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The Most Useful Tools, Software, And Services For Independent Authors, With Orna Ross And Joanna Penn: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast

The Most Useful Tools, Software, and Services for Independent Authors, with Orna Ross and Joanna Penn: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast

In this month's #AskALLi Advanced Salon, Orna Ross and Joanna Penn talk about tools for independent authors — from writing to formatting to planning, sales tracking, accounting, and more.

You'll discover:

  • Productivity and life management tools
  • Design and formatting tools
  • Production and distribution tools
  • Artificial intelligence tools
  • Husband-canceling headphones!

And more…

This salon is for you if you want to learn more about how digital tools are changing publishing for authors – and where you and your books fit in.

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The Advanced Self-Publishing salon is brought to you by Specialist Sponsor Ingram Spark. IngramSpark is the award-winning indie publishing platform that offers authors like you a way to publish your book and share it with over 39,000 bookstores and libraries worldwide.

Find more author advice, tips and tools at our self-publishing advice center, https://selfpublishingadvice.org. And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.

Listen to the Podcast: Tools for Independent Authors

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Watch the Podcast: Tools for Independent Authors

What tools, software, and services are most advantageous for independent authors? @OrnaRoss and @thecreativepenn have the answers. Click To Tweet

Show Notes

Free Title Setup & Revisions


Stipulations: Valid for print and ebooks until May 31, 2020. 

Tools mentioned:

Writing & Editorial

  • Scrivener for writing
  • Dragon Dictate for verbal dictation
  • Google docs for co-writing 
  • Fictionary for story editing
  • ProWritingAid editing software for books
  • Grammarly editing software for short documents

Productivity and life management 

  • Google Calendar for scheduling and time blocking
  • Calendly for managing interviews
  • Things app for to do list
  • Noise cancelling headphones for focus
  • Asana for project management

Design & Formatting

  • Vellum for interior design
  • Free formatting tools available on Draft2Digital, Reedsy and others

Marketing & Promotion

  • WordPress for author website
  • ConvertKit for email marketing 
  • BookFunnel for delivery of ebooks – ARCs and Payhip/Woo delivery
  • PublisherRocket for Amazon keywords

Social Media

  • Bufferapp and Smarterqueue for scheduling 
  • Headliner for audiograms
  • Tweetdeck for managing twitter

Sales, Accounting & Business

  • Payhip – WooCommerce for direct sales
  • Xero for accounting
  • BookReport for sales tracking on Amazon 
  • Orna: Google sheets for manual tracking 
  • Trackerbox for PC 
  • Booktrakr.com but wants your logins 

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: Tools for Independent Authors

Joanna Penn: Hello everybody, 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.

Joanna Penn: We are back, and today, we're talking about the tools, the most useful tools and software, and maybe a few services for indie authors.

And we're going to share some of the tools we use in writing and formatting, to sales tracking and productivity, and all that. So, listen in as we talk about that today.

But Orna, before we get started, we always like to say, we are authors, remember. We are writing and doing stuff ourselves. So, give us an update from the Alliance of Independent Authors.

What’s happened over the last month?

Orna Ross: Yeah. So, it's all about books and resources at the moment in ALLi. So, we had a major upgrade of everything over the last, it's a year now, I can't believe it, it took us ages. It's over, almost, but each year we update our resources anyway so now we're doing that more comprehensively to kind of round off everything with this upgrade.

So, we are looking particularly at our major guides, most of which are updated annually, and we're adding a new resource, which is called a Glindex, which is something I had never heard of. But we work with an indexer, Amron from Wild Clover, and she suggested that, books like ours would benefit greatly from what she calls a Glindex. So, it's a mixture of a glossary and an index. And, putting those two together, it means that when you're reading the eBook, you can, if you come across, this is particularly good for beginners, I know we're talking about advanced people here, but you know, it happens in advanced too, you come across a term or a piece of jargon or something that you don't understand, so you'd be able to just click and get the definition as you read. So, a nice service that takes a lot of work in the background. So, that's what we've been doing in ALLi. What have you been up to?

Joanna Penn: Oh, well, excitingly, I have it here, the printout of Map of the Impossible. It's my first edit and, I love the first edit, I get so happy to be able to print out my first draft and then do the hand edits on that. So, I feel really excited because, as a discovery writer, having the end of a trilogy is really good because, I have an ending, but I know it needs to be improved, but that first edit will help me.

And obviously as advanced self-publishers, when we have a trilogy of books, we can then put together a box set. I'll be getting the audio books done, because I really didn't want to get the audio done on any of the books until I knew what voice I wanted. And I'm much clearer now on that, now I have three books. And, you know how this goes, either you think you know what you're doing, and then by book three, you kind of know what you're doing. But I've been working on that.

I've also been doing some recording with J. Thorn. We have a new mini course on co-writing. It's because J. and I have co-written fiction and nonfiction, and he just does tons and I do tons, and so we've done a mini course on that at thecreativepenn.com/learn. So a bit of creative J.F. Penn work, a bit of The Creative Penn, Joanna Penn, and we were talking before we turned on the recording, about how we juggle our brands and this is this a constant struggle and there is no balance, it's kind of like this all the time, but I feel like I've done a bit of both this month.

