Crowdfunding, A Passion For Print And WB Yeats With Orna Ross

Crowdfunding is becoming ever more popular with creatives to raise fund for various projects. But when is it a good idea for an author?

orna rossIn this interview with author, poet and creative coach, Orna Ross, we go into her love of WB Yeats and how this passion has turned into her own print project, as well as tips for other authors considering crowdfunding. Orna is also the founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, so she is very knowledgeable about the current state of publishing.

Watch the video below or Orna Ross Yeats on YouTube. You can also read the full transcript of the interview below.

Transcript of interview with Orna Ross

Joanna: Hi everyone, I’m Joanna Penn from and today I’m here with Orna Ross. Hello Orna!

Orna: Hi Jo. Hello everyone.

Joanna: Now just in case people don’t know who are, and I can’t imagine who they might be (!) but just tell us a bit about you and your writing background.

Orna: Okay. Well, I write novels. I write poems and I write guides to creativism, what I call creativisim, which is applying the creative process to life. But novels, I suppose is my main activity and has been for some years. And I also run the Alliance of Independent Authors, since I started in 2011-2012 self publishing my own work. And yeah, that’s about it, I think.

Joanna: More than a full time job, as I know. So that’s you, you’re a bit of a starter. You start loads of things. And you’ve got this project that you’ve started – as if you didn’t have enough going on.

Tell us about this project that you are about to do.

Orna: It’s crazy, because I have been working on this novel, a series of novels really, for a very long time based on the life, and specifically the love life and the creative life of the great Irish poet, WB Yeats.

And for those who may not know, he is considered to be probably the greatest poet of the 20th Century. Really important in Ireland in that he is the founder of our National Theatre, but also one of the feeders of the cultural nationalism that actually lead to the Independence war that kinda founded our state.

So all of that is his public life. Me, as an impressionable little girl in school, I was introduced to his work as every Irish schoolchild is and I was the perfect reader for his brand of romance, which was very tied up with the vision of Ireland as the creative space that we escape to. So for Yeats, he lived in London, he was a Londoner really, more than anywhere else. So he, like a lot of creatives, lived in lots of different places, but he had a long life in London.

But London for him and indeed for his Mother, who was from Sligo, London for him was the heart of the British Empire, the materialist world. Sligo, specifically, but Ireland, generally, was the creative space that we escape to so he wrote this very provocative “come away oh human child” the waters and the wild. He set up this image of romantic Ireland, a place anybody could slip into and be in a creative space. So that’s my abiding interest in Yeats, if you like.

When you’re told about Yeats, you’re instantly told about the muse, the great love of his life, Maud Gonne, who inspired much of his poetry, in particular but an awful lot of his writing. He said all of his oeuvre really came out of his wish to explain himself to her and I would say also to his mother, which is another story and they’re linked in the book.

So he created this poetic myth around his love for Maud, of unrequited love. He was the courtly lover who splayed his dreams unto her feet and asked her to tread softly on them. Now when I went and looked behind the myth and started to look at things from Maude’s point of view the story looked a little different. And that’s what sparked my novel, which is called Her Secret Rose.

It’s based around the time that he was writing a book of short stories called The Secret Rose, and so my novel is the story behind those stories, if you like, which ties into the themes I’ve just been talking about there. And it’s a novel of intrigue and secrets and double-dealing and all sorts of interesting things.

yeats 2015So, that was enough work. I am getting to answer your question here! There was enough work in all of that but I decided, because it is Yeats’ 150th anniversary this year that I would like to do something really special to celebrate that, and of course, writing a novel, finishing a novel, publishing a novel that is in a sense a tribute that everything he stands for.

But anyway I got this idea, wouldn’t it be great to put my novel and his stories into one volume and produce a beautiful print work that would be a replica of his 1897 first edition of The Secret Rose stories.

So that’s what I decided I would like to do. I investigated and it was ridiculously expensive. The paper alone is expensive and it’s embossed in gilt. It’s got these beautiful mystical symbols that meant an awful lot to him, which are all explained in my novel. And, it’s an expensive project so I decided, well, I’d do it if enough Yeats fans decide that they’d like me to do it. So I said let’s see if we can crowdfund the funds needed.

Joanna: And there’s so much I want to ask you about that, but I want to come back to a bit more of personal question, because you talk there about Yeats in London and in Ireland, and of course, you’re in London and you’re Irish.

How much of his feelings about Ireland and London are reflected in your own or what’s different?

Orna: That’s really interesting actually. I suppose that’s what I’m teasing out in my novel Her Secret Rose. I see a different Ireland to that mystical place that Yeats conjures up in his poetry, but indeed so did he. And in 1913 he wrote a line, “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone. It’s with O’Leary in the grave.” O’Leary was his political mentor.

