In this month’s Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast ALLi Director Orna Ross and Enterprise Adviser Joanna Penn talk about the importance of creative rest for indie authors and how it is a core part of the writing and publishing process. They share advice on different ways to give yourself a break while and lessons learned from their own recent downtimes.
The Advanced Self-Publishing salon is brought to you by Specialist Sponsor IngramSpark. IngramSpark is the award-winning indie publishing platform that offers authors like you a way to publish your book and share it with over 39,000 bookstores and libraries worldwide.
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. You can do that at allianceindependentauthors.org.
Now, go write and publish!
Listen to the Podcast: Creative Rest
Don’t Miss an #AskALLi Broadcast
Subscribe to our Ask ALLi podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Overcast, Pocket Casts, Spotify or via our RSS feed:
Watch the Video: Creative Rest
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: http://www.ornaross.com
Read the Transcripts: Creative Rest
Joanna Penn: Hello everyone, and welcome to the Alliance of Independent Authors Advanced Self-Publishing Salon with me, Joanna Pen, and Orna Ross. Hi, Orna.
Orna Ross: Hi Jo, and hello everyone.
Joanna Penn: Yes, we are back!
Orna Ross: Good to be back.
Joanna Penn: We are back, and this is going to be a more personal episode. We are talking about stepping back to step forwards. So, we will be getting into that topic in a minute.
But before we do, Orna, is there any news from ALLi that everyone should know?
Orna Ross: Well, yes. I mean, this is the time of year where we begin to ramp back up again, and we have some events coming up. So, our big annual, online, 24-hour extravaganza, SelfPubCon, is happening at the end of October, last weekend of October. So, we’re in big prep mode for that, and if anybody would like to sign up and register for the three free days, that’s at selfpublishingadviceconference.com.
We also have an exciting live event, an actual physical event, the first since Covid with Amazon KDP. So, it’s going to be London based, this one, and it’s on the 13th of October. Again, free to register, but all the information will be going out in our regular member email tomorrow about how to register for that. It’s first come, first served. It’ll be a limited number of places, but we hope that we get as many members as possible into that room, and lots of opportunity for talking to the Amazon team and finding out more. It will be a session that’s geared towards those who are, kind of, beyond the basics on KDP. So, it’s not about setting up your book or anything like that, but much more about how to reach more readers and drive more sales on the platform.
Then the other thing I suppose is this podcast. Here we are having our live session, we have done a bit of an upgrade on the podcast so that we are now twice weekly. We have advice sessions on Fridays, inspirations on Sundays, and then a few of the advice sessions, like this one, also go out in video on our YouTube channel, and Twitter, and Facebook. So yeah, we’ve added some new sessions on Sunday, where I’m going to be talking about creative self-publishing, more from a profitable-publishing perspective. So, we put out a lot of education, as everybody knows, at ALLi, but this is more about tying it all together so that people can see some kind of return on investment. And we’ve new presenters, Melissa Addey has joined us and she’s part of the team now. Dan Parsons joined us a little while ago, so yeah, there’s lots happening, and we would encourage people who like listening to podcasts to subscribe on-
Joanna Penn: Whatever player.
Orna Ross: Yeah, whatever player you love. Exactly.
Why would an indie author decide to step away from their author business?
Joanna Penn: Fantastic. Well, let’s get into the topic for today, which is stepping back to step forwards. We have both had a few months away, and we are going to talk about why we needed to step away and why you might consider doing this for yourselves.
This is the advanced salon and look, let’s face it. Also, we don’t want to have any shame around taking time out, or even stopping writing for a while. People step away for sometimes years at a time, they come back. So, what we want to do is really talk about why we needed some time away, and also how to do it because, let’s face it, we’re all so busy. And then how we are stepping forward having reflected on that.
So, let’s start Orna by talking about why did you, because we’re going to get a bit personal in this episode, why did you need to step away a few months back?
Orna Ross: Yeah, so just defining what I mean. So, stepping away can mean so many different things. You can step away completely, and just shut everything down, and go off onto a desert island and, you know, just only write. Or it can be more, sort of, just creating some space. And for me, it was more that. It wasn’t that I needed to completely wrap up and go, I am here in a hotel room at the end of creative writing getaway, but that’s not really the nature of what I was doing here over this past time.
