Ep. 03: Author Income with Orna Ross

Looking for ways to increase your author income? Orna Ross is on the podcast this week to discuss seven different ways authors can earn money.

Setting realistic financial goals can be difficult for new and even seasoned authors, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s important to consider all the options to maximize your income—and there’s more than you may think! Orna Ross (Director of the Alliance of Independent Authors) joins Robin Cutler (Director of IngramSpark) to discuss seven ways to earn additional author incomeOnline courses, membership models, and affiliate programs are just a few of the ideas you’ll hear more about today. Learn how to make a living as an author and  publish with IngramSpark  today!


Robin Cutler [00:00:09] Hi everyone, welcome to Go Publish Yourself, an IngramSpark podcast. I'm Robin Cutler, Director of IngramSpark, and today I'm really excited. Not only is this just one of the most important people in the world of publishing, Orna Ross, but she's also one of my dear friends and one of my favorite poets as well. Orna is the founder and director of the Alliance of Independent Authors, ALLi, a nonprofit association of author publishers. ALLi offers connection and collaboration, trusted guidance, and advice to its fast-growing global membership. Welcome, Orna.

Orna Ross [00:00:54] Hi, Robin, thanks so much for having me.

Robin Cutler [00:00:57] A big shout-out because I just refuse to let you go unrecognized as being such a brilliant poet.

Orna Ross [00:01:08] Thank you.

Robin Cutler [00:01:09] Your poetry inspires me, not only in my work and what I do in the world of publishing, but also in my writing. You have just a fantastic series that's called, and correct me if I'm wrong, it's called Poetry to Inspire, is that right?

Orna Ross [00:01:28] Exactly, Inspirational Poetry series, so what I do is I bring them out, 10 poems at a time into just small pamphlets, and then I gather them, whichever ones I decide to keep, I put into longer books.

Robin Cutler [00:01:45] I encourage you to check out Orna Ross, the poet, and you won't be disappointed.

Orna Ross [00:01:56] You're very kind, thank you, Robin.

Robin Cutler [00:01:58] Besides being a poet, Orna is one of the the world thought leaders on self-publishers, indie authors, and especially around the topic of how authors can actually earn a living, can earn an income. That's what I want to talk to you about today, Orna.

Orna Ross [00:02:21] Sure. That's really important to me, and I know that we're all motivated creatively, but it's really so exciting that for the first-time authors actually have the ability to plan in a sort of constructive and sustainable way how to make a living themselves and to be the creative director of their own author business. It seems to be too good an opportunity to miss out on, and self-publishing does allow that in a way that trade publishing doesn't because you own the business, you own the rights, and that changes everything because you have the intellectual property and can work with it over time.

Robin Cutler [00:03:07] Orna, I don't know if you saw the recent survey that the Author's Guild did about authors' income. Unfortunately, traditional authors' income has declined over the past a decade or so from when they started measuring, but they did find that indie authors' income had doubled, and that was actually the only bright spot of that survey. Did you happen to see that?

Orna Ross [00:03:36] I did see the survey, and I was very interested in it, as I always am in any survey about author income. All surveys, and particularly income surveys are problematic in that they only ever deal with the sample that they get, and that can be skewed for all sorts of reasons. This was an exceptionally interesting one and had a much wider reach than a lot of the other surveys on author income, and I wasn't surprised at all to see that trend in both directions, and I would say while you might question whether they have gathered in a big enough sample on both sides. Nobody would question that those trends, that's the way the trend is going. There are very sort of obvious reasons as to why the trend would be going in that direction because in trade publishing, an author is a content provider. You're essentially there in business, but you are not, and so the publisher owns your metadata and owns all your assets, whereas in an author publishing, you own the business and you own the assets. Now, authors are only just waking up to that, and in the last three years or so, I think the first part of when self-publishing, what we called self publishing 2.0 hit with a bang in 2008, which is essentially electronic publishing, ebooks. When that happened, a lot of authors fell into publishing and just found themselves in business by default, and without realizing that the first day they actually put their book out on an online store, they had gone into business. Authors are really quick learners,

Orna Ross [00:05:29] and that's what I've seen more than anything over the last 10 years. And so, in the last three years or so, I think you've got people recognizing that I am in a creative business. Do you know what? I like that now. I used to think, oh I want somebody to take all that nasty publishing stuff away from me, but if I do it my way, and the creative way, I can actually make a living off this. What I learned about my reader in the process of trying to sell my books to them feeds back into the next book, and so you get this very nice creative and commercial symbiosis if you like. That's why we're seeing author incomes go up in self-publishing, and I see that trend just getting exponentially more and more as more authors gain confidence. We are increasing the number of readers who connect with us, readership is going up, and indie bookstores are coming back, all these trends, they're not oppositional as they have been perhaps presented to us in the past. In actual fact, what we're looking at here is a growth in literary culture, and it's very exciting, and self-publishing writers are at the heart of it.

