Productivity For Authors. Fighting Overwhelm And How I Am Refocusing My Workload

To be a successful indie author means wearing many different hats.

hatsIndeed, to be successful at anything involves wearing many hats! But sometimes, we can look up from the mountainous To Do list and wonder what the hell is going on!

I have been feeling this way lately (again!) and two things have helped me to refocus.

a) The brilliant interview on strategy with Charlie Gilkey, when I asked about outsourcing and Charlie suggested elimination first, as well as focusing more on the primary goal

b) My game changing experiences at London Book Fair, where I recommitted to my growth as a fiction writer

I have also spent a lot of time writing in my journals with a strategic focus, trying to decide what I want to achieve over the next 5 years, both as a creative and a business-woman. I can’t keep doing what I doing and expecting a different result. I have to change what I’m doing in order to reach my goals.

In this article, I explain what I am doing to refocus my workload. This list is not meant to be a recommendation for you, it’s merely my own response to overwhelm, and it’s based on where I am in the author journey. But I am keen to hear your thoughts in the comments section!

(1) Focus on writing more books and creating more products

I’ve talked about the magic of rights before, how one manuscript can be turned into multiple products and multiple streams of income. But at LBF 2014, I saw my potential future in the Indie Bestseller group. I’ve known how this process should work intellectually for a long time, but I don’t think I have had the confidence in my own writing to think I could get to that point until now.

I’ve just written ‘Day of the Vikings,’ (currently with my editor) and I loved writing it and surprisingly, it was much easier than previous books. The first draft was also a lot cleaner than usual, because I think the fundamentals of story may have become more embedded in my brain. I still do all my research, which is super fun, but the actual first draft writing is a quicker process. So I will be writing more books, and also focusing on turning those into multiple products – publishing direct on the main platforms in ebook and print, as well as focusing on audiobooks, foreign translations and other country markets.

To make time for this, I do have to eliminate certain things.

(2) No more guest posts on the blog

Guest posts take up a lot of my time in terms of coordination and scheduling, often rewriting articles as well as sharing. I have always done it in order to help out other authors with traffic to their projects, but the time it takes is too much these days. I also need to slow down my content production and the site is established enough to get away with that now.

When I started this blog, there were very few people talking about self-publishing and so this site was original. Nowadays, self-publishing is mainstream and there are so many blogs about it, that last year, I said I would be changing the focus to more graduate level posts on marketing and the author-entrepreneur side of things.

joanna penn grin

You’ll be hearing more from me! Credit: Jason Moon Photography

Now I need to go further, because the only thing that makes any of us original is our voice. We are all unique. I hope you come to this site primarily because you want to join me on my journey. So it’s going to be MY voice you hear from now on, and maybe the occasional amazing guest article, but very rarely. Of course, I will be continuing to bring other people to you via the podcast and also my YouTube channel, as well as sharing people’s work on Twitter and Google Plus, so it won’t be all ‘me-me-me’! But it will be more me than it has been :)

(3) Reading more books and fewer RSS feeds

I took email off my phone months ago now and don’t miss it at all. But I had replaced the email checking with RSS feed checking, which is just as disruptive!

I’ve been subscribed to ~400 blogs for the last 5 years, which have fuelled my twitterholism and my sharing, but the other day I went through and culled ~370 of them. It was interesting to visit the list as so many had just stopped months or years ago. Most blogs don’t last long, because people lose interest or focus, or wonder why they are doing it. I’ve had 3 other blogs that didn’t last, so I understand that impetus. I got rid of any without a strong voice and kept the best ones, with the focus on what I want to continue sharing online.

I want to write about books more on the blog. I read a lot and have notes I want to share with you, but because guest posts have been scheduled 3/4 months in advance, I just haven’t been able to share what I want even on my own blog! That’s crazy! I also want to read more books and fewer RSS feeds, so culling the masses was a good idea in general.

(4) Outsourcing specific jobs

Indie authors are control freaks!

That’s partly why we love doing everything associated with our books, but I am getting to a point where I need help with things that aren’t my core focus.

I have just started using a fantastic Virtual Assistant (who I will introduce at some point!) and she is doing author-related things e.g. researching for book reviews. I am also using PeoplePerHour.com for specific jobs, and using specialists per job, rather than trying to find one person to do everything.

I’ve had a new HTML newsletter designed, my ePub files for Nook fixed and a visual presentation for ‘How to Market a Book’ which will go up on Slideshare soon. Because the tasks have to be clearly specified on PeoplePerHour, it helps me to write down exactly what I need, and several times I have read my own task and then deleted it. Elimination, rather than outsourcing, is sometimes the better option, as Charlie says in the strategy interview!

I’m also using a transcriber for my podcasts and thriller author interviews, which saves me the need to write show notes and watch the video all over again, halving my time on a significant task. Thanks Liz at Libroediting!