So, we stopped the podcast for a while. We wanted to get some feedback from people on the podcast, but also it was that sort of, every week-ness of it. We knew there were some changes that we needed to do, and I just needed the time to process exactly what was going on and look forward to decide how we wanted that upgrade to look and to feel, and so on.
So, I tend to think more in terms of creative rest, and creative rest being built in and being very much part of our process, rather than being forced to take time out through burnout, you know, to actually planning for creative rest regularly every day, as well as in the week, the month, the quarter, or whatever.
So, for me, it was a few months back, just after our tenure celebrations, my plan was that I was going to, we’ve a very good team set up in ALLi now, and it was time for me to return to my fiction and begin to go more deeply into that and to create time and space for that in my schedule. But it didn’t prove easy, and that’s really why I needed to step away, because I needed to create a scenario whereby the habit energies that were built up over 10 years of dealing with constant emails, and behaving in certain ways, and how I would time my day, and all of those kinds of things, I needed to really reflect on that and make sure that I was using my time in the most effective way possible. So, that was really why I stepped back.
Do you want to talk about why you stepped back?
Joanna Penn: Well, first of all you mentioned a few things there, you know, constant emails, and someone actually put in an email back to me recently about how I’d used the word grind.
Yeah, and I was like, Ooh.
But I want us to bring that up, because you mentioned there constant emails, and let’s face it, one, we all do have to email as part of the job of being an author. And in fact, one of the things that if you are a new author, you should be building up your email list, so we’re encouraging you to do this.
But there’s also, like you said about this podcast, you and I, we are really good friends and we’ve been doing this for years, and yet we both said, do we need to carry on this show, between you and I? Just to be honest to everyone listening, we were like, has this turned into something that we need to not do anymore?
And also, I think you mentioned, when writing feels like a chore you know there’s something wrong. And when a podcast feels like a chore, we need to question what’s going on because, actually, our voices and our visual self portray a certain energy and people can pick up on that. So, if you are feeling that things are a grind, then seriously, we need to be having a look at it.
So, I had already planned my pilgrimage. So, I’ve just got back from the Camino de Santiago. I walked the Portuguese coastal route. So, two weeks, 300 kilometres, carrying my backpack. So, I had that in the calendar. That was a life goal. It’s been something I’ve had planned, well, not planned, I had wanted to do for decades, and then when I was really sick with covid and could barely walk to the toilet, I was like, I need to do that walk to prove something to myself. So, I had planned this, but also it kind of coincided with 11 years full time, you know, feeling just burned out by a lot of different things.
And so, for me, it was, I needed the space to really think about what I wanted to do, and in order to do the trip away, we’ll talk about the planning in a minute, but I almost cleared the decks beforehand. So, we stopped this podcast in June, I think it was, and so I didn’t walk until September. So, we had some time to really think about it.
And also, just to say, time out doesn’t need to be a holiday, and walking this pilgrimage was certainly not a holiday. It was really, really hard. But it’s almost like, you mentioned creative rest, I wouldn’t use the word rest either for a pilgrimage, but I didn’t do anything. I’d hardly even read. I haven’t listened to a podcast in months. I haven’t been inputting, I guess that’s the word.
Orna Ross: Yes, and I do think that technically that is creative rest, because it’s really about rest for the mind, not the body, and I think that’s the thing that can happen if you are, like I was, you know, in the habit of working within a job.
I was able to manage short form. So, writing poetry and non-fiction, longer form, but when it came to combining ALLi longer non-fiction, long form, and fiction, long form, it broke. It was just too much. It didn’t fit, it didn’t work, and I constantly felt like I wasn’t really doing any of them very well. So, that was what kind of led me to realize.
But it wasn’t a holiday for me either. I did have a holiday, but that was completely separate, that was just going away with my family. For me, it was more about just clearing the decks within my day’s work so that I got that space. So again, it’s the enough time and space in the schedule to go deep, because fiction requires me to do that in a different way to either poetry or non-fiction.
