Genre, Story Tips And Getting A Film Deal With Charles Harris

It’s always good to learn from industry professionals outside our direct area of writing. Today I discuss genre, loglines and getting a film deal with Charles Harris.

In the intro, I mention some VERY exciting news!

make moneyI’ve just hired my husband out of his corporate job to join the business and that gives me more time to serve the community :)

With the popularity of How to Make a Living with your Writing and also Business for Authors, I’m starting with some free video training on 11 ways to make money as an indie author. Click here to check it out.

London psychic seriesI also mention the launch of Deviance, the 3rd in the London Psychic trilogy, in ebook and print formats. All 3 books are on special during the weeks of 27 July – 10 August.

Today’s show is sponsored by all the brilliant listeners who support the show on Patreon. Thank you! You can find them all listed on this Patrons page and you can support the show here on Patreon.

Show notes for Charles Harris interview

charles harrisCharles Harris is an international award-winning writer-director, a script consultant, co-founder of a screenwriters’ workshop and author of The Complete Screenwriting Course.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the video or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.

  • On starting as a screenwriter.
  • The three essential elements of scripts that sell and stories that resonate.
  • The importance of a strong and interesting premise in TV and film writing and the importance of characters in writing novels, TV or for the screen.
  • How premise and pitch are aligned.
  • The four elements, structure and theory behind a compelling story sentence. How emotion plays a role in creating a premise or story sentence.
  • screenwriterscourseWriting the story sentence for a multi-book series and the importance of genre when describing your book or screenplay.
  • Charles recommends Shooting People for opportunities in independent film
  • An explanation of the ‘four quadrants’ of the film marketplace and the dangers when films fall in between two quadrants.
  • The financial rewards (or not) of being optioned for the screen.
  • The expected time authors can expect an optioned book to take to reach the screen.
  • The differences Charles notices between writing novels and writing screenplays.

You can find Charles at www.Charles-Harris.co.uk and his book, The Complete Screenwriting Course, here on Amazon.

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Start Before You Know What You’re Doing. Interview With Joanna Penn On The Writer’s Journey.

I’m in my 7th year of the writing journey and things have changed a LOT in that time!

joanna penn lovelyn bettisonIn this interview on Lovelyn Bettison’s Imagine the Possibilities podcast, I go through how it all got started, how I changed careers and what I’ve learned along the way.

I talk about going from newbie author to running a six-figure business as an author entrepreneur.

I’m also excited to announce that I have just hired my husband out of his corporate job. This has been a big goal for a number of years and I’m thrilled to have reached it. He’s pretty happy too :)

I hope you find the interview useful.

Click here to listen to the interview or download the mp3. Or read the transcript below.

Transcription of the interview

Lovelyn: Hello, Joanna. Welcome to Imagine the Possibilities. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Joanna: Oh, thanks for having me Lovelyn. This is awesome.

Lovelyn: It’s really an honor to have you on the show, I have to say. I remember listening to one of your first podcasts.

Joanna: That’s like four, five years ago now. That’s a long time.

Lovelyn: Yeah, I think it was back in 2009.

Joanna: Oh, wow. Wow, thank you so much for being a listener for so long. Well, in that case, you remember when I just didn’t have a clue what I was doing. But that’s important, isn’t it?

For people listening, it’s important to start when you haven’t got a clue what you’re doing.

Lovelyn: Yeah, that’s a great point, and that’s something I really admired about you. It’s that you just started. Because so often, people can put things off and put things off. They want to get it perfect and it needs to be just right. But I think I remember hearing you saying in an interview that that first interview you did, you just had a recorder next to the phone or something.

Joanna: Yeah. I literally, I’d phoned up a lady. She was a super best-seller in Australia. I was living in Australia and I phoned her up on my landline phone and I put it on speakerphone and then I held an MP3 player over the phone.

[You can check it out here: March 2009 – Interview with Rachael Bermingham]

I’m sure Skype was around back then but I didn’t know about it. I didn’t know about anything that could record over the internet at that point. Although I think by the second show, I might have figured that out. And also, I think the other thing to say to people is that my blog was only about five months, six months old at that point and I didn’t feel like I had an audience at all.

People were just starting to leave comments but my traffic was still pretty small. So that’s a really good time to try new things when you’re not known. That’s actually the best time to make mistakes. Not that I call them mistakes. Try new things before you really get everything sorted out.

Lovelyn: Then you learn along the way.

first book

Me with my first book in 2008, still in the pin-stripes! It’s since been rewritten as Career Change

Joanna: Exactly. For example, now I’ve written 16 books. Back then, I hadn’t. Now, it’s a much bigger deal if I write a book that gets bad reviews. Whereas right at the beginning when nobody knows who you are, you are still learning how to do these things.

So I would really advise people to experiment. Plus I would also say I didn’t know back then that I would carry on podcasting. I love podcasting and I started doing videos and I quite enjoy videos but I didn’t become like a big YouTube person.

And I also discovered Twitter at that point and I love Twitter. And I wouldn’t have known that I love those things unless I tried them out and then doubled down on what I enjoyed.

Lovelyn: Back when you first started The Creative Penn, what were you doing as your day job?

Joanna: My first degree is in theology, from Oxford University, which is one of the oldest degrees in the world, like the syllabus is 1,000 years old. So that makes it a really useless degree! But in going to Oxford, I got recruited into a large consulting firm now called Accenture. And back then, it was Andersen Consulting. I’m that old!

And I became a consultant. And on my first day, they said, “Okay, you’re learning SAP”, which is this big enterprise software system for big companies.

And I started implementing Accounts Payable into large corporates which is a crazy, random thing to do. But I just started doing that, and thirteen years later, I was still doing that but I was at the top of the contracting game. I was making a lot of money. It was the golden handcuffs thing. I was contracting and I was highly specialized.

