Publishing has changed so much in the last twenty-five years and Alison Jones has worked within the industry during that time, switching from the big publishing houses to her own independent imprint.
In today's show, we discuss the changes and opportunities in the new publishing world.
In the introduction, I talk about launching my co-written sweet romance under a new name, with no author platform, no email list and no social media presence. Basically, as if I am just starting out again as a new author! My experiences might help you if you're just starting out.
Today’s show is sponsored by my non-fiction audiobooks, How to Make a Living with your Writing and The Successful Author Mindset, available now on Audible. If you need some more inspirational audio that will give you actionable tips to make more money with your books AND stay sane while doing it, check them out here!
Alison Jones is a business author, publisher and consultant and has worked in the publishing industry for 25 years, both with traditional publishers and as an independent. She now runs the Practical Inspiration publishing imprint and the Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast.
- Alison's varied background in publishing
- How the traditional publishing industry is changing in terms of who they're hiring
- How to know when a book idea is a viable one
- Writing a non-fiction book proposal
- On whether trad publishers are thinking globally yet
- The future of print and the future of publishing
- What marketing ideas are working for authors
Transcript of Interview with Alison Jones
Joanna: Hi everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com and today I'm here with Alison Jones. Hi Alison.
Alison: Hello Joanna, how are you doing?
Joanna: I'm good. It's so good to have you on the show. Just a little introduction.
Alison is a business author, publisher and consultant and has worked in the publishing industry for 25 years, both with traditional publishers and as an independent. She now runs the Practical Inspiration publishing imprint and the Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast, which is awesome.
Now Alison, you've been in publishing awhile.
Alison: I am very old, yes.
Joanna: I'm not suggesting you're old at all but it's great to have you on the show because of your experience in the industry.
I wondered if you could tell us a bit more about your journey while also discussing how the changes in publishing have impacted your journey.
Alison: I suppose my journey is development of publishing over the last 25 years in microcosm, so that makes all kinds of sense. Actually, when I started publishing, it wasn't as a publisher. I started as an author. It was one of those bizarre things.
I went to talk to the people at Chambers and came out with a deal to write a book for them. I'm still not quite sure how it happened. But it's that kind of innate thing to say, “Yes, absolutely,” when someone says, “Can you do this?” And go in and figure out how to do it afterwards.
I actually started by writing a Saints dictionary for the Chambers Howard which was fascinating actually, loads of really good material if I ever do write a novel. And to pay the way during the day, I worked at Waterstones, which was fabulous actually in retrospect because I got the sharp end at both ends. I was an author but I was also working in book selling and people were coming in and saying,” I don't know what it's called but it's got a blue cover and they talked about it on Radio 4 last week.”
Joanna: And we should point out to the non-UK audience, Waterstones is one of our biggest bookstore chains.
Alison: Waterstones at the east end of Princes Street in Edinburgh which is the best Waterstones ever. And then I got a job in-house with Chambers, a very, very lowly kind of editorial assistant level and I remember, you may know the Chambers Biographical Dictionary. One of my first jobs was photocopying obituaries from the Times in a basement. It was really kind of existential crisis at the time
Joanna: Wow, photocopying. Do people even do that anymore?
Alison: Right. And the printer was next to me, the printer for the entire building and it had the dotted lines and reams and reams of stuff would come out.
I had a computer. They made a very big deal of the fact that I was the first editorial assistant ever to have my own computer. I came in just as computers were really becoming central to the way that publishing works. But at that point, it was still the back end.
So, I was working on the Chambers Biographical Dictionary, the Chambers Dictionary of Quotations I edited. And we were doing it all on computer, in programs, on databases, so that you didn't put the starts and then you could search it, you could query it, you could pull up reports and cut the data.
But as soon as it went to print, you couldn't do any of that. You were stuck with a static arrangement of information, constraint by the number of pages you could bind and in the indexes that you consider put together. So, I think I realized quite quickly, you should be able to query electronically because that's how you want to use it. You don't sit and read the dictionary of quotations, you query it. You want to go in and check something.
I think I was at Oxford University Press at this point and I did a diploma in computing and became out of stroke, the only person in editorial who could talk to the IT department which made me a digital publishing guru.
Joanna: Wow, and what year was this?
Alison: That was '96, '97, '96 I think.
Joanna: That's so funny because I was at Oxford in '96, '97.
Alison: At Oxford University Press?
Joanna: No, University.
Alison: Oh, University, how funny.
Joanna: And you were at the Press just around the corner, a beautiful building, isn't it?
Alison: Oh it's gorgeous, it's absolutely beautiful, Copper Beech and Wisteria.
Joanna: It is amazing.
You were now an expert in computers.
