If you were at London Book Fair (LBF) last spring, on Wed 19th April you would have noticed a group of authors gathering with smiles on their faces.
At the launch of the Alliance of Independent Authors (l to r) Vanessa O'Loughlin, Irish Advisor; Orna Ross, Founder; Michael Tamblyn of Kobo; Teresa Pereira of Blurb; Thom Kephart of Amazon and UK Advisor, Joanna Penn.
As anyone who has ever been to a mega-trade fair like LBF or Book Expo America knows, writers don’t really have a place there, where the focus is all on business. Until very recently, the scribes at such events fell into two categories only: the celebrity authors, who were brought along by their publishers; or the ones who didn’t really get how how the business works, and were wandering about helplessly trying to get the attention of people too busy buying and selling to give them time.
The hundred or so writers gathering in London that day were different, a new breed. All had either self-published or were preparing to. And they had come there from all over the world, together with self-publishing professionals, to launch a new breed of writers' association: the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).
Some of these writers, like the founder Orna Ross, had previously trade published. Others had taken to self-publishing because they couldn't find a publisher. All were united in their delight to be there, together, at the heart of the book business, joining together with the likes of Thom Kephart of Amazon, Michael Tamblyn of Kobo and Teresa Perreira of Blurb, to celebrate new possibilities for writers.
ALLi was born out of Orna Ross's experience of going indie in 2011. A writer for 20 years, first a journalist in Dublin and London, then a bestselling and critically acclaimed novelist, Ross had published nonfiction with Attic Press and fiction with Penguin.
"From the off, though, I preferred self-publishing," she says. "For many reasons but mainly for how it restored to me something I’d lost by publishing within corporate structures. For a writer with a passionate interest in the creative process -- my blog is 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 complained about my publisher doing badly before.
"Now I had all the freedom. And all the responsibility. It was heady stuff but before long, I was seeking a reversion of rights from my publisher, so I could reissue my novels myself."
The Alliance of Independent Authors
But there’s no such thing as an unmixed blessing. It soon became clear to Ross that indie writers needed their own association. Groups like The Writers Guild, The Authors Association, The Society of Authors -- none of these seemed to offer what independent, self-publishing writers most needed: support and information; a way to sell translation, TV and film rights; promotional opportunities, a watchdog, a code of standards and a campaigning voice that would represent indies in the media, to literary organisations and beyond.
"The more I looked, the more urgent seemed the need," says Ross. "Self publishing writers were marginalized in a way that made little sense to me -- excluded from most writing organizations on largely spurious grounds, not featured in literary events and festivals, ignored by the prize-givers. An organization 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 also to present the self-publishing writer's position on the most important debates in publishing.
"When I thought about it, I realized that when asked by my grandchildren where I was when this great revolutionary shift was going on in the writing and publishing world, I wanted to be able to say: in the heart of it. Not just stretching my own creative boundaries, publishing my own work, but also helping other writers to recognize, relish and capitalize on our new creative freedom."
So she gathered up all the knowledge gleaned from two decades in media and publishing, drew together an advisory board of world class experts and a team of literary community builders (including WLC's Melissa Foster)and gave birth to this campaigning and support organization.
The core aims of the alliance are to provide support, guidance, advice, contacts, advocacy and connection for the self-publishing author, to foster excellence and ethics in self publishing, and to advance the interests of self-publishing writers within, and beyond, the industry. There are four categories of member and any self-publishing writer interested in working in a spirit of mutual co-operation, empowerment and service to the reading and writing community, is welcome.
The Alliance provides a range of benefits: advice, information, online and offline meet-ups, a daily newspaper and blog, an agent to sell suitable titles in international markets, discounts, international contacts, and much more.
New members join every day, bringing with them varying levels of experience and sharing their knowledge with their fellow and sister writers. And with every new member, the Alliance's voice grows stronger. "We're only six months old," Ross says. "Already we're making a real difference and we have great plans for the future. Because we're nonprofit, every penny we make over and above our expenses goes back into helping authors."