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Round-Up Of 2017 Writing Goals And Lessons Learned

    Categories: Author Entrepreneur

I was having lunch with an old friend recently and reminisced about the days when I used to clock-watch at the day job I hated. Every minute crawled past.

Now the year turns again and time disappears so fast and my main concern is how to make more of it all, how to write all the stories in my head, how to help and empower more authors, how to travel and see more amazing places, how to read, watch, listen, and experience more.

It’s been another amazing year, and I continue to be grateful every day that I can make a living with my writing.

Thank you so much for being part of my journey through buying my books and courses, using my affiliate links on the site, supporting the podcast on Patreon, coming to my events, and through spreading the word about the site. I hope to continue being a part of YOUR author journey as we move into 2018!

Here are my goals from 1 Jan 2017 so you can compare my plans with the reality! I’m going to consider some of the over-arching themes first and then I’ll get into my specific goals and whether I met them, or why I fell short.

The rise and rise of collaboration

I’ve co-written before – Risen Gods with J. Thorn in 2015, and our (meta) non-fiction book on Co-Writing a Book. It felt experimental a few years back, but in 2017, collaboration and co-writing has really come of age. Indies are doing short-term projects, but also longer-term collaborations within new worlds or non-fiction series.

Johnny, Sean and Dave at Sterling & Stone blazed an early trail with collaboration, and now Michael Anderle is leading a merry band of writers in his Kurtherian universe. Michael also set up the 20BooksTo50K Facebook group, which did its first live event in Las Vegas in Nov, and I’ll be at their London event in February 2018.

Two of the major problems of co-writing have also been solved, so it’s easier to co-write these days. BundleRabbit now has a collaboration engine for payment splitting, instead of one of the authors having to do the accounting. BookFunnel allows the management of ARCs and side-loading of ebooks so authors can basically focus on the writing and the marketing.

I’ve taking collaboration to a new level too and this year I co-wrote five books, and four of those were not even in my 2017 goals!

The Healthy Writer with Dr Euan Lawson, American Demon Hunters: Sacrifice with J. Thorn, Zach Bohannon, and Lindsay Buroker; and three Summerfield Village sweet romance novels with my Mum under Penny Appleton (more on these below).

I’ve learned a LOT from editing other people’s work and also about writing more with other people’s opinions and ideas in mind. I’ve learned to let stuff go and relax a bit, to not be such a control freak.

Perhaps even to be a bit gentler with others, and myself.

I’ve never been good at celebrating my successes and publishing a book now is a bit of a non-event – I’m always excited about the next one I want to start writing 🙂 But through co-writing, I’ve been able to celebrate with my co-authors, and seeing the delight on my Mum’s face when we put a new book out rekindles my own excitement at another addition to my body of work.

Collaborative projects are common in other industries – music, gaming, film & TV in particular – and we all collaborate when we work with professional editors and cover designers, but I think we’re going to see more and more collaboration and co-writing in the indie community in 2018.

The indie author business model stabilizes – at least in the mature digital markets of US, UK, AU, CA

I did a big show on this back in November but I want to call back to it here for the sake of a round-up since I revisit these posts over time. You can read/listen to the whole article here in podcast episode #347.

I talk about how we have everything we need to run a global, digital, scalable online business as author entrepreneurs with a business model that is working for more and more authors.

But this stabilization means that everyone is a publisher now and there are more creators out there and more coming. We should celebrate this because every person who writes a book will read far more books than they will ever produce, so we can become a self-sustaining industry 🙂

So the mature markets feel a little crowded in some genres, and we’re in this phase before mobile and digital take off in developing digital markets.

It feels like a calm period before the next big shift, a time to bed down your processes, grow your backlist by writing more, build relationships, make sure you have sustainable health and creative practices, make the most of your IP by expanding into other products like print, and look to position yourself for the next phase of growth.

This levelling out is reflected in the stabilisation of my own business model, but as I am a change junkie, I’ll need to mix it up in 2018 or I will get bored. I’m feeling the itch already!

