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I love the New Year! It really is my favorite time of the year and I kick up a notch in terms of getting new projects started as well as finishing up anything left over from last year. 2020 also feels special because it's the start of a new decade and I am truly excited about the opportunities ahead.
In this episode, I'll share my goals for the year ahead in the hope that it will help you decide on how to shape your year.
(1) Operation Evergreen
I'm 45 this year, and The Creative Penn business and website have been the core of my last decade. I left my consulting job in 2011 so the business has made it through the tough initial years to a point of maturation. It's time to take things to the next level as well as make sure the fundamentals remain intact so the business can continue successfully.
After a decade in any career, things can stagnate, so you have to change things up over time. You also have to set things in place for long-term success so you can see options for the future. Like any job, you have to put money away for the future, invest and make sure you have choices. Because change is inevitable.
Most of the people I have met along the creative journey so far have disappeared down other paths. There are few of us still going after more than a decade — and most of us have multiple streams of income. For some people that means a day job; for others, it means a huge backlist of books spread across multiple genres; and for me, it's making sure that no single company controls the income for my business.
I'm diversified in my income streams and also in my investments, plus I have an eye on the future in terms of what disruption lies ahead. I have managed to thrive in the last decade of upheaval to the indie author business model, and I intend to surf the wave, rather than drown in it in the years to come.
So, I've decided to make Operation Evergreen my main focus for 2020 because long-term thinking brings a perspective to my day to day work and impacts what I choose to spend my time on. (More on that in Productivity for Authors, which is mostly about choosing what is really important!)
Even after improving my working practices over the last decade and co-writing The Healthy Writer, I still managed to end up with chronic pain in my shoulder in 2019. The specialist told me it was postural, a result of 20+ years hunched over and I had to retrain my back muscles in order to avoid it happening again. I started working with a personal trainer twice a week and am now pain-free, as well as changing my diet to reduce inflammation (low sugar, low GI). I'm lifting weights and I love my workouts. I am a strong woman in my mid-40s and getting stronger!
I'm really happy with the results and it's only the beginning of this shift. I'm stronger and feel fantastic, and I want to be away from my desk a lot more, which can only be healthier for the long-term. That glimpse of chronic pain was enough to scare me into making health my #1 priority. It is the most evergreen thing I can focus on for long-term sustainability, so in 2020, I will continue with my personal trainer, and in my 45th year, I intend to be in the best physical shape of my life. I have booked to do the 100km Race to the Stones in July, so that will be a good comparison to when I did it in 2016. [Yes, I know I swore I'd never do it again, but it's a very good test of strength and stamina, so why not!]
ACTION: Continue 2 x weekly strength sessions + train for the Race to the Stones with longer walks + eat low GI. Pain-free and strong in 2020!
Evergreen creativity is all about filling the creative well, plus scheduling enough rest and recovery so you can keep producing for the long-term. I've been close to burn out several times in the last decade, but I have never subscribed to the ‘write fast' model, preferring my multiple streams of income approach, which is more suitable for the multi-passionate personality type.
ACTION: Schedule more time off. Block out time in the calendar for rest and holiday for its own sake, not just book research or work conferences and speaking.
When I left my job in 2011, I couldn't even see how I could make enough for us to live on, let alone have enough to invest in my future. But in 2015, when my husband, Jonathan, joined the company as Director of Strategy, he made me set aside money for our pension/superannuation as well as other tax-advantaged investments. [The various tools available for you will depend on your country, but we have SIPPs and ISAs in the UK.] We have been investing since then, but I want to take investing up a notch. I intend to be writing for the next half of my life and never ‘retire' but I also want to make sure I have choices in the future.
ACTION: Consistently invest in ISA and SIPP monthly and increase monthly payments in 2020 by at least 10%
[If you want to learn about money and investing, check out my recommended money books here.]
