Q&A Show On Self-Publishing And Book Marketing With Joanna Penn

In today’s show, I tackle more of your questions from The Creative Penn survey about self-publishing and marketing. The last Q&A show was one of the most popular of the podcast, so I hope you enjoy this one too.

joanna penn grinIn the intro, I mention that I visited Highgate Cemetery yesterday and if you’re a fellow taphophile, you can see my pics on Pinterest here. I also mention the ups and downs of Amazon this week, with Joe Konrath and Hugh Howey both singing the praises of KDP Select, while a report on working conditions in the New York Times has been getting a lot of negative press.

I also talk about my progress on the course website for the new Creative Freedom course and how I’ll be unveiling the roadmap video this week. It’s my attempt to demonstrate what most authors are missing in their author business and why most authors don’t make a living with their writing. You can get all the free videos at TheCreativePenn.com/freedom

99designs-logo-750x200pxThis podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna

Special Keyboard - HelpIn the Q&A section, I go through:

  • Draft2Digital and Smashwords and the different sites they distribute your book to.
  • Paid advertising, hiring help for all that indie publishing entails, and the motivation behind being an indie author.
  • The different lengths of novels and novellas and the distinction between book series and serials and Wattpad’s model for serialized book releases.
  • The different audiences for print and eBooks.
  • Blogging and ISBNs and whether they’re necessary for a writing career.
  • On the advisability of crowdfunding for authors and the motivations for marketing your books.
  • Getting traffic to a website without a platform and the reasons for that traffic.
  • The hard work of being an indie author and the choices we make about what we want to do with our time.

If you enjoyed the Q&A, then you can get more videos and audios on making a living with your writing and managing your time at TheCreativePenn.com/freedom.

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Q&A On Writing, Self Publishing And Book Marketing

Today I’m answering some of your questions from The Creative Penn survey – talking about self doubt, what defines a good book, discipline and habits, ideal genres, editing and time spent on marketing.

In the intro, I mention the changes with Amazon Kindle Unlimited payments move to page reads as well as machine learning for reviews; Apple’s change to pre-orders allowing up to a year in advance without metadata. I also mention the Facebook Ads for Authors course and Self Publishing Podcast #62 show on autoresponders.

This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets kobo writing lifethrough the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

Kobo’s financial support pays for the hosting and transcription, and if you enjoy the show, you can now support my time on Patreon. Thank you for your support!

joanna penn grinIt’s just me today! I’m assuming you know who I am – if not, check out the About Me page :)

  • On self-doubt about our writing, how it continues to affect even well-established authors. Strategies for tackling that doubt, including working with editors, and getting on and publishing despite self-doubt.
  • On why books sell and what defines a ‘good’ book. The importance of emotional resonance in books, and the impact indie authors have had on traditional publishers around what readers want to read.
  • Having the discipline to write and questioning if you need to write every day. Habits and their importance, your personal definition of success and why enjoying the act of writing matters so much.
  • On ideal genres for books, including paying attention to what you read, to your Creative Muse and respecting your readers.
  • On juggling work, life and writing. Can we have it all? And the importance of focusing on learning at the beginning of a writing career.
  • The process for editing fiction and knowing when to draw a line in the sand and stop working on a book, including figuring out what you want for the book, cost vs. return and investing money in your author business. Also what to do when the first book is finished.
  • On answering the question, “Who is your publisher?” and strategies for the reply, including comparisons to indie music and film.
  • On how much time authors should spend on marketing, including examining where your writing career is now, Business for Authors 3Dwhat end game you have in mind for your books and your career, and balancing marketing vs. creation.
  • Return on Investment for writers, examining the income return for the time you spend and how much being creative matters to you.

