There are some personal milestones that mean a lot and this is one for me!
Back in 2008, I self-published my first book. This was before the international Kindle and before print-on-demand went mainstream. I (optimistically) printed two thousand copies, but they just sat in my house in boxes that year. I managed to hand sell 120 of them, but as an introvert, it was a massively painful process. I had learned how to write and publish a book, but I didn’t know anything about sales and marketing.
But I was determined to make a success of being an author, so I began to learn a whole new set of skills around online marketing, blogging, podcasting, personal branding, copywriting … and a lot more.
That’s when I discovered Copyblogger.com and through the mix of articles, audio and premium training courses, my skill set gradually improved.
My fundamental belief in content marketing and education as a way to grow a long-term, viable business comes from Brian Clark and the Copyblogger team, as does my focus on transparency and authenticity. This site is also built on a Studiopress theme, so I am all in!
Copyblogger is now just one of the businesses under Rainmaker Digital, an 8 figure business that began with just one man and a blog back in 2006. A true 10-year, overnight success story!
So I am super excited to share this audio interview today. Brian interviewed me for Unemployable, the show for people who can get a job, they’re just not inclined to take one 🙂
We talk about:
- Why creativity and business are not mutually exclusive
- How books contain Intellectual Property rights that generate multiple streams of income
- The massive global sales potential for entrepreneurial authors
- How streaming audio and global print-on-demand factor in your business
- What content marketing means for aspiring authors
I do recommend subscribing if you want to become a full time creative entrepreneur, because it’s a fantastic show. My favorite recent episodes include discussions with Seth Godin, Tim Ferriss and Tara Gentile.
Also, I’ll be speaking at the Digital Commerce Summit, Oct 13-14 in Denver, Colorado on these author entrepreneurial topics, alongside Brian and his team, as well as some other amazing speakers. So if you want to supercharge your entrepreneurial skills, I hope to see you there!
Transcript of Interview with Joanna Penn on Unemployable
Joanna: I’m thriller author and creative entrepreneur Joanna Penn, and I’m most defiantly unemployable.
Announcer: Welcome to Unemployable, the show for people who can get a job, they are just not inclined to take one, and that’s putting it gently. In addition to this podcast, thousands of freelances and entrepreneurs get actionable advice and other valuable resources from the Weekly Unemployable Email News Letter. Join us by registering for a free Profit Pillars Course, or choose to sign up for the newsletter only at no charge. Simply head over to unemployable.com and take your business and lifestyle to the next level. That’s unemployable.com.
Hey, there unemployable people. This is Brain Clark. Welcome to the show. We are ready for a new episode of Unemployable. I should take a moment here to tell you that unemployable is a proud member of the Rainmaker.FM Podcast Network. that’s Rainmaker.FM, and you can select from a bevy of additional shows that can help you with your business, including my other program with Jared Morris, the Digital Entrepreneur, so make sure to check that out. Of course, Rainmaker.FM is brought to you quite literally by the Rainmaker platform. If you are interested in building your online marketing and sales platform, check out rainmakerplatform.com.
All right, today we are talking eBooks, and the first person that jumped in my mind to talk about this topic is Joanna Penn. She’s a successful non fiction author, a successful fiction author, she teachers other people how to market their courses and self publish, because guess what?
Joanna is an entrepreneur, Joanna does not have a publisher, and she has succeeded quite well at going it alone in this brave new world of eBooks and Self Publication. We’re going to learn some really cool stuff from her. If you want to dive deeper on this topic, make sure and check out Digital Commerce Summit over at digitalcommerce.com. She will be speaking for us on this topic, and it’s really going to be exciting. But let’s give you a little bit of a taste here right now.
Joanna Penn, how many years have we known each other, but we haven’t spoken before now?
Joanna: I know it’s crazy, and I think it was back in 2008 when I first started with Copy Blogger and I was in Third Tribe at one point. I’m an absolute Copy Blogger fan. I’m thrilled to be finally speaking to you.
Brian: Now this is awesome, because it is so common. You’ve written for Copy Blogger, you are a member, and you’ve being around so long that you feel like you know people. Then you realize, we’ve not only not meant in person, but we’ve only typed at each other. It’s a very weird thing and sometimes you don’t realize it.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly, and it’s also funny because I know over the years you’ve talked about books. Of course, I was super fan of writing books and even though you written millions of millions of words, that is not something that you’ve been in to so far.
