Insights from 20Books Seville and the London Book Fair: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast With Orna Ross and Joanna Penn

In this month’s Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast ALLi Director Orna Ross and Enterprise Adviser Joanna Penn discuss insights gleaned from their visits to the 2023 London Book Fair and 20Books to 50K conference in Spain. They share what they consider to be the most important trends, tools and technologies emerging for authors, with advice on how to make these work for you, and their personal lessons learned.

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On the Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast, Orna Ross and @thecreativepenn discuss insights gleaned from their visits to the 2023 London Book Fair and 20Books to 50K conference in Spain. Click To Tweet

Show Notes

About the Hosts

Joanna Penn writes nonfiction for authors and is an award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author as J.F.Penn. She’s also an award-winning podcaster, creative entrepreneur, and international professional speaker.

Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website:

Read the Transcripts: 20Books Seville and London Book Fair

Joanna Penn: Hello everyone, and welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Advanced Self-Publishing Salon, with me, Joanna Penn and Orna Ross. Hi, Orna.

Orna Ross: Hello, Joanna and hello everyone.

Joanna Penn: Here we are again, this has come around really fast. We thought we had another week in April, but here we are. Today, we’re talking about Insights from 20Books Sevilla in Spain, and the London Book Fair.

So, that is coming up, but as ever, we are authors too and also, we like to give an update. So, Orna, any update from ALLi?

Orna Ross: Yes. So, we’ll talk a little bit more about this actually, because we launched it at the London Book Fair, but our author income survey results are out, and will be going out to all our members tomorrow.

So, it’s a two-phase project. First of all, we wanted to research, and we were hoping to get a thousand authors. We got over 2000, so that’s great, a really good, sort of, representative sample, and we got lots of interesting findings. But we know also that surveys are surveys, and they can’t cover every eventuality, and we are really interested in building up verifiable statistics as much as we can around author income and other aspects of being indie authors.

So, we are now moving into phase two of that project, which we’re calling The Big Indie Author Data Drop, and that’s going to gather in lots of information from lots of our partner members and other people who do analysis in the community, and we hope that with all of us coming together, we’ll actually be able to get information that’s not arguable against. I’m just going to say that for now, we’ll get into a little bit more about what I mean by that in a minute. So, that’s what we’re going to be working on at ALLi for the next month or two. How are you, what are you up to?

Joanna Penn: Yes. So, obviously it took about two weeks to really do the 20Books Sevilla and then London Book Fair, and we’ll talk about this as well, about the recovery time and the energy, but I’ve got two things I’m working on. One is this novel, Catacomb, which I started and then halted on, and the other one is, I’m going to do a new edition of Career Change. For those who don’t know, in 2007, that’s when I wrote my very first book, which was called, How to Enjoy Your Job or Find a New One. That was my very first book. I later rewrote it as career change, so it will actually be over 15 years since I wrote that first edition, and over a decade since the second edition.

I kind of put it by the by, but right now, and I wasn’t going to touch it again, but it feels like, to me, that my career is changing. Also, people have been asking for a workbook, and if you write nonfiction, people listening, doing workbooks is a really great way to serve your audience more, but also to make more income, and I was like, if I’m going to do a workbook, I want to check the book.

And I feel like updating it also, and we’ll talk about this, about licensing, having this sort of standalone business style book-like career change, is much easier to license, as the foreign rights agent told me at the fair, than the series of books for writers, for example, which aren’t so easy to license.

So, there are a number of reasons I’m going to give it a go, and I was happy to find that a lot of it is quite evergreen. But again, one of the issues with nonfiction is that you do either have to update things or you really just have to let them go because everything goes out of date. So, any comments on that, and also give us your update.

Orna Ross: Yeah. No, really interesting to see you doing that book again.

I too had that experience of talking to the agent about rights and standalones. So, it’s like the rights business is, because you’re stepping back into traditional really when you try to sell your rights to a rights buyer, whether it’s foreign rights or any other kind of rights, they haven’t really understood the value of the series yet and they need a lot of proof that the last book in the series is selling as well as the first book, before they’re going to be willing to take that on. So yeah, I found that interesting too.

Yeah, me, I am looking way ahead, for me, in terms of my own writing and publishing. I’ve just finished doing the kind of crowdfunder strategy for what I’m going to do for A Life Before, which is my fiction book.

