Orna Ross writes novels, poems and the Go Creative! books and is Director of The Alliance of Independent Authors. Her most recent book is a novel, Blue Mercy, a family drama of intrigue, secrets and surprise. Her website is www.ornaross.com.
You often talk about writers being Creative directors. What do you mean by that and how might professional publishing freelancers play a part?
I mean that the writer takes control of the creative decisions, which includes decisions about how the book is going to be found and read by readers. Our publishing partners — designers, editors, book promoters — are key to our success in that. We cannot do the job without them and every good book is a team effort.
Collaboration with other creatives is essential, as is the ability to be challenged and take advice, but ultimately the author had the vision and it makes sense that the author’s should be the guiding hand.
At ALLi (The Alliance of Independent Authors), our definition of an indie author is not about what service we use to publish — many of our members work with trade publishers for some projects — but whether we are willing to take charge of our own books, our own writing careers and embrace the joys and responsibilities of book making and distribution, from inspiration through writing to publication.
What are the most common challenges faced by independent authors today?
It depends on what stage an author is at. When we start out, it’s all about making a digital book. The challenge there is coming to terms with new technologies, and working out how to best publish our particular book without overspending time or money.
It’s a big learning curve but once you’ve done it once, it gets easy, and you probably want to introduce other formats like POD and audio.
And you start thinking seriously about book promotion and reaching readers.
Once all that is nailed, the writer is likely to develop an interest in how to sell some subsidiary rights, like translation rights or film and TV.
Once an author has created their book, they still need to find readers. Can you recommend one tip or quick win that every new author should be aware of ?
There is a quick win called BookBub.com that every savvy publisher knows about. It is the only marketing method that consistently gives a good return on investment but it is by application, so not all books are eligible. And it’s expensive.
But writing and publishing is not about quick wins. To sell our books, we need to understand where our writing fits in the reading ecosystem and why a reader might want to give up time and money to read our work.
So my big tip for all writers who want to sell books is: work out what journalists call the five w’s: What do I write? Who do I write for? Where are those readers to be found (in real life and online) and where are they finding out about books? How do I connect (emotionally) with them? Why should they read what I write?
How has the attitude towards self-publishing changed within the trade world of publishers, agents and retailers since you’ve been involved with ALLi?
Some big publishing names have made alliances with the vanity end of the author-publishing market (boo!). Some enterprising individuals are experimenting with new, more authorcentric ways of working (hurray!). Many publishers and agents are scouting successful self-publishers and there’s less stigma as more and more author publishers are successful, creatively and commercially. But mostly, I think, it’s business as usual. As we go forward, I predict both sectors will carry along beside each other with more and more crossover.
If you were to identify some new skills and specialisms that writers and publishers were likely to value in the future, what would they be?
Anybody who can find effective ways to link good writers with keen readers will be most valued.