It’s also good to remember that companies that don’t change with the times find themselves dying off, so we can’t become complacent. There will continue to be shake-ups within publishing as we are now essentially a tech industry, and the reinvention never stops. Fun times, indeed!

The changing entertainment environment

The Crown, Bright, The Handmaid’s Tale. Just some of the shows I have enjoyed this year.

I wrote an article last month about how I read and how I buy books, and how that has changed over the years. I’ve also been reflecting on my entertainment preferences over the holiday period, looking back over the year for what has stood out for me, and what I have raved about to others.

I’ve been raving about The Crown, especially season 2, because of the masterful way the creative team told the family drama, weaving memoir and history with storytelling, character development, and foreshadowing what I see ahead based on my knowledge of the Royal family.

I also loved The Handmaid’s Tale, Game of Thrones, American Gods, Stranger Things 2, Jessica Jones, and Bright (which only came out last week but was awesome!). These are mostly dark fantasy stories that I can sink into and also share an experience with my husband.

Where once I knew when pre-orders were coming onto my Kindle or when one of my favourite authors was releasing a novel, I now know when my favorite series boxset is dropping on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

I can either be ashamed to admit this or embrace it as part of the change in the entertainment environment.

This is going to shape my 2018 because I am returning to the idea of adapting my stories into screenplays so that perhaps they can reach more audiences. More on this in my 2018 goals tomorrow.

Of course, I have read a lot too – my novel of the year is The Power by Naomi Alderman, another dark, dystopian genre novel that also won a literary prize and tapped into the #metoo zeitgeist. I loved the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, Change Agent by Daniel Suarez – a techno-thriller about altering DNA in living humans (which is now almost a reality), Dogs of War by Jonathan Maberry, and Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. If you want to get my fiction book recommendations every month, I share them in my JF Penn newsletter which you will receive if you sign up here for Day of the Vikings.

I have also bought a lot of print non-fiction books, and listened to non-fiction audiobooks.

How have you consumed content in 2017? How is that different to previous years?

So how did I do with my specific 2017 goals?

The Creative Penn website and podcast

The Creative Penn podcast is now heading towards episode 360 and I’ve even done a few in-between-isodes that have focused more on the author business side of things. The audience continues to grow and we’re now at over 2.2 million downloads.

Thanks for all the Patreon support, and in addition, we have corporate sponsors in Kobo Writing Life, Ingram Spark, and Draft2Digital – all companies I use myself and recommend.

Once again, I committed to redesign and revamp this site in 2017. I tried out a few other themes in a test environment but after almost 10 years, it is such a huge piece of work that I backed away, preferring to keep creating new things, rather than revamp the old.

We added an ‘old post warning’ to articles over 3 years old, as well as focusing on doing more landing pages, using scheduling tool MeetEdgar to send traffic to those evergreen articles. We have done quite a bit on branding and colors and are revamping the YouTube channel and older posts to make it clearer.

As technology moves on, we all have to review the tools we use as new providers emerge offering better functionality.

We’ve just moved email providers to ConvertKit, which has the best options for both new authors and established businesses. I show you how to set up your website and email list in a new set of tutorial videos here – https://www.thecreativepenn.com/authorwebsite/

This change will make email easier to manage going forward. If you want to be on my email list, just sign up for the Author 2.0 Blueprint here.

I did cut down my speaking in 2017, but still managed to speak in Australia and New Zealand, Scotland, London, and Oregon. I’ll be cutting down even more in 2018 to focus on creation.

Curl Up Press

We set up Curl Up Press, a small press for the print publishing side of things.

It’s not open for submissions as I still have no intention of publishing other people right now – except those I co-write with.

We moved to Ingram Spark and set up most of the existing books for extended distribution. Plus, we added new formats like workbooks and Large Print for romance.

We have a new website www.CurlUpPress.com. Jonathan did some courses on intellectual property rights so we understand that a lot more, just for education and awareness more than anything, so now we can be more confident around IP rights.

For more on Ingram Spark, check out this interview and article on selling more books in print.

Non-fiction books as Joanna Penn

How to Market a Book Third Edition turned out to be a bigger job than expected, with quite a bit changing and indeed, my own thoughts on marketing changing as well. I think I budgeted about a month to do it and it took 3x as long! It’s available in ebook, print and audiobook.

