Today I’m interviewed by Sarah Painter from WorriedWriter.com about definition of success, creativity, productivity and facing fear as a writer.
The corporate sponsorship for this show pays for hosting and transcription. This podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna
Here’s the notes for today’s interview. You can find the original show here on WorriedWriter.com. The full transcript is further below.
In the interview, we discuss:
- On Joanna’s fiction titles and her origins as a writer.
- Why it’s important for every writer to decide what their own definition of success is.
- The shift from writing non-fiction to fiction and the classes and practices that helped Joanna do that.
- Why writing more and finishing projects helps us to be better writers.
- Why setting deadlines and putting constraints around writing what you want to achieve actually boost creativity and ability to produce. I also mention Kristine Rusch’s book, The Pursuit of Perfection and how it harms writers. Highly recommended.
- On the possibilities in the global market and why writers should exploit rights they own in those global areas.
- How Joanna balances the two sides of her professional life. Here’s the post that includes Plato’s chariot.
- On continually collecting ideas for the creative pipeline and the tools that support that.
- The struggles that Joanna and other successful authors encounter, including self-doubt, and the ways to cope with that.
- Why writers need to realize that our friends and family are not necessarily our readers or our market.
- Why this era is a renaissance for creative people.
You can find Sarah and more episodes of the podcast at WorriedWriter.com
Transcription of interview with Joanna Penn
Sarah: You’re listening to The Worried Writer. Helping you to overcome fear, self-doubt, and procrastination to get the work done.
I’m your host, Sarah Painter and I’m a novelist and self-confessed worried writer. For show notes, resources and much more, please head to WorriedWriter.com. And now, on with the show.
I’m very excited to welcome Joanna Penn on the podcast today. Joanna writes thrillers under the name J.F. Penn, as well as running The Creative Penn, which gives advice to authors on the business side of things. I love Joanna’s podcast, and listening to her energy and enthusiasm was one of the catalysts for starting my own. I also read her Business for Authors book back at the end of 2014, and it really made me see my writing in a new way. She opened my eyes to the way in which I could approach it as I would any other business. And bit of being a control freak and quite business-minded, I love her talk of plans, and production schedules, and so on.
Joanna is very proud to be indie-published and I love her can-do attitude and her work ethic. Even if you’re not interested in self-publishing, I highly recommend listening to the interview, as we get into overcoming self-doubt and staying productive and creative. I also think that even if you’re traditionally published and have an agent or are aiming for those things, there is lots of value in education yourself in the realities of the business, contracts, and so on. We all just want to write. That’s why we got into this. But if you want to make money, or have even the possibility of earning a living, I think that being business-minded and empowered is the way to go.
Now, on to the interview section of the show.
Joanna Penn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, writing heart-pounding thrillers under the name J.F. Penn. There are seven books in the ARKANE adventure series and Joanna has recently completed her London Psychic trilogy. Joanna is also a highly successful speaker, podcaster and author of non-fiction titles such as Business for Authors and Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and Other Introverts.
Her website, The Creative Penn, has a wealth of information and highlight many others. I’m a huge fan of her open approach to sharing her experiences in independent publishing and running a creative business. Joanna was also voted one of The Guardian’s top 100 creative professionals in 2013. Welcome to the show Joanna, and thank you so much for joining me.
Joanna: Thank you for the lovely introduction Sarah. That was wonderful. [laughs]
Sarah: Well, thank you. I hope I covered most things in the introduction.
But just to break the ice a little bit with the audience, could you tell us about your novels?
Joanna: Yes. Well, the ARKANE series, our teen readers have described it as ‘Dan Brown meets Lara Croft.’ So it’s a kind of action-adventure-thriller with religious conspiracy overtones.
I have a Master’s degree in Theology so that definitely comes through in the ARKANE series. But I also love action-adventure explosion movies, so that’s really my super fun, going around the world, blowing things up series.
And then I have the London Psychic series, it’s a bit darker, mystery, more like P.D. James meet Stephen King series of books that’s set, obviously, in London. So two quite different tones, I think, to the books but I’m writing something different at the moment. So I think we all hit our stride with our writing. But I’m mainly, definitely in the thriller sub-genre, I’d say.
Sarah: I’ve actually just started reading Desecration, which is the first of the London Psychic trilogy, and it’s great. So I highly recommend that.
