If you want to be truly independent, you need multiple streams of income and these days there are far more options for authors than just selling ebooks on Amazon.
In this podcast interview on The Creative Funding Podcast, I discuss intellectual property rights, podcasting, Patreon, audiobooks, and more with host Thomas Umstattd Jr.
You can find the original show here if you want to listen: https://creativefunding.show/007/
You can also listen with the embedded link below:
- On Joanna’s beginnings as a writer
- The importance and value of a book’s intellectual property rights
- And the importance of multiple streams of income
- Why start a podcast for writers?
- How to monetize a podcast
- How audio, in its many forms, helps an audience to know, like and trust us
You can find The Creative Funding Show here, and Thomas also co-hosts the fantastic Novel Marketing Podcast with James L. Rubart, which I have appeared on a number of times.
Full transcript of the episode
This is the Creative Funding Show, a podcast for authors, YouTubers, and podcasters who want to fund the work they love without selling out.
Thomas: Welcome back to the Creative Funding Show. I'm Thomas Umstattd Jr., and with me today is Joanna Penn, who's an award-winning novelist, a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thrillers under the pen name J.F. Penn, and she also writes nonfiction for authors. She's an award-winning creative, entrepreneur, podcaster, and YouTuber. Her site, thecreativepenn.com, was voted one of the Top 100 sites for writers by Writer's Digest. Joanna Penn, welcome to the show.
Joanna: Thanks for having me, Thomas. It's great to be here and talk to you again.
Thomas: I love having you on the “Creative Funding Show” because of the different ways that we talk about for creatives to fund their art. You have done almost all of them. I think the only thing you haven't gotten into yet is merchandise. I don't think people can buy Joana Penn merch.
Joanna: Actually, no. That's not true. I now have merch.
Thomas: There you go.
Joanna: I do have a mug and a bag that you can get on Society6. And I got into that because I had someone on my podcast who talked about merchandising [Merchandising for Authors with Melissa Addey] and I was like, “Okay. So I need to do only print-on-demand because I like the digital scalability. I don't want to do stuff I have to put in boxes.”
Society6 is good quality, sort of print-on-demand merch. I've made about six dollars in total out of mugs.
Thomas: So that's what the six is for? It's for the six hours that you make on their website?
Joanna: Basically. But, yes. I do pretty much everything else.
Thomas: Very cool. Well, that's exciting. And so you really do check all of the boxes.
I want to get started with your story in how you got into this because you did not emerge from the chrysalis as a creator who was doing everything and doing it well.
Where did you get started writing?
Joanna: I did theology at university and then I went into management consultancy, which is one of those random things you do in Britain, and ended up working at implementing financial systems into large corporates for about 13 years after college.
It really was one of those jobs that is golden handcuffs. They paid really well but my life was completely pointless, and I just spent my time in accounts payable departments being hated by people because I was replacing them. “I know. Let's outsource everything to this IT system.” And here's this woman who's going to put you out of a job.
I got to a point where I was just miserable and miserable in my working life, even though I was being paid well, and I had a house, and a mortgage, and all that, a husband and everything.
I've always journaled, and I got to this point where I was like, “I have to do something more with my life. What do I want to do?” I couldn't work that out so I decided to start researching, “How to change your career.”
And then I thought, “Well, I'm reading a lot of self-help,” listening to a lot of audio tapes, or I think there were CDs at that point, the early days, 2005, of digital media. I thought, “Well, I could write a book on how to change your career.” And I ended up writing that book.
It was called something else but I wrote that first nonfiction book, Career Change. In the process of writing it, I learned about writing, learned about the internet, learned about how to start doing sales of books, and speaking, and all of that. And then ended up getting into fiction, left my job in 2011 to do it full-time, and 2015, got my husband out of his job.
So, basically, at this point as we talk, I've been writing professionally, as in writing full publication for about 12 years and have been full-time for 7 years. I'm quite far down the journey now, but I still absolutely remember being miserable in my job, just thinking, “What am I doing with my life?' and not knowing what was coming.
This was before the Kindle, before podcasting, before any of this. It really was pretty was hopeless back then.
Thomas: Yeah. We were scratching books on stone tablets.
Thomas: What was it like writing in early days into your evolution? Because you've been independent the whole time, right? You never went with a traditional publisher, right?
Joanna. Exactly right. And the main reason, I think, is because I am a businesswoman.
I was working in business. I was working in accounting departments. I'm not an accountant, but I was amongst the money side of business. I was also earning a good wage and when I looked at the possibilities for leaving my day job to become a writer, it was actually impossible at that point.
I could not see how I could make a six-figure income as a writer just writing books.
You would have to hit some kind of lottery, or the other thing I learned is that you could do it by being a speaker. So that was actually what I did first.
I went to the Professional Speakers Association, I learned how to speak professionally, and started charging for my speaking.
