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is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date.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.
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!