Metrics of Mastery — Measuring Your Writing and Publishing Progress: Creative Self-Publishing Podcast with Orna Ross

Orna Ross, ALLi Director

In today’s episode of the Creative Self-Publishing podcast: Metrics of Mastery, Orna Ross delves deep into the nuanced world of measuring creative progress in both writing and publishing. With insights drawn from her own experiences and ALLi members, Orna offers four metrics that reflect genuine growth for an indie author – productivity, platform, profits, and personal satisfaction.

Learn how to set meaningful measures and celebrate every milestone. Plus, find out about the third edition of Orna’s book Creative Self-Publishing, out now, and her associated planning program.

The Creative Self-Publishing stream of the ALLi Podcast is sponsored by Orna Ross’s Creative Planning Program for Authors & Poets. If you’re feeling daunted by the enormity of your writing and publishing goals, or overwhelmed by your to-do list, or you’re just not sure what way forward is best, Orna can help with a proven planning process devised specially for writers. Check it out at

Find more author advice, tips, and tools at our self-publishing advice center. And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally.

Now, go write and publish!

Listen to the Podcast: Metrics of Mastery

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Show Notes

About the Host

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 democratizing, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website.

Read the Transcripts: Metrics of Mastery

Orna Ross: Hello, yes, it’s Orna back with you for the Creative Self-Publishing stream of the inspirations segment of the Self-Publishing Advice and Inspirations podcast.

We have been at work on our podcast, if you’ve been listening for the last few episodes, and you know that we have been sorting out different streams and things. Certain streams were already in progress and fit into our new way of doing things, and one of those is this one, the Creative Self-Publishing stream, where I talk about lots of different aspects of being a publisher as an indie author.

So, how we integrate all the advice and the tips and the tools and the techniques, and everything that is always coming at us, how we take, filter, and sort through all of that and create a profitable and pleasurable publishing enterprises for ourselves as authors, and enjoy ourselves as we go, because that is surely the whole point.

Today I’m going to be talking about what is core and central to achieving that, and that is the measures that we take and look at. So, I’ll be going into detail about that in a few moments.

First, just a few updates to tell you about the Self-Publishing Advice Conference, which is coming up on the 21st and 22nd October, weekend after next.

We’re all in busy conference mode here, and if you would like to take part, it’s a free event over three days. Our theme this time out is success mindset, so it’s very aligned with this show that we’re doing today here on the podcast as well. You can find out more at We’d love to have you there.

We’ve got lots of new and interesting things happening this year, not least our SelfPubConnect, which is a virtual chat room where we will be bringing you together with the speakers and the sponsors, and other advisors and the ALLi team.

So, you can have your questions answered, because one of the things we’re finding, and I spoke about this a little bit earlier on in the week with Joanna, one of the things that we’re finding as the self-publishing world matures is that it is more and more about us needing to meet you wherever you are. Everybody being in very different places, everybody doing lots of different things. The time when every indie did more or less the same thing, you know, passed around tips and tools, we all kind of tried out things and found ourselves in the same place; that’s over.

Every single labour market, if we want to call it that, the self-publishing sector is fragmenting, and people are breaking up and doing things their own way. That is actually fantastic from a creative perspective. I think it’s great for readers. I think it’s great for writers. It’s just harder for those people who want to give advice and keep people on the right track and out of the hands of scammers and spammers, and all the bad actors. It’s not as easy as it was, but nonetheless, it’s a challenge that we meet, and we meet by meeting ourselves where we are on our business development.

There’s a lot of talk in our world about being on a journey, and yes as writers and as publishers we have our writing journey and our publishing journey, that’s very personal, but we also are in business as publishers, that’s less personal and easier in some ways to define, and that’s what we’re going to be looking at today.

Key to all of that is having the right mindset, and that’s what we’re going to be focusing on at this year’s conference. So, I hope to meet some of you there. We’ll be talking lots about mindset, motivation, flow, how you stay in the right place, how you set yourself up for success mentally, emotionally, physically, and every other way. So, that’s the conference coming up.

Just a little bit also about my self-publishing planning program, which is also receiving an update. Everything’s being updated and upgraded at the moment. So, the third edition of Creative Self-Publishing is now out and available to buy on if you’re not a member of ALLi.

Of course, if you are a member of ALLi, that guidebook, like all our guidebooks, is available free to you in eBook edition in the member zone. Just to log in and navigate to publications and you’ll find it there.

