they feel like they’re tacked on just to add that sort of element of the story. So, these could be things, anything, like a character coming in or a relationship that’s there and then not there. So, just think about making sure that any element that you open in the beginning of your story is just nodded to, even if it’s not a major plot point, throughout the story.

Small things, if your characters have accents, then you need to make sure that they have accents throughout your book, because it’s very noticeable when you put an accent in and then, equally, it’s even more noticeable when it drops out and when it then reappears. And one of the things that I think with accents in particular is, they’re quite difficult to write anyway, but they’re even harder to write when you have longer chunks of dialogue. So, I definitely notice when those things start to drop.

Also watch for repetition. I am particularly sensitive to repetition, but it’s something that could easily be pulled out.

And for example, ProWritingAid, which was one of the speakers at the conference this weekend, has a fantastic bit of software that is really reasonably priced and that will help you pick out your repetitive phrases and individual words.

And the other point with repetition is, it’s not just necessarily words, it’s things like actions, character actions, there’s one thing to create a quirk or a habit in a character, and another thing to have it endlessly repeated, you know, calling characters by pet names or having, I don’t know. There’s lots of different ways that you can be repetitive and one of the ways to get rid of that is to have a very good editor, but also advanced readers. So, make sure they look out for things like that as well, particularly for competitions.

So yeah, I would say those are probably some top tips.

SelfPubCon – Tools & Tech for Indie Authors

Orna Ross: Plenty to be getting on with. So, I’m really glad you mentioned ProWritingAid and the conference, which we had at the weekend. As you said, ProWritingAid was a joint speaker and indeed a joint silver sponsor with Fictionary.

One of the things I wanted to mention is that we have 24 hours, we’re extending to 10:00 PM tomorrow evening by popular requests, because there was a lot of, you know, solid information, tool-based demonstrations and stuff like this to take it in the conference. So, we’re just extending the free period a little bit into tomorrow evening.

So, there’s still 24 hours to go. So, if you haven’t visited the conference site it’s selfpublishingadviceconference.com and over there you will find a number of discounts and deals from our sponsors for the conference. Fictionary and ProWritingAid are both giving a deep discount, which they don’t normally give, of 40% off both, which is really fantastic, with the discount code SELFPUbCON40.

We have an Amazon Echo to give away. We have a few consultations, you know, deep dive consultations into setting up surveys for your author business, another one into your social media and working with you to set up your strategy and then show you how to implement it, and lots of other things, which are not jumping to my head straight away, but it’s all there. If you check out the blog, if you check out today’s blog post it has a list of the discounts and competitions and where to go to enter, and they really are worthwhile. And while you’re there, stop off on the speaker page or the sponsor page, and actually take in the session, because there really is some fantastic information there about all kinds of tools.

Sacha Black: I’m just going to add that today is the 19th of October 2020, just for anyone that isn’t listening live.

Orna Ross: Very good. You’re good on the details today, definitely. Thank you very much for keeping us straight.

So, one of the joys of the conference this time, for me, was actually pulling together a list of a hundred top tools for indie authors.

We had a huge number of nominations from our members, our advisors, our team, everybody was nominating their favorite. And in the conference, we broke it down into two sessions, with 50 tools each. The first one deals with the first part of your publishing process. So, writing, editorial, design, production, distribution, that kind of thing, making the book and getting it out there. And then the second set of tools are for marketing, promotion, rights licensing, and business organization.

Now, I was really surprised to find so many tools nominated, that I had never heard of, and, you know, we all, I think, had that experience because we think we’re pretty on top of things and we’re aware of what’s there, but there really is so much going on in this space and everybody’s off in their little silos, and it was really, really interesting and fantastic to bring those together. So, I would like to say to people who might be listening, if, if you have a tool that you’re using, this is an opportunity to kind of put it out there on Twitter, give that service a thumbs up and a thank you, and celebrate the fact that they are there, that we have these incredible tools and technology at our disposal.

It’s really amazing, the talent and energy that is going into creating these wonderful facilities and services for authors to do what we do, and unthinkable five years ago, even, with artificial intelligence now coming in as well, a number of the tools are using AI in different ways, or augmented intelligence, in all sorts of interesting ways.

So, yeah, do check out the conference if you haven’t had a chance to do so yet.

