Welcome to Ask ALLi, the Self-Publishing Advice Podcast from the Alliance of Independent Authors. This week it’s our monthly Member Q&A where ALLi Members’ have their most pressing self-publishing questions analyzed and answered. Join your regular hosts for the Member Q&A: Michael La Ronn and Dan Blank.
Michael La Ronn is the author of over 30 books of science fiction and fantasy and authors self-help books. His books include the Galaxy Mavericks series and Modern Necromancy series. After a near-death experience in 2012, Michael decided to dedicate himself to writing, and he hasn’t looked back.
Dan Blank is the founder of WeGrowMedia, where he helps writers and artists share their stories and grow their audience. He is the author of the book Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience. He has worked with hundreds of individuals, and amazing organizations who support creative people such as Penguin Random House, Sesame Workshop, Hachette Book Group, , Workman Publishing, J. Walter Thompson, Abrams Books, Writers House, The Kenyon Review, Writer’s Digest, Library Journal, and many others. Dan’s work has been featured by Poet’s & Writers magazine, the National Endowment for the Arts, Professional Artist magazine, and 99u. You can find Dan on his blog at or on Twitter and Instagram at @DanBlank
Questions answered this week include:
- If I use an editor who does a bad job, should I hire another one?
- What are the copyright issues around quoting a work from 1885?
- Should I hire someone to begin illustrations when my book is only 2/3 complete?
- A publisher has republished my self-published book because I signed a deal. Should I remove original book from the market?
- When do I need to use different ISBNs for my book?
- How can I connect with other authors in my genre?
- Do Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) ads allow you to target different countries other than the US (as of Feb 2018)
- How and where can I connect with other Alli members?
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Michael La Ronn: Welcome to the AskAlli Members’ Self-Publishing question and answer podcast. I'm your host, Michael La Ronn and I'm joined today by Dan Blank from WeGrowMedia. How are you, Dan?
Dan Blank: I'm excellent. Pleasure to be here.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah. Well, a lot of you listening are probably wondering why you're hearing two new voices on the show. David Penny and Debbie Young who were wonderful hosts for the podcast decided to step down and focus on their writing this year so Dan and I are taking over the show and we've got some big shoes to fill, but you guys have tons of questions and we want to make sure that they all get answered. So, we figured we would kick this off just by introducing ourselves so we can let everyone know who we are and what we bring to the show. So, Dan, do you want to introduce yourself?
Dan Blank: Yeah absolutely. So, my name is Dan Blank. I run a little company called We Grow Media. I've done this for about eight years now and all I do is work with writers and artists. My focus is really that idea of there are people who help people write a book, people publish a book and for me, it's about really how do they connect it with people? How do they develop an audience, develop a platform? Really forage what I would call a meaningful career. So, some of that is the creative side, some is marketing and branding and some is business as well. I'm the author of the book called Be The Gateway which I published last year. I have another book coming out later this year. I'm excited to be here chatting with authors.
Michael La Ronn: Awesome. Well, welcome to the show. All of you probably listen to the Alli podcast network will probably recognize my voice. Michael La Ronn. Former host of the Self-Publishing Beginner's Salon. So, I just moved over to this show so you'll just hear me in a different week compared to the last show, but I'm the author of over 40 science fiction and fantasy books. Have been doing this since 2014. Kind of had a near death experience and decided to jump into writing after that and just kind of never look back so I really love Alli and the message and all of the help that they bring to the indie community so I'm happy to pay it back and pay it forward by being on the show.
So, well why don't we go ahead and jump into our first question?
Dan Blank: All right. So, the first question is for you. I'll probably not read the entire thing it's kind of long but do I say the reader names?
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, I think it's probably a good idea.
Dan Blank: All right. So, Grant asks, “I sent an earlier draft of my book to an editing company in the US. It was returned to me. Virtually every page was highlighted with the word “consent.” I also think the editors failed, quite understandably, some British idioms.” The crux of the question here is if he uses an editor that does a bad job, does he just hire another one?
