How Will Self-Publishing Change In The 2020s? Thoughts From Joanna Penn And Orna Ross

The 2010s saw the birth and growth of the independent author movement, so what do the 2020s have in store?

In this episode, Joanna Penn and Orna Ross discuss some trends for authors and publishing in the next decade, as well as some predictions on some things that may well happen in the next decade. Are you ready to surf the wave?

In the intro, I mention The Future is Faster Than You Think: How Converging Technologies Are Transforming Business, Industries, and Our Lives by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler.

Also, Mike Shatzkin's reflections on the changes in book publishing.

Orna Ross is an author, a poet, and the founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing.” Joanna Penn is an award-nominated fiction writer, award-winning creative entrepreneur, and podcaster.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • Check out our review of a decade of self-publishing here
  • (1) Growth in global reading, why Android is so important, and why another billion internet users is so exciting
  • (2) Publishing networks decentralize and distribute, authors will sell direct, and there may be a break up of big companies
  • (3) Author business models diversify, with particular note of experiences, and sales on the blockchain
  • (4) Growing adoption of technology by authors and publishers, including the impact of AI on copyright, natural language generation, and 5G. Plus, why we don't think neurotechnology will be used to write a book anytime soon
  • (5) Audio becomes integral to the author business. Costs come down and AI voices will take audio into the mainstream and expand new forms of creation. Audio becomes ubiquitous.
  • (6) Growth in personal publishing and the importance of personal brand, as well as the rise of a whole new wave of creators
  • (7) Author empowerment and the importance of education around copyright and licensing
  • What won't change in the 2020s

You can find Orna at www.OrnaRoss.com and at the Alliance of Independent Authors. Joanna and Orna also do a monthly Advanced Self-Publishing Salon on the Ask ALLi Podcast available on your favorite podcast app. This episode originally aired on Jan 8, 2020 on the Ask Alli podcast.

Transcript of the Trends for 2020 conversation

Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for sense and links added for more information. There are affiliate links within the text to books, services, and products that I personally use and recommend, which means if you purchase something, I get a % of sale but at no extra cost to you.

Joanna Penn: Let’s get into the self-publishing trends for 2020, and the next decade. Orna. You did a great post, which went out on the Alliance blog last week, self-publishing predictions for 2020 and trends for the decade. So tell us, what is the overarching feeling before we get into the individual things?

Orna Ross:  I suppose the thing that I'd most like to say as we look now forward at a whole new decade, is that we don’t just have to passively accept the future and particularly the situation that we’re in right now.

We’ve had 10 years of growing empowerment, and so we have more power to reinforce and replicate, but also to actually create what’s coming down the track. I want to encourage authors to remember that, and to create the change that we want to see by actually taking the actions that will help it to happen, so not feeling that we don’t have power, because now, we actually do.

Joanna Penn: I think that’s so important and that we don’t just go ‘oh, no, this is happening,' but actually get engaged with it, which is why I’m so passionate about this technology stuff, because only if we’re engaged with it, can we actually have a voice in what’s going on. So, let’s get into the list.

(1) Growth in global reading

Orna Ross: Definitely. I mean, we’re already seeing that trend, over the past number of years and it is picking up. People who are concentrating on the growth that’s happening outside of the US and UK are doing well. Over Christmas, Amazon has just expanded its advertising and dashboard to more countries outside of the US and UK.

But this is much, much, bigger than Amazon and I think it’s worth remembering that people outside of the US and UK, read quite differently. They just went straight into mobile reading. As a result, I think it’s important for us to get outside our own mindset and how we read ourselves. It’s important for us to experience digital reading as a reader, and as a user, both then to expand our thinking about that. And I know you have some interesting thoughts about Android.

Joanna Penn: We as creatives, in a certain number of countries, love our Macs, but this is an interesting thing. It’s something like 76% of the US is on iOS mobile. So, Apple mobile devices, but the same percentage in the rest of the world is Android because of the cheaper devices.

[Statcounter: 74% Android, 25% iOS – I was just slightly off!]

So if you think that the majority of the world is on Android, and for example, uses Google Podcasts, now a default app on many Android devices, maybe they also use Google Books, which hopefully is going to have a renaissance in 2020. There are some really interesting things happening with the Google ecosystem.