After thirteen years of specializing and implementing accounts payable, all around the world really, I was very good at my job but I was super bored and miserable, like really miserable, as in I was crying most days.

I don’t cry much anymore unless it’s a sad movie.

But I was crying with frustration back then.

I also couldn’t understand why I hated my job so much. I had everything I was meant to have. I had a house and a happy marriage, I’m still happily married. But I had a house and a mortgage and a car and a job that my mom liked the idea of and that society said was a good job, I was a consultant and earning lots of money.

But I was really empty creatively, also spiritually. I was empty, I think by not letting that creative spark ignite, you dampen down that spiritual side as well.

And so I really was trying to figure out what I wanted. I did another degree in psychology to see if I wanted to become a psychologist but then also decided that wasn’t a job I wanted to do. I started a scuba diving company. I tried property investment. I just tried loads of things trying to work out what I wanted to do with my life. And in the end, I hit this wall where like, “This is crazy,” and I started to read a lot of self-help books.

One of the books, I still have it on my desk, it’s right here.

the success principlesIt’s called The Success Principles by Jack Canfield. It came out ten years ago, which is when I first got it in 2005. And I started to read that book and it was like, “Well, decide where you are now and then decide where you want to be.”

I really started to think about my ideal life and what I wanted to do.

What was my ideal day? What energized me as a person?

And I actually started to write my own self-help book, which I rewrote later on and it’s now called Career Change. But writing that book, that was back in 2007. I wrote that book to try and figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

And amusingly, that book changed my life because I learned about writing and publishing and books and marketing, etc. So that’s the journey in a nutshell.

Lovelyn: That’s a great story. And actually, it’s similar to a lot of stories we’ve heard on the podcast that people have really what would be considered a really good job or a job that they should like or they felt like it should be the one that they should be happy. But at night, they go home and they cry at night.

Joanna: Yeah.

Lovelyn: They’re not happy and they’re not fulfilled.

I think there are a lot of people who experience this struggle where they feel like they should be happy but they’re not happy and they’re trying to explore their lives and figure out what to do to fulfil themselves.

Joanna: Yeah, and there’s a lot of guilt around, “Well, shouldn’t I just be happy with what I have?” It’s like, “I’m not poor. The job is fine. It’s in an office. It’s not like digging ditches and all that.”

That guilt was pretty massive for me. “How can you be so ungrateful about your life?”

But at the end of the day, I believe we only have this once, so you have to find out what your bliss is as Joseph Campbell said. And then find what fulfills you.

But the other thing I say to people is it’s a bit like skiing down a mountain, although you’re in Florida so there’s not much skiing.

Lovelyn: And no mountains.

Joanna: And no mountain. But when you’re skiing, if you’re at the top, I know I’m a terrible skier. I’m the sort of the pie, the wedge shape.

But to get down a hill, when you have to get started, you actually have to be moving in order to change direction, so that’s really important. And you’re never going to get down there in a straight line. You’re going to damage yourself. You’re always going to be zigzagging.

And my path was as zigzag-y as anyone and continues to be because I started writing fiction, a bit of another zigzag. But yeah, I think getting started, changing direction, you’re going to fall down. It’s the other thing about skiing.

You will fall down. You will mistakes. It will cost you money.

But eventually if you keep zigging and zagging and moving towards your ideal life, you’ll get there.

Lovelyn: Definitely.

When you started The Creative Penn, did you start it with the idea in mind that that was going to be your career eventually?

careerchangesmallJoanna: No. I started The Creative Penn in December 2008. But winding the clock back, I published my book earlier that year. My first book, it was called How to Enjoy your Job. But as I said, I rewrote it as Career Change, which is what it’s out as now.

I tried all kinds of things to market it. But what happened is I realized, I made the classic mistake of printing books and having them in my house.

Do not do that, people! That is not how to self-publish. Use print on demand. I had all these books in my house and then I realized I didn’t know how to sell them. I had the product part down but I didn’t understand sales and marketing.

So I began the whole process of learning about sales and marketing back then. Because as I said, I studied theology and psychology, I had no marketing background, no sales background. Like many people, I felt it was all a bit scammy and sucky and all that.

I discovered blogging. I started one blog which was called How to Enjoy your Job about the first book. One of the classic mistakes of people with their first book is starting a website around that first book.

Don’t do that because chances are you’re going to write another book!

Then I started another blog which was I was basically writing all the lessons I learned about all the things I was learning. But then I decided that I didn’t want to do that either. I got bored. And this is another good sign. If you start a blog and you’re bored and you’re not overrun with content, then don’t carry on.

And then I started my third blog, The Creative Penn. What was so funny is that I had written an affirmation based on Jack

I am creative. I am an author. Creativity.

This is the affirmation I had in my wallet for years!

Canfield’s book. He talks about using affirmations. My affirmation was “I am creative, I am an author.” And what was weird about that now is that back then I couldn’t even say it out loud.

I didn’t feel I was creative.

I was basically working in a technical field. I wasn’t an author. So to say it out loud, “I am creative. I am an author,” I couldn’t do it for about six months.

Once I managed to say that out loud, I used to recite it on my way to work in my head, and then eventually out loud. See how it tasted. See how it felt in my mouth.

I really advise people to do this. It’s very powerful stuff. It changes your brain.

It reprograms your brain. And I came up with the idea. It was like, “I am the Creative Penn,” because my surname is Penn. That is my real name, P-E-N-N. And it was like The Creative Penn, then I can be anything through this website. This is me.

