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How I Do It: Successful Indie Authors Share Their Secrets. This week: Orna Ross

This week, as she launches a poetry anthology for Christmas and celebrates being dubbed “One of The 100 Most Influential People in Publishing” by The Bookseller  magazine for her work with ALLi, we decided it was about time we featured our own Orna Ross, whose success in founding and developing ALLi is helping boost that of author-publishers everywhere.

Orna Ross, founder of ALLi

Orna Ross, opening doors for us all

What's the secret of your success?

I don't think it's much of a secret. I write, I share what I write by publishing it as well as I can, and I encourage other people to write and publish well too.

What was the single best thing you ever did?

Decide to self-publish a book as an experiment. I'd worked in publishing and media for twenty years and I loved lots about that work, so I wasn't sure if author-publishing would be right for me. I started with a poetry book and then a meditation manual, on the basis that they wouldn't be too widely read if I made a mess of it all. I didn't really expect anyone to buy them.

But they did, not in huge numbers but after all, it was poetry. And meditation. What might one of my novels do?

So I took the plunge and got my rights back from my publisher. I was one of those many writers who hadn’t liked the treatment given to my novels (where I saw family dramas that brought readers through emotional twists and turns and made them think, my publisher saw chick-lit). So I have been slowly reissuing the books, in different formats, with the titles and treatment I had originally envisaged when writing them.

Pressing that “Save & Publish” button on the first of these revamped books was one of the most joyous moments of my life. Heady!

Linked to that, of course, was the decision to start the Alliance of Independent Authors. When I first self-published, I  looked around for a professional association to join and when I couldn’t find one doing the job the way I thought it should be done, I had a long night of soul-searching. Did I really want to take on this mammoth task?  Wasn’t learning the ins and outs of publishing my own work, and doing it well, going to be enough of a job in itself?

But it turned out I did want to do it. When my grandchildren would ask me where I was during this revolutionary time in my industry, I wanted to be able to say: right at the heart of it, beating the drum for writers.

Did you get lucky? What happened?

I count myself enormously lucky to live at this time. One of the day jobs I worked in the past was literary agent so I've seen what it's like when a good writer doesn't get the time or shelf space to reach their readers, their life as a published writer over before it ever got a chance to get going.

What the publishing revolution started by Amazon KDP did was make writing for a living more like any other business. You can build a following (what other enterprises call a customer base) over time.

I became an author-publisher because what I had previously built in my life — university teaching, publishing with a corporate publisher and running a writing school and literary agency in Dublin — all came to a halt at the same time, for a variety of reasons, one of which was finding out I had cancer.  I didn't know what to do…  so, for a long time, I didn't do anything. I shut down my various enterprises, focussed in on my health and on writing for pleasure.

Over a period of a couple of years, I found myself moving with my family to London and waiting to see what would happen next. Life looked after us very well during all that time, and as health , strength and clarity returned, I found whole new publishing vistas were opening up, thanks to technology.

Now I'm back doing work that is not dissimilar to that I enjoyed before but this way of doing it suits me even better.  I  prefer self-publishing to working with corporate publishers and I prefer working on behalf of authors as a group to representing individuals and negotiating contracts.

And  again, as in my old life, I'm finding that, as Samuel Goldwyn put it, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”  I don't know any successful indie author who doesn't work hard.  When you love what you do, though, work is pure pleasure.

How do you get/stay in creative mode?

I have three practices which I share in my upcoming Go Creative! series (publishing in January). The first is Inspiration Meditation, a form of meditation that fosters creativity, using words and the spaces between words as its object of focus. The second is F-R-E-E-Writing. And I have a breath-and-body movement sequence that I do, a mix of yoga and cardio, that I call Mindfree Moving. Also, I find music infinitely inspiring and of course, reading as much great writing as I can.

How do you prioritise?

In a completely creative way. The second I pick up a planner or strategy document, my energy collapses. My way is to meditate and F-R-E-E-Write each day, in order to clear out all the things that are running around my head thinking they're more important than they are — the call of the outer, which is always stronger than the inner impulse to write.  

Then, I just do what I deem to be the most important things of the day first, and the next in order, enjoying each task for its own sake. From long experience, I know that it's only what you do first in the day that you can count on getting done — so I tend to write first, before opening email or social media. 

