On the last Tuesday of the month, I spend an hour discussing the latest news and events in the publishing industry with Orna Ross, founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, poet and author of historical fiction and non-fiction.
Orna is a friend as well as a creative mentor, she's been in the publishing industry for 20+ years as a writer, agent and publisher as well as activist for authors' rights.
I wanted to bring this show to your attention because we always talk about interesting things, but this month was particularly fascinating. We discuss:
- Writers and money, art and business, creative and commercial. I reflect on my trip to Venice to see Damien Hirst, an artist who combines money and art, and we talk about Orna's new book on How Authors Create Money and Meaning. Plus the emergence of a digital economy for creatives and why we're excited about that!
- Updates on the Indie Author Fringe alongside Book Expo (you can watch all the session replays here), as well as the upcoming release of How to Get your Self-Published Book into Bookstores
- The Amazon Buy Button controversy and whether it might change the traditional publishing practice of remaindering books that don't sell for pennies – so that they can be resold by other dealers
- Fake news in the media about ebooks vs print – don't trust everything you read.
- How many traditionally published authors are now considering going hybrid – they might have sold UK Commonwealth or US Canada and are now considering going indie in other territories, but many are still keeping quiet about it.
- What's changed in the last 3 years in book marketing – and my Third Edition of How to Market a Book, currently on pre-order. Plus, how I've been marketing the first in my new sweet romance series co-written under a pen-name with my Mum, with no platform or email list or social media.
- The launch of Vellum for print formatting as well as ebook formatting. It's amazing! KDP Print plus print boxsets.
- My breakdown of the last years book sales data – and what that means for my focus in the next year
- Amazon Charts, and a discussion of the attention economy and how we have to consider ways to break through the noise in order to reach readers
You can read the transcript at the bottom of the post, watch the video below, or here on YouTube.
You can listen or download the audio from SoundCloud here.
You can find Orna at www.OrnaRoss.com and on twitter @ornaross and regularly on the ALLi blog, www.SelfPublishingAdvice.org. You can check out the Alliance of Independent Authors here. (I'm a proud and happy member!) You can join us live on the next Salon on Tues 27 June at 3pm US Eastern, 8pm UK. You'll find us on Orna's YouTube account here.
Transcript of Conversation with Orna Ross and Joanna Penn
Joanna: Hello everyone. This is the Alliance of Independent Authors June Chat Salon about self-publishing with me, Joanna Penn and Orna Ross. Hi, Orna.
Ona: Hi Jo, hi everyone. Welcome to almost June.
Joanna: Yeah, it is June like tomorrow or something? It's so scary, we're almost at halfway through the year and we've got some interesting stuff. I mean just to be clear, this is the Salon, where Orna and I basically talk about the things that we found interesting in the indie author world in the last month and reflect upon those experiences. And in the hope that it will help you on your author journey.
Orna, tell us what's on your mind at the moment
Orna: I just keep coming back this month and for the last while about this whole issue of writers and money. Making a living, making a killing, writing fast, you know, writing slow and deep.
And the contrasting kinds of missions and raison d'etre motivations we all have and where money kind of fits in with that. A part of that is I'm deeply interested myself because I'm writing books particularly around these topics. But also, I find it's coming up for people a lot because I think that you're going to talk to this as well.
What's happening in the marketing space in the book marketing and book promotion space has changed so radically, particularly in the last year, that I have begun thinking about that whole thing and how they're approaching it is changing. People are being forced to think really hard I think now about why they're in this and what they want to create out of it. So, all that is really kind of swirling around my mind in different ways. We'll touch off it in different ways as we go through the chat this evening.
Joanna: I think we'll come back to the marketing but just on the money and creativity, I was in Venice for the Damian Hirst exhibition. Damian Hirst being one of my favorite living modern artists. And his exhibition was “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable.” And it spanned two whole venues in Venice and it was just jaw-dropping.
I don't say that lightly. I love art but it was an exhibition I think I will remember for my whole life because it was so stunning. And the pieces were amazing, the story around it. He had video footage of them discovering this wreck at the bottom of the Indian Ocean and bringing up these ancient pieces where actually they're all art and he you know, his factory made them.
It challenges so much of what you're talking about, money and art. He is a Picasso, not a Van Gogh.
Picasso died worth something like $500 million. You can be a rich artist with a workshop attitude as in Damian Hirst didn't make all those pieces. He has a workshop that he collaborates with to make them and he's making hundreds of millions of pounds and dollars. So, to me and it's jaw-droppingly creative and stunning. And I'm like, “Wow, you can be ambitious, an artist and make money.” And this is the type of message that I like as businesswoman.
But equally, next month hopefully I'll be announcing that I'm going to win an award for my creative work. I struggle with that balance constantly of wanting to create what my muse wants to and in this world, money is the thing rewards us for the end goal.
Orna: Well, one of the things that I found really interesting while I've been researching these books is looking at the historical development of the attitude to finances.
At what point did art and money became opposites and become polarized?
It's actually quite a recent invention and money is a relatively recent invention anyway.