(5) Saying ‘no’ more

I get hundreds of emails a week asking for help with things, as well as people pitching me with publishing startups which seem to have proliferated recently. I used to reply to everything, but it is getting to the point of overwhelm, and some emails are clearly lazy in their approach. For example, I still get emails that ask “How do I self-publish?” or “How do I sell more books?” Clearly, I have answered that a gazillion times on this site, and also have links to the key resources here.

I love to hear from people who have spent the time searching the site for answers (see the Search bar on the right!) and who have a genuine question. I also love to hear success stories, so please do continue to contact me if you have sincere questions or queries about interviews and speaking opportunities:)

(6) Giving up Facebook (almost) and doubling down on Twitter and G+

Social media can be one of those time sucks if you don’t utilize your time well, so I am a massive fan of incorporating marketing into real life. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it! Twitter is my real social network, as well as my ‘marketing,’ and I am increasingly enjoying Google Plus.

BUT/ I haven’t been enjoying Facebook for a long time, and the tipping point has really been their algorithm change so the reach of any post is so much smaller. Paying to Boost is the only way for people who have already opted in to see your updates, and I’ve spent ~$100 doing that since Nov with some good results – BUT I resent it, as do many disgruntled Page owners. I put a comment on Twitter about potentially leaving Facebook – here are a few of the results, and there were many more.

leaving facebook

I love Twitter and G+, particularly the serendipity of connecting with people who are not already in your circle. Facebook increasingly feels like pain to me, and I don’t like pain! I also hung out with my 17 year old god-daughter this week, and she said that her age group have left Facebook and use Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter. She didn’t even remember mySpace :) Times change, social networks rise and fall, and we have to be nimble and adapt accordingly.

I still haven’t made the big jump to leave Facebook entirely, but I am certainly pulling back, and focusing more on Twitter as well as G+, and my core ‘social’ uses of blogging, podcasting and video through YouTube.

How do you manage your time? What steps are you taking to manage your overwhelm? Are there things you’re considering eliminating? Any thoughts on leaving Facebook as a business tool? I’d love to know what you think about all this in the comments below.

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons hats by arbyreed

7 Tips To Help Promote Your First Self-Published Book

While this site is now aimed at being a graduate education for author-entrepreneurs, I still get emails every day from new authors who are just discovering self-publishing.

book market on the seineI suggest that they start with my Author 2.0 Blueprint, and the other free resources as well as the audio podcast. Plus I wrote this checklist for new self-published authors when I published my Dad’s first book. But there are always more questions!

So today, Debbie Flint offers some tips for promoting your first book. This will also be one of the last guest posts on the site, so expect to hear from me more in future posts.

When a new author presses the ‘publish’ button and creates their first ever title, what happens next?

Now more than ever, success in self-publishing is all about ‘discoverability’, especially if you want to spread the word about your very first self-published novel (or your second or third but for the complete beginner in particular, it’s even more daunting).

Which extra strategies will best help spread the word?

Once the big day has come and gone and the initial rush of sales has (hopefully) happened, once you’ve told everyone you already know that it’s out there and numbers have begun to stall, how then do you continue to spread the word without continuously tweeting ‘buy my book, here’s my book, oh by the way, buy my book?’

Here are some of the technical tools you can toy around with to help progress your reach. Many of these are Amazon based as most self-published authors make a large percentage of income there, but some are not related to Amazon and are available to all.

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Using Kickstarter For Graphic Novels With Ben Galley

Kickstarter is a fantastic place for creatives to find funding, but you do need to use it for the right projects and understand how it works.

ben galley booksIn this interview, I talk to Ben Galley about his graphic novel adaptation Kickstarter campaign, as well as his tips for getting the funding right, attracting backers and more. Full transcription below the video, or you can watch it on YouTube here.

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Why Indie Authors Need A Team

People often ask me about how to be a successful indie author, or what’s the best way of marketing. I seem to be replying in the same vein every time these days – it’s all about collaboration and about personal relationships.

rope weaveI have a team of people I work with in my business. I have editors, a cover designer, an interior book designer, a graphic artist, a transcriber, a book-keeper, outsourced contractors for specific projects, a creative mentor, a community of twitter & blog friends and many more. Without these, I would not be able to do what I do. This is also why I self-identify as an indie author, NOT as self-published, as I am far from doing it all myself these days.

Today, author Bruce McCabe reiterates the importance of concentrating on people. His indie-published debut novel, ‘Skinjob,’ has just been acquired in a two-book deal with Random House.

I’ve been privileged to spent most of the last twenty years hanging out with people vastly smarter than myself – inventors, mavericks, scientists and innovators. Here’s a lesson from these wonderful people that I’ve found helpful on the writing journey:

It’s always about the who.