The Creative Penn Website:
For the last decade, content marketing was about creating lots of great content (text, audio, video) around specific keywords in a niche, but the Google BERT algorithm change in October 2019 made a clear shift. It is now about creating the best content to serve the search intent of the consumer and it has got a whole lot more granular with natural language processing. Content needs to be highly specific and basically, be the best answer to someone's search query in a certain context. With the rise of voice search, featured snippets will be more important but also people search differently with voice, so long-tail keywords are changing.
I've spent over a decade creating articles, video, and audio around keywords in the self-publishing niche, mainly as a natural extension to my own author journey, rather than a concerted SEO play, but the BERT update impacted my traffic. I've been blogging and podcasting since 2008 so there are many thousands of posts and pages. I've never done any clean-up so the site is pretty confusing to navigate and focuses on a lot of different things. It's time for an overhaul and a simplification of content so I can answer specific questions more quickly.
The podcast will remain the same structure — although I will do extra shows on specific questions — but I am doing a lot of work around cleaning years of content in order to streamline the site and surface content pages that answer questions. [If you also have an older site, check out the Content Audit that Todd Tresidder recommends, and also how authors, in particular, can reverse engineer content to bring people to their books.]
There will also be a redesign at some point in 2020, but I will still use a Studiopress theme. TheCreativePenn will no longer accept guest posts, although we will finish the ones we have in the queue so that will run until mid-year. Basically, I am future-proofing The Creative Penn and getting it ready for the rise of voice search, and also simplifying so I can better serve the author community.
This overhaul is well overdue as a lot of my older articles are out of date, so archiving them is a good idea.
ACTION: Finish content audit, simplification, and redesign of TheCreativePenn.com
Since most authors don't have sites as extensive and long-running as mine, it won't make much difference, so don't worry about BERT unless you have over a decade of content and thousands of articles on your site!
However, it has made me think about how the Amazon algorithm tends to follow Google over time. So, consider this for the long-term.
What if ‘lots of content' is no longer the most important thing? What if the Amazon algorithm changes so recency is less important and publishing more and faster is not the answer?
What if people's search behavior changes and Amazon finds a way to consider search intent, context, and the quality of the result? (in terms of how it serves the customer, not in terms of ‘quality' of literature). What impact would an Amazon ‘BERT' style change mean for indie authors?
Personally, I think it means overhauling content to make sure it is top quality and up-to-date (as I am doing with my backlist), making sure customers have access to whatever format they prefer, making it easy to navigate through the backlist (clear series and linking), and updating blurbs to include more long-tail descriptive keywords based on search intent. I'm not sure what that looks like for me yet, but it's something I am thinking a lot about! Let me know what you think in the comments.
(2) I create and maintain intellectual property assets
Operation Evergreen is about practices in my daily creative life, but I also want to reframe my goals around self-definition.
Yes, I'm an author and I write books — but the mindset shift around this sentence is important. An intellectual property asset is intangible (i.e. it might not exist in physical form like a house) but it produces value for the owner. Copyright is an intellectual property asset.
The books I have in mind for 2020 are:
- Audio for Authors: Audiobooks, Podcasting, and Voice Technologies — on pre-order for 6 March 2020
- Map of the Impossible, Mapwalker #3 — the first draft is started, so I expect to finish this in Q1. I'll also do a boxset later in the year for the full trilogy, and get the audiobooks sorted with a pro narrator.
- ARKANE #11, no working title as yet — research started around the Portuguese empire, so I have some ideas for the book.
- How to Write a Novel — I have a 90,000-word draft. I just need to wrangle it!
- Non-fiction travel book under J.F.Penn to go on Books and Travel — I have ideas for this but nothing concrete as yet
- In terms of the maintenance of assets, I am still working through the backlist and getting it into various formats. So I need to do more non-fiction in audio and more versions of the books in Large Print and Hardback editions.
ACTION: Schedule and block out time to write. I already do this most weekdays but I also need to manage bigger blocks of clear time as I get more fiction, in particular, done when I have fewer meetings. Get calendar organized so I do all meetings and interviews in alternate months.