I have now sold books in 136 countries through Kobo!

I did want to add that I have now sold books in English in 136 countries — here's my Kobo Writing Life map. This has grown very, very, quickly really because it was around 86 this time last year. That’s a lot more countries in one year, and that’s all in English.

And also by 2025, we’re going to have another 1 billion internet users, middle class and if people know Hans Rosling's book, Factfulness, about how good the world is now, basically, the majority of the world is moving into the middle class. So, we’ve got people who are able to buy books and so that is pretty exciting. If your books are not available on the Google Android ecosystem, especially with voice search as well, then maybe this decade is time to think about it.

Orna Ross:  Put it up the priority list if it isn’t there.

(2) Publishing networks decentralize and distribute

Orna Ross: So, at the moment, we have a situation where the vast majority of self-publishers are on one self-publishing platform, and that’s definitely going to change in the next 10 years.

Authors are going to have a real influence in terms of switching readers from where they think about buying their books and bringing them across to their own websites. We talked a little bit more about selling directly in a minute, but we will see more platforms that will make it possible to distribute.

I think understanding the value of our copyright and understanding the value of non-exclusivity are important. I was interested there are two works out at the moment — Dracula, a new series on TV, but I’ve just finished reading Joel Connors book about Bram Stoker who’s the author of Dracula. It was his wife who actually fought a copyright battle for the rights to Dracula. That’s how her family and the estate made money from it because she essentially took to court her rights. In those days, you had to produce it as a play to get your copyright and the fact that we don’t have to do that anymore is down to her in no small measure. Also, I saw the new Little Women film and there’s a scene at the end that stands out where Louise stands up to her publisher and keeps the copyright which he tried very hard to buy out for $500 at the time.

So, understanding the value of copyright, and the fact that we’re not really truly independent if all of our options are tied up in one place. I think there are moves in all sorts of ways including Blockchain. So I think the message is to start thinking about the ways in which you reach your reader and how you bring your readers to you. So for example, if you’re paying for Facebook ads to bring your readership, you might not be building your own assets. That may be a priority this year to turn that around and to begin to think about each reader as being an asset for your business rather than an asset for somebody else’s.

Joanna Penn:  We’re going to come on to diversifying business models in a minute, but just to stay on the publishing network. Just before Christmas, Overdrive the library system was sold by Rakuten, who also owns Kobo. It was sold to a hedge fund type investment company which puzzled me greatly. Barnes and Noble also and Waterstone’s are owned by a hedge fund, a different one. Book businesses should be encouraged by that, I presume, because they must assume they’re going to make money from them. But equally these types of companies do not run book businesses for the long term. They are generally in it to make money in other ways. So this is fascinating news and you actually put in your article that you think Kobo might also go that way. Any thoughts on thinking a decade ahead, who might be the companies still standing?

Orna Ross: It’ll go where we will have a few big players which may be broken up legally, that may happen. But we're going to have a massive network and what we need to do is make sure that the author is at the heart of that of the network for their own work. At the moment, we have big, big players, siren servers like Google and Facebook, and so on. They’re very clever, and they do what they do extremely well. And they have definitely facilitated freedom for the community.

We're much freer than when we were tethered to the physical system, but it’s going to fragment, it’s going to break up. The day of being a world-famous author, where everybody knew you, is going to go the same way as when everybody sat down to watch the same TV program. It’s not going to be like that. It’s going to be far more networked and distributed. That’s my prediction.

Joanna Penn: Yes. And sadly, because of course, all of us would love to make that multibillion-dollar thing, but Lee Child said a few years ago at Thrillerfest, no one can have his type of career anymore because things have changed so much and but we should embrace that, because it’s changed our lives. So, let’s go on to the next one, which is …

(3) Author business models diversify

Joanna Penn: So I’ll start on this before you get into blockchain.

The biggest trend that is being talked about everywhere is experiences and how people want to go off and actually do things together. Conferences, author events. Not just readings, we’re talking about experiences.

