Why Indie Authors Must Be Entrepreneurs

Headshot of Orna Ross

Orna Ross, creative entrepreneur and authorpreneur

We hear much these days about the rise of the author as entrepreneur, writes Orna Ross, founder and director of ALLi. Both #authorpreneur and #creativepreneur are lively hashtags on Twitter and expanding categories on Amazon, Kobo and other online stores.

But how many authors understand what this means, let alone fall into this category?

What is an entrepreneur? What is a creative entrepreneur, an author-entrepreneur?

Must all indie authors aim for this? And if yes, what does it take to combine art and entrepreneurship, craft and commerce, into a successful author enterprise?

What Is An Entrepreneur?

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(Photo by Jonathan Crews via

There is debate over the very definition of an entrepreneur. For some, it includes anyone who runs a business.

More accurately, I think, an entrepreneur is considered to be a certain kind of business-person. The kind who is more innovative and imaginative, the kind who  consciously harnesses creative thinking to generate value from their ideas.

Creating value is the crucial point. Other people have to value the offering enough to pay for it at the right price.

  • For an inventor to be considered an entrepreneur, she needs to go beyond a good idea or blueprint, to building a product that people want to buy, and a business-structure that takes it to market.
  • For an author to be considered an entrepreneur, he needs to go beyond a  finished manuscript to making a book that people want to buy. And then to build the business-structure that will take it to readers.

These are three distinct activities, each with its own set of challenges and skills.

Successful entrepreneurs:

1. Come up with an idea for a new product or service for a particular customer base
2. Test their concept and modify accordingly
3. Raise funding and recruit a team
4. Make their product/package their service
5. Reach out to their customer base and sell to them
6. Create a business structure that generates profit, so they can keep on making and selling their product/service

Successful self-publishing authors:

1. Come up with an idea for a new book
2. Send it to beta readers, editors, or other qualified others for critique
3. Beg, borrow or steal enough to pay for editorial, design and production, marketing and promotion
4. Turn the manuscript into ebook, pbook and maybe abook, translations or other formats
5. Reach out to readers and sell to them
6. Create a business structure that generates a profit, so they can keep on making and selling books.

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(Photo by Aaron Burden via

Authors can resist the truth of all this and it’s not surprising.

Writing a book, making a book, selling a book, building a business: it’s quadruply challenging to do all these things at once.

First time out, it can feel overwhelming.

As you continue, and produce more books, the challenge is to maintain a workable symbiosis between being the entrepreneur (creative director of the business) who cannot be allowed to overwhelm the artist (creative director of the books).

And, of course, vice versa.

Some writers balk before they get started. They may find entrepreneurial/business  language off-putting. It can feel too commercial, crass, not creative enough.

But if we want to be a successful indie author, there is no way of dodging business. That doesn’t mean you have to handle everything yourself, you’ll need to hire help for the bits you’re not good at, but often what’s needed is not help so much as a change in mindset.

Authors who say things like, “I love writing, but I hate marketing” haven’t yet absorbed the challenge inherent in successful self-publishing.

What about you?

Can you ignite in yourself the characteristics of an entrepreneur? This is essentially applying the creative process you’re already bringing to your books to your book business.

When it comes to reaching readers, and building a sustainable income, can you be:

  • Imaginative and visionary: Can you envisage the outcome you want for your author business and create something from nothing, by working steadily towards that desired outcome?
  • Independent: Can you ignore the mob and fix on the business models, income streams, micro-niche and readers that will deliver the perfect you-shaped enterprise?
  • Optimistic: Can you break out of the pessimism that’s endemic in publishing and believe your own creative potential applied to business as well as books?
  • Passionate: Can you love your book ideas enough to follow your passions all the way to successful selling of them?
  • Resilient: Can you bounce back from disappointments, turn things around when they go wrong, see the opportunities in failure?
  • Resourceful: Can you figure out what you need to get ahead, process problems and overcome challenges, know when it’s time to let go of a method, a mindset or a person who does not serve you well?
  • Self-confident: Can you get over yourself, and the inevitable moments of self-doubt, and do the next necessary thing?

At ALLi, we have observed that the moment when members start to take off–start to get clear about their offering and niche, start to reach growing bands of fans and followers, start to stand out and scale up and make good money–is the moment when they accept what it means to be a creative entrepreneur.

Acceptance of all the aspects of the job is the moment that propels them from being someone who writes and publishes to being someone who makes a living from writing and publishing.

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What does it mean to be an #authorpreneur - and have you got what it takes to become one? asks @OrnaRoss Click To Tweet

from the ALLi Author Advice blog archive

How to become a successful Authorpreneur with AI and Authorpreneurship: Kinga Jentetics

Book Marketing: How to Turn Your Self-published Book into an Online Course

Can an Indie Author make Money with Print books?: Debbie Young

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6 Responses to Why Indie Authors Must Be Entrepreneurs

  1. Kari Trenten December 8, 2017 at 7:26 am #

    Excellent questions and points to raise in deciding the direction we want to take our creative business. Thank you!

    • Orna Ross December 14, 2017 at 7:47 am #

      Marvellous, glad you found it helpful, Kari!

  2. Grace Allison December 7, 2017 at 8:07 pm #

    I agree with we authors that are entrepreneurial. I would call us Authorprenuers who create new books using innovative ideas who in addition to writing market our works.

    • Orna Ross December 14, 2017 at 7:48 am #

      Great to meet a sister “preneur”, Grace, thanks for commenting!

  3. Jane Steen December 5, 2017 at 10:02 am #

    A well made point, Orna. Becoming an entrepreneur who can envision far more than just the creative processes of writing and perhaps commissioning a cover really is THE big test of self-publishing. I didn’t even try to pass it until I had three full-length titles to market, but when I finally went for it (October 2016) I found it easier than I’d imagined to hit my milestone goals.

    Which brings me to my point: the process was relatively frictionless for me because I’d spent the years while I was writing those three books learning and experimenting wherever I could. The input ALLi receives from established authorpreneurs was a valuable part of this process. I think it’s worth encouraging newer writers to think of themselves as authorpreneur apprentices, under no immediate pressure to demonstrate success but adopting an attitude of open-minded learning. Their first books are apprentice pieces that can later be changed and adapted to the writer they become during their apprentice years.

    Yet eventually all apprentices have to become masters or fail in their apprenticeship, and that’s something all writers have got to keep in mind. If you’re going to sustain a writing career (the goal of most of us) you’ve got to either learn the skills you don’t already have, or learn how to manage people and services that have those skills. It’s that sustainability factor that seems to defeat the majority of self-publishers.

    • Helen Bartley December 7, 2017 at 6:44 pm #

      Jane and Orna,
      It’s just up my street to think of myself as an apprentice first. It leaves room for making mistakes and learning by them, which is good news for me.

      I’m finding that ‘optimism’ is tricky for many authors, but I’m pleased to see it on the list along with ‘passion’. Both these are things I can rally bags of and so this article has given me much hope and encouragement!

      Now what I need to deal with is my ‘impatience’. There’s no golden bullet and that’s okay, but I find I have to remind myself of this almost daily.

      I just think we write that first book (could take years) and then expect to be a viable business within a year, or some such. My brother-in-law set up his business and had to grow it for five years before turning a profit – he’s really successful now.

      I’ve significantly reduced the time it takes to make new products, but building that client base takes time. I would be interested to know, how much time you both think an apprentice should realistically plan to have a good client base up and running, in terms of years? And what kind of client numbers we should be looking for at that point?

      Any guidance, would be wonderful!

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