Joanna: Thank you so much. And yeah, it’s funny because it’s definitely a slower pace and a deeper level of thinking. But it was a book that I just had to write. It was one of those that really came up from inside, as opposed to one sort of targeted at a market. So thank you.
Sarah: Yes, it’s wonderful. And I do love dark stuff and I love things with a supernatural edge. So it’s as if you wrote it with me in mind.
Joanna: Well, you have a slight sort of magical element.
Sarah: Yes, I do. I can’t seem to help myself.
Joanna: No, me too. I want to write something without something supernatural, without something demonic in it. Surprise, surprise. It just pops up.
Sarah: Going back to the beginning, what was your journey into becoming a novelist? Had you always wanted to write fiction?
Joanna: Well, I was always a reader. My mum tells a story of me wandering into my parents’ room and I was like four years old, dragging books rather than a teddy bear. So I’ve always been a massive reader, an introvert, like many people listening, I’m sure. I spent my teenage years in books, rather than in anything else. And so I always read, but my mum was an English literature teacher. I also went to Oxford. I had this very much of a literary background, and I grew up with…and my dad was in education, as well.
So I grew up with this idea that the only book you’re allowed to write is one that might win the Booker prize or the Pulitzer prize.
So in terms of that sort of upbringing, I never thought I would write fiction, because even though I read some literary fiction, I read a lot of thriller writing, and I like non-fiction. I like travel books. So I never really equated it as something that I might do. I also went into, like many people, a job after university. I became a management consultant, and my creative streak was crushed by 13 years of corporate life. So I didn’t really think about writing fiction.
I actually was so miserable in my job, about ten years ago, I wrote a non-fiction book, which is now out there as Career Change, under Joanna Penn. And that led me into blogging and speaking, and I started to make an income on the internet with non-fiction type things.
And so I suddenly had this blog, The Creative Penn, and I was talking about writing and self-publishing, and I was learning about book marketing. And someone came on my podcast. Podcasting can change your life. A guy came on my podcast, Tom Evans the bookwright, and he actually said, “I think your blog’s about writing fiction.” And I said, “No, I’m not. I don’t get blogs. That’s not me.”
He said, “Your blog’s about writing fiction, because you think the only good book you can write is a literary novel.” And I was seriously stunned by his words, and I realized it was true.
And so I did nanowrimo.org, which is National Novel Writing Month, where I wrote 20,000 words of what eventually became A Stone of Fire, the first book in the ARKANE series. That was back in 2009. I wrote the first 20,000 words. I published the book in 2011. So that took me around 14 months, and then the next book took me a year. The next one took me nine months. And now I’m writing four novels a year.
So it’s definitely been a journey, but I still write non-fiction, as you said. I still speak. I have a varied portfolio. But I left my job in September 2011 to do this full-time. I am making a living with my writing these days, which is exciting.
Sarah: Just brilliant. I so empathize with what you’re saying about that feeling that really the only real writing is literary fiction and that being a huge pressure or a block. It’s great that you had that epiphany on the podcast.
Joanna: I think that one of the things that I challenge writers on is when I say, “What is your definition of success?”, to me there are actually two quite different poles.
On one level of success is winning a literary prize and having critics say how brilliant you are. And the other one is selling multi-million books to readers.
I decided at that point, that my definition of success was to sell millions of books to readers. Stephen King being one of my ultimate heroes, only now being recognized as one of the great writers of our generation because of millions and millions of readers love his books. But of course, he writes clearly writes genre fiction. So I decided pretty much, “Look at Dan Brown.” I’d rather have Dan Brown’s success than win the Booker prize.
Sarah: Absolutely. It’s so silly though, because I didn’t think that I believed in the genre snobbery. I read genre fiction. I love Stephen King, all the rest of it. But when it came to write myself – I still felt this really crushing fear of being judged, or of producing something that wasn’t good, or producing something that was genre. It was very difficult.
After your epiphany and obviously doing NaNoWriMo, which is a really great way to just get going, were there any practical things that you did to help you segue from non-fiction to fiction, to develop that creative side of you again or nurture it?
Joanna: I very much was using The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. We all read that back in the ’90s, I think. So I was getting out. I find modern art galleries particularly good for thinking outside the box, as such. I think I was writing some poetry, terrible, terrible poetry. But really just leaning in to changing my mindset.
