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New Opportunities And Technologies For Authors: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast With Orna Ross And Joanna Penn

New Opportunities and Technologies for Authors: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast With Orna Ross and Joanna Penn

So far, 2021 has seen an acceleration in emerging technologies for authors, including NFTs on blockchain and voice technologies for audio. In this month’s #AskALLi Advanced Self-Publishing Salon, Orna Ross and Joanna Penn explain what these technologies mean for authors and the publishing industry and dispel some of the misinformation, fear, and doubt in the community.

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Find more author advice, tips, and tools at our self-publishing advice center, http://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.

Now, go write and publish!

Listen to the Podcast: Technologies for Authors

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[email protected] and @thecreativepenn explain what new technologies mean for authors and the publishing industry and dispel some of the misinformation, fear, and doubt in the community. Click To Tweet

About the Hosts

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

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

Read the Transcript: Technologies for Authors

Joanna Penn: Hello everyone, and welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Advanced Self-Publishing Salon with me, Joanna Penn, and Orna Ross. Hi, Orna.

Orna Ross: Hi, Joanna, and hello everyone. Here we are again.

Joanna Penn: Yes, November. We’re almost towards the end of the year. So, I hope you are doing whatever you need to do before the year is out. We’re certainly busy, we’ll talk about that in a minute.

Well, for today’s topic we are talking about new opportunities and technologies for authors, and we will be focusing today on NFTS, which we will explain more in a minute.

Monthly update from ALLi, Orna Ross and Joanna Penn

But before that, we’d like to do a bit of an update. So, Orna what’s going on with ALLi?

Orna Ross: ALLi is in celebratory mode. We were very honoured to be awarded Indie Champion of the Year by the Romantic Novelists Association last week. You were there, you were nominated, as was Claire Flynn, and another indie author, Lindsey Lamb.

It was great. We were really, really thrilled to accept. I was there accepting the award on behalf of the team and all our advisors, including yourself, and everybody else. So, that was great.

And the other big thing that’s been happening at the moment, of course, is SelfPubCon, our annual online conference. That was free all of the previous weekend, and half price last week, but is back now behind its paywall for another little while. So, if anybody wants to catch up on things, look at the sessions again, it’s selfpublishingadviceconference.com. You’ll find it all there, and will need an all-access pass, which gives access, not just to the conference that’s just completed, but actually every conference we’ve done since we started, and indeed if you buy a lifetime pass, all the conferences to come. So, that’s been us. How are you? What have you been doing?

Joanna Penn: Busy busy, busy. I am finishing energy on Tomb of Relics. I’ve been working on just a whole load of bits and bobs, working with quite a lot of freelancers and getting things designed, and working with the AI narration people, which we will be focusing on next year, and also, I can’t remember whether, I think I walked St. Cuthbert’s Way last month, since we spoke, and essentially walked a five-day pilgrimage, and I’m going to turn that into a book. So, I’m putting together some plans. Next year I should be moving into another sub-genre, or another genre of writing. I’ll be doing travel, solo walking, under at the travel genre. So, definitely really busy.

I’m also working on an AI assisted author mini course coming out before Christmas. So yeah, I feel like I’ve got a lot on, and a lot of it is writing. I’m doing a lot of extra episodes on my own podcast, so lots of recording. But, you know, we like being busy. And how about you?

Orna Ross: Yes, of course we do. Work is more fun than fun.

Also busy, I’m upgrading my website, which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but whenever you’re upgrading a website, last questions come to the fore, and it’s really a complete reorganization of my work actually, and how I have been kind of presenting everything on the fiction and poetry side. So, it’s been enjoyable up to now, and now there’s always, I always have trouble with the fiddly finishing bits. I love the big vision stuff, and {inaudible} when it gets into the detail, but we’re at the end. It was supposed to launch actually, today I think, and won’t be ready for another day or two. But yeah, one of the things I’m doing is what we’ve talked about a lot before, is putting patrons and community central. So, I’m really excited more about getting it out there than anything else, and yeah, a new approach to fiction and everything else, but I’ll talk about that next month when actually things are in place. But yeah, it’s full on. It always is. I think of this time of the year as the busy season, every year, it always seems to be because of course everybody’s winding up as well for the Black Friday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, the holiday season sales, promotions, everything. So, it’s all go, but it’s all good.