OK, I’d love to know if you enjoy the Q&A format. Just leave a comment below or tweet me @thecreativepenn

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Pros And Cons Of Being An Indie Author

I spent last weekend at CrimeFest in Bristol alongside lots of amazing crime authors, both traditionally published and indie authors. It was a fantastic time and I met some super people …

I found myself in a number of conversations with authors who wanted to know what their publishing options were in a fast-changing market.

indie authors crimefest 2015

The Indie Author panel at CrimeFest 2015: Celina Grace, Nick Stephenson, JJ Marsh, J.F.Penn, Chris Longmuir

We also had an indie author panel on the Sunday morning, which was packed full despite the morning-after-the-gala-dinner-graveyard slot.

In my intro, I pointed out that between us, we had sold over 500,000 books in five different languages in 66 countries, we are prize-winning and award-winning as well as New York Times and USA Today bestselling.

Oh yes, and contrary to what most seem to believe, we have print and audiobooks as well as ebooks … and all achieved without a publisher. Several of us even make pretty good money from selling books …

We were then asked to outline the negatives of going indie, since we were clearly all so positive about it!

So today, here are my pros and cons of being an indie author. I’d love to hear yours, or any questions, in the comments below.

Definition: Self-publishing vs being an indie author

The term self-publishing implies doing everything yourself and doing it more as a hobby. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this and it’s wonderful to create books in the world for the love of creation.

Me and my Dad :) The creative Penns!

I self-publish photobooks for my own pleasure, I helped my 9 year old niece self-publish her first book and I helped my Dad self-publish for his 65th birthday.

But I use the term independent author, or indie author, for myself. I work with top freelance professionals to create a quality product and this is a business for me, not just a hobby. I left my job in 2011 to become a full-time author-entrepreneur and I make my living with my writing.

The following pros and cons are based on my kind of direct publishing without using any of the services companies which I’ll mention at the end.

The pros of being an indie author

  • Total creative control over content and design. Many authors who were in traditional publishing and are now in self-publishing talk about how painful it was to have a cover or title they hated, or to make editorial choices they didn’t agree with but that were insisted upon. As an indie, you can work with freelancers of your choice and you can choose the ultimate look and feel of your product. Now, that can be a pro or a con depending on how the book ends up but as
    polly courtney

    Gritty issues novelist Polly Courtney split from her publisher after they branded her as chick-lit

    an indie, you can also change it, as I have done recently by re-titling and re-covering my first 3 books. You just upload another file which is brilliant. The start-up mentality that mistakes are how we learn and “failure” is just a step along the way makes this easier for indies. But this reinvention practice is common in the publishing industry and older books are revamped all the time.

  • Empowerment. At CrimeFest this weekend, I met a prizewinning author who was quite shocked to discover that I’m not a militant indie. I have a wonderful agent and I have a German book deal, and yes, I will absolutely work with traditional publishers – for deals that will be good for both parties.

    I am, however, militant about empowering authors and creatives.

    After talking to a number of other authors this last weekend, I was shocked at how insecure they were and how beaten down by the negativity of the publishing process. They really didn’t see themselves as being able to make a decision alone or take action to improve their lot, despite the fact that THEY are the creatives, the storytellers, the brilliant ones.

Compare that to indies, who in general are a happy bunch, as reported by researcher Alison Baverstock. It’s not surprising when you consider the research on ‘locus of control.’ The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reported that the number one contributor to happiness is autonomy, “the feeling that your life – its activities and habits – are under your control.”

After signing a contract, traditionally published authors have pretty much zero control – over pricing, timing of publication, marketing, sometimes over the cover, the title and even the words itself. Plenty of authors are told to change their stories to fit what an editor wants. Compare that to the empowerment of the indie author who can learn new skills, work with professionals, make mistakes and learn from them, earn money directly and interact with customers. Yes, it’s hard work but it’s certainly empowering as hell. The positive energy involved in being an indie can propel you much further, much faster than waiting in line for your turn.

Stop asking permission. You don’t need it. Stop waiting to be chosen. Choose yourself.