By which they mean the most important success factor in Silicon Valley is not the earth-shattering idea, nor the technology, nor money, nor access to resources, nor a myriad of other things, it is the composition of that core group of people, often very small, who truly believe in a goal and are emotionally dedicated to bringing it to fruition. Good teams care. They roll up their sleeves and get things done, take bad ideas and remake them into something worthwhile, find resources where there are none. When good teams fail they pick up the pieces and start over. Good teams, eventually, break through.

The corollary being: put most of your time into getting the who right and the rest falls into place.

People are your best investment.

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Lessons Learned From A Game Changing London Book Fair 2014

The last few days at London Book Fair have been mind-blowing for me.

I feel this is a tipping point in my own author journey, and in this post I share with you what I have learned.

LBF Indie Millionaires(1) Ambitious authors can achieve 7 figure success as indies

This week I experienced the Indie Bestseller group of authors, made up of Bella Andre, Hugh Howey, Jasinda Wilder, Barbara Freethy, Liliana Hart, Candice Hern and Stephanie Bond, all of whom are incredibly successful as indie authors, both in terms of hitting the big lists, satisfying readers, and making a very good living.

I say ‘experienced’ because they are all forces of nature, working incredibly hard to express their creative selves, please readers and run international businesses. I met most of them personally and was able to chat and ask questions because they are not so well known in the UK so they weren’t mobbed all the time. I was basically a fan-girl for several days, hanging on every word!

I love to write and to create for its own sake, but I am also unashamedly a business-woman and entrepreneur.

We all have different definitions of success, but I would not have given up my day job in 2011 if I hadn’t seen that being an author could be a viable business. After 2.5 years, I’m currently earning about one third of what I was making as a business consultant, but in meeting the US Indies, I am even more confident that I can reach and surpass that. The penny has really dropped for me this time and I can see the path ahead.

Of course, Hugh Howey makes the point often that the outliers are not the success story of self-publishing, that we should be talking about the thousands of indies making good money, decent money, reaching readers and loving their lives as authors. Absolutely. But I am one of those already, and for me, the outliers are also the inspiration.

So let’s get a little deeper … There were a few over-arching things that seem to go into their success:

  • Focus on creating great books, for a specific audience. There was a lot of focus on brand, through cover design, through the author’s name, through the genre or related genres. Write in one name and one genre and do 5-6 books in that in order to grow a fan base, before trying something new, if you want to be successful fast.
  • Write a lot of books and produce them on a consistent schedule. To be a successful author, you need more than one book, for sure. But it seems you need more than 10 to make a very good living. Train your readers with what to expect and then deliver to that e.g. LBF14 Stands whether that is four books a year, or one a month.
  • Grow an email list and use at least one form of social media for connection with the readers
  • Allow time in the market – which enables development of craft and story, a slow build of readership and back-list creation which continues to grow the income every month.
  • Work incredibly hard. As many small business owners know, owning a business is not about balance. If you are an ambitious author who wants to earn the big money, you have to work your butt off. If you want to be treated more like an employee, and clock off at 5pm, then get a publishing deal, or continue in the day job.
  • Connect with other authors. Learn from each other. Connect with retailers as well, and play around with working together on different things. Be generous in helping others as much as you can, but always focus on the next book.

I am crazily encouraged by these things, because I am doing all of this already at a smaller scale. There is no magic bullet, it’s just this list, which should be nothing new if you’ve been reading this blog for a while.

This year’s LBF has been a game-changer for me as I caught a glimpse of my possible future in these wonderful, entrepreneurial indie authors. I feel like I am about three years behind them – so watch out for J.F.Penn in spring 2017!

Check out the video below or here on YouTube from Barbara Freethy, author of 37 books which have sold over 4 million copies. Barbara talks about going from author to CEO of a creative business, as well as branding, writing in a series, connecting with readers and what’s coming next in the indie world.

bella andre books(2) “We don’t do marketing … But everything we do is marketing” – Bella Andre

I love this quote, as I totally agree with it. At this point, I feel like my whole life is marketing in that all I do is share what I love with people who want to hear about it!

Bella and Hugh Howey particularly talked about the book itself as marketing – the brilliant story, delivering on the promise to the reader, a consistent production schedule, covers that evoke the emotion of the story, the author’s name, the title and sub-title, the sales description and keywords, email and newsletters. All this is ‘marketing’ but it is also just the job of an author.

Bella stressed the importance of the author name on covers, as well as a recognizable cover branding – although changing this up over time was also encouraged if your covers look dated. Readers will likely forget the title of your books, but they shouldn’t forget you as the author.

(3) Stay confident in your brand, and keep writing

Don’t jump on trends, as they come around again. Barbara Freethy mentioned that she has seen the vampire craze at least three times in her career as an author, and she has just stuck to what she writes. The readers will stick around and then the author will find that the circle turns and their genre is trendy again. So keep delivering on your promise to the reader.