[See my speaking page here: www.TheCreativePenn.com/speaking ]
And all the speakers that were in that community, and I was in Australia at that point, they all learned from the Americans, so it was a very American-dominated niche, the speaker's niche, and I learned brilliantly, I think because British people are quite different.
I learned that I needed to start charging early. And this is something that's very important. And why I think it's great that you're talking about this on your show.
[More about how to earn money speaking, and more on tips for introverts in Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and Other Introverts.]
Being an author, it's not just about making money from book sales. So I started making my first money as a speaker and I had a book to sell but I think I sent one query letter and then didn't hear back. And was just like, “Okay. That's random. Why can't I just print it myself and sell it myself?”
I went ahead with that. So it was very much a business decision and still is. It's still is a business decision. So that's how I got started.
Thomas: And that's really smart because in fiction, especially traditional fiction, there's not a lot of middle-class. You have people who are making basically no money and then you have people who are making millions of dollars. Right?
J.K. Rowling, wealthier than the Queen supposedly, right? Because she sold a million “Harry Potter” books. But there's not a lot of middle-class.
Whereas in speaking and writing business books, there's more of a middle-class.
It's easier to get started and actually bring in some income. And it's less of a lottery. It's less of a big, statistical anomaly.
Joanna: I think the difference is as well though, is your mindset around intellectual property rights. So, the issue with speaking is that you are paid for your time, and therefore it is exactly like a day job.
I realized this very early on that creating intellectual property rights, and a book is intellectual property rights, you can then license that over and over again.
So while you will get spike income from speaking, with a book maybe each copy sells a lot less than one speaking gig, but you can sell that potentially for the rest of your life and 70 years after you die.
There are a group of authors called ‘the midlist,' and I would be one of those. I have 27 books right now, 18 of which are fiction, and I make a multi-six-figure income. I make six figures from my book sales. That is a kind of midlist type living for a writer.
There are quite a few writers in that area, but as you say, many, many, many authors. And in fact, painters, illustrators, name an artist, most artists are not making a lot of money or even a living wage from their art.
I think the difference is this attitude of business and also understanding intellectual property rights and being paid for licensing your assets as opposed to being paid for your time.
Thomas: That's right because, in a sense, it's kind of like you're going through the whole arc or civilization.
So at the beginning, we were hunters/gatherers, right? We had hunts and you'd find a woolly mammoth and everyone would eat for a month, but then you would have nothing after that. And that's kind of like what speaking is.
Whereas writing and creating intellectual property is more like farming, where you get this slow consistent source of food that's not nearly as exciting, but it's ultimately what's going to sustain a civilization in the long run.
Joanna: That's exactly right. I'm an independent author but I pay professionals, cover designers, editors. I do a professional job of independent publishing. I don't do it all myself, which is why I don't like the phrase self-publishing.
But with traditional publishing, generally, you will get an advance, so you'll get a spike income that will come in and that will be split into payments depending on when you signed the contract, when you hand in the manuscript, when they publish it.
And then if you get royalties, they would be maybe every six months and who knows for how long, depending on if you earn out. So you might get more money, you might hit that lottery. You might get big payments and that it might disappear because they're on to the next author.
With publishing as an indie, what's happened is my income, as you say, is quite boring, but it's stepped up pretty much every month. So since I first put my first book on Kindle back in 2008, 2009, my income has stepped up pretty much every month consistently.
I've never had a breakout book, I'm not famous, but I'm making a good living as a writer and with all the other things we'll talk about.
But just with the books alone, it's a case of that consistent drip, drip, drip for multiple streams of income every month. And that is exciting in that it funds my life.
Thomas: Having food on the table is exciting.
Joanna: Exactly. But it's not like, oh sexy seven-figure deal. It's not sexy money but it's like living money, which to me is pretty sexy.
Thomas: That's right. And that is ultimately what's more sustainable.
Joanna: When you don't know when that money is coming in, how can you do a cash flow forecast? How can you say, “Yes, I know I can pay my mortgage next month,” when you don't know when that money comes in.
What I love about what you're doing here, talking about Patreon, talking about recurring revenue, actually, self-publishing or independent publishing is like a salary.
I get an amount of money every month that is pretty predictable and I know what it's gonna be 60 days in advance so I can do a cash flow forecast. And that, to me is you have to have that to make a living.
Thomas: It's so important. Now, I know some of you listening, as soon as you heard the phrase cash flow forecast, you tuned out, you're like, “Oh, that's business stuff. I just want to do art.”
I think that that dichotomy is really unhealthy because what enables you to do art and to have that emotional room to really create your best work is not having to need to worry about money so much, right? If you're like panicked or like, “Oh, this has to be a hit to cover all my debts that are accruing,” that amount of pressure, actually, I think constraints your creativity in some ways.
It's not about art and business being at war with each other, it's about them being on a team together.