  • Faster time to market. You still have to spend the same amount of time writing and editing. But once you’re ready to publish, you upload your files to Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Draft2Digital, Smashwords and any other stores. Your ebook chooseyourselfis usually for sale within 4 – 72 hours. You’re paid 60 days after the end of the month of sale. If you’re doing print on demand, you can get that up within 24 hours if you approve the formatting online. Or, you can order a copy and it might take a couple of weeks, but essentially, it’s incredibly quick to get your book up for sale. This certainly suits my personality as once I’m done with a book, I want it out there and selling! I don’t want to sit on it for several years while it shuttles around publishers.
  • Higher royalties. If you price your book between $2.99 and $9.99 (on Amazon), you can get 70% royalty. Traditional royalty rates usually fit in the 7-25% bracket, averaging 10%. It’s clear that you need to sell far fewer books in order to make the same amount of money with self-publishing. But it’s not a get rich quick scheme. That’s really important. You can’t guarantee that you’re going to make any sales or as many sales as you would’ve done with a traditional publisher. That is more to do with genre, investment in marketing and sometimes, just pure luck. An author can’t build a business on luck – but they can learn about marketing and authors have to do this regardless of how they publish these days.
  • Sell by any means in any global market, as you retain the rights. My books have now sold in 66 countries and they are for sale in 190 countries. I love to look at my Kobo Writing Life map to see which new countries I’ve sold to in kobo mapthe last month. I particularly enjoy selling in countries like Burkina Faso or Namibia in sub-Saharan Africa because I went to school in Malawi (no books sold there yet though!)

Yes, these sales are a trickle right now, but in the next few years, cell phone penetration will increase and internet access will become globally pervasive. Of course the sales will tick up – 2 years ago, I was only selling books in US, UK, Australia, Canada and now every month another little blue dot appears. This is for books in English by the way – we’re so lucky that English is the most international language.

Pretty much every traditionally published author I spoke to at CrimeFest had sold World English rights for all formats and had barely sold outside the usual country markets because their books aren’t even for sale in most places in the world. Most had also sold audiobook rights but the books had not been produced. If you’re in this situation, revisit your contract. What do you have the rights for? You can self-publish in countries where you haven’t sold the rights, so why not get on with it!

  • Niche books can reach an audience. Publishing houses have an expectation of a certain number of sales, so if you’re writing a niche book on a particular type of organic tomato, then you might find the market is too small for a major publisher. But the market size may well be enough for you to satisfy your own definition of success with smaller sales and lower income. You can also price as you like, as chances are that your book will appeal to a very particular reader who might pay higher prices.
  • Use it to get into the game. These days, if you self-publish and do well, agents and publishers will come to you. You top indiesdon’t have to beg and plead for attention. The power balance is reversed and the empowered indie can get much better deals than a first time author with no evidence of sales. Just look at the deals Hugh Howey, Bella Andre, Jasinda Wilder, Meredith Wild and AG Riddle have done in the last year for both print books as well as movie/TV deals. So if you want a traditional deal, skip the slush pile and serve your apprenticeship as an indie.

The cons of being an indie author

So there’s the positive side but what about the negative?

  • You need to do it all yourself or find suitable professionals to help. As with any new skill, it’s a steep learning curve. You still obviously have to do the writing and marketing, but you also have to do the publishing. You have to find an editor (list here) and a cover designer (list here) and work with them, decide on the title, get your work formatted into e-book, print and any other format you want, and you need to find suitable professionals. This isn’t such a big deal allianceas we all share with each other online and you can join The Alliance of Independent Authors which vets companies.

But you do have to decide on your definition of success and understand that you need to run all aspects of the business if you want to go the pro indie route. For many people, this is a negative because they just don’t have the time to do everything or they don’t enjoy doing it. I’m lucky because I love being an entrepreneur. I love all aspects of what I do – from idea generation to creating words on the page, to the technical side of things and everything in between. After many years, I’ve found the perfect work for me :) If you can manage a project or you could learn to, then you’ll likely enjoy it too. But this life certainly not for everyone.