So, hoping to launch that in mid-October, really, with a view to a Christmas send out, and my kind of code word to myself when I do this, because I did do a crowdfunder years and years ago, is reduce the admin, take it easy. So, to arrange it so that there is as little administration as possible, both in terms of what I’m agreeing to create in my packages, as well as who’s going to support me to actually do it.

Yeah, I’m continuing to get to know Mr. Chat GPT4 and enjoying that, and creating a series bible for a conversation I’m having with another rights buyer about a TV series. So, that’s fun and I honestly don’t think I’d be able to face it without it. So yeah, that’s my writing self.

Joanna Penn: That’s fantastic. I mean, I want to say about your crowdfunding for A Life Before, you’ve mentioned October. One of my lessons learned from mine, which took three and a half months really, was that I want to have six months next time, and even right now as we record this in April, you pretty much have six months until that one happens. Because one of my main lessons learned, and we did talk a bit about this on a previous show, but it’s interesting that you are doing this now and you are starting at six months, but as we know, these things really speed up, time speeds up. We can’t really believe that it’s May so soon.

So, finishing a lot more than I expected. I mean, I’d finished the book, but I also needed to have finished all the extras that I did. So, I thought that it’s good that you are looking at that now, and I’m intending to look at what I want to do next February-ish by June/July, I guess. Although that’s coming up soon as well. It’s so crazy.

So, that’s a little tip for people is, when you are thinking about doing something new or revisiting something, like we both are revisiting either crowdfunding or another book, it’s quite hard to know how long things are going to take. So, give it a bit more space.

The other thing, just on the rights buyer, the agent said, this is a great book, but the ISBN is old. It was like, you need to have a 2023 date so that we can more easily license this, which is another tip for people. Again, like you said, traditional publishing, it’s so different. It’s like the book’s gone off, which we don’t really have in indie; we don’t think that way, and it’s quite a different mindset.

Orna Ross: It makes no sense, it’s just something that’s built up over years. If it’s an evergreen book, it’s crazy, and you have to hit this perfect balance between, it’s up to date, but it can’t be so up to date that it hasn’t proven itself with some sales, so you’re constantly trying to balance things.

But I guess we do have the control to actually do that and put a new ISBN on it and put it out again with a new kind of set of clothes on, which a traditional publisher would not do for you. So, it’s good.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and I’ve already had another cover designed. This is another tip, I think. For me, I have this need to finish projects, and when I have a cover designed, even if I haven’t finished the book, I feel like, oh, now I have to finish it because I have a cover, so I need to fill the cover.

So, that really helps me. I know it doesn’t help everyone, but it certainly helps me.

Orna Ross: No. She looks at me and I hang my head.

Joanna Penn: You have a lot of covers with no books.

Orna Ross: I have some lovely covers.

Joanna Penn: So, yeah, choose how you do things.

Okay, let’s get into the details. Insights from 20Books Sevilla and London Book Fair.

I guess we should say, for people listening in the future, we attended these in, I guess the middle two weeks of April. The 20Books Sevilla, you know, 20Books to 50K group is well known, 20Books Vegas is well known, but now there are other things happening under the brand, and Sevilla in the south of Spain, if people don’t know. And London Book Fair is an industry fair, and it’s mainly traditional publishing.

We’ve attended, ALLi launched there in 2012, over a decade ago, and we’ve been every year since. We just keep going, don’t we?

So, I guess before we get into it, we should just say, I wanted to go to Sevilla. They asked us to speak, which we did. We spoke together a bit like this, we did our double act, and we spoke on the creator economy, for people listening. But why did you want to attend Sevilla, because you have said that you wanted to cut down on some speaking and attending events?

Orna Ross: Yeah, and there are some things that I’m doing this year that are kind of a last hurrah, and I haven’t been to any of the 20Books events, and I wanted to go to one and Sevilla, reason number one actually.

Sorry, Michael. Sorry, Judith. Great location, handy, not too far away, and I really wanted to go to a 20Books conference, and I really enjoyed it. I have to say, it was supremely well organized by Lantia, a great publisher there in Spain who’s been working with 20Books and LMBPN, Michael Anderle and Judith for a long time, and they did a really good conference in an amazing venue. So, I’m really glad I went, and it was very thought provoking, which we’ll talk about as we go through the show. But yeah, that was my main reason really.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, the weather. So, if people don’t know, the weather in the south of Spain at this time of year is just lovely, whereas it’s been freezing in the UK. So, it was lovely to go, and we had some drinks on a rooftop and dinner outside, and so that was good, but also the culture of the south of Spain is very laid back, and I noticed this very different thing about this conference was the number of breaks. It was like one session, then a break of almost the same amount of time as the session. Whereas normally you go along to things and it’s back-to-back, and you’re running around and yes, you learn a lot, but actually with this conference, I had more time to talk to people in those networking breaks than I have at probably any other conference. So, that was interesting to me because I would’ve said that, no, you shouldn’t have so many breaks, you should have more sessions because the valuable stuff is the learning, but actually those breaks, the networking sessions, were great.

