I love the new year! As the calendar turns a new page, we get to start again. After a very strange 2020, it feels like hope is in the air, and I'm ready to embark on the next year of my author journey. Are you ready for a fantastic 2021?
Here are my creative and business goals for the year ahead. Feel free to add yours in the comments and we can keep each other accountable.
2021: A Year of Expansion
2020 was a year of letting go in so many ways. It was an encounter with mortality and left its mark on many of us with decisions to change our work, our life, and our health; to make more of the precious time we have, and to stop doing those things that don't bring joy in some way, or at least take us a step in the direction we want to travel. I certainly evaluated my creative and business life and pared back a lot of it as part of my Author Business Plan.
It was a year of contraction, of diminishing, in terms of our sense of control (or the illusion of it!) as well as our physical space and freedom to roam. I want my 2021 to be a year of expansion — creatively in terms of what I write, mentally in terms of the things I learn about, and physically, in terms of my health and where I travel (once we're out of the woods with the virus, of course.)
I now have a mature author business and 2020 has proved the resilience of the global, digital, scalable business model. My multiple streams of income remain pretty stable if I keep producing books, podcasting, and marketing. But this year, in Sept 2021, I will hit my 10 year anniversary of going full-time as an author-entrepreneur, and if you're not growing, you're dying, as the old adage goes. I am not content to just write the next book, publish, market, and repeat.
Of course, I will continue to serve this community with useful information about the various aspects of the author life as it is right now, but I also want to keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible for authors. Here's how I intend to manage my expansive 2021.
The Creative Penn Books and Podcast
There are some books I want to write and publish early in 2021:
- How to Make a Living with Your Writing – Third Edition. Things have changed a lot since I put out the first edition in 2015, and the second in 2017, and this remains my bestselling non-fiction book, so that will be out by end of Q1.
- How to Write a Novel. I've been sitting on a draft of this for a while and many of you have emailed and asked for it, so expect this by the end of Q2.
Thanks to your enthusiasm, The Creative Penn Podcast continues for another year!
On the days when I wonder whether the show is still useful, I get emails and comments from many of you saying it is worth continuing, and my patrons at Patreon, in particular, keep me enthused. Thank you for your support of the show!
I'll be sticking with the weekly format on Mondays as usual, and I will be adding in some inbetweenisodes on topics that I am investigating on the creative future (more detail below).
Doubling down on selling direct
I've been selling ebooks directly to readers for over a decade from various platforms, but now I have a proven platform with Payhip.com and BookFunnel for both ebooks and audiobooks, I'm going to streamline my direct sales process and better integrate it with my email list and autoresponders so I can drive more direct sales. I'm also going to release on my direct sales platform first before publishing to the stores to encourage direct sales. At the time of writing, you can only get Your Author Business Plan on audiobook from me directly.
I'll be doing a tutorial on this so you can see how it works soon. You can also buy directly from me: Payhip.com/thecreativepenn and have ebooks and audiobooks delivered by BookFunnel. Successful Self-Publishing is free in both formats so you can see how it works as a reader/listener.
J.F. Penn Thrillers and Dark Fantasy, and the Books and Travel Podcast
In terms of my fiction, I'm intending to publish:
- Day of the Martyr, ARKANE 12, inspired by the relics of St Thomas a Becket (and my pilgrimage walk), by the end of Q2
- One more fiction project, as yet to be determined
- Tree of Life in audiobook format, hopefully by end of Jan 2021
- The Mapwalker trilogy boxset – ebook, print, and audiobook, Feb 2021
My Books and Travel Podcast now has 50 episodes, including a number of solo shows about my own book research and trips, as well as many of my photos. Check out my recent episode on This Too Shall Pass: Thoughts from the Pilgrims' Way.
I love the show and every interview inspires wanderlust (and expansion!) in my soul. It's been particularly good during the pandemic year, and I absolutely intend to continue with it. Content marketing takes a long time to prove its worth, so you have to enjoy the journey and think long term about how people discover things slowly. Even though Books and Travel is not specifically monetized at the moment, I love it and it is evergreen marketing for my books, so that will continue in 2021.
The Creative Future
Everything listed above is ‘business as usual,' what I need to deliver in order to satisfy my existing community. But I don't just want to meet expectations — I want to exceed them.
I've also been bored for a while now, with a feeling of stagnation in the status quo of the publishing industry. But I see things coming on the horizon that we need to prepare for, especially with the acceleration of digital transformation in the pandemic year.
My (surprise!) little book at the end of 2020 on Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and Virtual Worlds: The Impact of Converging Technologies for Authors and the Publishing Industry, covered a lot of what I've been thinking about for the last four years, and occasionally talked about on the futurist segment of the podcast.
I'm going to continue this theme in 2021, but take it much further for my own career and (as always) share the journey with you.