Michael La Ronn: That's a good question. Grant, it sounds like your editor did you a bad job there. Assuming that your primary audience is in the UK, I would probably just tell you to start from scratch and eat the cost and have a UK editor go back through the novel and just make sure that everything is the way that you want it. I'd probably throw out the former manuscript just to make sure that there's nothing there that gets messed up. I think there's some healthy debate on whether you should have two separate editions for the United States and the UK. I know this question has been answered on the show before, but I guess I won't answer that here, but I would probably just start over and eat your losses and make sure that you work with an editor that understands your needs, understands the language needs and is going to give you a product that you're going to be proud of.
Dan Blank: I love that. All right. So, the next question is … Oh, by the way, people. We both have kids in the background so if you hear children, that is intentional.
Michael La Ronn: Adds to the ambiance of the show. My daughter is knocking. I've got my door locked and my daughter is knocking on it calling for me.
Dan Blank: Oh, it's adorable. Okay, so the question is, “If I'm quoting material prior to 1880, can I assume that they are out of copyright even if they were later assembled into a collection dated, let's say, 1955?”
Michael La Ronn: That is another good question and a good copyright question. I would say we, Dan and I are not lawyers and neither is Alli. So, nothing we give you can be construed as legal advice, but what I would say is I believe the question, the author that the listener was referring to was George Eliot who was a famous author. Famous British author. She wrote Middlemarch. Died long, long time ago and they were referencing some letters that she published after her death. I would probably say most of what she wrote was probably in the public domain, but then again, I would just double check on the copyright because the crux of any copyright question is do you have permission, right? Do you have permission to use the work, to quote the work. I would probably just make sure that there was no third party publisher or someone who published their work after they died that has a claim to the copyright on the work.
So, I would probably err on the side of caution and just do your homework and make sure that you are reasonably certain that you have the permission to use that work. A good resource on this and it's a little bit of an expensive resource but it's a good one is the The Copyright Handbook by Stephen Elias. He's an attorney who wrote a book on just basically everything writers would need to know about copyright. I would definitely recommend you check out that book assuming for those of you in the United States. I would assume a lot of the stuff in the UK, laws in the UK would be fairly similar but that's a resource that you could potentially check out to help you feel a little bit more at ease as to whether you have permission to use the content.
Dan Blank: Sounds good.
Michael La Ronn: Okay. Okay. So, the next question is for you Dan. Lori asks, “I haven't finished my manuscript and I'd like my book to eventually have a pen and ink type illustrations. Would you deem it wise to go ahead and engage someone to begin working on my illustrations? My book is about 2/3 finished.”
Dan Blank: All right. So, I'm not an expert on this. I guess the question I would have to ask is what type of book it is. With this type of thing, I find that often times the act of creating is an act of discovery. So, part of me worries about getting these illustrations made too early because then you've invested a lot of money and a lot of effort and you feel locked into them. I've talked to a lot of authors over the years who have changed what they want, but they have invested so much in something that they now have to feel compelled to finish it. They can't flush it down the toilet.
I guess I'm a little curious if this is like a children's book or if it's nonfiction with a few accents pen and ink illustrations, but what I would do is I would take it as far as I could get to understand the process because you don't want to finish the book and then find out the illustrator you want isn't free for five months. Then they will take another eight months to get you a first draft. Now you're delayed. I would kind of map out the process as much as I could. Understand who I'd be hiring, what their process is, their availability, their pricing. Maybe I would have one or two illustrations done up early to get my own sense of if they're good or not.
Maybe I want to show them to some collaborators on the project. Then really align it to a schedule because when you're putting a book out, there's so much about the editing process, the cover design, the whole shebang. You know more about this than I do where it all has to line up to one publication date and you want to have as much information about that as possible because I can see it otherwise being very stressful.
Michael La Ronn: No, that's a great answer and I love that you said that about the timeline because illustrators tend to be backed up so being 2/3 through, they may not even be able to start until your book is done so if you haven't reached out to someone, maybe it's worth doing that and seeing what their timeline is because maybe it jives with what you already have planned.
Dan Blank: All right good. So, the next question is for you. They say, “I self published a few years ago and my books are on Amazon. The US based publisher is now republishing for the US market under a new cover. Do I need to remove my existing books from Amazon and other online platforms or leave everything as is?”
