Today I’m delighted to welcome Michael La Ronn, Outreach Manager for The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi, pronounced al-eye).
Hello and welcome, Michael. Many CONGRATULATIONS to you and all your colleagues at ALLi for winning the very first INDIE CHAMPION award in the 2021 RNA Industry Professional Awards. Could you start by telling us what this award means to you all at ALLi, as you celebrate ten years of support for the self-published author?
We are honoured to have won this award from RNA. Romance authors are leaders in the self-publishing sphere and ALLi and RNA share a common DNA, existing to support authors, not just to write but to make a living from their writing. The very fact that the RNA has an INDIE CHAMPION award is heart-warming to us. To have actually won this prize, in its inaugural year makes us very proud and happy. And we love how it spreads the word to other organisations that Indies are integral to the writing and publishing industries now.
Could you tell us about your own part in ALLi, how you became involved and what your particular role is?
I met Orna Ross, co-founder of ALLi, in 2014 shortly after publishing my first book. We both share a love of poetry, and I wanted to give back to the author community after it had given so much to me. I have been a part of ALLi in some form since 2014.
I joined the ALLi podcast in 2017 and in 2020, I took a role as Outreach Manager. It is my responsibility to spread the word about ALLi and meet with authors, author services companies, and author organisations to promote ALLi and find ways to collaborate.
And am I right in thinking that most of members of ALLi’s central team are authors in their own right? How do you and they balance the working day between support for others and your own creativity?
Yes, our central team members are all authors, and we find ways to support ALLi in addition to our author careers. While I can’t speak for my esteemed teammates, I schedule my time for ALLi work. I don’t consider it work though because I am constantly learning about the industry and meeting new people!
I imagine you have seen some changes in the past ten years, not least in the increase in self-publishing. What are the main developments you can identify and what are the chief factors that have fed these changes?
A lot has changed in the ten years since we began our existence at the London Book Fair in 2012. The stigma of self-publishing (while still present) has faded. I believe this is because more authors are doing it and realising how liberating and rewarding it can be for them and because they are doing it so well. Standards have really risen in the community over the past decade. Readers have also voted with their wallets—they have consistently shown that the quality of the book matters, not who published it.
There are more places to distribute your books and reach readers than there were ten years ago. Thanks to advancements in technology, it is also easier to exploit a book’s copyright and leverage it into more formats today (paperback, hardcover, large print, audiobook, translation, and now AI audio and AI translation) compared to ten years ago, when the primary format for independent authors was the ebook and paperbacks were somewhat of an afterthought and difficult to create. Authors can even sell their books directly to readers.
Additionally, independent authors also have access to much more reliable information on publishing and marketing. Ten years ago, independent authors were very much in the dark about how to publish and market their books. Now, there are many websites, podcasts, YouTube channels, courses, and other resources to help them walk the right path. ALLi is proud to have played a small role in this.
‘Un-agented and without a publishing contract—but not amateur.’ I’m sure most self-published authors would like to say that of themselves. It’s encouraging to hear you speak of rising standards. How does ALLi promote more professionalism amongst independent authors?
Our mission is ethics and excellence in self-publishing. We want to help authors make better books and reach more readers.
One key way to improve one’s professionalism is through sound advice and information. ALLi has developed numerous initiatives to aid in this effort. The first is our website www.selfpublishingadvice.org, which houses our daily blog, videos, podcast network, and guidebooks for authors.
We also host a free to the public, twice-yearly online author conference called The Self-Publishing Advice Conference, where we bring in industry professionals to talk about cutting-edge topics of relevance to authors.
We have a member forum where other members hold newcomers to standard and we have a Code of Standards for both our Author members and Partner members (vetted and approved self-publishing services).
We also have an ethical author code.
However, many of our author members DO work with agents and publishers, both at home and abroad. Some publish some formats with trade publishers, or certain books, or series. And now with the booming Creator Economy, they are finding new ways to reach readers.
What, in your experience, are the three most important aspects of publishing that a newby, wannabe author needs (or ought to have) help with?
The top three aspects of publishing every author needs help with are cover design, editing, and book formatting. Without a professional book, it’s harder to reach readers and to get those readers to buy it.
Fortunately, authors don’t have to do these tasks alone. They can hire cover designers to create market-ready book covers, and they can also hire professional editors who will partner with them to give their story the biggest impact on readers.
Authors can hire book formatters as well, but now there are wonderful and easy-to-use apps that let them create beautiful ebooks and paperbacks with the click of a button.
