In this month's AskALLi Member Q&A with Michael La Ronn and Sacha Black: How do I protect myself when writing about real people?
Other questions include:
- What exactly does Young Adult mean?
- Help! I can't update an edition of my book on Amazon!
- How do I find the best freelancer for my book?
- What is the best free website hosting provider?
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About the Hosts
Michael La Ronn is ALLi’s Outreach Manager. He is the author of over 80 science fiction & fantasy books and self-help books for writers. He writes from the great plains of Iowa and has managed to write while raising a family, working a full-time job, and even attending law school classes in the evenings (now graduated!). You can find his fiction at www.michaellaronn.com and his videos and books for writers at www.authorlevelup.com.
Sacha Black is a bestselling and competition winning author, rebel podcaster, speaker and casual rule breaker. She writes fiction under a secret pen name and other books about the art of writing. When Sacha isn't writing, she runs ALLi's blog. She lives in England, with her wife and genius, giant of a son. You can find her on her website, her podcast, and on Instagram.
Read the Transcripts: Writing About Real People
Michael La Ronn: Welcome to the Self-Publishing Advice and Inspirations podcast. This is the ALLi Member Q&A, where we answer your most burning self-publishing questions. My name is Michael La Ronn and I'm joined by Sacha Black. How are you, Sacha?
Sacha Black: Hello. I am good, thank you. How are you?
Michael La Ronn: I'm hanging in there, on a wing and a prayer, is what they say.
Sacha Black: It has been a little bit like that this time of year.
Michael La Ronn: One of those weeks. We are officially in the fourth quarter, and I know everyone listening has got all of their marketing done and set for Christmas, and they don't have to worry about it. Just sit on a porch on an Adirondack chair somewhere and not have to worry about any marketing in December.
Said no one ever.
Sacha Black: Yeah literally, said no one ever. How many more launches do you have this year?
Michael La Ronn: I don't know. It depends on what I want to do. Probably two, at least three.
Sacha Black: Oh my goodness me, you are a machine. I just, I don't get it. I need that pace. I need that pace. I covet it.
Michael La Ronn: I just publish and then I worry about the marketing later.
I'm more focused on just getting the book published because there are launches and things like that, that I do for certain titles, but I don't really have any huge titles coming the rest of the year. So, I'll just publish it and I'll worry about it later.
Sacha Black: I love it. I love it.
Oh, we have a whole raft of questions today, don't we?
How do I access the Self-Publishing Advice Conference?
Michael La Ronn: We do, and we have one that is quite timely for those who are listening because we have our Self-Publishing Conference coming up quite soon, later this month. The question is, how do I access the Self-Publishing Conference?
Maybe you haven't heard of it, or maybe you have heard of it.
Do you want to talk about that, Sacha?
Sacha Black: I do. I'm just trying to find my notes frantically to make sure that I say the right thing.
Michael La Ronn: Ah, I've got them if you want. Okay. So, the self-publishing conference is our annual free conference where we provide self-publishing information for everyone. It's live for 24 hours. There's a session every hour. Literally, so everyone across the world can listen, and it's free for three days, October 21st, 22nd, and 23rd, and then to access it, you just need to go to selfpublishingadviceconference.com and click sessions from the menu, and then you can scroll through all the sessions to see which ones you're interested in.
Sacha Black: That is only for those three days though, right?
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, it's free only for the three days. So, after that, you do have to have a paid pass, but you do not need to log into the SelfPubCon website to access the conference during those three days.
Sacha Black: Yeah, and then afterwards you have to log in.
If you are an ALLi member though, you get access for free, even after the three free days. So, it helps to be a member.
Michael La Ronn: Yes, it's always good to be a member here at ALLi.
Live Member Q&A Announcement
Sacha Black: Yes, I was just going to say, do you think we should talk about our session in November?
Michael La Ronn: Yes, we can if you want to talk about it.
Sacha Black: Yeah. So, what's happening now is that we used to record these live and they would stream into Facebook and on our YouTube channels, but we're not recording them live anymore.