Joanna Penn: It is all good. This year I did redid The Creative Penn and reorganized that, and redid the theme, and that was a lot of work, did a lot of SEO work. Next year, I’m also going to do my fiction brand JF Penn, and really redo the website and also really think about my positioning and put selling direct up front and all of those things. And again, just to remind people, both of us have been doing this over a decade and that means that you have to update things, things change, and you have to keep doing it, otherwise, all your stuff stagnates and disappears. These things come up, and they’re kind of overheads of a business, and it’s inevitable.

Orna Ross: Absolutely, and there’s never a good time to do it, but I think it comes to the point where it feels so icky and it doesn’t represent you anymore, that you have to do it. So, that’s the way it was for me, anyway. It’s not something I would voluntarily have chosen to do, but I’m really delighted to have it done.

Joanna Penn: Excellent. Well, yeah, we’ll talk about that, I think next year we’re going to talk a lot more about branding.

What inspired ALLi about the potential of blockchain back in 2017?

But talking of things changing, today we are talking about NFTs and blockchain for authors, because 2021 has seen an acceleration in technological tools, lots of them. In fact, I briefly mentioned AI. We talked about an audio narration by AI as well. So, there are lots of things going on, but today we just want to focus on NFTs and blockchain for authors, because we feel like it’s a big enough topic and it is all over the blogosphere at the moment in the author space, and it’s been around for at least, like, 2021 has been the year of NFTs. Musicians are on it, artists are on it, and as creative entrepreneurs, we need to be aware of this.

So, I want to start, and we are going to get into some definitions, but Orna, first up, I want to wind the clock back to 2017, when ALLi started to talk about blockchain for authors and actually released a white paper on it, and you had a session at London Book Fair, there was a flurry of excitement about blockchain for authors. Then it all went quiet. So, as the less techie one of the pair of us you saw this first, for which I am crediting you.

Orna Ross: Wow.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, I know, but you saw this several years ago. So, what inspired you about the potential of blockchain technology for authors, and then why did everything go so quiet?

Orna Ross: Yeah. So, what was inspiring to me, and I’m not techie but I am very interested in what technology can facilitate, and I could see that blockchain was almost like the pinnacle in something that we had been talking about since we started in ALLi, which was the fact that, if you’re an author, you can write what you like, and that’s absolutely fine. But if you’re an indie author, you’re also a publisher, and you need to think about business, you are essentially in business. And when you look at how publishing was structured, it was impossible for an author to be in business, because a.) you licensed your rights, and so you didn’t have that very important part of the puzzle, but also the transaction chain was just crazy. And I say was, this, of course, all of these things, we’ve got the super advanced stuff that we’re going to touch on today, the things that are already happening, and then what happened in the last century is still happening in the book space. So, all of these things, I’m saying was, but it isn’t past tense, this is still how, maybe the majority, but certainly an awful lot of authors still get paid last in the transaction chain.

So, a customer goes into a bookstore. The bookstore gets paid, the distributor gets paid, the agent gets paid, the publisher gets paid, the wholesaler gets paid, last and least the author gets paid. So, what self-publishing did was, it made it possible for authors to get paid first. Now, we don’t get paid first in the sense that, if we only use Amazon, or if we don’t sell direct on our own websites, if we don’t have something that we sell ourselves to our customers, we don’t get paid first. But a lot of authors are switching over, and they’re beginning to, even if they are using the old model, they’ve moved to the new model for some of their books, or some other products, or whatever.

So, for me, blockchain, when I heard about what it could do, what was so interesting to me was that it could split the transaction at the point of sale. So, that in the very moment that the product is sold, the book is sold, everybody gets paid all at once. Or the author, alternatively, is driving, it is at the head of the thing, instead of at the tail. So, that was enough to get me interested, and we did a big exploration then, and it’s funny because we were looking now at updating this white paper that we did in 2017, but an update isn’t even possible. Things have changed so radically, because a lot of what we were concerned to do at that time was set context, help people to understand, help people to understand even the concept that authors were in business, was something that we felt at that time that people need to be hit over the head with.

