We are super lucky this week to feature author entrepreneur Joanna Penn in our Seller Spotlight. Joanna, like many of you, has made a big shift from corporate employee to creative freedom – no small change. Other than being a bestselling author, she’s also passionate about helping other authors build their audience so that they too can do what they love for a living – our big passion here at Selz too!
Tell us about yourself, Joanna.
I’m Joanna Penn, an author, speaker and entrepreneur, voted as one of the Guardian UK Top 100 creative professionals 2013. My website, TheCreativePenn.com is regularly voted one of the top sites for authors and self-publishers and I sell books, audiobooks and courses for writers. Writing as J.F.Penn, I’m also a New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author.
It sounds like you made quite an interesting shift from your previous career to what you do now. Can you tell us a bit about what made you take the leap and how you made the transition?
I was an IT consultant for 13 years, specialising in implementing Accounts Payable and Banking systems in large corporates. Yes, really! I was desperately miserable, and I felt that my creativity was being squashed out of me. I tried starting several businesses – a scuba diving charter boat, a boutique travel website and investing in property – but none of it worked and I kept returning to my job.
Eventually, I started to read self-help books and then began to write one for myself, eventually publishing the first edition of Career Change. In writing and then self-publishing that book, I learned a lot about myself and the creative process. I started blogging and then speaking professionally about the radical shift in the publishing environment. I wrote more books, inspirational non-fiction for writers and then thriller novels as my confidence grew.
I worked part-time on my business for 3 years, getting up really early to write and then working evenings and weekends to build an audience. Finally, I left my day job in September 2011 and have spent the last 3 years as an incredibly happy author-entrepreneur and international professional speaker.
Where does your inspiration for blog and podcast content come from? Any particular favourite places online that you can share with us?
This is a great question because I actually had several blogs before TheCreativePenn.com and the issue of what to write about is something that many people struggle with. My previous blogs were based around finding your true passion and escaping corporate life, and then around self-help and learning internet business. Both of those fell by the wayside because I ran out of ideas.
I’ve posted on TheCreativePenn.com several times a week for the last 6 years, as well as podcasting nearly 200 episodes on iTunes and YouTube. The ideas behind that content come from my direct experience and the blog is currently scheduled 4 months in advance because there’s so much I want to share. Inspiration isn’t a problem when you find your passion!
In terms of favourite places online, I am far more of a producer than a consumer, although I do read a lot of books and review them on Goodreads. I share articles about writing, creativity, publishing, book marketing and creative entrepreneurship on twitter @thecreativepenn
How have you built up your fan base and online presence?
I have really just done the same things for the last 6 years. I base my online platform around blogging, YouTube videos, an audio podcast and my main social network has been Twitter, although I am on all the others too. I think consistency in a particular niche is so important and often people move on too early, thinking that it isn’t working. It took several years for my blog to reach anyone, and the same for the podcast to attract an audience.
Batching and scheduling is one big tip, and I use Bufferapp to schedule my twitter stream. I also batch my blog and podcast creation so I have other days dedicated to writing books or speaking.
Are there any particular challenges that you’ve faced along the way that you could share with us?
Oh, so many! I am very transparent and have shared everything on my blog. I do yearly round-ups as well as sporadic posts on struggles during the year. Here’s my latest post on 3 years as an author-entrepreneur and my lessons learned.
In terms of specific challenges, it is a difficult transition to go from a day job to being a full-time entrepreneur. You have to manage your time in a more rigid way and be disciplined in terms of what you’re doing. You miss your colleagues and even the commute. I also felt a great loss of self-esteem as I moved from the top of one ladder to the bottom of another. I had some wobbly moments that first year, when I thought I might go back. Some days, I think that it would be easier to just collect a pay check – but this is my life as well as my passion and my business. No one said this would be easy, but it is what I love to do, even on the difficult days!
If there was one piece of advice you could give to writers looking to really get things moving online, what would it be?
If you mean writers building an online platform, then I would suggest picking your approach and favorite tools, sticking with that over time and putting out quality content consistently.
If you mean writers with books specifically, it’s the same principle, but you’d be writing more books than other content.
The truth is, like diet and exercise, it’s simple but it’s not easy. It takes a little every day, it takes discipline, it takes time. You’ve got to love the journey!
Have you had any stand out moments?
I measure my life by what I create, so my stand out moments are when I release new books into the world – whether that’s ebook, print or audiobook format. Of course, the problem with being a creator is that the moment you achieve the pinnacle of creating your latest project, you’re moving onto the next one, ready to start the process all over again. That’s also the joy!
What does a typical day look like for you?
I walk with my husband for 40 minutes and then I either work in the London Library, or at my desk at home in South London. I have a sign on my wall: “Have you made art today?” That’s my measuring stick, so I have to write something – either words for a new novel or non-fiction book, a blog post or article.
I also have marketing tasks most days, whether that’s a podcast interview or something similar. Sometimes I will be speaking, or preparing to speak. I just returned from Stockholm this week, and I’m off to Frankfurt soon. I also do a lot of research trips for my fiction, for example, we spent a few days in Barcelona, which will feature in my next ARKANE novel.
What’s next for you?
I’ve just launched my new book ‘Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur,’ out now in ebook, print and audio. That’s taken a lot of work, but I am really pleased with it. It contains everything I have learned from my 13 years of business consulting and 6 years as an author, so it will hopefully help others who want to do this for a living too.
Next, I’m working on Inquisition in the ARKANE series, which is a kick ass action-adventure thriller, and then I have a novella to write, set in the vaults under Edinburgh. Happy times!
Where can we find you?
If you like thrillers and dark fiction, check out my books, or if you’re a writer, you’ll find articles, the podcast and your free Author 2.0 Blueprint at http://www.TheCreativePenn.com. You can also connect with me Twitter @thecreativepenn