In this episode, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy discuss how self-publishing can be used as a hobby, a career, or to support a business or cause.
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In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, writing coach, accredited editor with qualifications in theology, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, romance author, former early childhood teacher and mother of 4 adult children
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of young adult urban fantasy
Topics covered in this episode:
- Self-publishing as hobby
- Self-publishing as career
- Self-publishing as a tool for influence
- How to decide how much money or time to spend on self-publishing, and which resources and technologies to use, depending on your goals.
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters Podcast – Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture. Find us on your favourite podcast player and at Gracewriters.com.
Today on the podcast, different uses for self-publishing.
I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor and writing coach with a theology degree and 20 years in the publishing industry. Find links to my blogs, books and online courses at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Young. I live in Brisbane in Queensland. I’m a former early childhood educator. I am the mother of four adult children and I’m a romance writer under the pen name Alison Joy. You can find all my information under alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hello, I’m Donita Bundy and for the last 20 years I’ve been using my theology degree to inform my teaching and preaching and more recently my writing and blogging. To find out more about me you can go to donitabundy.com.
Belinda Pollard: Our topic today is the next one in our publishing series and this one is different uses for self-publishing.
So, we’re going to look at how our goals and target readership might influence how we self-publish, how much we spend and which resources and technology we choose to use.
Alison, can you get us started, please, in thinking about the idea of self-publishing as a hobby? What kinds of things might people use if they are choosing to self-publish as a hobby?
Alison Joy: First of all, I think we have to look at maybe a definition of what is a hobby – writing, self-publishing as a hobby or self-publishing as a career. Because most of us, I guess, when we start out we land in the hobby section without realising it. We just have some idea that somewhere down the track we’d like to maybe make a living out of it or have a nice little side hustle. But the truth or the reality is the decision-making process is a lot more complicated than that.
So, if you’re a hobbyist, it’s something that you just do for pleasure, you spend a sum of money on it and you probably don’t get any money back. If you’re going to make writing a career, then you have to take a whole different approach to it because a career or a business is something that you’re looking to make money out of. So, that’s going to sway the way you choose to go in this area.
I think most of us, for me, I would be at the moment still in the hobby section because even though I’m taking steps to make it a career and make it a business, to be honest at this stage it’s not. I’m putting a lot of money into it but I’m not getting a lot of return at this particular point in time. And I read somewhere that somebody said if you’re spending more money on your book than you’re getting back then you’re just a hobbyist.
Belinda Pollard: Just a hobbyist?!
Donita Bundy: Just!
Alison Joy: You’re a hobbyist! You’re a hobbyist! Okay!
So, I guess when you’re wanting to write a book or put a book out there, you’ve got to look at your goals. You’ve got to look at your whys and your wherefores and how. And that might determine which way you go or how you see yourself as a writer. What is your end goal?
So, somebody who is just maybe writing poetry and just wants to get their friends and family to see it then that’s fine. If you’re wanting to do a family memoir and your audience is only going to be your family and friends or if you’re doing something like a fundraising venture for your church or your school or your club and you’re doing say a recipe book, then obviously that is also going to be something that’s going to have a limited audience. And then you make your decisions accordingly.
So, it’s like any hobby. You can spend as much or as little as you want on it. You can go the most economical route you can because at the end it’s the contents that’s more important to you, not the presentation. If you want to go a bit fancier than that, you can do that. It’s up to you how much you want to spend in that area.
Now, in years gone by I’ve gone to various churches and stuff or clubs and they put together their recipe book and everybody sends in their recipe and they get it printed out pretty cheaply and ‘ta-da’ here it is. It’s all done.
And then you’ve got something a little bit fancier like for my kid’s school that they did a few years ago. This recipe book was a fundraiser for them. They actually used stock photos, they didn’t actually have somebody come in and take the photos. They got parents and businesses to sponsor them.
Belinda Pollard: And that’s quite a glamorous looking recipe book that you’ve held up there, Alison. For people listening it’s got beautiful photos on the cover and it kind of looks like the sort of recipe book you’d get in a shop.
Alison Joy: I’m working on my dad’s memoir so that’s probably something that won’t have a huge audience. It’ll be for family and friends. People in that respect are probably going to be a bit more forgiving in terms of your layout. If your layout’s not spot-on or there’s a few typos. Whereas if you’re actually using it and you want it for commercial purposes, then obviously people are buying something so you’ve got to give them value for money. You’ve just got to try and establish what you want to do with your writing.
