OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
We all need mentors, people who inspire us and help us along the journey. Mine have often been within the pages of books and I have journals of notes from their collective wisdom over the years. But now I have one in person!
I have followed Orna Ross on her Creative Intelligence blog and then amazingly we bumped into each other in The London Library, a great creative space to work. In only a short time, she has helped me find some clarity about my own writing as well as kicking my butt in her truly wonderful Irish style. I'm excited to introduce you to her today!
Orna Ross is a novelist, non-fiction writer and poet. Previously published by Penguin, she is now exploring the delights of being an indie author of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, as well as adapting her last novel for screen. Her research interest is in creative intelligence – what it is and how to cultivate it.
In the video interview, we discuss:
- How Orna's publishing career progressed from being traditionally published with Penguin, a #2 bestseller and sold in the supermarkets to taking control of her books by going independent.
- How the publishing business has changed in the last 15 years so that it isn't so great for midlist authors. When traditionally published, creative control was taken away and particularly with supermarket sales, the author's opinion isn't taken into account. It was more about chasing the bottom line rather than investing in a writer over the longer term. Orna felt the book wasn't branded in the way the book was actually written. So it's very exciting to be able to independently publish now so she can reach the people who will enjoy the book.
- How Orna started with a meditation book and a poetry book in order to practice with the self-publishing formats, and now she is indie publishing Lover's Hollow which is now called ‘After the Rising' and will be out on the Kindle soon. It's focused on what happened after Ireland gained independence from Britain and the problems of a small village. It's part murder mystery, part love story that spans three generations. It explores silence and liberation, what happens after the moment of revolution and the story spans Ireland and San Francisco. It's literary in the tradition of great language, serious themes and a long time in the considered writing but the main aim was to write a good story which the reviews did bear out.
- Orna also writes a lot about creativity – check out her Creative Intelligence blog. The bond with the inner self is critical. You have to protect that side of yourself and nurture that. We are all creative, it's a human given. The key to more creativity is to understand what you need in order to feel connected to your inner life. Meditation is one effective way of doing that. Our education system is still grounded in the industrial revolution but we're now in the information age and we need to change the way we view creativity. Luckily we now have a lot of ways to learn online so we can change our patterns.
- What Orna has learned about marketing now she has to do it all herself. She started with blogging and has found it to be the most revolutionizing thing she's done as a writer so far and it's been brilliant. It has given her a community and readers who get what she is about. She also loves Twitter @ornaross. But even as a traditionally published author, she did have to do a lot herself. Orna will do a slow 3-month launch process. It's great as an indie to be entirely in charge so she's going to launch the book in San Francisco as well as Dublin and London.
- Indie is so important because of the long tail and the fact nothing ever goes out of print and you can keep selling. This didn't happen before. A launch period is not so important when discovery can happen over time now and you can still be found years later.
You can find Orna at her website & blog www.OrnaRoss.com and on Twitter @ornaross
Linda Runnebaum says
Thank you so much for posted Orna’s interview. What great information! Thank you so much! I will check out her blog and website. Take care!
Great interview! You can meet such amazing people at the London Library. Maybe I should get out of my apartment and start writing there.
Joanna Penn says
We’ve started quite the little writing group at the LL 🙂
Nancy M. Popovich says
Very interesting interview. Thanks!
Paul Johnson says
I found Joanna Penn’s interview with Orna Ross very informative. As a result, I went online and purchased the Kindle version of her new book “After the Rising”. The storyline of the book intrigues me – I was already vaguely aware from an Irish friend that the years following the establishment of the Irish State in 1922 were riven with internal conflict that split communities in the Irish Republic, and that these enmities have echoed down through following generations. Orna Ross’s observation that there is a sort of collective amnesia about this era in Ireland is fascinating. And by the way, I thought that the book’s cover artwork was eye-catching and evocative. I look forward to reading the story.