If you're crafting your life in the right way and thinking about your art as a business of creating art, I think it really should go hand in hand like what you're doing.
Joanna: I do hope that the listeners to the Creative Funding Show, and I know this will go out on the other show as well, but this is about the money side. To me, business is one of the most creative things that we do.
Most of what we see in the world is created by people doing business. And that to me is exciting.
At the moment, I work with about 13 different contractors. Not only do I pay my husband's tax and my tax with our company, we're also paying money to a whole load of freelancers. We've got our own self-sustaining little industry.
The money comes in and the money goes out, and that's the way cash flow should work. It comes in, it goes out, you're building your assets, you're living, you're loving your life.
Entrepreneurs turn ideas in their head into value in the world, whether that's value for someone else or value for them. And that's what we do as writers or as any kind of artists.
You're turning what's in your heads into value in the world. And like if that's not entrepreneurial or business I don't know what is.
Thomas: And that's really exciting because you're making the world a better place. You're making the people who read your writings happy and entertained, and that's a good thing. You're providing for yourself, which is a good thing, and you're creating jobs, which is a good thing, and you're doing it in a sustainable way. That's what I love so much about business.
The media portrays businesses like it's the evil, exploitative people. No. These are people who are making the world a better place because no one's going to give you their money unless you're able to convince them that you're making their life better in some way to be worth giving you their money.
That's the difference between being a thief and being a business person.
Joanna: I think it's much better to be putting money back into the system. As you earn more, you will pay more tax and I'm like, “Yay. Let's pay more tax and fund all the things we want.” I'm very happy with the situation I'm in, and I think it's very important to talk about money.
One of the issues with creatives and money is, as you say, there is this kind of dichotomy. People think that if they're making money, they've ‘sold out'. I was talking to a musician and he was like, “Well, selling out is what you want to do. You want to have a sold-out concert.
But I think it's very important to say, I write the books I want to write. I've never compromised on that. So I very much do the things that I care about.
If I wanted to just do stuff for money, I would have stayed in the day job.
But I love what I write, I really just really enjoy what I do. And also I love the lifestyle I have.
One of the things, when I left my day job, is I said to myself, “What is my ideal life?” And my ideal life was writing, reading, and traveling. And that's what I do. It's pretty much what I do. And helping other people as well. I help a lot of people.
Thomas: There you go. It's a good gig if you can get it.
Now, I want to talk a little bit about how you've crafted that life because your money isn't just coming from royalties. It's not like you're waiting, and your only money comes from that Amazon payment.
Why is it important for authors and for creators to have multiple sources of income?
Joanna: For me, everything stems to 2008. I'm sure listeners can remember the global financial crisis.
I went to work, as many of us did. It was around March, I think, 2008 and we walked in. And I was on the floor, one of these awful open-plan offices with about 400 other IT consultants, and our manager walks in with a stack of paper, and basically, we're all called in one by one into an office.
We're given a bit of paper which says, “Three weeks' notice, bye bye.” And we're all contractors, so they weren't even obliged to pay us anything. And so, we were all let go.
Many of us left at one time so finding other work was clearly going to be an issue. And I realized on that day, because I was the major wage earner in my family…I was like, “Holy crap. This one company has just told me to go away and I've essentially lost my only source of income.”
I declared on that day that I would never do that again. And that was part of how I got into this.
And this is very interesting because you'll find a lot of entrepreneurs these days who were made by the global financial crisis. Either they were laid off, like I was, or their life pivoted around that moment.
For me, this is why I publish wide, which means I don't just publish on Amazon. So, at the moment, I'm selling books on all the big platforms, iBooks, Kobo, as well as Amazon, Nook. I'm selling in all the bookstores, libraries.
I've sold books in 86 countries, so even just with books, I'm doing a lot of streams of income. But then I also, as you say, I have speaking, which is much less of a income stream now, but I have affiliate income, which means as I blog and podcast, I point to other people's products that I absolutely love, and I would get commission on the sale.
[More in How to Make a Living with your Writing, available in ebook, print, and audiobook formats.]
And then I have advertising and my Patreon, which we'll come to and those are my main advertising, sponsorship-type revenue. Oh, and courses. I do courses as well.
Thomas: So many sources of income.
Joanna: I'm at the point now where I'm up to, I think around 120 different sources of income. And some of those are 50 cents a month. And some of them are thousands. So, this is the thing.
I don't obviously focus my attention on the little ones all the time, but by building up all these streams of income, I am not dependent. If Amazon change their rules tomorrow, I am not destroyed. And if any of them change their rules, I'm not destroyed. And that, to me, is how you are truly independent.
Thomas: Which, in a sense, there's nothing new about this advice, right? If you go to a financial advisor, the very first thing they're going to say is, “You don't want to don't put all of your eggs in one basket, don't put all of your money in blockbuster stock because you don't know if it's going to go up or go down, you want to diversify your assets.”