And the other thing is, I started to listen to podcasts and read blogs by people who were successfully self-publishing. And at the time, there were people who were the first million sellers on Kindle, back in 2011. It was becoming possible in 2011, for a fiction writer to make a lot of money. And as somebody who was leaving her job and really wanted to make a living as a writer, I was very interested in this kind of thing.
When I did write the ARKANE series, I very much designed it with actually making some money.
Totally writing it around a genre I love, so I pretty much buy everything in the conspiracy thriller niche. So really, writing a genre I know very, very well. And of course, we all know if you want to make really good money, you write romance. But I’m not a romance reader, so therefore I’m not a romance writer.
I decided I wanted to write something that will be a commercial success, not something that would just drop out of nowhere. I noticed that many people are writing series. So I designed the ARKANE secret agency, which is a government agency under Trafalgar Square in London, which investigates supernatural mysteries around the world. I can have my agents go around solving mysteries around everywhere. It suits an episodic series idea.
And the next thing I did practically was join a How to Write a Novel in a Year course.
I was in Australia at the time, so it’s at Queensland, Library of Queensland or something like that. And that was once a month on a Sunday, meeting up and we did character one month, plot another month. But the idea was that you had actually written a whole draft by the end of the year. The key to that is the deadline. So that would be my big tip to people.
You have to set a deadline.
And I now schedule everything in my diary. The book I’m writing now, I started last Monday. I have in my diary every writing day I will do, and I know how many words I have to hit in order to write the first draft by around the middle of October. And I’ve already booked my editor for certain days.
To me, that setting a deadline and constraining myself is really important. But that first book did take a year. And then I went through an editing process. Obviously, that would be another tip, professional editing, whether or not you’re going to an agent or self-publishing, is absolutely critical.
I’ve probably spent the same amount as a graduate degree over the last few years on various courses, always trying to improve my craft. I paid for a lot of professional editing, because I believed every time I get edited, I learn more. But yeah, practically, also the other thing I find with writers, some people seem to think that rewriting the same book for ten years will make you a better writer.
Sarah: Oh, yes.
Joanna: My opinion is that the more books you write, the better you become.
I have ten fiction titles now, seven novels, three novellas and a short story series, so kind of 11. But every time I publish a book, every time I write another draft, I get better. We can tell that with anybody. Terry Pratchett, he recently passed away. He wrote the massive Discworld series, and if you ask a Terry Pratchett fan, they’ll probably say start on book ten.
My personal opinion is, I’m 40 and where I am now, I have a lot of books to write. But every time somebody finds one of my novels, they are likely to go back, if they enjoy it. They’re likely to go back and buy everything else I’ve written.
That is one of the cool things about being a fiction writer. You make more and more money over time, because every time somebody new discovers you, they buy your back list.
Sarah: It’s very, very encouraging to hear that. I might print it out, put it above the computer.
Joanna: Well, it’s true. I mean, look at Stephen King, look at…even in Britain or Scotland as you are there, Val McDermid, I just read her Splinter the Silence. I reckon she must have written that book in order to please the people who love her series. And lots of people put out the next book in the series, and everybody goes to buy it. So you see this, and the top earning authors are all in their 50s and 60s. People like Nora Roberts, who writes a book a month. James Patterson, he does a lot of co-writing. Whatever the literary establishment say about these authors, they are loved. They are beloved, and that’s what I want to be.
Sarah: Yeah, no, me too. I want to build a readership. I want to build a long-term career. I want this to be the thing I do.
Joanna: Yeah, until the day we die.
Sarah: I’d like to be more productive. I’m quite a slow writer. I’m working to improve that, but I just to want to touch on something you said about writing more than one book to learn, rather than rewriting the same book. And I do really agree with you on that.
I also think that there’s something very useful about finishing things as well, because if you rewrite the same book, you’re effectively never finishing. And I think that’s something very psychologically healthy, by actually finishing the damn thing and moving on.
Joanna: Definitely. And I would say to people right now, novellas in the ebook market are really popular, so you don’t have to write a 70,000 word, 80,000 word book. You can write a 25,000 word novella.
I’ve got one called One Day in Budapest, which is just prescient right now with what’s going on in Hungary. And that book means a lot to me. It’s 25,000 words, I email about it all the time. It sells well. It’s only on a $2.99 US dollars, or £1.99, I think it is. But still, it makes me $2 a copy, and it took me three weeks, four weeks. Yeah, this is the thing. You don’t have to write a full-length novel. It’s very difficult to write a full-length novel, we all know. But yes, finishing is super important.