Belinda Pollard: Someone who’s doing it as a hobby, they might choose things that lower their costs. So, they might even do things like use volunteer editors instead of hiring a professional editor or they might go for a lower cost edit like a copyedit compared to a developmental or structural edit which is more expensive.
They might go for a simpler type of cover and you can actually buy premade covers from certain suppliers online. They’re really nice-looking covers but they might only cost you about US$60 or something like that because the design is already there and you just get your title and author name popped into the spaces on the cover.
So, there are various ways to save money if you’re just doing that as a hobby and I don’t actually despise hobbies! I think it’s lovely to be able to do these types of things as a hobby and to be able to access some of the printing abilities and distribution abilities even of the technologies that we discussed last time on the podcast.
So, I recently did one with a church where they were producing some stories that people within that church over the years, they had come together and written their stories. And they really just handled the spellchecking and stuff within their own group. They just had a simple cover and a simple layout. I set it up on the print-on-demand services for them so that they could have boxes of books at their launch day and also for people who didn’t live locally then it went out on the online bookstores. So, people who didn’t live locally could order a copy close to them. For example, if they were in England now, they could order a copy over there and it would be printed and shipped to them from there.
So, that was an interesting setup where people were using the technologies but they were using it in a simpler, more limited way that suited what they were doing.
Donita Bundy: Yes. I’ve been teaching the extension writers program in high schools. This is my fifth year. And at the end of every year, I put out an anthology of a selection of the kid’s work. I would put that in the hobby section. I do all of it myself; the cover, the editing. Ah! Erg! And the arrangement and everything and then the school prints it out, photocopies it out, and we get the binding done at the school. So, it’s printed out on A4 and it’s a very home job and it’s only for the students and quite often the school keeps a copy and puts a copy in the library. So, we’d do a run of maybe 25 a year and as my skills have been improving the quality of the book improves.
Belinda Pollard: I saw the one you did last year and it looked fabulous.
Donita Bundy: Thank you! This year, I’m actually thinking about running it through IngramSpark. And also, there’s the Somerset Writers’ Group which I run. We do the same thing. At the end of each year, we have a book that we have for ourselves and a copy of that book goes into each of the region’s library.
We’re thinking this year about doing the same thing but I’m thinking if we give it an ISBN, we can put it in the information centres throughout the Somerset region. So, it could be a way that the writer’s group could make a bit of money.
So, we’re transitioning from the photocopy and bound to the professional public print-on-demand. So, it’s still a hobby but, yes, we’re transitioning into that and I think it will work really well and I’m excited to see the product.
Belinda Pollard: There’s one other group of hobbyists that I haven’t mentioned so far and that’s people that I’ve encountered. They really are not that interested in making a massive success of their book but they want to really work on it to the best of their ability because it gives them enormous satisfaction. And some of them will even bring money into the situation because for them it’s satisfying to see their book beautifully edited, beautifully developed and built and then presented with a gorgeous cover and available for people to buy. but they’re not lying awake at night thinking, “Oh no, I’ve only had five sales today!” It’s something that’s enormously satisfying to them.
The same as someone might climb Mount Everest. And did you know people spend about $65,000 to climb Mount Everest? It took my breath away when I found that out. You can publish a book for a lot less than that!
But some people, their book and their writing is their Mount Everest rather than a business. And I think that’s okay too. So, there’s different approaches.
But for the ones who do see it as a business, Alison, what did you find out about that? So, not necessarily just a business, making money business, but a business in terms of “I want to grow into the best writer I can possibly be as this is a career for me”.
Alison Joy: Again, you’ve got to look at your whys because if you’re going to be in a career and it’s going to be supporting you and paying all your bills then obviously you’ve got to take a different approach to that. For me, it’s more I want to be the best writer I can be and it would be nice to be able to count on those sales there but I’m still going to eat. I’m not going to be on the poverty line if my books don’t sell.
So, I think if you’re going to look for a career in writing, you have to invest that time and energy because it’s not something that you can go to a Somerset Writer’s retreat and come away and be a best-selling author. It’s not going to work like that. You’ve got to lay the foundation. You’ve got to build on that and it’s going to take time. It’s going to take years.
And that’s like Joanna Penn says, if you’re playing the violin, you don’t expect to go to Carnegie Hall the next week and be able to do a concert there. You have to build on it, build and build. You’ve got to start and then you’ve got to build on your skills and you’ve always got to be working to build on your skills.