But it was in the romantic movement that this idea really took legs and then it was towards the end of the 19th century that it began to really embed itself when you have the whole idea of Bohemia and that opera kind of set off that way of thinking about it. So, it's a relatively new construct and all the way along one of the things that I found most interesting, I remember reading an article about Hirst and him saying that, everything he has done, everything that he has set out to do as a very commercial minded artist has been done before. There have been precedents for this long ago and particularly if you step back behind modern art where that whole idea of the artist as somebody who starves and dies.
Art is something sacred and positioned as oppositional to the commercial and if you go back behind that you see that artists have been doing these kinds of things for many years.
And whether you actually do well commercially or not has very little to do with whether you do well creatively or not. They are not one and the same thing at all.
There is no polarization between those two.
Joanna: That's awesome. You and I did a day together recently. I can't believe we even talked about that. But what I do have, I'm just gonna reach across my desk for those watching the video, what I have on my desk is the Orna Ross “How Authors Create Money and Meaning Workbook.”
Orna is this available for people to purchase yet? Because it's very, very good.
Orna: Not quite ready to purchase yet but it will be given away free this weekend so at Indie Author Fringe for those who are watching my and “How to Sell Your Books Without Selling Your Soul.”
Joanna: Oh really? That's fantastic because seriously some of the exercises that Orna did really helped me with my money attitude and my money mindset. I really recommend this. Get it on the Fringe this weekend but also when it does come out properly. I've got one of the limited edition with typos I believe.
Orna: The beta edition.
Joanna: But I think that's really interesting you know, thinking about that and it really challenges a lot of what people think about. Let's talk about the Fringe before we get into some of the changes in marketing and what we've been doing.
What's happening with the Fringe?
Orna: Well, it's a book expo and book expos are all about marketing and promotion our middle Fringe of the year is always…in the first Fringe we talk about making the book which is the editorial design and production and phase and art.
In the middle Fringe which is this one in the beginning of June, we talk about marketing and promotion. We have 24 sessions over 24 hours addressing that particular topic and in all sorts of different ways.
[Click here to watch all the replays from Book Expo Fringe June 2017.]
And that's what's so interesting just comparing it to the lineup of a year ago, how much is focused on investing for success. You know, paying for advertising and books on Amazon, Facebook or wherever, but also in this sense of there's almost a parting of the ways in the indie community at the moment.
I feel between people who are getting very commercially minded and very much getting out of their way and then those people who kind of position themselves against that. And I suppose one of the things we'd really like to persuade people to do is not to go there in that sort of way but that the creative and the commercial must always be sort of intertwined and work together.
There are lots of different sessions and we have a number of book marketeers, obviously lots of authors who have been there and done that and they'll be talking about it from all sorts of different angles. And the materials will be there for some weeks for people to tuck into we don't expect you to stay up all night, we just do it over a 24-hour period so that everywhere in the world gets a chance to actually attend live if they want to, if they can.
It's always a busy time around here because it is a lot of sessions and it is a lot of material. But it's a good way to get everything together and get lots of different people talking about the topic which is, it's really important.
Joanna: You can find that at selfpublishingadvice.org and there's a link at the top to Indie Author Fringe and if you are listening at anytime. This will be on June 3rd is that right?
Orna: Yes, the first Saturday. It starts at 10:00 a.m. New York time and we normally bring our sessions live from the Fringe, somebody from ALLi normally attends but because Book Expo is here is not doing a self-publishing event, we have boycotted Book Expo, we're just doing our Fringe.
[Click here to watch all the replays from Book Expo Fringe June 2017.]
However, our gold sponsor IngramSpark, they have decided to do some indie author education and we will be broadcasting their segment about marketing and publishing, promotion and PR. Publisher's Weekly and IngramSpark together are providing that in the absence of Book Expo doing anything themselves which is a whole other thing. I won't get into a rant all over again…
Joanna: I think you ranted last month.
Orna: I'm only allowed one rant a month!
Joanna: It's really interesting with IngramSpark.
I spoke at CrimeFest a couple of weeks ago in Bristol, which is for crime readers and authors, and my books were in the bookstore at the festival. And that is because I publish now on IngramSpark.
So, after you harping on about it for years and me joining IngramSpark in January, I was surprised to find four of my books in the bookstore and that's because they can order it for a discount.
If people are going to speak at events then if you publish something on Spark, they'll be able to actually get those books. Whereas they're unlikely to order them otherwise unless you're some kind of superstar.
Orna: If I could say I saw that picture on Twitter of all your books together, it looked really, really well and I'd like to just say also that IngramSpark has been awarded, most surprisingly, an achievement award from the Author's Guild in the U.S. for outstanding contribution to the literary community.
Which I know took them very much by surprise because the Author's Guild is quite a traditionally minded or has been and up to now quite a traditionally minded association. And I know that a number of people were surprised that they would honor IngramSpark in this way.
I think it's a really good thing that they've done here and a very forward-thinking thing that they're doing because it's absolutely true. You know, anybody any of these firms that are sort of taking author's books directly to readers and that is the best thing you can possibly do for the literary community. So, good on the Author's Guild and IngramSpark.
Joanna: And just getting back to CrimeFest, I was on a panel in the afternoon. They do have an indie panel, but I was on a panel where my route to publishing was not even discussed or mentioned or written anywhere. I was just there with other authors talking about my crime thrillers.
That is a good sign and I'm mentioning that because opening up to indie authors which is a campaign but was also a book title is being split into two, isn't it?