But intellectual property assets are not just books. My podcasts are a part of my body of work, and they definitely generate income. So I am committing to continuing both shows in 2020: The Creative Penn Podcast and the Books and Travel Podcast.
This goal also impacts my behavior and my daily choices. For example, I want to spend less time on social media because it is a great way to connect but it does not feed into my goal of creating intellectual property assets.
(3) I license intellectual property assets
I dipped my toe into a number of different things in 2019, but I just don't have the time to do everything, so I need to get ruthless around what I want to achieve.
I will license books in translation. As much as I found the process of publishing 3 books for authors in German interesting, it took much more time than I expected and it's frustrating when you don't understand the language. So I will focus on licensing books in translation, and have a tentative plan to attend Frankfurt Book Fair as an exhibitor in 2020 as well as pitching foreign publishers with a catalog from Curl Up Press.
I will hire narrators and/ or license fiction audiobooks. I will continue to narrate my own non-fiction audiobooks, but fiction requires different skills. I've also discovered that my J.F.Penn persona is quiet. When I go to my audio booth, I just can't get into my J.F.Penn headspace, possibly because I do so much podcasting and non-fiction in there. So I will continue to work with pro fiction narrators and keep my time for narrating non-fiction and podcasting.
I will license for film/TV/gaming/other subsidiary rights. Yes, I know we all want this and it's impossible to make a definite plan to achieve it, as so much is out of our control. But you have to aim high 🙂
ACTION: Optimize Curl Up Press and pitch appropriate places with books, series, and ideas. Like many introvert writers, I'd prefer it if rights deals came to me, and some have over the years. But the authors who get more deals are the ones actively pitching. After all, publishers and agents are not just sitting around with nothing to do. They are dealing with pitches. Rejection is inevitable but the more you pitch, the more you learn.
(4) Embrace curiosity about the future of creativity
One of the things I've enjoyed the most in the last few years is delving into the realm of the ‘adjacent possible,' the possibilities that could occur if technology continues on its present trajectory.
The 2010s brought us mainstream digital publishing, podcasting, mobile and internet business, and all the tools to thrive as independent creatives. It has been a disruptive decade in many ways but the 2020s will be even more so.
Those of us who have done well in the last ten years have embraced the tools of the moment to expand our businesses, reach more readers, and make more money. In the last year, I've talked about how AI might impact authors and publishing, as well as the rise of voice-first, and I intend to continue learning more and sharing the journey with you.
ACTION: Attend events in AI and tech niches and continue to read books and listen to podcasts and audiobooks that are tangential for authors and the publishing industry. Share what I learn on The Creative Penn Podcast and also start a separate section on the site for AI-related topics.
OK, that's enough from me! Let me know what your goals are for 2020 in the comments or tweet me @thecreativepenn. Let's keep each other accountable in the year ahead.
Jonathan Gunson says
Love the idea of audio books Jo.
Audio is my home planet, so will be diving in. I’ll pre-order a copy of your audio book, but first a blindingly obvious question, will there be an ‘audio’ version, or does it have links to relevant audio?
Joanna Penn says
Yes, there will be an audiobook – the ebook is on long pre-order so I have time to prepare it. Audio can’t be on pre-order though! Will be available early March, 2020!
Jack Mulcahy says
I can’t keep up with your activity and your productivity leaves me feeling like I’m falling. It’s REALLY DIFFICULT to remember that I’m not you and you’re not me. Either way, reading you seems not so good for me any more, so I’m going to withdraw for a while. Good luck to you.
Joanna Penn says
I’m sorry, Jack — I understand comparisonitis as I feel it often myself. But as you say, we are different people and this is my full-time career, whereas I know it’s not for most people. Wishing you all the best with your writing,
Marta C Weeks says
Thank you for sharing. Some of all you plan to do and are doing feels overwhelming. For now, as I am struggling to make enough time to finish fourth edits and rewrites for the next four books of my paranormal series; it is a real task since it goes from primitive to modem times and it involves a lot of research, I hate to be inaccurate even though it’s fiction.
