Lessons Learned From A Game Changing London Book Fair 2014

The last few days at London Book Fair have been mind-blowing for me.

I feel this is a tipping point in my own author journey, and in this post I share with you what I have learned.

LBF Indie Millionaires(1) Ambitious authors can achieve 7 figure success as indies

This week I experienced the Indie Bestseller group of authors, made up of Bella Andre, Hugh Howey, Jasinda Wilder, Barbara Freethy, Liliana Hart, Candice Hern and Stephanie Bond, all of whom are incredibly successful as indie authors, both in terms of hitting the big lists, satisfying readers, and making a very good living.

I say ‘experienced’ because they are all forces of nature, working incredibly hard to express their creative selves, please readers and run international businesses. I met most of them personally and was able to chat and ask questions because they are not so well known in the UK so they weren’t mobbed all the time. I was basically a fan-girl for several days, hanging on every word!

I love to write and to create for its own sake, but I am also unashamedly a business-woman and entrepreneur.

We all have different definitions of success, but I would not have given up my day job in 2011 if I hadn’t seen that being an author could be a viable business. After 2.5 years, I’m currently earning about one third of what I was making as a business consultant, but in meeting the US Indies, I am even more confident that I can reach and surpass that. The penny has really dropped for me this time and I can see the path ahead.

Of course, Hugh Howey makes the point often that the outliers are not the success story of self-publishing, that we should be talking about the thousands of indies making good money, decent money, reaching readers and loving their lives as authors. Absolutely. But I am one of those already, and for me, the outliers are also the inspiration.

So let’s get a little deeper … There were a few over-arching things that seem to go into their success:

  • Focus on creating great books, for a specific audience. There was a lot of focus on brand, through cover design, through the author’s name, through the genre or related genres. Write in one name and one genre and do 5-6 books in that in order to grow a fan base, before trying something new, if you want to be successful fast.
  • Write a lot of books and produce them on a consistent schedule. To be a successful author, you need more than one book, for sure. But it seems you need more than 10 to make a very good living. Train your readers with what to expect and then deliver to that e.g. LBF14 Stands whether that is four books a year, or one a month.
  • Grow an email list and use at least one form of social media for connection with the readers
  • Allow time in the market – which enables development of craft and story, a slow build of readership and back-list creation which continues to grow the income every month.
  • Work incredibly hard. As many small business owners know, owning a business is not about balance. If you are an ambitious author who wants to earn the big money, you have to work your butt off. If you want to be treated more like an employee, and clock off at 5pm, then get a publishing deal, or continue in the day job.
  • Connect with other authors. Learn from each other. Connect with retailers as well, and play around with working together on different things. Be generous in helping others as much as you can, but always focus on the next book.

I am crazily encouraged by these things, because I am doing all of this already at a smaller scale. There is no magic bullet, it’s just this list, which should be nothing new if you’ve been reading this blog for a while.

This year’s LBF has been a game-changer for me as I caught a glimpse of my possible future in these wonderful, entrepreneurial indie authors. I feel like I am about three years behind them – so watch out for J.F.Penn in spring 2017!

Check out the video below or here on YouTube from Barbara Freethy, author of 37 books which have sold over 4 million copies. Barbara talks about going from author to CEO of a creative business, as well as branding, writing in a series, connecting with readers and what’s coming next in the indie world.

bella andre books(2) “We don’t do marketing … But everything we do is marketing” – Bella Andre

I love this quote, as I totally agree with it. At this point, I feel like my whole life is marketing in that all I do is share what I love with people who want to hear about it!

Bella and Hugh Howey particularly talked about the book itself as marketing – the brilliant story, delivering on the promise to the reader, a consistent production schedule, covers that evoke the emotion of the story, the author’s name, the title and sub-title, the sales description and keywords, email and newsletters. All this is ‘marketing’ but it is also just the job of an author.

Bella stressed the importance of the author name on covers, as well as a recognizable cover branding – although changing this up over time was also encouraged if your covers look dated. Readers will likely forget the title of your books, but they shouldn’t forget you as the author.

(3) Stay confident in your brand, and keep writing

Don’t jump on trends, as they come around again. Barbara Freethy mentioned that she has seen the vampire craze at least three times in her career as an author, and she has just stuck to what she writes. The readers will stick around and then the author will find that the circle turns and their genre is trendy again. So keep delivering on your promise to the reader.

JF Penn with Steena Holmes at LBF 14

JF Penn with Steena Holmes at LBF 14

I also talked about this with USA Today bestselling author Steena Holmes, who said:

“It’s not actually about writing what you want as an indie. If you want success, you have to focus on your readers, and if you want faster success, you should keep satisfying that core group of readers as that will bring you organic growth through word of mouth.”

Basically, keep writing in one genre, or at least related genres so you get crossover between customers. Deepen that one vertical.

(4) Expanding into audio rights can be a lucrative business move

one day in budapestACX.com opened up to UK authors this week, and excitingly, my book ‘One Day In Budapest,‘ is one of the first to be available through the new system. I’ve also got Desecration coming in the next month or so, and I already have Pentecost, Prophecy and Exodus up through a small press in the US.