And to have time to get into creative flow, I suppose, which is about quieting the mind and moving into a whole other world of fictional made-up people who are leading me, and I’m kind of there opening up to it. So, there was no point in me taking a month off to finish a novel and crashing it for those weeks, and then coming back and being in the same situation. What I needed to do was set up new habits, new ways of approaching my day, new ways of approaching my week, new ways of approaching my month. And I was in planning that out quite carefully that, yeah, I found the space and I found the freedom to actually do it. So, I don’t think it’s quite fully refined yet, but I’m happy to just keep going with it now. I don’t feel the need to clear the decks and, you know, we are back to events and all that kind of stuff.
What are the signs that you might need to take a break from your author business?
Joanna Penn: Yeah, and I feel like it’s stepping out of the data stream, or getting off the conveyor belt, or when I talked with you about it, it’s like jumping out of the river of everything that carries on all the time, because what it can often feel like in, not just our author lives, in life in general, it’s like these are the things that happen, that have to happen, and we are just moving, and moving, and moving, and everything carries us forward. And it’s like, we need that time to jump out on the bank of the river.
For me, really, I consume so much content normally, and it revs my brain up to this sort of high pace. And I am, one of my strengths, Clifton strengths, is input, and I need input in order to write, in order to podcast. So, I need all of that, but at some point, it’s like an engine. It needs some rest, complete rest.
And I almost feel like, now I’m back, I’ve jumped back in the river, I’ve jumped back in the data stream. But also, it’s given me more perspective. As in, before I stopped and had a break, everything seems so important all the time, everything feels urgent, everything feels like we have to do it and do it now, or we’re going to miss out. And when you go away and you take a step back, it can really help you get perspective over what actually is important.
Like for me, one of the things that happened, obviously I was walking, but the Queen died, and regardless of anyone’s feelings about the Queen, what was interesting was seeing the pictures of her as a young woman, as a middle-aged woman, as an old woman, of seeing what she’s achieved and seeing the historical things that happened while she was alive.
It just makes you think, this river of life, it keeps moving, and that’s all of us, and you have to get some perspective, like, what do you want to do? So, as we are talking, people listening, think about your own life and that stream and whether you need to jump out occasionally.
Orna Ross: Absolutely, because the work that we do as writers requires us to go deep, and if there’s too much input or just too much business, too much activity, too much front mind, then we’re not doing our best work. It really is that simple. I mean, half an hour in creative flow can produce better, more important, more resonant work, than half a week where you’re in the grind, as you described it.
There is incredible power in flow and being in flow. It’s a state, it’s a condition that you have to get yourself into. You have to consciously go there so that the unconscious and sub-conscious, that’s the kind of mystery of it, and it’s actually impossible to be there if you are, and I think just like we said earlier, a good indication of whether you are in need of some creative rest, or to take a break, is things have started to feel like a chore. And I think the other one is, everything starts to feel equally important, you know, what you just said there. So, it’s another good indicator because the thing is, often when you most need a break is when you least feel like taking one.
Joanna Penn: Because you’re too busy, too busy to take a break.
Orna Ross: “Too busy,” the indie authors cry. Always. So, yeah, you’re too busy. So, we need these indicators where we can actually step back and look at our behaviours, as opposed to what our mind is telling us we should be doing.
Another one, another great indicator is if life is full of shoulds instead of I want to’s.
How can an indie author take time away from their author business?
Joanna Penn: Yeah, we’ll come back to that one in a minute.
You said there, we are all so busy, there’s so much to do, not just with the author life, but with the rest of life. So, how do we actually take time off? How do we make a space for it? How have you managed to get this space? Is it literally just what we did, which was, let’s just stop, turn off the podcast for a couple of months? Or in my case, with The Creative Penn, I’ve not missed a week for years, and I had three weeks where I didn’t podcast, and that was huge for me, huge.
Orna Ross: Sure. Absolutely. But yeah, I do think planning it is the way to do it, and this whole idea of, if you break your year down into quarters or whatever, making sure that in each quarter there is space for creative rest. Also planning it in your day, your week, and so on.