In addition, since agents/publishers are not kicking at my door I am learning to self-published. My first book, a short introduction to my series, that I write to submit it as a screenplay, has great reviews but few sales, because I haven’t learned marketing. The screenplay version won an award and good reviews but needs revisions. So my struggles and learning curve keeps on giving be more to learn in addition to writing.
All this while four other books that are totally different, within the shelve of please finish me.
Joanna Penn says
Sounds like you are learning a lot, Marta — but hey, what else would we do with our time! Happy creating in 2020!
Whilst I have no intention of building an author business, I still love listening to you here and on Books and Travel. I write and I travel so I find both podcasts stimulating and uplifting in many ways. So another big thank you for all you do!
As I may have said before, I am interested in your interest in memoir writing and am waiting for more from you on this subject. I note you use the phrase ‘memoir-y’ when talking about your solo episodes on Books and Travel. Can you explain what this means for you?
Always grateful for all you share.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks, Lyn – so glad you enjoy the shows 🙂
I say memoir-y because my solo shows also include travel tips, like places to visit, and also tips and books to read – whereas those details will not go into a memoir once I finally put it together. Memoir needs to be themed in some way, and I have a theme in mind, and an arc for my own journey, and the episodes will form part of that, but they won’t just be copied and pasted into a book. Hope that makes sense!
W. M. Raebeck says
This is to Joanna of course, but also to Lyn, since I write memoir.
First, Happy 2020 to all! Next, Joanna, thanks for always opening your doors so wide for everyone. Few have your energy (or a Jonathan!), but you always lead the charge in exploring every avenue and sharing transparently!
I, too, regrouped in 2019 regarding physical habits—too much desk time was wearing me down. Like you, I’ve scaled up the exercise and nutrition in a big way back, starting back in July. Health HAS to come first or it’s all for naught. Plus, the better habits create optimism!
Regarding writing/publishing, I try to focus on aspects I enjoy most, then lean into them hard. I believe our strengths support us best, despite the eternal voice about all we ‘should’ be doing.
I’m a major traveler and lifelong memoir-writer with 4 books and 2 more coming in the next months. I’ve never tried to write like anyone else, and realize that I can’t publish or market like anyone else either. Still, the idea is to have the courage to be oneself—that’s where the writer voice comes from. (Though we usually travel by tightrope toward our goals.)
Courage to all for the decade ahead, and happy writing!
S. J. Pajonas says
I’m also interested in keeping my website evergreen! I need to go back and update some old content too. With over 1000 posts, it’s hard to keep things up to date and current! Thanks for helping us all stay creative. I’m looking forward to a Happy Creative Life in 2020!
Joanna Penn says
Definitely read this – https://www.smartpassiveincome.com/podcasts/how-to-do-a-content-audit-with-todd-tresidder/
Although it’s aimed at those who make money from their sites, rather than the diary-style blogs – and I have left my more personal posts up!
Mark Schultz says
Great post, Joanna! I love how you have so many plates spinning but they all work in concert. I learn something from every post. I have shared this widely including a link from my website.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks for all you share, Mark!
M.K. Tod says
Great plans – love the clear-headed focus. I do a writing plan every year, but I used to build a more comprehensive plan that included the following categories: business, family, financial, social, well being, spiritual, health, and intellectual. Might return to that this year!
Joanna Penn says
I do keep some of my personal stuff off this public list 🙂
Ann Miesner says
Thank you for this step by step of your goals and plans. It’s helped me pinpoint more of my own.
At the top of my list is to publish on IngramSpark, thanks to you. I have my ISBN’s for my English, Spanish, and Russian workbook of God Who Are You, And Who Am I?
I can’t believe that they have not been available for bookstores all this time, because I only had them on Amazon. Thanks to you, I am publishing wide and continuing that this year with my ebooks of the same book.
Without your wisdom and advise, I would have no hope right now. Thanks again!!
Joanna Penn says
Great! Publishing at least print and audio wide is a great way to reach more readers!
