What does it mean to be creative? Welcome to our latest podcast, Creative Self-Publishing with ALLi director, novelist, poet, and creative facilitator Orna Ross and ALLi News and Podcast Producer Howard Lovy. Every episode, we'll discuss how to become a profitable self-publisher while also retaining your unique, creative voice. There are many paths to self-publishing, and we'll help you discover yours. In today's episode, we'll introduce the topic by defining what exactly Orna means by creative self-publishing.
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What does it mean to be creative? Welcome to the latest #AskALLi podcast, Creative Self-Publishing with @OrnaRoss and @howard_lovy. They'll discuss how to become a profitable self-publisher while also retaining your unique voice. Click To Tweet
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- Creative Self-Publishing: ALLi’s Guide to Independent Publishing for Authors and Poets, by Orna Ross. (ALLi members get a free ebook edition)
- Orna Ross's Patreon page.
About the Hosts
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
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 35 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, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcripts: What Does it Mean to be Creative?
Howard Lovy: I'm Howard Lovy, news and podcast producer for the Alliance of Independent Authors. You're listening to Creative Self-Publishing with Orna Ross, ALLi director, novelist, poet, and creative facilitator.
Every episode, we'll discuss how to become a profitable self-publisher while also retaining your unique, creative voice. There are many paths to self-publishing, and we'll help you discover yours.
In today's episode, we'll introduce the topic by defining exactly what Orna means by creative self-publishing.
With me now is Orna Ross, ALLi's director, a novelist, poet, and creative facilitator. And this is our brand new Creative Self-Publishing show.
Hello, Orna. How are you?
Orna Ross: Hi, Howard. I'm very well. Well, I'm kind of well, I'm still getting over that coughy/coldy thing, but yes, delighted to be here, so that's making me feel very well.
Howard Lovy: So, the first question I want to ask is just a general question, what exactly do you mean by creative self-publishing?
Orna Ross: Yeah, it could mean anything, couldn't it, almost? Self-publishing, we know what we mean by that, we mean when the author publishes their own work. So, because of the way in which publishing grew up over the last number of centuries, people came to believe that publishing meant an industry, you know, but there are third party publishers, and now more books are published directly by authors than by third party publishers. We're already there after only 10 years of digital publishing, and things are changing hugely in the business. So, creative is a word that can mean all sorts of things.
I'll talk a little bit more about that in a while, but for me it encompasses practice and process and, all sorts of things, but ultimately it leads to producing something by intention. So, you set a creative intention and at the end of a creative process, which has seven stages, you have an outcome, and that outcome bears a resemblance to your original creative intention, but usually also changes and new things cohere to it along the way, and it ends up being recognizable but different.
And I think that's true of our books, you know, we have a vision, and we have to follow that vision, but what ends up in the words is often a little bit different.
And the idea of creative self-publishing is that we are applying that same sort of sense, that same sort of process, the same capacity, the same impulses, the very same ways of being and ways of going on, to our publishing and that means to our money because publishing is a business, and if you are not actually selling books and making enough profit to keep going, then you're not succeeding as a publisher.
So, it's quite a huge undertaking to decide to become a self-publisher and luckily, most of us don't really know what we're doing when we start off, we just want to write our books and then we just want to get readers for our books, and that desire takes us all the way along the journey.
So, what I'm interested in looking at in this series of podcasts, and in various books and blog posts and things I write, what I'm interested in looking at is how we can make the journey as creative as possible, because that is our richest source of energy. It's how we actually get from idea to product. And while we're very used to applying that notion to our writing, when it comes to our publishing sometimes, and particularly when it comes to the profit part of our publishing, we can drop the creative bit and get a bit confused, get a bit overwhelmed, get a bit “follow the leader” kind of thing, and end up doing things I see in the community a lot, one author comes up with a way of doing things that has worked very well for them and they put it out there, generously sharing their own experience, and then the whole herd moves and starts doing that same thing without thinking enough about, is this right for me? Does this author write in my genre? Are they looking for the same kind of readers? Do those readers want the same kind of experience? What is it I'm trying to achieve with my books? What's my passion? What's my mission. Does this fit in with those kinds of questions?