At the licensing thing I went to in Las Vegas, they were talking about those locked rooms? Or could you do something more interactive? One of the things will come up with technology — the augmented reality potential of experiences? I’m certainly thinking of going back to doing some more in-person events. For nonfiction books, it’s really easy because you can just do teaching or that type of thing, but even with fiction, for example, I could do a walk along South Bank in London following the path of some of my characters and talk about what London means to me from that perspective. Experiences are definitely going to be a theme. Even things like Live podcast taping, which has become a thing where podcasters sell tickets to attend a taping of interviews, stuff like this. So I think that’s really interesting.

What are the other business models that you think are coming?

Orna Ross: Well, we have a list of 10 business models that kind of are pretty all-encompassing of what you can do now. I suppose what I was thinking about was that as new technology comes on board, as we get into this more networked and personal economy, the models we’re seeing will change and will diversify and will reshape exactly how that will be.

I think you’re absolutely right with the experiences idea and those experiences don’t have to be live, especially as virtual reality technology becomes more of a reality for authors. The whole thing is about understanding your power with the reader. If a reader loves your book, how much they want to actually engage with you, and then what you would like them to do with you. So it becomes a mutually satisfying experience.

We’ve seen poets in the last year to fill stadium-sized audiences. This is new, this has never happened before. That came out of relationships built one by one on Instagram through just putting poetry out there. So through content marketing, essentially, if you want to call it that or through doing your thing, and just being the maker, the creator that you are, you can now if you get it right and you have you know how to build your readership. And that’s the real scale. It’s a craft and an art every bit as much as putting a book together. But if you get that, right, all sorts of doors open up to you. So, I think we will see some very new and interesting things.

Joanna Penn: I also think this is important because, with the rise and rise of more subscription models, I do think authors will have to do other things if they are doing this full time. Many of us know that already. 95% of authors do other things. But I think it will become more of something you have to do as part of making a living as a creative.

So the other thing is the obviously we’ve mentioned blockchain, which is going to enable direct sales in a completely different way. More global sales, more interesting smart contracts that will potentially reward various people in the value chain of making a book or a product, or it will just make it easier. Like you and I have talked about doing stuff together. We have done live things together. If you’re co-writing a book now, there are different tools. But if there was a smart contract, where these micropayments went out forever without the hassle of having to deal with royalties every month, that would be amazing. So, I’m going to say it:

We are going to have a solution for blockchain sales and smart contracts that is usable in the 2020s.

What do you reckon?

Orna Ross: I think so. The challenge is getting the readers over. I think we’re going to see a milestone on that this coming year if Facebook gets their cryptocurrency up and running. That’s going to introduce people to the concept of cryptocurrency which is the big barrier. When we started selling books online, and people have forgotten this, but there was huge resistance to getting your credit card details.

Joanna Penn:  Or before PayPal.

Orna Ross: Absolutely. And one of the reasons that so many readers are on Amazon is because, at the beginning, you gave your card to Amazon because you were buying something else there as well as your books. And, it’s just easier to go there to buy your books because they have your details and you don’t have to go through the whole hassle of sitting but you know, as e-commerce gets easier, and as people trust more and use it, more readers are much more prepared now to buy directly from an author than ever before.

So I think Facebook getting their cryptocurrency going is going to melt that barrier for a lot of readers. That’s the point at which it will begin to happen. Like all of these trends, what we’ve seen is people are talking about it for a year or two, and then it begins to happen. Then suddenly it really picks up speed if it gets going. So, I’ll stick my neck out with you.

Joanna Penn: Oh, that’s a prediction! And now we’re going to have to make sure we’re in the first wave to make that happen. Okay, so let’s move into technology.

(4) Growing uptake of technology for authors and publishers

Now I’m going to recommend a book, The Future is Faster Than You Think: How Converging Technologies are Transforming Business Industries and our Lives by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler.

If you listen regularly on my show, you’ll know I’m pretty well into this tech industry, and I’m learning something new in every chapter. I’m like, ‘Wow, I didn’t actually realize we were that far ahead with this or that or the other.' And that hence the title of the book, the future is faster than you think, because so many of the things that feel futurist are actually here right now.

So I wanted to just pick up on one of the big trends that they’re talking about. I’ll put my finger in and say, Yes, this is going to happen.