The Alliance is re-releasing, tell me the title because it's so awesome.
Orna: Yeah. It's “Opening Up to Indie Authors” was a kind of an umbrella thing which was aimed at trying to get people to, and when I say people, I mean people in the existing what you might call the reader industry. So, it's not really the publishing industry but it's where readers convene.
Bookshops being one, libraries being another and literary events wherever books are discussed and talked about, we feel that indie authors should be there. So, we did this umbrella campaign around all of those different places and programs. I put it all together onto the heading “Opening Up to Indie Authors.”
But as you pointed out at the time, that is not a particularly good use of keywords and so it doesn't get found by indies who are, for example, looking at how do I get my book into bookstores. So, we are now splitting out the various different parts of it into shorter texts and the first one is coming to be and we all have been working hard on it and we have been waiting for some developments actually on Ingram's part to release it.
And so, it will be released within the next few weeks and it's called “How to Get your Books into Bookstores.”
Joanna: Which is fantastic and I read it at the time and was like, “This is amazing. This needs a better title.” I'm really glad that's happening which is awesome.
The other thing that's happened related to print is the Amazon buy button which a lot of people have been talking about.
That Amazon, like everything else on the store, so this is what was interesting, is that they've been doing a special deal for publishers, and now it's following the rest of their buy button algorithms. Which essentially, that little buy button on the right-hand side for print books will be given or assigned by the algorithm to whichever delivers the best value to the customer, which might not be the original publisher of the book.
And there's been this massive outcry by the Author's Guild and a whole load of traditionally published authors going, “No, no, no, Amazon is breaking authors.” But you know, I want to say that if people are selling books cheaper, that's most likely, especially these 1p books, it's most likely because of the remainders system that publishing has, where if things don't sell during launch month, they might sell off a ton of books for like 1p a book.
You see this in Australia and New Zealand, these seconds stores where they ship British editions to Australia and onsell them because they bought them on remainder. That's what's happening.
What do you think the impact on the publishing ecosystem will be? Will they stop with all this silly big print run business and move to print on demand in order to take those buttons back?
Orna: I don't think they can do that completely because for some of the bigger titles particularly that they plan are done on basis of the whole economy of the book is worked out on economies of scale and they need to publish big lots.
The whole of publishing is based on throw a lot out there and see what sticks. They don't expect every book to sell and even books that they put quite a bit of energy behind they know that not all of them will sell.
I think it was a very clever firestorm and Amazon's firestorm that was built up by the publishers around this whole issue.
As you say, cleverly masking their own part within it so it got almost no attention. And I also think indies are completely differently placed around this issue and I have heard indie authors complaining about it because they have heard organizations like the Author's Guild complaining and assuming that that refers to them but actually it doesn't really.
I think it's perfect if I was paying for Amazon to have done and while I don't think it's going to completely change how trade publishing organizes itself, they are moving more and more to POD anyway where it makes sense. And I think we'll see that continuing.
Joanna: Yeah. Exactly. So, I just wanted to bring that up because, like you said, there's a lot of misinformation and I think that's probably an overarching message.
Jane Friedman put a blog post up saying we've got to stop with this overarching misinformation and you know, patting ourselves on the back for print is dead and actually looking more at the truth behind some of the press that's come out.
You can't take at face value everything that the industry puts out.
And once again this month there's been a couple more news stories about eBooks are dead and blah, blah, blah. And it's like you know, you just have to stop and read it and read past the headlines.
I found myself using the #fakenews on Twitter because fake news has become a thing.
I think we are also responsible for that because people are just mouthing off or doing comments without actually looking at the facts behind the story.
Orna: Absolutely. And retweeting tweets based on a headline without reading the actual content that's in there. And you know, we're all guilty of it of not going as deeply as we should. But we have a responsibility also particularly I think not to pass on bum information.
I think it was a very polite way, you expressed what goes on in our industry. I mean it is rife with misinformation and deliberate. Let's not put a too fine point on it so you know, lies and deliberate firestorms and just like politics. And there is a funny sort of thing goes on you know, whereby it's yeah, I suppose it's a herd kind of mentality and an assumption.
When we use that word author, very often what's being discussed is a traditionally published author. Well, I mean that is now the minority of authors by a very tiny, tiny margin. The number of traditionally published authors becomes a smaller percentage with every passing day. So, when we're actually talking about authors we should be generalizing about indies, not about trade authors.
Joanna: Actually, that's interesting. And that was another thing out of CrimeFest. Every year I go at the beginning I was kind of a you know, “Ew, ignore her.” And now you know, I was talking to some pretty big names in the crime industry in Britain about them going hybrid.
Most of them having sold UK Commonwealth but wanted to self-publish in America or having sold America wanting to self-publish in the UK. So, that was really interesting. I was joking with some of the people there and saying, “Look, you know, instead of this early Sunday morning indie author alternative panel, we need to have the superstars of hybrids panel with some of these big-name authors who at the moment are keeping it quiet.
They're not talking about it too much in public because they obviously still feel a stigma. And at some of the literary conferences you know, let's say the Oxford Literary Festival or Harrowgate or Edinborough, or Hay, let's say Hay which was just this week and this is again is in Britain are quite snobby. So, I can see why.
Orna: I think that stigma is actually shrinking among writers themselves.