And he had a number instances in his life where he took the Irish people to task for being not good enough in his terms, which essentially meant being too materialistic. “Fumbling in the greasy till” is how he put it. He took to the stage one night in the Abbey when there were riots against a play that he had promoted in the Abbey Theatre and he took to the stage and said, “You have disgraced yourselves again”. So he was always lecturing the Irish of not being quite living up to his high ideals.

And I suppose for me I’ve got that double relationship. Ireland for me, the landscape particularly, I grew up in rural Ireland. I’m a country girl. I love nature and there is nothing like Irish scenery, for me, in terms of touching that place where the magic happens.

But I can’t live there. I can’t live in Ireland. To live there full term doesn’t feed what I need. And I find London a much more congenial place creatively, much more vibrant, diverse, and interesting and stimulating. So, I live here and I go home, as I say, a lot. And I’m always hopping across the Irish Sea and then I come home, which is back to London very happily.

Joanna: That’s cool. So going back to the crowdfunding project. We’ve had a talk before about most independent authors make their money from digital versions of books. So this is not a financial project as such. It is “for the love of Yeats”, but also for the love of print.

So talk us a bit more through this print project and why print means so much to you, when you could just be doing this as an e-book and presumably making a profit, as opposed to doing it this way.

Orna: You’re absolutely right. It’s not a financial project, it’s a passion project.

And why does print mean so much to me? I mean it’s an interesting question. I do actually, fundamentally if there is a choice to be made, for me the magic is in the words, the format is not the most important thing. But there really isn’t a choice to be made. We can have more than just the magic of the words, we can also have it packaged in a very nice way. I find that reading books in print and reading books digitally is a different experience.

And one of the things that I do, if I really enjoy an e-book, I’ll often buy the hardback to own it, and I will read it again later on and have a different reading experience. I also, this particular book was designed by a woman called Althea Gyles. She’s a really interesting character in her own right. She was born in County Waterford, as I was myself. And there were loads of little sorts of coincidences and . . . what do you call this?

Joanna: Synchronicity

Orna: Lots of synchronicities around that and I just really admired her work. And I have this need after, I mean I’ve been self-publishing now from late 2011, early 2012 and I include in self-publishing in that term, blogging and all sorts of different publications.

And I just had a need to create something really tactile, really visual, really beautiful.

Something that special and different and out of the ordinary. And I don’t know why, why do we get these urges? They’re crazy. Why are we writers in the first place? It’s nuts. So it’s really that sort of motivation.

Joanna: Is there something around longevity?

Because I don’t really buy print at all. I don’t buy hardbacks or something to keep. The only print books I have are like Carl Jung’s Red Book, which is really massively oversize and contains full color print. And it was like £100 pounds. And I’ll be getting one of your Yeats books, but I’ll actually read the e-book on my Kindle. I’ll have the print book for more of an art piece. So is that a part of it? Having something that has more longevity than e-books?

Orna: Definitely. You know if this was just a hardback of my own novel, it wouldn’t be exciting me in that way. It is because the symbols that are on it and the gilt embossed that it’s very meaningful. It is in a conceptual sort of art way. And yes, I see it as a souvenir and publication of Yeats 2015.

I also see it very much as resuscitating the stories.

Yeats is considered, you know he’s celebrated mainly as a poet, also as a dramatist, but people largely overlook his fiction. And I understand why that is, he’s sort of a failed novelist. He didn’t really manage to get novels together, but these stories are very interesting.

They’re done in the folkloric tradition and he had done a huge amount of research and a huge amount of collection of folklore. What he did was write these original stories about his own vision of what he calls the mystical rose, which is a very ancient and magic symbol really in the western magic tradition.

And magic was a creative fuel of his life.

It was a secret for a long, long time because to say you were interested in magic, it was instantly termed, you found yourself a bit of a loon.

He was an indie author in the sense he always had one eye toward his reputation. He marketed very cleverly. He put himself out there in a very interesting way. He knew what he was doing and he took huge interest in how the books were put out there.

So he was our definition of an indie author. He did work with the trade publishers because you have to, but The Secret Rose itself was crowdfunded in a way.

O’Leary helped him to get subscribers who paid a certain amount. And once you reached an amount then the publisher would go ahead and do it for you. So very, very similar to crowdfunding really. It was a crowdfunded project in 1897.

Joanna: In terms of thinking about that as you were talking, I was thinking then of John Martin the painter who also did things after they had already been funded as such. I think you’re right that this is more of an ancient thing that’s coming back now.

But, for people who are watching who are interested in crowdfunding. I mean I’ve been blogging for 6 years. I’ve got quite a big audience, and it’s not something I’m ready to do yet. I don’t have a passion project like you do.

