How do you build your publishing team? Welcome to the Creative Self-Publishing podcast with ALLi director, novelist, poet, and creative facilitator Orna Ross, and ALLi News and Podcast Producer Howard Lovy. Every episode, we’ll discuss how to become a profitable self-publisher while also retaining your unique, creative voice. There are many paths to self-publishing, and we’ll help you discover yours. In today’s episode, we’ll talk about the three different kinds of self-publishers and who they’ll need to help them achieve their goals.
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: Build Your Publishing Team
How do you build your publishing team? On the Creative Self-Publishing #podcast, @OrnaRoss and @howard_lovy talk about the three kinds of self-publishers and who they’ll need to help them achieve their goals. Click To Tweet
Don’t Miss an #AskALLi Broadcast
Subscribe to our Ask ALLi podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Overcast, Pocket Casts, or Spotify.
About the Hosts
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
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcripts: Build Your Publishing Team
Howard Lovy: In today’s episode, we’ll talk about how to build a team to support your publishing. With me now is ALLi Director, Orna Ross. Hello, Orna, how are you?
Orna Ross: Hi Howard, nice to be back again, and I actually am not coughing. I’m not spluttering, I’m just recovered at last.
Howard Lovy: You sound good. You sound like the Orna we all know and love.
I’m really looking forward to today’s discussions on team building, and as a book editor, I’m one element of a team, although many of my clients look to me to handle everything and recommend cover designers, marketers, website designers, and everything else that goes into producing a book. But I can’t do it all, so I’m eager to learn.
Orna Ross: Yeah, so I think this is really important. I think we mentioned last time that a lot of authors, when they’re starting off their publishing business, they don’t realize they’re starting off a publishing business. They still think of themselves as writers primarily, and the publishing is almost a tag on.
Then, when you’ve been doing it for a little while, you realize, oh, I am in business. My Inland Revenue, as we call it here, or whatever you call your tax authority in the country you are in, it has defined you as being in business and therefore, you are in business.
Most people who are setting up in business, and know they’re setting up in business, have a plan, and they have an idea of the people they are going to hire, and the things they’re going to buy and invest in, and they make a business plan around return on investment, and all that kind of stuff.
Loads and loads and loads of authors do not do that, and it’s great if they do. So, that would be the first thing I’d like to say is that whatever stage of the business you are at, publishing is never done by yourself. A good book is always a team effort, and in a way, self-publishing is a misnomer. What we are is author-publishers, micro-publishers, and a team is essential at some level.
So, I’m going to talk about two different aspects of the team. On the one hand, there are the, what you were talking about earlier, the services that enable us to create our books, and market them, and license the rights. So, the seven stages of publishing, the seven processes of publishing; editorial, design, distribution, marketing, promotion, and rights licensing. Support with each of those, unless you are somebody that other people pay to edit books, and even if you are, you need to hire an editor. Unless you are somebody that other people pay to design a cover and possibly, even if you are, it’s better to get somebody else to do that work for you.
So, there’s that aspect of your team, but then there’s the other side which is administration tasks that are kind of tedious and creatively draining for you, that you’re better off getting other people to help you with, and other kinds of tasks like support in various ways.
So, we need to think about both sides of this coin, and as I say, authors are very reluctant sometimes to invest in this, and they feel they can’t afford it. When they can’t afford it, that’s when they will do it. But actually, a much better approach is to think about return on investment from the get-go, or as soon as possible, and then begin to pull in the help you need, even though you feel you can’t quite afford it yet.
Now, obviously doing this in a sensible way, I’m not talking about going out and borrowing a ton just so you can hire help, but there is definitely a balance between, you know, if you’re paying somebody $20 an hour to do some administrative work, that hour that you spend can be spent earning a lot more than $20 an hour. So, it’s about getting this balance right. So, that’s where we kind of start.
The other thing I’d like to talk about and that authors often don’t realize as well, is that it’s very important to understand what kind of publisher you are, because different kinds of publishers require different kinds of help and assistance.
What are the different kinds of publishers?
Howard Lovy: Oh, that’s interesting, I’d like to hear more about that. What are the different kinds of publishers?
Orna Ross: So, we hear a lot in self-publishing education circles about what I call lean-publishing. That’s a volume-oriented publisher who sells as many books as possible to price sensitive readers. So, very likely Amazon is their main sales outlet. They write fast, they publish early and often, they rely on volume to deliver profit. That’s the lean-publishing model.