Howard Lovy: So, it's taking the creative part and applying it to self-publishing where you could be just as creative with the publishing part as you are with the creation part of it, that's also individualized?
Orna Ross: Yes, exactly that. Doing it your way and allowing room for allowing trust in your own creative capacity and in your own creative impulses and following them with an experimental approach.
So, as we know, as writers, not every idea makes it to the final cut and it's the same with publishing, not everything we try is going to work for us, but we try things with an experimental approach to see how things turn out and learn from a mistake or a success and take the learning into the next phase. So, that's the other thing about creative, creative by definition is expansive. So, when you're creating, you're growing and expanding, and it's taking that expansive approach and not being afraid of publishing. And the only way to do that, and to really get into that, is to do it. You can think about it forever. You can plan and you can intend.
Howard Lovy: That sounds very familiar in my case. I do an awful lot of thinking and planning, and not enough doing.
Orna Ross: Yes, the thing about publishing is it is a learning-by-doing process, and creativity generally is, and that's why in the old days it was taught by apprenticeships. And that's why these days, in our self-publishing world, it's authors teaching each other. So, Facebook forums or Discord communities, or whatever, have become our apprenticeship places, and we serve our apprenticeship, not to one master, but to the hive wisdom of the crowd, which as I said earlier, has a danger in-built into it. What has worked for one part of the crowd, it's not necessarily your crowd, it's not necessarily what you need to hear.
So, you're always the creative director of the writing and of the publishing, and you're always the one who's making the ultimate decisions, and you're making them in your own likeness. You're doing things your way, you're trusting what you're learning about your reader, and you're building on that in order to create a successful profitable publishing enterprise.
Howard Lovy: Right. Well, I know in my case, I write for a particular niche, and what works for a fiction writer, or a different kind of nonfiction writer would not necessarily work for me. I know exactly who my audience potentially is, so now it's just a matter of taking that creativity and honing it and putting it into a box and saying, this is my audience, and these are the people who would eventually want to buy my book.
Orna Ross: Absolutely, and I think you have been very creative in how you have harnessed that audience on Twitter. You know what they like, you know what they expect from you, and that makes it much easier for you when it comes to actually publishing your book.
So, you have been doing the marketing publishing task, a big segment of that, already, before the book has even come out, and that's a really good thing to do. So, when I'm talking about creative self-publishing, I'm not just talking to people who already have their book and already are publishing, because you can build in, you can bake your creative publishing into your creative writing, and one can feed the other.
Howard Lovy: Right. Now, this isn't all just theory to you, you've actually written a guidebook for ALLi for this. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Orna Ross: Yeah, so I wanted the first guidebook in the ALLi series to be called Creative Self-Publishing for that very reason, because I do worry about the fact that people don't trust themselves enough and don't take the time. I think, naturally, people want a quick solution to things, and we want an easy answer, and we want that magic pill, that's just going to make everything happen. But the nature of writing books, and the nature of publishing books, is that they're long-term endeavours.
I mentioned expansiveness earlier, you are growing as you're doing them, and you're not ready to actually do one part until you've done another part, and so I was keen to get people thinking about their own creative roots, their passion as a writer, what makes them tick as a writer. The more they can tap into that, the better the publishing becomes.
So, understanding what your own drive is, where it comes from, why it's important to do you, your ‘why' is going to be baked into the design of your book covers and the kind of language you use when you're doing your book descriptions, and all of that kind of thing. So, there are lots of people out there who will do description templates for you, and that's great, that can be a shortcut. But ultimately, you need to understand certain things about what you want to say to your reader, how you want to draw them to you, and if you don't do that inner work, of you don't actually connect with your own passion, and I would say also your sense of mission, not every writer's aware of their mission as a writer or a publisher, but if you can get hold of that and you can understand that for yourself, it can be a fierce source of creative energy, a sense of purpose, and just overall understanding of who you are as a writer.