Joanna Penn: Sometimes still.

Orna Ross: Sometimes still, absolutely. Sometimes still. So, there was a lot of contextualizing and stuff going on in, in that white paper. So, I think the reason it went quiet was there wasn’t enough practical stuff going on. So, we talked about what was possible, we talked about its potential, we mentioned some services that were springing up at that time. Interesting, most of them are not at the forefront of the space now. But we did what we could and then I think it was just that bit ahead of its time, it was still in the conceptual phase, even though a lot of people were working on it, and now I think that’s changed. Now we can almost, I think, it won’t be too long before we’re actually seeing lots and lots of authors jump in here.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, absolutely. And I definitely got excited about blockchain stuff last year, and then realistically 2021 has been the first time we’ve even heard the term NFT. So, I think important to say upfront, you don’t need to know how the internet is coded in order to self-publish a book on KDP. You don’t have to know how PayPal works in order to get money and then download it to your bank account, and what we’re saying is you don’t need to understand how to program blockchains in order to take advantage of this type of thing. And what we are also saying is that it’s still early days. So, this is kind of an awareness session for you, if you haven’t heard these terms before. So, we’ll go into it, hopefully at the right level, and then no doubt over time we’ll talk about it some more.

What is an NFT – what does it mean, and why should indie authors be excited about it?

But let’s just start by defining NFT. It is a terrible name. It’s an acronym, it means, Non-Fungible Token.

But I was talking with some people about it, and I was like, are we really going to call this an NFT book, what is it going to be? And what I like is this idea of a digital original, or a digital special edition. When it comes to what authors, us, what we will do, it will be a digital special edition.

And why this is so important, and why I’m so excited, is a couple of years ago, and you and I have private conversations before we share them in public, and I was like, oh my goodness, I am really worried about indie authors because I see that the value of digital is trending towards zero with the unlimited subscription model, and I’m very worried that our primary means of making money is going to disappear. And now we’ve got the answer. I really seriously, I think this is maybe one of the answers, but it’s a big answer, which is digital scarcity. And we understand that with the principals of buying and selling, having scarcity means something is more valuable. And then the other amazing thing about NFTs, digital originals, is the ability to resale this. So, think of it as a digital asset, and if Orna buys my NFT project that I put out, Orna buys it, and then Orna can resell it and I get a percentage royalty on resale. This has never happened before. To me, it is ridiculously exciting because I make money as the transaction goes down the chain for presumably the life of copyright, which is 70 years after I die.

And because smart contracts can be essentially set up with beneficiaries, you could potentially, I’m way ahead of us now, but you could potentially put in your heirs and successors, you could put in the charities. So, many authors ask us, don’t they, I want to give a percentage to charity, and we’re like, oh, it’s quite difficult right now, but this could mean you could do that easily.

So, those are some of the things I’m excited about. What about you?

Orna Ross: Yeah, and I just want to say that all of those are possible because of blockchain. It wouldn’t be possible to make that happen without blockchain technology, and that’s why blockchain is exciting. And I think it’s also important, really important, to say that when it comes to digital scarcity, and/or what you’re going to put into your digital special edition, it’s really important that we value ourselves. And I think in the indie author community, we needed a way to differentiate ourselves from traditional publishing and give ourselves an advantage, and very often the advantage we’ve used in the community has been the price advantage. We are nimbler, it doesn’t cost us as much to make books, and so we’ve priced lower than traditional. And that has advantages, certainly, and in particular genres, like romance and certain genre, it’s really important, but it also has downside, and this is an opportunity for us, as you rightly said, to redress that balance, but we won’t do that unless we value ourselves as authors, and I think books should never have been priced as low as they were. And that happened just because of there being a lot of competition in the market. A book is not really fairly priced for the amount of work that goes into it, and I’m talking about full on books.

Joanna Penn: Yeah. Even like $15 for a paperback, that still could be someone’s work for years and years. I mean, I completely agree with you.

