Nine years ago, in Sept 2011, I left my day job to become a full-time author-entrepreneur. Every year since I have reflected on the journey and what I learn along the way.
My challenges change and grow along with the business and you will likely be at a different stage, but I hope that you find my lessons learned useful along your own author path.
You can read all my lessons learned from previous years on my timeline so far – and remember, just like everyone else, I started out by writing my first book with no audience! But with time and continued effort, everything is possible.
(1) The global, digital, scalable, location-independent business model is incredibly resilient — especially in pandemic times
When I decided to build an online business back in 2008, I always intended it to be global, digital, scalable, and location-independent. Just to be clear on what that means:
Global — I focus on reaching people internationally instead of locally. I've sold books in 155 countries (and my books are available in 190 countries) but not in my local high street bookstore. Below is my Kobo Writing Life map showing my sales on the Kobo platform. This is just one platform for one format, and I sell on pretty much every platform in all formats, but KWL are the only platform with such an awesome map!
You can also find my podcasts, The Creative Penn Podcast and Books and Travel, on pretty much every podcast app in every country, but I rarely speak in person anymore as I can reach more people with my words online.
Digital — I create for the digital world first. I do have physical products — print books — but I use print-on-demand, so I don't have to manage inventory or pay upfront for printing.
Scalable — I create once, then sell over and over again. Once I have written a book, I can license it innumerable times and make money from it for the life of copyright (if I manage it well). I prefer to create products that can be sold an unlimited number of times e.g. books, online courses, digital audio, although I would like to do some limited edition print products at some point.
Location-independent — I do not need to be in a particular physical location. I run my business from my laptop and have worked all over the world since 2008.
This business model has always been good to me, but in 2020, the global pandemic meant it really demonstrated its value. I have had no disruption to the business because there is nothing physical to disrupt. If anything, people have bought more books and courses online.
The rest of the world has now discovered this way of working so there will be changes ahead.
The online space is busier than ever, but having worked this way for over a decade, I intend to continue to keep finding better ways to reach new readers globally and to add more digital streams of income to the business.
Question: How can you make your author business more global, digital, scalable, and location-independent? (if that's what you want, of course!)
(2) Goals change over time — and that's okay!
When I started writing way back in 2006, my first goal was to leave my day job and make a full-time living online. Writing books was only one part of that picture because I couldn't see past that first book. I started earning money with speaking as well as blogging and affiliate income, plus I kept my day job.
By the time I left my job in Sept 2011, I was making money from multiple streams of income. I had a few books by then but only one novel, so fiction was a small part of that. My next goal was to get back to a six-figure income because I had left a six-figure job for writing.
I also had a goal to enable my husband, Jonathan, to leave his job. I thought that running our business together would be the next logical step and that it would give us both freedom. He was also stressed and traveling a lot at the time and we wanted to move out of London so the timing was right for a change.
In 2015, Jonathan left his job to join the company and we moved to Bath. He helped the business by scaling operations and putting appropriate systems in place which actually ended up freeing more time for both of us.
And then we lived happily ever after … 🙂
But goals change!
Last month, Jonathan returned to a day job working as a statistician in the pharmaceutical industry. (I talked about this in episode 500 of The Creative Penn Podcast if you want to hear more detail.)
He wanted to stretch himself and follow his curiosity and his own path in an industry he has been in for over 20 years. It's also a very good time in history to be working in pharma and let's face it, right now the healthcare industry needs all the help it can get!
My goals have also changed.
I don't want to grow the business to 7-figures in a way that involves moving into publishing others or author services which is the way that many companies scale in this industry. I don't want employees — and now it's just me again (although of course, I still work with creative freelancers).
I still want to be a 7-figure author as I discussed with Emily Kimelman in this week's podcast, but through scaling my creativity and producing a body of work that I'm proud of, that creates income streams for the long-term, not just for short-term cash-flow. That means creating and licensing my intellectual property — which, let's face it, is the fun part anyway!
I often talk about the author journey — but it's also a life journey, and our goals change as individuals and as partnerships and families. I'm still figuring out what this next step looks like but I'm certainly excited for the next year ahead!
Question: How have your goals changed over time?
Please feel free to leave a comment and answer the questions, or let me know what you think. All the best on your author journey!
P. J. Parker says
That’s fantastic, Joanna. All the best to you and your goals. I’ll be following closely and with much excitement. I wonder, are you able to create a KOBO map of just your fiction or specific book series to analyse that?