I didn’t, you know, I had to plan to stop as well. If you don’t plan, the fact is that life will come along and do it for you, because you’ll get sick, you’ll burn out, you’ll just cease being able to produce. So, it’s much, much better. I mean, I see a lot of authors in the indie community who do reach that burnout place and have to stop. It’s far, far better for you to take control and build that rest in.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, and I think in terms of, well, obviously I had a journey, and I had to fly, and there was accommodation, and I’ve been training physically, I’ve put in a lot of hours of physical training to do the walk. So, there was that planning. But then in terms of the work, like I said, I essentially exchanged income as well. That’s another thing that, you know, since this is the advanced salon, for me to turn off my business for three weeks, this is why I haven’t done it before. Like, I usually even work most weekends. I rarely will leave the business for as long as I just did. Now, I had my phone, and I checked my email once a day, and I posted on Instagram and Twitter some photos once a day, but I was pretty blooming good about not doing anything. I also, as I said, paused the podcast. Alexandra, my wonderful assistant, dealt with anything that I couldn’t deal with, and I had an autoresponder that I put everywhere. You are allowed to do that, and I’m saying that for my benefit and for everyone listening. If you feel like, but I can’t do that, you have to at some point. And now, what’s so crazy is, I feel like why haven’t I done as long a break before?
People said they missed the podcast, but then maybe that’s great, and maybe this show too. If you go away for a few weeks, then people appreciate it in the same way that, by taking time off, I appreciated what I have.
So yeah, how do people frame that? How can they frame the loss of income? For example, the people who are writing a book a month, if they don’t write a book that month, they lose that book, or you lose a month of writing, or whatever it is. So, how can people make that decision?
Orna Ross: I think we have to realize; it goes back to what we were saying earlier about the power of your own creative responses and abilities and capacities, and how they are nurtured and fed by the rest. So, you have to kind of switch off that panicking money-mind that’s saying, I’m going to lose month’s income, and realize that by taking that month, as an example, that you are actually going to produce a better book next time, or you’re going to be able to produce more, or you would have stopped writing anyway. You have to understand that that’s the thing.
I think the second thing is we should set ourselves up as soon as possible to be able to take this time. You mentioned Alexandra, I mean, team is absolutely essential. I couldn’t take a break for a minute; I wouldn’t be able to go to sleep at night if it wasn’t for the team. You know, building a team that can help you to actually deliver more ROI is the way we need to start thinking about our businesses. So, if you go into it where you think you have to do everything and you bootstrap completely, and everything is all down to you, and you are still doing that some years, yes, at the very beginning, but if you’re still doing that some years later and waiting for the day when you’re going to be able to take a proper rest, or you’re going to be able to build up a team, that’s not how it works. You kind of have to take the reins and take the initiative and make it happen for yourself, and then you get the rewards of that. So, that can be scary. That can be difficult and challenging. There’s no doubt about it, but just grinding on is definitely not the optimal way to approach it.
Joanna Penn: Also, I feel like there’s never a perfect time to do anything, and the reason, I mean, I have literally thought about walking the Camino de Santiago since my late teens. So, 30 years pretty much and yet I haven’t done it, and the reason I haven’t done it, even before I was an author, is because there was never the right time.
So, it was like one day, one day, one day, and don’t they say that, in the regrets of the dying, it’s the thing that I said I wanted to do that I didn’t do. So, I’m just really glad that I got over that, but it took Covid flooring me to finally do this.
And I mean maybe for people, like you didn’t go and achieve a life goal during our break, but you took. So, what we’re saying to people listening is, it doesn’t have to be a massive thing, like what I did, it can just be step back, as you did, but you have to put these things in. Now, as you said, I’m really encouraged to start putting more time in. So, like you’ve said to me years ago now, “you’re not very good in December, Jo”. And I was like, “You are right.” So, now I try and be really good about scheduling some time out in December, but then January hits and I’m all guns blazing.
But it’s this, as you said, putting it in per quarter. And of course, as this goes out, we’re moving into the final quarter of the year. So practically, if people want to do something this quarter, what should they do, or what could they do? No shoulds around here.
Orna Ross: Yeah, no shoulds.
Well, I would recommend, first of all, when I started planning, you know, seriously planning my time, I found great liberation in that. And I’m not saying it’s for everybody, but certainly it was for me, and as I got busier, it became more and more essential. But the different thing about the way in which I did my planning was I actually plan for creative rest.
So, in my planner there is actually a time set aside for creative rest on a daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis. So, obviously daily it can be just very short. On a weekly basis it might be a meditation session, or something like that. On a monthly basis it might be a weekend away. On a quarterly basis it might be something longer, some kind of retreat or something.