We are, however, going to do a big live event where we will live answer your questions. So, we're going to start that, the very first one is, I don't know if you can remind me of the date of the first one? I know that it's coming up very soon.
Michael La Ronn: Yes. Okay, it is November 18th, and we don't have a time just yet, but we'll announce the time in the next show, and you'll get it in the newsletter, all the normal channels, social media, all of that. But hold that date. Yep. Save the date.
Sacha Black: Love it. Okay. I think that's all of our announcements and all of our exciting news.
Michael La Ronn: I think so, yeah. That's enough for one episode.
Does ALLi have a list of print-on-demand distributers for different parts of the world?
So, let's jump on to the first question, which is from Rory, and it's a distribution question. The question is, I was wondering if someone could provide a list of the known print-on-demand distributors for different parts of the world?
I know, for instance, that Ingram's Global Connect platform may help you sell books in Brazil, but there are services such as PottyPrint that can help you across all of South America.
I was just wondering if ALLi has a list gathered?
Sacha Black: I don't believe that we have a list. What I do know is that PublishDrive are very good in Asia and Chinese markets, and that sort of area of the world, and I know that Mark Williams works with an organization called Streetlib that's very good in Africa, for example.
So, those are two that are the more well-known ones. I think that might be a good idea for us to have a look at in terms of a future blog post though. So, I think I'll write that one down, and what I will say is keep an eye out. We're currently planning our content for the first quarter of the new year. So, keep an eye out on the blog from January onwards and hopefully you'll see that in the first quarter of next year.
Does ALLi have a list of current VAT rates for books and eBooks?
Michael La Ronn: All right, perfect. Next question is from Roddy and the question is, can you provide, or do you know where to find the current VAT, value added tax rates, for books and eBooks across all 27 EU member countries?
Sacha Black: I'm not sure that ALLi has a list like that either actually. I think that's probably something they need to check with each country's government.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, or I found a link. I'll share it, just take it with a grain of salt. It's got a table of all of the current VAT rates.
So, take that and just use that as a starting point for your investigation. You can check the show notes, we'll include it in there. But yeah, that's not an easy list to find by any means.
Sacha Black: No, it's like when you're trying to do it for the different states in America as well. That's why some of the companies that do web stores are so helpful because they collate it for you.
What is the definition of young adult?
Michael La Ronn: Exactly. All right. Next question is from Ian and Ian is saying, I'm trying to establish what the term young adult means. It seems to vary from 12 to 18 years, but 12-year-olds are not young adults, at least in my opinion. What is the definition of young adult?
Sacha Black: Okay, so I don't think there is any globally accepted die-hard rules.
What I know to be true, and certainly when you go and visit most bookstores, is that there is a “middle grade” section, that is 9 to 12. So, nine years to 12 years, but then the young adult section will start also at 12, and that will typically go 12 to 18. But then, of course, young adult topics are very different for 12-year-olds than they are for 18-year-olds.
Then you have new adult, which starts at sort of 17/18 and will go up to about 25. It's that kind of college age, just after college, but before you get marriage and babies being the big, you know, work type themes that you have as a bog-standard adult. I'm feeling old right now. So yeah, I would say that is probably a good definition.
The other couple of things that I would add here are that children in general read up. So, a 12-year-old is most likely going to be reading books for a 13/14-year-old. They're usually reading at least a year, sometimes two years ahead, and that's why sometimes you'll read books with a 15-year-old protagonist, where you might know a 15-year-old in real life, the language and depth of content and detail might not necessarily reflect what you're seeing, and it's because typically children read up.
So, 15-year-olds really are going to be reading books with 17-year-old protagonists. So, I hope that is a good definition. The other thing that you could do is go into a bookstore and see how they are classifying it. Or you could ask other indie authors.
I know for me, certainly when I was writing Young Adult, I always said 12 to 18, but then on my books, I would actually give an age range. So, in the blurb, for example, I would be like 16 or 17-year-old protagonist, and that then helps the parents and/or teenagers pick out the books.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, that's great. Children reading up, I just always associated young adult with basically from the time you enter middle school to the time you graduate high school.