What are the types of projects that authors should even think of crowdfunding?

Orna: I think that’s a really good question, because I don’t think crowdfunding is a very wise decision if it’s just about publishing a book. I think books should be published on their own merits.

We have such fantastic tools now. It’s not overly expensive in terms of either the money or time. And you should believe enough in your book to be able to invest the relatively small amount that it takes to produce a decent book and get it out there in digital format. Print, as well. Print On Demand.

Maybe five years ago there were enough people who’d be interested enough in the fact that you were even doing that to fund it. But now, when every second person is writing and publishing a book, I don’t think that people feel too much about it. It’s enough in a way to expect than to buy your book. You know they expect you to have the belief in it in the first place.

But I think for something that’s obviously outside the reach of an individual to fund, then I think it’s okay to crowdfund. But I think you need to be very clear about what you’re offering.

Crowdfunding isn’t charity.

You are actually offering rewards in return for the investment. So, in my case there are the books obviously in e-book format and this beautiful print version, but there are various events that I think would be very appealing to Yeats’ followers and the launch itself.

I’m very lucky, honored indeed to be launching the book at the Yeats’ International summer school, which is a famous gathering of academics and scholars and poets and singers and writers who love Yeats. And part of the crowdfunder is to invite people to come along a share that evening with us. We’re going to have really fabulous dinner in the home of the president of the Yeats’ Society, whose wife just happens to be a brilliant chef, and she’ll talk about Yeats and she’ll feed us lovely things. And there are other events and things.

I’m also offering my own creative mentoring because I do see this book as being very much about creativity and the creative process of how that operates in us all.

So the rewards that are on offer are very much linked to the project. And I think that’s the key.

Well for me, that seems like the key. If you’re asking people to donate money that you’re offering them something that they would value in return. So I do think that what puts a lot of people off crowdfunding is that they feel it’s a fancy begging or a charity ask, but I don’t really feel that it is. I feel if there are enough people who share how I feel about this, then they’ll join in and together we’ll all create something that wouldn’t have been possible, if we didn’t all bound together to make it happen.

Joanna: And I agree with you that it’s more like paying in advance for a piece of art, really. That’s basically what it is. It’s committing to paying in advance for something you haven’t seen yet.

So there’s a element of trust from the purchaser as such. But I really like it and I’ve helped crowdfund quite a few things like the font from Sigmund Freud’s handwriting, which I know I’ve told you about before, which I thought was just cool. And I haven’t even used it. It was just a kind of cool thing to be involved with.

I’ve been involved in quite a lot of book projects, all that were more than just a novel. It’s very fulfilling to be part of that as an audience member and to get the updates about what’s happening.

So I hope you’ll be showing us some behind the scenes on the actual print process. Are you going to be able to do that?

Orna: I hope so and the decision as to exactly who’s going to help with the printing is being made as we speak. I know we’ve got to the stage in the crowdfunder that the project is going ahead. So we’re about half way there, and so it will be happening. So now it’s a matter of seeing who’s going to actually help us make it happen.

I really would love to share, because I think people are interested in how a book gets put together. And I’m celebrating, not just Yeats, the writer, the maker of the content, but also he was a book maker and he really took such an interest in it. And his interest is inspiring my interest in a way. It’s not something I ever did before or really got involved in, but it’s fascinating when you look at how books are made. And indeed when you look at how POD is made now these days, so it’s a whole new world and it’s really, really interesting.

His sisters, in fact, ran a small press and they were the outlets for his work. So again, there is that touch of him setting up his own indie scene, to deliver whatever he felt like he wanted to put out into the world. He didn’t have Amazon Kindle, but he would have loved it [laughter].

Joanna: I went to the London Center for Book Arts and made my own little book, you know? [watch the video here!]

Orna: I remember you saying that.

Joanna: And it was awesome. I did think at the time, if I do this, I do want to do some limited edition binding. And Cory Doctorow’s done that. He’s done limited edition bindings for some, like he did it himself.

There’s actually no limit to these creative things we can do with our own words.

So you definitely helped me think about what I’d like to do in the future.

But we should just point out that Yeats’ words are public domain, aren’t they? Would you just explain that?

Orna: That’s so important and I keep forgetting to say it actually. The only reason I can resuscitate these stories is because Yeats is now out of copyright. It’s over, just over 70 years since he died. In fact when I wrote about him before, I published a book, back in 2008, which contained some of the material that’s in this book and he wasn’t out of copyright at that time and it was like a real leap through the rights landscape to try and get it. So yeah, don’t try this at home with your favorite writer unless they’re out of copyright!