It doesn’t actually matter what it is. You’re the best judge of what you need, and if you actually listen to yourself, the other part of yourself will be delighted to tell you what it needs. The important thing is to schedule it in and then of course to do it, not just to write it down.
And it can be incredibly challenging, I think that’s the most important thing to realize. Creative play is the same, but that’s a discussion for another day, but yeah, we’re definitely not going to go there on this one. But your busy mind will resist it, I think that’s the important thing to realize, and you need to get over that hump in order to go there.
And even when you’re there, you can find yourself checking your phone, and there are a thousand ways in which you can distract yourself from rest. It is a challenge, but it is necessary. So, yeah, for me, it’s all about planning it in and factoring it in.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, and like our writing sessions, planning in and then turning up for it.
Also maybe getting out the house, I think is another thing. I find this office where I’m recording this, I’m in my work office, you are in a hotel, but you are still working in that hotel, but I find that if I’m away from this room, I can get away from a certain headset. I can’t relax in this room. It’s impossible, and this is one of the issues of working from home.
My husband Jonathan took a job in the pandemic, and he works upstairs, and it’s very hard to move to working from home in a corporate job, and if you’re also trying to write at home, and you’ve got family, and whatever people are facing.
So, if you can, then I would say get out of the house, would be another tip. I don’t know, can you ever relax in your house?
Orna Ross: Well, we actually moved work out. So, Phillip is the co-director of ALLi, we work together on that, and obviously then I have my writing as well. So, we actually have three spaces now. One for ALLi, one for Orna Ross, where she does her writing, and then home where the rest happens, and that has been fantastic for us. Yes, and that was after 10 years, after a decade. So, I didn’t think of that move in terms of create rest, but now I can actually see it when we leave work, we leave it behind us, and go home and it’s a switch off, and there’s a work between those two places. Whereas, before it was a separate part of our house, but it was still in the house.
Joanna Penn: In house.
Orna Ross: Yeah, it was completely different.
Joanna Penn: Obviously, everyone has to do what they can do, but even, I find just going to a coffee shop, or some people go to the library, or whatever it is, it doesn’t have to be a separate office or whatever, but yeah. Okay.
So, that’s a kind of roundup of what we did and how you might do it, in terms of listening. So, that’s our step back.
How can you step forward after taking a break from your author business?
So, let’s now talk about stepping forward, because part of the reason to take a slightly longer thing, there’s creative rest, which is almost like the restoration and just keeping you at the ability of where you are, but taking a slightly longer period perhaps and taking a step out almost enables us to think more strategically. And because that daily grind, the daily email, the social media, all the streams can make us just enmeshed in the minutia of the writing, but also the author business stuff. So, sometimes we need to step out to think about it.
So, well, do you want to start? So, what’s the big thing that you decided on your timeout?
Orna Ross: So, it wasn’t even so much that I made a big decision, it was just that I made big shifts, and I consciously changed my practices. So, I used to give myself two 90-minute sessions, that was my writing time for the day, in the morning, generally speaking. I’ve shifted so that I’m actually dividing up and giving some days to the busy work, and other complete days to the creative work so that I can go deeper, because fiction requires me to do that. It worked fine when it was poetry, but it didn’t work for fiction. So, that’s one very practical change.
In terms of the actual writing sessions themselves as well, I just have more time around them. So, just more time for meditation and, not even meditation, but just not thinking and allowing, and back reconnecting with some practices that I let slide, particularly doing a lot more free writing, a lot more writing by hand, than I had been doing.
So, for me, it was more about redefining myself as well, just how I see myself, reminding myself, I am a poet, I am a novelist, it’s not just the day job, which is ALLi, that they’re just strengthening that sense, I suppose. So, it wasn’t so much about doing things in the way that you did. Talk to us a little bit about walking the Camino, everyone says that’s life changing, right?
Joanna Penn: Yeah, I know, this is the funny thing. I would walk next to someone whose partner had died and they were processing grief, or someone who wanted to quit their job and become a writer. Literally, I met so many people like that, or people trying to change their life, and I think what gratifying was is that I overwhelmingly woke up every day going, I don’t need to change my life, and that was actually really good. I’m happy, I’m grateful for what I’ve built, I’m grateful for the books that I’ve written, I’m grateful for the community, for the readers, for my friendships with you and others. And it felt like just stepping away.
