In this wide-ranging interview on the Prickly Pens Podcast, Joanna Penn talks about changing careers from IT to becoming an independent author, the early days of self-publishing and how things have changed, inspiration for fiction, generosity as the basis for a business, and how the future might look for writers.
Thanks to Michelle Monkou, Julia Canchola, and Gabby Samuels at the Prickly Pens Podcast for a great interview.
You can listen here or below or on your favorite podcast app. Just search for Prickly Pens Podcast.
Here are the highlights, and the full transcript is below.
- How I started writing and became an indie author — you can find my timeline here
- The early days of writing and self-publishing, including mistakes I made and changes along the way
- Rewriting early books and applying lessons learned about writing
- Inspiration for my fiction as J.F. Penn — my Dan Brown style ARKANE thrillers, Mapwalker fantasy, and darker Brooke & Daniel crime thrillers
- How sharing free information and generosity can be the basis of a thriving business
- What does the future of writing hold? AI, NFTs and digital assets, and more. You can find more future of creativity topics here.
Transcript of interview with Joanna Penn (lightly edited)
Michelle: Hello, hello, hello and welcome to the ‘Prickly Pens Podcast.'
We're three friends, three writers, (Michelle, Gabby, and Julia) sharing not only our writing journeys, but a window into our conversations around the art of storytelling in the various formats like books, films, and video games, and also selective topics that make us ponder or generally piss us off.
Today, we have a wonderful guest, Joanna Penn. Welcome, Joanna.
Joanna: Oh, hey, thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Michelle: So, first question.
What decisions or triggers shifted your mindset to write and publish your stories versus continuing to do whatever you were doing before writing?
Joanna: I used to have a proper consulting job. I worked implementing accounts payable into corporates, so I had like a proper corporate career.
Joanna: I know. It was super responsible and they paid me very well. But, as you do with these corporate jobs, it was like, ‘Okay, well, what is the point to my life? I just do this job and I get paid?'
It's good and very important to just get paid and pay your bills and pay your taxes and be a good person and citizen and blah, blah, blah. But I was just like, ‘What am I doing with my life?'
So, in order to try and figure it out, I was like, ‘What do I want? What do I like doing?' I always loved reading, absolutely a reader, and I always did journaling, and I like being on my own a lot. And I thought, ‘Well, what if I could do some writing? Like if I could write something?'
I started researching, and the first book I wrote was called Career Change. And I essentially was trying to figure out what to do. I thought I might be a self-help sort of speaker, maybe a coach, something like that. So that's the direction I went in back then.
This was 2005, 2006. So, I'd hit 30. When you hit 30, you have that sort of first feeling of like, ‘I need to figure out what I'm doing.' So, I started writing that first book. And, in writing that first book, I was like, ‘Oh, I really like writing books.'
I got the bug. And I know all of you understand getting the bug.
If you love writing a book and you think, ‘I totally want to do this again,' then you know that you should probably follow that direction.
Although I did do some speaking, I still do some professional speaking, but for me, it was the books I just really loved doing, even though I didn't know anything about publishing, I didn't know anything about marketing or internet or any of this stuff back then, but I was just so miserable in my day job I thought this was worth pursuing.
But of course, as many people know, we all know you don't just write one book and then make a million and leave your job the next day.
It took five more years before I was able to leave my job. [Check out my timeline here.]
And I took a huge pay cut that first year, and it took about five more years to get back up to the pay that I was used to having.
So just to encourage people that it can be done, you can have a full-time career as a writer, but it takes longer than you think.
Michelle: That's good to know because there is a reality to all of this, to following this dream
Joanna: For sure. And I think when we start out with a dream, we don't know what the job is, and we all still love the writing, right? That's why we keep doing it.
We love the writing, but then we realize that there's also a job of being an author which involves marketing and all the stuff that we'd love someone else to do.
But we also realize that even if you go traditional, you always have to do some marketing.
But that's true of any job. I was talking to someone else about this. It's like with any job, there are always things that you find difficult or you have to learn more about or that you don't find as easy as other things, but what you have to figure out with your life is, ‘What am I willing to do to pursue what I really want to do?' I think all of us are happy to learn and pursue those things we need to do in order to have a career as a writer.
Michelle: Most definitely. I noticed quite easily that there's a level of self-confidence or living life as a risk-taker because of what you've done and what you continue to do. And I think that you have to have a little bit of that though to even pursue this…
Michelle: …career as an author, because you're putting yourself out there, you have to feel confident enough that somebody wants to read this. So, you're sharing talent, your skill. There is vulnerability to it.