Robin Cutler [00:06:48] I totally agree with everything that you just said, Orna. What we also see is not only the indie author becoming more entrepreneurial, but traditionally published authors are getting their rights back from earlier work and are coming into the indie author arena, and are really finding great satisfaction there as opposed to being traditionally published. Now they're saying, I don't even want to go with my next book, I want to do it myself. We're seeing that trend as well.

Orna Ross [00:07:29] Definitely, and that's my own story. That was me back in 2012. I had had what I thought was the great literary lottery, I had won, I had a fabulous two book deal with Penguin at that time, it wasn't with Random House, it was just Penguin books, and we had creative differences, let's just put it that way, and I was so excited by the possibility of being able to self-publish and now there's absolutely no way I would go back. I knew that very, very quickly, as soon as I kind of did this self-publishing thing, I knew going back wasn't going to be an option. In that way, still you can have agreements with individual trade publishers around one book perhaps, or you might want to sell your translation rights to a publisher, or you know, you can do a co-publishing deal with a publisher in another country, or there's lots of ways in which you can work with trade publishers, but the true self-publisher, the real indie author sees a trade publisher as a publishing service. To be the author, not the other way around, with the author on their knees saying, "Publish me, please." It's a mindset that changes when you run your own business.

Robin Cutler [00:08:52] Orna I know, and I've heard you actually teach on the different models for how an author can earn income. So, let's just walk through those.

Orna Ross [00:09:07] Sure. There are roughly seven, and you could kind of categorize this in lots of different ways, but this is a way to think about it. I suppose the first thing to say is that as an author, you will create a lot of words around your books. Books are one stream of income, and for some authors in business model number one, they only do books, and they use one single outlet, which is Amazon exclusively. They write fast, and they publish often, and they put the books out there. That is a model that suits very, very few authors, and unfortunately it's put out there way too much as almost like it's the only model that a writer can follow. For an awful lot of authors, they can't write fast enough, for starters, but secondly and more importantly, and from the Alliance of Independent Authors' perspective, we would encourage writers not to put all their publishing eggs in any one basket. Whether that is a trade publisher, or Amazon, or anybody else, that a good, sustainable business will follow the first rule of business, which is diversify. While that model can be very lucrative for a particular kind of writer, and there are lots of indie authors who are doing well on that model, there are six others that we would put forward as being more sustainable for the long term, so that if something goes wrong with a particular distributor, that your business doesn't kind of go down with that one person. That would be the second model, that you only publish books, you don't publish any other kind of writing, or do any other kind of income earning activity,

Orna Ross [00:10:58] but you go wide, and you have multiple formats and multiple retailers. In that first model, often it's ebook only, no ISBN, it's just reproducing the same, repeating the same thing over and again. In the second model, when you go wide, you also go wide in terms of format, so not just ebooks, but also print books, and also audio books, and using lots of distributors, like IngramSpark obviously, Kobo, and Apple, Google Play. You can use aggregators that can pull a number of outlets together for you, and IngramSpark obviously does this distributing to lots and lots of different places if you don't have time to do that yourself. If you do have time, there are often benefits in going direct, but the idea, the principle that underlies this model is that you meet as many readers as possible, that you are found wherever readers are found, that they don't have to go searching for you, and that you build your readership steadily over time. This model takes a little bit longer to set up, because you've got a lot more distributors to deal with, and you know, a lot more formats to deal with, but over time, it proves safer. As each of these services grows, you grow along with them. And your own website becomes the heart of what you do. So, you bring people to your own website, first of all, and again, this would be a principle that the Alliance of Independent Authors would encourage, that you don't spend more time on anybody else's website, i.e. Facebook, as well as anything else, than you spend on your own website. A lot of author's websites leave a lot

