Q&A Time: My Journey, Writing Routine, Author Platform Tips, Global Publishing And Mistakes

I recorded this video for the Gulf Coast Writer’s Conference recently and I thought you might find it interesting as well. It’s 26 mins long and contains slides and images as well as my talking head :)

Thanks to thriller author Michael Lister for the invitation! I also recently interviewed Michael about his religious thrillers, if you like similar fiction to me.

I answer the following questions:

  • To me you are the epitome of an indie author and entrepreneur. Can you share with us the journey that has gotten you here?
  • What percentage of your time is spent being an author and what percentage an entrepreneur? What do you think a person needs to be both?
  • What is your writing routine? How long does it typically take you to write a novel?
  • Can you touch on author platform for us?
  • Can you tell us what you think works best for indie authors, what those who are experiencing success are doing best?
  • What are the biggest mistakes you see authors making?
  • Can you touch on what you’re doing in foreign markets and translations?
  • Write. Publish. Repeat.   Respond   :-)

 I’d love to know if you like these type of videos, as I could do more of them to answer more of your questions. So please do let me know in the comments a) if you like this style of video post and b) what are the questions you’d like me to answer.

Writing Religious Thrillers And Storytelling Lessons From Commercial TV With Simon Toyne

It’s always fantastic to talk to mega bestselling authors and a few years back, Simon Toyne’s Sanctus series was one of the biggest books in the UK, as well as an international bestseller. In this interview, he explains the inspiration behind the books and how 20 years of TV experience taught him the most important elements of storytelling.

In the introduction, I talk about the launch of Business for Authors, my trip to Stockholm and the launch of 1 Fred’s Place in London, plus the audio edition of Day of the Vikings, available now.

This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets kobo writing lifethrough the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

Kobo’s financial support pays for the hosting and transcription, and if you enjoy the show, you can now support my time on Patreon. Thank you!

simon toyneSimon Toyne is the bestselling author of the Sanctus trilogy, translated into 28 languages and published in 50 countries. Sanctus was the UK’s biggest selling debut thriller of 2011, and all three books of the trilogy were Sunday Times bestsellers in both hardback and paperback.

You can listen above or on iTunes, watch the interview on YouTube, split into two, here (for readers) and here (for authors). You can also read the transcript below.

We discuss:

  • Simon talks about the origins of the Sanctus trilogy and what inspired him to write the books. They are fast paced thrillers but they’re also about the identity of religion in the West, and the real identity of the main character.
  • sanctusSense of place: The importance of the city of Ruin with the medieval Citadel, and the mysterious Sacrament that lies within. What’s real and what is fiction.
  • On research and traveling for work – Simon worked for 20 years as a Director making travel shows, so a lot of that goes into the books.
  • How Simon took 6 months off his TV job to write his first novel. He took his family to France to take a real break.
  • On walking the line on religion on spirituality. There’s a lot of Christian ideas in the books, but also a lot of pagan mythology. It wasn’t intended to be religious in any way. On arriving in France, sleep-deprived after a storm, and seeing the spires of Rouen Cathedral, Simon found a quote resonating in his mind from Ralph Waldo Emerson “A man is a god in ruins.” That became the seed for the books. Simon mentions that The Name of the Rose was an influence (as it was for me!)
  • On the Tau cross (pictured on the cover) and how important it was to the myths in the book. What is the Sacrament and what does it really mean?
  • Simon’s now writing a new modern thriller series about a man who doesn’t know who he is, a story of redemption. It’s roughly based on the 10 Commandments.
  • On screenwriting as a way of understanding storytelling and an apprenticeship for writing novels. Lee Child and Simon both worked in commercial British TV and you learn a lot about story from that world.
  • Simon’s tips for writing worldwide bestsellers.
  • The changes in publishing and how Simon sees the industry right now

You can find Simon and his books at SimonToyne.com and on twitter @simontoyne.

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Launch Of Business For Authors. How To Be An Author Entrepreneur Ebook, Print And Audiobook

Everything you need to run a business as an author.

Business for Authors 3DI’m excited to launch Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur today, as it contains everything I have learned from 13 years of being a business consultant, and 6 years of being an author.

This is not a book on creativity or the craft of writing.

My aim is to take the result of your creativity into the realm of actually paying the bills.

To take you from being an author to running a business as an author.

I was a business consultant for 13 years before I gave up my job in September 2011 to become a full-time author-entrepreneur. I have worked for large corporates and small businesses, implementing financial systems across Europe and Asia Pacific.

jo tribeca

I learned a lot about how NOT to run a business from my charter boat experience!