Prioritising like this means sometimes, things have wait or even fall away, but I don't worry too much about that. That's how priorities work.

Christmas poetry bookWhat's next?

As I mentioned above, I'm finishing a round of Go Creative! books, then it's back to  a trilogy I've been working on for some time now, about the incredibly tangled love-life of the Irish poet, WB Yeats. The first volume of that, called Her Secret Rose, will publish in May 2015.

What's the highlight of being an author-publisher for you?

The direct contact with readers. The creative freedom. The  support of other great indie authors. The consistent income. The sense of continuous growth and creative development. The exciting new opportunities that are unfolding.

This way of publishing is changing how I write, what I write and what I think is possible for me as a writer. What's not to love?

What's your top tip for other indie authors?

Go creative! That means thinking long term, working hard in a spirit of experimentation, staying steady and true to yourself through failures and setbacks. Less checking out your stats and reviews and more focus on what you have to offer as a writer, why a reader should give over time and money to your books.

This is a wonderful time to be a writer so don't give up. Try, try hard. Fail. Then as Sam Beckett put it, “Try Again. Fail again. Fail better”. That's the creative way — for publishing as well as writing.

This time next week, on the last Sunday before Christmas (22nd), we'll give a round-up of insights from the 2013 “How I Do It” series, and on the following Sunday (29th), we'll summarise the top tips our guests offered there, to provide an inspirational start to 2014 for indie authors everywhere.

So if you haven't already signed up to receive new posts in your inbox, now could be a good time! (ALLi members may opt to receive a weekly newsletter giving a round-up of the week's posts.)

Author: Orna Ross

Orna Ross is a bestselling and award-winning author of historical fiction and inspirational poetry, and a creativity facilitator. As founder-director of the Alliance of Independent Authors, she has been named one of The Bookseller’s Top 100 people in publishing. 


This Post Has 13 Comments
  1. Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thanks, However I am going through issues
    with your RSS. I don’t understand the reason why I can’t subscribe
    to it. Is there anyone else getting similar RSS problems?
    Anyone that knows the answer will you kindly respond? Thanks!!

  2. Dear Orna,

    I’ve been following Alli this year, trying to discern if indie publishing is for me. I’ve spent years trying to sell two novels, one of which was a finalist in a national (US)contest, only to come very close, but not close enough. I like the idea of creative control, and especially the idea of developing a community of readers. One of the only things holding me back is that, as a writer of literary fiction, I would like to be part of the conversation in the literary world, and would like to be reviewed by the kinds of literary magazines I read. It also seems that many of the most successful indie writers are genre writers. Yet you seem to write books that are quite literary, and still succeed. Whether or not I self-publish, I appreciate your authenticity and generous spirit.

  3. Great post, Orna. Thanks for sharing your success secrets with the rest of us! (Not to mention all the other stuff you share with us all, for which we are profoundly grateful as well!)

  4. The atmosphere of this piece makes clear why whatever you do succeeds. If not in one way then in another.

    Alli is an extraordinarily generous creation from anybody, let alone someone with as much already on her plate. It seems to draw in those who recognise what you provide.

    It’s facile to call you ‘an example’ but given the sloughs of despond to which we writers are prone, that cliche rings true, mostly because of your sustained good humour with all those plates spinning. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Thank you, Orna! It has been so great getting to know you (virtually!) and being part of the Alli tribe! I wish you much continued success! (I recently made up a word about the self-publishing journey: perverserverance!) Take care!

  6. You’re an inspiration, Orna. I’m an author with a long track record in traditional publishing and I hope to continue to be published by others, but it’s liberating that now to feel I can write whatever I like, including books which are ‘too niche to achieve bulk sales’ and publish them myself. My first two self-pub projects are in the pipeline for 2014… Your site is essential reading 🙂

  7. Orna, I remember reading a tiny little piece in the Bookseller about your plans for the Alliance and then contacting you for that first interview before LBF12. So much has happened in such a short time, and it’s been driven by your energy and inspiration! Thank you.

    1. Thanks Catriona, I remember it well. Hard to believe it’s less than two years ago. You and the other Triskele authors are testament to the power of the indie-author movement. Onwards and upwards!

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