And yet, for so many of us, when it comes to income, it's all dependent on one person, our boss. And that one person has so much power over our lives whereas the way you've structured your life, if Patreon would have shut down, or Amazon would have shut down, any one of theme or even several of them could fail at the same time, and you're not in the soup kitchen line. You're able to survive.
And one of the things I imagine you're doing, and I definitely do this, is having money in savings. Part of being a freelancer, or part of being an entrepreneur is that you can't live paycheck to paycheck. You have to adjust your lifestyle down so that you're living on less than what you're making, in case there's that unevenness.
As you get more mature income streams, those waves even out. But it's still good to have that foundation.
Joanna: It's interesting you say that because winding back to like 2011, what happened is, obviously, I was working in consulting jobs, so I was working really hard and didn't have much bandwidth for the business. But I was blogging.
I had written, I think, four books by then, by getting up really early and working at the weekends and everything, and I went to four days a week, but then there was a moment when I said to my husband, “Look, I need to give up my job because I have to do this next step.”
Bless him, he's amazing, and of course, now he works in the company as well, but I said, “We're going to have to sell our house. We have to downsize.” We considered selling the car. We moved from a four-bedroom house to a one-bedroom flat. So we moved to rental income, which essentially, is much more fixed so you don't have like the surprise boiler repair costs, or whatever.
So, we downsized, I had six months money in the bank and I said to him, “If I can't make this work in six months, I will go back to my day job.”
And of course, I never went back.
I left in 2011 but I started writing in 2006, started publishing and blogging and in 2008, started podcasting in 2009. It took me three to four years of doing what they now call the side hustle, and which wasn't around again when I'm outing. But doing things on the side in order to then be able to move out of my job.
And then it took from 2011 to 2015 for me to return to the income that I was on before. So it really was quite a long journey.
And this is what I would say to people, “Just be aware of what you want, like what are you aiming for? What is the goal? Why are you doing this?”
And for me, it was always, “I want to measure my life by what I create and measure my life by the people I can help.” And that just kept me going through what Seth Godin calls “The Dip.” That point where things look a bit bleak, but you need to go through that in order to move to a different career because that's basically what this is.
Thomas: I reread The Dip almost annually. Every time I have a big decision, or I'm facing a life choice, I go back and reread The Dip by Seth Godin. The most recent time I read it was just a couple of weeks ago.
Joanna: Oh, are you going through a dip?
Thomas: I am. I'm starting this new podcast and all of these new things that I'm doing and trying to decide what to prune. And one of the things that he said that jumped out of me this time I read the book was he said, “It's smart to not try something. And it's smart to start something and to work your way through the dip. But starting things over and over again where you quit in the dip is really foolish. You either need to do it for real or you need to not do it.”
Because one of the things he talks about in that book is how important it is to quit and quit the things that aren't going to make it. Prune the trees, so to speak, so you can focus on doing one thing well.
I think that your story is a really good illustration of this because you didn't start everything all at the same time. You didn't start the podcast and the merchandising and writing for writers, and the writing fiction all in 2006.
You started one and you got it up to a good point and then you started the next one and you were able to add and go from success to success.
I think that that's the right way to do it, instead of starting them all, getting into the dip, and then quitting.
Joanna: Oh, absolutely. And in fact, many of these weren't around when I started. But I think there's two answers.
One is a lot of these weren't around. Patreon's a great example, it was just not there. When I started self-publishing, there was no Kindle. Ebooks were downloadable with PDFs from people's websites, which is just crazy. E-books were not mainstream.
Thomas: Oh, the early days.
Joanna: The iPhone came out in 2007 and also the Kindle. So those two technologies, for me, were the things that enabled me pretty much to move into being a full-time creative.
But the other thing is that some of the things I did do at the beginning are still the engines of my business. And in fact, the main reason I make good money from affiliate marketing is because I've been blogging since 2008.
I took a course in blogging from the lovely Yaro Starak from Entrepreneurs Journey. And what I learned from Yaro around SEO, so search engine optimization and content marketing, it wasn't even called content marketing back then, but basically, the emphasis was on providing value for your audience and do not try and game anything.
Back in 2008, gaming SEO, and gaming the Google algorithm was a thing. Everyone did that, the black hat SEO style. And the school I come from, the kind of coffee blogger, generosity value school, is write quality things that stand the test of time, and you will eventually reap the benefits of this.
Between 2008 to 2012, I was blogging about self-publishing and nobody cared. Nobody cared, seriously. And then from 2012, because of the Kindle, because self-publishing went mainstream in America, my website became one of the top websites in the niche because it has really good Google rank because it's been around so long, and because I have consistently done quality writing on it.