I’ve also started a number of my own businesses – a scuba dive charter boat in New Zealand, a customized travel website, a property investment portfolio in Australia as well as my freelance consultancy. I’ve failed a lot and learned many lessons in my entrepreneurial life and I share them all in this book.

In the last six years of being an author, through tempestuous changes in the publishing world, I have learned the business side of being a writer and I now earn a good living as an author-entrepreneur. I’m an author because it is my passion and my joy … but also because it can be a business in this age of global and digital opportunity.

Buy the book in ebook, print or audiobook format

The audiobook is only available for purchase directly from me as an exclusive here (or scroll to the bottom of this page for more info). It includes the ebook version in DRM free mobi and ePub formats. If you buy the book in other formats from other stores, you’ll get a discount code for a reduction on the audiobook.

If you can’t get to the print book through the links below, click here for the Amazon print edition. As it is so new, the editions are still being linked!

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business audiobookClick here to learn more about the audiobook, or click here to buy now.

What are people saying about Business for Authors?

“Ready to become CEO of your own Global Media Empire? Then Business for Authors is for you, featuring clear and concise steps to managing your writing career.”
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author CJ Lyons

Cj and Liz“This is exactly the book I needed! Business for Authors is like having a charming double agent from the world of business who can tell you all its coveted secrets. It reads like an engaging conversation with someone you can trust ― a theology major! ― and along the way learning the language and strategies of a true entrepreneur.

I wish I had been given this book when I first graduated from my MFA program, back when the accounting of writing was even more of a mystery to me. With warmth and intelligence, Penn demystifies so much about what it takes to be a writer for life. This is a book that will remain on my bookshelf for the years to come.”

 Elizabeth Hyde Stevens, Author of Make Art Make Money: Lessons from Jim Henson on Fueling Your Creative Career and Lecturer at Boston University and Harvard University Extension School

What’s in the book?

Here’s an outline of the table of contents.

Part 1: From Author To Entrepreneur

The arc of the author’s journey, definition of an author-entrepreneur, deciding on your definition of success and why it’s important as well as what you want for your life. Plus/ should you start a company?

blue computerPart 2: Products and Services

How you can turn one manuscript into multiple streams of income by exploiting all the different rights, various business models for authors and how to evaluate your own, information on contracts, copyright and piracy. Plus/ putting together a production plan.

Part 3: Employees, Suppliers and Contractors

The team you need to run your business as an author-entrepreneur. Your role as author and what you’re committing to in the business, as well as co-writing. Editors, agents and publishers, translators, book designers and formatters, audiobook narrators, book-keeping and accounting, virtual assistants. Plus/ how to manage your team.

Part 4: Customers

In-depth questions to help you understand who your customers are and what they want, as well as customer service options for authors.

Part 5: Sales and Distribution

How to sell through distributors and your options, plus all the information you need to sell direct. ISBNs and publishing imprints – do you need them? Plus/ your options for pricing.

PriceTagsPart 6: Marketing

Defining and reframing marketing so you feel more comfortable with it, as well as key overarching concepts. Book-based marketing techniques including cover, back copy and sales pages on the distributors. Author-based marketing around building your platform, and customer-based marketing around your niche audience and targeted media. [This is just an overview. For a whole book on marketing, see my 'How To Market A Book'.]

Part 7: Financials

Changing your mindset about money, and assessing where you are now vs where you want to be. Revenues of the author business and how to increase that revenue. Costs of the author business and funding your startup. Banking, PayPal, accounting, reporting, tax and estate planning.

Part 8: Strategy and Planning

checklistWhat is your strategy for your business and why this is important. Developing your business plan. Managing your time and developing professional habits, plus accountability systems. The long term view and the process for becoming a full-time author if you choose that route. Plus/ looking after yourself.

Part 9: Next Steps

Questions from the book to help you work out everything to do with your business, plus encouragement for your next steps.

Appendices, Workbook and Bonus Downloads

There’s also a download page that accompanies the book includes a downloadable workbook with questions in from each chapter. There’s a business plan template as well as hyperlinked lists of tools and resources to help you further.

The Appendices also include bonus interviews on money and how it relates to creativity, writing and life, as well as my own lessons learned over the last years as a full-time author-entrepreneur.

quote peopleMore quotes about the book

“BUSINESS FOR AUTHORS ought to be required reading if you’re a beginning writer who wants to make money in publishing.  You can learn it all the hard way, like I did, but that usually takes years and it usually means that you’ll make a LOT of mistakes along the way.  Or you can read through Joanna Penn’s awesome little guidebook in just a few hours and save yourself a huge amount of time, energy, and money.”
Randy Ingermanson — author of “Writing Fiction for Dummies“.