I think if you’re a self-published, unless you’re one of the top of course, you’re going to find that the income just from writing the books isn’t going to be enough. And then you’ll have to bring in other aspects if that’s what you want to do. We all know of Joanna Penn and she’s probably a self-publishing guru. You do your books and you do them in different languages and you do an audio book and then you do workbooks and then she does speaking and then she does blogging and then she does teaching. So, she’s got a whole range of different things that she uses.
Belinda Pollard: And you have to do the marketing. They don’t sell themselves, sadly!
Alison Joy: Unfortunately, they don’t! You always say you see these books, every so often a book comes along and it just goes crazy. Well, yes, but there’s almost no such thing as an overnight success.
Belinda Pollard: Yes. It usually takes around 20 years to become an overnight success but it varies, you know, by a decade or two either way!
And your thoughts, Donita, on the writing career aspect?
Donita Bundy: Yes. I totally agree with what Alison is saying. The way I look at it is similar but a different visual is I’ve transitioned into a new career many times in my life. I’m someone who moves around a lot and I like to think of it as going back to Uni. Learning how to make writing a career it’s like doing a self-paced, self-investigated, self-driven course. And as Alison said and all the people out there will say, “You’re not going to get it right overnight and first time.” It’s going to take years.
I remember, Belinda, you told me that it can take at least two years to make the money back on your first book if you’re doing everything right and ticking all the boxes and nailing the marketing and everything else. So, we’re not going to get it right first time straight up and that’s okay. That’s expected. It’s like we’re doing the beginning of our course. We’re in training. And each time we reach a new level or reach a new mark we celebrate that and then build on it and go to the next level.
So, most degrees take three to four years. So, if we give ourselves the headspace and the permission to be learning and growing for at least that amount of time, well then, I think that’s a healthier perspective.
But also, right from the forefront if this is going to be our career, we need to approach it with that professional headspace. We need to commit to the time that it takes and make this new aspect, this learning, this journey, the transition into writing, we need to make it a priority. Not the priority in our life but definitely one of the main ones. So, invest time and energy, research, learning from wherever you can get learning and practice. We need to invest time and make it a priority and have that professional attitude from the beginning.
And also, we need to consider brand. If we want to start out as we intend to finish. Do we want to be seen as professional, delivering a quality product. And so, like Alison was saying, how much do you want to invest? How much do you want to spend? What’s that going to look like in the end? Who do you want to be seen as?
We spoke about our brands and author-platform in our platform series. Everything builds our brand. For better or worse. When we’re considering options, we need to consider the big picture and of course how that reflects on Whom we represent. So, regardless of what kind of writing we’re doing and regardless of which audience, we are Christians and we are representing God and so that needs to come through in the quality of our work.
Alison Joy: I think one of the things that came across over and over again in my research is when you’re writing, the more you write the better you get but you have to have a body of work and you have to build it up over time. There are very few books that – okay, maybe something like, To Kill a Mockingbird or something, that’s one book and that’s it, and that’s the big hit and sales go very well over a long period of time – but you have to build up a body of work over time.
You have to deal with the disappointment, if you’re professional or you want to make it your career. You’ve got to accept that that’s going to be part of your journey and you’ve got to be able to get your head around it and get over it and get on with it.
The more you do it the better you get. So, if someone like Picasso who had maybe 50,000 paintings in his lifetime but only had a few really that are masterpieces. But you only get those masterpieces because of the output that he’s put in over years and years and years. So, I think we’ve got to understand that we’re in a creative industry or a creative field that your writing’s going to get better and better over time so you have to keep at it and keep working on your craft.
Belinda Pollard: If we’re self-publishers and writers who are working on building a writing career, one of the things that I would mention is that we need to work out that balance for us between time and money. So, for some of us it’s going to be enormously satisfying to learn all the different things about how to do almost all of the phases of self-publishing ourselves. We’re going to enjoy that. We’re going to get stuck into it.
For others of us, because we have different priorities and we have other things that we want to spend that time on, we might prefer to spend money and hire other people to help us with those things. And both of those approaches are quite valid, whichever way you want to go.
I would suggest that if you’re wanting to make it a writing career, that as far as possible you start as you mean to go on. So, create the very best books you can both internally in terms of the words and externally in terms of the presentation and the way that you market it. If you do want people to pay for your book, consider it a product. Are you proud of it?
And working with a good editor can help you grow as a writer over time. Working with a good editor is part of your education as a writer because you will pick up things from what they say. You will get better and better and better, book by book. So, it can be worth putting that into it.