Alison: That's right and that's the trick, isn't it? If you can get in at the beginning of something, then all your experience just accretes and you become actually a proper expert because you've been doing it for so long.
It was a fantastic opportunity and I set up Oxford Reference online and then I went to Macmillan and became project manager working on state and seeable condition economics, basically taking those big reference books and putting them online.
I got to blend the editorial and computing and I became head of digital development at Palgrave Macmillan and then more broadly moved into innovation strategy because it wasn't so much about content suddenly in kind of we'll admit, it's about three or four years ago.
It was much more about the services that linked with that, so actually helping academics work more efficiently, providing tools and so on.
And then at that point, Macmillan decided to move me to London and I decided not to and I set up my own company. I'd got an MBA a few years before that and I was getting quite constrained and irritated by constantly being on the back foot with publishing, feeling defensive, feeling like you were always reacting against things and trying to protect your traditional revenue streams.
I just thought this is broken, trying to sell a concept for money and that being your only source of revenue. That's rubbish. That's a rubbish business model. So, at that point, I left and I set up Practical Inspiration Publishing and the rest is history.
Joanna: I don't normally go into people's history in such detail, but I'm so interested in your changes because as you say, you've almost moved through as the industry has gone through a really radical change. I mean, we say radical change but you've talked about 20 years there. You said you got irritated and annoyed.
Was that the speed at which things weren't changing? Is that why you wanted to do it yourself?
Alison: Yes, partly. It was also more fundamentally, just that sense that most traditional publishers probably still now and certainly three or four years ago, were just really focused on protecting primarily print revenue streams because actually margins for publishers are really quite tight, especially not trade publishers, academic publishers and so on. Journals, not so much, journals got quite high margins.
But academic book publishers, they are going along on really quite thin margins and there is not much appetite or space for invention when your margins are that tight. And, of course, if all you can do is sell content and that content is becoming devalued and other people are managing infrastructure around it, authors actually don't really care that much, academic authors don't care about the revenue for that. They just care about visibility.
So, you're putting up barriers to content and pay walls because that's how you make your money. And that's not always serving your authors well. That sort of thing was frustrating me.
Joanna: What I've heard is that publishing is trying to recruit more technical people because traditionally people have come out of university with an English degree and then like you said, you got an MBA later.
Is publishing really dominated by a load of people with English degrees who aren't that interested in tech? And is the industry trying to change do you think and recruit new people?
Alison: Yes, and it is. Let's now pretend they are just starting to do that and catching up, actually particularly academic publishing it's been technical.
Pearson, for example, became a tech company a long time ago. And Nature Publishing Group who I work very closely with as part of the Macmillan family, they've got digital science which is actually kind of family of startups. They've got altmetrics and they've got some really clever tech stuff going on.
Again, it's supporting the infrastructure and the work flows in academic publishing. I think also in marketing to take a different example very, very data driven. If you haven't got strong digital skills, you're going to find it really hard to get a job in publishing these days. It's a given.
Joanna: Which is interesting because I get emails all the time about, “Oh, I just want to write as an author. I don't want to do all the other stuff.” And I think authors are similar in that they're like, “I don't want to do the tech stuff.” But I guess what you're saying is exactly the same thing, you have to.
This is modern publishing, isn't it? It's actually like tech company.
Alison: It is. And I'm sorry guys. I wish I could just say, “Just write a good book and fate will find you.” It just doesn't work like that. I doubt it ever did but it certainly doesn't change now.
Joanna: Well exactly, I don't think it ever did and people say things like, “Well, Hemingway didn't have to do Facebook.” But there are pictures of Ernest Hemingway at his stand-up desk like I am now typing. He had a typewriter for letters to fans, which is the same as having to hang out on Facebook or emailing with your fans.
Alison: And think about Dickens. Dickens put his back into those tours. That's how he built up that reputation. He really worked at it.
Joanna: Yeah, he worked super hard. He was a man of the people. Isn't it funny that we think he's this classic writer? He was like down in the dirt with the peeps.
Alison: Totally, yeah, and his tours were grueling.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly. Okay, so let's come back to your company now.
You're an independent publisher which means you don't belong to Rupert Murdoch or anyone of the big companies and you work with a partnership model. Now, many people may have heard partnership model in a positive or negative way.
I wondered if you could explain what partnership model means and also who it works best for and how it can be ethical and good and not just difficult.
Alison: Sure. Actually, I do work with partnership model. I now also have a traditional publishing model as well. So, I'm more of a hybrid publisher.
I intended to be a fully partner publishing and then the editor in me got frustrated in not having enough control, so I now do both which is really nice actually because it's a good blend.
What it means is that I provide the publishing services to somebody and it's perfectly possible as you know to sort your entire team and to just project manage the whole thing yourself. But in a sense I kind of do that for people.