So, there’s just a little tip for people, when you, and I’m actually going to take this approach now. As someone who loves to learn, I normally overschedule myself at these things, but I’m going to make sure I don’t attend every single back-to-back session when I go to these conferences, and some people are like, well, of course not, but if you are a learning type like I am, that can be the way you do things, and that’s also very tiring.

So that’s, I guess, a bit about 20Books Sevilla. I am intending to go to 20Books Vegas this year, in November. I’ve been a little scared, because there are thousands of people there, but I feel like this really is just a moment. It feels like a moment. So, I’m intending to go and maybe see some of you listeners there.

But let’s now talk about London Book Fair. So, maybe for people who haven’t attended, you could maybe give an overview of what is London Book Fair, how is it for authors, and then talk about the launch of the author income survey.

Orna Ross: Yeah, so London Book Fair is one of the great book fairs of the world. There are about five or six key fairs, and these fairs originally came into being pre-internet, these big ones that are still running, so they were the only way that trade publishing got together.

Mainly, they were rights licensing fairs, and certainly London, that is its background. Some of the other big fairs may have grown out of library associations or different things like that, but generally speaking, they are rights trading fairs. And around that central core activity, which happens in the International Rights Center, big publishers came and started to display their books, and the stands got bigger and fancier, and the more money that trade publishing made, the bigger the floor space that it took over. And of course, the biggest of all is Frankfurt, not London. Frankfurt’s enormous, it’s like 11 London’s in one spot.

So yeah, that’s essentially where it started, but what it has become is the unmissable meeting of the industry, and people now come from different perspectives to the fair and about, I think it was just the year ALLi started, or perhaps the year after, was the first Author Center at the fair.

When we launched, we decided we would launch at London Book Fair because we wanted to make the point, okay, we do things very differently and we publish in all sorts of different ways, and indie authors have become pioneers, particularly around ways of marketing books and so on, but we are definitely part of the industry.

And there are lots of indie authors that kind of want to shun the industry, and that’s absolutely fine, I can totally understand why you would do that, particularly if you’ve had a hard time there, which I know a lot of authors have. But nonetheless, we are part of the book selling industry, and so it seems important to the Alliance of Independent Authors that we, each year, at least once a year, that we kind of stake our claim and say, yes, we’re here, you can’t ignore us. Hello, here’s what we do, we’re still here. We’re growing, rapidly, and you can’t ignore us, and here’s what we do, here’s how we do it, here’s how we sell books.

So, we would see part of our job at London Book Fair is to be in the Author HQ Center giving our sessions. For us, it very often feels like we’re saying things that are very obvious. We’re saying things that don’t particularly excite us, maybe, to say or whatever, because we have to work within the knowledge that a lot of authors who are coming to London Book Fair are coming because they’re looking for a publisher or an agent, and they don’t even know that you don’t really wander into a fair and look for a publisher or agent, that’s not how it works.

Every single year we meet authors who say, I didn’t know about self-publishing until I heard you speak, and that’s really why we go. It’s really for the authors more than anybody else, but it is also to stake our claim.

For 10 years it’s felt like banging your head off a brick wall, but I felt like this year there was a little bit more give than before, and I do think that was down to the income survey actually.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, I mean, it was much smaller. We both noticed that, because there’s changes to the venue, Olympia. But yes, if you want to go as an author, I would say to have a look at the seminar program before you go and really map out your time. Wear comfortable shoes. I actually handed out some blister plasters to people who were struggling, because you do have to walk, I think I walked 15 kilometres that day, because you can wander around and around.

Also, because we’re book people, it’s so overwhelming because there are so many book covers everywhere. So, you and I almost bumped into each other, because when you are walking, your eyes are darting around at all the books around you, and I take so many photos. I was looking at my photos before this. I take photos of books I want to buy, and I pre-ordered a ton when I got back. I take photos of books, I think, oh, that’s a good idea. There was some paper engineering stand, I don’t if you saw that, some amazing things.

