OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
Three years ago, I gave up a career as an IT business consultant for large corporates, earning a six-figure income, to become a full-time author-entrepreneur.
Over the last few years, I have shared my income split, business model and my lessons learned from year 1, as well as lessons learned from year 2. Here's the latest installment at the end of year 3.
How do I currently make a living as an author-entrepreneur?
I didn't double my income from last year as planned, but my overall income increased by 24% which isn't bad. I'm not doing a full income disclosure like some brave souls, but I did make over double the average income for a man in the UK in the last tax year.
The income split changed as I intended, which is great, as I am moving away from online courses to focus on book-based products, because they are more evergreen and don't need updating.
In the last year, the split has been:
• 40% book royalties
• 25% course sales and consulting
• 20% commission/affiliate sales/sponsorship
• 15% professional speaking
I have followed the plan to write more books and create more products in the world. I currently have five books in the ARKANE action-adventure thriller series, and two in the London Psychic series. The books are available in ebook, print and audio formats.
I also have books in German, Spanish and Italian. I've sold books in 58 countries (as itemized by the Kobo Writing Life reporting map right.) I also have four non-fiction books, available in print and ebook formats, and coming soon in audio.
There are new revenue streams from audiobooks since ACX launched, and direct payments from Apple and Nook, as well as Kobo and Amazon, plus podcast sponsorship. I'm pleased about that as I have a lot of issues being dependent on one income source – put that down to being laid off during the GFC!
One of my books was in a box-set that hit the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists in March, and I have my first traditional deal with Ullstein-Midnight, a German imprint, for Desecration-Verletzung.
I continue to sell some multimedia courses, although those will mostly be phased out in the next year. The blog, podcast and my email list earn me affiliate commission as well as sponsorship and occasional advertising revenue. I do some occasional, exclusive consulting. I also continue to speak professionally both in the UK and abroad. I was on a panel at Thrillerfest in New York in July, and am speaking in Stockholm and Frankfurt in the next few weeks.
Here are my lessons learned from the last year.
Lesson 1: The industry changes but the fundamentals of what we do doesn't change
There have been a number of changes in the publishing eco-system in the last year which have created a ‘disturbance in the force,' and distracted me and others. But these ups and downs will continue over our lifetimes.
Change is certain but we can't let every little spat distract us from our task.
We write books. We get them into the world using one of many available publishing options. We connect with readers. We receive payment and use that money to live well and experience everything that feeds back into our books.
The tools, the companies, the technology that allows us to do these things may well change, but our job remains the same. Remaining agile is one key to managing the change, so being indie continues to suit me well.
Lesson 2: “If it's just about the cashflow, go back to your day job”
So said my husband when I reviewed the income projections for my books and lamented missing my targets. He's right. I earned three times as much money as a business consultant, but I was so unhappy, I could never have sustained it. I was at the point of crying most days because I hated it so much.
I love this author life. I couldn't imagine living any other way now, but although cash-flow is important, it's not my driving force. Freedom is.
Freedom to create, to live how I want to, to travel, to help people, to control my time, to build my own brand and my own assets.
I've had a number of opportunities this year that I've turned down, even though taking them would have earned me more money.
Strategy is about what we don't do, as well as what we do.
With a finite amount of time and energy, we have to focus on the true reasons why we live this life. My recent novel, Delirium, may have a smaller audience than a happy-ending-romance but it's what I am drawn to write. Like Stephen King says about writing horror, “What makes you think I have a choice?”
Lesson 3: It takes time to let go of self-censorship and find your true voice
Desecration was the first book where I finally let my true self out, and Delirium continues in that vein with a very personal author's note at the end. I love my ARKANE series but these are the first books where I feel my true voice shines through.
Both books are supernatural suspense/ crime thrillers that tackle underlying themes I've been wrestling with all my life. Many authors struggle with the fear of judgement and I have let that hold me back for a long time.
I really am this happy, jolly, smiley girl you see at TheCreativePenn.com … but my shadow side is now revealed in J.F.Penn. I'm finally at peace with letting this other side out … but it's taken many years to get here. I'm ready to let it out now!
Lesson 4: It all comes back to creativity
I'm in a transition phase right now, which means a lot of turmoil and journaling! I have spent the last few years learning how this industry works, learning my craft as a fiction writer, learning about marketing and speaking … and the result of that has been this blog, the podcast and my non-fiction books.
As stated above, my last few fiction books have felt like a shift, as I have found my voice. Plus, I'm 40 next year, and unsurprisingly, I do find myself taking stock. What I am discovering is that this quote from T.S.Eliot is true:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
I find myself drawn back to creativity, back to exploring what's in my mind, trying to understand how I can delve deeper into my creativity and learn more about releasing it from the critic that tries to destroy every idea.
Way back in 2007, I made a little card with an affirmation on: “I am creative. I am an author.”
I couldn't even say it out loud back then, but I read it in my head until I could say it. And then I read it out loud every day until I believed it. And then I took action to make it happen. In some ways, I have achieved that affirmation – in other ways, I am only just beginning to understand what it means.
I look forward to exploring this and sharing the journey with you!
My plans for Author-Entrepreneur Year 4
My plans and focus for the next year include:
- Big focus on primarily fiction. I have a LOT of ideas, I just need to get them on the page. I have a number of stand-alones as well as (working titles) Inquisition and Kali in the ARKANE series, and a new one in the London Psychic series. I also want to write a psychology for writers book. I will continue to focus on exploiting the rights per book, as well as recording more of my own audio.