  • There’s no prestige, kudos or validation by the industry. The stigma lessens every day, but if your definition of success is bound up with what other authors, agents and publishers think of you, then indie might not be best for you. Does the publisher name matter? My answer to this is usually: Think of your favorite book. Who’s the author? Who published the book? 99% of readers won’t be able to tell you the publisher of the book, but they can certainly tell you the author’s name. The other question I get is: How do I know my book is good enough? The answer is: pay a professional editor and work on the book as you would have done with a traditional deal. Then publish it and let the readers decide. “Good” is in the eye of the beholder, as 50 Shades of Grey taught as all.
  • You need a budget upfront if you want a professional result. These days, you’re likely to spend on professional editing before submitting to an agent anyway, or at least be spending on books and courses for writers. Everyone spends money on their hobby so whether you’re knitting or writing or mountain biking, most people are happy to spend money they never get back on something they love. However, if like me, you are intending to make a living from this, then yes, you need to invest money in creating assets for the business with the intention of getting it back in multiple streams of income. Either way, you will need a budget upfront if you want to be a pro indie. You can do it for free, but I would recommend paying pro editors and pro cover designers or bartering for services. It’s much cheaper to hire them separately rather than go with full service companies.
  • It’s difficult to get print distribution in bookstores. It’s certainly not impossible and if you care about print distribution then look at the options with Ingram Spark. Also check out the Opening Up to Indie Authors campaign (or check out this interview with Debbie Young on the topic). But you’re much more likely to get bookstore distribution opening up to indie authorswith a traditional publisher as that’s essentially their business model and has been for a long time. They are experts at printing and distributing physical product. My personal choice is to use Print on Demand through Createspace, so my print books are available on pretty much all online bookstores. In March 2015, The Bookseller reported that online print sales overtook in-store print sales anyway, so doing a POD version means your book is still likely to be discovered by print book buyers.
  • Most literary prizes don’t accept indie books and most literary critics for mainstream media. So if your definition of success is literary acclaim, you’re probably better off going the traditional route. Again, the Opening Up to Indie Authors campaign is looking to address this over time.

The hybrid model: It’s not an either/or choice anymore

The industry has changed and many authors now take a hybrid approach to publishing. They will make the decision by book and by particular rights, using the indie model for some things and taking traditional deals for others. This empowers the author to make decisions and choose the best possible route for their book.

For example, Hugh Howey sold his print rights for Wool and did a number of foreign rights deals. Jasinda Wilder sold several new books to traditional publishers while continuing to self-publish another series. AG Riddle sold his film rights and kept his World English ebook rights as an indie. I have a German language deal with a traditional publisher and a literary agent who is handling other sales.

The important thing is that you, the creator, are empowered to choose per project how you would like to progress.

Other publishing options

I’ve used the two extreme ends of the publishing spectrum as examples but these days, there are many more options for publishing optionsauthors. This downloadable chart by Jane Friedman gives a wider view of the options available.

There are new companies springing up every day – some of which are offering a good deal and some that are just sharks who may well take your money and run. Many of the biggest “author services” companies are run by Author Solutions, which is owned by Penguin Random House, so it is author beware. Do your due diligence and get testimonials from authors who are happy to recommend the service before you sign anything.

So how do you evaluate these options?

My basic rule is: How does the company make their money?

Traditional publishers should pay you an advance against royalties, so you get the money first and then they make money as your books sell.

Going completely DIY, as I do, means that you can publish for free with Amazon KDP, Kobo Writing Life, iBooks, Draft2Digital and Smashwords. These companies are FREE (yes, $0) to publish with and then they take a % of the royalty.

Again, they only make money when you make money. If you self-publish you will need to pay for editing and cover design upfront. But these prices shouldn’t break the bank and you should use professionals that other authors have recommended.

help button

If you want to use services that charge for other things, then please check the following resources:

  • Preditors and Editors – a watchdog site for authors with listings of which publishers are recommended and which are scams
  • Writer Beware – Lots more about scams against authors and companies to watch out for

Need more help with going indie?