Michael La Ronn: Great question. So, I would probably say just without knowing what contract you signed with your publisher, my guess is that the copyright was transferred to the publisher so therefore, you would want to remove the existing book from the market for a couple of reasons. First, so that you're not cannibalizing the sales of the new book because you want that new book to have the most chances of success possible. Second, it may be a clause in your contract that the publisher would have the copyright to the book and so as a courtesy to the publisher and to make sure that you're not confusing the readers because I would assume that the new book would have a new title, have a new cover, you don't want to confuse your readers.
So, it would probably be advised to remove the old book from the market so that you can give the new one the best possible chance of success.
Dan Blank: Awesome answer. All right. So the next question is from Britt. So, it's a longish question. They're in the end of the process of getting ready to self-publish their first novel and novella. I'm still a little confused about the ISBN. I was planning on starting with Amazon just as an e-reader. Do I need to buy just one ISBN per title? If I later decide to publish in Kobo, would I need different ISBNs for the same title? Plus, do you recommend using KDP Select or not?
Michael La Ronn: All right. Two questions in one. So, I would say for the ISBNs, the general rule that most people follow and I believe these are probably codified somewhere, but I wouldn't know where you'd find them, but the general rule is to use one ISBN per format of your book. So, you would have one for your ebook, one for your paperback, one for your hardcover, one for your audiobook. If you have a graphic novel, you'd have one for that. So on and so forth. You would not need a different ISBN for each retailer. As far as KDP select goes, I would say I think we could all agree that long term, being in KDP select is probably not the best choice for your author career, but if you're just starting off, if you only have a few books, I think it's an invaluable tool that you can use to start building your readership and have some tools that will give you some exposure out there.
So, short term, yes. I would definitely recommend KDP select if this is your first couple times at the rodeo. If it's not, just start thinking about long term and what you want your career to look like.
Dan Blank: Love it.
Michael La Ronn: Okay. Okay. This next question is for you, Dan. Christian asks, “How can I connect with other authors in my genre?”
Dan Blank: All right. So, I love this question because I think it's something that authors need to do more of. So, one way I like to think about this is by first thinking about comparable books. About understanding the marketplace for your genre. So, often times people know the big wigs and then they might not know anything else. I think that spending time on Amazon, on Goodreads understanding the scope of the other books, the other current books in your genre is really smart. What I find with that is that these are wonderful research tools. Instead of thinking of Amazon as a marketplace, just think of it as a really well organized library and they are telling you other books that are similar to these books.
What's nice is that you really have so much information at your disposal. So, what I would be doing is one trying to find other books that I think are the type of book that I'm writing because fantasy is so huge. Then really researching the type of book. What readers love about them. Then I would take it over to Google and I would look these authors up and get a sense. Do they have a website? Are they active on social media? Do they go to conferences? The idea here is to find a handful of authors that are what I call mid-level doers. They are people who are actively working to build their career. Maybe they are somewhat successful. Maybe they're starting out, but they're people who are current. People who are dedicated as you are and where if you sent them an email or if you followed them on social media and asked them some questions, 9 times out of 10 they're going to reply.
They're going to find it wonderful that you've reached out to them, wonderful that you think that they have wisdom to share. Finding ways of staying connected with them. I do find at this age of social media too many authors stop at the most tenuous connection. They say, “Oh, I follow him,” and that's it. They click a little heart button and I think that there's something special about reaching out, about reading their books, about sending them an email, about leaving a review on Amazon and then sending them a thank you note. So, what I find is that the marketplace becomes a great research tool and that you should take the extra step to actually send an email to these people or if you're going to an event and you're meeting authors, follow up with them two weeks later with an email.
Keep that connection alive. I think that if you don't have colleagues, it's difficult to be a professional.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah. I would echo that entirely. Now, today in today's age, there's so many different resources that you could use to connect with other people so there's forums out there, message boards where you can find other … The listener was a fantasy author so that was the question, the genre that Christian writes in. There's KBoards, there's our ALLi Facebook group so there are plenty of different places where you can go and start to begin building that relationship as well.