I guess I'm poking through your backstory to see what made you who you are.
How have your life and experiences shaped you for readiness in this career?
Joanna: I do have a bias for action, and this is both a blessing and a curse. So, if I decide on something, I will just go do it. And sometimes that's a good thing.
With self-publishing, I started self-publishing in 2006, 2007 before the Kindle. I jumped in while it was still considered to be a bit crap really. It was considered vanity back in the day. But I jumped into it early.
I started podcasting in 2009, which was very early, and that meant that I was well positioned for when podcasting really took off around 2014, 2015. So, my podcast has a strong position in the market, let's say, because I've been around for so long.
But also by jumping in early, I've made mistakes.
I certainly think that having a bias for action has helped me as an indie author. For example, I jumped into Facebook ads way before they became a thing, but because I jumped so early, I also jumped out early and so I missed the real benefit..
Joanna: I know. The benefit of Facebook ads and Amazon ads, same thing. So, I am often too early.
I've been into the AI stuff and Web3 and blockchain for years (see my future episodes here), and that's also too early. Sometimes these are good things, sometimes these are bad things.
The other thing I'd say is, you are talking to me 15 years after I started writing, and I do still have my early YouTube videos on my YouTube channel, which is the Creative Penn with a double N.
I started YouTube in 2008 and I left those early videos there to prove a point, which is, if you look at like one of my first videos, you wouldn't even recognize my tone of voice, let alone how I speak, you know, just the whole thing. It's like a different person. It's just they look like me.
Here's one from 2008!
Julia: Because you've evolved, right?
Joanna: Exactly. Your question implies that I'm able to do this because of things that happened before I was a writer, but actually, the reason I can talk to you guys, the reason I can podcast and speak and do all these things, is because I've learned it as a writer.
I never shared anything in public before I did this. And in fact, the safety that there was back then, when I had a podcast, it was five years really, before I got any traffic. You think, ‘Oh, I did that all in public.' I didn't.
There was nobody there, like literally, and no one was buying my books.
Nobody knew who I was. My email list was like 20 people. So, this is the problem with when we talk to people later on in the journey, but of course, we want to talk to people later in the journey. It's essentially that I've just learned all this since becoming a writer.
As I said, I implemented accounts payable into corporates. I did nothing, none of these things beforehand. So, for anyone listening, you can learn this stuff.
Julia: That leads us into a discussion about your books, the ARKANE Thrillers, which I love. Was your first published work, Stone of Fire, the first project you wrote? Or did you write something beforehand and like put it away in a drawer like I did?
Michelle: We all did.
Julia: Was it beautiful and perfect?
Was Stone of Fire your first book?
Joanna: I'd written that non-fiction book Career Change, and so, I knew I could write something. But then someone challenged me actually on my own podcast and said that maybe I had a block about writing fiction. And I was like, ‘No, I don't. Oh, maybe I do.'
And so, I started writing that first project. But no, I don't have anything before that. I do have a whole load of bits and bobs, but I don't have a whole book. I would say that I did write that in between 2009 and 2011, that first novel, and in early 2022, this year, as we speak, I rewrote that first novel, the first three, actually in that series, because it's a 12-book series.
And you know how it is. You guys all are writers. It's like, ‘Do you know what? I just want to make my first few books up to standard.'
Julia: Then you look back and you're like, ‘Oops.'
Joanna: Oh, no. The reviews were great. There was no real issue, but it's just more of us as creatives, right?
Michelle: You knew.
Joanna: We're just like, ‘I need it to be better.'
Julia: Well, tell us about.
For, Stone of Fire what are the unique elements? What's the plot driver pushing the stories forward in the series?
Joanna: I do have a degree in theology, so religion, and I love traveling. So, when I was thinking about a book I wanted to write, this was sort of when Dan Brown's, Da Vinci Code, came out, so I was like, ‘Do you know what? I want to write a religious conspiracy thriller in the sort of vein of a Dan Brown.'
The premise of, Stone of Fire, is that the apostles of Jesus…and I'm not a Christian, by the way, so it's a funny story.
Julia: It's fascinating. No, go ahead.
Joanna: Oh, thank you. So, the apostles had stones that they carried after the resurrection of Jesus, the power of the resurrection embedded in these stones and then the keepers of these stones, as they were handed down over the generations, and they're all kept secret.
This has been kept secret for thousands of years, and now these keepers are being murdered, and the stones are being gathered together once more to summon this power again, but this time for evil.