Sacha Black: So, what's middle school for you though, because that's different for us here?
Michael La Ronn: Oh, that's right, yeah. Middle school for us is somewhere around 12-years-old up until 18.
Sacha Black: Oh, interesting. So, we have two systems in the UK. One is like a three-tiered system, and one is a two-tiered system, and I know our years don't correlate.
But anyway, crazy trying to work out what is appropriate.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, and it seems like it evolves too, that's the other thing. So, that was a great answer. I actually didn't know any of that. I learned some stuff. I don't write young adult; I write mostly speculative for grown folks.
Do I need insurance to cover my book?
Okay. So, next question is one that's after my heart. I always love these questions. It is from Mike, and Mike says, my book is non-fiction covering a jazz history theme, utilizing copious first-hand review and correspondence material. I'm confident that I haven't libelled or slandered anyone or overused second-hand sources, but do I need to take out some form of insurance cover?
So, here's my typical spiel about insurance. So, I work in insurance, I actually work in liability insurance helping businesses protect their assets and things like that. So, I know quite a lot about this topic, and what I would say is that for most authors, basically, you can purchase what's called a media liability insurance policy, and what it does is it protects you if someone were to accuse you of libel or slander. As long as you wrote the book in good faith, it would protect you from copyright infringement, these sorts of things. These policies tend to be quite expensive, and I find that most authors probably don't need them, and the authors that do need them don't qualify for them.
So, if you're writing true crime, memoirs, autobiographies, anything that somebody could potentially sue you for, the insurance company is not going to want to touch that book with a 10-foot pole anyway. So, it's this weird dynamic where the authors that are concerned about it, like science fiction authors, so on and so forth, don't need it, but the authors who really want it can't get it.
So, in your example, Mike, you interviewed some people first-hand. You certainly could consider insurance cover. I think your type of book, it would not hurt to get it, but there's some other things that you can do as well. For example, this isn't legal advice, but making sure you get signed releases from the people that you've interviewed, maybe giving them an opportunity to look over the final product before you publish it, getting them to sign a release saying that they're waiving all their rights to the book, and an attorney can help you draft what should be in that.
Then also perhaps paying an attorney to review the book, or review sections of the book to identify if there are anything that might hurt you, and while that sounds expensive, I have encountered attorneys that do have packages where they're willing to review a book, maybe the first hundred pages, or maybe they can skim the book, and it was a lot more affordable than I expected. Shop around, take a look at that.
If you really feel like you need the insurance cover, just know that this is an insurance type that your local hometown insurance agent typically is not going to be able to help you with. This is something that is a very specialized type of insurance. You can check online.
I can't recommend any companies, unfortunately, just because of my own employment and insurance. I can't recommend anyone that would potentially be a competitor, but the Authors Guild, I believe if you are a member of the Authors Guild here in the states, they have a company that they recommend.
I believe that this company writes internationally. I don't think it's limited to just the US, but I would maybe start there and then just do some searches for media liability insurance or media liability cover. I believe there is a similar product across the pond, and just start there.
That's my general answer on insurance. Take that with a grain of salt and use that as the beginning of your investigations.
Sacha Black: My turn to have learned something.
Michael La Ronn: Yes. So, a lot of fun. Insurance for writers is very interesting. I spoke to an insurance agent, he was like the top provider of media liability insurance in the States, and he was telling me quite a few things that were very interesting about this type of insurance.
Should I tell Amazon that my book is inappropriate for children?
Okay, the next question is from Sue, and Sue says, I'm currently planning or preparing my second novel in the series for publication on Amazon.
When I'm publishing it, Amazon asks, does the book contain language situations or images inappropriate for children under 18-years-of-age. My novel is a cosy crime mystery with a few swear words and a few mentions of non-graphic LGBTQ relationships.
My view is that it would be okay for young people from around age 15 and up. So, my question is, should I tick that box for yes, or no?