Orna Ross [00:12:54] to be desired, and a lot of authors don't even have any eCommerce on their website, and there really is no reason why an author shouldn't sell their eBooks direct at minimum, and ideally able to sell all their formats on their own website. They are the two book-only models, and the rest now bring something else in as well, and the principle behind that is that it's actually quite difficult to make money from books, and they are too cheap, and that's down to commercial factors in the marketplace over the past two or three decades or so. But if you compare them to other forms of entertainment, there isn't a lot built in there in terms of profit, and there are ways in which you can, as a writer, fulfill your writing mission and fulfill your writing goals, shaping your words up in different sorts of formats, and that's where some of these models come in. The third one would be books plus speaking. Information products I'm talking about there. That would be, say video courses, or audio courses, a higher margin on information products of all kinds. Some way in connected to your book, they are connected to your book in some way. If you're a non-fiction writer, it's kind of obvious, you could maybe do a course based around that there. But fiction writers too are doing stuff maybe based around the setting of their book, or something to do with some trait of their character, or whatever, but setting up information products around that, and selling them online. And again, the profit margin is higher, and therefore, it's easier to make an income

Orna Ross [00:14:46] from them is the idea. Model four is similar, but it's actually true teaching, and this means that there's actually supported learning going on for the reader, for your customer, the person who buys your products. Writing and teaching have always gone hand in hand, it's the time-honored way in which a writer taught, it's through an educational establishment like a university or a school, and that was not particularly well paid. Again, now online there are fantastic tools whereby you can teach eCourses, and we have a number of members who are doing extremely well at combining their writing and their teaching together in that way, and it all happens on their own website. When they teach it sells books, and when they sell books it sells their teaching, and it can work really, really well. Very often there's a Facebook group attached as well where you can get support and get closer. That's kind of the basis of model five, which is a reader membership model. Online you offer benefits for your close readers. You have some kind of monthly or maybe annual membership program. Again, it's easier to see at the surface how this works for non-fiction authors, but we have lots of fiction authors, especially in the women's fiction, contemporary fiction and romance novelists who really have made great success of their membership sites. Their readers are so keen on what they do that they will join to get extra stuff behind the books and information, or just to be close to the author, and just have an online chat with the author

Orna Ross [00:16:43] once a month, or whatever. Model six then is books together with patronage, and sponsorship or advertising from other individuals or businesses who want to get close to your readership and who are aligned, in terms of values, with the kinds of things that you're trying to make happen in your books. So, patronage, again, is a time-honored kind of supplement to author income, but in the past, it would've been an arts council perhaps, or in the distant past it was actually a king, or a duke, or something like that. Now, again, online tools allow for readers to become patrons and Patreon.com has set up a very, very good website whereby people can actually avail of that. We have some members who are making five-figure per month income through patronage, and just having enough followers and enough fans who will pay for extra stuff that they don't release for anybody else. Then seven is, books plus affiliate income, so that again is very easily organized online. You supplement your book income by recommending products and services that you approve of and believe are useful, or entertaining, or inspiring to your readers. They would be linked, again, to your theme, or your subject matter, or your world, and in each of these models, whatever you're adding on to your books, you're promoting them through your blog posts and your articles, and through videos and podcasts, or whatever that you do and that link people either to your affiliates, or to your teaching, or whatever. Then I suppose the thing to say is that lots of members are picking

Orna Ross [00:18:37] and choosing different forms of these, and have a multiple stream of income model, and that is probably the safest business model you can have, to combine a number of those options.

Robin Cutler [00:18:52] Well Orna, this is like a TED Talk for authors, in fact, if you haven't pursued doing a TED Talk, you're primed for it, especially around this topic. You're so expert and so fantastic in sharing the knowledge that you've kind of earned the hard way, and also being able to tell the stories of the ALLi membership is so really important, and we really thank you for sharing today.

Orna Ross [00:19:25] My pleasure Robin, thank you so much for inviting me along.

Robin Cutler [00:19:29] Thanks so much for listening to Go Publish Yourself. If you like what you hear, please like us on iTunes, the more positive ratings we receive, the more authors and publishers like you will be able to discover our podcast too. If you're ready to publish today, please visit the IngramSpark website, and for even more tips on publishing like a pro, check out our weekly blog and free online self-publishing courses in the IngramSpark academy. Talk to you soon.


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