Brian: I know, it’s true and so my entrepreneurial impulses definitely use words and content to the max. That’s why I’m so interested in what you do, because I could see me going in that direction, I just didn’t.
It’s a fascinating thing, but it’s indisputable that you are one of those prime examples of people who took the entrepreneurial road to the opportunities that self publishing opened up with the Kindle and direct sales of eBooks and other formats. We definitely want to talk about that, but I want to take people back a little bit.
You’ve had a very fascinating career and/or journey even before you wrote your first book. Let’s talk about being a theology student.
Joanna: Yeah, that’s getting back a little bit. I did theology at the University of Oxford, which is actually one of the oldest degrees in the world. The curriculum was from around a thousand years ago, so that just shows you how fast people move on. You know, reading the Bible in Greek that type of thing.
Going to Oxford means that you also end up doing something like consulting or banking or law. I know you did law, and I went in to consulting. What’s so funny is that degree in theology that I did back then, is the basis of my fiction thriller series. It wasn’t all wasted, but yeah, that was sort of, I guess ,the beginning of my conspiracy theory love.
Brian: It’s never wasted. Trust me, I don’t regret for a second the legal education, and I didn’t like practicing law, but I learned things from that as well. I did notice the theme of your fiction titles and I was like, “Mmm that’s interesting thing that you got going on there.”
So management consulting and then you ended up in a scuba business. Now how does that happen?
Joanna: This is a great lesson for people. A very expensive one for me, but hopefully other people can avoid it. Basically, I ended up in consulting and I was actually implementing financial systems in accounts departments around the world. Which is, as people can imagine, is super boring and not at all creative, but highly paid in the same way that many of these corporate jobs are.
I pretty much knew that I didn’t want to do that, and I spent 10 years investigating different things. At one point, I started this scuba diving business in New Zealand. I was living in Auckland at the time. We hired a boat, all the overheads of physical business. Things like fuel and insurance for things like scuba diving and diving equipment. Just the crazy amount work involved in a physical business totally convinced me that even though I love scuba diving, I do not want to run a scuba diving business.
The biggest thing I learned at that point was that I wanted to be location independent and earn a living online. That was around, sort of, 2003-2004 it was not easy at that point to run a business online. I know you were starting back then. But it wasn’t easy so that’s when I started thinking, “Okay what could I do as a business person that does not involve massive overhead and dependence on the weather in New Zealand, which is not a good basis for business”.
Brian: Yeah, oh it was not easy in 2003. I remember the Duct Tape Websites that I strung together to make things happen we can do things now, that’s a good thing. That’s a positive development.
When was the shift, when did you actually buckle down and just write the first book?
Joanna: Well, after the scuba diving business we moved to Australia. Then we tried property investment, which is something else that a lot of people do. And again, I know you’ve done sites in that. Property had similar problems; it had high costs and potential risk, but the time had moved on a bit, so we’re now 2006.
I was really hardcore over being a consultant, but of course I was at the point where I was earning, really, sort of golden handcuff money. I started listening to a lot of audio around then, before they were called podcasts, and self-help stuff. I thought, “You know what? I’ll just write a self-help book,” And it’s still is out there as Career Change. That was the first book I wrote. It was essentially how does one find the thing you really want to do with your life, and the process of doing that.
What’s so crazy, really, is that writing that book changed my life, because I learnt how to write a book, I learnt how to publish a book. Then I had to learn about marketing, which we can come on to. Seth Godin, who I know you’re a friend of, I read a post that he wrote around then that said, “The first book you write will change your life, even if it might not change anybody else’s.” That was classic for me.
Brian: Sounds like you wrote your own journey…I mean, your map. You wrote your own guide forward.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly, because I didn’t know what I needed to know. A lot of people write nonfiction because of this. You write the book you need to find out about. In the same way that you might write a blog post about something you want to learn, that’s kind of how a lot of people write nonfiction.
I really did write about how to change your career. And in doing so I discovered, “Oh my goodness I just love writing books.” Of course I’ve been a hardcore reader for all my life, but I never dreamed that it could be a career. In fact, I don’t think it really has been a viable career up until the digital revolution as such.
Brian: Yes, we both agree that being a digital entrepreneur beats the real world, but I think we all kind of work our way towards this. Not everyone, but a lot of people that’s where they want to get to to. I think especially in the world of writers, the idea of the laptop and that’s about it, allows you to create and make a living, and that was the original draw to me when I left to practice of law. I just channeled my writing in a different direction.