And basically, if I start painting, I can use The Creative Penn. It exists for me across whatever I do in my brand. I subsequently created JFPenn.com which is my fiction site. But at that time, it was like, “This is perfect.” So basically, it took me that whole year and I started The Creative Penn in December 2008.

But again, when I started, I didn’t have a clue.

And if anybody looks back at the archives list first, that first year, I had no ‘voice.’ It was all very stilted. There were lots of lessons learned because I was trying to helpful, always trying to be helpful. Still am.

It took a while for me to grow into my voice and trust the world and trust social media and be able to share more personally really.

Lovelyn: I think your story is great because you said you went from not even being able to say it out loud that you’re creative and an author. And now, look at you. You’ve written all these books, so you’re extremely creative.

I think that’s a good lesson for people listening who feel like they have this dream that they have hidden way back in their brain, that they don’t want to tell anyone about or don’t want to admit to and it scares them and they’re unsure.

But it’s about taking those first steps and really believing it yourself, and then you are able to manifest that.

Joanna: What’s so crazy is what then happened next. There was absolutely no way I ever thought I would write fiction. I mean, I was actively NOT writing fiction because I didn’t believe I was creative enough to do that.

After starting The Creative Penn, immersing myself in the world that we are in now through networking on the internet, reading loads of books, I joined a class. And what happened was that creative spark and the idea machine kickstarted.

Again, I remember feeling that I would never have enough ideas. I would never be able to make that stuff up because my brain is not like that or whatever.

But once you take little steps towards it, once you start trusting, it starts to happen. And blogging is fantastic.

Blogging changed my life because you have an impulse to write something and you write it and you press publish and it’s out in the world and somebody might comment on it or they share it on social media, and you’re like, “Wow, that just touched somebody.”

And that also helps you release your voice. So it might not be blogging. Some people do paintings and put them online or take pictures and put them online, all of that type of thing.

The other thing I would say is selling your first anything online.

When you make your first $10 or even $5 online, it changes your life again.

It’s like, “Oh my goodness, you don’t have to have a job.” You don’t have to be paid a salary in order to make money. That’s a massive shift for many people. Especially for people who were not born in the internet age as such. I think we are stuck in that traditional mindset of salary being the only way.

With the millennials, unfortunately, they suffered through the crash in a bad way when they were trying to get jobs but they’ve all learned that basically, salaries aren’t stability and a lot more millennials are running their own businesses than Gen X’ers like me.

Lovelyn: Yeah, they have learned that you can’t really count on the 9:00 to 5:00.

Joanna: I mean obviously, I don’t work 9:00 to 5:00. This is what I would say to people. It’s one of the lessons I learned in the first year full time. It is much easier having a day job.

But equally, because I love what I do, I tend to be a workaholic because I love what I do, as in I don’t need work-life balance. It’s not balanced at all. Everything I do is writing!

Every holiday is fodder for my writing and everyone I meet could be a marketing opportunity or networking or whatever. So it becomes your life, which I think is much more fulfilling.

Lovelyn: When you first left your day job and made that transition, how did that go for you?

Joanna: So I started writing in 2006, 2007, published 2008, started the blog 2008. It wasn’t until September 2011 that I was able to give up my job. What I did between then is I worked hard.

I was working full-time most of that. But then once I started to make income, I started to sell books, I started to do a little bit of affiliate marketing. Even just using Amazon links on my blog to get that Amazon affiliate income.

I then started to start to create courses for people. Every time I learned something, I created a little course to help other people. So I was one of the first people to recommend Smashwords, one of first people to get on the Kindle in Australia [hilarious vid!]. And I started speaking, so all of this was in addition to my day job.

We got rid of the TV. That was a big deal. And then I moved to four days a week at work.

I essentially made a choice to opt out of the traditional career path and not care about the day job anymore.

So literally, I did enough to keep my job but I was not investing any extra time in that. So any time I could work from home, I did. I did my work and then got on the learning things, networking, blogging, podcasting, creating content, writing the book. I also used to get up at 5:00 a.m. and write before work.

I had found what I loved and I was determined to get out of my day job.

When I left my job, I had saved a buffer of cash. I’m very risk averse.

We also downsized. We had sold our properties so we didn’t have any overheads and I was making around a thousand a month which obviously isn’t that much money but my husband was also making money, even though I was the prime wage earner at the time.

freedomsignupimageAnd I said, “Okay, so we’ve got these savings. In six months time, if I’m not making x, then I will go back to my job.” And six months later, we reassessed it and then I haven’t been back! I’ve just done my accounts and I don’t mind telling your listeners that it’s now a six-figure business.

Lovelyn: Oh, very good. Congratulations.

Joanna: And we’re talking in June 2015. So it has taken almost four years to get back up to what would be good in terms of the job I used to have, a decent salary. I know for many people that that’s very good. But from the job I came from, your self-esteem is related to the amount of money you earn. So that is important to me.

Lovelyn: Well, congratulations. I’m so glad that you’ve been able to make all of this successful because it’s such a great example to other people who want to do something similar.

Before you talked about how you didn’t write fiction before because you felt like you weren’t creative or you couldn’t really do that.

But I’m wondering how you transitioned into writing fiction what made you change your mind?

Joanna: Well, one of my podcast interviews was with a guy called Tom Evans, The Bookwright, again, way back in June 2009.

I said something something back on the show. “Oh, I could never write fiction.” And it was amusingly an interview on writer’s block. I said, “Oh, I don’t have writer’s block. I’m writing nonfiction.”

He said, “Oh, I think you’ve got a block around fiction. And it was like, Oh, Okay,” I was being challenged on my own podcast.

I realized that because my mom taught English literature at school, my family are very literary, I went to Oxford, where the only “good novel” is one that wins the Booker prize or whatever. And so my cultural upbringing is very much, “you must write literary fiction.”

con airBut as a reader, I love Dan Brown, I loved the conspiracy thriller niche. I love action adventure. My favorite film is Con Air!