5g technology is going to dramatically change lots of things

We just talked about mobile reading. 5g is just the latest iteration of mobile, but it's so much better. It’s going to enable things like augmented reality, self-driving cars, lots of technologies that have been waiting for this to appear. So when they roll out 5g, it’s going to have a big impact. That’s going to change lots of other things, too. For example, if you think that people are going to use much more self-driving technology and won’t be actively driving too much, that’s going to expand the amount of content that they can potentially consume, which will hopefully impact us in a positive way. So 5g is going to be one of these big deals, according to all the people who know what that means.

Orna Ross:  Good. I love the teaching potential. I mean, a lot of authors have an educational bent, it goes with the territory. 5g is going to be very useful in that regard and making things that have been daunting to make happen, be a lot easier.

Joanna Penn: For example, if I do my experience of ‘Come to bath and come to one of my workshops,' I could also have people who can watch in real-time that’s much much better than the current webinar stuff because of the low latency of 5g. So I think it’s going to be very interesting.

AI and copyright

The next thing. Everybody knows that I love a bit of AI! But this is fascinating. On AI trends, the US Patent and Trademark Office is actually seeking comment around impact of AI on copyright. Some of their questions around AI include: Should a work produced by an AI algorithm or process without the involvement of a natural person qualify as a work of authorship protectable under US copyright law? Basically, can an AI have copyright in a work?

The other question I thought was interesting, because it really relates to us is: to the extent an AI algorithm learns its function by ingesting large volumes of copyrighted material does the law address that authors be recognized. I actually address both of these things in my podcast in July on the way in which AI will impact publishing.

What if I wanted a book that was 50% Stephen King, 30% Dan Brown and 20% JFPenn, I could do that by reading those words into an AI and having it generate something. This is what these questions are about. This is the US copyright and patent trademark office, this is a government department. This is not a future Technology Institute. So, the government is thinking about these things, it means it is imminent. What are your thoughts on that, Orna?

Orna Ross: Well, it’s huge and there are no easy answers to these questions.

Obviously, as an author’s organization, we would want authors to be recognized for this type of use of their work. We would want to like to keep copyright for the humans, but it’s not easy, you know, it’s not easy to separate these things out.

I think it’s really interesting how fast this is moving, because we were engaging with these questions and bringing them up for our Copyright Bill of Rights, which we did in the middle of last year. Here we are already, six months later, and a major government is already making moves. It’s going to be really, really interesting to see what happens from this. Anyone who has an interest, please do comment. Let your voice be heard on this if you have an opinion, and if you don’t have an opinion, if you don’t really know what it means and what the implications are, please do educate yourself around this.

Natural language generation

Joanna Penn: Also, automated content generation is here. A company launched just before Christmas “publishing high-quality content in 100 languages within minutes in every vertical and category with natural language generation.” [AI Trends]

We are both really positive people and I’m engaged with this because I want to be part of the change. I always talk about surfing the change rather than drowning in the tsunami, but I run a business, you know, I’m a businesswoman. I have a business head. And I also see money here on both sides.

What I do see is publishers potentially disintermediating authors. Let’s take a well-known romance imprint that has had people writing for them for many, many years, who could potentially read in every single one of those books into an algorithm to generate more romance novels. Why would a publisher not do that? They own all the copyright to that material. This is already starting to happen in other places like China, which is well ahead.

So what does that mean for us? We can’t look at this with, ‘Oh, no, the sky is falling, let’s just ignore it.' What we have to do is advocate for our rights, but also build a personal brand, which is what we harp on about regularly. We need people to care about us as an author name, not as this X publisher, or unnamed author.

Orna Ross: Yes, absolutely. That is the key at the business level. And then at the level of the law, it’s all about copyright, which is becoming more and more important, and it’s important to realize we’re talking about global publishing, but in lots of countries, copyrights not respected at all. It doesn’t exist perhaps or …

Joanna Penn: But also authors have assigned all the rights to a publisher.

Orna Ross: Absolutely. Don’t do that. Limit your term, limit your territory. Limits, limits, limits. That’s your job when you’re having a conversation with a rights buyer. There’s a lot to think about here but focusing in on copyright, I think, is the important thing to do at the legal level and personal brand at the business level.