One of the big things that happened in that upgrade of Creative Self-Publishing was a beefing out of the planning section, and that led to an update of the workbook, the associated workbook, and the monthly and quarterly planners. So, I’m in the middle of doing that right now, and I’m actually going to do something that a lot of you have been asking for.

Those of you who are involved in the planning program and around it have been asking me for spiral-bound planners, and that wasn’t something that was available before POD, and I’m not really interested or able to do big print runs with lots of books in the back room. I’m not interested in doing that at this point in time. It may be something I’ll do in a while, but I’m not at the moment.

So, we now have spiral-bound POD thanks to Book Vault. So, I am going to be using Book Vault for a Crowdfunder to create beautiful spiral-bound workbook, monthly planner quarterly planner for you. The Crowdfunder is up and running at

There will be lots of nice things going on over there; workshops I’m offering, and lots of different rewards, an accountability program, and all the things that support the planners because it’s not just stationary there is actually a whole program and that supports it. So, yeah, find out more.

It’s on pre-launch at the moment, and it goes live on the 1st of November. So, if you just go to, that will redirect you to the Kickstarter and you can click there and be notified when they are available and see if you’re interested in joining in.

So, let us move to the topic of today, which is metrics of mastery, measuring your writing and publishing progress.

As always, with Creative Self-Publishing, this is a more experiential sort of a podcast. It’s not just advice or chat. I will be asking you to do some free writing. I will be throwing out questions to you. So, have some pen and paper nearby.

If you have the creative planning workbooks already, the old edition, you’ll find this on page 24, because what we’re going to start off talking about is something that we should revisit every so often, periodically in our publishing business, and that is our definition of success. The reason to revisit it is that, that definition can change over time.

There are two aspects of success for a creative self-publisher, for an indie author. There’s your own personal definition, and then there are the signs that your writing and publishing enterprise is actually successful. So, your own personal definition is very much fired by your own mission and passion and sense of purpose, and why you’re a writer and why you are a self-publisher; why you’re doing these things, what you want to achieve with all of that. It’s very personal.

Then there are the signs of success which show that you are on the right track, and that’s what I’m going to be talking about. We’ve spoken about mission and passion and all of that before, and if you want to scroll back through the Creative Self-Publishing podcast, you will find all of that there in earlier episodes, but today we’re going to be looking at those metrics, those measurements that tell us that we’re on the right track.

So, there are four and they are, just to call them out first of all, productivity, platform, profits, and pleasure.

So, before we get into looking at those measures, I would like you, as I said, just to revisit, very briefly, your definition of success.

Is it lots of money? Some people are motivated by extrinsic rewards; big car, upscale kind of house, jewellery, whatever.

Or is it intrinsic? Other people are very much more motivated by things like independence, autonomy, their own personal growth. It might be a value like freedom. It might be the time and the money to live how you like, where you like, doing what you most love in life. It might be completely different, educating or inspiring others, or something else.

It’s as wide and as varied as we are. So, just stop the recording for a moment and grab some pen and paper if you don’t have it in front of you, or your planner, and just make a quick note. What does success look like for you?

Then also, where do you think this definition of success comes from? Why do these things spell success to you?

Again, if you just write down a few sentences. So, stop the recording and write these down. It’s much more meaningful than if you just listen to me asking the questions.

When it comes to the emotional things that can upset us as authors, when we look at other people and think, they’re doing really well, why aren’t I doing so well, and other people are talking about sales figures or having winning prizes, or having any kind of creative or commercial success, and we can feel bad about that. The old comparison-itis as it is called.

Having your own personal definition of success, that’s what sustains you. Another author’s way is not your way. You know that, but when another part of your mind, the critical mind, kicks in, then really, it’s a sign that you’re not in touch with your own definition of success.

The more you’re following your own true path, the less the doings of others will distract you, and actually the more your readers love it too.

Just getting your current personal definition of success down there in writing is an important place to start.

Now, let’s look at these more, what you might call outer measures of success, though one of them is in fact an inner measure, and we’ll come to that at the end.

But at the level of just measurement, first of all, there’s productivity.

When people talk about productivity, we often think about counting words, but it’s a little bit more complicated than that for the indie author. Yes, you’ve got writing productivity, which is words, drafted words, or edited, and that is really important.

There is a reason why we’re obsessed with words in the indie author community, because we know counting is actually a great way to increase our output, increase our productivity, and that’s why we’re seeing all sorts of crazy challenges in the indie author community. Write a book in a week, write a book in a day, I saw the other day.