Then there are engagement publishers. These are much more driven by reader relations. So, the lean publisher is driven by the algorithms of the retail stores, generally speaking, or perhaps very occasionally the algorithm through Google, their own website, if they’re selling direct. The second type of publisher is an engagement publisher, and they are reader driven. They prioritize the relationship with their readers over and above everything else. They maybe customize books even, you know, we’ve got children’s authors who will actually introduce the reader’s name into the book. That’s a very obvious kind of example, but there are other ways in which authors could customize their books, and other products, to meet the very individual needs of their reader. That’s engagement publishing.
Then there’s craft publishing, and these are publishers who offer high quality books and experiences, and their readers are not so price sensitive. Their readers value high-level literary skills and high-level design standards, and they’re prepared to pay premium prices for special books, or special products that are related to the books.
All of us engage in all three of these to some degree. We all want to.
Howard Lovy: I was going to say, yeah, there are carryovers between the three categories, right?
Orna Ross: Absolutely. 100%. We all want to write great books, don’t we? We all want to sell more of them. We all know that reader engagement is important. We all want to automate time consuming and tedious tasks wherever possible. But one of these needs to be your thing. One of these needs to be your main focus, because how you will do everything will change depending on which of these you primarily are.
As I said, we’ve got a huge amount of emphasis in the community on the lean-publishing model, because we’ve seen some very visible successes. You tend to see people at the top of the retail stores, it is writers who have used the lean-publishing model who have gone out there and spoken about how many books they’ve sold and how much money they’ve made and all that kind of thing.
But engagement publishing and craft publishing is very much alive and well in the indie community, and I see authors doing these all the time.
If you’re going to be primarily a craft publisher, and very much concerned with quality and creativity, and all of that, it’s going to take you longer to write your books, for example. Then to speak to today’s theme and topic, which is about support and assistance, then you’re going to build a different sort of team, aren’t you? You’re going to want them to behave in different ways.
Howard Lovy: Right. Okay. In my Inspirational Indie Author’s podcast, I think I’ve interviewed all three kinds of publishers. I interviewed once a publisher who writes romance but has a team of people actually taking a look at what is selling on any particular week and tailoring their books exactly for that. I guess that would be an example of a lean publisher.
Orna Ross: Yes, and then supplemented by engagement, because they’re looking closely at what readers are doing. So, yes, absolutely.
What’s the difference between engagement publishing and lean publishing?
Howard Lovy: Now, what is the difference basically between engagement and lean, the lean services more of an algorithm and engagement services your particular audience?
Orna Ross: Yeah, exactly. So, the lean publisher is going to be keeping an eye on the algorithms. It’s going to be looking at the sales, trying to drive books into best seller lists, and featuring in also-bought lists, and all that. So, really keeping a close eye on the algorithm, particularly on the Amazon store, generally speaking, because the Amazon algorithms are more sophisticated than on other stores, but it applies across all the retail stores.
So, that’s what they’re looking at, and the kind of team that they’re going to want to build would be a streamlined team, very much geared to savvy automation, to keeping costs as low as possible, and to a volume-oriented business. So, everything’s happening fast, everything is happening at that pace, and so you’re going to want a team who’s going to be able to come in and support that fast pace, and read the data, respond to the data, all of that.
Whereas engagement publishing is about being responsive to reader’s needs. So, picking up on messages in social media and other places, and responding, and changing things. So, the primary feature of a support team for the engagement publisher is that responsiveness.
Whereas craft, with your team, you’re looking to build a culture of creativity and quality, and you need to ensure that your team all appreciates that the readers do have high standards, and also that they’re relatively insensitive to price. So, you can get a lot of marketers and promotion services that are very much geared around keeping costs low and keeping price low, but if you are actually a craft publisher that doesn’t make any sense because it takes you longer to produce everything, and it’s often more expensive as well because you need a different level of quality. So, your team needs to be aware of that.
Which elements publishing do you need to focus on when hiring your publishing team?
Howard Lovy: Can you get a little more specific into what the particular elements are of your team, depending on which of these three categories you fall into?
Orna Ross: I think the important thing to say is that, across all three, there are two aspects that we kind of touched on at the beginning. So, you look across the seven stages of publishing and, for example, if you are a lean publisher, you may well be happy with what they call the minimally viable product, the MVP. So, as soon as the book is readable, you put it out there. You’re not worrying too much. Some lean publishers don’t even care about editing, they’ll just put the book out. So, you’re publishing early.
Whereas a craft publisher is the opposite. They’re going to be looking for editors who have experience of really going there. They will probably do a developmental, as well as a copy edit, as well as a proofread. So, that’s just editing.
Design again, with the lean publisher, a ready-made cover may serve perfectly well, an AI-produced, cover, all of that, because if you’re producing lots of books, you’re going to want to keep your costs down. Whereas a craft publisher is probably going to invest in getting a high-level design, specially made cover that aligns with the type of books that their ideal readers tend buy.