You know, what books you would never write, and what books you most want to write, and I would argue that you should be writing the book you most want to write, and then test the market. I know there's a whole movement out there for writing to market, finding out what the market wants and producing a book to serve that market. That's great, and that's a certain way to do things, and some people have success with that, and some people don't, but that's not what I'm talking about with creative self-publishing, and I don't think for most of our members and for most authors, it's the most rewarding way to go it. Again, it may be short term good, but does it sustain you for the long term?
So, when I'm talking about creative self-publishing, I'm talking to those authors who want to make a living from their writing and publishing, and they want to still be doing this in 10 years’ time, and their ideal is to give up their day job and just publish their books and the ancillary stuff that goes around that.
Howard Lovy: So, we've been speaking generally. Do you have any practical tips for writing, for publishing, and for running a profitable author business?
Orna Ross: Well, yes. I mean, the book itself is packed with tips. It takes people through the seven stages of publishing, and it is a very practical guide, while it also talks about the theory of publishing. The most practical part of it is the last section of the book, this is in the second edition of this book, and it was redone in order to incorporate this creative business planning section. This has grown out of a Patreon program that I was running for a small group of authors who know that they want to be profitable self-publishers and they want to approach it in this way. That part of the book is creative business planning, profitable planning for publishing, and a couple of things that kind of leap out in terms of practical advice, one of the things is that creative rest and creative play become part of your business, and publishing process, and your writing process. So, understanding that rest and play are not breaks from your work, they actually are the work.
Howard Lovy: That's wonderful to hear much because I'm the king of rest and play. So, I'm very happy to hear this.
Orna Ross: Yes, but it is focused rest and play. So, it's creative rest and play. It's rest and play that is taken with a view to feeding the period of time you're going to spend writing and publishing. So, it's a switching off and it's, you know, whatever way you want to do that. Sleep, obviously, we're all forced into downtime, every 24 hours we're forced into sleep, whether we want to or not, no matter how creatively busy our minds have become. But retreats, downtime, vacations, all kinds of meditation, whenever we stop the mind from thinking, the idea is that you have the creative intention that this rest is actually-
So, I'm resting for my book, I'm playing for my book. It's doing activities that'll actually get you into a flow state, and actually get your creative juices moving, which for different people is different things. And that's why it's so hard to give straightforward steps in this kind of self-publishing advice. This isn't, you know, here's how to get your book designed, it's more like the actual process that you bring in order to ensure that your book cover reflects your intentions as a publisher, as a writer. It's the same sort of front brain and back brain activity, it's a combination of those two. So, that's one aspect of it.
Another aspect is recognizing that we wear three very different creative hats as publishers, as self-publishers. So, we are makers, we are managers, and we are marketeers. So, we do the making role, which is obviously writing the words, but it's also making the book, you know, the production aspects of publishing.
And then the manager looks after things like our creative process, our profits, making sure that all of that makes sense, and generally creating a good environment for maker and marketer to do their work. And then the marketeer does, obviously, the telling people about the books and the business.
So, the key manager task is processing. So, they're actioning, they're organizing, improving, they're maximizing. The key marketeer task is promotion, getting the readers into whatever world you want to draw them into, and having processes that actually keep them there. And then the maker, the key task is production. If we don't realize this, if we don't recognize that we're kind of wearing these different hats, we can have very busy, but not particularly productive days.
Howard Lovy: Right. Now, the maker and the marketer, they don't necessarily have to be you, and I know next time we're going to get into getting assistance and support, but you don't have to necessarily think of yourself as the marketer or as the designer?