It may be interesting to you, too, because I don’t know if you’ve ever heard me say this. When Copy Blogger started in 2006, it was always about what we now call content marketing. But my intent was to turn writers in to entrepreneurs. That just shows you how naive I was, because you know what I’m saying. There is a lot of resistance.
You’ve mentioned creativity a couple of times so far, and that seems to be the sticking point, that if you are a creative person, then you are not a business person.
Yet we’ve really seen the rise of the creative entrepreneur, which is another way of saying an artistic entrepreneur. What are your thoughts on that?
Joanna: There are two things, really. First of all, I do think you have to kind of keep things separate in a way. When I’m writing fiction, particularly, I will be in a certain frame of mind, a certain mind set, that is different to the woman who podcasts and blogs and does book marketing.
I do think you have to consider the artist’s side, and really indulge that creativity when you’re creating products.
Then you have to switch heads and really focus on the business. I actually think it comes down to who you select from the environment as your model. For me, coming from a business background, I was never going to be someone who didn’t make money. That was not an option. Also, I got really annoyed by the fact that I wasted 13 years not being creative because people said to me, “You can’t make a living out of this.”
One of the biggest things I’m really keen on is trying to prove that this is a very viable business. As a creative, you’re creating intellectual property assets that can earn you money for the rest of your life, and 70 years after you die. This is magic, when the penny drops around this, it’s incredible.
So many artists want to give up control of those intellectual property rights to other people, so a publisher for authors, or gallery owners for artists, that type of thing. What’s so brilliant is if you learn the business as a separate skill, as you also have to learn the craft. You can actually do both, and we both know that business is creative.
I mean, look what you’ve created with Rainmaker and Copy Blogger and everything. You create wealth, you create jobs, you create all kinds of things through this business, and marketing itself can be creative. Yeah you can definitely do both.
Brian: Amen to that. You mentioned intellectual property, so now you are definitely speaking my hybrid language. My own struggle between legal business and creative. What you just said is dead on. I don’t see it as a struggle at all. I see it as one creative process, and it all an act of creation.
Okay, so yes, whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, you got to put your artist hat on first. Again, I believe that with nonfiction as well, because the way you position that information makes all the difference. But let’s talk about a book as a product. Digital rights, publishing rights, multiple of income, all of this stuff is what a…I guarantee you James Peterson understands this.
Joanna: Oh yeah.
Brian: Almost too well. But talk a little bit about that.
What do people have to understand about the multiple ways that this creative endeavor, this book, can be….I hate to say the word exploited, but monetized is probably not even any better, but it’s true. There’s a lot of rights and leverage there.
Joanna: Exactly, and I get so excited about this, and when the penny dropped for me it totally changed my life, so hopefully this will help some people.
Most people, when they say they are writing a book, the very words ‘a book’ constrains their mind as to what this actually means. A book is not just a book. Think about it as that one manuscript. You can then turn that in to these multiple streams of income, and you don’t need a publisher to do it. Just to give the people an outline.
First of all, eBooks. Obviously we’ve got all of them multiple platforms, the biggest one being Amazon, Amazon Kindle, iBooks, Nook, Kobo, for example. That’s four different platforms and different ways of selling eBooks. Google Play would be another one.
Then you’ve got print books, and with Print on Demand Technology, if people don’t know, you upload your digital files to CreateSpace or Ingram Spark, then when a customer orders a copy, one copy is printed and sent directly to the customer. Again, there is no upfront printing cost.
Then you’ve got an audio book, which we can do through acx.com. You can do all kinds of collaborations with narrators if you don’t want to do it yourself.
We’ve already got six different products out of one book. Then you multiply that by country. This is something I get so excited about, because I have now sold books in 74 countries, and that’s in English. This is possible through Kobo, Apple, Amazon, etc.
We can talk about the rights of digital, obviously, but then again, multiply that by language. I’ve got Spanish, Italian, German, French, and English. If you think then you are multiplying those six initial products in 74 countries, by five languages, and that’s all without a publisher. That’s just the book.
And then you can do workbooks, you can do online courses from that material. You can sell foreign rights, you can do merchandising, there’s doing screenplays, there’s doing all kinds of things.
Publishers are not charities. They’re not taking that from you because they just want to do you a favor. It’s worth so much money. And even if your book only sells a couple of copies in all of those different streams every month, that really does add up over a life time.