JF Penn with Steena Holmes at LBF 14

JF Penn with Steena Holmes at LBF 14

I also talked about this with USA Today bestselling author Steena Holmes, who said:

“It’s not actually about writing what you want as an indie. If you want success, you have to focus on your readers, and if you want faster success, you should keep satisfying that core group of readers as that will bring you organic growth through word of mouth.”

Basically, keep writing in one genre, or at least related genres so you get crossover between customers. Deepen that one vertical.

(4) Expanding into audio rights can be a lucrative business move

one day in budapestACX.com opened up to UK authors this week, and excitingly, my book ‘One Day In Budapest,‘ is one of the first to be available through the new system. I’ve also got Desecration coming in the next month or so, and I already have Pentecost, Prophecy and Exodus up through a small press in the US.

Most of the Indie Bestseller group discussed how they were earning a great deal from audio now, and some even said that they could live off the audio proceeds alone. ACX is the only site available for royalty split deals right now, which makes it a great deal for indies. The biggest tip from Bella Andre was that ‘you live and die’ on the professionalism and skill of the narrator, so choose carefully.

In terms of advertising audiobooks, check out Bella’s audiobook page and consider it as a template for your own.

(5) How to go from being an author to being the CEO of a global business

This is something I think about a lot right now, as there are huge benefits to being an indie, but one of the drawbacks is that you do have to do everything yourself … or do you?

That seems to be the crux point for the Indie Bestsellers – how much can you outsource? and to who?

Bella Andre Joanna Penn

Joanna Penn with Bella Andre, LBF 2014

Bella Andre still does her own cover design, but most other authors outsource that. Other outsourced tasks are editing (of course), proof-reading, audio narration quality control, file formatting, some PR activities through launch period, rights negotiation, website design and technical things, accounting and reporting as well as data analysis.

The main thing that everyone agreed on was that the author remains the creator of content and is also in charge of connection with fans. Those two are non-negotiable. I’ll be getting into this topic more as I work on a new non-fiction book about the business of being an author, hopefully out in the autumn 2014.

In the video below, Bella talks about her tipping point, the importance of community amongst authors and readers. You can also watch it here on YouTube.

For brilliant tweets that minute the main author events and a different perspective from mine, check out Paris Marx’s round-up of day 1 and day 2 of London Book Fair, and his twitter stream for #LBF14.

Finally, it seems to me that indie authors exist in a different dimension, a world of infinite possibility

I started my week at Digital Minds, the pre-conference day run as part of London Book Fair at a separate conference centre. The opening speech was by Anthony Horowitz, who I think is a brilliant author, but his words made me think that I am living in a completely different world to him and many of those in the established publishing industry.

Most of the sessions of the day seemed to be two years out of date, rather than future focused. The questions asked of Hugh Howey, Orna Ross and Jon Fine indicated that many people still don’t understand what indie authors are about, or are even interested in working with us or learning things together. I see this new world of publishing as infinite possibility in an ever-expanding world of opportunity, but the atmosphere was sombre.

open up to indiesCompare that to how I ended my LBF, at the second birthday party of the Alliance of Independent Authors, where, alongside the brilliant Orna Ross, I hosted a line up of amazing indie authors performing and reading their work.

The picture left has some of the characters involved, from the left and clockwise: Debbie Young, Hugh Howey, Diego Marano, Dan Holloway, Orna Ross, and Jessica Bell. The picture was taken at the launch of Open Up To Indie Authors, a campaign to get the establishment to let indies be part of festivals, bookstores, prizes and more.

Amazon ACX and Audible sponsored the party along with KDP and Createspace, and the pub was packed with talented writers, and business people working in the new industry that the indie world is made up of, many of whom make a significant income reaching readers directly.

acx nookpressIt was an electrifying night, and it’s pretty amazing to think how far this new world has come in such a short time. Three years ago, when I moved back to the UK, self-publishing was still a dirty word, and now we are a strong and growing creative and entrepreneurial force in the industry.

But we are really just getting started in this new world.

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen NookPress finally open up to authors outside the US, as well as the launch of ACX for UK authors. Indies have got ebooks and print-on-demand in English pretty much nailed, and audio in English about to boom … but the next wave of expansion is global penetration and international translations and rights deals, and this has segment of the market has barely even started yet.

In the last two weeks, I have published my own books on Nook, and worked with two audiobook narrators on ACX. I have two books in German coming out in the next few months, as well as Italian and Spanish in the works. I also have a right agent working on other deals, so of course, I’ll report on my experiences more in coming months. By this time next year, at LBF 2015, I expect things to have changed all over again.

My author friends, we live in interesting times and I am ridiculously excited! I hope you are too!

What are you excited about? Please leave a comment below and join the conversation.