Wow! Huge Goals! I wouldn’t even know where to get started.
So, you have your goals, could you explain in detail how will you accomplish them?
At least one, please?
Joanna Penn says
It’s just about planning time blocks for everything and getting on with it 🙂 More in Productivity for Authors on my work practices – https://www.thecreativepenn.com/productivitybook/
Joseph Sterling says
I do intend to embrace nonfiction in 2020, but this doesn’t mean I will forget I’m a poet, as I once told you.
I think your website is fantastic the way it is presented now. Please don’t modify it too much, okay?
A Happy New Year to you!
Joanna Penn says
It’s always great to create in multiple genres 🙂
Thanks for the comment on the website. I might not change the design, but I need to clean up thousands of old posts that are out of date, so most of that is out of sight for users, but more for the search engine bots!
Carolyn V. Hamilton says
Thank you for sharing your Evergreen plan for 2020.I find it most inspiring that you write in different genres because I also write fiction and nonfiction, and for years felt that I should specialize in only one genre. Your success is a wonderful example that we don’t need to limit our creativity as authors.
May 2020 be the year in which we all realize our dreams.
Another informative blog post, Joanna. I’m going to spend next year focusing on creating and maintaining good habits, especially when it comes to my writing (and my health). And then there is much for me to learn about ads and promotion in general.
I will be working a lot harder on my MJ Jackson pen name for my clean romance novels. I published two in December, and I have six more lined up ready to go once they have covers designed, and the early signs are looking good.
I always enjoy reading your blog, and your end of year and beginning of year posts in particular. Thank you for being so generous in your sharing of knowledge and hard earned wisdom!
Josh Head says
I wasn’t aware of the BERT change until I read this. Thanks for sharing that it effected your traffic. I will need to read more about content specifics in relation to BERT now.
You constantly shine a light on these important things for me. Listening to HOW TO MARKET A BOOK right now from Audible.com. Your books help me a lot. Thanks!
Joanna Penn says
Glad to help 🙂 BERT won’t impact everyone, just those content sites with ‘older’ content marketing strategies.
Makoto Tokudome says
Happy New Year! I had no idea that you were writing “Audio for Authors”. That is super exciting and I’m definitely looking forward to reading it. Especially the section on voice technologies.
Here’s to a great 2020!
Joanna Penn says
Your Amazon Polly tutorial is in the book, Makoto 🙂
Peter B Dudley says
I’ve been a fan for years and I don’t think you’ll like this reply.
Regarding your creative goals for this year, I find some important things missing. You have no goal of improving the Kindle rankings of your fiction. As a fiction writer, I would think it would be your first priority for the next year.
Along with that, you have also expressed no goals about improving your writing skills. Wasn’t writing fiction one of the main reasons you began writing?
You’re bright and I think if you refocused on writing great fiction and not on having multiple streams of income, you’ll be more successful.
I hope you do.
Joanna Penn says
I don’t even look at my Kindle rankings. They are a tiny part of my overall business eco-system. I only look at launches and specific spike promotions.
I focus on publishing and distributing wide and I spend my time creating, not on monitoring rankings.
I write both fiction and non-fiction, and if you have a look at my timeline, you will see that I didn’t start writing fiction – I started with non-fiction. https://www.thecreativepenn.com/timeline/
My primary goal has always been to help people, not write fiction. I wanted to be a self-help author first, which is what I am 🙂
Yes, I write fiction, but that is only one half of myself, and you can hear more about that at my other sites, http://www.JFPenn.com and http://www.BooksAndTravel.page
Operation Evergreen creativity covers craft, as does “I create and maintain my intellectual property assets.”
Some people can focus on one thing, but most creatives are multi-passionate, which is what I identify as. I cannot write in one genre, and I like creating and helping people in multiple ways.
You get to choose your own journey — let me choose mine.
All the best with your writing.
Peter B Dudley says
I have no power over the journey you choose. I’ll check back in four years and we can compare notes.