I love all the John Woo-slow motion-flying doves stuff, Nicholas Cage. And that’s what I wanted to write.

So I suddenly came up against the first blocks.

One of the blocks very much for writers is your family and your friends will not like what you write, they just won’t. And my mom still says things like, “Why don’t you write like Hilary Mantel?” Who won the Booker prize with Wolf Hall, which is very big in England historical novel. And I’m like, “Mom, that’s not my thing.”

So I realized that I did have a block. And once I got rid of that, I was like, “Okay, well, I am allowed to write what I love.”

ARKANE Books x 7

The ARKANE action adventure series

So I started writing conspiracy thriller, religious thriller. My ARKANE series is essentially action-adventure around religious and supernatural mysteries.

And it’s super fun as well as using my theology degree, and my protagonist was a military psychologist in Israel and then worked at Oxford University as a psychologist of religion.

I’ve woven my past into Morgan Sierra, my main character, and she goes around kicking ass and solving mysteries.

How I started writing was – after I got rid of that initial block – I did NaNoWriMo, which is National Novel Writing Month, and that’s nanowrimo.org if people want to have a look. I wrote my first 20,000 words of fiction of which I used about 5,000 words eventually.

Then I registered for a How to Write a Novel in a Year course at my local library. And what that did was give me a deadline, and that is something I recommend for people.

If you want to write a book, or in fact if you want to do anything, set a deadline.

I had a deadline of the end of the year and I spent that year learning about writing fiction. And it is very, very different to write fiction than it is to writing nonfiction. Very different skills. I spent that year learning and self-published my first novel in 2011, I think, and then I started to write the next one and the caught the bug.

So that’s how I transitioned. [You can read all my posts from my first novel here].

Lovelyn: I’m sure it takes you less than a year now to write a book.

London psychic seriesJoanna: Yeah. I have the London Psychic crime thriller series which features a British detective and a psychic researcher who works with her.

The first one of that again took me just over a year again because of the thinking process. When you create a new world, new characters, new world, new ideas, that does take longer.

But once you have a series like my ARKANE series now, the latest one is One Day In New York. That didn’t take me very long. That’s a novella as well.

But it’s a lot quicker now. And I know how to write a book!

But it’s really very rewarding to write stories that people enjoy. But then I also, I won’t give up The Creative Penn because I also love to help people. I still love the self-help genre and I enjoy putting stuff out there that help other people write their books and get them in the world.

Lovelyn: So what does your normal day look like? What’s your writing schedule like or how do you divide your time between your fiction and The Creative Penn?

have you made artJoanna: Well, I have on my wall here, “Have you made art today?”

Pretty much every day, I have to create something new in the world. I aim to do some creative work every day.

With fiction, there will be a first draft phase, or nonfiction as well.

With the first draft, you just have to get the first draft done. I go to a cafe locally or to the library and spend a couple of hours just writing words into my computer on Scrivener. I use Scrivener which is amazing software.

But then of course, once the draft is finished, you then have to edit. In those days I’ll be editing, which is different, there’s no word count when you’re editing, you’re just reworking the document.

So I have to create something every day but it might be something else. It might be a video or something, but I make sure that I create something new in the world.

And then I am also running a business so I have marketing things, podcast interviews etc. So this is obviously a marketing category type of thing and I like helping people thing too.

I am also a professional speaker so sometimes I’m speaking. I also do have to do things like accounting and stuff. Although I like doing accounting because it’s a measurement of success! So those are the main things. So pretty much separating into a creative period and then a running the business period of the day.

Lovelyn: So you create in the morning usually?

Joanna: Yes.

Lovelyn: And then the business stuff in the afternoon?

Joanna: Exactly. That works for me, and I am pretty brain dead by about now because we’re recording late. I haven’t got a glass of wine, I promise!

Lovelyn: Do you have any tips or advice for someone out there who might want to start writing?

Joanna: In terms of writing in general, it’s just a case of just doing the writing.

Stephen King - On WritingI think there’s a phase that people get into, and I was in it too, where you read all the books on writing.

I mean, everybody’s got Stephen King’s On Writing; Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott, Writing Down the Bones, we all have all those books. And then what’s the other one? Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way. Everybody’s got all these books.

But what you actually have to do is start writing your project.

So stop reading about writing and start writing. That’s why I found joining a class very useful because it gave me an end point. So that will be the other thing. Set your goals. NaNoWriMo is very good for that in November.

There are lots of online writing groups. Or you could start one locally. On meetup.com, you’ll often find writer’s groups. You just need some help with the discipline of sitting down for some period of time and just trusting.

Trust emergence. Something will come out of your brain.

storygridActually, there’s one book. I recently interviewed Shawn Coyne on my podcast. The book is called The Story Grid. That’s an excellent book.

I’ve just used that on Deviance to help me with my plot. Yeah, the Story Grid by Shawn Coyne, that’s excellent.

And he’s business partners with Stephen Pressfield who wrote The War of Art, and that is another hardcore book you’ve got to read, The War of Art.

Lovelyn: I love that book.

Joanna: And if people are most serious, his other book, Turning Pro, I reread every year. That will kick your ass, it really will.

[All the links to these books for writers here.]

I really believe you have to put the work in and then the muse, or God, or spirit, whatever you want to call it, the great unconscious, will come.

Sometimes, I look at my words and go, “I really don’t know where that came from.” But it only comes when you are actually sitting there working on your document, on your manuscript.