Brian: You may just have convinced me to write a book. I mean, that sounded really enticing. Let’s talk a little bit about courses, because you also do courses and I know a lot of people either see those two as complimentary, or the course is the next step beyond the eBook, from an entrepreneurial stand point.
How do you find the two disciplines, let’s say, nonfiction writing in the book format, compared to teaching online courses?
Joanna: I’m two brands, I’m J.F Penn for my thriller writers, and that’s where I love to spend my time. The teaching side, I do enjoy and I have courses teaching self publishing and creative freedom and the other entrepreneur stuff, but I really prefer the writing stories.
Again, just to hit you on the intellectual property rights, and again, another penny dropped for me. You guys know and you’ve done lots of different alterations of teaching cells, and authority, and all that. Courses go out of date usually within a couple of years. Often nonfiction books will as well, but fiction does not go out of date, and that makes it the most magic product for the long term. We all know how some stories continue selling a lot of time after authors die.
For me, I love building the courses, and I’m going to continue to that. I’m going to do how to write a novel this year, stuff like that. For me, the time I spent writing fiction is the time that will keep on giving until after my death. When it comes to hours for bucks, it better, and it’s actually more fun for me to write a story than it is to do an online course. The beauty of this is we can all do both so I would definitely urge people to do both.
Brian: That’s so refreshing to hear, that not only do you prefer fiction, which I think is no surprise to people, but you actually find it more lucrative. Which I think is very encouraging to people. Let’s talk a little bit about audio. A month or so ago, I talked with Tim Ferriss, and I didn’t realize until I was prepping for that that he owns an audiobook publishing company.
Joanna: Yeah, he does.
Brian: Then we talked about on the actual interview that his next book is audio only and self published and I’m just like, “Wow that’s fascinating.” It doesn’t surprise me but it’s definitely an interesting development. Look at the podcast boom, obviously.
What are your thoughts on audio books in the future for entrepreneurs there?
Joanna: Audio is super exciting, and acx.com, which is actually Amazon’s self publishing audio platform enables people in the US and the UK to either narrate yourself, I’ve narrated one of my book “Business For Authors: How To Be an Author Entrepreneur.” That’s brilliant, because you just hire a studio, you go in, you get a producer to do it all for you. It’s one step above a podcast in terms of recording quality. Ones you’ve done it, you can, you know, you are on iTunes, you are on Amazon and you are basically an audible, of course. You’re out there earning money again from another version of your book.
The other thing is…and Amazon is really pushing audio, it’s certainly in UK, and I think they have also done that in America.
Whisper-sync is going to be tied in to the expansion of Google Auto and Apple Car Play, which is streaming audio in to all new vehicles from 2016. Right now, all these new vehicles have streaming internet and people will be able to start reading on their phone over breakfast. Get in their car, and carry on listening through Whisper-sync, which sinks their audio book to where there were in the eBook, which is just fantastic. As we’ve seen a rise in podcasting and audio in the last couple of years, we’ve also seen this rise in audio consumption of audio books.
I don’t know about you, but for me I have actually brought an audio subscription for books, because when you listen to as many podcasts as we all do, you get to want more audio. You want to learn more through audio.
Podcasting is a sort of a gate way drug to audio books, so people should definitely be getting on that. Oh, and I should say that you can do 50-50 royalty split, so you can pay narrators for narrating your book. You don’t have to do it yourself if you are not happy with your voice.
Brian: Now that’s interesting, the whole, did you say Whisper-sync? It syncs between text, your reading time, and then it shifts to audio. That is fantastic. It really is.
Let’s talk about every writers favorite topic: marketing. Again, this is what you run up against, because you need people with the talent, or the people willing to put the time in and to become good writers. Then you go, “Okay, now you’ve done that. You’ve created something, now the hard part. You actually have to get the word out there.”
You’re really good at this, you teach others this, you practice what you preach. You’re very successful in the fiction realm, which a lot of people think is impossible, and your books are good. Now we do know there are eBooks entrepreneurs out there who are better at marketing than they are at creating the actual book, and yet they do well.
What are your thoughts in general on that aspect of this business? And then, maybe some tips on how you best think that a new author could self publish and actually sell.
Joanna: Again, I think fiction and nonfiction are quite different in this way, and many of your listens will already know the motto of a nonfiction book and about content marketing. That is one way of doing it. For example, an SEO book title…so I have a book that is called How To Market A Book. And it sells because that’s what it says on the tin.