I think one of the reasons that they're not talking about it and, I think it's the big reason for a lot of people is that they are protecting publishing. They're protecting people who have looked after them for years and are familiar and are now probably good friends and you know, they don't want to actually tell the truth because they feel it will be in some way disloyal to their publisher.
Joanna: Fair enough. Okay. So, what else do we have on our list? I have a couple of big things.
Orna: They're all the big things.
Joanna: I have so many things going on. I love my job but I am knackered because I spent over a month now rewriting and working on How to Market a Book, the Third Edition. I thought this was gonna be a simple update but the last edition was in 2014 and before I upload the second edition over the top of the first because it wasn't that different.
Now I'm actually pulling the second edition from the market and publishing an entirely new book. Some of it is carrying over but so much has changed since 2014, not just in the market but also my own opinion of things.
One of the biggest things is we were saying is that in 2014 the author platform was still a huge deal. It was, you must have a blog and you must be on social media.
I think definitely the biggest shift is data, algorithms, paid advertising, category hacking. Tools like KDP Rocket, K-lytics all these different things that have appeared that help authors do things in the granularity of data that traditionally published authors don't know about.
And we're in the IPG now, the Independent Publisher's Guild and a lot of them don't have any clue about this stuff. It's really interesting.
And of course, people can do both but there is definitely as you say a split between the people-based marketing and the data-based marketing. And how now you really, even if you don't have fast production speed who I've launched a new sweet romance often in this month that very few people know who it is and I haven't used my platform in any way.
The only thing we've done is use KDP Select and Facebook ads and Amazon ads and we got nearly into the top 100 in the U.S. and the UK.
And we've had the best month single book launch I've had which is kind of sad, but I've spent 10 years building a platform and have managed to launch this book. However, it is romance so a very high-selling genre. But yeah, that's probably been the biggest change.
Orna: Absolutely. It's a huge, huge change and every year and we're in the middle of upgrading our editions too. We mentioned the “Opening Up to the Authors” one there a moment ago.
Our ‘Choosing a Self-publishing Service' which is all about a self-publishing service being everything from KDP to a full package service and everything in-between that an author might want or need. We have traditionally just overlaid a new edition each year but in one year, this past year has seen the biggest change in the indie sphere.
And so, we too, have already, we've pulled last years' one out. We are now putting it together with a view really to next year so the next 18 months. So, we kind of ended up skipping a year. We went from 2016 straight to 2018 because it's just been such a huge, huge change. And I think there's a bigger change also coming, which I'm hoping that we'll be able to get in ahead of and kind of see and anticipate what might be at play.
Joanna: You'll have to tell us. What is that?
Orna: Yes, I'm about to. But this change that we're talking about here is as you say, it's very data-driven and it's very digital-based. It's all about digital.
So, again, it's really, really necessary now for authors to move into understanding digital and how digital differs from selling print books through bookstores. Even if you decide you don't want to go there even if you decide, you must know what you're not going there on and about and how they compare.
What's happening now and you and I had a small discussion about this the last time we met is very interesting developments around blockchain technology, Bitcoin digital currencies, cryptocurrency, all that kind of thing. And I think for the first time I don't think I mentioned this last month I may have briefly mentioned it.
I was part of the investigation on the research that I'm doing for these books about authors and money, it's becoming clearer that for the very first time we're going to have the opportunity for an artist-led economy for artists. And including and not obviously artists in the wider sense and the editions and writers. So, ALLi is commissioning its first whitepaper where we're going to have to really dig deeply into what's possible for technological. Not all the bits are in place but almost.
I think if authors who are like the cleverest bunch of people in the world could normally get in on this and begin to seriously think about blockchain for books and how it might work and how we can make the digital wallet the center of all payments from you know, as a hybrid author cum publisher, come from your self-publishing service, coming from your direct sales on your website and that digital wallet which is open source, cannot be…it's a completely different thing to having a corporation which controls the money flow. And it is a unique opportunity and I think one that we've got to take up.
Joanna: That's awesome. And I think micropayments, I mean things like Patreon, for my podcast is now turning into a significant income stream based on people. Most of the people contributing just a couple of dollars a month and what we know you're talking about there and I should bring up the other thing I did this month was my annual roundup because my company year-end was the end of April. So, I did my roundup of my book sales.
9% of my book sales income for the last year was direct from my website.
Orna: That's fantastic. And that's because you've built up your traffic.
Joanna: Yes. Absolutely. But also, it shows that people are happy to buy eBooks away from Amazon, away from Kobo away from iBooks. The market is more mature because just a few years ago people didn't trust a lot of this stuff.
And the reason they trust it now is using things like PayPal and again the micropayments, the Bitcoin, the blockchain all these different things, will be ways of technology where people will be able to trust it more. There's some real macroeconomic theory going on behind this whole stuff and with automation and the way society's changing.
My husband and I were talking about this the other day walking along the canal. And we were like, what it feels like at the moment with the political situation with things like you're talking about this technological shift, it feels like there's a really big thing happening but there's a whole load of people who are still in denial about the change that's coming.
It's important to try and keep an eye on what's coming so that we can surf that wave and not be left behind as things change. I hope that we'll continue to talk about this stuff without being scared. I think people listening might find the future a bit scary but you know, there's ways that we'll be able to deal with it if we face it rather than like hiding under a blanket.