But let's come to you because obviously we're still in lockdown. What are we, day 42 of lockdown here in the UK, and I feel like I've got into my groove now. Last time we spoke, I was out of my groove really, and had to have a new creative routine.

You were sick. So, tell us how you're doing and also what you've been managing to do, if anything.

Orna Ross: Yeah, getting a bit done between illness and everything else. So, yeah, fully better now, which is great, but it did take a long time, and I kept thinking I was better, and then I wasn’t, and I had to kind of crawl back into bed again.

But fully better and I found, as I ever, as always, for me, poetry saves me. So, even when you're sick in bed with coronavirus, you can still write a poem. So, I got another little chapbook together. So, that's the way I publish my poetry first, I always put them into one of these little babies.

Joanna Penn: Is it called covid-poetry?

Orna Ross: No, that's funny. Only some of them will be that, just the last few, but yeah, I just find it great and I'm coming up to number 10 of those little chapbooks. Each one has 10 to 12 publishable poems, so that's over a hundred poems now. It took me a long time to be able to call myself a poet, but I think I can now.

Joanna Penn: And are you going to do a box set of the volumes?

Orna Ross: Yes, I collect them then into longer collections and themed selections. But I just do those little ones as they're going, because, even though poetry is very short form, it can take quite a long time to write a short poem. So, it's just nice and people like them. They're kind of a calling card in the poetry circuit, to swap chapbooks, and they're not expensive, you just put them out there as a taster and they've all sorts of uses and they're nice. So got another one of those done, and then I have been lost in glossary land.

I was trying to get really precise and tight definitions and explanations of jargon, what to leave in, what to leave out. At first, I was there, and my heart was sinking, and then I got so nerdy and so into it all. So, we have now a really comprehensive glossary with it. Of course we've left something out, and somebody's going to say, you didn't put it in, blah, blah, blah, and we can, as all our books are updatable, so we're open to anything that we may have forgotten. But we circulated it a bit, and I think we have pretty much everything there.

I'm really happy about that. So, that will be a standalone in itself, but it will also be at the back of each of the other guides.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, I think that's really interesting. And we've talked many times about language. I mean, you and I have even disagreed on the definitions of some language.

And, even when we first met back in 2012 whenever it was, the definition of indie, the indie author, the independent publishing, the independent publishers did not like the term. And you know, it's funny, this all evolves, and we have to claim what we mean by language and reinvent new language, right?

I'm interested in reading that. When's that going to be out?

Orna Ross: It will be out soon. It's ready to go. It's just the indexer needs to do her bit on it. It'll be out within the next six weeks, certainly.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic! And that is a skill. I mean, I would not be able to do that piece of work. That is not my gift. I just don’t care enough.

Orna Ross: It's not exactly my thing either, but I did care because I do think it is important. We use terms quite loosely and sometimes; people are having a conversation and they think they know. We had something recently where we were talking about vanity publishers and I was talking about one thing, this other person was talking about another thing. We both assumed we were each talking about the same thing, and actually, it led to a big mess for both of us. So, this is just essentially an attempt to get beyond that kind of thing.

Tools for Independent Authors

Joanna Penn: Fantastic. Right, let's get into the topic for today, the most useful writing and publishing tools for independent authors.

We are going to start with just a general thought on this, because we were both talking, again before we got on, about how we've just changed video management tools and how that's changing our perspective. So, the first thing to think about with any tools is that there's never going to be one thing that does everything, and you have to decide what the best of breed tool is going to be.

Plus, that is going to change over time. We've been doing this for over a decade, things change all the time. What else, Orna, should people realize before we even get into the details?

Orna Ross: I think, we're not going to talk about services, that's a slightly different thing. We're going to try and keep it to tools and software, you know, that kind of thing.

Obviously, we've spoken lots about services over time. This podcast is sponsored by the wonderful IngramSpark, and we're all indebted to all the services. But, if we started looking, you know, when you get into marketing and promotion tools, do you talk about BookBub? Then you know, who else do you talk about it?

And, we'd have been here all night, so we're sticking just to a narrow sort of definition, but I would like to say that, if you have not fully worked out who the best services are, there are two things that ALLi has for that. One is the Watchdog Desk and John Doppler, who heads up the Watchdog Desk, has a very comprehensive guide to the services sector, and that's choosing a self-publishing service, available free to members in the member zone.

And, we also have our vetted directory of services. So, that's the place to go for that.

But tonight, it will be tools.

Joanna Penn: Indeed. So, the other thing up front really is that many of the things we're talking about, they might have free trials, but they also cost money. So, you do need a budget. But this is the advanced show, and we're talking about running a business, and everyone who runs a business invests in tools to help them run their business.

So, that is our attitude going into this, and I think that attitude is important. I guess the other one is learning. You are going to have to learn things to use these tools. I'm one of those people who never reads a construction manual. I just give it a go, and then over time I learn new things.