An interesting thing is that my business now, my income now, is based on 10 years of content marketing, so, blogging and podcasting. I'm at 9 years of podcasting right now, which is, in the podcast space, as you know, is pretty old.
Thomas: But in those days people were downloading podcasts onto iPods. I remember doing that. I had a podcast in those days.
Joanna: Yes. But we didn't call them podcasts, really. We called them kind of just downloadable audios, right? The word podcast wasn't even mainstream.
Thomas: That's right. Speaking of podcasts, I want to talk a little about your podcast because you were one of the first ones into the space.
Why start a podcast for writers?
Joanna: The guy I learned from Yaro was doing a lot of downloadable audio, and I was like, “I really like learning this way,” because I'm commuting, I was driving at the time. I was living in Australia, so my commute was maybe an hour each way in the car. So, obviously listening was the way I was learning, and I was changing my mindset, which I think audio is so powerful.
I started listening to a few podcast fiction authors. Scott Sigler, being a really big one, and still an amazing author who still podcasts his fiction. And so, I was like, “Wow. This is a powerful medium.” And then, I think Yaro said something like, “You can learn by doing this.”
And I realized that at the time, there was pretty much nobody doing anything in self-publishing on audio or podcast. So, I was like, “Okay.” There were in the speaking niche and the nonfiction niche, but definitely not in the sort of fiction niche and that kind of thing.
Many authors are quite scared of technology. Because I come from a more technical background, I thought I could do this. But, the first episode I did was just in March 2009, I phoned up the lady on a proper phone, if people know what that is.
Thomas: With the little twisty wire that goes into the wall?
Joanna: Yeah, basically. But there was a speakerphone button, so I put the phone on speakerphone and then I held a recorder next to the phone, and I did an interview basically holding the recorder. That episode is still up. Don't be ashamed of your past.
Thomas: There's nowhere to go but up in terms of audio quality, if that's where you start.
Joanna: Exactly. But amazingly, that started me off into podcasting and I realized that you could talk to some pretty big names by doing something that they're not that comfortable with. Some of the people I've interviewed over the years you can't hire them, you can't book them for consulting. But they will do a podcast interview. So, this is what's so interesting.
My attitude there was, I wanted to learn. I was also pretty lonely; I didn't really know any authors. So I thought maybe I could find a community if I start trying to help people. So really, I started the podcast because I wanted to learn and help people. And that is still a part of it.
It was actually only 2015 that I started to make money from my podcast.
Thomas: I want to talk about that because there are a lot of people who listen to the show, they're not authors, they are just podcasters. And, you know, some people are like, “Is it possible to make money on a podcast?'
How do you specifically monetize your podcast?
Joanna: I'm very, very, very careful about the companies I associate with. I think in the author space as well as many other industries, there are companies that you don't necessarily want to be involved with who will offer you money.
So, one thing is get your ethics right, get your mindset right before you move into monetization. And that, I think is really important.
I started off with corporate sponsorship and that was based on relationships. I've been speaking in the author niche for years and Kobo, who are very big in Canada, and now increasingly big all over the world, they're a rival to Kindle.
I had a good relationship with them so Kobo Writing Life are my primary sponsor of the podcast. And that was literally a conversation at a conference. So that was personal relationships.
And then I came up with my figure based on downloads. So, that's very important.
If you've just started a podcast, I don't see how you can monetize a podcast from scratch unless you can find sponsorship in that way. But basically, I had proven downloads that I could show. I use Amazon S3 for my hosting and also Blubrry, B-L-U-B-R-R-Y.
Blubrry is my publisher and I had downloadable figures from them so I could prove what the sponsor would be getting. So that was the first thing I did.
[Here's my article on how I podcast now.]
And now I have also IngramSpark who are a print-on-demand service and Draft2Digital who are, again another e-book service. But all companies I use myself and highly recommend. So, I think that's really important.
Thomas: And the other thing that I want to point out real quick is that these aren't just products that you use but they're products that are specifically interesting to your specific audience. So it's not like you're sleeping on a Casper mattress and you're recommending a Casper mattress to your audience, which is fine.
Casper will never pay you as much to sponsor your show as a business that makes something specifically for authors. Because the fact that you have such a focused niche. A lot of people are like, “Oh, if I have a niche, I can't get sponsors because I won't have as many people listening to my podcast. I should talk about some TV shows.”
You may have fewer people but those people are more valuable to the right kind of advertiser. Like Kobo isn't going to advertise on an “Agents of Shield Podcast,” right?
Joanna: Oh, I don't know.
Thomas: There's 99 people who are like, “What is Kobo? I have never written a book,” right?
But for your podcast, every single person who's going to listen to a podcast about writing and publishing is a potential customer for Kobo. So, your audience are particularly attractive to them.
Joanna: Yes, and I would go so far as to say unless you are Tim Ferriss you need to go niche. You really do. I know Tim's podcast and that he does have some really random stuff on there. I think he had Casper on there.