Get my books on Audible!

Audiobook editions of The Successful Author Mindset and How to Make a Living with your Writing were produced professionally so these only took my time in proofing the audio. A classic case of making the most of intellectual property rights and turning one book into multiple streams of income!

Based on my experience this year, I won’t be doing any more fiction audio but I will be doubling down on non-fiction audio. Fiction listeners are price and length sensitive and are used to professional actors narrating fiction which means the quality needs to be extremely high. Non-fiction listeners just want useful information and (generally) aren’t price or length sensitive. Shorter audiobooks are cheaper to produce, so you can make your money back faster.

The Healthy Writer is out now, co-written with Dr Euan Lawson. I’m very proud of it as I think it will help a lot of people. It’s helped me a great deal as well since I’ve focused more on my own health as a result of writing. I’ve been far more healthy this year than last and will continue my health journey in 2018.

I did commit to doing a hardback premium print journal in 2017. I investigated this to the point of choosing the cover material, but what I wanted would have been really expensive. The ‘lie-flat’ aspect makes it pricey but that’s non-negotiable in a journal I like. I might have gone ahead anyway but then I discovered that journals, especially plain paper journals, are counted as stationery, not books, so attract VAT, meaning the finances would have been a real pain. So I decided against it in the end. I use and recommend Moleskine and Leuchtthurm, but I will be having Joel Friedlander, The Book Designer on in 2018 to talk about the premium journal he has just produced. It clearly can be done – but not easily.

Thriller / Dark Fantasy fiction as J.F.Penn

Possibly the biggest realisation this year came in New Orleans when Lindsay Buroker said to me, “You know you’re a fantasy author, right?”

One of the biggest issues with being an indie author writing cross-genre is not knowing the right place to put our books, and falling down the gaps between established genre. I write what I am inspired to write, and it’s always been on the edge of thriller, dark fantasy, supernatural crime, even a touch of horror.

But all my stories have aspects that aren’t technically real, so perhaps that puts me more into fantasy than thriller – and let’s face it, every Thrillerfest, I am added to the table with the witches and the shifters, even though I don’t write that (yet!)

I’m still trying to decide whether to redo my J.F.Penn brand with a fantasy edge as opposed to a thriller vibe. Or whether I just keep writing and see what happens along the way. It’s tough to know what to do – something I will be pondering in 2018. One things for sure – I don’t fit in a box 🙂 Other highlights include:

Because cross-genre marketing is so difficult, I also started a new site, SupernaturalThrillers.com and then decided against launching it. I returned to the idea of a genre destination site while I was in Oregon so the concept clearly won’t go away, but I keep thinking that I’d be better off writing more for now. So I’ve been adding articles that relate to my books on JFPenn.com instead, which has resulted in more traffic and more email signups.

Sweet romance fiction as Penny Appleton

Although I’ve been talking about co-writing with my Mum openly for some time, I haven’t revealed our pseudonym until recently as I wanted to build up clean also-boughts. We now have three contemporary sweet romances and a box set. We’ve done ebook, print and Large Print editions so far, and I’ll be doing a blog post on how to make Large Print books in the next month.

I’ll also be doing a big round-up in April once we’ve been writing and publishing for a year, but basically, it’s been as you would expect from a new author. I set up a new website, PennyAppleton.com and if you want something basic, you can follow along with my website and list building tutorial here.

I also set up a Facebook page and basically, all we have done is use KDP Select with free days and Facebook ads, BookBub ads and an occasional Freebooksy promo. It is not an ‘active’ brand in that we’re not doing newsletters or social media, or any other kind of promotion. I have too much going on with my two main author names!

Penny has not set the world on fire in terms of sales, but it’s only year one and it’s making my Mum happy and I’m enjoying the challenge of writing in a different genre. You can check out the books here on Amazon.

Health

Writing The Healthy Writer has been a fantastic project. I often write non-fiction because I need to learn about something and this year, I have definitely progressed health-wise. Like writing, it’s a lifelong journey, not something you do once, but something you practice every day.