Sacha Black: No, tick no, because what I have seen in the Facebook groups is that when you tick that, you're essentially putting yourself in the Amazon dungeon. What that means is they assume that your book is then essentially erotica, which that book clearly is not.
Also, I think there is another box at some point that is referring to the cover and what is on the cover, and if there is inappropriate things on the cover. So, I don't know whether that's just the eBook version, but either way what from all the advice that I have seen in various Facebook groups, they're all saying do not tick yes. Because if you tick yes, Amazon basically classes your book as saucy, very saucy, and the consequence of that is that it will restrict certain organic searches, and you will find it increasingly difficult to get your book seen in the store.
Michael La Ronn: Don't click it unless it applies. Don't be one of those people that doesn't click it and you probably should have clicked it, but you don't want to put yourself in the dungeon either as Sacha called out. That is not the place you want to be.
How can I maximize a permafree with a wide book marketing model?
All right, next question is from Dylan, and the question is, I'm an author in the early stages of my independent journey. I'm using a wide release permafree plus reader magnet model. For the sales of my book, the permafree have been very good, which is great to hear, especially considering I did not start building my list until the first book came out. The question is, any tips on maximizing a permafree going wide marketing model?
Sacha Black: I would contact as many authors in your genre as possible and ask them to share the permafree. I would look at doing a newsletter promo stack, so applying to various different newsletters. Make sure that you have a couple to 3/4 days between each newsletter, because then you get cleaner data once you start. So, obviously when your book goes out in these big newsletters, you'll have a spike and then it will start to tail off. As it tails off, that's when you want the next spike.
Obviously if you want to keep the sales high, then don't have so much of a gap, but I like to have a gap so I can see the performance of each individual newsletter. So, I suppose it depends on your goals there.
But, yeah, are you promoting the permafree on social media? You could advertise the permafree, you could send some AMS ads to it. You can also do things like going on the Kobo promotions tab, and they often have free book highlighting abilities on there. They have various different mechanisms and sections on their site where they highlight free books. So, you could have a look on there. There's also a similar system in Barnes and Noble where you can do that.
Then there's other things like just actually talking about the fact that you're wide and putting that on social media, putting things like not always having the Amazon link first on your website, or using a Books2Read link where you can have multiple links embedded in that one link.
Then there are other things like run a giveaway that's that has a prize, like maybe a £10 Kobo voucher, or I don't know, run giveaways that don't necessarily prioritize Amazon to encourage those wide readers, and when you go to the other authors in your genre to ask if they would share the permafree, go to authors who are also wide. Don't go to authors who are in Kindle Unlimited.
So, those are probably the first things that I would do.
Then the second thing that I would do is join Wide for the Win, which is a Facebook group where they don't allow any discussion of Kindle Unlimited or exclusivity, and they have a ton of advice, tips, tricks, tactics, strategies, methods for getting more book sales wide.
Yeah, hopefully that's three or four big things that you can go and do.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, those are all great, Sacha. I would add, also don't discount paid advertising. For example, Facebook ads do allow you to target readers on Barnes and Noble, for example. It's not 100% precise, but you can target readers on some of those other platforms with your permafree.
Now, it is a permafree book, so it's going to be a lot harder to potentially get your money back, but for maybe a two- or three-day campaign, see what happens. Set up a different campaign to each of the different retailers, see what happens.
You might be surprised. It might not pan out at all, but you could set a low budget and try to go after it that way. In BookBub ads would also be something that I would look at as well.
So, with your permafree title, ultimately, you're wanting people to grab that first book, read it and like it, and then buy through to the rest of your series, right?
So, when it comes to going wide, I'm a big fan of maximizing every tool in the toolbox because it takes a long time to build a readership outside of Amazon, and sometimes you don't always know which tools are going to work. Sometimes you can find some happy accidents.
Do I need to create a second edition of my book when making changes?