Joanna Penn: Just one more thing on technology because I think this is fascinating.


Facebook has technology and talked about writing with your brain [The Verge], and Elon Musk introduced the Neuralink [The Verge] which they launched in July 2019. Now there are already neuro tools for people to use prosthetics and things. But why do you have to speak your dictation? Why can’t you just think your dictation with your words? This is interesting to me because one of the things that stops me dictating is the fact that I write in a cafe so I struggle with that because there are people around me. But I’m going to put myself out there and say that we will not be using neural technology to write our books in the 2020s. I’m just going to go with definitely not. What do you think?

Orna Ross: No writer is going to want people to overhear all their thoughts, let’s face it. The reason we write is because we put down something and then we get a chance to edit it and everything before we put it out there. We don’t even like talking very often. Nevermind having our thoughts out there. So, I agree with you. But again, it’s super interesting.

Joanna Penn: And who knows. I mean, seriously!

Orna Ross: It could definitely be used for a good plot at a minimum …

Joanna Penn: Although it was only what, 10 11,12 years ago, we couldn’t even do this. Like we’re talking over the internet. You are not here in my room. I mean, that’s crazy. That is amazing. So anyway, have you got anything else on the growing uptake of technology?

Orna Ross: No, I think that’s enough to keep us going for the next 10 years. Definitely.

(5) Audio becomes integral to the author business

Orna Ross: The written word is one thing and the spoken word is another and we’ve seen more and more authors getting involved in audio books, and now it looks like that’s going to become much cheaper to do. So I think audiobooks are going to become the second format. So, it will be ebooks, audio books, print books very soon because AI technology is going to make it so much cheaper to create a book.

I didn’t actually speak about video because I think fewer authors like video and a lot of authors are too shy for video but there are those who are using it to great effect so I think we’ve got kind of two things to think about. We’ve got the audio books and video books and on the one hand and then on the other how we use audio and how we use video in our book marketing for that personal brand to reach those readers that we most want to reach in our new segmented and networked world.

Joanna Penn: I’m very engaged in voice tech and love this topic which I will cover in-depth in Audio for Authors: Audiobooks, Podcasting, and Voice Technologies.

One of the interesting things is AI voice synthesis. Check out TheCreativePenn.com/voicedouble to listen to the two iterations of my Descript.com Voice Double.

It's an AI voice, like a deep fake, using my voice to train an AI. It’s not available to purchase as yet, but it will be at some point. And in fact, I’m going to say that I will license my voice in the 2020s and this is why I think audio will be ubiquitous.

What I mean by that is every single thing that is in text right now will be enabled for audio. You will just be able to pick a voice and it will read it. There are things like NaturalReaders which already can read any text for accessibility, but it will just be everywhere.

I think the costs for audiobooks will coming down so much with the potential of AI voices that I’m pretty much going to wait for books I’m not narrating myself because I’m so confident that we’re going to have much cheaper audio production in the next couple of years.

If you’re a narrator listening, I think this is about voice brand, about personal brand and making sure your voice is not licensed by the people who own the recordings of your voice, and actually making sure that you can profit from this change in the environment.

Because obviously, again, it’s a bit like ebooks, we didn’t have any, and then we got lots of them and they’re everywhere. And every single print book should have these other formats. This is what I think is going to happen to audio, but we need to make sure that people can still make money from it. This is the knife-edge. Yes, we want more audio, but how do we pay the creators or the other people involved?

I’m very excited about the creative aspects of AI voices because it means we can also play with audio much more. So I’m listening to World War Z at the moment by Max Brooks on audio, which has each chapter as a different voice. This is so expensive to do, hugely expensive to produce. But if we can do that with AI voices, we can produce creative projects in a much easier way. So I’m quite excited about that.

Orna Ross:  I really like it too. I love the idea that there will be a voice like mine, better probably than mine, that can read my stuff without me having to sit in a sound room and narrate it, because I don’t enjoy that process at all. I like it as an editing process, but aside from that, I don’t enjoy it. So I really love the idea that that will become possible. I’m going to sit on audio for a while and see how soon that sort of stuff becomes available because I think it’s progressing really super fast. I loved your AI voice. I thought it was amazingly good, you know, not 100% but really not far off. I could listen to it, I think No problem.