And then again, on the time it takes, I think I’m a slow writer. Like today, today was a good day. I wrote 2,000 words in about two-and-a-half hours. But I would normally write around a thousand to 1,500 a day. The thing is, when I put it in my diary, I actually write that.
I don’t sit around thinking about writing. I actually do write.
When I had a day job, I used to get up really early before work, and write before work.
Putting constraints on things actually helps you achieve faster. Because I’ve booked my editor. There’s no choice. I have to. I have to get this done. And also, Stephen King says you’ve got to sit down at the same place at every day, and the muse might show up, smoking a cigar or whatever. But if you’re not there, it’s not going to happen.
Sarah: So true. And in the early days, in terms of advice for people at an earlier stage, you said you did that course.
I suppose that also had an accountability element to it, because every month you knew you were going to go, and be doing most of that.
Joanna: Yes, but what’s interesting about that course I spoke about: I think there were 28 of us, and the woman said to us at the beginning, “Of those of you sitting here, only one of you will finish a novel.” And I was like, “Yeah, it’s going to be me.” And surprise, surprise. It was me. I had an email the other week from somebody who was on that course with me, and this was back in 2009, 2010. And she said, “I’m amazed to see that you’re on book ten. I’m still writing the one that we were doing back on that course.”
I think you’ve just got to look at what you want to achieve with your life. The thing is, a year can pass and you look back and go, “What the hell happened?”
I now measure my life by what I create, and I’ve got my little shelf here with my books on, and they’re not perfect, by any means. But they’re doing all right.
Sarah: That’s something else I think I’m still in the process of letting go of:
That there’s some arbitrary bar that I have to hit, when it is such a subjective thing.
Joanna: It is. When authors get rejections and things and they think it’s personal. But the thing is, every reader is different. Every agent is different. Every publisher is different.
What’s so brilliant about self-publishing and about the internet world we live in now, I’ve sold books in 68 countries. There’s readers in Burkina Faso in sub-Saharan Africa reading my book. I don’t know how they found me, or what they see in my writing, but they love my writing more than the literary agent sitting in a London office. You know what I mean?
I have a massive American audience, and I sell much better in America than I do here, because they love Dan Brown. Chinese people love Dan Brown. So I think actually England’s my worst market, because of the literary snobbery that goes around. But it’s all about your definition of success, at the end of the day.
One book I would recommend to people is called The Pursuit of Perfection and How it Harms Writers by Christine Katherine Rusch, and Rusch spelled R-U-S-C-H. That is an excellent work, and it will help anyone with any perfectionist issues.
Sarah: Oh, brilliant. Thank you. I think I shall have to go out and buy that instantly, and I will put it in our show notes, as well. The global market thing is very, very exciting and when you talk about it on your podcast, I always feel so invigorated and excited and optimistic about the future, because there can be a lot of doom and gloom in publishing, in the media regarding publishing. But you’re so right. You’re so right.
Joanna: I would advise people also to look at AuthorEarnings.com, which is a great site. They just released another report today and something like 45% of Kindle sales are now self-published. So the reason there’s so much doom and gloom in traditional publishing, why they’re saying that their sales are dipping and everything, it’s because the indies are taking market share. And I would also advise people here that most of the industry reports are based on ISBN numbers. And writers like me don’t use ISBN numbers. So they’re not necessary to self-publish.
So this report on authorearnings.com for September 2015 goes into that. It’s something like 30% of books on the Amazon top 200,000 have no ISBN. So when you hear reports in the media, just realize where they’re coming from, and which part of the industry they’re from. Whereas my cohorts of indies are doing well.
I think it just depends what your business model is. And like we were just saying about the global market, even if people are listening are published in the UK or America, have a look at your contract.
Do you own the rights to the rest of the world? Can you self-publish in Australia or Canada or New Zealand or anywhere else?
And this is all English by the way, the 68 countries are English language. India has more English speakers than the UK, all of whom are educated readers. China has more English speakers than the UK. So be looking at what you’ve sold and what you haven’t sold, or have you sold audio rights, for example. If you haven’t, look at ACX.com and think about getting your book out in audio format.
There’s so much possibility for writers. But what I see, so many authors are just disempowered and don’t realized what they can do themselves. You don’t need a publisher, you don’t need an agent now. You can make really good income on your own, and not have to pay 15% or whatever it is, I mean, a lot.