So creatively, it’s exciting. There were also sessions on things like, how not to be replaced by a bot, which was interesting. I have meetings with people, both industry people and other people. So, if you are going to go, then as you said, it’s not about getting an agent and a publisher, that is just not the thing, but arranging meetings beforehand is really important, and also just giving yourself enough time just to wander around.

The other thing I’d say is make sure you take your own food in, because getting food in there is just a bit of a nightmare.

Orna Ross: This year, particularly. It was really bad because they had less floor space. So, they were selling food with nowhere to sit to eat. So, people were sitting on the floor to eat, and from that point of view, I think the smaller fair, I’m looking forward to it being back to full size next year, and looking forward to it being back to the normal time as well.

I prefer March, it just fits in better with everything here in March. It’s normally in March, and it’s returning to March, and will be March from now on. The date moved just because of the works that are going on at Olympia.

Joanna Penn: So, tell us about the Author Income Survey, some of the highlights, and I guess, some of the positive responses and some of the less positive responses.

Orna Ross: Yeah. So, the great news is that indie authors, on average, are bringing in more income than trade published authors, and the big most important thing about the survey, and that the survey revealed, and we are not surprised to find this, is that indie author incomes are rising.

So, for those who haven’t heard us speak about this before, what we did was, we surveyed over 2000, what we call primary income self-publishing authors. So, primary income meant those who spend more than half their time writing and publishing, and we found that the average income for those authors is over $80,000.

The median income, however, which kind of allows for both ends of the spectrum, for the outliers, brings that to $12,749, to be precise.

So, what we found was that a lot of authors are not earning anything or very little, and once you’ve factored those out, that could be because they’re just starting, and even though they’re spending more than half their working time, most of it’s going into writing. It might be their first book, or else they don’t have the publishing skills to actually market their book yet, they’re not marketing, or their writing skills are not sufficient that readers want to buy. So, it’s got to be one of those things, and of course, all of those are fixable.

So, there is a big difference between those findings and the findings that, sorry, the outcomes of other author income surveys, which have focused more on trade published authors, where they have found that incomes are falling and that incomes are very low, considerably lower than even our median, never mind the average.

So, we found that almost half of our authors reported more than 20k, and 28% earned over 50k, and almost a fifth ran six-figure publishing businesses. So, what that said to us was, when people get going, they do well. Once they know what they’re doing, once they acquire the writing and the publishing skills, this is a business in which you can earn money, and you can build so that you are not having the kind of spike income that you have when you just license your rights, but you’re actually building year on year.

Joanna Penn: I’ll just comment on that because I think it’s like you said, once you get going, and I think this is so important because the myth of the traditional publishing world, it’s like you write your first book, you make your million, you retire, yay, and that’s how it works. So, this focus on debut authors is almost unhealthy. Although one of the things I saw at the fair was a debut author imprint, that’s all they do. They’re going to focus on debut after debut, which is, fair enough, I guess it’s a business model. I don’t know what happens to those authors afterwards.

But then for indies, like you said, you have to get going, and you have to learn both the craft skills, but then you also have to learn the publishing and the marketing.

The other thing I think that happens is that there’s a lot of people who do not want to do what we do. So, maybe they self-publish one book or maybe a couple of books, and then they’re like, do you know what, I don’t want to do this, so I’m not going to do this. And they either stop writing or they just leave the book up and don’t worry about it, or it becomes more of a hobby.

Then those of us who really get the bug and enjoy the business side as well as the writing craft, we carry on, that’s maybe why you see the jump a bit later.

And I think you’ve referred in the various notes about the Written Word Media study, which showed that people earning over 100K have something like over 20 books, and that’s the reality. It’s the getting going, and I’ve never had a spike. I’ve never had a year like that, that then dropped off. My income has been up and up and up, and then it’s been steady as I’m at a good level, and that’s due to many things.

But I think that’s a really important message for people to understand is yes, you can make more money than a traditionally published author, but only if you are not looking at it as this early spike in your career that then drops off, but something that perhaps takes years to grow.

Orna Ross: Yes, and I think it’s all part of what we talk about, taking the business mentality because you are in business, rather than looking for somebody who’s going to actually make you and carry you and bring you forth; that’s the other thing.

A lot of what we know about trade publishing and what authors earn and how they earn, there’s also a very interesting study in the Bookseller today showing that most authors do not feel supported by their publisher to the degree that it’s affecting their mental health.