Orna: Yeah. Definitely. And it's a slow sort of thing and again I would emphasize for everybody like Jo, you're fantastic you are in there, you get tech you know, you used to work as an IT consultant.
I'm tech scared and not great with this stuff. But it actually isn't that scary once you get stuck in there. There's a whole mindset that we need to develop. You know, as authors we need to understand, take it slowly, do it bit by bit and then hire people who can help us so you can earn enough money in this world where you don't do everything yourself.
It's not difficult once you know how if you begin to go there. But if you just don't go there at all, you are going to be left behind and without a doubt. So, it is something to keep an eye on. I mean the music industry's a little bit further along than we are. I'm going to be doing an interview next month in June, with somebody I've admired for a very long time in this area, Imogen Heap, she's a Grammy award-winning musician but she has a huge interest in blockchain for music and helped develop a product called Mycelia.
I'm going to be quizzing her all about that and seeing what we can learn from what they've done and adapt it over to some degree or probably expand and develop it in a different way for books world. So, it's coming and it's coming very fast.
Rather than seeing it as something to be afraid of, let's see it as something we rush and grab and make sure that we do take hold of it because it's just without the tech, it can't be open source, it can't be equal, it can't be democratized. We need the technology for it to function for the money train to work in that way. So, we have no choice but to get to grips with it. And it isn't that difficult actually, lots of us can do this stuff.
Joanna: Yeah. Exactly. And I think that's another point. For websites 10 years ago you had to code things and then WordPress came along and typewriters and then computers and the tools that have arisen in the last couple of years like I mentioned.
Like KDP Rocket for keywords or you know, K-lytics for analyzing categories , and you can action this right now tip.
You are now allowed 10 categories on Amazon.
If people didn't know this, I mean and I haven't actually revisited my categories for years which is awful to say. But you know like, “How to Market a Book” I just had left it as it was even though it was a marketing book. And of course, you have to do this through Amazon Author Central. You still get two categories on the KDP dashboard and you can get into other categories through keywords. But you can also email them through Amazon Author Central and get in 10 categories.
And there are new categories added all the time. That's the other thing. When I went to look at them, even as I was looking a new category was added. And I was like, “Whoa.” And then you can be first in that category and a bestseller which I was even with my pre-order. And I was like, “Yay.” So, there's something people can actually and who are listening, like forget blockchain for now, just do your categories.
Orna: That's a great tip. Absolutely great.
Joanna: Okay. What else have we got on here?
You talked about Dublin Writer's Conference, we've got our notes here if you're wondering what I'm looking at.
Orna: I just wanted to mention because again, it's about that thing of somebody who's bringing it together in a way that we don't see enough of. You and I go to a lot of conferences and they seem to fall into either they're all about self-publishing and the business of books or they're all about the craft and the old kind of way and you know, agents and publishers and there seems to be nothing in between.
So, I just wanted to kind of give a shout out. I'm going speak at, and it's in Dublin of course. And going to the Dublin Writer's Conference at the end of June on the 25th. And what I love about this conference and why this conference ready to go was it's bringing craft and business together. It's bringing trad and indie together in a way that really works, you know.
Tsually when you bring trad and indie together the conference is mostly a trad-minded conference that has tied down a bit a self-publishing stream or it's a couple of self-publishing bits for the trad authors who have never heard of self-publishing and so we educate in that very low level.
What's happening here is people are being approached, like everybody as an author who would be considering all of it. So, rights are discussed in rights kind of minded way, and craft is there for everybody to kind of avail of and then there's lots of the business stuff as well.
And also, a good smattering of the stuff around how you would use a trad publisher and you know, in what circumstances you would and you wouldn't. So, I think it's going to be a very interesting conference and I'm looking forward to it very much. And a shout out to Laurence O'Bryan who's also an ALLi partner member who is organizing it.
Joanna: Fantastic. I was also going to say with my figures, if people are interested, 51% of my fiction revenue was from box sets and 71% of my Kobo income is fiction box sets. So, another nudge on something you can do is create box sets for either your series so a box set of three books or more if you want.
Or if you write standalones or nonfiction you can do box sets aimed at the same audience. And I think that's super important and what helps you create box sets is Vellum which we both use. It's amazing. It's one of those revolutionary technologies a bit like Scrivener which kind of makes everything so much easier.
Vellum has just released their beta version for print formatting. Have you've tried that yet Orna? Are you planning to?
Orna: Before we leave actually because your end of the year sales report I think is a highlight moment for every indie author out there. So, just to give people the link it's the creativepenn.com and…
Joanna: It's very long.
Orna: It's very long. Just a thought. Sales breakdown for the end of the year or something. I can't recall the actual title on the piece because it is a really important piece there. It's always packed with lots of really good actionable information. So, it isn't just about you talking about how great you are.
Joanna: No, it's not. It's often not. Because I don't sell as many books as a lot of people. But it's called, “My Breakdown of Book Sales by Format, Vendor, Genre, and Country May 2016 to April 2017.” And I'm sure that will go on the show notes at the Alliance of Independent…or the selfpublishingadvice.org.
Orna: Yeah, Jay will look after that but it is really worth looking out for folks.
Joanna: Thank you so much. So, back to Vellum. Have you tried it for print yet?