Morgan Sierra is my main character. She's ex-Israeli military psychologist, and her sister and her niece are kidnapped, and she's drawn into the hunt for the stones and meets Jake Timber, who's an agent for ARKANE, which is this British secret agency that investigates supernatural mysteries around the world.
So, basically, it's a conspiracy thriller and they're running around trying to find these relics. They go to all the different places where the apostles have been buried and these ancient churches and things like that. And so, that was the first one. It is definitely a very Dan Brown-style thriller.
Julia: I could not put it down. It was so fascinating. The character interaction was awesome. The thriller aspect of it was really cool.
Joanna: Oh, thank you.
Julia: You're welcome.
What's in store for the series? You have your latest book 12, called Tomb of Relics. Can you tell us more about that?
Joanna: I can't resist religious relics, obviously. And in fact, Crypt of Bone, which is the second book, is all about relics. In fact, so many of my books have religious relics and pieces, body parts, and if anyone's a Catholic, but body parts in jars that people worship, just find it so weird and creepy.
Tomb of Relics is about the historic murder of Thomas Becket, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury in the medieval times. And it opens with a prologue back in medieval times with one of the knights who was sent to the Holy Land to atone for this murder of the archbishop and he discovers this powerful relic that the pope sent him for. And then obviously, the books are all set in the present day, but they resonate with history.
In the present day, Morgan gets sent to Canterbury Cathedral, where a modern-day relic of Thomas Becket has been stolen. And this takes her into the hunt for what is this relic? Who's got it? And how does this relate to the historic murder of Becket?
Like all my ARKANE novels, it's a religious conspiracy thriller with an edge of the supernatural.
Everything I write has got an edge of the supernatural. I can't help myself. And it's funny, someone said to me the other day that action-adventure is a dead genre. That religious conspiracy theory is a dead genre. And I'm like, ‘Yeah, but it comes back.'
Michelle: It does. I don't think it's dead. It is my favorite genre.
Joanna: You guys write romance, right?
Michelle: Well, no. Switched over to fantasy.
Julia: I'm actually adventure fantasy.
Joanna: Oh, there we go.
Gabby: I'm romance, so.
Michelle: I'm burned out for romance and went to…
Gabby: She's fantasy.
Michelle: …fantasy, dark fantasy.
Joanna: There we go. Obviously, I have other series, but I keep going back to my ARKANE books because I always get more ideas for them. I did end that book 12 with the fact that Morgan and Jake have to go to Vienna to solve some mystery. And of course, I don't know what the mystery is, but I need to go to Vienna to figure it out.
Julia: You just keep writing them. You'll figure it out.
Michelle: I've read the ARKANE books. I've read the ‘Brooke and Daniel Psychological Crime Thrillers.‘ And the first one is, Desecration, then Delirium, and Deviance.
Michelle: I just absolutely love this series also because it is so dark and it's like a hint of Hannibal-Lecter-style darkness with just your modern-day, because there's a gothic feel to it, but it's in contemporary setting. I feel that the horror elements come through, that your imagination is very dark, but I love it.
Joanna: Oh, you got me. You got me there.
Michelle: In our podcast, we've been talking about themes, like man versus beast, man versus tech, man versus science, and so on. I find that in your books, I would say it's man versus man, where they're always questioning morality or ethics, or even faith.
In this case, that's what came through in this series. I was thinking that it's different in style and content. There is a complicated moral dilemma there.
What research or ‘what if' questions stirred the birth of these stories?
Joanna: Well, thank you. I really appreciate you enjoying this trilogy right now, but it's funny because these books just fall between the cracks of so many genres that, again, I just tend to write cross-genre.
They are British detective stories, murder mysteries, but as you say, they cross over into a lot of things. One of the characters is a psychic who reads objects, reads the history of objects.
But in terms of what happened was we moved back to London and I went to this anatomy museum, the Hunterian in London.
And it's funny, we just talked about religious relics. Well, these are not religious relics, but they are still body parts in jars. An anatomy museum is full of feet with horrible things on, or babies in jars and distorted faces. And it's like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is so disturbing, this thing.'
The history of anatomy in the UK is where Desecration started, because again, I'm not religious. I don't believe there's anything after death. So, when I die, I've got a donor card. I want my physical body to be used after my death. I don't think it's me. And yet, well, I'm standing in this museum looking at the body parts going, ‘Oh, I don't want one of my body parts in a jar.'
Julia: Right. Exactly.
Julia: Did you rip your card up?
Joanna: No, I haven't. But it's like, why do I feel that way when, logically, I shouldn't be disturbed about this? But I am.