So, we’ve been sold a myth, an absolute fairy-tale in terms of how you earn, and I think that’s what we wanted to break, if anything, with this information was to show how it is actually happening for those authors. And that’s why we chose those who are 50% or more, and I am really sorry to the part-timers, we wanted to benchmark a previous study that was done so that we could get some ideas and do some straight comparison with authors that tend to be trade published.

Next time, we will look at the part-timers as well, because we were hearing from some of them that they are earning five figures, even though they’re only part-time, and some of them are earning lots more than that. So, that will be interesting.

The other thing we’ll do next time, because we’ll be benchmarking ourselves, is we will look at net as well as gross. For now, we just did gross, so we’re just looking at income coming in. Again, allowing us to make that comparison, and that created a little bit of a stir at our launch when people objected to that and made the point that we were benchmarking, we were doing this comparison and we were saying that self-publishing authors earn more, but we were actually talking about gross figures and that self-published authors have to spend money and again, the myth that trade published authors don’t spend any money to get their trade deal, which of course many of them do, both on editors in order to send it off to their agent. But also, once you get that publishing deal, you will have marketing costs. It is very unlikely that you will get a publisher who will actually invest. I mean, you might, you might be that one in a million.

Joanna Penn: Or partly, like I still remember talking to one traditionally published author who said she was expected to spend her advance on marketing to help it take off, and again I’ve been pulled up for this, so I’ll say, not all publishers are the same, in the same way that not all authors are the same. So, if you’re having a great time with your publisher, excellent.

I guess the other thing to say is this is just the beginning. What you’re trying to do is set out some things and then, like you say, this is a benchmark, there’s going to be further exploration which you’re going to share at Self-Publishing Show Live in June, around digging into that data. Then again, planning to do it next year.

But you have mentioned that there was a little bit more respect by various, I say respect, but-

Orna Ross: Yes, I think it’s a fair word, acknowledgement, or whatever. Yes. So, we had a very positive meeting with Nielsen, who are the company who, they do many things, they sell you your ISBNs, if you’re in the UK, but they do many other things in the publishing industry, and one of the things they do is they measure data, and they’re the people who actually took a lot of the smoke and mirrors out of publishing, because that whole thing of point of sale data, where people saw how many books a famous author actually did sell, and there are lots of shocks and surprises there when you see, because publishers have their favourites and the people that they promote, and they’re not necessarily the people who are the money.

Everybody in publishing knows that it is the genre authors who hold up the publishing house and the publishing industry, but nobody in, for example, mainstream media talks about that, and romance writers won’t even get a review, and crime writers will get a tiny little column where seven of them are stuck in together instead, while a military historian will get six pages in the telegraph, and three readers. So, it’s again, this kind of smoke and mirrors and illusion stuff.

So, Nielsen were really interested in our findings, and we’ve been talking to them for many years about the extraordinary things that we see our members doing, both individuals and as group, and so we are going to really get our heads together and see if there is some way. The only people who know how much an author actually earns, the only person who knows that is that actual writer. Particularly now with creator economy, which you and I talk about a lot, with authors selling directly, their Shopify stores, their WooCommerce stores, not necessarily showing up on Amazon at all, yet still publishing is all built around Amazon and trade publishing, and they don’t see it.

So, it’s another reason why we wanted to do this survey, because the data gap is a visibility gap. So, Nielsen now is really interested in sitting down with us and talking about how we can actually get authors visible on the bestseller lists, because the bestseller lists are not showing any indie authors at all at the moment in mainstream media.

So, if those figures can be tracked in some way, and can be verified, and can go into those lists, then we can see and the authors begin to take over them a little bit, which would be great.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and also, I should say, Publishers Weekly was at 20Books Sevilla, and many of us were interviewed on their TV channel, whatever that is, their YouTube channel, and also there was an article and a very prominent picture of me, and Michael Anderle, and Dan Wood in Publishers Weekly, which is hilarious because I’ve had these milestones over the years. I’m like, when this particular publication puts indie authors like this in, that’s a step, and so this picture of me and Publishers Weekly, it probably means as much as when I was in the Guardian a while back, when The Guardian was super anti-self-publishing, and then things change over time.

What’s hilarious, of course, is having been doing this for 15 years, it feels it’s taken a while for things to change.

Orna Ross: That’s it, it does take a long time, and in that same week that you were there, they also carried the survey and now Bookseller are going to do an analysis of the survey. They’re interested in kind of what’s behind it as well as just the ball figures.

Joanna Penn: Are you sure they’re not trying to rip it apart?