Joanna: That’s really important. And then the other question I had on the crowdfunding: there’s a lot of stories of people who’ve done it and then ended up not costing it properly, because you actually have to make sure that you funded all your levels correctly and promise the right things, right? You can’t over commit because a percentage has to go to the crowdfunding site. You get a certain percentage, there’s various fees and things involved.

So how did you analyze how much money you needed?

Orna: Yeah. I probably got it wrong, which remains to be seen [laughter].

Joanna: Wrong answer.

Orna: I got a quote for the various costs. The main costs for me, in my mind, are the costs of the actual production of the book. So that’s what takes outside the realm of an ordinary project. I’m committing an amount of my own money obviously to it as well. There’s a small charity thing going through. I’m using Pubslush as the crowdfunding platform, because they specialize in literary projects and I think that’s nice. I think that must be hard to only do books in the crowdfunding space, so I’m very happy to be going with them on that. And yeah. So they do a small sort of charity thing, as well. Very delighted to donate to that.

So there, yes, you’re right, it sounds like a huge amount of money, and what on earth are you going to be doing with it? But actually lots and lots of it will go in different directions.

And there’s a huge responsibility. I was aware of that before I started it, but I’m more and more aware of that as I go through the process.

That people are committing their money and their interest, those who are interested in it are very interested in it and so, yeah, you got to deliver.

And I did try, in terms, of working out what rewards I was able to give for it to be realistic about what I could, in fact, do and what I could not do. So I could have offered a lot more or possibly got money easier maybe from that I don’t know.

But in a way I think it’s like a lot of creative things, you can’t over-think it.

You just ride the desire and the intention to do it and see what arises as you go. Do your very best. Get some of it right. Get some of it wrong. And if at the end we get a lovely book and some great events then it would have done what it set out to do. Exactly.

Joanna: So, timeline? You have a hard deadline on this, don’t you?

Orna: I do.

Joanna: So tell us the timeline of your plan?

Orna: It’s really ridiculous and so I finish the book this month, May, and it goes into editorial. And it goes straight then from editorial to proofing, from proofing into production, and the launch is on the 3rd of August. So it’s bang, bang, bang.

But you know what? I’m loving that, because one of the things that I found most difficult about trade publishing is the gap in time between your investment in the project creatively and emotionally and everything else and then going out into the world with it.

So I had the experience, for example, on my first novel of there being three years between me signing the contract and the book actually appearing. I found it so difficult to go out there and talk about the book, because I was a different person.

Joanna: You’d forgotten it.

Orna: I had forgotten it. I’d moved on. The disconnect was there. So at the moment I’m just in this Yeatsian fuzz and hey, everything is about either the production of this print or else the finishing up of the book, itself, which has been hanging around for far too long. So I’m really pleased to be finishing it and seeing it out in such stylish fashion [laughter].

Joanna: Brilliant. So tell us where we can find the crowdfunding project and also your other books, online?

Orna: is the simplest way through and back out to the various places where the books are sold and specifically the crowdfunder, will bring you to the crowdfunding page.

Joanna: Fantastic. Well, I’m very excited to hear about it Orna, and looking forward to my copy. So wishing you all the best.

Orna: Oh, thanks Jo. Thank you so much for supporting us and for doing this interview. I really appreciate it.

Do you have any questions about crowdfunding or Yeats? Please do leave them below and join the conversation.

How To Make A Living With Your Writing. Video Overview

As part of the fantastic IndieRecon free online conference for authors last month, I recorded a 54 min video on How to Make a Living with your Writing. Or at least, how I make my living :)

It’s based on the material in my book, Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur, available in ebook, print and audio formats. I hope you find it useful.

Watch the video below, or here on YouTube.

You can also see the slides below or here on SlideShare

You’re welcome to leave any questions or comments below.

Want To Spend More Time On Your Writing And Tired Of Doing It All? A Virtual Assistant Can Help

Indie authors often have an edge of control freakery … well, I do! I like being in control and I enjoy pretty much all aspects of being an author entrepreneur.

help button

But I hit a wall about 18 months ago, and I definitely needed some help, so I started looking for a virtual assistant to help me.

I had a few varied experiences and learned some lessons, and then Alexandra Amor reached out to me with some brilliant suggestions for how she could help.

Alexandra is a children’s author, but she is also a fantastic virtual assistant for me and a number of other authors. I trust her to help me with key tasks in my author business, and she even suggests things that I may not have thought of.

Alexandra Amor

Alexandra Amor

Today, Alexandra explains how a VA can help authors.

Joanna has previously talked about the advantages for authors of having a Virtual Assistant (VA), most recently in her podcast episode with Chris Ducker. I’ve been Joanna’s VA for almost a year, so I asked her if I could chime in and address some common concerns I hear from authors about working with a VA.

For those who aren’t aware, VAs are independent contractors, like editors and graphic designers, who provide support from their home offices using online tools.