What I do in addition to that, that sort of makes me a bit different is I'm also a trained business coach. I've got the director level experience. I've got the MBA. I actually work with them to say, okay, if you're going to write a book for your business, that is a massive amount of your time and energy that's going to go into that.
Let's just be really clear how it's going to work with the business. Where's the business going? What's your broader content strategy? What's your platform strategy? How are we going to make the book work with that?
And then also when you've decided what book it is you're going to write and who it's for and what the scope and the structure and so on is going to be, let's find a way to write it that means it works for you right from the beginning. So, it's the engine of your content strategy. You use it to build your relationships and your networks and reach out to people that you wouldn't otherwise have reached out.
There's a lot of coaching and planning involved as well as the actual publishing. I think that's pretty distinctive. I haven't really met anybody doing anything quite like that before. What it means to people is that they basically get the book that they want to publish for their purposes, whatever those purposes are, for really professionally done. Obviously, that kind of goes without saying. It's a professional publishing operation.
I remember Hugh Howey. Do you remember when we went to conference console, I think it was, a couple years back. Hugh Howey was saying on stage, “Look, there's this whole scope of publishing options open to you and some people like running their own business and those are the people who like to self-publish and other people like the security of working in a big company where they don't have to worry about stationary and IT. Those are the people who like to work with a publisher. And the tradeoff is control and the upside I suppose.”
Partnership publishing works really well for people who are doing it because part of a bigger platform, who welcome the idea of control and also who have opportunities to sell it direct. And I think that's quite important as well.
You can rely on Amazon, but I don't necessarily recommend it. I think if you have your business that you can sell the book direct on your site or you can take it to events where you're speaking or you can put it into training packages. You really want that freedom. And you want the freedom to be able to use your content however you damn well want to use it and not have to ask the publisher every time.
Joanna: Yeah, absolutely. I'm interested how you pick your clients, because there's only you, right? You focus on nonfiction. You focus on people who are business people. But I think it's important for people listening to realize that you have to filter out the people who it will work for because obviously, you want happy clients and clients who get there the best. And also, as I'm learning, there are lots of authors who are writing books that won't necessarily sell.
How do you pick your clients and how do you know when someone has an idea that will actually make a good book as opposed to just an idea?
Alison: Oh, what a great question. So, how do I pick my client? Say it's just me. It is just me but I've got a whole network of people, project managers, copy editors, designers. I've got this full publishing operation behind me.
Because you can do that now. You can outsource this stuff, it's amazing.
So, yes, it is just me, but I stick to what I'm really good at which is the coaching and the strategy stuff and the editorial invention right upstream. Generally, I start by working with someone on their broader business strategy and identifying the intellectual property that's distinctive to them.
I have had people melt away at this point when they realize actually they don't have anything distinctive to say. At which point, I talk to them about content strategy because actually you only can get your message and articulate it by doing it. So, we'll talk about how they might start a blog, how they might create a lead magnet eBook, just further down.
Also, it doesn't have to be a big thought leadership piece and that's what I mean about finding what you want that book to do for you. Because actually, if all you want is a lead magnet, we can do that really straightforwardly.
What are the things that people most often ask you? What's getting the most traction on your blog? And who are the people that you want to work with and tailor that content.
It's that intersection between what you're really, really good at, what people are asking for, where your industry's going. Let's focus on that and see that we can pull out there. It might not be a book. It might be a blog. It might be a vlog. It might be a white paper.
It could be a whole range of things. But generally, it becomes pretty clear during that process if there is something that's got real substance and could be a really interesting book.
Joanna: Yeah, I think it's fascinating. And you do talk about book proposals on your site and you've got a lead magnet about book proposals which is awesome.
Some people listening will want to pitch a publisher, so for a nonfiction book, a book proposal is fantastic. But also, people who want to go indie, I still think a proposal can be good for kind of persuading yourself that this is a good idea.
Can you outline what are the main parts of a proposal that you look for or that you consider important when people are considering their nonfiction books in particular.
Alison: Sure, well, I think a book proposal is amazing. It's one of those tools that people don't necessarily realize just how good it is. They think of it as something quite functional. Actually, it's a lot more than that.
So, I'll just briefly describe the proposal challenge so people can understand what it is. I run a free Facebook challenge which is a 10-day business book proposal challenge. People sign up and then in a closed Facebook group with emails and videos and lots of to-ing and fro-ing and support from me and the group.
Over 10 days we tackle each of the fields in the proposal document, the proposal template. And if you stick it, which about half the people who sign up do, which apparently is a really good rate for this sort of stuff, by the end of it, you've got a complete, really professional book proposal.
