As most writers will tell you, you can’t expect to write a book and have it magically sell lots of copies on its own. You either need a pre-established audience, or you need to build an audience by promoting your book in the right ways. Neither of these is easy, but success in general usually isn’t either. 🙂
Today’s guest, Joanna Penn, is a successful author who was able to leave behind her day job back in 2011 and make a living on her own (through her writing). As she shares in this interview, writing is only half the battle. Marketing is the key to success, and there are a variety of tools and channels that Joanna uses to promote her books and make them successful.
If you’re an aspiring writer, or are just interested in the power of marketing, this interview is for you.
Joanna, your experience as an author is impressive, and I really like the content you publish at The Creative Penn. Tell us a bit about your background and career as a writer. When did you first begin publishing your writing and how has your career as an author evolved over the years? What types of projects are you most focused on now?
I did a Masters in Theology at the University of Oxford, and then became a business consultant. I implemented financial systems in large corporates across Europe and Asia Pacific for 13 years – the definition of a cubicle slave! I earned a great living and traveled a lot but I was never happy. In 2007, I wrote a book about career change, in an attempt to help myself (I rewrote that in 2012 when I had changed my life completely!).
I went down the self-publishing route for that when I discovered the amount of time that the traditional publishing process took. I’ve always been a fast-mover! In the process of self-publishing that book, back in the days before the Kindle, I started TheCreativePenn.com to share the journey and lessons learned. Then the Kindle arrived and I discovered eBooks.
In 2009, I did NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month and wrote the first 20,000 words of my first novel. In 2011, I published Pentecost, and since then I have focused on writing thrillers and dark mysteries as well as inspirational non-fiction. I’m also a professional speaker.
What do you consider to be your greatest success (or successes) so far in your career as a writer and entrepreneur?
The definition of success is different for everyone, and also changes all the time. When writing your first book, it is about finishing it! When you have a book, it’s about selling a few copies and writing the next one. A milestone of success for me was being able to give up my day job in Sept 2011, after 3 years of writing, speaking and marketing part-time.
My next milestone will be at the point when I can match the income I left behind! I am much happier in the life I lead now, but as a business-woman, my goals are very much around sales as well as creative expression.
Being a successful author is wonderful, but I know that there had to have been some challenges along the way. What was the most significant hurdle you had to overcome, and what did you learn from it?
The biggest hurdle for most authors is the transition from writing the book, to actually getting it into people’s hands. It was the same for me.
In 2008, I self-published my first book and ordered 2000 print copies, just assuming that people would buy them. But when they arrived, I realized that the writing side is just the start. The distribution is the next hurdle (solved by eBooks) and then marketing is the big one. Authors have to market, whether they have a traditional publisher or not. If no one knows who you are and your book disappears into the millions of others out for sale, then you will sell very few.
So I threw myself into learning marketing, both online and off. I read hundreds of books, did courses, listened to podcasts and essentially, retrained myself in marketing. Now I teach other authors how to market in an authentic way. I tell them, “Marketing is sharing what you love with people who want to hear about it.” It’s not scammy or sucky. It’s just getting yourself out there.
As someone who has published both fiction and non-fiction, which is more difficult to write? Which is easier to sell and promote? Why?
It is much harder to write fiction, as you have to learn a whole new set of skills and techniques. For example, writing dialogue is something that you never do in a ‘normal’ life so you have to learn that. Compare that to writing non-fiction which, if you come from a business or academic background, you have some experience of in the form of essays or business documents.
With fiction, you also have to create whole worlds in people’s minds, and come up with stories that satisfy on many levels. It’s a real intellectual challenge, and a lot of fun. So it’s harder to write fiction, but I love it!
It’s easier to promote non-fiction as most people are looking for an answer to a problem. If you write a book that answers that problem, you will sell books! Fiction offers entertainment and escape, but people don’t search specifically for a story. You have to market yourself as the author and also be visible in the category where people are shopping.
I know there are a lot of aspiring writers who have the talent and desire to write amazing content, but most people fall short when it comes to effectively bringing their product to market. What are some of the most valuable marketing/promotion strategies you can share?
Firstly, you will never do well with just one book, so it’s definitely about having multiple products and proving yourself over time. Consistently serving your audience over time and growing an email list of people who want your books is key.
For me, it has also been content marketing – so I blog, podcast and have a YouTube channel, as well as being active on twitter @thecreativepenn. This has led to meeting people and relationships have led to amazing opportunities.
For example, one of my books was in the Deadly Dozen box-set, which hit the New York Times and USA Today Bestseller lists. I was part of that because of a relationship on Twitter which led to an in-person introduction at an author event. It’s all about people at the end of the day!
Looking generally at becoming a successful writer: If you had to take your best advice or inspirational thought and put it into one sentence or phrase, what would that be?
Create and share your best work with the world. Don’t wait for permission. [Click here to tweet this]
What are your favorite online resources for writers?
Scrivener is my favorite tool for writers, as it helps with structure, writing and publishing to various formats. I also use Things app on the Mac as my To Do list and also to collect fiction ideas.
For publishing, the online resources available through Amazon KDP, Kobo Writing Life, NookPress and iBooks are amazing, and most indie authors would not be making a living without them.
Finally, where can people find you online ?
My site for writers is: http://www.TheCreativePenn.com and I’m also on Twitter @thecreativepenn and YouTube/thecreativepenn, plus I have a podcast about writing and creative entrepreneurship.
Thanks for your time today, Joanna!
What did you think about this interview with Joanna? Have you published a book before, and if so, what was the experience like? Leave a comment below!
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