Could you explain the different types of membership of ALLi open to authors who want to or have self-published?
Our Associate membership is for aspiring authors working on their first book for self-publication. It is also for students.
Our Author membership is for authors who have published one book or more.
Our Authorpreneur members earn their living from self-publishing and their associated author business.
Our Partner members are companies who provide services to authors, such as editors, cover designers, and software developers.
And last but not least, our Organisation members are author organisations who want to provide ALLi’s comprehensive knowledge and resources to their members. Our organisation membership is a customised collaboration between the organisation and ALLi.
I’m interested in what happens to your authorpreneur members, who’ve had a major success with a particular book. Do they then get approached by agents and publishing houses to sign on the dotted line? And do they?
Our Authorpreneur members recognise that an important element of a long-term business as an independent author is retaining as many rights as possible to their work, in addition to skilled negotiation with rights buyers, including publishers and producers. We call this selective rights licensing, and our Authorpreneur members —and some of our Author Members too— are shining examples of this.
Our advice to authors when offered a deal is to be really granular about rights, rather than signing the all-rights, exclusive deals that publishers tend to offer as standard. Limit the term and the territory and the format. For example, they might license print rights only in, say, North America, retaining e-book and audiobook rights and the ability to license print in the UK and other territories.
We have had members sign all rights deals but those who do that are rarely happy with the arrangement. That sort of arrangement only works when you have no other options. And indie authors have tons of options today.
Because of their success, some of our Authorpreneur members have indeed been approached by agents and publishing houses and have negotiated licensing deals. ALLi partners with a dedicated literary agent who can answer questions and provide guidance to our Authorpreneur members.
Our Authorpreneurs are also at the forefront of new publishing in the Creator Economy, experimenting with new technologies, formats, and opportunities to sell their books and related products and projects.
Could we turn now to the campaigning role of ALLi, on behalf of indie authors? What campaigns has ALLi undertaken and can you describe particular successes the organisation has achieved?
Our “AskALLi” campaign commits to answer any self-publishing question anyone might have. If we don’t know the answer, our experienced team and world-renowned advisors can help.
Our “Ethical Self-Publishing” campaign promotes a code of standards for indie authors and self-publishing services, showing their support for the principle of putting readers first. We are proud that authors all over the world display our “I am an ethical author” badge on their websites.
Our “Opening Up to Indie Authors” campaign encourages the publishing and literary industries to include self-published authors in their programs, events, festivals, prizes, listings, and reviews. We have created short guidebooks with talking points for authors so they can advocate the campaign in their communities. We also created a guidebook for those in the industry who are interested in opening up to self-published authors but have questions on how to do so.
Our “Self-Publishing 3.0” campaign aims to raise the income for authors and poets through creative business practices, most importantly not being dependent on any single outlet for sales—be it exclusively signing all rights to a publisher, or exclusively self-publishing with one platform or service.
I gather ALLi’s remit has a global aspect. Can you explain how your Ambassador Network operates?
Though ALLi’s headquarters are in London, we’re a global organisation because self-publishers use global. Platforms We have also found that while self-publishing is commonplace in many western nations, there is now a tremendous opportunity for authors in developing nations to follow their dreams, publish books, and reach readers too.
Our ambassadors are our “boots on the ground” in a particular country. Their primary goal is to spread the word about ALLi and to feed back to us about the state of the nation there.
Our ambassadors are successful authors who understand the nuances of self-publishing in their country and can message them accordingly. If you’re in Australia, for example, you may not be sure if advice from an American will be helpful to you. Our ALLi Ambassadors work through particular needs that authors in that country may have, adjusted for cultural and geographic differences.
Some of our ambassadors are bilingual too, which is also helpful!
What do you yourself read for leisure (assuming you get any!) and can you tell us the last published book you read which you really enjoyed and why?
I am an avid science fiction, fantasy, and thriller reader. The last book I read was Wheels by Arthur Hailey, and it was a phenomenal thriller set in the auto industry in Detroit.
Many thanks, Michael, for such an interesting tour of the many aspects of ALLi’s work with indie authors. Here’s to the next ten years!
You can learn more about ALLi at www.allianceindependentauthors.org, and you can check out their free publishing resources at www.selfpublishingadvice.org. Their blog and podcast network are free to the public.
Michael was talking with Susan Leona Fisher (www.SLFisherAuthor.co.uk)