And what you do then is up to you. We have several people graduate from that and gone and got their book signed with publishers. I'm publishing some of them. So, they really do get traction.
Quite often, about day four, somebody will go, “Well, you know what? This is not the right book at all.” And that's great, that process.
What a proposal does is it forces you to make the business case for this book. And because the proposal is a document aimed at a publisher, really what it's doing is saying, “Can this book sell enough copies to make it economically viable.”
But you've always got in the back of your head as a business book author, “What's the business case for me?” And that's why I really encourage people to think about it at the same time as well. And it's all good.
There's no fluff in a proposal. Why would a publisher put more stuff in there to read than they don't have to? So, there's a good reason for everything in there. I think the really key bits are the synopsis and this is a really painful day in the challenge.
Joanna: It's like writing your book blurb.
Alison: Right. And I coach them through kind of an intuitive process to get there. But actually, if you can do that, and it does hurt, but if you can distil your book down to two sentences, it gives you so much more focus and clarity on it. And it means that the chances of you selling it to someone else have just massively increased. Because until you're clear about it, they won't be clear about it.
I remember one of the agents at the London Book Fair saying ages ago if you can't describe your book in two sentences, you're in trouble. And I thought that was really wise. It's very easy to get very precious about it, but actually what's it about, just tell me. So, that's very valuable.
Joanna: And everyone is just going aaah.
Alison: No, but it was really complicated. Yeah, I know. And in nonfiction particularly, really, really important that you're able to say, what is this book about and what is the single strong idea in this book and what makes it distinctive.
I think also the marketing plan is really, really important and something that most authors haven't really thought about at all. And when you start talking people through the options and the possibilities and when they see what other people are thinking about, suddenly, I'm thinking I've gonna put it on my website, which is the standard thing everybody says.
Suddenly, they realize all that potential, the fact that they've got all of these contacts, this access to the gatekeepers. That's absolutely good. And it doesn't matter whether you're publishing yourself or publishing with a big publisher.
You are going to be responsible for most of the marketing of your book, so you might as well start thinking about that because then you can fold it into the writing of your book and that's important. What else is really important? I think competitive analysis, knowing what's out there and how you would fit against it is really important.
Joanna: You mentioned competitive analysis there. I think for indies, at that point, you're also looking at the covers. Because covers by genre are so important, aren't they? Like right now, business books tend to be with one image and a lot of text, big letters, big titles on them.
When you're doing a proposal, you might not think about that but for indies, book cover is certainly important too.
Alison: Absolutely, and the cover isn't part of your book proposal because if it's pitched to a publisher, then they'll sort of take care of that.
I knew there was another one, target market. Being really clear on your target market. The nicher the better in most cases. And that together with what your book is really, really about, that's something that's really going to have to feed into your brief for the designer for the cover.
Joanna: When you say target market, do you mean subcategory on Amazon or do you mean some kind of demographic or psychographic?
Alison: I mean a demographic, primarily, even rather than a psychographic. For me, it might be something like okay, so we're targeting startups in year two who are scaling up and hiring, being really clear about geographical. Primarily, we're looking at the UK perhaps, for many of my people. We're looking at this sector perhaps, maybe this age range although I find age is not such a helpful one.
But age of a company, that matters. Somebody who's looking at setting up their very, very first company as a solopreneur is going to be having a very different approach to things and very different language they're gonna be using and concerns they're gonna have than somebody who's actually fairly well established and looking to scale up. That's just one example,
It's sort of like a target, isn't it? Right in the middle, you've got the person you're writing for, the person you are actually visualizing in your head as your target reader. And for many of my clients, that's the person that they want to work with in the future as well. Because why wouldn't you write for that person. And then there will be secondary markets around that and that's great as long as you're focused in on that target one. So, if only one person in the world could read your book, who would that be? That kind of question.
Joanna: That's super useful and whatever genre people are writing, these questions are exactly the same.
I wanted to ask you a bit more about the publishing side. You mentioned the UK for you. And this is something that kind of annoys me is that the publishing industry not being globally focused. So as a reader, what annoys me most is when publishers put out a book in one territory and we see marketing for a book that's out in America and hasn't come out in the UK and might not for another six months.
Obviously, you're publishing globally. You're publishing on Amazon and all that, so that's globally, Kobo and iBook and everything else I have to mention every show.
Do you think that there is a change around this global model? Do you think publishers are thinking beyond traditional territories or is it still very siloed?
Alison: It's so interesting, that territorial model really was only at the trade publishing and I know that that's what many people would think of when they think of publishing.
I've spent my whole life in scholarly professional academic publishing and that was always global. We always had global writer staff. Oxford University Press, Macmillan, had companies, we published almost agnostically out of the UK and the US particularly. The rest of the world in a sense was where we were looking to expand.