Orna: We asked Giacomo Giammatteo, who'll be familiar to lots of you from our watchdog desk, to actually do a review so it's launching on Thursday and the review will be on the ALLi blog on Thursday. But all preview and information it seems very, very positive, I haven't heard anybody…you've had a go, haven't you?
Joanna: No, I haven't had a go at the print formatting, I've had a go at KDP Print because this is something else that people have asked. So, when you go to Amazon KDP now, you can publish a paperback through KDP rather than through CreateSpace. It means that the books aren't available I think in Australia, Japan, a couple of places, you don't have all the same functionality as CreateSpace.
But I'll tell you what, I was really skeptical, it was a bit of a pain and Jane Dixon-Smith who's an Alliance partner member, a wonderful author and designer, we went back and forth about four times to get past their weird formatting things and she's a pro who works you know, they normally work first time.
There's a few glitchy things in the interface but what I like is the reporting is integrated into that KDP dashboard reporting and if you get Book Report that's what they use isn't it, the plugin that goes on the top of KDP, it integrates into that. So, I really like having the reporting in one place because let's face it, most of us look at our KDP dashboard more often than we do CreateSpace or Ingram Print Sales. So, to have it in the same place is super useful and that means that I will probably do more print through KDP Print and I like having someone doing my print professionally. But I probably will have a go with Vellum Print just to have a go.
Another thing, here's another little tip on print, I've got all these print books and some of these are digital. Look at this. This is a print box set. So, and it's very, very cool. And if you're listening on the audio, it's the first three books in my ARKANE thriller series. And this makes me lots of money in eBook format. But to have it in print once again gives fans another product and it doesn't cost much money to format and it makes your eBook look a really good deal because it's a massive book and it's expensive. So, lots of reason to be doing print.
Orna: Yay. Love to hear you say that.
Joanna: You'll like this. I have actually included a new chapter in “How to Market a Book” on print marketing because it's quite different to eBook marketing.
And I should say, the other thing that's different, and you and I have talked about audio books a lot but because I've already booked the studio for the audiobook recording of “How to Market a Book” because my non-fiction audio sells so much better.
And I'm actually finding I'm writing the book more for audio than I've ever done so I'm taking out a lot of bullet points, adding in more joining words, using Pretty Links for URLs, so that where the narrator has to read it rather than just click here or you know, the links that we put into eBooks. So, it's quite a different experience writing specifically for an audio book that I, you know, might tweak a little for the eBook but I really want it to be easy to read in audio.
Orna: That's very interesting and I think it is worth also just emphasizing again on the print thing. We have all these mad stories about eBooks being dead and of course, that's absolute nonsense as we all know.
But I also think the flip side of that is that indies can think print is dead to them.
What we're seeing more and more of CreateSpace and KDP Paperback are now producing more and more sales for more and more authors.
There was a time where it was a tiny proportion, it's still of course, not equal to eBook income and I'm not suggesting it will be.
But it is moving up into double figures for more and more authors and I think will become more and more important to the time goes on. More and more people are going to buy their print as well as their eBooks through online retailers. It's happening already but it's going to happen more and more so if you don't have print editions, I would suggest that now is the time to start thinking seriously about that.
Joanna: Yeah. Actually, good point. I mean this romance author or you know, month one, no platform, no history, no nothing has sold a surprising number of books in print. And I thought my conditioning was that romance readers, KDP Select readers read eBook only. So, that's actually been really surprising to me to see that.
I just did it as a you might as well not really expecting to sell anything yeah, that's quite a big deal.
We should also say another thing, Amazon always dominating the news because they do that, is the launch of Amazon Charts with a really pointed press release which was hilarious.
Here is a chart that is based on actual books read and actual books sold rather than opinions and things that are changed. So, what do you think about…and also Amazon Charts being interesting. I don't know what we say yet because people who say, “I'm an Amazon bestseller” mean a category bestseller. So, “Oh yeah, Amazon Chart topper if we can get into that list.” Also, the debut list has a couple of indies on which was really exciting.
What do you think about this list?
Orna: The thing I think that's most exciting about it is the most read. Because that's not something that you can actually get outside of digital. So, I think that's the most significant kind of change in lists like that.
I think this will become the list. It isn't yet, but it is going to become the list to know in another a few years unless everything changes again. But there are things…if things keep going the way they're going. I think still to some degree there is an assumption that to be on the New York Times' Bestseller list is a better thing than to be on the top.
And I think you're right, this terminology helps us here. We need something because of course, every indie who's topped any category whatsoever no matter how remote even if there's only two authors in it, and calls themself an Amazon bestseller. So, we do need something that distinguishes the very significant achievement and numbers required to get to actually be at the…
Joanna: Amazon Chart topper.
Orna: Chart topper maybe. You know, we'll have to think of something.
Joanna: Very 1970s. Top of the Pop.
Orna: I liked it.
Joanna: I like it too.
Orna: If I think about it I'll like it.
Joanna: It is quite camp so you know, I not sure of whether they'll go for it. But they have to come up with something because people…and there is, I had a look at the people, you do get a little bestseller tag but it's blue I think rather than orange. So, you should definitely if anyone hits that I mean it is a huge achievement. So, yeah, that's really interesting.