But when you have that many figures, that many downloads every week, you can be sure that some it's going to hit.
But as you say, in these niches, you can get rabid fans who are looking for specific stuff and thus having a podcast is going to enable you make more money.
I have someone who listens to my podcast, who's into these mini military figures that they do battles and things with. [Henry Hyde, Patreon.com/battlegames ]
He started at Patreon and he got really a lot of money very quickly from his very small demographic. I think he's overtaken me and I've been doing it like two and a half years. They're very hungry because nobody else is catering for that market. So, I totally agree with you. It's a very good idea.
So just back on my podcast; I have corporate sponsors, I have a Patreon now. I do two episodes a month I charge for, and that has definitely come up now to a good level. And I also do my own marketing.
For example, I'm launching a course on how to write nonfiction in a couple of weeks, and I would take the marketing slots in the podcast, the midroll, and I would advertise my own products. So I'll advertise the audiobook, I'll advertise my premium course. I'll use that slot, which my audience now expect, for myself. So that's kind of multiple ways to market.
Thomas: The nice thing about that is that you already have an audience that knows, likes, and trusts you and you're getting 100% of the money because it's your own product.
Joanna: Yes. With audiobooks particularly. If there are authors, let's say, and you haven't done audio books and you have a podcast, I mean, it's a captive audience for audio. All they need to do is switch over to whatever app and buy the audiobook.
And you can use ACX, the letters acx.com, to independently publish audiobooks now. It's really incredible what we can do as independents. And I'm making decent money with audio books, nonfiction particularly, every month because I'm able to talk about that on the podcast. And I don't even narrate my audiobooks. So it's definitely a tangent true thing.
Thomas: That's really good. I narrated my audiobook partly because I already have all of the equipment. And it's not as easy as recording a podcast. I'll say that. It is soul-crushing, but it is also very rewarding.
Joanna: Yes. Which is why I hire a professional. I did it once. I had done “Business for Authors” that is read by me and no, I won't be doing it again. So hardcore.
Thomas: I hired a college student to edit it because I'm like, “I can't hear all of my mistakes. I'll hate myself forever if I do this.”
But real quick, I want to zoom in on your Patreon because you're doing some creative things with Patreon. Walk us through your levels.
What are the price points? And what rewards do people get for those rewards in your Patreon?
Joanna: It's so funny that you're asking this as if I know what I'm doing.
I got to a point in 2015 where I had to make a decision about my podcast. I had been doing it since 2009. You know how long these things take because you have to research the person, you have to do the recording, you have to edit it, you have to do all the show notes, blah blah blah.
It can take three hours or even four hours to do a one-hour show. And my shows are all like an hour long. So I was like, “I have to give this up.”
I really was going to give up my podcast and then someone said to me, “Well, either you give it up, or you go for it and you fund it.” and I was like, “Okay.”
Someone suggested Patreon and this was the early days of Patreon, well, that I knew about, anyway, I suppose. I think it has been going a while but I hadn't heard about it. So I went on and at the time I was doing two shows a month, and I was doing them quite sporadically.
So I went on Patreon and I didn't have a clue what I was doing and I thought nobody would sponsor me. I really did not expect anything.
In terms of my levels, I was like, “Okay $1 per show twice a month is like yay, thanks so much, and then $3 per show twice a month,” because I was only doing them twice a month, you'll get… I can't remember what you get. I think you get my e-books or something.
And in fact, you might even get that at the top level. Like they've really very well thought out, my strata. And then at $5, you get my nonfiction books and audiobooks and stuff.
And then what happened was that I moved my show to every Monday, regularly on every Monday. And this is another big tip, if you are going to do podcasting, it should go out on the same day, same time, at a specific period so it becomes a habit.
If I miss my Monday morning 7 a.m. UK time slot, I get emails and tweets like, “Where's your podcast? Have you died?”
Funding for me for Patreon, I never expected it to get to where it is. I think it's about 900 US now per episode twice a month. I'm still on twice a month even though I do it four or five times time a month. But I'm very happy with that; it's an extra two grand US a month.
I did go and see Amanda Palmer the other night. I'm sure you know Amanda Palmer. She was one of the biggest users of Patreon and she has over 11,000 people on her Patreon. She's now almost using it as her whole community management system.
I was very inspired by what she's doing as a true creative artist to maybe revamp my own Patreon, or perhaps start another one for my fiction or something else.
What I would say to people is they have done so much with that system in the last year, I think they've really made a lot more of it, that if you're starting now, you can do a lot more than what I've done.
Definitely don't use me as a model, pick somebody who started more recently with more of their extended functionality.
Thomas: And that is, I think, a really important point because some people are going to hear your story and they're like, “Oh 10 years, that sounds so hard.” And while some things do take time, they're also benefiting from the fact that you were using really old, really hard to use tools in those early days, right?