So, looking across all the different stages and phases, distribution again, is different as well. So, the lean publisher, as I’ve kind of said already, most of them are selling through the stores, the retail stores, and that’s where their focus is, and for most of those, most of their focus is on Amazon.
Whereas the craft publisher or the engagement publisher is far more likely to be selling direct and going through their own website, or going through maybe gift shops or something different, something unique, with the engagement publisher driven by their readers. So, engagement, publishers tend to have really taken off with social selling, selling through social media, because they’re already very active on social media, responding and engaging with their readers, and so they often are selling very well on Instagram, for example, or Facebook.
Craft publishers tend to be more inclined to use, I mean, all publishers can do this, and have done this, but you see far more craft publishers using the crowdfunding model where they will go and actually create lovely products, something very special, something very high value, and put it out there, and their readers and followers support them in that way. So, even at the level of distribution, how you will approach this is different.
Marketing and promotion, obviously, it becomes very different because again, marketing and promotion for the lean publisher is about the algorithms, doing everything, being very conscious of the 30-day period at the beginning when you’ve published your book, you know that you get a little bit more algorithm juice at that time. They will be maximizing every single opportunity they have to drive the algorithm. They’ll be sending all their sales, they’re maybe doing ad stacking, anything that kind of gets the book up and keep keeps it up. They will be doing all of that.
Whereas the engagement publisher will be doing lots of posts to connect with the reader, getting them excited about a new book coming. Engagement publishers are more likely to do public launches, and put things out, and get reader feedback. They may even use their readers as betas and get feedback on what should be in their book, or what their responses to the cover are. They might change their covers depending on the sort of response they get. A lean publisher would never do that.
Craft publishing, again, with marketing and promotion, it tends to be more specialist, more creative, more different. Not your run of the mill stuff.
So, all the way through it varies. You approach the jobs in different ways, and you train your team to understand what kind of publisher you are, and what you require of them. So, when you’re looking across the seven stages of publishing, you look at the things where you need the help, where you need support, and again with administration, anything that you don’t want to do or that an administrator can do better than you, you should hand over so that you can focus on getting your marketing strategy right and getting another book written, these two are your two highest value tasks.
The writing, obviously, first of all, or you’ve nothing to sell, and the marketing and how you approach your marketing, being strategic about marketing, and constantly improving your marketing and promotion, that’s a high value task for you and one that you can’t get round to if you are stuck in the weeds doing administrative stuff.
Does your genre affect what kind of publisher you are?
Howard Lovy: Right. Now, is there a trend as to what kind of genre author is attracted to lean, craft, or engagement? It seems to me, and I’m sort of using this as my own little private session with you, with a few thousand other people listening in, it seems like engagement publishing is more in tune with non-fiction, because you’re talking about issues that are constantly changing and readers are reacting to?
Orna Ross: Not necessarily. So, I think people who you see doing this very well who write fiction, and indeed poets as well can also be engagement publishers. So, there are some authors who have very active membership groups, for example, and they will keep those people very close. And there are some authors who have membership groups, and you’re only allowed in by buying a book, that’s your entrance into the group, and they know how to engage their readers.
So, yes, you’re absolutely right, nonfiction allows for that in the sense that you’re asking questions about the topic in the book, and things are coming up in the news, maybe, that are relevant to your non-fiction and stuff, but you can do similar sorts of things with fiction.
So, poetry, fiction, or non-fiction can be used across all of these. I think poetry and the lean publishing model, probably a little bit less so, but if you think of some of the, what I would call the self-help poets, there are some of them who are using the lean publishing model and they’ve published hundreds of self-help poetry, it’s in the poetry genre. So, I think really all three pertain to all three macro-genres actually.
Howard Lovy: Oh, okay. So, there’s no generalization for what kind of genre is best for lean, craft, or engagement.
Orna Ross: I think you’re right. I mean, it wouldn’t be right to say it’s equal.
I think at the craft publishing side, you’re going to find more literary fiction authors, you’re going to find more memoirist, and literary narrative nonfiction, you’re going to find more poets, that type of genre.
On the lean side, you’re going to find how-to nonfiction, you’re going to find genre fiction, particularly the big categories like romance and thrillers, and so on.
Engagement then, I think, is probably the one that is most equal across the three.
Howard Lovy: So, for engagement, do you already need to have a huge following somewhere, or is it something you can build as you’re writing the book?
Orna Ross: I think all of these build as you go, and all of these are best if the sooner you start to think about it the better, and as you are, if you haven’t got a book to market as yet, if you’re beginning to think about things in these terms, you’re already giving yourself an advantage.