Coming away from Amazon, you've got here Michael Tamblyn who is the CEO of Kobo. Something on the attention economy. You want to talk about that?
Orna: Well, it was just something that struck me with all the noise that comes out around the place. I think Michael Tamblyn is a very interesting commentator generally anyway, and he's always worth listening to and he did an interesting talk. I can't remember where and I think it was Berlin or something like that.
Joanna: I think it was Berlin, yeah.
Orna: Yeah. Where he was just talking about the challenges for our industry of getting the attention of the reader. And so, obviously with Amazon, you've got the whole algorithm thing going on and that's a way of getting into top bestselling charts. But of course, authors can make without going near that.
Authors at the moment can make a living and can also fulfill their creative intentions and whatever their aims and goals are around their creativity in terms of everything from self-expression to full on engagement with readers whereby they kind of set up a working system, an ecosystem of readers that supports them.
You don't need an awful lot of readers actually to be supported as a writer if you get everything right around the track.
If you look at multiple streams of income and if you please a small band of people a lot they will actually spend a lot.
And you were talking earlier about the trust thing. I think readers are very much conditioned to trust the writers that they love to read. When you fall in love with a writer you would do anything for them. Certainly, when I think of the writers that I love that's how I feel. You already have this very warm and engaged imaginative connection and so it's a very positive thing and it's something that you can…it can be a really lovely symbiosis when it works, authors and readers together.
And that can happen far, far away from the kind of the accelerated economy if you like. And what Michael Tamblyn was talking about was attention though, how we're all more fractured in terms of our attention and distracted and too many things to read and watch and listen to and you know, the way in which we need to be thinking about that as authors I think.
I think it's a very good starting place if any of you are kind of considering what you're going to be doing going forward. If you feel like you're in a rush and if you feel like things are not really working for you as an indie. And we get this every day of the week you know.
People feel, “This just isn't working for me, I've put my books up, I've done A, B and C, I've followed you know, your advice. I've done what you said to do, I haven't sold anything. I haven't got any readers, I forgot a blog and nobody cares,” and you know, all that kind of stuff.
It very often comes back to this idea of if you start thinking that in terms of the attention economy and what it takes for the reader to give you their attention and how that is not something you're entitled to and how that is something that you have to earn, I think that puts you into a much healthier sort of place. Is it unreasonable why is nobody listening?
Because writing a book is no longer an achievement, in that sense in publishing the book and putting it out there. It is a huge achievement. And in another sense, of course, it is an absolutely enormous achievement to write and finish a book, to get it out, to put it out there to publish it and you know, to create it is a fantastic thing.
But it's almost like then you have to stop, step back and start thinking about, or before you write it to think about who's going to care, why should they care, why should somebody give this attention, what's in it for them? And I think he spoke very eloquently about that I think it's something we should all be thinking about.
Joanna: Yeah. And it's interesting because again, in reading my own “How to Market a Book” from 2014 and hearing my own voice and I put down in print that I was reading three to five books a week. And I know that's what I used to read because I tracked them. And this year I've only been reading about one a week.
It's interesting because for example, this evening before we got on the phone with dinner House of Cards just dropped and we'll be binge-watching House of Cards. And the other thing that's interesting in Amazon Charts is how many of them are film or TV adaptations and right now as we talk, Margaret Atwood's “Handmaid's Tale” is a bestseller again because of the TV adaptation.
My latest podcast was with a screenwriter about how to get our books adapted. And when I go to New York in July, I'm gonna be pitching a screenplay at ThrillerFest.
Should we be trying to think how to get our content into these different mediums?
We talked about this a bit last time but that's why I'm doing an audiobook and almost audiobook-focus for “How to Market a Book” because so many people have said to me, “I will only buy this in audio because I don't have time to read.” So, they're listening while doing other things. So, audiobook is the most obvious one or with a podcast you know, like I would love you to do a podcast on this money stuff or your Go Creative! stuff like a dedicated thing.
And on the adaptation of screenplays is a big thing, but I'm wondering about investing in looking more at that from my properties as opposed to just expecting books to sell as much. So, it's almost a real challenge around if you want your book out there, what can you do? And the other thing, I mean even like blasphemy maybe.
I'm even thinking about a project of mine you know, waiting to pitch it to traditional publishing with the aim of trying to get film or TV.
Orna: Think about everything.
We really do need to think about all the different ways we can do it. And I think it goes back to that whole idea of what your original mission is as an author, what it is that you want to achieve. There may be a much easier way to achieve that than writing a book.
A book yes is one way and traditionally a book you know, and author then went together because a book was the most prestigious and the most difficult and the most authoritative thing you could do you know, with your knowledge. Let's put it into book form and put it out there in that way.
But now I think a mixture of your website, different kinds of content, things that you find relatively easy to produce but are useful and that tie into the themes that are in your books. Thinking about the whole thing in the round and why a reader cares and why they would connect and making it easy for the reader to connect.
And also incorporating some aspect of free there so they get some sense of what you're about before you actually get them to make a purchase.
So, at one level, it all changes. At another level, it stays the same because it always comes back to that communication between the writer and the reader. But we have so many opportunities now.
I would love to see, myself included, more authors thinking more laterally and more creatively about the ways in which we can actually reach our readers and monetize that connection.
And because honestly, readers want to connect in that way, they need the deeper imaginative connection that is embedded in the book. But I just need us to convince them that they need it and show them why they do better.