The rise of the internet in the 1990s made this type of career possible, and it has only become easier in the ensuing decades for VAs to share information and support their clients remotely. VAs sometimes specialize in working with a certain niche of clients (e.g., Life Coaches or Real Estate Agents) but many are generally skilled and can work with almost any type of business. VAs are always responsible for the infrastructure they use to do their work (i.e., computer, basic software programs like Word and Excel, internet connection etc.) and they almost always work for more than one client at a time, just as editors and graphic designers do.

You may not have reached the tipping point yet where you feel you need some virtual support. But I certainly hope that one day your books will be so successful that you will! Whether your need is current, or if you’re envisioning what your business will look like when you’re a wildly successful author, let’s jump in and see if I can alleviate some of your concerns and questions about hiring this type of support.

Author Concern #1: I can’t afford a VA

Joanna often says that she prefers the term ‘indie author’ as opposed to ‘self-published author’ because authors don’t actually work in isolation. It’s a team effort to get your books published, involving cover designers, editors and more. Working with a VA is a perfect example of this. At some point in your author business, it’s not going to be possible, or advantageous, for you to do absolutely everything yourself. But unlike hiring a full-time, or part-time, employee, you can hire a VA for very specific tasks, within a specific budget that you set. A VA will work as few or as many hours as you need her to. It’s an economical solution for many solopreneurs, including authors.

Before you start looking for a VA, I recommend you have a clear idea about what your budget is. You will find it easier to set your budget if you know what it is you want your VA to do for you. (Below I cover how to figure both these things out.)

While we’re talking about your budget, let’s talk about rates for virtual help. (Keep in mind that you always get what you pay for.) You’ll pay from US$10 to $15/hour for general administrative or transcription help, for someone who is probably based in India or the Philippines. If you want someone experienced and technologically skilled, who has an entrepreneurial mindset themselves, and who is genuinely interested in your success, you’ll pay between US$30 and $60/hour.

The belief that you have to do it all, all by yourself, is not true. And it’s equally untrue that you’ll need to invest thousands of dollars a month into getting some help. It’s not an either-or proposition.

(I also think there’s much to be said for the mental clutter that is cleaned up when you’ve got someone helping you, even if it’s for one hour a week. By delegating some tasks, your brain is freed up to focus on your creativity.)

Author Concern #2: It’s simpler to do these things myself

Delegating is tough. I get it. Your author business is precious to you and it is difficult to imagine anyone else doing things as quickly, easily and with as much care as you do them. However, as an independent author you also know that there are advantages to not being an expert at everything. You have probably recognized that you don’t need to be a book cover designer, a copyeditor, or a bookkeeper in order to write and sell great books. You can outsource those specific tasks to others who are skilled in these areas.

However, even knowing this, a hurdle that authors often face when hiring a VA is this; initially, it can take longer to explain how you want something done than to just do it yourself. So the danger is remaining stuck in a form of superhero syndrome and continuing to try to do everything yourself.

Deal with this concern by thinking about your long-term strategy. You probably want to build a business that will support you for years to come. Invest some time in showing your new VA how you like things done and from then on you won’t have to even think about that task. Also, consider that even though the VA you hire may be very skilled, she still needs to figure out the way you want things done. At the beginning of the working relationship, a little patience will be required, but it will be rewarded.

Author Concern #3: What exactly should I get a VA to do for me?

It’s possible you feel overwhelmed with the number of tasks involved in running your author business. It’s a slippery slope where you can find that you are spending far too much time administering and not enough time writing. And yet, that overwhelm can lead to paralysis when it comes to figuring out what to delegate.

Here’s my favorite tip for tackling this: For one week, keep a piece of paper on your desk in plain sight and within easy reach (or use your favorite electronic tool for making lists).

Every time you find yourself doing something you either a) don’t like doing and/or consistently avoid or b) know doesn’t need your direct involvement, write it down.

(Most people who do this exercise find that at the end of the week the list is far longer than they expected.)

At the end of the week, take a look at your list. Do you notice any patterns? Are the tasks mostly focused in one or two areas? (e.g., social media or behind-the-scenes technical jobs.) Or are they general administrative type chores? Armed with this information, you can now specifically look for virtual help in the area of your greatest need. Now you know both what you need help with and what kind of skills you need in the person who’s going to be helping you.

(Not all VAs are created equal, so giving some thought to what kind of support you need before you go searching for help is important.)