But I am getting better at this actually, because I've realized that some things are just too complicated. And in fact, I do my own tutorials on stuff now. So, we'll come to that as we go through.

Writing and Editorial Tools for Independent Authors

Joanna Penn: But let's start with writing and editorial. So, Orna, what are your writing and editorial tools?

Orna Ross: Well, it all starts with dictation tools. So, I've long been an advocate for Dragon Dictate, I find them fantastic. But, a lot of the devices have caught up, and the audio that you get just on your phone, audio dictate is really excellent. So, I literally couldn't do what I do without it, I still do use Dragon because I find it better on desktops than anything else that's available.

Then it goes into Scrivener. Scrivener is my writing software of choice. Those two really, for the writing phase, they're the two that I rely on most.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and I mean, this is the classic thing. We say things change over time, but I've been using Scrivener for a decade and I still can't see any reason to change from my writing software. Although, we'll come to formatting, but we used to use it for formatting, and we don't anymore.

So, I do some dictation and I also still use Dragon. Now, I’m on a Mac, I think you're also Mac.

Orna Ross: Gosh, yes.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and they've stopped supporting the desktop edition on the Mac. So, I may consider going to the Dragon Anywhere app, but also, I use Descript, which actually does fine with just my voice. And there are other tools, as you said, on whatever computer you now have, as long as it's just a couple of years old, you're going to have some native dictation or there are apps on your phone; the Google apps. Dictation has just come on so far.

Orna Ross: It is fantastic. I should say that Dragon is going to do a lovely offer for our members that's coming up in two weeks’ time, so stay tuned for that folks. If you are going to purchase Dragon Anywhere, don't do it just yet.

Joanna Penn: That's a good heads up because I think it's $10 a month or something. Okay, cool. Hold up for that.

Right. What else? So yes, Scrivener, absolutely still use that for fiction and nonfiction. I love the drag and drop functionality. Literally, it is my number one tool as a writer, and I can't thank the guys enough for keeping the price so low.

Orna Ross: It’s ridiculous. It’s amazing.

Joanna Penn: It’s like under $50 or something. Thank you, guys.

Then also, I was using Grammarly, and I still like Grammarly for my email plugin, but I now use ProWritingAid for my fiction. It's so good because, with Grammarly you can't put in a massive document, but with ProWritingAid you can put in a whole book. And, for example, my Mapwalker Trilogy, Mapwalker is a word that I use, and there are words that are sometimes capitalized, sometimes not, I am terrible at getting that right, and they'll pick up across the whole document. Now, yes, these are things that proofreaders do, but we should all improve our writing up to the best point we can. So, as part of my process, I have a story editor for the high level, and then I'm using ProWritingAid for my line-edits before I send it to a final proofreader.

So Orna, what about you?

Orna Ross: Yeah, I'm also a big fan of ProWritingAid. I think it's a fantastic software and commend is really to writers as the better choice for a writer. Grammarly, also an excellent tool, but yeah.

Joanna Penn: I think ProWritingAid writing is also cheaper.

Orna Ross: Yes, it is cheaper, but it's really mainly that it is designed with writers of long form in mind. And Grammarly I think isn't as much, I mean, it's perfectly adequate, but you're getting extra stuff there with ProWritingAid.

You mentioned the story editing thing I’ve been exploring. I haven't fully dived in, but enough to say that I think it's a useful tool. Fictionary, for story editing, I don't think it will completely replace the use of a developmental editor if your work really needs that sort of attention at that level. But I think, if you're lost, if you're stuck, if you don't really know where you're going with the story, this is very good software.

And then we have good old Google Docs down there, which we both use. We plan this show on it, and I mean, our business is built on Google Docs at this stage. It's just fantastic for everything, spreadsheets and the works.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and Google Drive, which contains the spreadsheets, the forms, the word documents, and also for cowriting books.

So, I co-write, I help my mum co-write, co-write with J. Thorn, co-written with Euan Lawson. For all of that we've used Google Docs to do the first draft before bringing it out into Scrivener. And just to circle back on ProWritingAid, it is the only tool, I believe, that actually works within Scrivener. So, that is fantastic, and Grammarly doesn't do that. Because I used to just copy and paste and type things back, now you can actually fix it right in Scrivener. So yeah, shout out to those guys.

Productivity and Life Management Tools for Independent Authors

Joanna Penn: Okay, should we move on to productivity and life management?

Orna Ross: We need more tools for that one!

Well, there's the good old calendar. I mean, calendar and invitations just saved me, I don't know how many hours of my life.

Joanna Penn: I live by Google Calendar.

Orna Ross: It's just incredible. I resisted it, I have to say, I didn't like this, and I used to be, you know, what's all these invitations? We just said we'd meet at 4PM or whatever, but it's just so good at organizing things. So yeah, love Google Calendar.

Then, in terms of just overall managing of all the different aspects of the things that I do, the four different types of books and ALLi, and everything is in Asana. So, Asana is the project management tool without which, I could not function.