Joanna: Exciting times. We're pretty much out of time. We've had a good chat this evening. I've really enjoyed it and we've hopefully covered some more basic stuff and some interesting things for people to think about.
We should talk about what's coming up in the next month. Obviously, this weekend is the Indie Author Fringe, so everyone should go to selfpublishingadvice.org click on the Indie Author Fringe link at the top.
What are you doing this month, Orna?
Orna: It's back into writing. June, July and August for me are always writing, more writing-focused than other months and so once Fringe is over I will be in Dublin at the end of June but it's my year of non-fiction such as getting more and more of those non-fiction titles together for the big launch at the end of the year. And yeah, lying low. Possibly buying a new house.
Joanna: Oh, exciting. Life rolls. You know, Kristine Kathryn Rush and Dean Wesley Smith, who are mentors along with yourself on my journey always talk about life roles. You plan all these things and then something happens and you're like, “Okay, that's just life, you have to deal with that,” and you get waylaid.
But one of the things I'm doing this month which is really interesting, I don't even know if I told you this, I'm speaking at Byte the Book, which is a London publishing industry even at the Groucho Club. Now, I'm mainly doing it because it's the Groucho Club and it's one of those iconic places in London that I've never been. But it's actually a debate between me and a literary agent on “The Author as Publisher, is it All Vanity?”
Orna: Ooh, I'm going.
Joanna: I think it's the 19th of June but it's going to be really interesting because I said to them, “Look, I'm not very argumentative but after a couple of gins I probably can be.” And I've started planning my points given that traditional publishers have started a number of vanity presses and a number of agents now actually publish their authors through White Glove and other programs.
Really, the ultimate vanity is wanting a publisher symbol on the spine of your book, like you want to be published by Penguin, not that you just wanna sell to readers.
So, I think I've got quite a strong angle coming in so I might find myself getting a little bit argumentative. But yes, Groucho Club.
Orna: Yes, I'll definitely be there for that one.
Joanna: This month. I'll find the date while you say what else you're doing this month or something else useful.
Orna: Well, as I've said, the highlight for me is going to be talking to Imogen Heap and yeah, I'd love some of you to come along with your questions for that because she is so interesting. She'll be doing a short presentation about Mycelia for music which is her project where she and a number of other creatives are investigating the possibilities around digital wallets and you know, artisted earning and what has happened already in the music industry.
And ways in which publishing might either follow suit or do things differently. My sense is that there are more opportunities in publishing than there are in music. The music has so much gone the route of you know, the live event is going to pay for it whereas you know, live event publishing live events…
Joanna: It really can't.
Orna: No one's going to pay for anything unless you've got you know, some kind of rah, rah institutional motivational speaker with 3,000 people in the room setting fire to fivers or something.
Joanna: Fire walking.
Orna: Yeah. That kind of stuff, that's about it for publishing I think.
Joanna: When are you doing that? Do you have a date for your interview?
Orna: And yes, we do have a date, I don't have it to my fingertips but I think it is the 15th, yes I do, it's the 15th of June and it will be mid afternoon London time. But it will be widely available and widely publicized and I'll get into it next time.
Joanna: That's awesome. And mine is Monday the 19th of June in London and if you go to Byte the Book and that's bytethebook.com you can find bookings for that so if anyone wants to come along and raise the indie flag I'd probably appreciate it quite a lot because it's kind of going into the lion's den.
There's often a lot of industry people there and I feel like this debate being set up for us as a sort of clash. And we know there's no clash, but it will be interesting. So, that's June.
I might be drinking wine because I finished my hand edits and I just need to get everything to my proofreader and so “How to Market a Book” will be going to my editor and then I'm co-writing as I mentioned these sweet romances. We've got the second one coming out. And then finally, I can get back to my fiction.
Orna: Oh, that's great, yes. It's been too long.
Joanna: I was very excited because I did, well a draft outline for this new series I have in my head in February and then New Orleans happened and then all these other things happened and I'm desperate to get back to it. So, like you, June, July, August is a really good time for getting work done. School holidays and lots of things you know, quieting down so, yeah looking forward to this month. So, our next chat then will be Tuesday, 27th of June 2017 at the same time so, hopefully, everyone can join the fun. And in the meantime, go to the Fringe.
Orna: Yes, see you at the Fringe and maybe see some of you in Dublin but see you online for sure. Okay, thanks, Jo.
Orna: Bye everyone.
Roz Morris says
Hi Orna & Jo!
Great podcast. Can I clarify a point about Amazon categories? You mention we’re now allowed 10 and that there was a list you looked at to choose them from. Where do I find this list?
Joanna Penn says
We used K-lytics to start with – http://www.thecreativepenn.com/genre – but that’s a paid service. You can just use the menu path on the left-hand side – it’s different on each store, so you have to do it twice – one for Amazon.com and one for Amazon.co.uk – they have different paths.
Roz Morris says
Thanks! On my to-do list!
Karen Inglis says
Hi Jo – Great podcast! Sadly I shall be away (in Sicily – poor me!) on June 19th; otherwise I’d definitely have been there for your debate . Sounds like you’re well prepped 🙂 (I go to quite a few of the Byte the Book events.) I’ll look out for the follow-up!