  • I’ve maintained a consistent yoga practice and also walking lots, including 50km Cotswold Way one day in June, and a multi-day walking holiday in the Dolomites in northern Italy
  • With help from a hypnotherapist, I’ve broken the back of sugar addiction, and have started working with a coach around some of my other habits so 2018 is shaping up to be even healthier!

Check out The Healthy Writer for lots of tips from me and Dr Euan Lawson!

Money and income goals

This year has shown growth in the business, but not a step change as 2016.

I’ll do a complete breakdown of income etc in my tax year end post in May, as I did this year for 2016, but for now, I continue to be grateful every day to be living at a time in history where a writer can make a multi-six-figure income online. Amazing times! Thank you for being part of my journey.

OK, that’s me done! How did you do with your 2017 goals?

Let’s celebrate together, or share lessons learned. Please join the conversation and leave a comment below. Be honest now – it’s just you and me!

Joanna Penn :

View Comments (16)

  • Very interesting round-up Joanna - it shows how flexible you are in taking up opportunities, even when they aren't specifically in your business plan. But everything is consistent with your overall strategy.

    I'm in awe of your productivity. I've been working 3 days a week as a consultant and one day looking after my 2 year old granddaughter, plus blogging and growing an audience for non-fiction, so it's been hard squeezing in the fiction writing that I planned at your May workshop. My aim to self publish 2 non fiction books has slipped to Jan & Feb 2018, so at least I will have a good start to the new year!

    You are right to emphasise the need to be kind to ourselves - I've been unhappy at not being able to face a complete rewrite of my novel and trying NaNoWriMo didn't even work. But my goals for 2018 include making more time for creativity to unlock it, by choosing to reduce my consultancy days.

    Hope to see you at 20Books in London for another dose of motivation! Thank you for all you do to help everyone on the publishing journey and good luck for 2018.

    • It sounds like you've been incredibly productive around the day-job and also caring for your grand-daughter! See you at 20Books :)

  • Interesting round up as eve Joanna. A couple of thoughts

    a) What happened to 'the shadow book' ? - I thought that was an excellent idea for a non fiction product.

    b) I wouldn't worry about reviewing the website - it works fine as it is, and is miles ahead of most of the contemporary sites (for one thing you've stayed away from the very annoying pop up "JOIN MY MAILING LIST OR DIE" thing that many authors seem to favour

    c) Journal wise - It's probably just me but I don't get the appeal of fancy journals like Moleskine. To me its just really expensive paper. I buy my journals and note pads from office outlet for 2.99 ea or less. I would however buy a journal from you if it featured content and snippets of 'Joanna wisdom' - the marketing appeal being content not expensive stationary

    I am very much looking forward to your 2018 goals tomorrow. I wrote mine yesterday and wasn't sure whether to be proud of them or afraid i was trying to do too much.

    • Hi Peter,

      (a) I'll be mentioning the shadow book tomorrow for goals - I have started reading around the topic, but it is pretty deep and meaningful so it might be a long incubation while I decide what the hell it is about :)
      (b) Thanks - that helps - I do have a ribbon that slides down :)
      (c) I might consider a limited edition hardback version of the Mindset book or something that could be more 'content' filled - less a journal than a premium print product - but not something for immediately.

  • Add on to answer your question - my 2017 goal was to write and indie publish my first novel. That kinda got knocked sideways by problems with my day job leading to three months off with depression (a struggle that continues) and eventually leaving and going to a different employer. (on the plus side my new employer is much better for my mental health and the more realistic workload leaves me energy to write)

    However I sort of partially achieved my goal by writing my first novel and having it edited and then writing a novella (currently being edited) and writing about 50k wods of a second novel. I'll be indie publishing all three (plus) in 2018

    • Sorry your plans got knocked sideways - if you have The Healthy Writer, Dan Holloway's chapter on Riding the Waves tackles exactly this kind of sideways knock that can happen with depression. Glad your new job is helping :)
      Sounds like 2018 will be a big publishing year - rock on 2018!