Orna Ross: No, I really don’t think so. This is what I’m saying, it’s interesting. It’s like everybody was interested way back in the beginning, in your Guardian days. We turned up, there was a lot of talk about self-publishing and then-.

Joanna Penn: We were a curiosity back then.

Orna Ross: Yeah, exactly.

Joanna Penn: Look at them, aren’t they sweet?

Orna Ross: And then for years there was absolutely nothing, and now I think there is actually a grudging respect in some quarters and an actual, you know, wanting to tell the truth about what’s going on in other quarters. So, I think it’s coming. We’re coming to a sort of turning point, whereby we’re not ignorable anymore, and so hopefully we can help to keep that visibility up and advocate for authors so that authors begin to get what they need from the publishing industry.

Because that’s one of the great pities about this is, you’ve got all these authors. Shanaya is our current volunteer here at ALLi, she’s just finished her creative writing degree at Glasgow University. She has already published three books, and she’s just in her final year, but in her course, there was not one mention at all ever. They had publishers come, they had agents come, they had other writers come and all of that, but nobody ever mentioned self-publishing to her at all.

Joanna Penn: That’s interesting.

Just saying that, I regularly ship books to universities in the USA. My Successful Self-Publishing is used as a text, and then Kevin J. Anderson has a course on publishing at Colorado University or something. So again, it’s almost like it starts over there and then starts to move out.

Orna Ross: I think that’s a fair comment. The US is further ahead than everywhere else, and we saw when we went to Spain that a lot of the Spanish authors are five years behind where we are now. So, this is a slow-moving current that’s moving out across the world globally, but it’s very slow and it seems to be crazily slow. I should have thought that at this point, every university and every school who has kids who are interested in writing and publishing, they should all know. It’s again, it’s this invisibility. This data gap leads to an invisibility, which needs to shift.

And it’s not just there, it’s writing festivals and libraries and yeah, the whole thing. Let’s get us everywhere.

Joanna Penn: Well, just to bring it up. Thank you, and thanks to all the ALLi team, because people like me, we’re like a herd of cats, we all do things differently and there really wouldn’t have been a body to represent us all apart from ALLi, and you had that vision over a decade ago, and where things are going now. I mean, like you said, it feels like it’s so late, but yet we are still almost at the beginning in many countries. So again, people listening, don’t think it’s too late. Wherever you are in the world, there’s still opportunity, and as things shift, the tools shift.

We had another session on technology at London Book Fair, and I guess we’ll just switch. We’re running out of time already, so we’re just going to jump into the second topic, but basically AI was the start of Sevilla. It was the final session at Sevilla. It was at London Book Fair. We did the session on technology and all the questions were about AI.

I mean, I’ve been talking about it since 2016. We did the ethical guidelines two years ago, almost. You and I, again, almost 16 months ago, we did a submission to the UK government on AI. So, we’ve been talking about this for a while, but it really felt like this was the first set of conferences, 2023 Northern Spring, that everyone was talking about it, and it became teaching sessions around Midjourney, around images, discussions on how to use Chat GPT, and various other tools. So yeah, and also Amazon AWS Bedrock launched during the Sevilla conference, which if people don’t know, it’s going to be the basis of Amazon’s own large language models.

So, think Chat GPT, but built on your own trained system. We’re not going to get too technical now because we’re going to have a session on this in June. We’re going to go into all of this in more detail then, but I did want to ask you, because we were having this drink on the rooftop in Sevilla, and I said to you, you’ve really got to try GPT 4, and you were like, oh, I’m just having fun with the other the other version, and then you tried it.

So, how are you feeling about the whole AI situation, and has anything changed because of 4?

Orna Ross: I don’t know if anything has changed for me because of 4, but what I was really, I mean, it’s really powerful and, I think, more creative, definitely able to respond in a more creative way, able to do more complex things.

My real journey with it at the moment is learning how to use it better, and that’s taking, and I think getting as many tips as possible, I think it’s really worthwhile tuning into authors who are using it to hear what other people are doing, and then just trying and experimenting and seeing what works for the particular thing that you wanted to do.

Because of course, everybody was talking at the conferences about the high-volume model and how it’s going to be spitting out books, and we’re all going to be out of a job and blah, blah, blah. Where my interest with it is how it makes, first of all, it lightens my load, and everything feels lighter and more creative. But also, I’m really interested in ways in which it can be used to improve my writing craft, because I always want to be a better writer. So, I know you are super interested in that as well, and we will talk about that in another show coming up soon.