If you’re beginning to think about marketing, and even beginning to think about maybe hiring some help, you’re already giving yourself an advantage, because you’re recognizing that as the writer you are the supplier of the raw material, almost, but you are going to have to move into publishing.
So, there are lots of publishing tasks you can be doing in advance of finishing your book, and beginning that setup around your author platform; the type of writer you are, your placing and positioning within the book ecosystem. Doing all that good marketing thinking, what the marketers call your author brand, what that’s going to look like. What kind of language you’re going to use to reflect this book, how you’re going to make sure that your ideal reader, when they look at your book, just at a glance from the cover and from the sample, they’re going to understand immediately what kind of book it is.
And yeah, thinking about the lean publishing, engagement publishing, and craft publishing, I think is a helpful way into that.
How can an author publisher train a new team or team member?
Howard Lovy: Well, that’s interesting. So, it’s not necessarily that you need different kinds of help, for all three you need a cover designer, you need marketers, you need someone to help you reach your audience, but it’s just a matter of focus; what kinds of cover designers to hire, what kinds of marketers to take on.
Orna Ross: Exactly right, and how you’re going to brief them. So, you getting to the understanding of your own readers and what they value in your writing, you know, all of this takes time. Then when you have that, when you’ve established that clearly, then it’s easy for you to brief assistants or services.
When you’re not clear about that, and when you don’t understand which type of publisher you are, what genre you fall into, what your micro niche is, all of that stuff; then it can be really hard on your team because they don’t know. Because you are confused, you can confuse them.
Sometimes, at the beginning, it’s necessary for authors to go through maybe two or even three covers before they get the right one, I’ve seen that over and again, as an example. So, we learn by doing, you don’t want to overthink this stuff because overthinking is the enemy of creativity. So, it’s always about doing something and then observing, exploring, experimenting, and reading what you find.
So, if you are the lean publisher, you’re going to try something and you’re going to be informed by the data. If you’re an engagement publisher, you’re going to try something and you’re going to be informed by the response. If you’re a craft publisher, you’re going to try something and you’re going to be informed by your own creative valuing of that and feeling, yeah, I got that right, I’m really, really happy with it and it meets the level of quality and creativity that I wanted it to reach.
Everything we do, we all do the same things. It’s the same seven stages for every kind of publisher who ever was, trade publisher, monks in scriptoria, and every kind of publisher that’s coming down the track in AI, and everything else. Publishing doesn’t change. These processes are timeless. So, we need to understand them. We need to make them second nature almost, our understanding of them, and of course, at the beginning, all of this is a lot to learn. It’s a very complex world. We need to take our time, but how we learn, and this is most important thing, how we learn is by doing, and how we build a team is by working with them.
So, you can choose someone that you think is going to be good, but you won’t actually know if they’re good for you until you do some work together. Everyone you hire should be on a trial basis, I’ve learned this the hard way over the years. So, for the first three months or so, it should be on a trial basis, both sides. I’m talking about somebody now, assistant support, somebody like a virtual assistant, or somebody like that, who’s going to be giving you general administration support. You try it for a while and see how you get on, and it will be a learner on both sides. They’ll be judging you and you’ll be judging them, and it’ll be a fit or it won’t be a fit.
Sometimes you have to go through a few people, and sometimes you have to grow as somebody who hires somebody else, because we don’t come into this business with all these skills intact, there is no publishing school where you go and learn all this stuff up front. You can’t. It is a craft, a trade, you learn by apprenticeship. So, all of this takes some time. So, the sooner you throw yourself in there and do some experimenting and exploring around it, the sooner you begin to learn the kinds of things you need to learn.
Howard Lovy: Now, I understand that you’re also going to be holding a workshop soon to go into more specifics on this, can you tell us about that?
Orna Ross: Yes. So, I actually was going to do the second part of the assistance and support workshop this month, but then realized that we’re heading into the last quarter of the month. So, I always do a workshop on holiday sales on the last Friday in September for that quarter, because in the next quarter, more books will be sold than at any other time of the year. It’s just a busy, busy time for the book business, and it’s important that author-publishers set themselves up for the holiday sales.
So, I won’t be doing the second part of the support, the first part was how to choose your team, and then the second part is going into some of the things that I’m talking about here today, have been talking about, and also looking at onboarding people and how you make that a pleasant experience. So, that will be on last Friday in October.
Howard Lovy: Okay, wonderful, and we’ll put a link in the show notes on how people can access that.
Orna Ross: Fantastic.
Howard Lovy: Well, wonderful, Orna, thank you so much. This was very educational for me, and I hope for everybody listening. I’ll talk to you again in a couple weeks.
Orna Ross: Thanks, Howard. I look forward to it. Thanks so much.