“This book demonstrates why Joanna Penn has become a favorite role model for professional author-publishers, those indie-minded writers who want to turn their passion into their job. In it Penn offers the step-by-step process she has followed to success and covers every aspect of earning a good living from writing. Not a word is wasted and not a lesson offered that hasn’t been forged in the hotbed of her own experience. A must-have book for every indie author.” Orna Ross, Bestselling author and founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors

Business for Authors has now become my business bible. Packed with advice, experience and knowledge, it opened my mind to so much more that I could be doing.”
Mel Sherratt, Crime writer and Amazon UK #1 Bestseller.

“With Business for Authors, I felt like I stepped inside the brain of an entrepreneur. I love how Joanna explored the topic from so many angles, and then provided real-life context of how she worked through each opportunity/challenge.”
Dan Blank, WeGrowMedia.com

“There’s no doubt about it, to be successful as an author today you must think like an entrepreneur. But maybe you need some advice and guidance on exactly how to do that? Good news! Joanna Penn’s latest book Business for Authors will walk you through everything you need to know for success. It’s a comprehensive step-by-step guide for authors, written by someone who walks the walk as a best-selling author and entrepreneur.”
Jim F. Kukral, Author Marketing Club

Love audio?

If you prefer to consume books by audio, you can now listen to me read you Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur.

business audiobookThe download is a zip file that includes 6 hours of audio mp3 files, plus an ePub and a mobi file of the ebook.

You can pay by PayPal or bank card, and if you have a discount code from previously buying the ebook or print book, you can use that on the sales page, by clicking Buy it Now below.

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Sell digital downloads on Selz

You can listen to a 20 min sample on SoundCloud here, or click play below.


Buy the book in ebook, print or audiobook format

The audiobook is only available for purchase directly from me as an exclusive, and includes the ebook version in DRM free mobi and ePub formats. If you buy the book in other formats from other stores, you’ll get a discount code for a reduction on the audiobook.

amazon-iconKobo_Icon-150x150ibooks iconnook-icon
Buy this on Selz
Sell digital downloads on Selz

Please do let me know any questions in the comments below.

The Self-Publishing Revolution Is Only Just Beginning. Reflections On My Stockholm Trip

I spent a couple of days in Stockholm last week, and did three events in just over 24 hours for Lava Forlag, meeting authors at all stages of the journey. Here are my reflections on my time there.

flying into stockholm

Flying into Stockholm

The indie revolution is expanding… and it is incredibly exciting to see the light dawning in people’s eyes.

The Swedish publishing industry is still in the old traditional, print dominated way of doing things right now. Ebooks haven’t taken off yet, Amazon hasn’t opened its .se store and authors are still focused on the route of agents and publishers to reach readers.

I was told that the biggest publishers are integrated with the media companies – in the same way as Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp owning Harper Collins, the Fox Network, The Times and the Wall Street Journal.

When big media owns all the publishing channels, there is little chance for the independent voice against such established behemoths. But change is coming …

I was asked to Stockholm by the lovely Kristina Svensson, an indie author who sees the digital future coming to Sweden in the next few years. I spoke to the audience of authors about my reality, the world I live in, where authors are writing what they want, publishing what they want, and in many cases, making a decent living from their words.

In my world, authors sell books globally, in ebook, print and audiobook format, they are paid monthly and they have creative freedom and control over timing – all without a publisher.

Joanna Penn speaking

Speaking passionately in Stockholm. Photo Credit: Petra Rolinec, www.8tiesbaby.com

When I spoke at a packed gallery space in downtown Stockholm on Monday night, I saw the light dawning in some people’s eyes at the possibilities.

Some of those authors saw their future in my current existence – and that is truly exciting.

We take for granted our incredible reality these days and it’s only by stepping outside, to those places where the change hasn’t come yet, that we can really appreciate how far we have come.

I didn’t enter this author life via the traditional publishing route. As a business woman and an entrepreneur, I only pursued this author route when it became a viable business option as a self-publisher.

Embracing the indie way was natural for me, as someone who doesn’t like asking permission, who has no patience with waiting, and no love for power imbalance.

I have stopped speaking at events where the industry tries to cut authors down to size, where they negate creativity and try to crush us back into the box where they once controlled the rules. I don’t want to speak to groups that aren’t delighted at the explosion of expression that is happening now.