The main thing I would like to say to people who are listening, because one of the things that surprises me about it is just how angsty and stressed people can be around it. One young man stood up at our talk and we were just barely touching on it, and he showed just how very anxious he is about its kind of implications for humanity and where it’s going.

Joanna Penn: And copyright.

Orna Ross: And copyright, yes, but I think he was more thinking about, or maybe he was worried about copyright, but I think he was particularly thinking about the implications for the human race, and I’ve met a number of authors who are worried about that, and it’s way too soon to know what its implications are for the human race.

And I would say, unless you’re writing a book about that, forget about it.

Joanna Penn: You’re writing post-apocalyptic fiction.

Orna Ross: Exactly, or an analysis of AI and its implications for humanity in a non-fiction book. Otherwise, just forget about it and focus on how you can use these tools, as you would use any other tool, to make your writing and publishing more informed, more inspired, more engaged.

Also be honest about what you’re doing, indie authors are great at sharing and telling the truth about what’s really going on, whether that’s sharing their income figures, or whatever it might be. And this is a place to stand up and be counted, because there’s nothing to be ashamed of. It is a tool, and unless you’re doing something deceitful or unethical, there’s nothing to worry about.

So, I met too many worried authors, people worrying about it. So, I just wanted to say that.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and I think the attitude of curiosity is really important. Again, there has been, this feels like another great schism, when we first met it was trad versus indie, like traditional publishing authors versus indie authors, and then it was KU versus wide, and now it’s AI versus non-AI. Which is a false dichotomy, because of course everyone’s using AI. If you’re publishing on Amazon, or like right now we’re using some AI software, and if you’re on Facebook or TikTok; everything works with AI tools, this is just another tool for writing.

So, we will get into it again, but let’s focus on being curious and finding out the interesting ways we can use it in our workflow and our creative process and our marketing, particularly people are finding some great marketing angles.

And don’t attack people using it. I think that would be my other point since I get quite a lot of that.

Orna Ross: Oh, that’s crazy.

Joanna Penn: It is crazy, but yes, I’ve got a massive episode coming out on the AI-assisted Artisan Author, which is something I’m still working out, and we’ve been discussing this kind of craft focus using the tools, but to make more beautiful products, better craft, more artistic, more direct, all of this kind of thing.

So, we will circle back on that, but in the last 10 minutes or so, let’s just come to the question of, is it worth attending author conferences?

Because I mean, I was exhausted. So, we went from Sevilla, some people went from Sevilla to Amsterdam to London, because Amsterdam was over the weekend. In between. I came home, I pretty much went to bed for a whole day to recover from Sevilla, and then I got back, I had to leave London early, as you know, I said goodbye to you and then just disappeared and spent another day in bed recovering.

So, I find it takes a lot out of me, and every time I say, oh, I must do less of this, and then about 24 hours later I say, no, this was great, it was really good, it is well worth it for many things. So, what about you?

Orna Ross: Yeah, I think it’s learning how to manage it. I, as you’ve often noted, end up with a sore throat, lose my voice.

Joanna Penn: You’ve lost your voice at several fairs.

Orna Ross: I’ve lost my voice many times after the London Book Fair, and this year I just did it all differently, and I actually started to plan before 2022 was out, even though it wasn’t until April. Shock horror, planning ahead works, who knew?

Also, by, just an accident, I ended up having a holiday the week before it because there was a wedding in Malta. So, I took some time out, and I’m going to do that every year. It was really great. I just went into it so much more relaxed and rested, and I really enjoyed the conversations and all of that. So, that was really good.

At ALLi, we have over the past few years taken a stand at the London Book Fair. This year we decided, we knew it was going to be small, and we thought this was the year to experiment with not doing a stand, and that worked actually very well for us.

It did leave indie authors though without us. I mean, Amazon was there, and Ingram Spark were there, but you know, the ALLi stand over the last number of years has been where people just gather and hang around, and have a chat, and talk to the team, and get some advice, and that part was missing.

So, next year we’re going to do it, but we’re not going to do it inside, we’re going to do it outside, but as close as possible as we can get it. We’ll probably take over that pub where we usually have the ALLi drinks. We’re going to take it over for the day with some team Q&As and things, but we might do some sort of an event as well, just for indie authors so that there is a core thing for them to do in addition to the education at Author HQ and stuff like that.

So, yeah, I would say then for people who don’t have that sort of, for just the ordinary author who’s thinking about whether to go or not to go, I would say, do go, but make it work for you, know what you want from it.