It's only really trade publishing that's had that kind of legacy of UK/US split in territorial rights which always drove me nuts. I've never really quite understood it.
Joanna: Good. So hopefully it will be changing with digital.
Alison: Absolutely. It makes no sense at all unless you're publishing with a small company that doesn't have the reach in say in the states. There are lots of UK independent publishers who just wouldn't have the reach in the states.
Obviously, the people who publish with me as partners will have the rights to their book and maybe will come on and talk about what that means and why it might be a good thing. But if they want to really focus on growing their market in the states, then I'd be partnering with someone in the states to help promote that or they'd be taking their content and saying I'm going to publish in the UK with you and in the US with here. But the company certainly portrayed for academic and scholarly, it's always been global and I think we're going to see that increasing in trade.
Joanna: And then it does seem odd to me that in a global market where you can publish globally. I understand that with the marketing reach, but we're not necessarily talking about print reach anymore, are we? I wanted to ask you about that.
How important is print to you as an independent publisher or to your clients? And are there any good things coming up with print that might be interesting to people?
Alison: It's so funny. Because I was always really an evangelist for digital publishing, I remember I had a bet with the production director at Macmillan, that reached out which we have 50/50 split between eBooks and print by 2015. It so wasn't. I so lost that bet.
Joanna: I think it probably was in romance.
Alison: Yeah, well, this is it. It's the genres, isn't it? I meant for Palgrave Macmillan. Obviously, for Elsevier, for big journalist publishers, they passed that 50/50 split a long time ago but for most other publishers, digital is still more like 20%, 25%, even at the top end actually.
I think there are publishers that are lower than that. And it's partly because eBook revenues are lower, but it's also because print has just been so much more resilient than I expected certainly and I think many people expected. I naively thought there'd be this just swap, that you'd stop consuming content in print and you'd start consuming it digitally because you could. And it doesn't work like that.
I've learned that actually print, it was a great technology for one thing, but the affordances of print are very, very different. And because we live now in this frictionless online world where everything is behind a screen and everything you shut down and you open up something else, that there is a sort of thing-ness about a print book. You can't click it away.
It's an actual physical object and it carries actual physical tangible value in a way that an eBook just doesn't and so you can gift it to people and it has this symbolic value. It has social capital in a way that digital content just doesn't.
I read eBooks all the time. I wouldn't be without my Kindle. It's got so much stuff on it. But those kind of books do not impinge on my consciousness at all until I consciously open up the library on my Kindle. Whereas my print books surround me and they have a way of being there and I come across them when I'm not expecting to and they furnish my room, my life. So, it's really different.
Joanna: How does print work in your company? Because as we know, we're readers. We love books. I've got books here too. You're talking as a reader and I was like yeah, yeah, I love books too. Print rocks.
But how about making money, Alison?
Alison: When you're doing it as a business thing, that has value. So, if you have a service business, it's all intangible. Whereas you give somebody a book, suddenly that's really tangible and if the production value is good. It has to look good. It has to feel good. It has to smell good. All those good things about a book. That signals something about your business.
That's, I think, where the value of print comes in. And you can send it to people with a little note in and stuff, so that's important. When somebody comes to hear you speak, they can take away a little bit of you. You can sign it. So, there's that. It's like, I hear Joanna speak, she's amazing and I got her book now look, that sort of connection. And that's what's coming up in print.
Something that I'm doing with my office at the moment which is really exciting, is using print on demand to create bespoke versions of things. I'm working with someone at the moment. We're working on a book that will be sold to HR departments and when she works with her big clients, they will have the option of purchasing, instead of books that have an introduction by their own CEO and they have a resource section in the back that has the company's specific contact information.
You can so easily do that these days. That's something that I'm really interested in is creating those kind of bespoke packages that take the book as it stands, but also allow you to customize it in some way as well. I think that's happening in trade as well a little bit.
Do you know the quarter experiment with cookbooks? And the kid's stuff, the personalized stuff. “Lost My Name”.
Joanna: Yeah, Honoree Corder, who's been on this show and listens to the show does this as well with her books that she gets lawyers to personalize and sells it that way as well. I think that's a really interesting model too, definitely although my revenue from book sales is still, I think, 87% eBook revenue.
Print is something that we've talked about with IngramSpark and Aerio, which hopefully will be appearing more this year. Things are getting easier with print so it doesn't have to break the bank to actually do print, does it?
I guess with a partnership model, the client pays for the print run anyway, so that's just part of your business plan.
Alison: Absolutely and if you as my client, can make the book part of your offering, then obviously, you're getting your clients to pay for the book which is a complete win-win because they are getting something of real value more cheaply than people could buy it in the shop. You're getting paid as the author for that bespoke set of particular consignment for that client.