Sarah: That’s really great advice, and I’m going to put all of this amazing information in the show notes. But people should definitely go to Joanna’s website, which I will mention again at the end. But it’s TheCreativePenn.com. Is that right?
Joanna: Yes, TheCreativePenn.com. P-E double N.
Sarah: It’s fantastic. It’s absolutely fantastic, and it’s chock full of amazing resources and information. But I just want to say, because you have The Creative Penn website and you have your podcasting, professional speaking, writing non-fiction, so you have that creative business. And then of course, you have your novels.
How do you balance the two sides of your professional life, both in terms of the head space that they take up, but also time management?
Joanna: I’ve just written a post on this actually about Plato’s chariots, the metaphor of back in ancient Greece when they had chariot races, and you had two horses pulling the chariot, the dark horse and the white horse. And for me, the dark horse is that shadow side, Carl Jung’s shadow, the part of your personality that is the darker side, which for me is J.F. Penn. And J.F. Penn is a chronic introvert, and would rather just sit alone and not speak to anybody, and go visit graveyards and just write stories and not talk to anyone.
You’re talking to Joanna Penn. Joanna Penn is my white horse, it’s the side that wants to help people and is more outwardly focused. Still an introvert, but I want to help other people. So I say this side of me is the side that wants to be Tony Robbins, the sort of self-help speaker. And the other side is the Stephen King, who sits in a vault.
What I actually have done to balance these is I just use my diary. I absolutely schedule my time.
So generally in the morning, at the moment, because I’m writing the first draft of this novel, every morning I’ve got a block. Before one o’clock every day, I’m writing, I’m focused on fiction. I go to the cafe around the corner, and I do my words. And then the afternoons, I’ll do interviews like this, I’ll do the marketing side, I’ll blog, do my own podcast. Anything involved in marketing and business, I would do in the afternoons. Because I’m a morning person, so it’s better to do that. I use my diary and schedule that time way in advance.
So if I put J.F. Penn in the diary, then I would say, “No, I’m sorry, I can’t do an interview because I’m doing J.F. Penn stuff.” I think if people just take the mindset of booking time for their fiction. Many parents will book their play dates for their kids or book stuff way in advance for school, but won’t actually book their own writing in their diary. I really challenge people around that. Just using a schedule to force yourself.
Even if you end up sitting there for an hour just researching something interesting, at least you’ve had that hour when that’s for you. And you might just write down some ideas that you have and then the next day maybe force yourself to write 200 words. And if you write 200 words a day, you’ve done really, really well by the end of the year. So those would probably be some of my tips.
Sarah: That’s brilliant. And in terms of staying productive or staying creative over the long haul, because I’m so impressed with not just what you’ve achieved, but…
the sustained effort and achievement that you have managed. I’m wondering if you have any top tips for that? Do you still take artist dates, for example?
Joanna: Oh yeah. I have an app on my phone called Things. I also had used Moleskine notebooks, but I find Things on my phone much better now. I’ve got a folder called Fiction Ideas, and as I go about life, I just write stuff in that folder.
I was just watching the TV the other day and I saw a documentary on under the sea. It’s about the ocean and they said something about sharkskin, and I just wrote down this thing about sharkskin and how it’s really interesting. Oh I put here, I’ve just opened the app, it says, “A man is reading music on the train like others would read a newspaper, his foot tapping to the tune in his mind.” I can now remember that guy on the train. Or, “The British museum are calling for postcards of things like the Palmyra before it was destroyed by ISIS.”
Stuff like that. You know, ‘body hacking.’ I just wrote that down. Anything that I hear or see or experience, I will write down little notes in my folder. And then what I find is that things just bubble up from my subconscious.
I’m writing a book at the moment, working title Risen Gods, which is about New Zealand and the volcanoes. It’s an apocalyptic, dark fantasy based on an idea I had way back in 2004 when I was living in New Zealand, and there are earthquakes and things there. So that idea is now coming out of me, and I know the next book I’m writing, which will be Destroyer of Worlds, will be about the Kumbh Mela in India, which is a Hindu festival. And that is one I’ve been thinking about for years, as well.
I don’t have enough time to write the ideas that come. But it’s more about that pipe idea, like you’ve got to keep them coming all the time.