As an author, aside from the ALLi thing, each year it’s my time to look at where I’m at and think about what happened in the last year and what’s coming up, and there’s lots of time to focus on stuff. As I said before, I think that check-in with the rest of the industry, seeing where the industry is going, all of those things are important, I think.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, and I mean, I realize that it’s expensive for people, and it’s a real investment, which is why you have to spend the time planning, but it’s the whole experience of going away from your house, especially in this era of a lot of working from home, even in your day job, and just getting out of the routine.

If you are at home, like, I’ve got some washing in the washing machine and I’ve got a take it out and hang it up or whatever. Stuff like that, if you leave the house, all of that just becomes unnecessary, you don’t have to clean things. I mean, obviously with partners you might need to sort out childcare or whatever you’re doing, but it’s this time to work on your business, not just in your business.

And instead of firefighting whatever the latest thing is, you actually can step back, and I take my journal with me and I always, even if it’s just at the airport, I put on my noise cancelling headphones and just. Oh, I read a lot of books when I do these things, because I don’t like writing on planes, I never write when I travel, I take hand notes, but I do read a lot. So, I read three or four books over the two weeks of the book fairs and everything.

So, I think it’s, make it a thing that helps your business in entirety rather than, I mean, you can do online training, and that might be more effective than sitting at the London Book Fair in a training session, but it means you don’t get the rest of it. So, I would certainly advise people, if you can, and look, if you can’t travel, if you can’t afford it, whatever, maybe try and set something up within your local area. Try and meet other people who are doing the same thing as you, because that kind of networking is invaluable.

I mean, the relationships, even people like Dan Wood, I’ve known for over a decade, and yet at Sevilla we spent more time talking than we have at any other conference. So, I felt like that was a really good investment in our relationship, although that wasn’t why we did it, it was just that it happened because we were there.

So, I think those types of things, meeting people or meeting them again, is really good.

Orna Ross: And you do get lots of tips, and if you approach it with the attitude of curiosity and creativity, then you can come away with a lot. Particularly London Book Fair, where everything is in one space, and it is expensive, yes, but I definitely think one a year, every author should give themselves, from the business.

It’s the kind of thing that does have a return on investment that’s hard to measure, but everybody who does it says, yes, those relationships, the specific tips you’ll pick up, the sort of sense of trends, the knowledge of what other people are thinking about. Even just looking at what trade publishers are doing in your niche, in your genre, and going and really looking at ideas to take away. The buzzwords that people are using, the jargon, the latest things that are important to other people. If you’re too much in your own silo, you can miss out on things that could really help your business. So, I think it is worth at least one a year.

Joanna Penn: Yeah, for sure. Okay, so, what’s happening in May, because I’m going to New Zealand. It’s my husband’s 50th. He’s a kiwi, going to see family, so I’m away. What are you going to do in May?

Orna Ross: I’m going to do a totally scary thing; I’m going to this without you for the first time ever. I did think about trying to replace you, obviously impossible. So, I’m actually going to do a solo show and I’m going to answer the question that I never really get to answer, and that people are always asking me, how do you manage to write fiction, poetry, and nonfiction? How do you actually do it, with the switch? And what are the differences between those three macro genre that people need to be aware of, and all of that kind of thing.

So, that’s what I’m going to look at, being somebody who writes across genre, and the different challenges and how to integrate them, so that you don’t go completely crazy.

Joanna Penn: Or you do, but you have to keep figuring it out. No, that sounds fantastic, and that definitely is a challenge for people. I actually had an interview this morning and this guy was saying, oh, you do so many things, and I’m like, I can’t help it. A lot of us sometimes wish we could just focus on one thing, but we literally can’t because we have creative popcorn brains that do all this stuff.

So, yeah, that sounds fascinating. Then in June, we are going to get more into the AI for authors. We’ve done sessions on this before, but we feel like things have changed a lot and we’ll both have thought around this idea of AI and craft and artisanship, and all of this kind of thing, which we’re stumbling around at the moment trying to figure out what we think. But we will have figured it out by June.

So, anything else before we say goodbye?

Orna Ross: No, just that the member magazine is on the way to our members. Slightly delayed because of the London Book Fair, but you’ll have it before the end of April, and we’ll be sharing all the research from the indie author income survey and lots of other articles and things. So, keep an eye out on your inboxes for that.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic. Alright, happy writing.

Orna Ross: And happy publishing. Bye-bye.


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