Obviously, there’s always niggly things that are annoying, there’s always part of a job that is not amazing. Whatever job you do, in fact, in life, or with a partner, it’s never going to be a hundred percent. But the thing is, getting that perspective around, what is the work we want to do with our life? And I’m not saying I’m committing for the rest of it, but there were points in the last year when I’ve thought, maybe I should just get a job and write for the love of it and forget the business. I don’t even think I’ve admitted that out loud before, but it’s like, wouldn’t that be easier? Because I see with Jonathan, he finishes his job at whatever it is, half past five, six o’clock, and then he’s done. There’s no being on social media, there’s no worrying about whether we’ve hit some list, or getting up in the algorithm, or all this stuff.
But anyway, the point is that I went away, and I thought, actually, I don’t need to change my life. Hooray! So, I’m doubling down on what I am best at.
I think the other thing is, you and I have been doing this a long time, you’ve been doing it a decade and I started about four years before you, and it’s like, are we still being useful to the community as us in this guise? Fiction and poetry and everything is separate, but in this way, are we still useful? Do we still provide a valuable voice when there are so many voices now in the community? So, I came back and I’m doing a survey to my audience to see what are the things that I can offer and that I can be useful around, and I want to do that.
Also with my work, I want to come back on something you said earlier. You said, more important work, which is a really interesting phrase, because I also felt that I want to write…important is a difficult word, but I want to write books that I feel touch people in a deeper way.
So, while behind me, I’ve got How to Market a Book or whatever, yay, but I want to write more important books, and that’s a really big topic. And again, no judgment to whatever we’re writing, they can be fun, it can be crazy, it can be whatever. But what did you mean by doing more important work or writing more important books?
Orna Ross: Well, I think important is one word, or we could use the word expansive or whatever. As you go on in this work, you can’t stay in the same place. You either grow or you’re pulling back, you know, permanently, you’re going in the other direction or you’re dropping your finishing, and that happens too. Not writing is possible, it is possible to live a life and not have to write, never mind publish. But if we stay here, and if this is what we do, and like you, I’m completely committed to this work and all aspects of it. I don’t want to drop ALLi, for example, I don’t want to drop poetry just because I am writing fiction again. We want it all, and we have to find ways to do that. But we will keep expanding. We will keep deepening and what we do, it’s just inevitable. Otherwise, you’re not engaging creatively. So, to be a creative means to be expanding, growing, and growing in whatever direction we feel that is.
So, for you, obviously at the moment, it’s this sense that you want to engage and write a slightly different kind of book, and that sounds like a writing craft development thing that has come out of your step back. And it’s really important that we honour those impulses in ourselves, I think, because you do see creatives of all kinds, writers included, who get to a certain point, and then after that point they just keep repeating the same old, same old, same old, and they do lose readers and they do lose impact and influence. And if we want to keep growing those things, then we have to follow those impulses that say, Yeah, do something more important, do something deeper, do something higher, do something, you know? It’s good.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, and just to bring up Hilary Mantel who died in the last week as we record this, and again, a terrible loss at, I think she was 70, but she’s been ill for a very long time. But her creative body of work is an inspiration to someone like me, and you, who write all over the shop, because Hilary Mantel wrote all over the shop. She’s most known for being a historical novelist towards the end there, the Tudor books, Wolf Hall, and the award winners, but she wrote short stories, she wrote travel writing, she wrote loads of different kinds of fiction, as well. She wrote essays. She was scathing sometimes in some of her speeches, and she wrote through sickness, and in reflecting on her, I thought, and also, she didn’t make much money for many years as a writer.
And then she hit some zeitgeist, I mean, you can write an amazing book like Wolf Hall and not win the Booker, but she hit something there and had incredible commercial success as well as critical success. But I feel like as a discovery writer, as a multi-passionate creative, as we are, looking at other people’s careers and saying, look, you might not know where things are going to go, but if your muse is pushing you towards a certain area, then yeah.