So, first thing I do every day is look and see what's in Asana. It syncs with Google Docs and it just gives me my tasks and my deadlines, pretty much everything. You know, Kayleigh and Sarah and the ALLi team, we're all there feeding into different boards, so it's really good in terms of just keeping on top of everything, wouldn't be able to manage without it.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, I have a couple of people I work with, obviously Alexandra and Dan for my podcast, but I do that on Google Docs.

I tried Asana, I just didn't get with it very much, and because mainly I manage just myself, I use the Things app, and it is Mac-only, but there are lots of to do apps, but Things syncs between my phone and the desktop, and that's what I use for my to do tasks and my recurring tasks and Google Calendar.

Now with the calendar, if you do interviews, I use Calendly, calendly.com, and that is brilliant because, once you start getting more established and people say, hey, will you come on my podcast, or can you speak at this thing, or can you do this thing, you can just send them a link and they can pick their own time.

So, instead of you having to go backwards and forwards, can you make this time, that time, what's the time zone shift, you just send them your calendar link and it will help them find a spot in your calendar and you control what they're allowed to book. But that has saved me so much time over the years. So that's Calendly.

Also, I wanted to mention noise-canceling headphones, which I've put into my must-use list. So, at the moment, now I'm writing at home and editing at home, I'm still using my noise-canceling headphones, even in my own house, so I can't hear my husband.

Orna Ross: Husband-canceling headphones!

Joanna Penn: You can use them for child canceling. You can use them for whatever you need to cancel. It is very adaptable. And, when we're allowed out again, I use them in the writing cafe to concentrate on my writing, so yeah, I use the Bose QuietComfort, I think they're called, and I just loved them.

They were expensive, but boy, they were worth it. Although the air pods, which I also have from Apple for just podcasts, they now have a noise-canceling version. Obviously, these are pricier items, but you have to look at what makes you most effective, and what we're talking about here are the things that help us become most effective.

And it is trial and error, and I resisted noise-canceling for so long, but boy, it makes a difference to get into the zone in order to create. Do you use anything like that, Orna?

Orna Ross: I don't. Occasionally, if I am having trouble focusing, I'll just use a meditation noise. I know you used to use raindrops, didn't you?

Joanna Penn: I still listen to a lot of rain.

Orna Ross: Okay, I thought when you went home you changed the track.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, sorry, the Game of Thrones soundtrack as well when I'm writing, but editing, I've gone back to rain.

Orna Ross: Right, back to the rain. Okay, that's really interesting. So yeah, I would occasionally, but I'm fine if I have silence and I don't mind if I'm in a cafe and I've got all that kind of buzz around me, I'm kind of able to zone it out, so it's not something I've felt the need for, I guess. But I really want to second what you're saying about not denying ourselves these things that can make all the difference. And if you find something, you know, beg, borrow, or steal what you need if it really helps you to produce more, or to just be happier in work.

You know, the odds are against us as creatives, especially at the beginning, and I know this isn't a beginners show, but the odds are against us in terms of, will we finish the book, will we get it out there, then when we publish, there's a lot of stuff. So, anything that helps, do take the opportunity.

I hear too many writers saying, I can't afford that, while they can afford things that you know are just as expensive but in different zones of their life. So yeah, give yourself those tools.

Joanna Penn: Indeed, and Marie-Claire says, they are in high demand at the moment.

Orna Ross: The husband-canceling headphones!

Design and Formatting Tools for Independent Authors

Joanna Penn: Yeah, indeed. No, that's fantastic. Okay, so let's move on to design and formatting because, and this was one of those moments a few years ago, four or five years ago now, when we all used to use all these different things, and then Vellum came on the scene, and word spread through the indie community like wildfire.

There are people buying Macs, like moving from PC to Mac, because it's Mac only. Sorry everyone on PCs! But people were buying secondhand Macs so they could use Vellum because actually, Vellum makes formatting really fun. I literally, just this afternoon, fixed some back matter, you know, downloaded the new files, uploaded them because I wanted to send out an email and I wanted the nice back matter.

It takes minutes, and I'll tell you what the best thing is, when I used to use Scrivener for formatting, I didn't trust it, I had to check every single time, everything to make sure it worked. With Vellum, I don't even check it really anymore, I trust it to work and that is brilliant. So, obviously, total evangelist for Vellum.

What about you Orna?

Orna Ross: Yeah, it's really funny you just said that about the trust thing because that's what I was going to say, without realizing that it was something that was important to you as well, because you're really good at checking. I used to be in just convulsions of worry because I'm so bad at formatting, and also had a number of experiences where I used to get formatters and the problem with that is you don't have the control over the text. You can't make changes in the same way. You have to go backwards and forwards, and that didn't work. So, using Scrivener, I botched it a few times and I was just always worried. So, I'm not worried now. It's so clear. I've never seen actually a tool that made such a difference.