Next question is from Mary, and Mary says, I want to put an updated copy of my paperback on Amazon. I've added my own ISBN to the cover and made editorial changes in the manuscript. I presumed this must be a second edition, but Amazon won't allow me to make the change. What should I do?
Sacha Black: You only need a second edition if you have changed a significant amount. Usually, it's more than 10% of the book. If you haven't changed more than 10% of the book, or added a substantial subplot, removed a substantial subplot, then you just upload a new version as far as I'm concerned.
I don't think you'd need a second edition. I've uploaded revised manuscripts if I've changed typos and things.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, unless it's greater than 10%, or if for whatever reason readers will be confused or angry that you published a new version that has content that they can't review because they've already bought it, then I would just upload a new version of the book.
If it's more than that 10% then I would read, I would pull down the existing one and then republish it. So, sounds like maybe if Amazon is still not allowing the change, you might want to reach out to Amazon and just see what's going on.
How do I find a book cover designer?
Next question is one we get quite often, from member Joan. How do I find a book cover designer?
Sacha Black: The first thing I would do is ask your friends who are authors, who have had good covers done, because there's nothing like a good recommendation, which is why my second recommendation is to go to the ALLi ratings and partner directory.
So, we've got a directory, which is like our booklet where we have pulled together some of our partners for you to review. Then we have the ratings section where you can go and search by service. So, that's two places for you to get that, and we will leave a link in the show notes to that. But it's self-publishing advice.org/best-self-publishing-services. So, you can have a look in there.
The next thing that I would do is, depending on your budget, I would go to your favourite digital bookstore and go and look at the covers in your genre. I would open up the books and have a look to see if they have named and accredited the designer.
If they have, using a designer that designs regularly in your genre is a very good place to start. Probably the best place to start. Sometimes they can be expensive. Sometimes they're very reasonably priced.
Those three are the three big things that I do to find a designer.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, those are all great, and I really liked the last one, which is just find the designers that are working on books that are published and successful.
Sacha Black: I always say that one last just because sometimes it can result in the most expensive covers.
Michael La Ronn: It can, but it's tried and true.
The only thing I would qualify is just making sure that the books you're looking at are well reviewed and have a lot of reviews. That's super critical, because it's easy to find a designer, but you want to find somebody that's got a track record.
Can I move my paid author website to a free website service?
Next question is from Christine, and Christine says, I can no longer afford my hosting plan for my website, which is wordpress.org. I would like to transfer it to a free hosting service, but I don't know where to start.
I would say, I've transferred hosting services, but I've never transferred anything from a paid to free. I did do some research on Google, just cursory research, and it can be done. So, you can transfer a paid, like a BlueHost, or GoDaddy, or HostGator plan to a wordpress.com domain. I would just do some googling and maybe watch some YouTube videos.
The hardest and trickiest part to this, and it's really not that hard, but it makes people a little bit nervous, is just the transferring of the domain name because you've got to go in and unlock it, and then there's a delicate sequence you have to follow to make sure that happens properly. As long as you just follow the steps recommended by the different providers out there, you should be fine.
So, I would just Google, transfer from Bluehost to wordpress.com, and it looks like the first couple of search results, they look like they're pretty accurate. Should be able to help you.
Have you ever done that, Sacha?
Sacha Black: I've only gone from free to paid, not the other way around.
Michael La Ronn: Yep, so it sounds like it's doable and best of luck on that.
Is there a book review service for foreign language books?
Next question is from Lynn. Is there a service such as Book Sirens for foreign language books?
What is Book Sirens?
Yeah, Book Sirens is an ARC service, advanced reader copy service, as well as it allows you to provide advanced copies to readers. Normally what you'd have to do, in the bad old days is you'd go to some book blogger directory, and you'd reach out to different book bloggers to see if they take your book. You might reach out to your network to see if anyone in there would potentially want to read your book, and it's to be able to get those early reviews. What Book Sirens does is it gathers readers from all walks of life onto a single website, and then you post your book and then they can download it and get it onto their devices and then Book Sirens helps them leave a review wherever they want to leave a review.