So, can you talk about anything that stood out from the conference for you?

Sacha Black: Yeah, I did love seeing all the tools and tech and some things that I hadn’t seen before, but the one that stood out for me, I’m really biased because I really like the software, but for me it was Kristina Stanley from Fictionary and Lisa Lepki from ProWritingAid. Every time I see them talk, I learn something new again about their software, and I think this is the beauty of getting the people who are either deeply involved in the software or in the actual creation. So, I know Lisa does all the marketing for ProWritingAid, but Kristina is the creator of Fictionary. So, I always learn something but also, I love them as humans, and I just think they’re wonderful speakers.

So yeah, that was probably my highlight, I would say.

Orna Ross: Yeah, they are great and they work so well together, and I think what they managed to convey very, and I know that Lisa does the marketing, but she’s very deeply into the actual craft, and how it all happens-

Sacha Black: She’s writing as well.

Orna Ross: Yeah, very good, that explains it, because she certainly doesn’t come off as somebody who’s just kind of marketing a tool. Not like that. And I can’t remember how many people she said are actually working on the software all the time. What I love about both of them, and indeed a lot of the people; Plottr, Pubvendo, Booxby, a new and AI tool, what I love about them all is they just don’t stop. It’s constantly improving. They’re getting better all the time. They’re taking the feedback from authors, improving it, adding in new things, and Tim Lewis and I were discussing the fact that, you know, to have software like this, to help you shape your writing is just invaluable. It’s something that we didn’t have.

Sacha Black: It is, and, you know, when you say to somebody you’re an author, I think people think, that all you do is you sit behind a typewriter and you spit out these beautiful long narrative paragraphs of prose, or whatever, and actually, I am constantly using technology, and there were so many bits of technology, you know, because you asked for three bits of technology, I think it was, and I was like, but how am I supposed to choose? Because I’m constantly using tech all day, every day.

There are so many. I could rave about this all day because I couldn’t even count the number of pieces of technology that I use for my business, because there are that many.

And I think the wonderful thing is, as indie authors, we’re so much more flexible in that we are trying to work with the tech rather than being afraid of it or trying to work against it, and that it’s only augmenting our creativity, or it is for me anyway, you know, finding solutions, like for example, my dad wants to write a book, he’s a business owner and I think for him it will be very much non-fiction and like a business card. But he can’t get it out of his head that he’s not a writer and so I’m working with him with bits of tools and technology and so he’s going to dictate, I brought him a Dictaphone, and he’s going to use Otter transcription software to transcribe his words.

And, you know, it’s amazing that we’ve got these bits of technology that help us to get, you know, even people who wouldn’t have necessarily been able to write a book because they’re not that way inclined, are now able to embrace their creativity and get it on the page, and I just love the fact that technology is enabling us to do that.

Orna Ross: Absolutely, it’s also upping the game. Everybody’s craft is getting better because the tools are there to help and, you know, when you look back, it’s quite amazing to think that we used to actually type up a draft of the story and then have to go through with pen and then have to, you know, cut and paste and stick it back when you have the wrong bit down at the end or whatever, and then type it all out again, you know, it’s a wonder any novel ever got published under those conditions.

Sacha Black: I don’t think I could have done it.

Tips for choosing new tools

Orna Ross: So yeah, it really is fantastic what’s there, and I suppose I’d like to kind of finish by saying, one of the things that can happen to us, and it does happen, is that we can be a bit scared of technology, and one of the very good points that Tim Lewis made over the weekend was that there is always, at the beginning, an investment of time and attention that has to be paid. It comes out at the other side, you gain a lot of time and you gain a lot of money, because money is time, at the far side, but there’s absolutely no point in looking at the conference and saying, right, I’ll have that, I’ll have this, I’ll have the other; you’ve got to pick some tools that you feel, from what’s being said at the presentations, this is exactly what I need at this point in time, I’m going to take the time to master it and get  comfortable with it.

Sacha Black: Yeah, and I have a suggestion for that, because it can feel overwhelming when there are so many bits of tools, and obviously you’ve said don’t go and just splurge on all of the different ones, my suggestion would be to look at, where is your pain point in your process? What is the painful part? What is the thing that you enjoy the least? And then look at the technology solutions for that, rather than going, Oh, I like the look of that one, but it’s for drafting and you really already enjoy drafting, you know, because that’s not necessarily going to alleviate any tension or pain for you.