These are all ways of pushing our productivity, and for some people that works and for other people, it’s an absolute no, it puts them off completely. So again, knowing yourself is important here.

If you’re the kind of person that likes to chase, if competition is one of your drivers, then the word counting in this way can work.

For other people, as I said, it just does not work, so you might just count the time that you put in and know that if you put in that time steadily, day by day, week by week, month by month, that at the end of it, you will have a book.

Of course, when we’re talking about word count, very often people are talking about that first draft, pushing it out, and then self-editing is also a vital part of your writing productivity and needs to be, again, you can count that in terms of words, or you can count it in terms of time. The important thing though is to measure it.

So, if you have said to yourself, I’m going to do 90-minutes every morning before I go to work, on my book, I’m just taking that as an example, then you measure that in some way. You have some kind of planner or tick box or something, you make a note of it at the end, whatever. Some kind of way in which you say to yourself, I succeeded there. Also, so that when you get up and you wander away and you find you’re down in the kitchen making a cup of coffee or whatever, you realize, oh, I’m actually supposed to be sitting down for that 90-minutes. I’m supposed to turn down my focus. I am supposed to not be over here writing an email or whatever.

Counting your productivity is core here. But of course, as indie authors, we don’t just have writing productivity. We also have publishing productivity.

So, the number of books that you have published is a good indicator, is one of our measures as to whether you are a good publisher.

So, one book never gets us anywhere very far. It may be a miracle book and it might do something extraordinary, but chances are, no, you’re going to need to do more than one book. You’re going to need to do three before you see a real movement in your publishing business, general speaker. Number five is where publishing businesses generally take off, indie author businesses, and that was very much reinforced when we did our research earlier on this year into indie author income.

So, counting our publishing productivity is also important. Putting in deadlines for finishing books and getting them up there, getting them out there, doing what we need, getting the help we need and the support we need. Every single one of us has aspects of the publishing that we do well and aspects that we don’t do well. So, finding ways in which we can support ourselves on the things that are more challenging for us is really important.

That’s a podcast for another day. So, that’s productivity measure number one.

Our second measure of our publishing success, our indie author success is platform. That’s your readership, your influence, your impact in your genre. That’s expressed, again, we count, we measure, we’re not just talking about it as an issue, we’re actually measuring it.

What we measure is reach and engagement. So first of all, reach, the number of readers we have, that will be book sales, and the number of patrons we might have, or subscribers to our patron program, or to our membership, or our Substack, or whatever it might be. That’s our reach. Just numbers. How many people are following, how many people are reading along.

But much more important, particularly if you’re an engagement-style publisher, and I’ve spoken before about the three kinds of publisher, there’s a craft publisher who’s very much focused on the product, there’s the volume publisher who’s very much focused on productivity and doing loads and loads of books, and then there’s the engagement publisher who is much more about customizing what they do to their readers and their audience.

Engagement is vital for the engagement publisher, obviously, but for us all. What sort of engagement measure are you going to put in place?

Now, if you are an engagement publisher, your social media is likely to be very important to you. So, it could be the number of messages you get, direct messages or comments, or shares or whatever. But there are lots of different ways of measuring engagement. It could be email. If you’re a direct-sales person, it could be emails. But you need to know what your measure is. How are you measuring your platform in terms of reach and engagement?

So, when you take an action, when you do some kind of marketing, you can actually see what sort of effect it had on your reach and your engagement. So, that’s productivity number one, platform number two.

Number three, and this is one that is often neglected by a segment of our community, and that is profit, your financial rewards.

That’s expressed again, we measure it as your business profit. So, I’m not talking about the income, but the amount of money your business actually gets to keep, and then your personal income, the amount of money that gets paid over to you.

In the planning program, we have a whole section on paying yourself first and actually getting to understand that it’s the money that comes across to you that is your most important measure of how you are doing commercially as a publisher.

Sometimes indies shy away from this, and they don’t want to think and talk about money. Again, this is about, if that is your challenge, you need help and support to bring you to having those kinds of conversations with money.

One of the things in the creative planning program that I do, it’s very much about investing money with meaning.

So, it’s not just a cold measure in that way, but it is very much baked into what you are achieving at the creative level in your writing and in your platform, in your reach, in your engagement. That profit is a measure of that and a way of understanding that, and a way of improving your relationship with money so that you can actually grow and expand.