Orna Ross: Exactly. So, this is an opportunity, not just for us to think about the technology and everything, but to think about the value of our product and what we’re bringing, and the community that we’ve built up around us, you know, the people who are already buying our books. This stuff, like everything we talk about here on the advanced salon is, the more you work you have done, the more books you have, the more readers you have, the more of a following you have; the more relevant this stuff is for you. And I think NFTs would come into their own for those authors who had done the work of building up direct followers, fans, super fans. Some of the things that we’ve been talking about, you know, the thousand true fans concept comes into its own here with NFTs, because there are lots of our followers who want something more than just the book, and it’s been very difficult to be able to deliver that, because with physical products, as writers and publishers, we just don’t have the time for all of that, but digital makes it possible for it to go to scale.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, absolutely. So, what is an NFT? Yes, that’s the definition, a Non-Fungible Token, but what does that actually mean?

Because most of us now in the indie community, we’re used to formatting an EPUB, for example, or paying someone to format an EPUB, we upload it and that’s what someone gets on their device. Okay. But with an NFT, I want people to think about, I’m calling it like a digital box, like a box or a container, and then you can put in it whatever you want.

So, there are artists right now using it for visual art, and the most common things people are seeing are these sorts of JPEGs of characters and avatars, which is one specific-use case. That is not NFT’s, that is one-use case. Then there are musicians, for example, who are doing collectible editions, albums, songs, tickets to live events, merchandise, there are tokens that can be used to get a physical object. They are access to communities so that you can get into a particular forum, or you could have a consulting session with an author. So, it can be the book plus a load of other things.

So, I’ll talk about what I’m going to do. So, I’m going to, hopefully in the next month or so, couple of months let’s say. In the next three months, I intend to do an NFT for Tomb of Relics, which is my next novel. And the NFT, the container, will have, I’m probably going to have three, because I want to price them at a decent amount of money. And this is the first book that I have used Sudowrite, which is an AI tool built on GPT three, which we’ve talked about separately. This is the first time I’m using this new method of creation. And so, it marks this moment in my life as a creative, where I’m starting to use different tools. And there’ll be a video of me actually writing. So, you actually see the screen and you see my face, as I type you see the words arrive. There’ll also be a photo of my hand edits, you know, I edit by hand on a manuscript. So, it will be one of three, two of three, three of three, and those NFTs, each one is totally original, and hopefully they will sell, although it’s a very small market. And then I’ll also put into the smart contract, if people want to resell them, even if it’s in a decade’s time when maybe I’m someone, it will be worth it for the investment, or someone just wants to support my journey.

So, that’s some of the things I’m thinking. What about you Orna, what are you thinking about?

Orna Ross: Just want to first say that you’re someone already.

Joanna Penn: Thank you so much. I hope to be someone more in a decade.

Orna Ross: I’m really interested in using this new technology and going back, right almost into pre-history to very, very old. So, I’m going to use it for poetry. My daughter’s an artist, so she’s going to use AI generated, we haven’t worked out the details at all, but she’s going to use AI to produce some visuals for the words. They’re going to be translations a very ancient Irish texts, but redone using AI, and put together in some way. Now, I don’t know about the special effects or, you know, what we’re going to add in there, Orna, my daughter, she runs a collective so there may be some opportunity for something around that as well, but I’m so excited about it. It’s such fun.

I too have started to use Sudowrite. We’ve discussed this before, and I’m loving the way it’s making writing so much more fun, as well as increasing productivity, but it just lightens everything up, and then the idea of doing something that’s so completely different is really creatively, very energizing. So yeah, all a bit vague at the moment and I won’t be doing it until mid-next year at the soonest, but very excited.

Who are the companies to watch for blockchain and NFT developments for indie authors?

Joanna Penn: Right, and just to be clear, we’re interested in AI as a completely different thing to NFT’s. The NFT can just be a special edition of your book. I’ve been using some generative stuff to create character pictures, you could even work with a cover designer and come up with something special, or some people are doing video covers. The point is, there is no one thing of what an NFT is. And also, we’re only at the beginning, so it could turn into so much more.