Author Blueprint 3D COverCheck out the following resources:

  • My own Author 2.0 Blueprint – how I personally write, self-publish and market my books. There’s also an email series with videos and more resources if you sign up.
  • The Alliance of Independent Authors – a brilliant organization for authors who want to professionally self-publish. Members get ebooks and other resources on self-publishing, plus we have a lively Facebook group and monthly Q&A where I answer questions alongside Orna Ross, the founder of the Alliance.

OK, that turned into a much bigger post than I expected! I hope it was useful for you. Please do leave your own pros and cons of indie below, or ask any questions. Thanks!

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 TheCreativePenn.com 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: Ornaross.com is the simplest way through and back out to the various places where the books are sold and specifically the crowdfunder, OrnaRoss.com/SecretRose 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.

On Changing Book Titles And Covers: My Own Experience And How You Can Do It Too

I’ve just been through a massive rebranding process: re-titling and re-covering the first 3 books in my ARKANE series, and updating the back matter for all the other books.

A hefty amount of work!

Here’s why and how, just in case you want to go through this sometime. It’s quite a long, confessional style of post. I’m ‘fessing up to my mistakes, so be gentle with your comments!

First up, here are the awesome new covers: Stone of Fire (previously Pentecost), Crypt of Bone (previously Prophecy) and Ark of Blood (previously Exodus), designed by the wonderful JD Smith Design.

New ARKANE coversSo, why change my fiction book titles anyway?

Basically, none of us know what the hell we’re doing when we start writing :)

Here’s how my first book title journey went.

In November 2009, I joined NaNoWriMo in an attempt to write something fictional. Amusingly, I videoed the process – here’s Day 1, and you can follow the whole journey here. The working title for the book on Day 1 was Morgan – and Morgan Sierra is still the name of my main character and alter-ego, so that hasn’t changed.

Pentecost, Prophecy, Exodus

Original covers of the first 3 books. Pentecost by Joel Friedlander. Prophecy and Exodus by Derek Murphy, Creativindie. I loved them all!

Then I started to incorporate aspects of Carl Jung and psychology of religion into the book, and the working title became Mandala, after the patterns in Jung’s Red Book which I was reading at the time. As I continued to write and edit over the following year, the title changed again to Pentecost – based on the pillar of fire that (in my story) empowered the stones of the Apostles.

I have a Masters in Theology from Oxford University, and although I don’t adhere to any religion, my interest in all things religious/supernatural/paranormal/spiritual/psychological drives my writing. Oh yes, and my favorite movie is Con Air, which explains why I blow so much up in my books :)

“From the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona to Castle Houska in the Czech Republic, no one destroys landmarks better than Penn. Despite her penchant for demolition, Penn’s GatesofHellsmallerGATES OF HELL is a must read. I enjoyed every page.” Amazon review from i Love Reading

I then decided that I would write books with titles that began with P in this series. So the next book was Prophecy – based on the prophecy in Revelation that a quarter of the world must die … (cue dramatic music) … and then I wrote Exodus, which doesn’t even begin with P … you’re getting the idea now that I didn’t really have a clue back then!

At the time, I didn’t do any kind of market research into the niche or my audience, or what the covers might look like, or what my target market would expect. I just ‘had a feeling’ about the type of books I wanted to buy and read, and I buy anything with faintly religious sounding titles.

Back then, I knew a lot about non-fiction marketing, but nothing about how to market fiction.

I published Exodus in December 2013 and I started questioning my titles at that point. I was getting some 1 star reviews saying that the books weren’t Christian (they’re not, even though they are respectful to all religions). I wanted to target the Dan Brown market – but I should have realized that his breakout book was called ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ NOT ‘The Jesus Code.’

Champagne to celebrate the launch of my first novel!