So, it sparked the question of, ‘Okay, so the history of anatomy and this meaning of the physical body after death, but also in life.' And I explore body modification. You've seen people who've split their tongues and embedded things in their skin, and I've done none of those things, but it just fascinated me.
Desecration fits with the history of anatomy, but it's a modern-day detective story. And then Delirium, the second one, is the history of madness and opens in Bedlam hospital, the historical Bedlam hospital. But, again, it's about, ‘Are we all on the spectrum of madness somewhere?'
And then, Deviance is the history of the sex trade in London. And, of course, whether deep people labeled as deviant, are they those who work on the fringes, or is it those people who take advantage of them? Which in this case, in the history of the church, the church actually owned a lot of these places in historic London.
All of the books are based in London. I was living in London at the time, and it's such a rich city full of history. I couldn't help it. And then we moved out of London to Bath. But those books, they get my best reviews, but they don't sell massively well because they sit between so many genres, and yet, the people who love them, really love them. So, I might write some more.
Michelle: I love them.
Julia: Well, that's next on my reading list. But that takes us into our next topic of your ‘Mapwalker' fantasy trilogy, the urban and portal fantasy in Bath, with, Map of Shadows, Map of Plagues, Map of the Impossible.
Can you share your brainstorming and your research about the series and how it came about? Because it was fascinating.
Joanna: Yes. Oh, thank you again. I'm so affected by place, by sense of place. When we moved to Bath, I used to walk past this antique map shop every day on my way to the writing cafe. And I would walk past and there are just beautiful, beautiful maps.
A thought came into my head, ‘What if I could walk through that map rather than having to get on a plane and taxi, blah, blah, blah?' I was like, ‘What if I could just walk through the map?' It would've been handy in a pandemic as well.
Joanna: But anyway, so I started thinking about that. And then, I started thinking, ‘Well, what about if there was a world off the edge of the map?'
Because when I started to learn about cartography, there are lots of places that don't exist anymore, or never existed, that people put on maps but weren't actually there, or places that we've written off maps, or places that we've changed the borders of and the country doesn't exist anymore.
There are places and peoples that we've written off maps, and creatures that don't exist anymore that we've written out of history.
And so, I thought, what if all of those places and people and creatures ended up on the other side of the map? And that would be in this alternate sort of world through the portals, and one of the portals is in the middle of Bath.
But then what if those people wanted their land back? What if they wanted to come back? And what if the magic that opens up this portal can turn dark, can turn people into shadow?
So that's where it started, with this question, and spiraled into more. And it was going to be a standalone, and then it was going to be a long-running series. And then, as I was writing, Map of the Impossible, I realized that there was an ending.
The world is still there. I could still write in that world, but there is a clear ending to that trilogy. So, it is a finished trilogy in terms of the main character. But again, I feel like I want to write more in all these worlds.
Julia: You created this wonderful world, so maybe you could revisit.
Joanna: But you guys know how it is. There are always so many ideas and never enough time.
Gabby: I wondered, because for your non-fiction work…I'm new to writing. My mom's been writing since before I was born, but I'm new in terms of, like, I'm going into indie and this is my first book.
The Creative Penn website has a plethora of amazing information for anyone starting out. And so far, you've written 11 non-fiction books, how-to books, and 5 work books.
When I saw your website, you have a tool section that has I feel like literally everything you need to write a book and market and how to do it.
What inspires you to be so open and generous to newer authors?
Michelle: Why are you nice?
Gabby: Because usually it would be paying thousands to figure out this information, like getting books and other people's books, or non-fiction books and their websites that have like a paywall.
Joanna: I appreciate that. I'm really thrilled that you are writing. I read that you've done a…what is it? A MA in Korean studies or something?
Joanna: It's amazing.
Gabby: And I plan to do my Ph.D. in Asian history. I'm going back to England.
Michelle: She's moving. She's packing up and leaving.
Gabby: My master's in London.
Joanna: Oh, brilliant.
Gabby: So, I'm going back to England.
Joanna: Come on back.
Gabby: I'm going back to London. I'm going to keep learning.
Joanna: That's fantastic. I love that you've got these varied interests and all of that.
My first book was non-fiction self-help. And, I love Americans and I love your self-help gurus. Tony Robbins was my self-help guru when I started out. I thought I wanted to be like a Tony Robbins-type self-help person but with a lot less energy. You know what I mean? He's a little bit larger than life.