Joanna Penn: Exactly. And it does sound like me. China is again ahead. Baidu has a voice since that only needs 3.7 seconds of audio to synth a voice [Forbes]. So this is not very futurist at all. This is now. This is what I mean about possibly the biggest upheaval in copyright and licensing law is coming in the next decade because of all this stuff.

Because at the moment, there is very little variation in audio rights. For example, one of the things I dislike in audio is that I don’t always want to have to listen to an American white male narrate the business books I listen to. Why can’t I listen to an Irish female or Nigerian young person or whatever to listen to them? Why can’t I choose the voice per book? I can do that for Netflix, I can choose all these different languages. So I think that would be another pick. This will be a huge upheaval around copyright and rights licensing.

Orna Ross: Absolutely.

(6) Growth in personal publishing

Orna Ross: We’ve been alluding to it the whole way through, and we’re always kind of talking about it at some level. There is the personal branding thing, which is where the marketeers begin the conversation, but actually, it begins further back in terms of the creative as we are creating our stuff, about who’s going to buy it, what our unique selling proposition is, you know, Why us? Why would a reader buy what we’re offering? What is our very particular thing that is going to be attractive to them?

In the past, and I think people still do it and sometimes you do it because you have to do it, just sit down and write what you need to express. But once you become a self-publisher, I think that changes to some degree. You begin to think much more about what people need and what people want from you, and what you can provide and how you can provide it.

That never stops. So that’s what I’m talking about, beginning with the whole thing of Where are my readers? How do I connect with them? What is my value to them? How can they help me to grow? How can I grow my readership? It’s an essential skill for us to grasp now.

Look around you at the people who are doing well and who are selling well, and we’re building this sustainable author, enterprise stuff, we talk about something that’s long term and you own people who are doing that have nailed this, they’ve worked it out, and the only way you can work it out is by actually doing it, by publishing, by putting it out there, by getting the responses, by refining, experimenting ,exploring. So it’s a process that goes on and on. It doesn’t stop. But it is really important.

This is a trend that has already started. But it’s going to become the situation that if you don’t nail this, if you don’t actually understand this, you’re not going to succeed. The people who get this and do it well, are the people who are going to get that readership, and that keeps them going for life.

Joanna Penn: I take this from a different angle, which is the global trend in self expression. We talked earlier about the rise of a middle class. And when people are just scrambling to get food and look after their kids or whatever, they’re not going to be sitting down reading some fiction or writing their memoirs.

But what we’re seeing is a rise in the time and the ability to to create more and we’re going to see this again with an extra billion on the internet. Who knows what this extra billion is going to create? I think it’s amazing. And, you know, I talked about this with Mark Dawson, we were like, it’s so easy to feel like the self publishing movement is so far on. But for most people, it has not even started yet.

And so I think that is also part of the growth in personal publishing. We've probably not even seen 1% of the potential of creatives and authors in this new world, aided by technology. But also what that means is, you might just do it for personal reasons. And that’s okay. You can create your memoir just for the fun of it. It doesn’t have to make any money. So I think we’re going to see more of that.

Orna Ross:  Yes, absolutely. And as a result, we’re going to see more diversity in publishing, I think, which is something that white middle-class publishing has been talking about for 14 years now and want to fix from the top down, but you know, it just doesn’t work.

Instead, just give people the tools to express themselves and yes, it includes all the education and what Virginia Woolf called ‘a room of your own,' and the income to be able to sit down and do this. But as it grows, we grow together authors and readers, we are an eco system that is completely dependent one on the other. Nobody reads more than writers read. And so of course, there will always be readers who don’t write but as the expression in the written word grows, so does readership. I find very exciting.

You can see now that corporations are doing the same, businesses are doing the same. They’re taking over their own publishing, they’re setting up publishing programs. They’re getting involved in social media. So publishing the written word is becoming ubiquitous as well as the spoken word. All good positive trends for those of us who have managed to get skills together.