You do have to force it a bit at the beginning. I actually have on my website at thecreativepenn.com/firstnovel, I have all the blog posts which are really funny actually. Some of them are hilarious from when I decided to do that NaNoWriMo all the way through to launching, getting a New York agent, selling loads of books, all the stuff I go through. So that’s really interesting if people do want to write a novel.

Lovelyn: Okay, and I’ll link to all of these things in the show notes everyone, so you can go to my website and look at the show notes to find links to all of these things that Joanna is mentioning.

Do you have anything that you would like to share or promote? Where can people find you online and what do you have going on?

Joanna: If people are interested in writing and publishing and book marketing, then thecreativepenn.com, there’s the Author 2.0 Blueprint which is a free big mega e-book. It’s basically a book on all those things, so check that out, thecreativepenn.com/blueprint. And then, there’s obviously my podcast, The Creative Penn podcast. And all the links are on thecreativepenn.com. I’m on Twitter @thecreativepenn. I’m very active on Twitter. Also, if you want to check out my fiction, go to jfpenn.com and you can get a free book if you’d like to check some action-adventure.

Lovelyn: Okay, that sounds great. And I really appreciate you coming on the show because I really think that you are a great example of, number one, the first thing that I always tell people to do is just to start. Sometimes you have to start before you’re ready. Just get started.

I think you’re a great example of just steady consistent action.

I don’t know if I’m wrong about this. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think you had any big viral event that all of the sudden you’re the most popular blogger in the world or something. It was just continuing, consistently putting out the content and helping people and doing a lot of things over time that has led to the success that you have now that you have the six-figure business.

Joanna: I’m so glad you noticed that because that is totally true. I haven’t ever had a breakout success on one of my books or a massive spike in income. It’s all been incremental. And it’s basically, for the last six, seven years…

I’ve written every day. I’ve done some marketing every day. It’s all little drip, drip, drip.

compound effectThe book I like for this is called The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy. And it’s a great book. I mean, you think the concept is simple but the book really explains it well, which is just about how these little things build up over time.

And what I feel is really, I’m in year seven or eight or whatever and year six of the podcast and the blog and stuff.

And I feel like now things are starting to really tick up, and that’s just the snowball effect over time. Eventually, the little trickles start adding up.

And sales, I was looking at my sales from all over the world. A year ago, I had nothing from Japan. Now, I get about $2 a month from Japan but I used to only earn $2 a month from Amazon right at the beginning from America. And then every month, it gets bigger and bigger and bigger.

My books now have sold copies in 66 countries, which is amazing.

And then, there’s audio books and then there’s just so many different little things that make a difference. So I hope that encourages people too.

You don’t go from nothing to six figures overnight.

But over time, if you think about a bigger period, like say, do you want to change your life in the next five years?

It’s not like by Christmas you’re going to be able to leave your job. It’s how do you get there slowly. It’s worth working on slowly. That’s the thing.

I think we’re so used to this instant stuff. But I think mostly that’s a lie, like the 10-year overnight success is what you hear about as well. Maybe I’ll be one of those. But thank you so much for having me on your show. And of course, if anyone has any questions, best to tweet me, @thecreativepenn.

Lovelyn: All right, thank you so much. This has been brilliant.

Joanna: No worries. Thanks, Lovelyn.

I hope you enjoyed the interview! Please do leave a question or comment below or tweet me @thecreativepenn with any responses!

Ambition, Writing Tips And Being An Indie At #ThrillerFest15

This was my third Thrillerfest and as in previous years, I was amongst my tribe!

I also heard several other authors say the same thing, “I couldn’t find my people anywhere else, but here, I feel at home.” Here are some of my highlights from this year and you can also check out my 2012 and 2014 articles for past event tips.

J.F.Penn, Clive Cussler

I meet one of my writing heroes, Clive Cussler! Dirk Pitt’s influence can be seen in Morgan Sierra in my ARKANE series.

Writers are weird, that’s true of any genre.

But ITW and ThrillerFest are my kind of weird – authors who talk about body count, weaponry, explosions, sex and the supernatural alongside the business of selling multi-millions of books.

If you check #thrillerfest15 on Twitter, you’ll find a whole load of pics and tweets from the event. I also did a reader focused post for #BritCrime with some author tidbits, but here are some of the things that have stood out for me as an author in the last few days.

On ambition

One of the reasons I come to ThrillerFest is to learn from authors who have been writing for decades, many of them since before I was born. I am on the bottom rung of the writer’s journey (or maybe the second rung!) and at ThrillerFest I learn from those who remember the early days of this path and are now some of the biggest names in the book world.

I’m also ambitious and ambition is something that many authors, especially in the UK, shy away from as something unacceptable for artists.

But at ThrillerFest every year, I meet authors who are unafraid to state massive ambition, both in artistic and financial terms.

On this trip I met Clive Cussler, whose Dirk Pitt character was definitely an influence on my own Morgan Sierra in the ARKANE series. Clive was asked why he co-writes and he said, “Because the money is so good, and if [James] Patterson can do it, so can I.” I love the honesty of that from a writer who has blazed the action adventure trail, but also still appreciates cash!

Joanna Penn with Blake Crouch

With Blake Crouch, author of the Wayward Pines series, now a TV show

Think big.Blake Crouch

I’ve read Blake Crouch’s indie horror novels and he has co-written with JA Konrath so is well known in indie circles. But when my Dad recommended the Wayward Pines books to me last year, I knew Blake had gone mainstream.

The books are amazing and have recently been adapted into a TV show. Blake spoke of his 10 year journey through different forms of publishing and about how thinking bigger changed his writing career.

He suggested writing stories and characters that resonate across large audiences if you want to have a big hit, rather than writing in a tiny, dark niche like horror. Write what you love, for sure, but consider going wider if you want a massive hit.