For example, the Alliance of Independent Authors could issue a token for membership, as opposed to the current membership type model. There are things that are going to work around community projects, well, we’ll come to the project that’s been the most in the news recently, but I did just want to say, in terms of platforms, there are a few platforms around at the moment. Publica was around when you did that thing at London Book Fair, and bookchain.ca I’ve had on my podcast, both of those have tokens and you can sell, you can resell, you can transact, but there’s no marketplace.

BookVaults is a new service. Books Go Social has a blog post on the ALLi blog about doing NFTs through them, and I’ve just interviewed the guys at Creatokia, and that episode will come out on my podcast, as this goes out on the feed it should be out. Essentially, they are an established brand in the market, it’s going to be run by a company called BookWire.

So, I think this might be the first one that’s much bigger, and who already have relationships within the publishing industry and are well established. And in talking to the guys, it’s very organized. You can have a look at creatokia.com, I’m sure we’ll put some links in the notes. But essentially, I think that’s going to be potentially the one I’ll use.

And there are, let’s just talk about the environmental issue.

Orna Ross: Just before, just to say, the ALLi blog post, it’s selfpublishingadvice.org/nfts, and Creatokia are actually on the blog as well, and BookVaults, it’s not as, Books Go Social, Lawrence O’Brian, who runs Books Go Social, has contributed to the post, and talked very much about his project there, because he is really specializing in indie authors. But also, the Creatokia guys are there, and BookVault’s also there talking about how they’re doing things, and how it’s slightly different. So, it was quite a long post, and it also has the basics in it.

Joanna Penn: Yes, sorry, just on that, the point is that there are companies emerging who are going to help us do these things technically. It’s not like the original internet where you had to code HTML, or Java, or whatever, you don’t have to do any of that. There are already companies that are going to help you put together the NFT and then sell the NFT.

But it’s not going to be like a lot of the sites, I mean, there are costs involved. So, this is not just something to jump into, and again, we’re saying this is an awareness thing at the moment, but hopefully we’ll see more things.

Why is there a lot of negative talk around NFT’s?

So yeah, let’s talk about the environmental issue. I mean, Orna, we’re obviously very concerned with the environment. Do you want to talk about this?

Orna Ross: Yeah, so I think it’s important for two reasons. First of all, because obviously the environment is important to us all if we’re aware, awake and thinking, but also because the accusation, or the perception, that NFTs are fundamentally, environmentally, a no-no is being used to kind of stop certain people, and we’ll talk about this in a minute with regard to one particular case study, but it is a criticism that has been levied, and the thing is that different blockchains, some are much more environmentally friendly than others. Lawrence talks in the post about wax, and they are carbon neutral, I think. And what I have been very impressed about is the way in which, once that awareness was raised, how quickly the services moved on it. And this is a young people’s territory, it’s millennials who are in here really setting the pace here, and the most environmentally aware people are the people who are making this happen.

So, if that is a concern for you, it’s certainly something that you need to look into, but I think it’s something that all blockchain platforms are going to be looking at very closely, and lots of them are already doing the carbon offsetting. So, yeah.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and I think, first of all, you’re right. So, the carbon offset I’m seeing on every single platform now. People are like, okay, here’s the partner that we’re working with to carbon offset, even if they are only slightly positive, there are some blockchains that are carbon negative, which is kind of crazy. And in fact, if you just do some basic Googling people on environment and NFTs or blockchain, there’s so much stuff going on, but the other thing is the redesign of existing, transactional blockchain.

The biggest one is really Ethereum, and Ethereum 2 is what they’re talking about, which should be, I guess, people are saying middle of next year, and what I think is that the carbon offset will be the answer to up until then, and then it may be that that solves the problem. Or maybe we’re living in a time where carbon offset is something we do for everything, because the other thing about blockchain is that it’s much more transparent.

So, you could level a green issue, against the traditional publishing industry, in terms of book printing, and pulping, and shipping, and all of that. I have no clue how much our carbon issues happen within traditional publishing, this is just being raised about new technology, but what about existing technologies? So, I think we have to start questioning everything, not just one particular thing. So, anything else on that, or should we talk about what’s been happening?