Joanna Penn: Absolutely.

(7) Author empowerment

Orna Ross: Writers can suffer from a lack of self-esteem. It’s that whole exposure thing and sometimes you wonder where this drive to create comes from, but actually, we’re far more powerful than most groups of people and we can really make change happen.

We’re part of this global Maker Movement. Independent creators are becoming a force in every industry.

People want the personal touch, they want the small, the real, the authentic. That’s really great for us, I think, we’re part of a trend that is growing. And what makes our business unique is that the creator is not just concerned with profits, we want balance. Sure, we want profit, as we have to have it to keep going. But we balance that always with a sense of passion, a sense of mission, a sense of purpose, and balancing those two things is exactly what our world needs.

The reason we’re in such trouble as a planet, and politically, socially, is we’ve got completely out of balance around this whole thing of profit. If we can be a truly empowered, creative class with a sense of our own significance, if we don’t throw away our copyright, so that we’re not on our knees saying ‘Publish me please,' I think we could make a serious shift in how business operates. That would make a shift in how everything operates. So I know it possibly sounds utopian or idealistic. But I really do believe that, you know, grasping is something that our community needs to be thinking about at least.

Joanna Penn:  Education is so important. We see a lot of authors still not understanding even the basics of copyright. I listened to your interview with Rebecca Giblin about copyright, which was an ALLi basics podcast last year, but I didn’t think it was basic at all.

This is the thing. Authors tend not to know these things as basics. To be empowered authors, we have to know the value of copyright, and also understand that that value doesn’t just get expressed by one ebook sale on Amazon, that we’re talking about this whole ecosystem of products and multiple streams of income.

And I agree with you on the one hand about the profit thing, but in order to talk to people in the area, we have to understand the profit motive. We need to engage with discussions around this so that everyone can make a living without screwing over someone else.

Orna Ross: Absolutely. It comes back to valuing ourselves. We can’t value our copyright if we don’t value ourselves. We can’t value ourselves and our work if we haven’t done the work, the work includes the knowing who the reader is and the ability to reach the reader, to find the reader, that is a skill that is now part of what we do. It takes a long time to become a good writer, and it takes time to become a good publisher, which includes being a good marketer. These are skills that are not developed overnight. I think our community does need more support from the creative industries and education generally on the literary and publishing establishments. But with those two skills in hand, and you know, when we value ourselves, then we really are empowered. So that’s the push that we will hopefully see in the next, 10 years.

What won't change in the 2020s?

Joanna Penn:  Obviously, what won’t change, is that we still believe we’re going to be here. Orna and I still doing a podcast in 2029! Oh my goodness, that would be crazy. But I mean, I’ve been podcasting for over a decade, so why shouldn’t we still be podcasting in another decade? We might be in a virtual environment where you can all join us. That is definitely a possibility. In fact, why don’t we even say that. In the late 2020s, I think you’ll be able to join us in a virtual space and watch our avatars.

Orna Ross: Just like a live event where you can ask your questions properly and all of that which would be amazing.

Joanna Penn: You can wear whatever virtual things you like. So, obviously, we both intend to be around still writing, still telling stories, still teaching. Anything else that you think won’t change in the 2020s?

Orna Ross:  I do think it’s really important to say that the fundamentals of creativity won't change and learning your own process, all of those kinds of things. They have been the same since people were telling stories around the fire. They have changed remarkably little and won’t change in the next decade, or probably will ever change for the foreseeable future until, you know, we get the chip in or whatever.

And so I think, learning our craft and reading, writing, learning, the craft of publishing, understanding that publishing will always be those seven processes, you’ll always need editing, design, all of the things that make a book and they’re not likely to change. Readers need story, inspiration, information, all the things that we have to offer — that’s not going to change. It's really important that we hold on to that. It’s all about balancing, isn’t it? You have to go there with the marketing stuff, with the tech stuff, and balance that with the creative stuff. It’s a very full life when you get that balance right.

Joanna Penn: It is. The other thing I think is that being curious and trying things out, that is the only way forward. There is no degree in this stuff because it changes all the time. What’s so funny is that with this book, The Future is Faster than you Think, it’s already out of date, because the moment you write it down, it's already moved on.