I always wanted to help people. Then, when I started self-publishing, I did get ripped off and fell down some of the scam traps that there always are and there still are. And so, I was like, ‘Oh, you know, I really want to make sure other people don't experience this.'
So, I started my blog, The Creative Penn, in December 2008.
But what has happened…so, literally I started blogging. Back in 2008, blogging was quite different. Now you essentially have to write articles and stuff like that. But back then, it was a bit different.
I set out to help other people, but also, I learned about internet marketing from very generous people, like Seth Godin, who is famous for marketing, a site called Copyblogger, a site called ProBlogger. And back in the day, what they talked about was generosity. It felt good to me that you can give everything away.
Like you said, you can go on my website. There's a search bar (on the Resources page). I have lots of free stuff, but what happens is I also have books. I also have courses. I also have my Patreon.
I have lots of ways, or I have affiliate links, so you can use my Scrivener tutorial and then maybe buy Scrivener through my link.
I have found that being generous is a happy way to live, and that enough people will buy things and will support you if you are generous. Some people don't, obviously, but that doesn't matter because some people are wonderful or they can afford it and they want to buy some books or whatever.
And of course, we value the people who borrow our books from the library just as much as we do.
I want to help people, but equally, I want to make a living as a creative.
What I found is that it does actually pretty much balance out okay. I was able to build an audience by giving a lot away and then a percentage pay.
It's the same reason we all use free books, free giveaways with our books, with our fiction, as a way for people to find us. And then, some of those people will stick around and buy books.
I hope that explains it, that you can be open and generous, but you can also make money. Because I do like making money. I think that's really important. I don't give everything away for free.
Gabby: We all have to live. I wondered since I guess the indie landscape is always changing. I was probably in high school when I started hearing about indie because my mom would talk about it, and you were published.
Michelle: It was under Harlequin.
Gabby: Yeah. But I remember I would go to writing conferences with you and then I would hear the murmurings of indie and eBooks.
Michelle: The disrespect.
Gabby: Yeah, I didn't hear good things. But then, I would hear about eBooks and then I remember even, like, teachers at school would talk about, ‘Oh, I got a Kindle,' and then half the teachers would be like, ‘You need a paper book,' and other teachers are like, ‘The Kindle is the new…' or it wasn't Kindle. It was Nook.
Joanna: It was definitely Kindle first.
Gabby: With the landscape changing, what do you see coming both in the short and long-term for new writers, or writers overall? And what should they gain in knowledge about beyond writing a good book?
Joanna: I think regardless of when you start doing this, you have to figure out your marketing. And obviously, the tools are always changing. So, like we said, when I started, there was no KU, no Kindle Unlimited. There was no Facebook.
It was the early days of Facebook when I started. MySpace was the social media that we were on back then. And then Facebook came along, and Twitter came along. And then, it became pay-to-play, and then email marketing.
And now it's TikTok, right? TikTok has really blown up, as we record this in July 2022.
But that's the point. There's always something new. It doesn't really matter what it is.
You have to find something that works for you as a writer.
I prefer audio to video. I just don't like doing video, so I'm not going to do TikTok, but that might suit some other people.
Or, for example, we didn't used to use paid advertising like we do now. But now it's almost, you have to do something in order to get your book out there. Free books have always been used. Traditional publishing uses free books too, sending them to reviewers and stuff like that. So, in terms of what's coming, it will just be more change.
Julia: You can always depend on change. That's the only thing you can depend on.
Joanna: Exactly. TikTok won't be the king forever and there's always something new. But what doesn't change is that you have to find some way of writing, and then you have to find some way of reaching readers.
Now, obviously, I'm a believer that AI will make a difference to how we create. I think that the metaverse, whatever you want to call it, whatever the next iteration of the internet looks like. If that's we put on AR glasses or VR glasses and we are recording this in some virtual reality space. I think that is coming in the next decade.
But all that will mean is that we have to shift this. So, like I said, maybe we are all wearing our avatar things and we are hanging out in a metaverse rather than on Zoom.
None of this technology stays the same from decade to decade. It will change.
So, in terms of for writers, what you've got to think is you have to be comfortable with change. You have to give things a try.
The other thing you have to do, and I'm really challenged by this at the moment, is you have to revisit things if you've been doing them a really long time.
Twitter, for example. I've been on Twitter since 2009, but I have not upgraded my Twitter usage properly, and I'm about to do that.
I'm about to start using things like threads better, and I have a Shopify store that I've just built — www.CreativePennBooks.com . And you can now integrate Shopify with your Twitter, with your Instagram, all these things.