Charlaine Harris Karin Slaughter

Karin Slaughter interviews Charlaine Harris

I discovered an ambitious streak.Charlaine Harris

Charlaine is absolutely charming and funny, the kind of woman that you want to hang out with just to hear her laugh. In an interview with Karin Slaughter, she explained that she had been midlist for years and then with her first Sookie Stackhouse book, she discovered an ambitious streak.

It was wonderful to hear those words from such a gentlewoman, in the Southern sense of the word. She made her agent persist with submissions even after so many rejections, and the Sookie books went on to sell multi-millions of copies and become the beloved TV show, True Blood.

Im the CEO of a multi-million dollar publishing company I have a business plan and I make a new one every year.Lilliana Hart.

Liliana Hart J.F.Penn

Liliana Hart with Joanna Penn at Thrillerfest 2015

I heard Liliana speak at London Book Fair 2014 and she’s definitely one of the indie authors and business women I admire most.

She’s also ambitious and as well as her expanding number of books, she has recently announced SilverHart Author Resources and SWAT Academy, for authors who want to learn more about law enforcement, as well as SilverHart Publishing. Created by Liliana and her husband, the lovely Chief of Police Scott Silverii, you can find out more here.

Liliana also mentioned that iBooks is the largest market for her books, and she’ll be coming on the podcast to talk about that later this year.

Writing and publishing tidbits

I went to lots of panels and heard lots of authors speak. Here are some of the lines that stood out.

“The story is what hooks the reader, not the beauty of the writing. Become a better storyteller.” Lilliana Hart.

RL Stine, David Morrell and Nelson DeMille“I’m a factory.” RL Stine on writing 2000 words every day. Stine has sold over 400 million books! He also writes extensive outlines of every book so an editor will approve them before writing.

“I’m an entertainer. The reader has to get their money’s worth.” Clive Cussler.

David Morrell (First Blood/Rambo, Inspector of the Dead) writes 5 pages a day. He talked about how self doubt still plagues him on every book after more than 40 years writing.

Sandra Brown writes for 4-5 hours per day and goes to a separate office away from her house.

Peter James, Simon Toyne and J.F.Penn

Simon Toyne, J.F.Penn and Peter James,

Peter James and Greg Iles talked about how covers rejected by bigger name authors get handed down to the lesser known. It’s common in the publishing industry (and not something I had heard before!)

“It’s the small connections on the journey that validate our dreams.” Greg Iles talks about getting a fan letter from Stephen King, surely every thriller authors fantasy!

“Authors employ publishers, they exist to serve readers and authors.” Greg Iles

“Care about getting 70% royalty, not about hitting a list.” Lilliana Hart

On the importance of one liners/taglines for breakout success.

J.F.Penn, Simon Toyne and Mark Billingham  #britcrime

J.F.Penn, Simon Toyne and Mark Billingham #britcrime

Mark Billingham credits the strapline for his first book, Sleepyhead, as the thing that helped him break out. He doesn’t want you alive. He doesn’t want you dead. He wants you somewhere in between.

Simon Toyne was also signing advance copies of his next book and said the same thing. His tagline for Solomon Creed is “His past is unknown. His future unwritten.

I also heard this same advice at Frankfurt Book Fair last year from A.G.Riddle whose book Departure was also on show at ThrillerFest. Riddle has sold over 1m books as an indie and now has a load of book deals so I take his advice seriously!

Departure has also been optioned for a movie deal and can be explained by “A plane takes off and lands in the future.” I’m going to dig deeper into taglines so expect a podcast on how to craft one soon!

On being indie at a pro writer convention

gender panel at ITW

Panel on gender in thrillers moderated by the brilliant Heather Graham. I’m 3rd from left.

ITW is one of the few writer’s organisations that judges authors on the quality of their writing and their sales figures, rather than who publishes them.

I’m a Member of ITW as a professional indie author and they are open to submissions from others who professionally self-publish too. Check the application process here if you write thrillers (the definition of which is pretty inclusive!).

I’ve never felt judged by members of ITW at ThrillerFest for the way I choose to publish. In fact, I met a lot of people this year who listen to my podcast and who read this blog, as well as authors who are indie or hybrid.

I was also on a panel about gender in thrillers alongside traditionally published authors and moderated by Heather Graham, author of over 150 novels which have sold over 75 million copies, who will be the ThrillerMaster in 2016. To be on the program alongside such an amazing author shows true egalitarianism in the organization!

CJ Lyons Joanna Penn

With CJ Lyons after her ITW Thriller award for Best ebook original

To further illustrate the equality of ITW, CJ Lyons won the Best eBook Original Award for Hard Fall, a Lucy Guardino FBI thriller, which she self-published, although she also has books with large publishers so she’s definitely a hybrid author. The fact that it was self-published wasn’t mentioned. Layton Green was also nominated for his indie book, The Metaxy Project.

Indie superstar Liliana Hart was on a panel about sex in thrillers alongside Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood), Lee Child (Jack Reacher) and other traditionally published authors and again, the way she publishes was not mentioned. It really doesn’t matter here.

But there was a specific indie panel and the room was packed.

Jon Land, who is now a hybrid author himself, moderated a great discussion during CareerFest, demonstrating that the indie option is now considered a valid choice for authors.

Lilliana Hart talked about how many people told her it would be the kiss of death to self-publish a few years ago. Now she’s sold over 3 million books without a publisher, she has proved them wrong, but it has been difficult along the way. There will always be levels of snobbery about indies, but also about romantic suspense books. In fact, there’s snobbery about any kind of genre fiction amongst the literary community, so it’s something every author faces at some level.

Write consistently good books and you will make it.Lilliana Hart

cj lyons j.f.penn boyd morrison

With CJ Lyons and Boyd Morrison after the indie panel.