Orna Ross: Really, really good tip, and I do think we are inclined to go where our comfort zone leads us, and we’ve all got these three different kinds of aspects of our lives as indie authors, that we’re carrying around. We have to be maker and manager and marketeer. So, there are tools in the conference for each of those stages and places in the process.

As you say, go to the one that’s causing you the trouble, there’s absolutely no point in, kind of, improving what is already at 80%, go for the thing that’s that 20% that you really don’t like, and if there isn’t a tool, which there may not be, we only had room for 24 sessions, we literally could have done 10 times that, no problem, and the hundred top tools we literally could have doubled it easily, but we had to just draw lines.

But yeah, if there isn’t a tool, if you’re not seeing a tool there that is actually something that’s going to help with something that you’re really kind of struggling with, that you’re blocked on maybe, or that you just hate doing, actually Google it, go and look up and see what’s happening because honestly, every single thing that’s going on in publishing now, there are very bright, innovative people putting together ways to help. People are recognizing that self-publishing is the future for authorship, and there are a lot of people, and for publishing indeed, and there are a lot of people who are investing in this area.

Sacha Black: The other thing I was going to say, I spoke to, I’m not sure if this one was included in your list actually, but I was speaking to a designer and a CEO of a company, it’s called Freewrite, and they’ve created a distraction free laptop. But the interesting thing is, or the way that they are looking at technology, is that the past is actually the future of our writing, because rather than, you know, creating the most complex technological item for writers, they’ve gone back to the old school versions of, I guess, typewriters and created a modern version of that, because it’s distraction-free, and actually that’s something to say is that sometimes, you know, we will look at these super fancy bits of software and think, oh, you know, that’s got to be a solution because it’s got all the bells and whistles and buttons, but you know, 9 times out of 10, it’s actually the simplest bit of tech that will help you solve your problem.

So yeah, you don’t always have to shell out a fortune on the most complicated bit of software, or tech, or gadget that you can think of. Sometimes the cheaper tool or bit of software, will do the same job for you.

Orna Ross: It’s a really good point. I mean, that’s why the Kindle is so popular, it’s basically just a tablet that just does one thing and, I mean, I would much rather read on my Kindle than on any other  device, because, you know, it just focuses on one thing. And I do see in, in the area of self-publishing services and tools, that the same thing is happening, as is happening in genre, where everything is breaking up and going into niche and micro-niche, it’s the same with publishing tools. People are concentrating on creating something that does one thing really, really well, rather than trying to do everything and be everything to all writers. Even people who are focusing in on issues that are only experienced in a particular genre.

So, yes, we’re almost out of time. What are the plans for you for the next month or so?

Sacha Black: Well, I am editing. So, I’m going to do NaNoWriMo, except it’s a 50/50, so I’m half editing and half drafting my next nonfiction book, and hopefully getting into my audio booth to start recording my first audiobook. How about you?

Orna Ross: That’s exciting. That’s fantastic. I’m still in my year of non-fiction. So, I’m working on planners now, creative planners for the new year hopefully will be ready, and so I’m kind of looking forward to that. More poetry, another poetry book coming and that’s about it, I think, for this month. Have a little rest after all the excitement of SelfPubCon, creative rest is very important

Sacha Black: That it is, it is.

Orna Ross: Next month, we are going to be focusing in on whatever is the most kind of popular and major post on the blog. So, that will be coming, and we will announce that in the next week or two, but in the meantime, do hop on over to SelfPubCon, selfpublishingadviceconference.com.

There’s also, on today’s blog, the ALLi blog today, you get it at selfpublishingadvice.org/24, the list of the competitions and what SelfPubCon is, for those of you who may not know, and everything that need to know to enjoy the last 24 hours. And do also check out the winners of Storyteller Award and think about entering. What kind of story could you write that you could enter in Storyteller Award 2021?

Sacha Black: Absolutely, and thanks to our sponsor, as well.

Orna Ross: Yes indeed. Thank you to Izzard Ink and thank you to all of you for listening and we will see you next time. Happy writing and happy publishing.

 

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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