Keep the inflow working, so the outflow works, as well.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a creative block after I decided to write fiction. It’s more a case of trying to choose the right project to focus on. But if you’re not enthusiastic about what you’re writing about, you might have the wrong topic. But I must say I can’t stop getting ideas. And it really is just from everything around you. I didn’t feel like this, back when I had a day job. I felt like the most uncreative person in the whole world.
It’s something to train your mind to do. Just maybe start off by writing down one thing a day that you notice in the environment. Maybe it’s the color…and it needs to be very specific. One of the tips with fiction is specific is much, much better. So it’s not a blue flower. It’s a blue iris that’s in front of a Victorian terrace with the sun on the sunflower with a bee. Write down something specific that you see in your environment, or you hear on the TV, or whatever. And over time, the ideas just keep coming.
Sarah: That’s fantastic advice. Thank you so much. You’re being so positive, but the title of the podcast is The Worried Writer so I’m very sorry that I’m going to have to ask.
These days, do you ever have any struggles when writing, or is there a part of the process that you find difficult or when fear or self-doubt will hit you or is most likely to hit you?
Joanna: I think I always say that writers – authors in particular – we struggle with massive ego and chronic self-doubt. You have to have enough of an ego to want your books to be read. But we all also think we’re all terrible all the time, like everything we write is awful.
What is funny is and the more you talk about this, the more you realize everyone feels the same. I was at Thriller Fest in New York early this year with Clive Cussler, David Morrell, he wrote First Blood which became Rambo. Karin Slaughter, who’s a big crime writer. Lee Child, who wrote the Jack Reacher series. All these big name authors who are all multi-million bestsellers, all multi-millionaires.
One person in the audience asked the same question and they said, “Look, every time we finish a book, we think it’s going to bomb and we won’t sell a copy and people will hate it. And this will never stop.” They literally just said, “Look, this will never stop. This is part of the creative life. You have to just accept the feelings of self-doubt, the feelings that the book is terrible.”
Every time I finish a book, I really think I will never write again. I think I have nothing left.
I’ve nothing left. I will never write again. And I felt that. And it’s funny, because it’s only October, but I felt that in July when I put Deviance out, my last novel. I really felt like I am empty.
Sarah: That’s exactly where I am right now. I just finished the edits on a book and I’ve just got that, “I’m never going to write another book. I’m never going to have another idea. That’s it. I’m done.”
Joanna: That’s just normal.
What you need to do is focus on something else.
Writing non-fiction, I actually use as a palette cleanser. Because writing non-fiction is actually a lot easier than fiction. Just write something that you know about, or that you can research in an organized fashion. And self-publishing’s great like this, of course, because who’s going to stop you? So I tend to write non-fiction or do something that is helpful to other people, as opposed to using stuff out of my brain.
But what you find is – you know, because you’ve written a number of books – is that eventually, you’ll feel the need to write again and something will emerge. I have that on my wall. I have a load of stuff on my wall. This one says, “Trust emergence.”
Because over and over and over again, I have thought, “Oh goodness, there’s nothing left.” And then something will just emerge.
And also, when you’re writing, I’m sure you know, it’s like synchronicity happens and the story will emerge, and you’re like, “Whoa, how did that happen?” But you just have to trust the process, and trust the creative process. And the fear of judgment, like I had when that book Desecration that you’re reading, was quite a departure from the upbeat action-adventure stuff, and has some quite tragic stuff in, has very dark thoughts around the meaning of the body after we’re dead. And use of medical specimens, and stuff like that. And I just was like, “Oh my goodness, people are going to think I’m so weird.”
My mum stopped reading my books. My mother-in-law would say things like, “Why don’t you write something nice?” My husband stopped reading my books. But what you have to think is, again, my family and friends are not my market. I can’t base that on them because actually, you know, you like graveyards, right? You and I have more in common.
Joanna: Yeah, we have more in common in what we like around fiction than I do with my mother, my husband, even my best friend in real life. That’s just the way it goes.
Sarah: And there are enough of us who like the dark, gothic, disturbing.
Joanna: Oh goodness. So funny. I mean, I do this now when I speak. I say, “Okay who likes to walk through graveyards and take pictures?” And I kid you not, it is always about 25% of the audience.
Sarah: There we go. That’s our demographic.
Joanna: It is the people who are comfortable with death, basically. It’s the people who don’t shrink from it.
Sarah: Yeah. Fascinated. Excellent. So has anything…obviously putting things up on the wall, I really like that idea. I love a good quote, anyway. But I think putting them up on the wall, or where you can see them where you’re working is a really great tip.