Back in October 2009, I posted a video on YouTube about why I loved my brand new international Kindle device so much. At 2:30 mins in, I talked about the fact that my ebooks were available on the device, published through a friend in the US, and I suggested that an improvement could be allowing authors outside the US to publish on the Kindle.
Of course, that happened soon after, and just over a decade later, we have a thriving eco-system for international authors who publish with a global and digital-first view. We have useful tools and many wonderful companies who support our writing, publishing, and book marketing tasks. Check out episode 471 for an overview of 2009-2019, a decade of self-publishing with me and Orna Ross.
The internet and digital business transformed opportunities for authors and publishing from 2010 to 2020, and further transformation is on the horizon.
I want to be part of the inevitable shift in the next decade. My mind is teeming with ideas and I'm constantly reading books and listening to podcasts and going to online talks and generally immersing myself in it all. I want to write and speak and podcast about these topics, and I want to engage with businesses who are working on these new opportunities and become a part of the creative future.
I know that most writers are not ready to engage with many of these things. Most are wrangling the latest book or figuring out how to use the existing ecosystem, and perhaps you are one of those who would rather I just focus on the basics.
But there are so many voices in the self-publishing space now and many excellent resources you can learn from (start with the Self Publishing Advice blog, guidebooks, and podcasts from the Alliance of Independent Authors). I need to continue to differentiate myself so you continue to find value in what I share, but also, I need to follow my curiosity.
Of course, I will continue to do podcast episodes on the writing craft (as I am still learning that too!), as well as publishing and book marketing topics, but I will also be doing more episodes on the possibilities of the creative future. You don't need to take action — yet — but you do need to be aware of the changes ahead.
I'm also going to engage with these technologies myself in 2021 and start to implement them in my creative business. I intend to:
- Co-create a story/book with an AI natural language generation tool, like GPT-3 or similar
- Register copyright on a blockchain
- Sell an ebook or audiobook on a blockchain
- Earn cryptocurrency (Bitcoin or Ethereum) with my creative work
- Publish and sell an audiobook narrated by an AI voice
- Create a current state and future state architecture of the author business so we can see the path ahead (which is the kind of thing I used to create back in my day job as a business consultant years ago!)
These might sound like futurist things, but I know how to do most of these already based on my research and I just need to put them into action. (There are also authors doing these things already, but they don't necessarily talk about it like I do!) They are unlikely to make any significant money, and they are not mainstream (yet), but this method of experimentation is how I started self-publishing in 2008 when ebooks were still downloadable PDFs, podcasting in 2009 when you had to download files and I still used a tape player adaptor in my car, and laid the foundation for the multi-six-figure creative business I have today.
As ever, I'll share my lessons on the blog and the podcast, and I may also write and publish one or two small books on these topics, similar to the short one on Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, and Virtuals Worlds, but with more detail. I'm a writer, so I really only know what I think once I've written a book on a topic!
I'm also going to keep learning and stay abreast of developments at the higher level. In 2020, Orna Ross, from the Alliance of Independent Authors, and I submitted to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the UK Government on the topic of Artificial Intelligence and Copyright Law. This technology is too important to be left to the technologists, and few authors and creatives want to get involved. I want to learn more so I can be effective at engaging with this area and become a bridge between technology, creatives, and commerce — and continue to campaign for the rights of creators as we move into an era of AI.
I intend to keep focusing on the creative future so we can surf the changes ahead, rather than drown in them. I hope you will continue to join me on the journey.
Health and Travel
As I write this on the final day of 2020, there is positive news of the vaccine rollout, but there is also a fast-moving virus strain here in the UK and we are mostly back in lockdown. (The government is calling it ‘tiers' but it's basically lockdown!)
I'm expecting it to be at least a full pandemic year — from March 2020 to March 2021, but I am really hoping to be back in the world in the second half of this year. I'm planning trips to Portugal and Japan, as well as some more ultra-marathons and another walking pilgrimage in the north of England. My plan is to work hard in the earlier months so I can have more time off later in the year for some much-needed travel, family catch-ups, and book research trips.
I'll be continuing with my twice-weekly weights and workout as well as my intermittent fasting lifestyle and my big walks, and I intend to be even fitter at 46 than I am at 45!
My main goal will be to sustain The Creative Penn income at a steady level while freeing up time for my experiments with the creative future.
I have a lot of study to do, books to read, and events I want to attend, but my existing multiple streams of income happily enable me to do this. It's certainly not ‘passive income,' by any means, but by simplifying business processes and focusing on what is core to my existing community — my books and my podcasts — I should be able to free up 30% of my time for a new direction while retaining my income at the same level.
That's it from me! Let me know what your goals are for 2021 in the comments or tweet me @thecreativepenn. Let's keep each other accountable in the year ahead!