All the tools we're talking about here this evening are wonderful, but this one was such a game changer. And again, it's being kept at a very reasonable rate for what it does, you can buy it outright for the cost of one format, I think. It's really incredible, and the guys are so dedicated and they're constantly doing amazing updates that fix things and they've got plans for how they're going to keep on improving it on. Yeah, Vellum, Vellum, Vellum.

Joanna Penn: Yeah and Andrene says, I use Vellum via Mac on Cloud or Mac in Cloud on my PC. Works perfectly.

Thank you, and yeah, I was going to say, Paul Teague actually has a tutorial on how to use Vellum on a PC, and it uses the Mac In Cloud, so you can access and run it in the cloud.

Lorna says, is there any chance of Vellum being produced for the PCs? I've interviewed the guys. They are Mac guys all the way. In fact, one of the Brads, or both of them, used to work at Apple. They are Mac guys. It won't be on PC. They care too much about beautiful design. Sorry, PC people.

Orna Ross: And I will say that some people do find it is quite restrictive, because they deliberately have kept it that way, because we can get a little creative, authors, with our fonts and our headings and things, so it's quite restrictive in terms of what it will and won't let you do it.

What it will do is produce a very elegant and very simple book, but you might not like how it does your title or your headings or whatever it is. I do know a few people who said, no, I can't use it because the heading just annoys me or whatever. So, it's not maybe for absolutely everybody.

Joanna Penn: Fair enough. If you want a free option, Draft2Digital and Reedsy and obviously Kindle, have their own version. Lots of free ways you can publish. We're just saying what we use in this episode today and what we are passionate about. But to be passionate about formatting is hilarious because I really did not enjoy it in the old days.

I still don't do my print formatting. I work with wonderful ALLi member, JD Smith Design, Jane, who does my print formatting because, like I said about the glossary, there are things I don't care about.

Orna Ross: One of the things I absolutely love about Vellum is that you can literally, at the press of a button, generate your eBooks and your print and your large print.

Yeah, you have to go through it and change, just to make sure you don't do widows and orphans and, you know, that things fit. But really, it's a very short and small check. Yeah, I love the fact that it does my print as well.

Production and Distribution Tools for Independent Authors

Joanna Penn: Okay. So, then we've got production and distribution and, because we're not the 101 show, we're not going to tell you how to self-publish. Because there’s lots of help on the 101 podcast and also on the ALLi website.

But what we should do, is mention IngramSpark, because they are the sponsor of the show and we have a special code, don't we, Orna?

Orna Ross: Yes, IngramSpark has a code. Now, all ALLi members have the ALLi code, which is a hundred percent free title set up and revision anyway, but we are aware that there are people who listen into the show who don't, who are not members of ALLi. We don't know why, but you know, that is their choice.

No, joking aside, for non-ALLi members this code will actually give you free title setup and revisions during the month of May until the 31st of May. So, pens to the ready people, and we will have it in the show notes.

It's INGRAMSPARK2020, all one word, all caps.

Joanna Penn: Right, INGRAMSPARK2020 for free eBooks and print setup and revisions. So, that's fantastic. And we both use IngramSpark for our print-wide distribution. So, we're not going to go any further into publishing because we talk about that all the time.

Marketing and Promotion Tools for Independent Authors

Joanna Penn: So, let's talk about marketing and promotion. Now, again, we had a big discussion about how much do we get into this, because there are so many things that we potentially use for marketing and promotion, but what is the basic level Orna, that people need?

Orna Ross: Well, you know, it probably does sound too basic to a lot of you who are listening, but you've got to have your own website.

And, as an indie author, it is advisable to have your own transactional website where you can sell your books and your other products directly to your readers.

And, those of you who are convinced are going to say, what is she saying that for, obviously, but still, this is a debate. It came up only recently in the forum, again, where people are saying, no, it makes much more sense to me to use my Facebook page because people are there and getting them over to the website is too much like hard work and so on.

But really you need a website and you need an email list. And those two things have been key since we started and, I believe they will be key in 10 years and in 20 years’ time. Anyone who is succeeding has both of those in place and people who are not succeeding don't have those in place. And that's not a coincidence. So, yeah, just wanted to say that, though I'm sure none of you needed to hear it, and you all have all of that in place already.

Joanna Penn: Well, I do think it's worth talking about because, I have had all this stuff in place, again, for over a decade, but so often we end up leaving things. Okay, so there's a hurdle to get over, to build it, sure. You need to set aside some time, do the building. We have tutorials, it's all available. And then once it's set up, you think, okay, phew, that's done, I'll just leave it. But, the other day, I went back through my J.F. Penn sign-up for my free book. You know, we set up the reader magnet and then you realize it's been three years since you actually updated your autoresponder series.

So, I've just been through that going, oh goodness, has that been there that whole time? And that's kind of embarrassing. And then also talking about social media, I went onto Facebook, my Facebook pages for J.F. Penn and The Creative Penn, and I realized that I wasn't having a call to action to my signup.