Orna Ross: Yeah, I think just in terms of, you know, a lot of these criticisms are arising out of fear of change, I think. And that’s why this particular case study is interesting. A group of young YA authors were very excited a short while ago, they were setting up a writing NFT project called, Realms of Ruin. They put it out there and they got absolutely hammered. People just brought up all sorts of things, and the environmental implications was part of it.

Joanna Penn: Accusation of being like a Ponzi scheme or a multi-level marketing scheme.

Orna Ross: Yeah, just lots and lots of fear dressed up as criticism in some cases, critique in some cases, concern in some cases, but really a pile-on, and they very quickly withdrew.

Joanna Penn: Everything. They pulled down the entire, they’ve spent months building this stuff and they pulled everything down. They apologized, and bless them they’re like, we have answers to these things, but we just feel we have to just pull everything down.

Orna Ross: Yeah, which to me was a very interesting response, and I feel, as creators, of course, we listen to our communities, but you could see the creative energy that was there for the project and then you could see the sort of creative devastation that was there when they got that response. And I think it’s part of a wider cultural thing where it’s really important that we stand up for what we believe in, because as creators we’re leaders, not just followers, of our community.

So yes, absolutely, our readers are really important to us. Yes, absolutely, our community is important to us, but you will never please all of the people, all of the time. And the people who are scared are always the people who, you know, they scream, they shout, they’re scared. And so, you hear them, and, you know, who’s to say who might have benefited from that project, and how many other people were actually sitting quietly saying, hey, this is amazing. Because, without a doubt, people were.

So, I think it’s really interesting how much fear rises whenever there is change and whatever new technology we’re talking about, and it’s happening in the indie author community very much too around writing AI and under other developments. So yeah, I think that, for me, that’s the key thing, the key takeaway. I really wish they had stayed there; I really wish they’d held their ground; I really wish they’d put it out there. And of course, have those debates, it’s really important that we have those conversations, the environmental thing, everything, is it a pyramid scheme? Let’s talk about it. If we just withdraw and don’t go there, then we don’t even get to have the conversation properly.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and it’s so interesting. I mean, maybe it’s because we’ve been around a while now, but it feels just like the energy that used to be directed at me and you at the beginning of the indie movement, the stigma, remember the stigma of self-publishing? The fact that, oh, you know, what are you doing, that’s so terrible, why would you ever do that? You know, this really negative energy, which still exists in a very small amount compared to how it was in the first years between about 2008 and 2014. It was-

Orna Ross: -difficult. It was hard to go out there. I had a number of times where it was really, you know, if I was the type to get upset and run away, I would’ve got upset and run away. But now it’s indie champions, you know, and it’s prizes and it’s a good thing.

Joanna Penn: And more than that, it’s a full-time income for so many people.

And I guess, I’ve been talking about this awhile on my podcast, and I’ve had a few comments, and I have, you know, some people are sort of, oh no, not you too, you’re jumping in on X, X, X, and whatever, and hopefully people listening in our community know how long we’ve been doing this and that we’re not hype-y people. We’re actually kind of creatively curious, but also, we’re entrepreneurs. And so, I also, I feel like I haven’t had this form of excitement since the beginning of indie, since like, oh my goodness, I can do this, and that, and the other. And this to me is the technology of the next decade, the next 15 years. This is, what are you calling it now, Self-Publishing 4.0?

How does rights licensing tie-in with NFTs for indie authors?

Orna Ross: Yes, it is Self-Publishing 4.0. I mean, yeah, absolutely. 1 was desktop publishing. 2 was eBooks. 3 was authors in business and taking the lead, not just going with one service or one trade publisher, and selling direct, and all those things that we’ve been talking about. And now 4 is all of these very new, different types of technologies, which allow us to do very different things that you can’t do with a simple eBook, or you certainly can’t do with a simple print book, and at the heart of course is the rights, because that was something else that happened, wasn’t it in this? You could see the rights issue rearing its head in this controversy as well. Do you want to talk about that?