And then obviously, I supply the book with a slight markup. It's not much that I mark up. Maybe we're going to talk about that as well. So, what we're creating is something that's actually really, really cost effective.
I was just talking to a client the other day, we are getting a quote at the moment. She is speaking at a conference and she has been asked to supply a quote for 400 copies of the book with the branding of the conference on. And they'll give a copy to all of the delegates. So, the delegates go away happy. They've got something great in their goody bag. She gets a really great book deal on the books. It's fantastic. It's a brilliant transaction. It's a bit of a currency that you can use as an author.
Joanna: Having just spoken in Australia and New Zealand, I included a copy of How to Make a Living with Your Writing with every talk I did and it's the first time I've done it. And the reason being is I'm now with IngramSpark and it was much easier to get the books printed and they were so much cheaper than it would have been with CreateSpace or something. I totally agree with you on that.
Now, there is so much that I want to ask you but I do want to come back to the definition of an independent publisher because the word independent and indie offers have co-opted this word where independent author, sort of rejecting the word self-publishing in a way because many of us are running quite big businesses now.
But independent, of course, a few years back, there was a bit of argy-bargy over the term because independent publishers use the word independent.
What is the current state of independent publishers versus independent authors and what about places like the Independent Publishers Guilds? Are people like me welcome?
Alison: I always feel there should be that sort of option, independent publisher, indie author, it's complicated. This is an industry in flux and we haven't shaken down the language yet and that's okay, it's fine.
And once it's shaken down, it kind of fossilizes in a way and we don't want that. So, I think it's a good thing that there is a bit of flex in there. It's all good.
Independent Publishers Guild, let's talk to that first. I'm on the board of the Independent Publishers Guild in the UK. It's an amazing organization and I love it. It was a real revelation to me coming out of years in corporate to enter such a collegiate, collaborative, generous organization because each of the small publishers sees the people around them as their support network rather than their competitors which is amazing. It's really good. And yes, they absolutely welcome indie…see what do I say?
Joanna: Indie authors.
Alison: Indie authors, okay. Back in 2014, which I think is a good bit sooner than the US equivalent the IBPA did, they set up associate membership for self-published authors to give them access to a lot of the stuff.
Basically, if you think of yourself as a business, then that's probably the best way to do it. Am I an author who's just writing and putting it on Amazon or am I actually a more serious publishing business with the infrastructure and I want to build around that.
I think if that's your approach, then I would thoroughly recommend you come have a chat at the Independent Publishers Guild because they've got several different layers of membership and there's bound to be one that's right for you. And once you're a part of that group, it's an incredibly rich resource, lots of support. They've got mentoring. They've got some legal help and stuff. They have the best stand party at the London Book Fair. Well, I say that, I suspect maybe there's an indie author party that I just don't know about.
Joanna: There is. Yeah, you don't know about it.
Alison: Okay, wrangle me in there some time. But it's certainly the best stand party that I know of at the London Book Fair. They are also just launching a skills hub with training, so there's lots of good reasons to go and check out the IPG and they are very welcoming.
Joanna: You think there aren't people who are still worried about that independent term?
Alison: There probably are, but why would you worry about it? It is just what it is.
Joanna: It's really nice to hear you say about the collaborative idea because many people still have it in their heads as sort of them and us, author vs publisher. But actually, it's a continuum, isn't it? It's a continuum from the hyper sort of business focus, CEO of some Rupert Murdoch owned company through the independent publishing kind of stream into independent authors and on. It's fascinating and I'm actually looking forward to joining the IPG because the Alliance of Independent Authors, of course, is collaborative and helpful.
Alison: That's right. ALLi is another great organization for people who want to be part of something bigger.
Joanna: And we're stronger together in all these different ways. And I'm just going through this weird crossover at the moment. Not crossover; I'm certainly going to keep writing, I'm not going to move into publishing completely, but I think it's very interesting.
You mentioned for your authors, talking to them about marketing but of course, you have your own company and you have to market yourself and everything.
What have you found works best for your authors in terms of book marketing, but also for spreading your own brand.
Alison: Oh, that's a great question. Well, the podcast is probably a really good place to start. Should we talk about that? It feels rather cheeky because it's not book marketing.
Joanna: No, it is absolutely marketing.
Alison: It's not traditional book marketing, but yes. I'm the host of an Extraordinary Business Book Club which you have been a guest on and that was a really special moment for me. I remember inviting you along and you were like one I know is going to laugh.
Joanna: Yeah, I was so mean. I was like when you've got enough episodes.
Alison: No, it was great because it gave me such a good goal to aim for and I can imagine there are so many podcasts just crash and burn in the first 10 episodes. It's hard work, isn't it? But man, it's so much good fun. I hadn't expected it to be so much fun.