So, I actually changed my Facebook page headers for the first time in years, and they have a call to action to the button, and the button links to my email sign up. So, look, this is all of us, we all have to review our setup every now and then. I've been changing some signups. I've been updating all these things. So, like we update our back matter. I'm updating books that are seven years old at the moment to change the back matter because things have moved on. So, this is another thing about tools. It's not just once set and forget. It is revisiting every year, every two years, maybe sooner.

Orna Ross: Maybe even sooner because things are moving fast in this publishing-tech arena, and there are great things coming on stream. And it's hard. It's easier for some people than others. Some people are just naturally better at tech and sinking in, you know, getting on with it and getting it done. And then, if you have to change, for some people it's hard and your heart sinks. But I think, you know, referring back to the attitude thing, the attitude has got to be, this is going to change. This is for now, this is the best tool for me for now, but I know this is going to change and I am willing to change with it when it makes sense. I think that's really kind of important.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, like email lists, for example. I've had three different email services over the last decade. I'm now with ConvertKit. I really love ConvertKit, but they didn't even exist when I started out.

Orna Ross: Yes, and what happens when a service comes in like that is that they usually learn from earlier services and they change things up.

So, ConvertKit approaches list and subscribers in quite a different way to the way Aweber or MailChimp do, and it's better. It's definitely better in terms of segmenting your list and talking personally to your people, especially if you have more than one series or anything like that.

They also have amazing landing pages now. Their design left a lot to be desired at the start, but now they have really fantastic landing pages, which you can put together really quickly. And, like you, I'm going around and just upgrading everything at the moment and changing things.

And we're going to talk about that I think next time, about reassessment, what you change and what you don't change. But ConvertKit has made it very easy for me to swap out one form and put it in another, and just generally do a tidy up. So yeah, they're not cheap and it's certainly not the cheapest email manager out there, but for me, I definitely have found that they're worth it.

Joanna Penn: They do have a new free tier. They have introduced that recently in the last couple of months, but otherwise, they're $29 per for the first level. But this is the other thing, this is the Advanced Show, we are doing this as a career. We do not have one book.

Generally, if you're listening to the Advanced Show, you're not someone who's just putting out one book and then moving on. You're someone who actually wants to do this for a living, or does it for a living, or does it for the long term, and you want to keep writing and keep publishing.

So, your email list, I mean, this is something I think we talked about last time, how, when Coronavirus shutdown happened, the first thing I did was email my list and make some money.

If you have a list, you can make money. So, just coming back to the selling direct, a question about doing that. So, I personally use payhip.com which does deal with the EU VAT issues. I have heard from some people that it doesn't deal with all the US individual taxes. But I certainly use Payhip and then I deliver the books with bookfunnel.com and BookFunnel is another must have tool.

Again, it has a very small monthly amount and also has a free level, I think, if you don't have much. But essentially, you can deliver eBooks and you don't have to deal with help because BookFunnel enables you to send this link and they can download to whatever eBook device they're doing.

So, that's for me. Payhip plus BookFunnel. What about you, Orna?

Orna Ross: I'm WooCommerce plus BookFunnel, as well, for delivery. Again, BookFunnel was one of those things that just saved me so much heartache and time. From readers emailing me saying, I don't know why my book hasn’t downloaded and me saying, oh, I don't know why either, I don’t know how to help.

BookFunnel just changed everything. All of that went away overnight, which was just fantastic.

Just talking about selling directly from your website, we have a guide to that, is it today or next Monday, and again, well link to it in the show notes. Because, the services that are available out there, Lorna asked about the tax situation, some of them are very good on some taxes. So, like you're saying, Payhip is, I think, London-based and therefore very aware of the EU thing whereas, others are, maybe not so much on the American sales tax, others lean in the other direction.

So, you have to be a little bit careful about the services, making sure that they are meeting the requirements that are needed. And, read the terms and conditions and just make sure that you're getting what you want to get.

Joanna Penn: I would also say, selling direct, you do need traffic and you need an email list.

So, again, this is the Advanced Show, it's not worth doing if you have one book and just a basic website with nobody coming to it. And again, you have to pay for these services so you don't set this up day one, this is something you move into later on, but it's brilliant because you get the customer details and you know who you're talking to, and you can integrate that with ConvertKit.

You can integrate it with your email system. And these are kind of developed sales methods that happen over time, and they're amazing because, over time, you can be independent of the big sellers.

Okay, I think that's probably enough. I mean, there are lots and lots of other tools for marketing, but there are so many, we just wanted to cover what we think are the most important.

Social Media Tools for Independent Authors

Joanna Penn: So, let's just talk about social media quickly because one of the issues that people have around social media is, oh my goodness, it takes so much time.

So, my secret weapon with social media is Buffer app, which is a scheduling tool. It can schedule to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and it means you can just put in your stuff and it will go out. So, you don't have to sit on social media. I love Buffer app. But Orna, you use a different tool, don't you?

Orna Ross: Yeah, I've just shifted actually over to SmarterQueue because, I'm not sure about Buffer app. I used that before and, I've had a few, but actually have settled now on SmarterQueue. It scared me at first, it's really complicated. It's not really, it's very simple, but it's the kind of thing that scares me and so, it took me a while to get used to. But what's absolutely brilliant about it is the way in which it picks up on different versions of the same update, so that if you have, you know, these core, kind of, pillar pages that you want to get out at different times and evergreen tweets and that kind of thing, it's really good at that.