Joanna Penn: So, yeah, this concerns me because NFTs, like we talked about, it can be an EPUB, or it could be an audiobook, or it could be a bundle of them, or whatever. Now, if you’ve signed a contract licensing your rights to eBooks and/or audiobooks and/or, if you’re older and traditional publishing, you might have signed digital rights away on a contract, and I found evidence from 2008. That was the contract addendum that was going around, just sign over your digital rights, they don’t really mean anything. And that means, presumably, you can’t do NFTs.

Now, there was an agent who kind of jumped in on all this YA author stuff going, oh, don’t make me go down that route, don’t make me have to do that. And I was reading it going, how can you think that way? If you think about resale of digital original assets, that’s money that I think the publishing industry is going to be very interested in. And so, for me, it’s very important that we are more cognizant than ever of what rights we are licensing and for what term, because we might miss out on opportunities to create value for ourselves, for our community, and to do these things like smart contracts.

And again, this wasn’t even really around last year. So, what will come in the next few years? For example, I published my first eBook in 2009, and I did my first audiobook in 2014, I think. So, that’s five years. So, right now, as we record this in 2021, what’s going to come up in 2026? I don’t know yet, but people tend to think that we’re at this static point, that this is it, but this is not it. This is just one point on the journey, and this is the next step. So, yeah, what do you think about the rights side?

Orna Ross: Yeah, I think you’ve described it really, really well. The main thing is that we are really, it’s always been our advice to limit the territory, limit the term, but limit the format, only sell a format. And I think the best example of this is JK Rowling. Back in those days that you’re talking about when publishers were sneaking this digital rights thing in, because publishers always know, you know, go for as wide as possible for as long as possible, take as many rights as you can. Every rights buyer will always be trying to maximise the range and the width of what’s there. Some of them will just be rights grabbing as much as they can, and there’s a reason for that. There is a reason that you do that, and particularly in this space, because you don’t know what’s going into a marriage. She was savvy enough to not go for that, she held on to her digital rights to Harry Potter, and if she hadn’t there would be no Pottermore, and $25 billion that she wouldn’t have.

Joanna Penn: A $25 Billion dollar company built off the back of those digital rights.

Exactly. So, it’s really, really, really important to think about that, and to recognize this fundamental, I think authors don’t understand how important their rights are, and this isn’t about NFTs, this is about everything. We see it with audiobooks a lot. I hear a lot of, and I just hate this sentence, you know, oh, well, I wasn’t going to do anything with audio anyway so I might as well have sold it to one of these audiobook publishers that gives you a couple of grand upfront and the rights are gone for 10 years.

Well, okay, maybe are not going to do anything with audiobook, but maybe in two years’ time, you might. So, really thinking very, very carefully, and understanding the value that’s embedded. A lot of authors saying, I’m not making enough money, but they’re not thinking about all the different formats that their books can be in. And when you look, you’ll see that they only do an eBook, or they only do a print book. So, this extends now, it becomes even more important as these new kinds of formats and possibilities and potentials come into the marketplace. So yeah, valuing ourselves, valuing our rights, valuing what we do, and the huge thing that Self-Publishing 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 have done for us, which is allowed us to be the people who decide and make the decisions around our rights, and selectively license them wherever we want to. This isn’t about not working with publishers, or not working with agents, or anybody else who can help us. It’s about being selective and understanding the value of the rights. Yeah, really, really, really, really important now.

Yes, and if you’ve been listening to us for years, we have been harping on about it enough. But yes, I think the main thing is, it does feel a bit Wild West-y right now, and that’s because it is like the Wild West-y days of the first years of eBooks. It is a new technology, but again, think back to the late nineties, the sort of .com boom of the year 2000. There were a lot of companies around, and a lot of them disappeared, but Amazon was, I wrote it down, original Amazon was founded in around 1994, something like that, and look how much that’s worth. But I found the date. So, Amazon KDP was founded in late 2007, and I first published in 2008, and then it wasn’t really available to international authors for another year or so. Smashwords in 2008. Kobo, 2009. iBooks, 2010. Draft2Digital, 2012. So, realistically we’ve only been in just over a decade of, well, 14 years for Amazon KDP. But pretty much, this is just the next iteration of what our ecosystem is going to look like. So again, you don’t need to buy anything. You don’t need to join anything. You don’t need to do anything. All we would ask is that you educate yourself, and we’re obviously trying to help with that, and stay curious and stay playful, as opposed to the fear and the doubt and the uncertainty and jumping on the negative side. We want to stay open to the possibilities, and of course, we will share as we have our own experiences.