And may I just say that as a person with a degree in writing and editing and a 20+ year book editor, I hire editors for my books and I also work with beta readers on all of my books to give me that volunteer feedback initially before I then move to the editing phases. So, I really see the value in that sort of stuff in helping us develop our books.
What about the person, Alison, who is self-publishing as a tool for influence? For example, to support a business or a cause or a ministry. What did you find about that?
Alison Joy: Obviously, books have influence. Books have purpose. Books are permanent. So, you look at how much influence books have had over the hundreds and hundreds of years that books have been printed. So, you are well within your rights to include your book amongst that because it will find its mark. It’ll find the people that it’s meant to find.
It’ll help in whatever area that you are looking to have an influence, whether it’s the mums of pre-schoolers, whether it’s a grief sharing thing, whether it’s an organisation that you support maybe in the Philippines or in India. There’s just so many ways that you can use self-publishing as a tool for influence whether it’s just a small influence or maybe it’s something that has a ripple effect that moves out and influences a wider range of people than you ever anticipated.
Belinda Pollard: And it can also be small in number but big in influence.
Alison Joy: Absolutely, you don’t know the one person that might be influenced by your book. It may only be one person but that person may go on to do this, this and this, and it’s all come back to this one book.
And I remember a couple of years ago somebody I came across and she had written a book on grief and it was her personal journey which was quite challenging and somebody had actually sent it to a friend who had actually had the courage or the insight to send it to the actor, Liam Neeson. Now, he had just lost his wife not long before that and it apparently made quite a huge impact on him as a person.
So, you never know what your sphere of influence is going to be and I think self-publishing is a great tool.
Belinda Pollard: Thoughts, Donita?
Donita Bundy: I totally agree and I think the value of getting our words out there and allowing God to use the words He’s given us to influence everybody else or other people.
I just really want to mention here a word of caution to remind us all that none of us act or do anything in a vacuum. If we want to be an influence with our writing, we need to consider ourselves in the public eye all the time, especially on social media. Our names are connected. You said in our last episode, Belinda, everyone has their name on everything over social media now.
If I were to make a comment on a post, that can be traced back to me and if my reputation, and I want to have influence through my brand and my writing, everything I say and do publicly will come back to that. So, we need to remember that we are living in a global world and that everyone has access to all information. Once it’s out on the internet it stays out on the internet.
And as Gracewriters we want to influence people. We want to point to the love of our Lord and we want our writing to offer those gracenotes to whomever receives them. But for us to keep that clear platform and that good influence, we need to remember everything we do comes back and points to that. So, as soon as we step into this arena, we are public and be mindful of that. We have to consider everything we do and say and remember where it comes back to and who we want to point to.
So, as Gracewriters I think that’s really important that we remember influence can be really positive but it can also come back and bite us if we’re not careful and mindful.
Belinda Pollard: Thanks, Donita. So, a couple of little practical issues that spring to mind for me when we’re talking about using self-publishing as a tool for influence. To think about how we weigh up the balance of the different approaches we might take.
If you’re doing it for a business, you might actually fund this thing from your marketing budget and then you might also evaluate: would I rather spend time or would I rather spend money. And that will be different answers for different people.
A fledging business, you might rather spend time. An established business, you might rather spend money.
If it’s a cause or a ministry, you might be able to use this thing to fundraise or to teach and it can be so valuable. And in those situations, it can be useful to think about how clarity and professionalism can assist and amplify your message.
So, weigh that up. Don’t just think: it’s just for a charity we mustn’t spend anything on it. It may well be that supporters of your charity will donate so that you can get that really good result.
There might also be grants available and there might even be a professional in your organisation who is willing to volunteer. So, you just never know how well you might be able to create this thing.
And obviously, as Donita says, if it’s our ministry, if we’re doing it for God, we want to get the best possible quality that we can. And I’m not saying that to say we’ve got to go out and spend heaps of money. No. It’s about the heart attitude towards it. It’s not an ‘anything will do’. It’s ‘here is my best, please use it’.
How about we pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank you that we have these opportunities to get your message out there and we pray that you will help us to know what approach we should be taking with our own writing and our own self-publishing if we choose that path. Show us what you want, Lord. Help us and guide us and help us to join together as a community and encourage each other. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Alison Joy: Amen.
Donita Bundy: Amen.
Belinda Pollard: Thank you Alison Joy and Donita Bundy. I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you next time on the Gracewriters podcast.
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