Making money as an independent author before Kindle was a lot harder. Making money with a podcast before Patreon is a lot harder.
And Patreon now is very different than what Patreon was two years ago, in terms of what it's able to do and how many users, right? Two years ago, no one knew what Patreon was and when they back your campaign, that's the first time they're creating a Patreon account.
Whereas now more and more authors get on Patreon and more and more readers are backing authors on Patreon, now it's not, “I have to create a Patreon account.” It's “Oh, I just add another author to my account”.
Then it gets easier every month when it comes to attracting Patrons.
Joanna: What's exciting about this world we live in is that people are more and more excited about supporting independents. I'm a supporter of Amanda Palmer, I get her emails and what she's up to, and I get her songs before they go live to everyone else.
And with my Patreon, I do a private Q&A every month. I actually just recorded that yesterday. My Patreons get an extra 45-minute audio every month and they can ask their questions. So they sort of get access. And I don't do consulting anymore. I barely do speaking. So it's an access thing that I'm giving.
And it's fascinating to see how these things have moved on, but that it's much more normal now to support a creative directly, like people would rather shop on notonthehighstreet or Etsy than they would going into the mall.
That's why we're seeing the death of the high street and the death of the malls.
People are interested in the creator and the story behind the creator.
And as a tangential point, your story is very important. So whenever you do something like this, if you do a podcast, if you do a YouTube channel, whatever, make sure that you are the one who is heard over time.
And make sure you have a slot where you talk about yourself so that people get to know you because that's the secret with this stuff. They have to care about you. And the only way that people can care about you is if you are a little bit vulnerable and you share your difficult times, and people will support you if you're honest about it and you give value. Very importantly, give a lot for value.
Thomas: And I think that's so key. And your Q&A episode is really great. So I back you on Patreon.
Joanna: You're lovely.
Thomas: I get the Q&A episode, and we do a Q&A episode very much like yours on “Novel Marketing,” and it's the easiest episode we do all month, because we're just answering questions. And if we don't know the answers, then I'll just say, “I don't know.”
Although usually we know the answer and it's very easy in terms of preparation. So we're not scheduling with a guest and doing all of this research to create it and yet, I feel like it's one of the most valuable pieces of content that we put out all month because we are answering specific people's specific questions.
When you become a Patreon of Joanna Penn or you become a patron of “Novel Marketing,” suddenly you get to pick their brain and the dollar a month that they pay, because you give it to everyone even at the dollar level a month, we have it just for the five dollar level but that's a cup of coffee right?
Somebody wants to buy you a cup of coffee and pick your brain.
That's like the entry level and if you're a consultant, it's cup of coffee plus $300, right? Whereas with Patreon, they get that access and hearing the questions that other Patreons are asking is educational and it's good to hear those answers.
And then the other benefit for you is that it keeps you from getting into the ivory tower. I see this happen with experts where they start off and they're super helpful. Let's say if somebody's teaching podcasting.
At the beginning, it's like what microphone to buy but after a while, they get bored with that basic content and their information gets more and more advanced until suddenly they're no longer understandable to somebody just getting started.
They start losing their people because they get all the questions answered and then they're not getting beginners because they're out of touch and suddenly they're finding their revenue shrinking. And having that, for anyone who's a Patreon can ask you a question reminds it's like, “Oh, that's right. Not everyone knows what KDP is. Not everyone knows what it means to go wide.” And it keeps you kind of relevant for that beginner audience that's so important.
Joanna: That does bring up another really important point which is the name of whatever you're doing. I have a lot of compatriots in the podcasting space who started podcasts with the word “self-publishing” in the title, and all of them have fallen by the wayside of the ones that started around the time that I did.
There are new people who have come into the niche and now using that word in their title. But as you say, what happens as the creator is that you develop, and you move on, and what you learn is also important.
One of my biggest tips is that you must, must, must have a website name/podcast name/whatever you're doing, that will last. Don't hem yourself in too much with the title.
Even though we talked about going quite niche, still don't hem your self in too much.
I have The Creative Penn, Penn with a double N, was my third blog, and the other two were very much short-lived because I ran out of stuff to write about. I ran out of anything to talk about because I didn't care anymore.
But The Creative Penn, I could become a painter, I can do whatever I want with that as long as it's some kind of creative work. But it also means that I have moved on, and I have talked about this on the show, that as I move on into the upper levels, I guess, of my own career, I can still talk about things that are relevant to people. And in fact, some of my listeners say that they have left those other shows behind because they don't cover the later things.
I think this is very important when you're planning your content, and your site. Let's say it takes a year or two years or five years to get to six figures, which I think is probably likely. Sorry everyone but then what are you going to be excited about for the next 5 years or 10 years?
This December, I'll be coming up to 10 years on The Creative Penn. My content is scheduled six months out, because I have so much I want to share.