Dan Slater from Amazon KDP has a calm manner which is always wonderful to watch on these panels. He’s often goaded but never cracks and is always professional.

He explained that from the Amazon perspective, they know that readers buy books based on the author name and not the publisher, so building your own author brand and following is the critical thing, however you are published.

When asked about the Amazon review policy change as well as the KDP Select payment per page, Dan said that there will always be more change and authors themselves are driving much of the innovation.

“The worst thing for you to do is stagnate. Keep innovating!” Dan Slater, Amazon KDP

“It’s about you and the readers. No one else matters. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.” Liliana Hart

In conclusion

J.F.Penn Lee Child

With Lee Child at the Gala Dinner

It’s been amazing as ever, but I’ve also had a conflicting time at ThrillerFest this year. On the one hand, Liliana Hart represents what I want to achieve as an indie in terms of success in pleasing readers and in growing a multi-million dollar business on her own terms.

But author of the Sanctus trilogy, Simon Toyne, and I also spent a lot of time recording big name authors sharing their journey and their tips for success for an ITW promo video (which I will share when it’s available!)

When I listened to David Morrell, Steve Berry and Karin Slaughter talk about their journey, when I heard Mark Billingham and Lee Child talk about film and TV deals, when I met Clive Cussler – I was reminded of the opportunities of the traditional publishing industry and my teenage-fangirl-reader-self wanted to be part of it again.

I also got my first email from a reader asking when the hard cover versions of my books will be available and at the moment, hard covers are not something I am considering for my self-published books.

What’s fantastic about ITW is that both indie and traditional options are valid, and they’re not mutually exclusive anymore.

I’ll continue to build my indie career, but I’m also pitching my agent with some ideas for a new series in the next month or so.

I feel incredibly lucky to be an author at this fantastic time when the internet gives us so many options. And I’ll be back at ThrillerFest in New York next year to learn some more. Perhaps I’ll see you there!

Writing Habits And Routines, Filling The Creative Well And More Tips On Writing And Productivity

This is an excerpted chapter from my latest book, How To Make a Living with Your Writing.

typing laptopYou can’t make a living from your writing if you’re not actually writing.

And while writing may seem easy to some and it has its fun moments, it’s actually really hard work!

I think it’s the best job in the world (for me) but it’s certainly not for everyone. Here are my tips on getting the words out.

(1) Sort out your routine and writing habits

Every writer is different but every professional writer also has some kind of routine to get the words onto the page. You can call this discipline if you like, but it’s better to think of it as a habit.

Habits are things you do without having to debate whether to do them or not. Like brushing your teeth, which you likely do at the same time every day and miss if you don’t do.

In my first four years of writing books and blogging, I also had a demanding day job as an IT consultant. Because I was drained by the end of the day, I would get up at 5am and write before going to work and also set aside a bigger chunk of time to write on the weekends. In the evenings I worked on my website, blog, podcast and social media, connecting with other authors and building my online platform. I wrote several non-fiction books and also my first three novels this way.

In many ways, it’s easier to write when you have a day job.

alarm clockYour time is restricted so you have to make the most of the time you have and you’re driven to achieve in that period. The financial side is also taken care of so you have less pressure. But of course, you’re likely reading this because you want to switch!

I switched to being a full time author entrepreneur in September 2011 and in the first year, it was very hard to find a routine. After 13 years of commuting and office work, it was difficult to adapt to working from home alone. I solved this problem by joining a library and taking the train into town with my husband, then working “office hours” and taking lunch or coffee breaks with other author friends, most of whom I met on Twitter.

You’ll need to play around with what works for you, but here’s what I’ve found for my own routine:

  • I’m a morning person so I need to write fiction in the morning and then do marketing/running the business activities after 2pm. I can also write non-fiction or blog posts/articles in the afternoon, but then I wind down in the evenings. Work out when your most creative time is and use it for first draft material.
  • Creating things is tiring. Writing fiction in particular can really take it out of you, so getting enough sleep is critical. I usually get 8 hours a night and sometimes I’ll sleep 10 hours after a big writing day. Our brains pay the bills so we need to look after them.
  • I need to write new words away from my home desk, because I also use that for podcasting, accounting and other things. So I write in libraries or cafes and I always plug in my headphones, listen to rain and thunderstorms album on repeat, turn up the volume and start to write.
  • Diarize your time and make slots for your writing as you would for any other appointment. If you think you don’t have enough time, then look at what to eliminate to make the time. You’ll find a way if you really want to write. It’s all about where you choose to spend your energy. You get what you focus on.

(2) Get the right tools for the job

We are super lucky as authors because the tools we need are minimal and cheap compared to other businesses. I used to run

jo tribeca

Running a boat is super expensive!

a scuba diving business in New Zealand – we had a boat and loads of dive gear, not to mention the costs of fuel, insurance, wages etc.

Now all I need is a laptop and an internet connection!

I have a MacBook Pro and I use it for writing as well as making videos, podcasting and emails, etc. Pro writer Dean Wesley Smith recommends having a separate computer for writing so you can get into focus without distraction, but I’ve managed this by changing location.

However, if you can’t escape the addictive pull of the internet during writing sessions, then maybe getting something basic to write on and disabling the internet on that is a good idea.

The other tool I couldn’t do without is Scrivener software. I use it to plot and (roughly) outline as well as write, organize and manage my books. I also use the Compile option to create my ebook files for Kindle and ePub formats. It’s incredibly powerful software and if you want to maximize your usage, I recommend the Learn Scrivener Fast training course.

You can also watch a 36 min video here where I talk you through my writing tips as well as how I use Scrivener for fiction and non-fiction.