- Taking more risks and learning how to keep my critic quiet. My critic is a ‘good girl,' she wants universal adoration. She doesn't like annoying people or going too far to the edge. It's time for her to know her place. I just have to work out how to shut her down in the first draft. I'm definitely intending to do some Improv training, learning how to say ‘yes' to any impulse.
- Speak internationally on creative entrepreneurship, focusing on fewer, more highly paid events, that support my goals around travel and personal development.
- Continue to serve the audience of TheCreativePenn.com through blogging and podcasting as well as social media.
- Increase my income by 30% and change my income split to 50% book royalties, 10% course sales and consulting, 20% commission/affiliate sales/sponsorship, 20% professional speaking.
I look forward to sharing the next year with you!
Please do leave your comments below and join the conversation – I value each and every one!
Top image: Flickr Creative Commons champagne by Andrea Parrish, handwriting by Dave King,
Congratulations, Joanna. You’re doing great, and it’s awesome to see the “authorpreneuer” (did I spell that right? :D) income grow.
Joanna Penn says
I was talking about you in Sweden, Lindsay – I’ve sent a budding fantasy writer your way. You continue to be an inspiration for me!
Julie Musil says
You are an inspiration! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us. It really is helpful. Also helpful? Your podcasts. I’ve become a podcast junkie, and yours is on my list of favorites 🙂
Here’s to you in year four!
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Julie – I’m thrilled you enjoy the podcast 🙂
Honoree Corder says
Congratulations, Joanna! You’re an inspiration to many of us and I’m so excited to see how you continue to own your greatness and achieve your goals.
To your success! Honoree
Thank you for these inspiring words, Joanna! You made me open up my journal and postpone all other duties. May your Author-Entrepreneur Year 4 surpass your expectations!
Joanna Penn says
It’s always worth making time for journalling 🙂
Sarah Benson says
Thanks so much for sharing this with us Joanna. I am still beginning my self-publishing journey (one book out and another coming out later this year) and am inspired by what you’ve been able to accomplish in so short a time. At this stage I’m trying to define where I want to focus and so your thought process and chart is helpful. Best of luck as you move forward. I hope you nail your goals 🙂
Joanna Penn says
We’re all on the journey somewhere 🙂 Defining what you want is so critical – so congrats for getting to that so early on in the process.
Deborah Burst says
Congrats Joanna, and although I posted my congrats via Facebook several weeks ago it’s worth repeating. There is so much “noise” that hits my email, but I always stop to read yours.
A freelance writer and photographer for ten years, I worked with local, regional and even national magazines, then like my corporate career, the market began shifting. Like you, I leaned on my writing skills and my business background and began writing books. I published my first last year through History Press. This year I decided to become an Indie author and will receive my proof copy tomorrow with my first book signing the end of this month. It was a rough road entering the self publishing market, I listened to the wrong people and made mistakes, but like you, I used my mistakes as a foundation to do even better.
I’m ordering your book, and will continue to share your posts via social media. You are the one person I trust, perhaps because we share a similar background, but also because we are honest and love a challenge.
In marketing my first book my speaking engagements were well received and I want to build that platform. And I look forward to more advice from your book.
But like you mentioned, there is that wild-child inside of me that wants to write fiction. It is there I can use real life events without condemnation. So I look forward to your posts and reading your fiction books as well.
Btw, I began my writing career when I was 49 after I went back to college to get my degree. It’s the best way to stay young, and my husband like yours, picks me up when it seems like the world is crashing in on me, and says the same thing, “Remember freelancing is all about freedom.”
Look forward to following your 4th year.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks for reading my emails, Deborah – I know how busy we all are, so I appreciate being in the signal, not the noise!
It sounds like your experience in business and other industries has really you with getting started as an indie author – and maybe in 2015 you can let that ‘wild-child’ out … mine is excited about ‘Deviance,’ the 3rd in my London Psychic series!
What a fab achievement, well worth all your hard work, compassion and kindness. You have gone such a long way from the first steps in 2007. Truly remarkable, you are an inspiration to us all.
Looking forward to the next 3 years, 2015 is on our doorsteps – hope it’s a good one!!
Bobbi A. Chukran says
Great post, Joanna! I’d be curious how you finally let go of censorship to find your real voice (lesson three). This is something I have a lot of trouble with, especially since I’d like to write more horror. After writing for years, I’ve finally found my voice, but I’m still not where I’d like to be. I have a lot of early-childhood “brainwashing” about things, and I know that’s holding me back in my writing.
Any tips for “letting go”?
Joanna Penn says
Hi Bobbi, for me, it’s been writing time – and relaxing more with each book, relaxing into my voice more, feeling more confident that people will enjoy my books, however they turn out 🙂
I also really recommend Dean Wesley Smith’s workshop on productivity
and Kris Rusch’s book on Perfection http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BI88VGI/
They will help a lot 🙂
Bobbi A. Chukran says
Thanks, Joanna. Will check out the links. I’m a big fan of Dean’s and Kris’s blogs already.
Congratulations. Inspiring testimony on writing career. You’re doing a great job.
Congrats. I’m surprised how much you make from affiliate marketing. That’s a big chunk of your income.