I also love what you’re saying that it is just a case of accepting that this is part of the process, and that it’s normal and that it will happen every time. So not to panic.
Joanna: And actually, people will hate your book, no matter how many editors you have. You will get one star reviews. And the fact that you only have to look at the top selling books, go look at the Pulitzer prize-winning books. And then go compare them to E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Gray. I mean, you’ll find the same proportion of one star reviews. And actually, Fifty Shades of Grey has a lot more positive reviews than some of these prize-winning novels.
The definition of a good book is not up to you. It’s up to the reader. And I think that is so important.
Sarah: And I also love the way that you talk about the idea of choosing yourself, as well. And you know, you said about defining success for yourself. But I really admire that ‘choose yourself’ philosophy.
I just think you’re very brave in deciding to self-publish a few years ago. Was it very scary at the time, or did you just feel quite gung-ho about it?
Joanna: I think I’m not somebody who likes to ask permission. After I’d written my first book, and then I was like, “Okay. Well, what happens next? Oh right. I’ll look at the publishing industry.” And I started to find out what the publishing industry was, and I discovered this rejection thing. And I was like, “Do you know what? How did they get to reject me? That’s crazy.” So I didn’t like the negative. Also I felt the power imbalance was very wrong, as in, I just wrote something. I’m the creative. Why do you get to tell me I’m not worthy? So I didn’t like that. And I discovered self-publishing before the Kindle, before it became trendy.
I first self-published in 2008. And then the Kindle came and of course now, it’s much more mainstream to self-publish. There’s still a bit of a stigma. But back then…the thing that gets me, well one is the control issue; two, the power imbalance; three, the speed.
The speed of publishing is utterly ridiculous in a digital age in that…of course, the writing and the editing takes the same amount of time, but once my book is ready, I upload it. It’s for sale within four hours and I get money 60 days later. I mean, what is not to like about that?
And the other thing, of course, is the money. I get 70% royalty, seven-zero, as opposed to around 10%, which is what most authors get. So I actively choose to self-publish and I continue to do that, although I have an agent. But he does foreign rights, and other things.
Sarah: Well, I absolutely love your approach to all of this, and I’ve mentioned you on the podcast before and on my website, but absolutely I shall put all these links in the show notes. I do think, I urge everybody listening to immediately go and read all of Joanna’s books, and to go to TheCreativePenn.com and to listen to her fantastic podcast every week, because it’s a real boost. So thank you so much for doing all of those things.
Joanna: Thank you so much, Sarah. And part of the reason I love to share is to help other authors in the same way that you’re doing.
And I said to you just before the show, this is the best time for authors and creatives.
This is the rise, the make-a-movement worldwide, people and creatives taking things into their own hands. Indie music, indie film, even things like farmers’ markets, people choosing to buy from creators, and not on the high street, but in Etsy. People, customers worldwide choosing small artisan products over mass market, which is essentially what the big publishers are now. So this really is a renaissance for creatives. So I hope you and your listeners will just feel like, “Woo hoo!” and get out there and create more.
Sarah: Well, I definitely do, but I definitely need to go and write some more words because I haven’t written enough words today, and I feel galvanized.
Sarah: Just to finish up, so I will point everyone to The Creative Penn, of course. But what’s the latest release or what’s next for you?
Is there anything you’d like to tell the listeners about?
Joanna: Yes. Well, that’s a tough one. I would suggest…
Sarah: So many things.
Joanna: Yes, so many things. I’m actually writing my non-fiction book. I’m writing about mindset for authors. Probably the best book to check out is How to Make a Living With Your Writing, which is my latest non-fiction book out earlier this year. And that has a video series, as well. I’m associated with @TheCreativePenn.com/freedom and that includes ways to actually make some money. And if you’re interested in self-publishing, check out TheCreativePenn.com/blueprint and that is the author 2.0 blueprint, everything you need to know about self-publishing. And all of that is free. So hopefully that will help more people get their work out in the world.
Sarah: I’m sure it will. Well, thank you again for your time, Joanna. I really, really appreciate it.
Joanna: No worries. Thanks for having me Sarah.
Sarah: Thank you. Bye.
Thanks for listening today. For show notes and links, head to worriedwriter.com. If you’d like to connect, find me on Twitter @SarahRPainter or use the hashtag #worriedwriter. See you next time.