Dan Blank: All right. So the next question is from Ruth. It's very long so I'm going to read the shortened version that we have here which is does AMS, Amazon Marketing Services, allow you to target different countries other than the US as of right now?
Michael La Ronn: I believe the answer to that is no. My understanding at this time as of February 2018 because things can change, my understanding is that the AMS ads are for Amazon.com, so United States only. If you wanted to target specific countries, that's not an option that they allow you to do at this time, but if you wanted to do that, another option for you would be Facebook advertising. That will let you drill down to the different countries that you want to market to and it will let you drill down by interests, geographical area, and all kinds of other wonderful things that we don't have time to go into on this podcast, but if you really want to dial down and start building that readership geographically, I would probably start with Facebook.
Facebook can also be useful for starting to develop your audience wide too. So, if you're not in KDP select and you're everywhere, that's something that you can do as well if you wanted to target say Kobo readers or if you wanted to target Apple iBooks readers, Facebook would be an effective tool for you to do that. Okay. Our final question for the day is from Lydia Ericson. She writes, “I am a new member four months in and I am still very lonely. Where and how can I talk to my fellow club members?” Oh, Lydia, don't be lonely. We got plenty of people here for you.
Dan Blank: I love the honesty though. I think a lot of authors are going to resonate with that. Just that idea of it can feel very lonely doing this. I would actually like to turn the table first and ask you because I think you're going to have a better response about fellow members. I'll probably have a little broader answer. I don't know if you have any insight about how to do that within the collective, within the membership.
Michael La Ronn: Sure. Well, let's talk about Alli and the benefits that we offer. So, Lydia as an Alli member, there are a number of different ways that you can connect with other authors and we can start with the Alli Facebook group. So, you can find that on our website. That's a group of many, many, many authors that you can connect with and any kind of interest you could think about we're there for you and if you have any kind of question we can answer that for you. So, that's a great place to build friendships. It's actually where I got my start with Alli was in that group and I kept in touch with a lot of people from that group.
So, definitely give us a shout there. I would also tell you too, on our self-publishing blog, so our self-publishing advice center, we've got lots of different blog posts and lots of different articles that come out on a weekly basis. There are a lot of authors that comment on those. That could be another really great place to meet people as well.
Dan Blank: With that, I would kind of go back a little bit to my advice from earlier where whenever you join such a thriving community, I think sometimes most of the people I know are introverts on some degree. It can feel like you're lost. It can feel like other people are louder or smarter or more experienced. Look for one or two people that you resonate with and focus on those people. Focus on commenting on what they share. Focus on reaching out to them, validating what they do. I always remember advice from my friend writer Beverly. She used to help run these workshops on East 2nd Street [inaudible 00:18:41] in New York City with these famous authors.
She said something like, “Everyone in that room who was a student was looking to somehow connect with the famous author and instead they should have been looking around at all the other authors sitting around them because all of these people 5, 10 years later are your professional colleagues. These are the people that you have been through the trenches with, you've built trust with and they are your network.” Whenever I go to publishing or writing conference and I see all the wonderfully famous authors on stage, they know each other. They've seen each other year after year.
They have a long history together. I would encourage you to one person at a time try to develop that kind of colleague, that kind of relationship. There isn't an author I know that doesn't have that kind of connection where they have really foraged these meaningful connections one person at a time. Not spamming. Not promoting. Just really supporting each other and finding people that feel like someone they can connect with.
Michael La Ronn: Definitely. So, don't be lonely Lydia. We're here for you and we've got thousands of members who are willing to connect with you. So, all you gotta do is reach out so come see us in the Facebook group and we'd love to have you. All right.
Dan Blank: Good advice.
Michael La Ronn: So, with that, that answers all of our questions for our February session. So, we'll go ahead and wrap up but if you're now my member and you have a question, we will answer any question that you guys have. So, if you want to ask a question, go to your Alli dashboard by logging in and look for the member self-publishing form where you can submit your question and hopefully have that answered live on air by me and Dan. So with that, we'll let you guys … With that we will go ahead and wrap and we'll talk to you next month.