Champagne to celebrate the launch of my first novel! It was only the beginning …

While my books are based on biblical history and archaeology, they are about as Christian as James Rollins, Simon Toyne, Steve Berry and others who write mainstream conspiracy thrillers/action-adventure. I have a lot of Christian readers who enjoy the stories, and I am respectful to all faiths in my books, BUT I am not a Christian and I don’t write books that are specifically Christian.

So the next book I wrote was: One Day in Budapest. A much more mainstream title that encapsulated the fast pace and also the geographic element of the book. I’ve continued to write ‘Day’ novellas and am very happy with those.

I make up titles for new books as I am getting ideas, and usually change them at least once before publication. For example, Day of the Vikings started out as Ragnarok. Gates of Hell started out as Inquisition.

pentecost prophecy exodus reboot

Reboot of the covers with Lara Croft style figure … turns out my readers describe Morgan as a female Indiana Jones :) By Derek Murphy from Creativindie – I still love these covers too!

I changed my ARKANE covers again in March 2014, after a number of articles about using people on the covers convinced me to do the same.

We added a Lara Croft style figure on the first 3 books, and also changed Desecration from a white, artistic, literary cover to something more befitting a crime thriller (as below).

All of this demonstrates how hard titles and cover designs can be when you do this alone.

As for the title change – essentially, I’ve been considering a change since Exodus came out and recently I signed with a new agent. We have lots of ideas for potential foreign rights markets and changing the look and feel of the series now will help with pitching. So I bit the bullet, made the changes and despite the pain, I’m really happy with the result.

remake desecration

Both covers by Derek Murphy, Creativindie. I love them both but the white looks a little too artistic for a crime thriller :)

So, what’s the conclusion from all of this?

It takes time to get to know your own voice as a writer

It takes a few books to really get to grips with what you’re writing, who you want to be as a writer, how you want your brand to look and also what your books even mean.

It also takes time to understand what your readers think about your books. Who do THEY compare your work too?

My VA, Alexandra, and I recently went through over 1000 reviews on my books to work this out. My readers compare my ARKANE series to Clive Cussler and Indiana Jones, as well as Dan Brown & Steve Berry – with a hint of National Treasure, James Bond, Daniel Silva, Matthew Reilly and Kate Mosse. I’m happy with that :) and so we used those authors as models for the new covers.

JF penn siteSurprisingly, the whole process of working through what the ARKANE brand is has made me more comfortable in my thriller writer skin. Taking a step back has enabled me to evaluate where I am, where I’m going, what I want to write next.

Although I’ve talked previously about my shadow side coming through in my fiction, about how I am two people, I am finally feeling that I am becoming a more integrated soul. To illustrate this, I’ve just changed my JFPenn.com site and made the whole thing a lot more smiley. My books are actually really fun – yes, a high body count – but pacy and full of adventure. Just like Con Air :)

It’s time I embraced the entertainment side of being a writer and stopped being so serious! (I’m going to blame Oxford and my literary upbringing for that!)

So how does all this apply to your author journey?

Best practices for book titles

For non-fiction – unless you are super famous/have a platform and people will buy anyway – use SEO/keyword research for some part of your title, either the main title or the sub-title. Read more on this here, when I retitled my first non-fiction book and sales jumped 10-fold.

Also, listen to this interview with Tim Grahl about using PickFu to test titles. This is also a great article on the truth about picking non-fiction book titles.

Author brandingFiction book titles are really difficult – so difficult that there are very few blog posts on it on the internetz. Fiction titles need to:

  • Communicate a promise to the reader – which is further aligned to the cover images – which mesh perfectly with what the customer expects in the book. If there’s anything that jars the reader in any imperceptible way, they won’t buy.

Ultimately, the title, cover and description are your primary marketing materials for your book.

Yes, you need to write a great book. That’s always the first thing. But if you don’t nail those 3 elements, no one will pick it up or download a sample.