If you use a clever title, then you are going to get fewer sales for people shopping for nonfiction. It’s sort of the overriding thing with nonfiction. It’s the same as writing your headline, and people could do you headline class, for example. It has to be something that makes people want to read more.
Fiction, though, in terms of fiction marketing and making a living with fiction, it’s very much about volumes. Your content marketing as fiction author is going to be more fiction. One of the beauties of digital is novellas or shorter books, so, for example, 25,000 words instead of 80,000 words. Doing this smaller chunks of content that people can read and then get hooked on your product.
Doing a series is super important, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. Writing things so that the same audience want to come back and buy again. This is another reason why your income as a fiction author keeps going up over time, because I’m about to put book eight out my Arkane series, and of course if people come in at book eight, they are likely to go back and buy books one to seven. James Peterson, as you mentioned, is the king of this.
As indie authors, we can do collaboration really easily, so co-writing, which means two authors can get together, create a product, and then divide up the money. That’s much easier as an indie than it is with traditional publishing.
Then box sets are another big deal at the moment, where you could put multiple books, this is digital eBooks, into one file, and you sell them for a higher volume if you want to make income, or a cheaper price if you want to hit the list, which is how I was part of hitting the New York Times and USA Today list, through a box set.
There are all different book marketing strategies that are quite different to the online, say, blogging and podcasting world, which works really well with nonfiction but not so well for fiction.
Just the last thing on this I would say, is the biggest deal, I think, of having your book available globally, is all of this marketing now, as you know, all of our stuff is available online. Some of these sales in India, for example, are coming because of putting on a novella or doing a tweet or doing a podcast like this. When you are marketing, just think of everything. If your book isn’t available everywhere you are not going to sell everywhere. If you are, all your marketing will be global.
Brian: Fascinating. You have an idea, those of you listening out there, why I asked Joanna to present at our upcoming Digital Commerce Summit on this topic, because when you think about digital entrepreneurs, I’m not sure people think about how much of a business opportunity it is to sell intellectual property that people are scrambling to find the next title. It’s either nonfiction, solve a problem. But fiction, if you can find your genre, and you can find your audience out there, it really is an amazing business.
I guess this is a little bit of a preview of what you going to talk to us about in October, Joanna?
Joanna: Absolutely, and I’m really excited about that because, as you say, I think people have got so excited about things like online courses and podcasting, that they’d forgotten about books. The another thing about the masses amount content that is online, in blogs for example, is people are looking back at books for people with authority, for things that they can just consume without having to be taken away by all of these different things.
Books, I think, we are seeing a resurgence. Things like the World Reader Survey that looks at adoption of eBooks in Africa as streaming internet goes worldwide. These are the things that I’m excited to talk about to people at the Digital Commerce Summit. I’m really looking forward to share, because it’s such an exciting time to be an author.
Brian: It absolutely it is. If you can just get your head past that, “I’m not supposed to be a businessperson,” And realize like you mentioned at the very beginning, the understanding of the rights in this product and the creative leveraging of them is an act of creation in itself. That’s what we’ve got to get people excited about, that business is not a dirty thing, especially when it’s your business, it’s self directed, you’re not there to please a publisher, you are only there to please your audience.
Brian: All right, and that also means that we will finally meet in person, which is another monumental handle that we are overcoming.
Joanna: Yes. It is so funny, of course, being in England as I am now, there’s so many of my online people, who I’ve never meant in person. I’m really excited about the conference.
Brian: We’re going to have a great time. If you would like to attend the summit, just head over to digitalcommerce.com, scroll down and click the Summit version to get the full speaker line up. We’ve got some interesting things coming there.
We’re also looking at an impeding price raise, so get over there and get a good deal on your ticket. Joanna, thank you so much for taking time with me. I know it’s morning here but it’s evening there. I don’t know, do you like to write at night?
Joanna: No, I’m a morning person.
Brian: Yeah, me too. I know, okay. Awesome. All right, have a great evening and we will talk to you soon. I can’t wait see you in Denver.
Joanna: Thanks so much for having me, Brian.
Brian: No, my pleasure. All right everyone, that’s it for this week. Hopefully that gave you some interesting ideas if you are of the writing type. Even if you are not, I believe that there are all sorts of opportunities for entrepreneurs to work with writers, not a traditional publisher role, but more as a collaboration. You know we are big on collaboration. If you find a talented writer that doesn’t want to embrace the business side, that would be a way to team up and do interesting things. Anyway, regardless of which direction you are going in just remember, keep going.