Joanna Penn is the woman behind the inspirational writer’s website TheCreativePenn.com, which has been voted one of the Top 10 sites for writers, three years running. It offers free videos, podcasts and blog posts with advice, how-tos, real life experiences and reference material for aspiring writers and self-published authors. Joanna is also the author J.F. Penn, responsible for the successful ARKANE thriller series, which have sold over 55,000 copies. As an author, entrepreneur and speaker, Joanna has helped revolutionise the way writers make a name for themselves, as well as given back to the writing community with her extensive industry-related articles and free resources.
Writer's Edit was lucky enough to speak with Joanna about her experiences and the journey of becoming a successful author/entrepreneur.
Tell us a little about how and why you started The Creative Penn?
Back in 2008, before the Kindle was launched internationally, before self-publishing was cool, I self-published my first book. I made some huge mistakes, including printing several thousand books that I couldn’t distribute or sell. I didn’t know anything about marketing, and only realized after publication that no one will buy if no one knows who you are.
I learned so much in the process that I wanted to help other people by saving them time, money and heartache, so I started TheCreativePenn.com in order to share my lessons learned. Over the five years I’ve been blogging, it’s continued to be a place for me and other authors to share their journey and help more people, plus I now have online courses for people who want to educate themselves more quickly.
We're big fans of your Author 2.0 Blueprint - what was the process of this mini-book?
I receive so many emails every day from people wanting to fast-track the self-publishing and book marketing journey, so I put together the Author 2.0 Blueprint in order to gather all my information in one place. It’s been updated every year, and grown from five pages to over fifty pages as things in the industry have changed. It’s still a free resource and people can get it here.
When you left your IT job to pursue your writing and entrepreneurial career, where did you find the most support, and how did you manage this huge transition?
I left my day job as an IT consultant in September 2011, but I had already been working on being an author-entrepreneur part-time for nearly four years. I built up a network of friends online, who I mainly met through Twitter, and fellow bloggers who were also writers. I had ‘met’ many of them through Skype and interviewed some of them for The Creative Penn podcast, so I definitely had an online support network already.
I did find that I needed a physical group of friends as well, so I started to meet authors in person when I moved back to London. It’s critical to have this kind of support, as being an author can be a roller-coaster ride.
Most writers at one point or another have felt discouraged about 'making a living' as a writer. As an author who now works full-time on her writing and business, what would you say were the three key factors that got you where you are today?
You have to take this seriously as a business, but only if you want it to be a business. Many people consider their writing to be more about therapy, or just self-expression. But I wanted to change my career from IT consultant to author-entrepreneur, and I wasn’t content to accept the ‘poor author in the garret’ myth. So that’s the first thing, take it seriously.
Then you have to invest in your business education, as it’s not something we get taught at school. Learn about your rights as an author, and how to exploit them to create multiple streams of income. Continue to improve your writing craft, but also learn about publishing and marketing in order to complete the business picture. You also need to have back end systems in place, for example, I have a book-keeper and an accountant to manage my financial affairs, as well as doing all the tax stuff. Yes, this may be boring, but it’s part of running a business, and if you want someone else to do it all for you, then stick with the day job!
Finally, you have to have patience as none of this happens overnight. I’ve been working on my business for five years now, and writing fiction for four, but I feel like I am only just at the start of the journey. That’s daunting, but also exciting, as writing is something we can do until the day we die. This is the best job in the world, at the most exciting time in history to do it!
There are many posts and references on The Creative Penn about new writers building themselves an author platform. Could you briefly explain what an author platform is and why it's so important for up-and-coming writers to have one?
As I mentioned with my own story, the day I published my first book, there was no one to buy it. No one knew who I was, I had no ‘platform,’ that is, a way to reach people.
That platform can be a number of different things, perhaps an existing business community, a physical speaking business, it can be an email list, or your blog subscribers, even your social networks. It doesn’t really matter what it is, but you need some way to tell people your book is out there, and you can’t just spam people with ‘buy my book’ tweets. You need to build up some goodwill with people through generosity and what I call social karma. So it takes time to build a platform, but it’s always best to focus on at least finishing the first draft of your book before you worry about it.
What are three of the most important lessons you've learnt as a fiction writer between the publication of your first novel, Pentecost and your most recent, Desecration?
There are no rules anymore, so you can write what you love to read, and there will be an audience for it. That’s one of the beauties of self-publishing, as you don’t need to guarantee big sales to publish.
There are always new techniques to learn around the craft, and I don’t think the challenge of actually writing will ever go away! The day we get jaded is the day we need to write something new, or give up.
You have to write to find your voice, and that takes several books! There’s a lot more depth to Desecration, because I am now starting to find what resonates with my soul, although the ARKANE books also ask deeper questions under the kick-ass action-adventure!
Writer's Edit would like to thank Joanna for taking the time to speak with us. You can connect with Joanna on twitter @thecreativepenn. Pentecost, Book One in the ARKANE series, is currently available for free, here.