Things change so fast but we’re both positive about the 2020s.

We’ll carry on. We will be here next month, I guess we can’t promise 2029, but we will be here next month. We’re going to step back from the technology and talk about how to sustain a creative life for the long term. I’ve been looking back at my website over 11 years of content and finding that a lot of people have moved on, have left the writing world, their websites have gone, the companies are gone. It's made me think, ‘wow, I’m still here,' and you’re still here and a lot of our friends are still here, but a lot of people have gone. So what are the things that we can do to sustain that creative life for the long term? And even if people want to leave writing books, the creative life doesn’t stop. Any final thoughts on that?

Orna Ross:  I’m looking forward to looking at that thing that doesn’t change. Because if we don’t get that balance, right, we’re in this abundance environment where there’s so much going on. There are so many opportunities and so many things you can do. The only way you can make the choices is to actually understand your own creative process and how it works and how to look after yourself so that you can keep on keeping on. So yea, that’s what we’ll talk about next month for a total change.

Joanna Penn: A total change. And, I’ll try not to mention anything technical …

Orna Ross:  techie, or scary …

Joanna Penn: I’m not sure I’ll make it through, but I’ll try. Thanks for joining us. Happy writing. Happy publishing.

Orna Ross: And see you next time. Bye. Bye.

Joanna Penn:

View Comments (6)

  • Thanks for the Monday morning shot in the arm, you always inspire me to keep chugging along. Because of you, I am dictating on Dragon Naturally Speaking. Amazing. I've pre-ordered your dictation/audiobook. In the meantime, I read everything I could get my hands on about dictation. I think Scott Baker's book was the best. Hardware and software. Also "Don't train your dragon with anything you didn't write. Once I read the first 5 chapters of my book, it got me pegged down. Funny though, it typed in Baja California perfect, however it had trouble with homonyms, poor thing. So, I just watch for them. Dragon couldn't tell "were, wore, wear, where, and we're". Also, it tends to chop off past tenses of verbs like "worked, rowed, lived". It truncates them to"work, row, and live". Maybe because of my accent that I chop off the ending of my words. By the way, I have a bog-standard midwest accent. (Arizona, Wisconsin, and a dab of Missouri.) I'm a retired teacher so I tend to use proper grammar.

  • I'm seeing a contradiction here ... you say that AI can generate books and AI can generate voices ... and then you say this:

    We’re part of this global Maker Movement. Independent creators are becoming a force in every industry.

    People want the personal touch, they want the small, the real, the authentic. That’s really great for us, I think, we’re part of a trend that is growing. And what makes our business unique is that the creator is not just concerned with profits, we want balance. Sure, we want profit, as we have to have it to keep going. But we balance that always with a sense of passion, a sense of mission, a sense of purpose, and balancing those two things is exactly what our world needs.

    ...so ... which is it? Anything generated by AI is not the small, the real, the authentic. It's mass-produced. I'm just ... not understanding the logic, here.

    • They are two different things.
      AI may well produce the mass market - so WE have to be the personal touch, the small, the real, the authentic.
      We can't compete with the robots, so we have to double down on being human.

  • Great post! I think your crystal ball is operating quite well! I have shared this post widely, like so many of your posts.

  • Your comments at the end of this podcast about the fact that you'd seen people leave writing, take down their websites... I'm one of those. I've listened to your podcast for years, a really faithful listener - and use a lot of your advice in my writing. Eventually I had to make a time choice between writing and my day job of sketching/painting (it really is my day job). I was even a Patron of yours for a short time - but finances (or lack thereof) forced me to stop my patronage.
    I've come back to writing because I'm trying to apply it to a non-fiction art book of sorts. My reason for posting this is to say that even though many people leave, they will often come back as needs change.
    Personally, it is impossible for me NOT to be creative, in one form or another. Thanks for everything you do Joanna!

    • Thanks for sharing, Ingrid! It wasn't meant to be a judgment, as I know life changes and people move on and keep creating in other ways. That is inevitable! I can't say I will still be blogging and podcasting here for the next 50 years, although I certainly intend to be creating! I'm glad you've circled back to writing :)

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