And I guess that’s the other thing, I feel like I have to take a risk. My next book, which will be a pilgrimage book, will be /travel memoir/self-helpy/spiritual, and I’m secular as well, so it’s not even a Christian book. It’s got a market that’s tiny, it’s like a teaspoon-sized market, but who knows? It might be a book that helps me then write something else.
Orna Ross: Or against all expectations it might be your breakout book. I remember Ken Follett talking about his cathedral, Pillars of the Earth. Every agent told him, no, sorry, publishers are not going to go near it. Nobody wanted it, but he did it for the love of it, and it broke into a completely new level of readers who loved it.
Joanna Penn: Well, and actually you say that I think that I was inspired to do the Camino because of Paulo Coelho’s book, Pilgrimage, like 30 years ago. So, who knows?
And I feel like this is what we have to think. So, people listening, we just don’t know. Our books don’t lose value the week after publication. In fact, the ridiculous books that we don’t know where they’re going to fit in the market are the ones that might have some more longevity than the sort of, like, my How to Market a Book, whichever side it is, I either have to rewrite that because it’s four years old now, or I have to let it go.
Okay, so we are chatting away here, but we did have a couple of smaller things that we thought would be more interesting also to share.
So, what’s a smaller thing, or a more businessy, strategic thing that you have thought?
Orna Ross: One of the things that became obvious as I stepped back and looked at everything was that there’s an awful lot to be done, and one of the things that was happening to me was that when I was doing these longer fiction sessions, that when I came to doing social, and newsletters, and stuff like that, it was difficult to actually turn around and do the words.
So, I’m going to use audio a lot more to get the words out and say the things. So, that was, for example, why I decided to do the Creative Self-Publishing podcast rather than the original plan was that I was going to do a blog post each month. So, I decided, no, let’s talk it through and then we can use the transcript to kind of base the ideas or whatever on.
Also, thinking about using audio more to communicate with people, with readers and with patrons, and things like that, in terms of just quick messaging, it’s so much easier to just send a quick audio than it is to sit and shape the words.
So yeah, that’s just a tiny, small thing. I’ll let you know how it all goes.
Joanna Penn: But you also already use dictation for your email, don’t you?
Orna Ross: Yes, I do. I use dictation for email, but then I go back and I edit it, you know what we’re like. So, yeah, if you just said it, if you just sent an audio message, then the editing bit doesn’t necessarily need to happen, or maybe it does, it depends on how the audio goes, I guess.
Joanna Penn: Well, just on that, loads of people are like, Oh, but if I use audio I have to pay for transcripts, and yeah, still the gold standard is human transcript, but there’s Trint, there’s Otter, there’s Descript, and OpenAI just came out with Whisper, which everyone’s going to build on, and it’s meant to be the new, it only came out in the last few days, it’s their latest product, it’s basically AI transcription. So, the cost of transcription is just dropping, and dropping, and dropping.
We used to use things like Dragon, but I’ve been dictating just into Gmail and sending it to myself for book words as well, because the Google email AI transcription is really, really good.
Orna Ross: I do that on my phone too, into Evernote. So yeah, there are lots and lots of ways to use audio, I think, to just get more done.
Also, just the naturalness of your voice sometimes is really good, particularly with reader communications rather than the highly scripted stuff.
Joanna Penn: I think that’s great, that’s a more practical tip.
Mine is something I’m not going to do. So, hilariously, and I’ve said this for ages, I’m not going to do TikTok. Then hilariously, before I went, we were talking about this, and several other people, and we all know that it’s all over the place, it’s the number one thing in book marketing right now is TikTok, and some authors, Colleen Hoover, and not just Colleen but lots of other people, are doing really, really well with TikTok. And I was feeling like, I’ll do it, I’m going to have to do it because it seems like the thing I have to do.
So, I downloaded the app and I started looking at it, and the wonderful James Blatch has a whole thing on it, and I watched some of his things, and I looked at Colleen Hoover’s TikTok, and while I was away, I thought about it again, and I was like, I hate it. I hate it, hate it, hate it! I hate looking at it. I’m like, this algorithm is like the worst of Facebook on steroids. I just can’t get why the things that are popular, are popular. It’s just not me. Plus, I don’t want to do video, literally, I don’t want to do video. I do video with you and I barely do it anywhere else.