If you’re still struggling with the idea of what a VA can do for you, here are some specific examples from my own practice:

– Formatting HTML newsletters
– Formatting books for Smashwords
– Research about the business side of being an author (e.g., how Street Teams work, how to market a book in a foreign language, podcasts that might be a good fit to have you as a guest, etc.)
– Scouting for bloggers to send book review requests to
– Pitching to those bloggers and tracking responses
– Formatting (and perhaps light editing) of blog posts, or organizing content
– Managing your Street Team Facebook group (posing questions to keep the group engaged, answering questions, sharing upcoming news, etc.)
– Creating box sets in Scrivener from individual novels
– Moving works translated into a foreign language from Word into Scrivener
– Scheduling tweets and Facebook posts (ones that don’t require your direct input or engagement with your audience)
– Transcribing audio interviews or notes
– For non-fiction authors, VAs can do an enormous number of tasks around webinars or other training you offer (e.g., planning and booking the event, scheduling guests, managing registration lists, dealing with the back-end technology, creating and proofing slide decks, sending out advance information packages to the trainees, and then sending out follow-up information to the trainees, etc.)

Author Concern #4: How do I find a Virtual Assistant?

As with hiring any freelancer, personal recommendations are usually the best place to start. Does anyone in your author circles have a VA they can recommend? Can you put a shout out on KBoards asking for recommendations?

There are several Virtual Assistant organizations, usually based on the country where the VAs are located. Do a Google search for “Virtual Assistant [your country]” and you’ll find these organizations. Once you’re there, you can then do a search by the specific skill(s) you’re looking for and the site will offer a list of names, usually with links to the VAs’ individual websites.

When you’ve got a few names that look promising, be sure to interview several potential candidates so that you can get a sense of both the skills they have on offer and how their personality is going to fit with yours. Your working relationship with the VA will hopefully be long-term so you want to make sure it’s the right fit.

Bonus Tip #1: Start Small

I always recommend to authors that they begin to work with a VA by agreeing to a couple of smaller tasks or projects and then building from there. Rushing in and assigning too much, too fast, usually leads to conflict and fractures in the relationship. Starting small achieves two really important things; it begins to build trust, and it creates a testing ground to ensure the two of you are a good fit.

Ideally as the first few small projects begin and end, you’ll start to trust that your VA knows what they’re doing and can follow instructions and complete the project at the agreed time and in a way that makes you happy. As well, your VA will begin to learn how you work and what matters to you. It’s just as important that you are a good fit for your VA, as she is with you.

Bonus Tip #2: Communication is Key

In her interview with Chris Ducker, Joanna mentions that she and I share several documents on Google Drive so that we’re both always aware of what’s going on and what our expectations are. You can keep a shared spreadsheet to track your VA’s billable hours, so you always know exactly where you are in terms of your budget. Another great idea is to keep a document with the list of projects the VA is working on, in priority order, so that things don’t get forgotten about and so that you both know what your VA is supposed to be working on at any given time. Meeting regularly on the telephone or Skype/FaceTime keeps the communication flowing and also helps to grow your relationship.

I hope this helps any authors who are considering hiring a VA. If you have any questions about any of what I’ve mentioned above, or want more information, please leave a comment below.

You can also learn more at my website.

Business for Authors: How To Be An Author Entrepreneur. Now An Audiobook!

Do you want to take your author business to the next level? Do you love listening to audio? Do you love listening to British accents?!

business audiobooksExciting news! Business for Authors is now available as an audiobook on Audible, Amazon and iTunes. Written by me and narrated by … me! :) Packed full of everything I know about building, growing and running a business as an author.

Whether you’re just starting out with big ambitions, or you’re ready to step it up a level, this book has something for everyone. [And yes, I will be posting soon on all my tips for narrating your own audiobook if that’s something you fancy doing.]

The book has 51 reviews on with a 4.7 star average.

Click here to check out the audiobook on AudibleFreeAudiobookBusinessForAuthors, or you can get it free if you sign up for a 30 day free trial.

You can also listen to a sample on Soundcloud or here on YouTube


What are people saying about Business for Authors?

“Ready to become CEO of your own Global Media Empire? Then Business for Authors is for you, featuring clear and concise steps to managing your writing career.”
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author CJ Lyons

Cj and Liz“This is exactly the book I needed! Business for Authors is like having a charming double agent from the world of business who can tell you all its coveted secrets. It reads like an engaging conversation with someone you can trust ― a theology major! ― and along the way learning the language and strategies of a true entrepreneur.

I wish I had been given this book when I first graduated from my MFA program, back when the accounting of writing was even more of a mystery to me. With warmth and intelligence, Penn demystifies so much about what it takes to be a writer for life. This is a book that will remain on my bookshelf for the years to come.”

Elizabeth Hyde Stevens, Author of Make Art Make Money: Lessons from Jim Henson on Fueling Your Creative Career and Lecturer at Boston University and Harvard University Extension School

The best book I know of for authors who are serious about making their writing into more than a hobby. Joanna Penn writes in an engaging, personal style to lead you through the often-confusing world of publishing for profit, sharing her own hard-won lessons. A boon to self-publishers everywhere.” Joel Friedlander,

What’s in the book?