Orna Ross: Yeah, absolutely. And don’t run this down, don’t knock it till you try it, I think is really important. And I do understand that we can feel a bit overwhelmed. We’re just getting to terms with eBooks and audiobooks, digital audiobooks, and the rights that we have to all of these, and now boom, along comes this kind of thing. This isn’t going to sweep anything away. Everything you’ve been working on, carry on. This is kind of an extra, and it is something where I think, don’t think about NFTs unless you are really ready for an adventure at this point, and don’t think about them until you want to do an add-on to the fundamentals.

In other words, get your eBook publishing up, understand your readers, their reader journey, while your value is to them, you know, get all those, get your positioning in the marketplace right, your genre, your category, your sub-genre, all those kinds of things. When they are in place and you’re able to sell books at that level is the time to begin to think about this.

So, what we’re doing here, it’s a heads-up, really. It’s a heads up that this is happening. It’s already happening for some authors, there are lots of examples on the ALLi blog yesterday. Lots of authors who are jumping in there, Joanna’s jumping in, I’m putting a toe in, you know, people are already doing it, but also, it’s something that’s going to come, and it’s more about blockchain, I think, than anything else. It’s about understanding what blockchain can do. I’m quite sure that NFTs is only the start, we will be hearing lots of funny acronyms and weird words in the next number of years that we’ll have to get used to, because blockchain technology is a game changer and that’s going to bring out people’s innovation and creativity.

So yeah, keep an eye, watch the space, and we’ll bring it to you if we think it’s worth your time and attention, and we do think NFTs are.

Joanna Penn: Indeed, and I have lots more interviews also on my podcast, The Creative Penn podcast, and check out the one with Creatokia, which is coming on the 5th of November 2021.

Orna Ross: And if I could, before we go, just give a plug to your book. I think it’s a really good place for people to start because you look at all these emerging technologies. So, can you just give them the name of the long title again? I can never remember it off the top of my head.

Joanna Penn: It’s a really long one. It’s called like, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, and something else.

Orna Ross: By Joanna Penn is what you need to remember, Joanna Penn.

Joanna Penn: Or thecreativepenn.com/books and it’s there.

And yeah, that was kind of a positioning thing for last year, and I feel like things are moving so quickly, but we’re trying to stay up and, as Orna said, this is an ‘and’ thing, this is not a replacement thing. This is, you know, I’ll be doing eBooks, paperback, hardback, large-print, audio, and an NFT.

It’s kind of crazy, but hey, we’ve got to have some fun. So, we are almost out of time. Is there anything you want to share about the coming month, Orna?

Orna Ross: Not really, except to say to everybody, you know, it is the most important season of the year for selling books, you will sell most of your books in the next two months. So, to gear up for that we have Black Friday approaching, we have some fantastic sale offers coming up. So, keep an eye on the blog for that, services, and products, and things that you will be delighted to use from our partner members. So yeah, keep an eye on selfpublishingsadvice.org for those, because that’s always a very popular feature at this time of the year.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic. All right. So, next month, the beginning of December, we are going to talk about planning for 2022. We’re going to be looking ahead and talking a bit about what we’re planning to do. And then in January, we’re going to look at AI narration for audiobooks, which we were going to cover today, but we decided there was way too much to talk about, so we’re going to do that later. We are both going into AI narration as well, so we’ll talk about that then. But yes, planning for 2022 will be next month’s Advanced Salon. Right, anything else, Orna?

Orna Ross: Nope. Looking forward to that. Until then everybody, happy writing and happy publishing.

Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads.

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