I don’t want to argue with people who don’t see my way of life as a valid choice. I don’t try to convince people that going indie is fantastic anymore. I only want to speak to those who are keen to learn about the new ways of being a creative in this exciting digital world.

Entrepreneurs create new things out of their heads – and the world we live in right now embraces entrepreneurs. It worships Silicon Valley startups. Well, we’re entrepreneurs too.

Writers are artists and creatives and entrepreneurs, just as the painter, the sculptor, the dancer, the dressmaker – and anyone who creates new things in the world.

Entrepreneurs don’t wait for permission, they try new things, they fail, they pivot, they keep going in the face of criticism.

The next big opportunity: Joint ventures with other creative professionals

Stockholm old city

Stockholm Old City

One of the sessions I did in Stockholm was a lunchtime seminar on “How to sell more books.” As none of the authors who were present actually self-published direct on KDP, discussions on metadata and keywords fell on rather confused ears. So I started with what seemed to me like the biggest issue.

There are 9 million people who speak Swedish. There are over 400 million who speak English. If you want to sell more books, then they need to be in English. Luckily, Swedes mostly speak excellent English but they still need help with translation and editing. I had the most number of questions about how this would be possible without paying half a years salary to a translator.

Here’s what you have to consider: the world has changed!!

Not just for you, but for everyone involved in the publishing industry. Editors and cover designers, who were laid off from big publishers, now happily freelance for indie authors. Many of them continue to work for traditional publishing, well as freelancing on the side.

In the same way, translators are discovering the joy of working in collaboration with authors. For years, they have been undervalued by publishers, treated as ‘workers’ rather than creatives in their own right. I’ve now partnered with six translators and I can tell you, translation is an art, it’s definitely a creative process.

You don’t have to follow the rules anymore. In fact, there are no rules!

Joanna Penn

Joanna Penn with Cas Blomberg, fantasy author, in Stockholm. Photo Credit: Petra Rolinec, www.8tiesbaby.com

I’m about to start working with a Portuguese translator, who has books of his own in a genre similar to my ARKANE series. He wants to translate mine alongside his, so together, we can mutually promote, and it will be quicker to have more books out if he translates at the same time as writing his own. He’s currently working on Terry Pratchett’s books – and we’re doing a 50:50% royalty split, as I have done with all my translators.

This is only possible in a world where creatives just try stuff, take risks and ‘play’ together.

Other creative industries do this very well – look at musicians and dancers, film-makers, actors – most other creative industries collaborate in every work. Authors seem to default to timidity. They say “but I can’t do that .. no one would work with me.” Really? Have you actually tried asking?

Collaboration is a (not so secret) weapon for indies. When you own your own rights, you can do anything you like.

You can put 12 books in a box-set and together, you can hit the New York Times and the USA Today bestseller lists. You can co-write with multiple different authors. You can write a single book with multiple authors. You can do promotions together. You can write books that feature each others’ worlds. You can do anything you like when you own the rights. Other creative professionals work together collaboratively. It’s time for authors to do the same. Try asking and see what happens.

Stop waiting, stop asking, stop begging to be picked. Embrace the opportunities in front of you. Create!

Photo credit: Petra Rolinec,www.8tiesbaby.com

How Has Self-Publishing Changed In The Last 2 Years? Interview With David Gaughran.

Today I interview David Gaughran, author and outspoken commentator on all things indie.

lets get digitalDavid has just released the second edition of his fantastic book, Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should from Amazon, Amazon UK, Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo for $4.99/£2.99.

This book is one of the reasons I decided NOT to write my own book about how to self-publish. When it is done so well by a fantastic author, why reinvent the wheel! I highly recommend grabbing a copy and even if you know what you’re doing as an indie, you’ll certainly learn something from the interviews in the last section.

What are some of the big changes in the publishing industry between the two editions of your book?

That was probably the most interesting part of writing this new edition, charting all the changes. It’s only when you take a step back that you realize how much has happened in the last three years. A lot of what was theory in 2011 has become fact.

Self-publishing has gone mainstream, with indies grabbing around 25% of the US e-book market – from scratch! Borders has gone out of business, taking its 600+ stores out of existence (and costing 12,000 people their jobs). Publishers are merging to try to weather the storm, but they still haven’t become that much smarter about how they approach e-books, digital marketing, or this thing the kids are calling “the internet.”

For self-publishers, the amount of change has been equally breathtaking.

