Jill Prewett talks to Orna Ross, founder and director of ALLi (The Alliance of Independent Authors) and successful author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry.
Firstly, tell us a little about the Alliance. What is it?
The Alliance is a writers association, a non-profit organisation for self-publishing writers. It provides support, guidance, advice, contacts, advocacy and connection as well as fostering excellence and advancing the interests of self-publishers.
We welcome any indie author interested in working together in a spirit of mutual co-operation and empowerment. And, of course, service to the reading and writing community.
Why did you decide to found such an organisation?
I’d been a writer for 22 years when I self-published my first ebook and, from the off, I just loved it. Not just because the books sold more than they had before but mainly for the way it restored to me something I’d lost by working within corporate structures.
For a writer with a passionate interest in the creative process—my blog is called The Go Creative! Blog—it was clear this was the most creative pathway to publication, forcing a writer to think not just about the book, but also how to present it, format it, cover it, blurb it … All the things I had struggles with my publisher about before. Now I had all the freedom. And all the responsibility. It was heady stuff. Soon I was having more fun, garnering more readers and making more consistent money, than at any time since I’d started to publish fiction.
But there’s no such thing as an unmixed blessing. It soon became clear to me that writers wanting to harness the opportunities inherent in this revolution needed support, information, collaboration and self-belief. I looked to see if I could find a non-profit association of writers working together for each other. Not a group that was jumping on the bandwagon but one conscious of the issues of ethics and excellence and had the democratisation of publishing and the empowerment of writers and readers at its heart.
When I couldn’t find such a group, it gave me pause. The more I looked, the more urgent seemed the need for one. Self publishing writers were marginalised in a way that made little sense to me—excluded from most writing organisations on largely spurious grounds, not featured in literary events and festivals, ignored by prizes. An organisation was needed to promote their interests within the literary and publishing industries—booksellers, wholesalers, agents, trade publishers and media, expressing their particular (practical and creative) needs and the self-publishing writer’s position on the most important debates, as well as offering world-class advice and collaboration between writers.
When I thought about it, I realised that when asked by my grandchildren where I was when this revolutionary shift was going on in the writing and publishing world, I want to be able to say: in the heart of it. Not just stretching my own creative boundaries but also helping other writers to recognise and relish the potential in this new creative freedom. So I cleared the decks of everything else but my writing, gathered up all the knowledge gleaned from two decades in media and publishing and ALLi was born.
Much media has focused on an Us and Them mentality, regarding indie publishing versus traditional. What’s the ALLi angle?
This is a phoney war. Media analysis of self-publishing almost always tends to take a business, rather than creative, perspective. What makes me sad is when writers do that too. I know that many indies fight shy of the publishing and literary industries, because they have been hurt. I don’t think most publishers and agents have any idea how just how painful their processes have been for many writers—I’m speaking as much of writers who were considered successful as well as those, often very fine writers, who were serially rejected. What has hurt most, I think, is the disrespect for the writer’s role, whether in terms like the “slush pile”, or poor terms and royalties, or lack of creative input.
The only way forward out of this is respectful partnership and openness to change.
When you step back, it is simple. Writers create a book, then bring the book to readers we hope will appreciate it, whatever way we best can. Trade publishing is route writers use to reach readers. Self-publishing is a route writers use to reach readers. Different routes will be right for different writers, for different stages in a writer’s life, for different projects. It’s very straightforward, really, but the press does so love a bunfight.
What are the advantages to becoming a member?
There are numerous benefits, falling into six broad categories: Advice, Connection, Excellence, Information, Advocacy and Incentives. See here for more detail. The best thing about the Alliance is the sense of being in a caring organisation of indies, working together for each other.
I know you’re working hard to raise the profile of independent publishers. What kind of things does that entail?
I see it largely as bringing the best indie writing to the attention of readers, other writers and other publishing professionals and organisations. There is already a vibrant literary community enjoying books and literary discussion. It’s about self-publishing taking its place at the heart of that, rather than remaining in a ghetto. That involves changing minds and hearts, in readers, in the publishing industry and, surprisingly often, in indie writers themselves—who have often been very hurt by the industry and are angry and rejecting of it.
So as well as advising and guiding people in how to self-publish well and aim for excellence, we are making partnerships with reading agencies, libraries, literary festivals. And we have our Author Picks, Book of the Month, a group giveaway on Goodreads each month. We have an agent who sells foreign rights to our members’ books and are seeking one to handle TV & film rights. There are so many things we can do and will continue to do and it’s so heartening to see the profile of self-publishing writers rising all the time.
ALLi members have a range of opinions on what independent publishing actually means. What’s your personal view?
For me, self-publishing is at the heart of a revolutionary shift in that is moving from seeing the author less as a resource (in the new parlance ‘content provider’) and more as the creative director of the book all the way along its publishing journey. Both ‘independent’ and ‘self-publishing’ are misnomers, really. A good book almost always results from a collaborative process that takes in editors and designers, distributors and sellers. For me, ‘indie’ does not necessarily mean ‘self-publishing only’. As creative director, the indie author is open to mutually beneficial partnerships, including trade publishing deals where appropriate, so long as that role as creative director is acknowledged (in terms and contacts, not just lip service)
I love the creative freedom inherent in self-publishing and I’m proud of my indie status, which I carry with delight into all my ventures, negotiations and collaborations.
How do you find time to write as well as run the Alliance, curate the Indie Authors Daily and indulge in your various passions, such as wild swimming?
Everybody is always asking that! There are three keys, all equally important. The first is that I love being a self-publishing writer and I love running ALLi—and all tasks can be managed in a flexible way that also allow me to enjoy fun and frolics. You might get an email from me at three in the morning but I can (and do) take a nap at three in the afternoon, if I fancy. The second key is the incredible support I am lucky to have, from Karen and Geraldine and Alex. They hold me up in a thousand ways, as do our fantastic team of ALLi advisors. Without them, it would all collapse in a heap.
The third key is putting the creative process at the heart of each day. That means beginning each morning with meditation and F-R-E-E-Writing. Then I parcel out the pleasures. I follow in first with the most creative task on my to-do list, whatever is most nebulous and easily overridden. Such work requires me to be vigilant, to protect it from outwardly more urgent claims of book promotion, editing, other people’s issues, emails. I also take regular retreats, sometimes to write, sometimes to do absolutely nothing. Life is varied and exciting and I can honestly say that nobody ever lived who enjoyed their work or their life more than I do right now. I feel incredibly blessed and fortunate.