So, basically, they bring the reviewers to you instead of you having to go to the reviewers, and you only pay when someone actually downloads your book. So, it's kosher with Amazon's review guidelines, Apple's review guidelines, and I find it to be a great service. Book Sirens, Book Sprout is another one that's very similar to that.
So, it basically just helps you helps you get reviewers for your books.
Sacha Black: So, in terms of foreign ones, there must be. I can't think of one off the top of my head, but there are foreign publishers and foreign publishers will be using book bloggers and services like that. So, they are out there, but that's one of those things that's going to require some Googling.
The other thing that you could do to search is to go to things like Instagram or TikTok and then type in bookstagram, but look for the foreign posters, because they may tag the services that they're connected to. So, just be clever with the words or hashtags that you're typing in, you know, French fantasy, or, I don't know, I can't think of off the top of my head, but that kind of thing, and then you'll start to see book bloggers who are not necessarily English.
The thing is, do you speak the language? Because if you don't speak the language, it's quite hard to do that research, but yeah, that's how I would approach it. I would go through like Google and then searching on Instagram via hashtags that would be relevant to the language.
Can I use real people in my historical fiction?
Michael La Ronn: Perfect. All right. This question is from Steven, and Steven says, I wish to use actual person's names as characters in historical fiction. I fear in some cases this might be very sensitive. However, I've been assured that under law, deceased persons can have actual names in fiction. Specifically, I think he's trying to reference a physicist who was behind the atomic bomb.
So, can you use actual people's names?
It's complicated. I would say, if the person is deceased and you want to use them as a character in your book, yeah, I think that's probably OK, but it depends on the circumstances, right?
There's tons of Western novels that have characters from the Wild West that do all sorts of crazy stuff that they would have never done in real life, right?
I think the closer you start getting to the contemporary period, I think that's when it gets harder. What do you think, Sacha?
Sacha Black: I also think, if the person has lots of living descendants. Let's take for example J. R.R. Tolkien. I know that family lives relatively close to where I live, and I know that family still owns the estate because he hasn't been dead for 70 years or whatever it is. I think if you were to use somebody like that, you could be in trouble.
I think if they've been dead for more than 70 years, you're unlikely to get in trouble, because anything that they would have done that could have been copyrightable would be out of copyright and in free public domain anyway.
It also, I think, depends on if you're being defamatory. Are you showing them in a good light? If they're somebody that was like a warlord, I don't think anybody's probably going to complain about you killing them off in a book or something, but I just think that you need to be careful.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, I agree. If anything, yeah, just do you do your research on what publicly available information that attorneys have written about this. There's lots of legal blogs and things where I'm sure that this question has come up, and I'm sure there has been an attorney somewhere that has tackled this question, and you can look at that and review the details and compare it to your own situation.
Just as a general rule, me personally, I don't like to use people, period. Any kind of famous people in my fiction, just for that very reason, just because you never know, right? You just, you never know. If your book is not successful, then it's probably not that big of a deal, but if you become the next New York Times bestseller, you might have a problem on your hands, because these sorts of things only blow up when you become successful.
Can ALLi recommend a company to print hardcover children’s books?
Our last question, Sacha, and that is, I'm looking for someone to print a hardcover children's book. Does ALLi have any recommendations?
Sacha Black: We've got our ratings page where you can go and look for the services.
The most obvious big ones that we talk about regularly are IngramSpark, they will do hardcovers. Book Vault will also do hardcovers. Then you could also look at local printers as well because there will be local printers in your area where you could do a short run.
So yeah, we definitely have options in our ratings page, which was selfpublishingadvice.org/best-self-publishing-services. And of course, if you are an ALLi member, you can log into the member website, allianceindependentauthors.org and navigate to discounts and deals, and you'll see that there are some discounts and deals in there as well.
Michael La Ronn: Yes, perfect. That concludes another month, Sacha. So, we're in October already. We'll be back in November, and we should have a more concrete date and time for our upcoming live event. Thank you for listening. Have a wonderful month and we'll talk to you next time. Bye.