Here’s an outline of the table of contents.

Part 1: From Author To Entrepreneur

The arc of the author’s journey, definition of an author-entrepreneur, deciding on your definition of success and why it’s important as well as what you want for your life. Plus/ should you start a company?

blue computerPart 2: Products and Services

How you can turn one manuscript into multiple streams of income by exploiting all the different rights, various business models for authors and how to evaluate your own, information on contracts, copyright and piracy. Plus/ putting together a production plan.

Part 3: Employees, Suppliers and Contractors

The team you need to run your business as an author-entrepreneur. Your role as author and what you’re committing to in the business, as well as co-writing. Editors, agents and publishers, translators, book designers and formatters, audiobook narrators, book-keeping and accounting, virtual assistants. Plus/ how to manage your team.

Part 4: Customers

In-depth questions to help you understand who your customers are and what they want, as well as customer service options for authors.

Part 5: Sales and Distribution

How to sell through distributors and your options, plus all the information you need to sell direct. ISBNs and publishing imprints – do you need them? Plus/ your options for pricing.

PriceTagsPart 6: Marketing

Defining and reframing marketing so you feel more comfortable with it, as well as key overarching concepts. Book-based marketing techniques including cover, back copy and sales pages on the distributors. Author-based marketing around building your platform, and customer-based marketing around your niche audience and targeted media. [This is just an overview. For a whole book on marketing, see my ‘How To Market A Book‘.]

Part 7: Financials

Changing your mindset about money, and assessing where you are now vs where you want to be. Revenues of the author business and how to increase that revenue. Costs of the author business and funding your startup. Banking, PayPal, accounting, reporting, tax and estate planning.

Part 8: Strategy and Planning

checklistWhat is your strategy for your business and why this is important. Developing your business plan. Managing your time and developing professional habits, plus accountability systems. The long term view and the process for becoming a full-time author if you choose that route. Plus/ looking after yourself.

Part 9: Next Steps

Questions from the book to help you work out everything to do with your business, plus encouragement for your next steps.

Appendices, Workbook and Bonus Downloads

There’s also a download page that accompanies the book includes a downloadable workbook with questions in from each chapter. There’s a business plan template as well as hyperlinked lists of tools and resources to help you further.

The Appendices also include bonus interviews on money and how it relates to creativity, writing and life, as well as my own lessons learned over the last years as a full-time author-entrepreneur.

quote peopleMore quotes about the book

“BUSINESS FOR AUTHORS ought to be required reading if you’re a beginning writer who wants to make money in publishing. You can learn it all the hard way, like I did, but that usually takes years and it usually means that you’ll make a LOT of mistakes along the way. Or you can read through Joanna Penn’s awesome little guidebook in just a few hours and save yourself a huge amount of time, energy, and money.”
Randy Ingermanson — author of “Writing Fiction for Dummies“.

“This book demonstrates why Joanna Penn has become a favorite role model for professional author-publishers, those indie-minded writers who want to turn their passion into their job. In it Penn offers the step-by-step process she has followed to success and covers every aspect of earning a good living from writing. Not a word is wasted and not a lesson offered that hasn’t been forged in the hotbed of her own experience. A must-have book for every indie author.” Orna Ross, Bestselling author and founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors

Business for Authors has now become my business bible. Packed with advice, experience and knowledge, it opened my mind to so much more that I could be doing.”
Mel Sherratt, Crime writer and Amazon UK #1 Bestseller.

“With Business for Authors, I felt like I stepped inside the brain of an entrepreneur. I love how Joanna explored the topic from so many angles, and then provided real-life context of how she worked through each opportunity/challenge.”
Dan Blank,

“There’s no doubt about it, to be successful as an author today you must think like an entrepreneur. But maybe you need some advice and guidance on exactly how to do that? Good news! Joanna Penn’s latest book Business for Authors will walk you through everything you need to know for success. It’s a comprehensive step-by-step guide for authors, written by someone who walks the walk as a best-selling author and entrepreneur.”
Jim F. Kukral, Author Marketing Club

Business for Authors is the most comprehensive book on the business of being an author that I’ve read. I highly recommend it to any author (whether traditionally or self-published) who wants to make a living from their creative work.” – Stephen Campbell, Amazon Review

You can also buy the book in ebook or print formats, as well as audiobook

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Author Entrepreneur: Increase Your Revenue

There’s a learning curve for all indie authors, which I have covered before in the arc of the indie author.

piggy bankBut once you get the hang of the process – writing, editing, publishing, marketing – then you start to think about the business side.