Joanna Penn says
The Kobo map is generated based on the parameters you enter at the top of the screen. This was all-time, all-books.
Michael Hunt says
I’m about where you were in 2011. I stopped work one year ago to spend time with my wife, who has a terminal condition. I thought I’d rejoin the workplace this February as she has stabilized, but C19 hit and changed everything. Every cloud having a silver-lining means it has given me time to focus on sorting out my first novel that I wrote in 2016 and left languishing in a desperately-needed editing mess. I expect to publish it on KDP next week, and have been following Nick Stephenson’s course, finding investing in myself is a good step in the right direction.
I’ve spent my entire career in publishing and distribution for most of the big names, but in the back office IT systems arena. Now’s my opportunity to become an author, and see if it offers me a new way forward. I do hope so, but I need some fee-paying work again! 🙂
I very much enjoy your podcasts and the way you share your experience with us n00bs. I wish you a successful tenth year as you begin another year of work and fun.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks, Mike, and I’m glad the pandemic has enabled you to spend more time with your wife and get your novel sorted — all the best with it!
Dalton Smith says
Joanna, your yourney and the lessons that you have taught us over the years are inspiring. My goals and journey are a bit different of course than yours . As, you know it’s not easy to build a 6 figure business model with just writing in 2020 as you did many years ago with all the changes to the algorithm. My goal is to be better as a writer and grow my tribe and of course expand globally. To me, 6 figure income is not what I’m after. I am inspired to make whatever I end up making. My goal is to offer value and be the best writer I can be. I just want to thank you for giving me the inspiration along my journey, with all the lessons you taught me.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks, Dalton. Offering value sounds like a great goal — but how do you measure that? Is it number of reviews? or sales?
I think it’s still possible to make 6 figures with writing books, but you have to have a lot of them.
I prefer multiple streams of income 🙂
How wonderful to hear your story,I have not always been following, but am always interrested in your success and wish for you that you get where you want to be, like we all do.
Love and Blessings
Annamarie the swisskw.
Louisa Dang says
Wow! This is very inspiring for all freelancers and creatives out there. It seems that having multiple streams of income, in whatever forms are possible, is definitely the way to go. Thank you for sharing!
Joanna Penn says
It’s definitely the safest way for the long-term, as inevitably, some things rise and others fall at different times.
Harsh Adani says
Thankyou so much for this article ma’am. It just makes us believe that this industry is too big and has many things to offer! I belong to India and I am releasing my book next month, I read various article of how we can make our Print/ebook available everywhere in different countries through different platforms with the help of DTD etc. My question is ma’am, can we expect to make sales on such platforms about which we have almost no knowledge of or no audience? As In India, 95% of self published authors only focus and know about Amazon and Flipkart. Thanks alot in advance! 🙂
Joanna Penn says
You can check out https://mykitaab.in/ for info on self-publishing in India.
For details on global self-publishing, check out my free ebook http://www.thecreativepenn.com/successfulselfpublishing/
Dr Mark Glazebrook says
Thank you Joanna as always for your generosity of spirit and insights. I especially appreciate you pushing the entrepreneurial envelope as writers can feel a little comfortable with the ‘money topic. As well as writing fiction myself, I run an entrepreneurial program for girls in schools to teach them about how to take an idea and build it into a business often through licensing it. I also have a podcast series where I interview successful women to share their story and tips to help inspire girls. We seek to build two things for girls, self belief and self employment. My teenage daughter Taya and I set up this program because she challenged me as an entrepreneur and product developer why so few entrepreneurs inventors and innovators are women. We have interviewed women from many different backgrounds including NASA, Law, Sport and would like to extend an offer to you to be our guest if you would like. I am based in Australia.
This is our Google podcast
Joanna Penn says
Thanks, Mark, and great to hear how you’re encouraging girls to be more entrepreneurial! You’re welcome to email me with more details about the podcast – you can contact me here: https://www.thecreativepenn.com/contact/
Hello Joanna, thank you for your transparency and sharing your story and journey of your passion for book writing. Goals will always change, however, it keeps us accountable and expectant for what is it come. I am an author of four books and built my books around my business in book publishing called Authentic Worth. I help first time authors in publishing their book and now looking to upscale. I wish you all the best in your continuous successful journey!