  • Always great progress Jo, as with another commenter I have to say your shear productivity is mind-blowing! I love working full time for a large company as I enjoy the collegiality of being on the same mission with thousands of others around the world. I made a conscious choice to not set any writing goals after I published my first novel, just enjoy writing when I could, lots of travel and time with friends and colleagues and getting to know my readers in small interactions. I want to turn a corner in 2018 so you’ll likely see me trolling around your site to learn! Thanks for all you do to light a path for so many other creators. Happy 2018!

  • Hi Joanna - Did you have to set up Curl Up Press for the print books because that is a particular requirement of the trade? I am just about to set up business for my fiction sales - I hadn't thought to include the word 'press' TBH.

    • Hi Marie-Claire, no, it's not a requirement at all.
      But I didn't want to use our company name, The Creative Penn Limited, as it has my name in it. I wanted a different brand to hold the print books under that is only books, so 'press' is really just an imprint - but there are no rules :)

      • Thank you Jo - I set up today - or started the process so I will see where that takes me . :)

  • Happy New Year's Eve, Joanna. Well done with achieving so many of your goals. After reading this, I realised what a great idea it is to write out your achievements in one place because it's so easy to forget what you did manifest. I attended your goal setting seminar last new year and will be continuing with some of those BIG goals that I set last year, but many of the medium and smaller ones did happen this year (yay!) and shouldn't be overlooked. Let's hope 2018 will see some of the BIG rocks get broken.
    PS I've read How to Market A Book at least a million times this year, thank you for all that hard work.

    • Thanks Lucy, glad you found that seminar useful - and I love having all my goals written here as accountability - and I also print the article out and stick it in my journal so I see it other times too.
      Glad you found How to Market a Book useful too!

  • Hi Joanna - a quick couple of comments/questions:

    - Thank you for this excellent post. I am in awe of your productivity, focus, and willingness to experiment.

    - It would really interesting to hear about your online courses and how those are doing -- i.e. your thoughts on whether author entrepreneurs should offer online courses, and how those have worked for you in terms of time investment vs. being profitable.

    OK, now for two super geeky questions:

    - I noticed that your newest book, The Healthy Writer, has the same typeset as most of your previous books. However, the 2nd edition of Successful Self-Publishing looks like it was formatted with Vellum. Did you decide to move back to your previous system with the new book instead of Vellum? I'm curious since I have started using Vellum as well for ebooks, but have yet to use it for print books.

    - You mentioned using ConvertKit, which I use as well. When you send out blog posts to your email subscribers, do you also use ConvertKit for that, or something else like Feedburner, etc.?

    Sorry for so many questions!

    By the way, thanks for your great service in answering questions for Patreon supporters each month. I love being able to support you this way and always learn a great deal from each month's Q&A.

    • Hi Kent,

      In terms of course, YES, it is well worth doing them if you write non-fiction, and especially if you have built an audience in that area. I've been doing courses since 2009 and they have always been a good income stream. Teachable makes it very easy these days :)

      I wasn't going to do a print version of Successful Self-Publishing because everything changes too fast - so I didn't want to pay my usual (wonderful) formatter - but so many people emailed me about a print edition that I ended up doing it myself on Vellum, partly also to try it out. That little books sells lots of copies so it was well worth it - but I'll probably keep formatting it myself because of all the changes :)

      The blog feed is through Feedly - those emails are automatic and I have nothing to do with that :) 2 different subscriptions. You can do blog posts through email providers but it's not something I have ever set up.

      Thanks so much for your support on Patreon! Hpapy 2018 :)

  • Great round-up, Joanna, and I especially like your thoughts on batching. I dabbled with that idea (though without knowing the technical term for it!) last year and found it helpful, but didn't apply it systematically, but your recommendation has persuaded me to implement it much more methodically in 2018. I suppose it's the same principle as Henry Ford's development of the production line, really, and look what that did for his productivity!

    It will be especially helpful to me as I press on with my ambitious novel-writing goals (from zero to three to my name last year, and I want to write at least three more this year), so that I can compartmentalise unrelated tasks into manageable pockets of time rather than letting them eat into my writing time. Thank you for the inspiration. :)