(3) Understand first draft writing vs editing/redrafting

Words do not stream from a writer’s fingertips perfectly in order, each word exactly as it will be in the final draft.

Writers will usually create a first draft, a splurge of words and ideas that definitely will NOT be seen by others. They will then spend time rewriting, editing and polishing until the manuscript is ready for public consumption. I’ve also found this is true for blog posts and articles as much as books.

birdbybirdYes, there are some exceptions but understanding this freed me up enough to write books. I recommend you read Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird where she talks about this saying, “Write shitty first drafts.” Then clean them up!

Remember, you can’t edit a blank page. So just get black on white and work through edits later.

Here are some tips for getting that first draft done.

(4) Fill the creative well and then trust emergence

If you want to write for a living, you need to have a consistent flow of ideas that can be used in whatever you’re writing next. I still remember when this seemed impossible to me but once you start the flow, ideas will never be a problem again. The problem will be turning those ideas into words and finished products.

So how do you start the flow of ideas?

For me, it’s all about research – this can be online or through books, but I also like to go visit places, immerse myself in new experiences and give synchronicity a chance.

I often find things in museums that end up in my books, or I am at an event and get an idea, or I’m watching TV or a film and something springs to mind. For example, I was watching a documentary on sharks and wondered how biohacking could be used to make human skin more like a shark’s. I just write stuff like that down. I don’t have to do anything with it now, just log it and I trust that I will come back to it another time. Or not, it doesn’t matter. But just getting used to the process of noticing ideas and writing them down will prime the pump.

Trust those impulses and write them down.

things appI use the Things app on the iPhone which syncs to my Mac and I have a special folder for ideas where I just log a line or two per idea. You can use a notebook or any other app, but definitely have some way to note them down.

When I write, ideas filter up from my subconscious, often from things I saw or experienced years ago. In Gates of Hell, I ended up writing about Safed, a little town in Israel that I visited way back in 1990. It emerged in the story somehow and my memories of it came back, aided by Google, of course!

I don’t believe in writer’s block. I think it’s a symptom of letting the creative well run dry. Go fill it up, get excited about things again and then come back to the page.

(5) Find your voice by writing lots

Here’s a question for you to consider.

If someone writes 10 books, which book will be the best? Number 1 or number 10?

Hopefully the answer is obvious, because practice and experience result in better everything.

But so many writers get obsessed over their first book, spending years writing, editing and polishing it without moving on to the next. We all have self-doubt, we all suffer from fear of failure, fear of judgment. That never stops, even for the most experienced writers from what I’ve heard.

How to Make a Living from your Writing 3DThe best thing to do is to write that book, then write another, then another, then another.

Work with a professional editor on every book, learning from their experience. Read loads and loads and learn from other writers. Practice technique as you write, focusing on different aspects per book.

Also, relax into it and have fun.

I used to take myself so seriously, but these days, I try to bring joy into my writing. This is not war and peace. No one is going to die (except in your stories!).

Focus on entertaining, educating or inspiring your readers and just write more.

This is an excerpted chapter from How to Make a Living with your Writing, available in ebook formats.

Images: Flickr Creative Commons: alarm clock by H is for Home.

On Writing And Mindset For Indie Authors With Susan Kaye Quinn

So much of becoming a successful author, indie or otherwise, is about mindset.

Today I talk to Susan Kaye Quinn about some of the biggest issues we all have as writers: self doubt, fear of judgement and comparisonitis. We also go into branding and tips on organizing your marketing.

SelfPubSummitSocialIn the intro, I mention the fantastic line up for the Self-Publishing Summit – including Jack Canfield, James Altucher, Steve Scott – and me :) – plus many more. It’s free to attend live or listen in the first 3 days, or just $97 for access to all the replays. Click here to register for the event.

Also, I have a free webinar coming up for my audience with Nick Stephenson: Put your book marketing on autopilot and find your first 10,000 readers. Register here for your free place or if you can’t attend live, you can get the replay.

I also mention my fantastic night at CrimeInTheCourt – you can see the pics here on my author FB page – the launch of How to Make a Living with your Writing, and the audiobooks of Gates of Hell and One Day in New York. It’s been a big week!

99designs-logo-750x200pxThis 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

SusanKayeQuinnSusan Kaye Quinn is a former rocket scientist now bestselling speculative fiction author and today we’re talking about her super book, The Indie Author Survival Guide.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the video or read the notes and links below.

  • On the journey from rocket science to writing books.
  • On making a living as a writer and the indie-author revolution that the mid-listers are spearheading.
  • IndieAuthorBookOn the toxicity of comparisonitis and setting reasonable and personal writing goals and objectives.
  • The big lie of traditional publishing and the areas of validation and approval, as well as writers’ mission statements, and the personal reasons why we write, which can help with decision making in our writing careers.
  • ForLoveOrMoneyOn experimenting with what works for us and what doesn’t in our writing careers. Also fear of judgment and how it can hold us back from fully expressing ourselves in our work, and what we can do to deal with that. Susan has a video on dealing with fear on her site here.
  • Susan’s top recommendations for book marketing including the three key elements. What to do if your books aren’t selling and knowing your target market.
  • The longevity of writing careers, the long tail of book sales and the possible cycles of sales through a writer’s lifetime.
  • Using Scrivener for organizing book marketing materials and how this serves to keep marketing in a separate mental space from writing. [I also recommend the Learn Scrivener Fast training for getting the most out of Scrivener.]
  • The differences between writing for love or for money. The speed with which writers can now bring new works to market and the gap that is rapidly closing between writers and readers.

You can find Susan at SusanKayeQuinn.com and her books,, The Indie Author Survival Guide and For Love or Money: Crafting an Indie Author Career, on all online stores.Continue Reading