Most of the Indie Bestseller group discussed how they were earning a great deal from audio now, and some even said that they could live off the audio proceeds alone. ACX is the only site available for royalty split deals right now, which makes it a great deal for indies. The biggest tip from Bella Andre was that ‘you live and die’ on the professionalism and skill of the narrator, so choose carefully.

In terms of advertising audiobooks, check out Bella’s audiobook page and consider it as a template for your own.

(5) How to go from being an author to being the CEO of a global business

This is something I think about a lot right now, as there are huge benefits to being an indie, but one of the drawbacks is that you do have to do everything yourself … or do you?

That seems to be the crux point for the Indie Bestsellers – how much can you outsource? and to who?

Bella Andre Joanna Penn

Joanna Penn with Bella Andre, LBF 2014

Bella Andre still does her own cover design, but most other authors outsource that. Other outsourced tasks are editing (of course), proof-reading, audio narration quality control, file formatting, some PR activities through launch period, rights negotiation, website design and technical things, accounting and reporting as well as data analysis.

The main thing that everyone agreed on was that the author remains the creator of content and is also in charge of connection with fans. Those two are non-negotiable. I’ll be getting into this topic more as I work on a new non-fiction book about the business of being an author, hopefully out in the autumn 2014.

In the video below, Bella talks about her tipping point, the importance of community amongst authors and readers. You can also watch it here on YouTube.

For brilliant tweets that minute the main author events and a different perspective from mine, check out Paris Marx’s round-up of day 1 and day 2 of London Book Fair, and his twitter stream for #LBF14.

Finally, it seems to me that indie authors exist in a different dimension, a world of infinite possibility

I started my week at Digital Minds, the pre-conference day run as part of London Book Fair at a separate conference centre. The opening speech was by Anthony Horowitz, who I think is a brilliant author, but his words made me think that I am living in a completely different world to him and many of those in the established publishing industry.

Most of the sessions of the day seemed to be two years out of date, rather than future focused. The questions asked of Hugh Howey, Orna Ross and Jon Fine indicated that many people still don’t understand what indie authors are about, or are even interested in working with us or learning things together. I see this new world of publishing as infinite possibility in an ever-expanding world of opportunity, but the atmosphere was sombre.

open up to indiesCompare that to how I ended my LBF, at the second birthday party of the Alliance of Independent Authors, where, alongside the brilliant Orna Ross, I hosted a line up of amazing indie authors performing and reading their work.

The picture left has some of the characters involved, from the left and clockwise: Debbie Young, Hugh Howey, Diego Marano, Dan Holloway, Orna Ross, and Jessica Bell. The picture was taken at the launch of Open Up To Indie Authors, a campaign to get the establishment to let indies be part of festivals, bookstores, prizes and more.

Amazon ACX and Audible sponsored the party along with KDP and Createspace, and the pub was packed with talented writers, and business people working in the new industry that the indie world is made up of, many of whom make a significant income reaching readers directly.

acx nookpressIt was an electrifying night, and it’s pretty amazing to think how far this new world has come in such a short time. Three years ago, when I moved back to the UK, self-publishing was still a dirty word, and now we are a strong and growing creative and entrepreneurial force in the industry.

But we are really just getting started in this new world.

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen NookPress finally open up to authors outside the US, as well as the launch of ACX for UK authors. Indies have got ebooks and print-on-demand in English pretty much nailed, and audio in English about to boom … but the next wave of expansion is global penetration and international translations and rights deals, and this has segment of the market has barely even started yet.

In the last two weeks, I have published my own books on Nook, and worked with two audiobook narrators on ACX. I have two books in German coming out in the next few months, as well as Italian and Spanish in the works. I also have a right agent working on other deals, so of course, I’ll report on my experiences more in coming months. By this time next year, at LBF 2015, I expect things to have changed all over again.

My author friends, we live in interesting times and I am ridiculously excited! I hope you are too!

What are you excited about? Please leave a comment below and join the conversation.

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  1. says

    Brilliant post, Joanna! I have been reflecting on LBF14 myself and I couldn’t agree more with your conclusions. It was inspiring to meet and listen to other indies (the first time I have really “engaged” with the community in real life) and I came away with a real sense of being a part of something that is only just getting started. Up the indies!

  2. says

    From Emily Arden, http://emilyarden.weebly.com: (comment left behind in server move)

    This is a wonderful post – thanks Joanna. I too have had some ‘interesting’ conversations with people who still have very traditional ideas about publishing. There is a stigma attached to self-publishing associated with concepts of ‘vanity press’ and validity. But I, like you, am very excited about this new world of opportunity which lies before us. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and enthusiasm – it really helps.

  3. says

    I loved this piece about LBF Joanna, and enjoyed listening to the clips. In terms of Bella Andre, I wish she’s said how she got from the 250 sales to her super stardom. I’ve done the same myself with my first novella, it was self published on 13 April and sold 240 copies the first week. Over the next 2 weeks I’ve sold another 100. It’s one of four and I’m hoping that this will help build my brand; the parts are releasing on a monthly basis. However my ‘reach’ through Facebook and Twitter is limited. I’d be interested to hear if there are any other places I should be promoting my book. Thanks again.

    Andie M. Long


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