I do think that we will be using different forms of currency, whether it's crypto or just different digital currencies. I think there'll be new products with NFTs.
The point is, there's so much coming, but what we have to do is keep an eye on it, but keep building up your intellectual property assets, which are your books. And if you control your books, then you can make the choices.
Gabby, if you signed a contract now for the term of copyright, that's 50 years to 70 years after you are dead. Why would someone your age, or any of us…but a young person, sign out a contract for the term of copyright? I just don't understand it for all formats.
How much is going to change? Even in your lifetime, Gabby, hopefully longer than the rest of ours. At this point, it's how much is going to change in terms of technology?
I want to still be doing this in the next 50 years.
So, I think that is my advice. I've had to do that. All of us have had to do that. Michelle, you mentioned there, you were with Harlequin and now you've changed genres. You've changed your publishing methods. I'm sure you've changed your marketing, and we all have to change.
I know it's a bit of a rant, but I feel like the people who moan that things aren't the same as they used to be, well, it's like, ‘No, it's not, and it's not going to be the same next year either.'
Julia: Right. It's never going back.
Michelle: Because I mean, look at Tumblr. Tumblr came, was huge.
Gabby: I was a huge user of Tumblr.
Michelle: Authors were on Tumblr. I remember a lot of the YA authors were on Tumblr. And then now no one talks about Tumblr.
Gabby: No one talks about Tumblr.
Joanna: Well this is a tip then, and this is what I learned very early on from these various people, which is, don't build your business on rented land. So, don't build a business on Tumblr, don't build a business on Facebook, don't build a business on Amazon.
Build a business on a site that you own.
The Creative Penn Podcast feed has been an independent podcast feed since 2009. So, I've been able to jump onto whatever new platforms have come along. But I know there's people who, like you said, built their business on Tumblr or a Facebook page and then things change.
Michelle: And then it's a panic.
Joanna: Exactly. So, even if you do use these other sites, make sure you put a version of it on your own website. If you write an article on Medium or LinkedIn, or whatever, then put that article on your website as well.
Or like with these podcast episodes. I have them all over the place, but I also have the files on my own website so people can listen on my own website. And so that's future-proofing, is make sure you keep control of your marketing assets as well as your intellectual property assets.
Julia: That's great advice.
Michelle: We haven't done that.
Julia: I'm starting to sweat here. I'm like, ‘oh, oh.'
Joanna: I did realize as I said. I was like, ‘Oh, I wonder if you guys actually have.' Okay, so here's the difference…
Julia: Wipe the sweat off my forehead.
Joanna: Here's the difference though, you are not technically at the moment running a business as podcasters?
Michelle: Right. No.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly. So, what you have to think is…
Julia: This is just therapy.
Joanna: So what you have to think is… So what episode are you on? Fifty, was it?
Michelle: Fifty, yeah.
Joanna: So, what if you get to 250 episodes and you've put in another few years' work and then the platform that you use says, ‘We're done.'
Michelle: I know. You're going to make me have a hot flash.
Joanna: You've got to get the patches, Michelle!
But it's a good question because you guys have obviously thought about your books, but you haven't thought about your marketing assets. So, there we go. I'm glad I could challenge you about thinking about these things.
Julia: Yes. Thank you.
Gabby: I play a lot of video games, so I'm like quite aware of how AI is taking over in a way. Because, in my many interests, like I said, with gaming, I see game developers use AI to maybe write story.
At first, it is like to make the game and make it easier to program something. But even to write a story for the game, it's like, ‘Oh, partially made by AI.' Like, you'll see hints of their testing of that. Eventually, I can see that going on to books.
Joanna: Yes. Already is.
Michelle: That's true.
Joanna: Again, we can't be afraid of change or tools. We're using tools right now. We're using tools to communicate, to help people. I think we have to look at AI tools as a way to achieve our creative goals.
You're right. The gaming industry, it's several years ahead of the rest of us in terms of their usage of AI, and we have to think in a similar way, which is, ‘My creative goal is this. How do I use the tools to help me get there?'
I mentioned Scrivener, which is a fantastic tool, or we use KDP to publish, or we use Facebook Ads or we use tools all the time. Amazon is powered by an AI algorithm. We already use AI as writers.
Who do you think is doing all that? You think little people sitting there sending out emails?
Authors already use AI tools. It's just a case of how much you want to use them.
There's a lot of fear, but there's always a lot of fear. I love that you are doing so much in video games, Gabby, and I think that is an area that we have to learn from a lot more.