If you want to make more profit, then increasing your revenue will be next on the list.

Derek Sivers sold his company CD Baby and now sells ebooks about starting a business in foreign markets at I read this interview with him and he talked about how to increase cash-flow in a business. It struck home as true for authors as well.

There are four basic ways to increase your revenue:

(1) Increase the number of customers you serve

There are a couple of ways to do this:

book browser on iphone

Book Browser function on iPhone Kindle app. All KU books shown.

a) Use KDP Select and go exclusive to Amazon in order to take advantage of the enhanced visibility on the platform that way. I noticed that the Kindle app on the iPhone changed recently to add a Book Browser function, which is entirely dominated by Kindle Unlimited. The emails I get from Amazon are also increasingly KU dominated. As a READER, I have tried KU and didn’t like it – mainly because I like owning the books and don’t want to borrow them – but clearly it is a very popular service. If you’re a new author with only a couple of books, this is definitely the way to go, and many authors are exclusive with all their books. Here are the pros and cons of exclusivity.

b) Publish on multiple platforms and take advantage of a completely different audience who shop elsewhere. This is my preferred approach. Although Amazon’s KDP Select program offers benefits, it limits your sales to people who buy on that particular platform. Amazon may also dominate in the US and UK, but Kobo dominates in Canada, and iBooks dominates in many other global markets. In 2014, I published Pentecost and Desecration-Verletzung in German, kobo writing life map March 2015and in Germany there is a challenger to Kindle in the Tolino reader, which has 40% of the market so is not to be ignored when publishing. I’ve now sold books in 65 countries – the pic left is my sales from Kobo Writing Life. It makes me happy just looking at it!

c) Use marketing and building your platform to attract more customers. There are a LOT of different marketing avenues for authors. I suggest focusing on the one or two methods that you enjoy and make it sustainable for the long term. Whatever you do, make sure that building your email list is a key focus.

d) Publish in multiple formats and multiple languages. If you only publish in ebook format, you will only attract ebook readers. By using print on demand as well as audiobook formats as well, you will reach different customers. If you publish only in English, you will only reach those readers. Indie authors are now branching out into self-publishing in foreign languages or selling rights to those markets.

e) Expand your streams of income. You can increase the customers you serve by adding to your portfolio of services and products. For example, I serve a different customer base through public speaking and live events, and others use online video or audio courses to reach new customers.

(2) Increase the average size of the transaction by selling more

  • This can be done by having multiple books that customers might like within product lines. If a customer buys one book and enjoys it, they are likely to want more. This is why many authors write in a series, and why many Arkane Thriller Boxsetpublishers prefer books in a series, or within a similar brand.
  • If you have more books available, the customer may buy more. The power is in the backlist, which is why being an author is a long-term game. At the London Book Fair 2014, I talked to Barbara Freethy, who has over 35 books and, as I write this, is the bestselling KDP author of all time with over 4.5 million books sold. She mentioned that when someone new discovers her books, she sees an overall effect as they dive into her backlist.
  • Bundling is another way to do this. You can do ebook boxsets as a single author and charge more for a single transaction, which is also a great deal for the customer. For example, I sell ARKANE Books 1-3, Pentecost, Prophecy and Exodus, in a box-set for $5.99. If bought separately, they would cost $9.98, so it’s a good deal for everyone. All you need to do is create a file with multiple books in, and get a cover designed that looks like a boxset, which you can get from Fiverr.

(3) Increase the frequency of transactions by customer

This can be done by releasing books and products more often, so that loyal customers return. It’s also important to use an hm wardemail list to capture their information so that you can tell them when you have a new product available.

  • Some authors are doing this through serialization and novellas. H.M.Ward’s Ferro series is a good example of this, currently with over 18 books in one particular series with many of them 20,000-30,000 word novellas.
  • Others are doing this through co-writing. For example, Jeremy Robinson’s Jack Sigler Chess Team series has several co-authors writing in his world.

(4) Raise your prices

There are a couple of ways in which authors are doing this:

  • price comparisonCharge more for all books. When you’re first starting out, you often need to lower the barrier to entry so that people will try your books with little risk. But as you become more established and more people are aware of your books, you might find that people are happy to pay more. For non-fiction in particular, if you can help people with a problem, they are more likely to pay more. Amazon KDP now has a pricing feature on the publishing page which will analyze books like yours and suggest a new price point. You have to be selling a decent number before it shows any data. As right, it suggests that my Business for Authors should be at $9.99, but I still keep it at $7.99 at the moment.
  • Make the first book available for free and then raise the price of others in the series. If you do the math right, you’ll see that you can make more money this way than using a 99c entry price point.

Do any of these ideas resonate with you? How will you increase your revenue? Please leave a comment below.

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons piggybank by Images Money