And I think, it's the sort of tool that's only useful if you're the kind of person who broadcasts on social. So that your strategy is based on putting out a lot of good information, a lot of links. You know, people kind of link and read., I'm not so sure that it's necessary or good if your strategy is more about engagement.

But yeah, I really like it, it's really, really good, again at taking in the whole lot of what I do. So, it can handle the ALLi books, and the GoCreative, and the poetry, and the novels, and not get them mixed up. So, it's very effective in that way. And one thing I would say about social media, just before I leave it, and SmarterQueue has helped me with this is, I used to have everything all mixed up on all the different platforms, and one of the things I'm doing as part of this reassessment is allocating different platforms to different aspects of my work. So, only poetry on Instagram. Only GoCreative on Twitter Orna Ross. So, just getting very specific, and that's been very helpful in terms of just tidying up, and being clearer for people about the message, and whether they want to follow or not follow, and who I want to follow myself and be having conversations with.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and I actually think that the more you do this, the less you even want to be on social media. So, having a scheduling tool is really good because I find, like today, I spent a lot of time creating and doing the things I want to do, and then, obviously this is a podcast and it's a video and it's a social media thing, this is lots of things, but we put time aside for social media.

So, time-batching, again, coming back to your calendar app, making time for these different things is really important. It's the only way you can be productive in your writing life is to make sure you don't just get distracted and jump on. So, having scheduling tools is a really good tip.

Sales, Accounting and Business Tools for Independent Authors

Joanna Penn: Okay, we're running out of time, so let's move on to sales and accounting and business. So again, this is the Advanced Show. We use specific things to run our business. So, I wanted to mention that I've been using QuickBooks for the last decade for my business, but I've moved to Xero.com and, just on spelling, somebody asked about all the tools, there will be show notes, and also in the Facebook group probably we'll go in and put the different tools in. But Xero, it's just been brilliant for my author business. I moved last year, so I've just had one full financial year of it. It integrates with PayPal, which for me is great. Again, if you sell direct successfully, you have a lot of transactional things happening. So, you really do need an automated accounting system. And QuickBooks didn't have a PayPal feed when I used it. So, this is just brilliant, and I have Amex business account and all these types of things.

So, having an accounting system that I then allow my accountant to log in and have access to just makes year-end so much easier. And I'm actually starting my year-end now, my year-end is end of April. So, starting to do that now and it's so much easier. So, that's my tip for accounting.

Orna, anything on your side?

Orna Ross: Nothing really to add. I'm in the very fortunate position that I don't really have to engage with accounts too much. I've got a fantastic account who has a little auto tool that all I do is go ping, ping, and everything goes through and it integrates with Xero, which is what he uses, and he does the rest.

And then with ALLi, Phillip, my co-director, looks after all the business stuff. So, I don’t have to.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, I'm a control freak with the money, so I am in there. But, Julie Cordiner says, how do you manage all the different currencies?

I manage PayPal in two currencies, US dollars and GBP, and then my accounting is in GBP because I'm in the UK. So, you will have to set these things up, but obviously, PayPal has multi-currencies, but I manage these two different currencies.

Orna Ross: We manage five, so it does get complicated, but it's not that complicated.

PayPal makes life very, very easy actually, and the more your business develops, I think the more you come to like PayPal.

Joanna Penn: Oh yeah, yeah, they really help. Okay, let's talk about sales tracking because this is one of those problems. We need a Vellum, or we need a Damon Courtney from BookFunnel to please sort this out.

Sales tracking when you publish wide is a nightmare. It's still a nightmare. Now, I still use Book Report on Amazon, which is great because it makes the Amazon reporting nice. So, I love Book Report, but there is nothing that is perfect for wide publishing. Now, there is Tracker Box, which is PC.

Now again, if you're a PC person, if you have an opinion on Tracker Box, let us know. There's also Book Tracker, but that wants your log ons, and I'm not willing to give my log ons.

Orna Ross: Yeah, and it's not complete either, and that's the thing with everything, is that it doesn't do the full round, so you're only getting a section and then you still have to do the manual thing on the others.

Joanna Penn: So, Orna, what's your process?

Orna Ross: Yeah, we're manual. It's Google Docs basically and just note everything, and quarterly we do the reports. But I couldn't manage it on my own at all and so, why hasn't anybody done this? Maybe somebody is working on it right now. If they need anybody to help them, for their beta, we are here. We'd love to help because this would really make a difference in people's lives.

Joanna Penn: I personally think that the number of authors who are wide, at the level who will pay for this tool, are probably smaller. Book Report does very well at aiming for it. If you’re in KU, Book Report really does deal with a lot of stuff. If you are one platform only, then this is fine. But if you're wide, if you distribute wide, which is a much smaller number of indie authors, I think, I say that anecdotally.