Gabby: I think it's affected in terms of even storytelling from my writing, because I've played video games since I was a little kid, and I still play them till to this day, heavily, but it's affected how I'd probably tell a story. I don't know if someone were to read my book and maybe played a game, they would see like, ‘Oh she's following almost gaming beat storyline versus a typical book.'
Joanna: Have you read them?
Gabby: I've read a lot of books.
Joanna: Have you read the LitRPG genre as well?
Gabby: No, I've never read the RPG genre, and I should.
Michelle: Well, isn't Ready Player One.
Joanna: Yeah. Well, that's like old school, but there's a whole load of indie.
Gabby: Yeah. There is a whole new…yeah.
Joanna: Indie is writing LitRPG. It's a huge genre. Absolutely huge. Because, of course, there are a lot of readers like yourself who love playing games.And the traditional publishers have completely missed this genre. It really is an indie-only genre, and it's voracious. I've had a look at it. It's not something I read or write, but you should have a look.
Michelle: Because the ‘Witcher' is…she was playing Witcher before ‘Witcher' was…
Gabby: Witcher. Yeah, I played the game, which is a fantastic game. Very rich storyline, and I know it won a bunch of awards, and I think, at least for the Hollywood side, I think they've realized like, ‘Oh, gamers or video games can tell really good stories too.'
And now, it's a little bit more like in the social consciousness. Like, ‘Oh, video games are also just as worthy as a young medium.'
Michelle: Yeah. Although they don't always get it right, because ‘Assassin's Creed' was [vocalization].
Gabby: ‘Assassin's Creed' was awful. But when they do, it's a good job. So, I guess for the future, how do you see…I guess piggybacking off the question, how do you see readers enjoying books? We're always changing how we consume media. I mean, now it's like I hear about a voice..,what is it? I'm saying voice acting.
Joanna: AI, voice AI?
Gabby: No, the…
Gabby: Audiobooks. Oh, it's like audiobook are everywhere. That's a very popular thing now.
Joanna: Audiobooks are nothing new. It's just that they're now often in a subscription model. I think what I hope will change is the rise of digital assets as a valued class of asset.
At the moment, we're in this awful race to the bottom with subscription models where if you read on a Kindle or a Nook or a Kobo or an Apple device, you don't own the file, you have paid for the license to read an eBook or listen to an audiobook on that device. And if they cancel your account, you lose all of it.
Again, coming back to gaming. Gamers understand that within a game you can, say, buy a magical sword and that is your magical sword and you can do stuff with it.
And this idea of original digital assets, which… The word NFT is horrible, but, you know, NFTs on blockchain as specific digital assets, I'm hoping that this is what we will get.
As a reader, it strikes me as pretty horrific that I have on my device something like over 2,500 eBooks that I have ‘bought' over more than a decade, and that could all disappear in a moment.
I don't think most readers understand this.
I think as this gains traction, as people realize that they don't own any of those, and they don't own the music that is there, that we will shift into a model where people, readers, will actually buy books as digital assets.
This will have a couple of things. One, they'll be able to resell it. So, if you buy a print book from a print bookstore, that's your book and you can sell it, right? You can sell it to your friend or whatever.
So, a digital asset, you should be able to sell in the same way. What's wonderful about these digital assets is that you'll be able to get some money as the reader, but also, some money will go back to the writer as well, which doesn't happen with secondhand print books.
Also, I feel like there is a sense as readers that we want to show who we are. At the moment, there's a thing around NFTs for things like a Gucci handbag. So, you have a physical Gucci handbag and then you have a virtual one that your avatar can wear in a game, for example, or whatever. But we are book people, right? I don't have any Gucci handbags.
Julia: Unfortunately, no.
Joanna: Exactly. What I want to show you is my special edition Steven King, whatever, that I bought, which is my special book, not my special handbag. So, what I'm hoping is that readers will get these special digital editions in the future, and that, as writers, we will do these limited edition digital assets, and that will be something that people are interested in.
Again, I'm always early on these things.
But I do see if we were doing this in a metaverse room, and we had people who were attending as their avatars, people want to…they call it flex, right? They want to flex what they love.
I have no tattoos, but I will probably have tattoos in a metaverse because I really like the idea. I just don't want it on my actual physical body. But also, I would love to have my metaverse bookshelf where I'm like, ‘Here's my book wallet, and these are the books I have.'
We know more about each other because we can see the books we read. If you go into someone's house, you look at their bookshelf. I see that as we move into whatever the next iteration of the web, Web3, as they call it, that we will have these special editions.