Orna Ross: Absolutely, and that's a really important thing, and I'm really glad you raised it, because we are running businesses when we become self-publishers. And as I said, sometimes we don't realize that. As writers, we just kind of tumble into it, but like it or not, the second you put your book up there, you've just gone into business and your tax collector will treat you as a person in business. And so, you need to learn, not just publishing processes, but also business processes. And one of the things that every good business person knows is that assistance and support can actually yield you far more money than if you're trying to do everything yourself, and there are far too many authors trying to do everything themselves. One of the key things about creative self-publishing is getting back to the bits you love, because the bits you love are the bits you're good at. And then you can get other people to support you in the bits that you're not so good at.
And that may mean that you need to make an investment upfront, and it's only in the creative field that people think they can go into business without making an investment upfront. If you were to open any other kind of business, say a cafe, you would have to buy the furniture, you'd have to buy the coffee, you'd have to buy the food, you'd have to hire the waiting staff or the baristas, or whatever, and that's the price of getting up and getting going. Writers don't think like that. They bootstrap to a degree that is not productive, that is not profitable, and it is not pleasurable.
And that's the other big thing about bringing the creativity in. It's about, once you stay core and you do what you're good at, and you invest, and I realize people are in different situations around money, I don't want to come off as somebody who doesn't get that. I do understand that, but I also see that there is very often a mindset issue at play, where there is an assumption that, I'll invest in such and such when I've made the money. First, I must do it in this way, and then when I have enough money, I'll do that.
Yes, that may well be the right way to do it. I'm a bootstrapper. ALLi was bootstrapped, my books have been bootstrapped to an extent, but I also have a team and people who do things that I'm not good at, and that team has grown over time, but I've had people to help me from the start, and I didn't know how that was to go. You know, contrary to what people feel when they look at somebody who's doing it, you can assume that they have a situation that was safer than yours, or that was more funded than yours, or whatever, it's a risk, it's a business risk. And it can be uncomfortable for authors, I think, because we are risking so much already in our writing, in another arena, that asking us to risk in this arena as well, can just feel all like a bit too much. And this is where you come back to your own creative patterns, your own creative self, and your ability to know what's right for you, and what should come next.
Howard Lovy: Right. So, it's a collaboration, but also, as our friend Joanna Penn likes to say, these new tools that are coming out, the technology actually enhances your creativity so you don't have to think about all the other little things that maybe can eventually become automated.
Orna Ross: So much is happening in our world in that sort of way, and we will get into those things as this series progresses. Today is really just talking about the big high-level issues. But yes, our world is extremely exciting and there are so many opportunities, and there are so many tools, so much technology, and there's so much going on, it can become overwhelming, and when it does. In fact, let's scratch that, it will become overwhelming at various stages. When it does, what you take refuge in is your own creative spirit and your own creative wisdom. So, you have an internal creative system that we've been trained out of using in our workday world. So, we live in industrialized offices if we've been in the working world. We went to industrialized schools where we all sat in rows and had to sit quiet and behave ourselves, et cetera, et cetera. We were trained out of being creative in our behaviours, in our thinking, in our trust of ourselves.
We're taught to look to authority, or a celebrity, or, you know, somebody else to tell us what we should do and how we should do it. But actually, we have all that internally, and the more we can learn to trust that, and the more we can build our own creative strength and our own belief in our own creative capacity and our own creative wisdom, the more creative we can be.
Then we get into this benign circle where everything gets easier, and you don't find yourself running around chasing everything, because you are rooted in that sense of your own creativity, and it takes time to unlearn a lot of the stuff that we've accrued as we've gone through our lives and we all need to set up creative practices, which we'll be talking about as well in this series, creative practices and processes that enable and encourage us, and support us, while we do that.
Howard Lovy: Wonderful. I'm inspired already, and I can't wait to delve into some of these issues as we go further with this program.
I think that's all the time we have for this show, but I'm looking forward to speaking with you every other Sunday and talking about creative self-publishing, and I'm busy taking notes as you speak too.
Orna Ross: Fantastic. It's always lovely talking to you, Howard. Thanks for the great questions.
Howard Lovy: Thank you, Orna.