We’ll be talking about some of these things actually at the Self-Publishing Advice Conference the weekend after next.

So, if this is a challenge for you, then you begin by recognizing, this as a challenge for me.

Another thing that I’m seeing a lot in the indie community around profit is that what look like very successful businesses are not always profitable at all. So, the writer is spending so much money on advertising, so the sales are good and they’re up there at the top of Amazon or wherever, selling very well direct, or have good Crowdfunders now, it’s moving into the crowdfunding as well, but it’s a vanity metric. It looks good on paper, but actually the profit isn’t there, the business isn’t healthy.

I was speaking actually to a business coach, a publishing business coach during the week, and he was telling me that he actually lost clients when he made their business more profitable because they weren’t appearing on the bestseller lists in the way that they have been. They were actually taking home more money, their publishing business was more successful by that measure, it was more sustainable, but they actually preferred being out there with lots of sales was more important to them.

Very often in the indie community, it’s bank before rank, or in this case, rank before bank, but that’s how it’s expressed.

For you, as an indie author who wants to be a better publisher, profit is a key measure and that’s what we’re emphasizing here. So, productivity one, platform two, profit three.

Then number four, I consider it to be the most important measure, and that is, I call it pleasure, to make it four Ps.

So, pleasure, your personal satisfaction in the work that you’re doing, and I think that can be measured. One of the ways we measure it in our planning program is that we just turn around and look inside and do a reading from one to ten.

So, do that now. If you actually quiet down and stop thinking for a moment, and just take a breath and hold the breath, and let yourself settle, and then ask yourself, on a reading from one to ten, based on internal observation of how you’re feeling. One will be, don’t feel good at all. Ten would be, I feel fantastic, I really love my publishing business, my writing business, everything is integrated, working really well, I’m in super flow. That’s ten.

One is, this is not working at all, I’m not selling anything, nobody’s reading me, I haven’t finished my book, I’m blocked, and I can’t move forward either with the writing; I’ve got a writing block, or I’ve got a publishing block. That’s one.

We call it the creative happiness quotient. One to ten. So, just taking that measure and seeing where you are. That’s a really important measure for you, and if things aren’t right, if you’re not feeling good, then it’s important to acknowledge that and not just avoid it and keep on doing what you’ve always been doing or keep on doing what somebody else has said is the right thing to do, but stopping and engaging with some of these other measures that I’ve been talking about.

When we look inside and when we explore what we’re about in that way, one of the things we find pretty quickly is that there’s more than one of us in there. So, different parts of us can feel quite different, and I think it’s important to distinguish between writer you and publisher you in this way, when we’re thinking about our measures.

So, I’d just like to read you a paragraph from Creative Self-Publishing specifically about that, and the differences between them so that you can see which part of you is driving which aspect.

When you get that clarity, it can really help when it comes to these, what I call these four outer practical kinds of measures.

So, writer you thinks you write for everybody, but publisher you must choose a genre and a category for your book. Writer you needs to go into the creative cave to focus, but publisher you is curious about other authors in your genre. Writer you might not like marketing, but publisher you knows it’s non-negotiable, has to be done, part of the job.

Writer you is a perfectionist. Publisher you knows the work doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be good enough. Good enough at writing to please your readers, and good enough at publishing to persuade enough of them to buy. Good enough at business to give yourself and your writing and your publishing team a fair return.

Writer you might be content to throw the work out into the marketplace and see what sticks, but Publisher you knows just how valuable reader attention is and wants to forge that connection. Success for an indie author is integrating the writer and the publisher in ways that feed and nourish them both.

To that end, I think those four measures, productivity, platform, profits, and pleasure, are the measures that apply to every author.

Your definition of success, that we started with at the beginning of the show, that’s very personal. But these four measures, productivity, platform, profits, and pleasure, these apply to everybody. These are universal across all the authors. So, I hope they’re useful to you.

If you want to know more, if you want to get stuck into this whole planning system, take a look at Just click on the yes, I want to be notified and more will come your way very soon.

Thanks for listening and I hope you have a great two weeks. I’ll be back in two weeks with Melissa Addey. We’re going to be talking about ALLi and how ALLi is able to solve some of the problems that you might be meeting on your publishing pathway, and also some of the campaigns that we’re currently very involved in and how they are working for you and how you might want to get involved.

But until then, happy writing and happy publishing. Bye.


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