So, I was able, with a step back, to hear myself think about this and go, no, my content is long form. It’s personal. It’s words and audio and pictures. Like, on Instagram, I like putting pictures on Instagram. It’s evergreen as much as possible, rather than the ephemeral. And also, I think just getting away from what I don’t want to do, like tapping into that feeling. Why do I want to step towards something I don’t want to do, even if it might sell some more books? And it probably wouldn’t for me because I wouldn’t be able to do it properly or whatever.
So, what’s your feeling, because you were also flirting with TikTok?
Orna Ross: Yes, somebody had convinced me and said they would do it for me and I should be there, and all the rest of it, and then I, again, in the step back, looked at everything and decided, I don’t need another social media. I need to do the ones I’m doing already, better.
Secondly, it’s not my market, and I think that’s the most important thing to realize. There may be a way, but the kind of publisher that I am, and the kind of writer that I am, I just cannot see how it translates. So, I dropped it all. It was about five minutes in, five minutes out. I didn’t consider it seriously, but I think it’s really important to match your social media with your actual readers and make sure that, just because something is working really well for somebody else, does not mean it’s going to work for you.
Joanna Penn: With your readers, but also your preferred way of doing stuff.
Orna Ross: Absolutely.
Joanna Penn: So yes, we have to do marketing. I have books and travel, I have two podcasts, we like podcasting, I like putting pictures on Instagram. There’s things that I will do and enjoy doing, but we all have to think that. So, if you are listening and you’ve been resisting it, or if you started doing these things and then you hate it, then just stop it. Just stop, you don’t have to do it all.
And then one last quick thing, I wanted to reflect on the fact that it’s hilarious that you can go away, and yet things don’t change. So, I talk about comparison-itis a lot. There’s always someone in the author community who’s doing better than you, who has more books, makes more money or whatever, and then there’s always someone below you or behind you who’s just starting out and doesn’t make any money.
And it was the same on the pilgrimage. It was hilarious. I was like, that person’s got a smaller pack, of course they’re walking faster than me. Or they only started in the town later, and I’ve been walking further. And then someone comes past, and they’ve been walking from Lisbon, and I’m like, oh my goodness, the comparison is happening even on a pilgrimage, it’s ridiculous. So, I’m laughing at myself.
Also, the idea of finishing energy, and pushing through energy. Starting is fine, like our books often are like, ooh, shiny, and then there was a point where I was like, what am I doing? I had blisters. I was in pain. I was, what was the point? And I thought about just giving up and getting on a plane home because that would be much easier, or sitting in a bar and having a good time, and then I was like, nope, pushing through energy, finishing energy. This is what we do. And both of those things I just felt were a parallel to the writer’s life.
Orna Ross: That’s great. Yeah. Absolutely. Love it.
Joanna Penn: Good. So, what is coming up in the next month, because we’re almost out of time.
Orna Ross: Oh gosh, yeah. So, for me, I’ll be working on my novel. I have a workshop on Friday for patrons on selling more books this holiday season. We’ve got SelfPubCon then around the corner, so that’ll be me for the next month.
What about you?
Joanna Penn: Well, we should just say, SelfPubCon, you can register at selfpublishingadviceconference.com.
Orna Ross: Always good on the marketing, thank you Jo.
Joanna Penn: Yes, my brain is getting back.
Yes, and first of all, I’m kind of processing my Camino. I’ve just put on Books and Travel a ton of my photos, and a day-by-day breakdown, and gear stuff, and then I’m preparing a solo episode.
I’m getting back to speed with The Creative Penn podcast, and then I’m also scheduling time for the pilgrimage book. I’m getting back into the AI stuff as well, it’s like the other side, there’s a whole load of stuff going on right now around AI art and loads of stuff. So, I feel like I’m jumping back into the stream with renewed enthusiasm for the next quarter.
So, we are now doing this on the last Tuesday of the month, 3:00 PM UK time on the last Tuesday of the month. You can watch us live or join in, and the podcast will be going out on Fridays. So, that’s where we will be. Anything else, Orna?
Orna Ross: Nope, that’s it for now. So yeah, just happy writing everyone,
Joanna Penn: and happy publishing. We’ll see you next time.