What do you think you can be excited about over the long term? And that's so important.
Thomas: That's a really great point. And I know exactly what that's like. I wrote a blog post about dating and relationships that went crazy viral, had a million page views in a month, and it led to a book, and a Kickstarter. I knew that I did not wanna talk about dating for 5 years or 10 years.
This is a topic, I was like, “I don't wanna stay in this world.” Because it wasn't a topic that I was that passionate about. And a lot of people are like, “Why aren't you pushing your book more? It's such a good book.” I was like, “Because I don't want to be that guy.”
There are psychologists and they're looking for more clients and that is their world and I'm like, “Let those people do it.” I am happy to let them take it because you really do have to have, passion is such an overused word, but you have to be motivated to go it the long way. Because you're exactly right, there's no overnight successes in this business.
Often when you look at somebody who looks like they went from a little bit of money to a lot of money, if you look into their story, they've been preparing for a really long time.
YouTubers often, they'll get a shout-out from some really popular YouTube channel and suddenly, their number of subscribers will explode and their revenue will explode.
But there are other YouTubers where that same shoot-out happens, and they don't explode. What's the difference? Were they putting in the time? When people go and watch the second video on their channel, is that video exciting, right?
And they're like, what's the quality of the average stuff? That average quality content has to get to a certain level before you really get that big following, and it takes time to build your craft, whether it's in podcasting, or writing, or/and video creation. And there's really no shortcuts.
I wish we had time to talk about all of the other things that you're doing because we haven't even gotten to affiliate marketing, which you're doing really well by like curating really great content. That's a great source of content and of course your nonfiction is doing well and your YouTube channel.
I really appreciate you coming on and you have a such a wealth of knowledge. Maybe I'll be able to talk to you when you come back, we'll hit these other aspects at some point in the future. I don't want this episode to go on forever.
Joanna: I would say on that that I think the important thing is whether you're starting a podcast or a blog, or a YouTube channel, or whatever you're doing, you have to enjoy the process, or whether you're writing books.
This is very important for writing books. You have to enjoy the process and feel that the conversation is worth it. This is, I think the third time that you and I have chatted, right? I've been on your show a number of times and I keep coming back because I enjoy talking to you. And I get a lot out of our conversation because I think you're a smart guy, and Jim is as well.
Thomas: And this is our “Novel Marketing” podcast that she's talking about.
Joanna: I enjoy our conversations. I get something out of this too. I like helping other people, but I also enjoy our conversations. And if nobody else was listening, we've still had an interesting conversation.
I think that has to be the way that you go into this. Like with writing, if no one else ever sees this, is this still worth my time? And for me, that's the only thing that will keep me going, because otherwise, I might as well go back to my day job. I mean, really.
The big message is that it's not necessarily passion but it's certainly interest. And you have to keep wanting to do this for its own sake.
I can't say the money will come, but the money will likely come if you focus on both the craft and the business side, and educate yourself, and put yourself out there.
So, yeah. I think this show is great by the way.
Thomas: Oh, thank you.
Joanna: I've subscribed. It's great.
Thomas: And I just want to say that that's so important. If you have destination fever, it's like, I will not be happy unless I'm a bestselling writer. And then it's like you get there and it's like, “Oh, I won't be happy until I have a second bestseller to prove that it wasn't a fluke.”
And then, “Oh, I won't be happy until it's New York Times' bestseller, oh not until it's a movie, not until it's a good movie” All right.
There's always some milestone ahead of you. And I would say, I've worked with New York Times bestselling authors who are miserable because there are some other authors they're comparing themselves to that is more successful.
If you enjoy the journey, you can have that joy even when you're doing it in obscurity. And that motivation is ultimately what's going to lead to success. And what I love about that is that it applies regardless, right?
It doesn't matter what you're creating, you have to be able to put in the work.
Joanna, where can people find out more about you? And tell us specifically about your podcast.
Joanna: Come on over to “The Creative Penn Podcast,” Penn with a double N, and find out about writing, independently publishing, book marketing, and making a living with your writing.
Also, TheCreativePenn.com, Penn with a double N, and you can get the free “Author Blueprint” which is all about, as I said before, writing books. And also, if you have any questions, you're welcome to tweet me @thecreativepenn.
Thomas: And we will have links to all of those in the show notes. So if you just scroll down in your podcast app on your iPhone, or whatever app you're using, you don't even have to leave the app. Just scroll and you can tap those links to find Joanna in all these different places.
I really do encourage you to check out her podcast. And check out what she's doing in Patreon. I know she's very humble and she's like, “Oh, I don't know what I'm doing.” She's doing it very well. So, check it out, you can learn a lot from someone like Joanna Penn. So, Joanna, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Joanna: Oh, thanks for having me, Thomas.
A.B. Alvarez says
Joanna, you continue to be a source of inspiration to us all.