Secondly, it is obvious to me that Orna has educated herself well about book marketing. The price for the Kindle version of her book was intelligently set at US$4.30 which still gives Orna a 70% royalty from Amazon but does not set up a psychological barrier to prospective customers who might be wavering about crossing the line to make the purchase. Why? Because at $4.30, the financial risk of an “unknown” author to the customer is very small – less than the price of a magazine at a newsstand. I mention the pricing issue because I am surprised at how many publishers (or authors) are asking obscene amounts for their Kindle books. I have declined to purchase Kindle books that I would have otherwise have bought because they were priced at $15 plus – sometimes only a few dollars short of the printed version. This is dumb, dumb, dumb on the part of a Kindle book publisher! Web-smart customers will resist being expected to pay for printing, warehousing, distribution costs, and retail mark-ups that simply don’t exist anymore for E-Books. The publishers must think they will be making a super-profit on the sales – but a great many sales won’t materialise. A more reasonable “risk-less” price point is far more likely to generate big volume sales (and hence a strong royalty flow).
I noted that Orna and Joanna Penn correctly identified that long term publishing profits now lie in tapping the phenomenon of the “Long Tail” that has been created by the magic of the internet. I am amazed at how many publishing houses don’t understand this and are allowing potentially valuable revenue generators in the form of their back-list books to just wither on the vine because they are either out-of-print, or still priced at the original hard-copy premium. This is crazy, considering that the digital conversion process does not require a big investment and that all the original publishing “sunk” costs have long been paid for. What a waste!
Lastly – what I found particularly fascinating were Orna’s remarks about how the marketing and cover design process for her earlier book had been carried out by the publisher denying her any input or control, and that these things are now basically being driven by the perceptions of supermarket retailers!! Hullo! What planet are these publishing people on? Her previous publisher has obviously allowed a valuable potential profit-generator (i.e. Orna) to be lost to their future business – that doesn’t seem to be very smart.
What this says to me is that the large fiction publishing houses are fast sowing the seeds of their own decline and fall. All that I read on the subject indicates that publishing industry consolidation over the last decade or so seems to have resulted in fiction publishing decisions effectively being driven by accountants and generic managers – not traditional boots-on-the-ground “technical specialists” – in this case “book” people. The “generic manager” trend is now widespread across a lot of industries and my observation is that it leads to short-term-profit decision making by people who often don’t have adequate domain knowledge of “their” industries or even a long-term commitment to it. One assumes that fiction publishing must be the type of business that is highly dependent on nurturing and developing a continuous stream of new authors – and that means mid-list authors – who, after all, represent the pool of creative resource that engineers new “product” that underpins the future success and viability of the business. In the technical and operational industries that I have worked in over a lifetime, this nurturing process goes by the name of “Research & Development” and significant resources are allocated to it, even at the expense of short-term profit margins – because without it, there is no future for the business!
In most industries it is not easy to pick winners for a new product at the outset, and for fiction publishing, logically that means having a stable of mid-list authors to draw upon. What Orna Ross’s experience exemplifies is that the management of the big publishing houses really have lost the plot (to use an appropriate pun!). How many large publishing conglomerates include authors, or even editors as members of the boards of directors? I suggest very few – if any. I suggest that if you hold equity in a publishing house in your retirement portfolio, now might be a good time to consider getting rid of it! And speaking of boards of directors – if I were the President or Chairperson of a publishing house, then I would quickly snap-up a fiction-author with street-smarts such as Orna Ross and put her on the board – it just might save the company!
Good luck Orna Ross – I think your books will mightily succeed.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks for the long and considered comment Paul. I really appreciate your engagement.
I’m interested in your comments on the Kindle pricing as I see Orna’s pricing as much higher than my own and for different reasons. I shall definitely be playing with my pricing structure in 2012 when I have some more books.
Orna has definitely spent time studying marketing and putting this into practice, which is also what I aim to do with this blog. I am obsessed with figuring this stuff out and sharing it with you guys! We will only learn from each other and successful indies 🙂 2012 looks like a great year (and Orna has a lot more books coming out too!)
Janalyn Voigt says
Thanks to both Joanna and Orna for a thought-provoking interview. Creative control as a motive for indie-publishing fascinates me. I suspect Orna will do well with such an intriguing story.I love that it grew in her mind over a matter of years before she wrote it.
In this age of crass commercialization, Orna’s focus on creativity and the inner life of a writer is refreshing. I’m off to follow her blog.
SheilaMary Belshaw says
Most inspsiring interview. Thank you Orna for all those gems of information about going indie. I have subscribed to your blog and look forward to following you and reading your books.
Lorna Fergusson says
This really informative interview (which struck many chords with me with regard to my experience of publishing) confirms what I thought already – that Orna is a lovely, warm, inspiring person. Looking forward to meeting her next month – and seeing you again, Jo!