This is one of the mixed blessings of being an indie author – creative freedom means you get to title and cover your book how you want. And yes, you might get it wrong. Luckily, we get to change things if we want to.

One other thing, there is no copyright on book titles in English, so you can use a title that others have used. But I wouldn’t publish a book called The Da Vinci Code or Jurassic Park. There is copyright on book titles in Germany and potentially other countries, so be careful with your titles in translation.

OK, let’s get into the nitty-gritty details.

Won’t changing the covers and titles confuse readers?

Readers can’t download the same ebook twice, so as long as you keep the same numbers on the various stores e.g. ASIN on Amazon, then there won’t be a problem. Also, you can add ‘Previously published as …’ in all the important places.

The main issues have been print copies, as they require new ISBNs – but I gave the change a positive spin and did a giveaway of signed First Editions to my fiction email list (signup and free book here!) It was really popular and I got lots of positive feedback about the new covers and titles too.

What are you growing for the long term?

What are you growing for the long term?

Yes, you may end up annoying a few people but to be honest, I’m only 40 and I have many, many years of writing ahead of me. I want to position myself for the long term so I needed to do this now as I have more coming in the ARKANE series. Better to do it now rather than later, when of course, I become a 10 year overnight success :)

How to change ebook titles and covers

You don’t lose reviews or rankings if you keep the same ID numbers on the various platforms e.g. ASIN on Amazon KDP. Just change your source files and metadata and republish. Add in an extra line ‘previously published as’ so people don’t get annoyed.

If you have lots of books, you will have to update the back matter and sales descriptions of all the other books as well to reference the changed books. It took me several days to do all this and it was extremely painful – BUT hopefully worth it! I also took the opportunity to add teasers about the next book in the series so hopefully that will also increase sell through.

Here’s some more specifics per store.

KINDLE – It takes a couple of days for the cover to update even though the interior files will update really fast on the store. This meant that there were a few days where the title didn’t match the cover and I held my breath expecting bad reviews. No way to get round that though and everything was fine. My author page looks awesome now :)

author page

KOBO – No issues at all. Changes went through fine.

iBOOKS – No issues at all. Changes went through fine.

NOOK – The key field is on title, so you’ll need to ask for their help. My sales have been so low at NOOK recently that I just went ahead and lost my history and reviews. If you have a huge audience on NOOK, then this might make you think twice about re-titling, but re-covering is no issue.

SMASHWORDS – No issues at all. Changes went through fine.

How to change print book titles and covers

Unfortunately, a title change means new ISBNs which means new files. You need to unpublish the old ones. Make sure you order a few copies for posterity. You never know, they may be valuable one day!

Stone of Fire 3DI use Createspace and free ISBNs so I created new projects for all 3 books, changed the interior and cover files and republished.

Link the new versions through Amazon Author Central and ask them to unlink the old ones. You can never get rid of the older editions in that they will be available as secondhand, but you can make sure the new books are linked to the Kindle version with all the reviews on.

I also updated the print files for all my other fiction books with the name changes as part of the series in the back matter and took the opportunity to update my Author Bio and other small things while I was there.

How to change audiobook titles and covers

audioMy audiobooks are published through ACX and it has been a bit of a pain. It should be simple enough. Contact the help at ACX and ask for changes to the projects. Send them the updated cover, opening and closing credits and that should be it.

Unfortunately, because I sent 3 at the same time, the helpdesk got confused and loaded the wrong title and cover to the two of the books. I’d suggest this wouldn’t be an issue with just one book – and it worked out fine in the end.

Was it all worth it?

Yes, indeed, although I suspect I will be updating links on this site for years to come. I needed to take a good look at my fiction brand and the new covers and titles give me a good base going forward. As the first 3 books in the series, they are super important and STONE OF FIRE is my permafree title, so it needs to look good. I’m confident that my agent will be able to take these to foreign markets and overall, I am super happy with the changes.

What do you think? This has been a megapost, so please join the conversation and let me know your thoughts in the comments below.