Honestly, I started up the Extraordinary Business Book Club 70% to force myself to write my own business book. I am a publisher and I'm instinctively a publisher. It's what I love doing. I love working with people. I love curating. I love developing an idea and giving it form and shape and bringing it out into the world.
I can write, but it's not actually what I really get off on. I get off on publishing. But it was getting to the point where yes, I had written other books and I had written to commission and stuff and it was fine, but I knew at some point, I had to just produce a book and say, “Yes, this is my book.”
So, that was quite a hard thing for me and I knew that the only way, because I'm so shallow, the only way it was going to happen is if I actually told people I was going to do it and I was just shamed into doing it. So, that's why I started the podcast and it has worked. It's worked really well.
It's slightly slower than I'd hoped but it has worked. What I didn't expect was, I kind of knew intellectually that this would happen, but it was amazing still to see it happen, that the platform building-ness of it for me and also being able to offer my authors a platform which has been fantastic and then to see big publishers coming to me and saying, “Oh, we have a good author, we think it would be fantastic for your show.”
For me keeping that link, that foothold in traditional publishing alongside working with my new clients and being that independent publisher is quite important. It works really well because many of the people that I work with that I coach go on to publish as traditional publishers. So, it's a continuum as you say and it's a beautiful thing.
That has been fantastic because it means the quality of the conversation that you're having with people is really different. You are approaching absolute rock stars and you're not saying, “Ooh, hello. I think you're really good. Would you like to read my synopsis.”
You're actually saying, “Hey, I've got this really interesting thing that I'm doing in the world, do you want to be part of it?” And that's a completely different conversation which I've really enjoyed.
And it means that you're there, you're showing up every week. You're talking about what you're doing. I talk about the proposal challenge, the boot camp that I run for graduates and that, talking about the books that I'm publishing. And it's just really authentic. That's the thing for me.
You're not putting it out there with nothing behind it. You're there, week after week, people get to know you. They run their life to the sound of your voice. People have my podcast as their writing ritual. I love that. And then you're just really naturally telling them what you're doing and what you're excited about and for me that's the best form of marketing.
I think also doing events. I do quite a bit of speaking, probably not as much as you do.
Joanna: I need to do less. Please do more.
Alison: Just point them my way, that would be an easy swap certainly, and nobody will notice. We've got long dark hair, it'll be fine. And that's really good and I think for my authors particularly. When they get the gigs, suddenly they are selling vast quantities of books just in one hit and they're selling them at high margin, of course, because you can get a discount. The people feel like they're getting a great deal and you're still getting more than you'd get if you sold it through the trade.
Joanna: I think for nonfiction authors, speaking is still an incredibly powerful way to build your business, make some income and sell your book. So yeah, I think it makes sense.
I think for fiction authors doesn't work so well although it was really interesting. In Australia, I ended up doing an event at a library and they sold a lot more tickets than expected for an unknown person and I think partly because it's talking about how to help people.
People want to write books, don't they? As a fiction author, you can still speak about writing and you'll get more of an audience than if you just turn up and want to talk about your novel.
Alison: And that's the classic thing about marketing, isn't it? What's in it for them? It's the same as the book. Who's the target audience? What do they care about? What language are they speaking? How do I get their attention?
You get their attention by providing something that's fun or interesting or educational or important for them to know. And that's where it's got to come from. What's in it for them rather than what's in it for me.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly. So, you're over 50 episodes, aren't you now?
Joanna: And I want to encourage people and maybe you can reflect on this too. I've been podcasting since 2009. I'm old hat at these things. Many people are worried that they're too late.
How has it been doing a year, I guess you've been going a year now, starting from scratch. How has that gone?
Alison: It's gone amazingly and I would say to somebody, “Look, if you're dithering about it, if you put it off, then that's just a bit later that you're starting. Why don't you just do it?” By this time next year, you'll have been doing it for a year already.
I think, I'm going to sound like a broken record now, but I knew really clearly what it was about, who it was for and what it was going to give them and so why wouldn't I? Why wouldn't I do that? I knew it was going to be fun as well.
I think you have to be the kind of person that enjoys chatting to people and be curious about how people tick and what makes them write and stuff in my case. I've really enjoyed it and maybe I didn't attach too much to it partly because I kind of had that ulterior motive.
It wasn't actually at all important to me that this was to get into the top 50 on iTunes which as far as I know it hasn't done so that's good. I'm really actually not that bothered. It is about being the engine of my own writing, my own talking to people, finding out really invaluable ways that they make their book work with their business. And all the other stuff is kind of jam really on top of that. I think if you're doing it because it's intrinsically interesting to you, that's a great place to start from.