I hope readers will want these digital assets as well as their physical books.
So that's where I hope it's going. I think it has to, because, again, gaming is ahead and people are already doing this in gaming.
Gabby: It's already being done in a different way.
Michelle: It is scary when I look at how many books I have on the Kindle and on the Nook. Because I had the Nook first, and before the Nook, Sony had a different version.
Joanna: Sony Ereader.
Michelle: Right. And what they did when they stopped that, they allowed people to transfer, but it wasn't as easy back then. But they allowed folks to transfer their books to the Nook. For instance, like if the Nook goes away… it comes and goes what they're going to do with it. But I presume if somebody bought the Nook, then they would help those people transfer those files.
Joanna: But that's the point. You don't own the files.
Julia: You don't have control. You're going to have to pray.
Michelle: It's pretty scary. I try not to think about it.
Julia: It is. I have so many books that I've been buying electronically because I've moved so often and I don't have a lot of space. Jo, you're right. It's not really mine if they decide to fold it in.
Joanna: No, it's not yours.
Julia: It's gone.
Joanna: And also, I like the idea of special digital editions, because, like you said, we don't have physical space for all the books we want to have ever. We want a special edition.
I'm not saying that every book we buy will be that special edition. We'll still read tons… Like, there's lots I don't care about. I just want to read the story and give it back; not a problem.
There are some authors I want a special edition of. I want something special.
I want authors to think about special digital products, and I want us as readers to think about actual ownership of digital assets. And these are two very, very different ideas. I'm glad you guys are getting it because most people don't get it at all. They're like, ‘But I just read on my Kindle. What's the problem?'
Julia: The problem is if you've had experience buying a lifetime membership at Blockbuster, all I have is the plastic card to show for it.
Joanna: Oh, you should frame it.
Michelle: We're coming close to the end of our discussion here, boohoo, and so I'm going to wrap it up.
The good thing in chatting with you is that we've seen how optimistic and pragmatic you are with the future of this business and what keeps you going and so on.
Let us talk a little bit about the organizations that have supported you. If there's any shout-outs, and you've mentioned some people out there that have helped you with your career. And, because this just happened, I know you went to the Crime Conference in…
Joanna: Yes. Harrogate.
Michelle: I don't remember the name. Yes. So, if there's any conferences. And then you do the London Book Fair and things like that.
This is the time for you to tell us about organizations and support networks and shout-outs.
Joanna: It's interesting because, of course, when I started, indies were really not allowed to join most of these organizations and they were all quite negative, and actually, quite offensive to us.
RWA, the romance writers, they were accepting much earlier than a lot of the places. In fact, still here in the UK. You mentioned…it's called the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival here in Harrogate in the UK. It is entirely traditionally published. They don't have indie authors on stages or Amazon books in the store or any of that. But it doesn't really matter I feel because it's good to go to these things.
London Book Fair, you mentioned. I go to London Book Fair. It is a traditionally-published traditional publishing event. I tend to speak at these things as people are sort of curious. I speak at London Book Fair almost every time.
I was at Harrogate just as a crime fan. But in terms of an organization I would definitely recommend, that's the Alliance of Independent Authors. The Alliance of Independent Authors, and they have a blog selfpublishingadvice.org. That is the organization I would mention.
As a genre organization, I'm a member ITW, the International Thriller Writers. And again, they have always been welcoming and I have never, ever felt judged by them as an indie. Again, things have changed a lot, but to me, the organizations that have been open to us for much longer are the ones that I love to recommend. Those are some of them.
What I would say, if anyone's thinking about it is, it's all about the energy around these various things. If you feel like a positive energy around creativity and being an indie, then maybe that's the place for you. And if you don't, then just don't stay in that group, don't stay in that conference. There are plenty of very, very welcoming authors and genre organizations, for wherever you are in your journey.
Michelle: Great. Thank you. And it's so great to have you with us. I look forward to reading more on the fiction and non-fiction side. And on that note, we are going to wrap things up. Before that though, your websites, let me get that in there. So, TheCreativePenn.com is your non-fiction entrepreneurial side. And then your fiction side is…
Joanna: It's jfpenn.com. And on Twitter, I'm at the @creativepenn with a double N, and that's probably the best way to get hold of me.
Michelle: Okay. And then you're on Patreon, people.
Julia: That's right.
Joanna: Thanks so much for having me. I really enjoyed our chat. Thank you.
Michelle: Thank you. All righty. And Julia, what do we say?
Julia: Stay prickly.
Michelle: Stay prickly, everybody. Bye.
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