When I wrote the first edition, selling 1,000 books in a month was a big deal. A really big deal actually. But now you can sell that much in a day with a BookBub ad. Authors tend to focus on how much competition has increased (there are 3 million books in the Kindle Store today versus maybe 1 million in 2011), but they forget to factor in how much the digital market has swelled and that we now have much more sophisticated tools to reach readers.

On top of that, self-publishers are constantly innovating and sharing. While I’m glad I started when I did, I wouldn’t be afraid of starting today or thinking that I’d missed the boat. Not at all. I think we’re still at the beginning of this revolution that’s reshaping our industry.

How has the public perception of self-publishing changed, and are we past the ‘stigma’ label?

I’m skeptical about how much that stigma ever existed among the people that really count: readers. It definitely existed in the industry – among agents, editors, and traditionally published authors – and still does in certain quarters. But, really, that’s their problem. It doesn’t affect me reaching readers, building an audience, and selling books.

I think most agents and publishers are very open to signing indie authors. Out of those that aren’t, ask yourself this: do you really want to do business with someone with such an outdated view of the marketplace?

The market does feel like shark-infested waters these days with so many companies out to take money from authors.

How can people tell the difference between good and bad services? What should they definitely NOT spend their money on?

It’s pretty tough because a lot of these scammers are so slick. What I would say to authors, especially those starting out, is that there are no shortcuts, and that goes for publishing books as well as selling them.

If someone is offering you an easy way to publish, or simple trick for selling more books, you should be automatically skeptical. Lottery winners aside, success usually requires hard work. If someone claims to be an expert who can put together a social media campaign that will lead to hundreds or thousands of sales, be automatically skeptical.

If a company offers you a hassle-free way of publishing your book, where they will take care of everything, be automatically skeptical. And if the company is owned by a traditional publisher, be very skeptical.

The biggest predator out there is a company called Author Solutions, which is currently subject to a major class action in the US for deceptive business practices. I’ve been campaigning against the company for a few years now, but this post is a good place to start if you don’t know much about them.

The saddest thing is that Author Solutions is owned by Penguin Random House – which has done nothing to clean up those predatory practices since buying the company for $116m in July 2012. So when I hear publishers talking about re-imagining the industry, placing the author at the center, and treating writers as true partners, I always think to myself: talk is cheap.

Scammers aside, I go into some depth in Let’s Get Digital about what authors should do and not do in terms of marketing (and that goes for the time you spend, as well as money), but you can get the basics of the approach I suggest in this post.

You have a load of success stories in the book and what’s encouraging is that it includes people who are NOT ‘big indie names.’

What are some of the common threads you see between these authors & how can people model their success?

I’m glad you liked that because I was doing something very deliberate with that section. The media tends to focus on the very biggest sellers: Bella Andre, Hugh Howey, HM Ward etc.

But this revolution is far deeper and wider than that. I think the real story is the hundreds and thousands of authors who maybe aren’t selling millions of books, but are making a living off this for the very first time, or paying their mortgage with royalties for the first time, all thanks to self-publishing.

I tried to select a range of authors from different backgrounds and genres, and with different paths to success. You have people like Bob Mayer who had millions of books in print when he was traditionally published, but his experience turned sour and he decided to self-publish and became a huge success (again) – with those very same books that publishers said were finished.

At the other end of the scale you have someone like UK author Mel Comley who never had a traditional deal, decided to self-publish in 2010, and took six months to make her first $100 on Amazon. Today, Mel has sold hundreds of thousands of books and is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, and she did that all on her own. I wanted to show there are multiple paths to success and each story is quite different, and I hope the overall effect is inspiring.

Authors are always looking for magic bullets, but here’s the real secret.

All of these writers decided to pick themselves instead of waiting to be picked.

They were all determined enough to keep at it until they were a success. And they all worked bloody hard at it too. You need a bit of luck, but you need to put yourself in a position to get lucky by honing your craft, putting your work out there, and being smart about how you reach readers. And you need to hang in there and keep at it. Again: there are no shortcuts, but success truly is attainable.

It’s not easy, but it is much more of a possibility than it ever was before. In other words, it’s down to you.

david gaughranvisible300pxDavid Gaughran is an Irish author, living in Prague, and he blogs on writing and the publishing business here. You can pick up the updated, expanded version of Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should from Amazon, Amazon UK, Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo for $4.99/£2.99.

To celebrate the launch, he’s also running a sale on the companion book Let’s Get Visible: How To Get Noticed And Sell More Books which you can grab for the reduced price of 99c/79p, also from Amazon, Amazon UK, Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

If you have any questions for David, please leave them below, and join the conversation!