Joanna: Fantastic. Well, we are almost out of time.
Alison: You're kidding me?
Joanna: I know. I do want to ask you about given your innovation history and your early entry into digital, what do you see on the horizon?
What do you see in publishing for the next couple of years since clearly you're as optimistic as me about many of these things?
Alison: Yeah, absolutely. I wouldn't be as optimistic if I was in traditional publishing still. I'll be honest with you. I think that everyone I speak to is in a real funk about it. It's not good at all.
What do I see coming out? I think audio is fascinating and it has been for a couple of years now. But I think with voice assistance coming up really strongly and getting Alexa to read your book and maybe start interacting with it more, I think there's going to be some really interesting stuff coming out with audio and Vox and voice assistants. Really interested in seeing how that will happen. I notice that Wattpad have just released a new app, Tap. You know about this, yeah?
Joanna: Yes, like a chat story or something, yeah.
Alison: Yes, like a story that's told by text message and you tap to load the next message up and that's a sense of using and co-opting the new forms of communication around us to tell stories. It's actually minimal interactivity. All you're doing is tapping the screen, but the impression you're left with is that you're kind of eavesdropping on a conversation. I think that's fascinating.
So, there's different modes of telling stories. And what's going to happen, of course, is Wattpad releases it and then their user base who are incredibly imaginative will take it and run with it and do things that we haven't even thought about. So, I think that's exciting.
I guess this is part of my background, but I'm really interested to see what will happen with open access. So, OA has been a thing, but it hasn't been a thing that has extended far beyond the academy yet. So just in case people aren't aware, open access is basically the people who are doing the research have a fund which they use to pay the publisher.
It's kind of a publishing services thing. It's not dissimilar to what I do. They publish it and it's made available freely rather than being buried behind a pay wall of a journal subscription. Now it may be available, but most of the time it's impenetrable still because it's written by academics for academics. But there is this incredibly rich cutting edge research that is suddenly available to everybody and you've got those big platforms like BioMed Central plus one, the big journals.
But at the moment, there is very little trickle down. But I think there's a whole class of people who are intellectually curious, who are running businesses and want some research, who are citizen scientists. And I'm really interested to see what happens there in terms of putting decent search mechanisms at the very least on that concept. So, I think there is some really interesting stuff to come out of that as well.
Joanna: Cool. That is awesome. And you did mention your book. When can we expect that book and what is it about?
Alison: That's a very good question. I took a leaf out of your book actually. I booked the editor for the end of March.
Joanna: Oh, marvelous.
Alison: So, it's only for the first section. I'm delivering by sections. The book is called, This Book Means Business: 99 Brilliant Ideas for Writing a Business-Building Book.
Joanna: Ooh, nice title.
Alison: You like that? Oh, good. And I did the full Guy Kawasaki and you'll have to listen to my podcast to work out what that means. Basically, it's there now. I'm not quite sure when this is going out, but the whole table of contents is online as Google doc with the…
Joanna: I know. I checked it.
Alison: Oh, leave some comments please. I haven't seen it. So, that was fantastic.
I can't tell you the fear of pressing Go Live on that. And it's interesting, nobody has actually dared leave a comment on it, but I had less people email me with comments. That's not how it's supposed to work people. This is a collaborative exercise.
Joanna: I actually thought it was very comprehensive. I didn't have anything to add.
Alison: Well, that's good to hear. It was supposed to be the whole thing, but I've cut it, again from following your advice when we were talking about… A few people have said it doesn't have to be very long, so this is all about ways in which you can use your book to build your business as you write.
And then the next one is going to be ways to build your business once you have the book in your hand. It's more about the promotion and stuff. So, it's clever tricks and ways of actually kind of making the most value out of your book even while it's just sort of a twinkle in your eye, the various things that you can do to teach to help build a profile, to get more content, to test out the content, to build your launch team, all that kind of good stuff.
Joanna: Sounds good. Target date is…
Joanna: September. Fantastic. Well, we'll definitely keep an eye out for that.
Where can people find you and the podcast and the potential book and all your other books you work on online?
Alison: The forthcoming book please. Well, my website is just alisonjones.com, www.alisonjones.com and you can see practical inspiration books on there as well. I'm actually right in the middle of the process of building the practical inspiration website, so by the time this goes out, you may be seeing a link to that rather than seeing the books on there. And the podcast is at www.extraordinarybusinessbooks.com and there is also an Extraordinary Business Books Club Facebook group which you are very welcome to join and please do tweet me @bookstothesky on Twitter because that's where I am pretty much every second of every day.
Joanna: You and me both. Right. So, thank you so much for your time, Alison. That was great.
Alison: Fantastic to talk to you, Joanna. Bye-bye.