Orna Ross: It's increasing, you know, all the evidence is that it is increasing and it's only going to grow.

I hear what you're saying, right now, you know, with the Amazon, with the longest river in the world situation, and perhaps people haven't felt its worth doing. I really do think it's worth doing because things have settled and there is sort of the big five self-publishing services, and to be able to integrate all those into one tool.

Ethan Ellenberg, the literary agent that we work with on the rights front, and his son is exploring something that might step into this arena, but it's quite a way off.

Joanna Penn: Oh, the lovely Dave Chesson is here. Dave Chesson from Kindlepreneur.

Orna Ross: Now, there’s the guy to do it.

Joanna Penn: Publisher Rocket, which is a tool we also love.

Dave Chesson said, I tried building a full report reporting system over a year and a half ago and shut it down after a year of programming pain. The hard part is the security systems, and there aren't many authors really using it. And I agree with that, having worked in an IT software world before this, because everyone changes their formats all the time on the reports, and even if you upload them, you have to fix it all. So, you know, I'm with Dave on this. I think this is really hard, but this is a hard problem that we hope will get cracked at some point.

Orna Ross: Come on, Dave. Go again!

Joanna Penn: So, yeah, at the moment, for example, I'm running ads on Apple, so I will have my ads and then I look at my Apple iTunes connect, and I will just look at that and I'll check that for my ads. And then I do a year end. So, the lovely Russell at Author Help does my year end, and we just do the whole year.

So, I don't even do this very regularly, like literally once a year, and then I post it on my blog, so that will be out in the next month or something.

So, yeah, I guess we wanted to say with these tools, I measure the money every single day, but I rarely measure my sales. No, seriously. This is my income. This is my livelihood. This is everything. I need to know the money.

But yeah, volume and income from different stores and different books, I only do once a year.

Okay, so we're almost out of time. Obviously, there's lots of other tools we use, but we wanted to go through the top ones today. So, Orna, anything else or should we talk about next month?

Orna Ross: Just to say there was a question there earlier as to whether we will be listing the tools and we will, there will be a list of tools here on the Facebook event just underneath and also on the show notes that accompany the podcast. The podcast is out on the blog on Friday week. So, look out for that then but, if you're on the email list you get an alert.

What’s happening next month?

Joanna Penn: Yeah, fantastic. Okay, so next month we have decided we're going to talk about reassessing your author business because, off the back of the Coronavirus pandemic, the shutdown, what we've been doing, and also what a lot of other people have been doing, and we've heard from a lot of authors, is that we're really looking at what is important, what do we want to achieve? Again, this sort of Memento Mori, we are going to die.

Orna Ross: She loves saying that.

Joanna Penn: So, what do we want to achieve? What do we need to do to reassess our business? I'm doing a heck of a lot of this, so I'm going to have a lot to share. Orna is as well. So, we're going to talk about rebooting an author brand, which I'm really looking to do. What are the things you need to do to reshape your author brand?

The questions you're going to ask yourself about what you want to do going forward, and also, I guess, having talked about productivity and all that, what can you turn off? Like, what do you not want to do anymore? What do you want to see in the next decade as we're in the 2020s, what do you want to do?

So, it's a really big topic and we haven't planned the notes yet, but we're going to, by the time we do next month, and that is going live on Monday, the 1st of June, I believe. Seven o'clock UK time. So, you can join us live or you can get the replay. So, Orna, what is happening in the next month for you?

Orna Ross: Yeah. So Glindex, glindexing, new experience.

Joanna Penn: Sounds like window cleaner.

Orna Ross: I know, it’s funny, on the ALLi front and I'm doing the finishing off. I did the eBook of Creative Self-Publishing, that went up just a short while ago, but I've been sending it off to different people and stuff. I didn't do the print, so I want to make some changes and get the print edition of that up and out there and glindexed. So, yeah. What are you up to?

Joanna Penn: I am finishing my edits and getting Map of the Impossible to my editor, and really excited about that. And then also, I've actually started working on the next book, my next Arkane Thriller. I am refocused. So, I'm going hard this year, especially since we're locked down. I mean my April and May, I was meant to be traveling, speaking in Nashville, and all of this. And that is all out the window, so I'm just doubling down on fiction. So, thanks everyone for joining us and happy writing.

Orna Ross: Yes, indeed, and happy publishing. See you next time.

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/


This Post Has One Comment
  1. Dear Hosts — Your content is good, and as a transcript it is understandable, but you are not broadcasters. You both talk too fast, with run-on sentences and unending paragraphs lacking pauses, emphasis, and inflection for important points. Combined with the UK accent it is difficult for the American ear to decipher. Rather than a professional broadcast, it sounds like a recording of a chat over a breakfast table. I wish I had been there so I could have asked you to slow down. But I gave up trying to understand your vocal podcast and resorted to the transcript.

    My favorite editing tools, which you did not mention, are PerfectIt and WordRake . Both have free versions, but I found them so valuable (especially WordRake, which I use catch errors even in all my emails) that I bought the advanced versions.

    Thanks for the help.

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