Friday, April 24, 2009

An Interview with Indie Author and Publisher Joanna Penn

Joanna Penn is an author, speaker, consultant and blogger based in Brisbane, Australia. Her most recent books are How to Enjoy Your Job, From Idea to Book, and From Book to Market. Penn’s website and blog The Creative Penn ( is part of the Alltop blogging network, and provides information and inspiration about writing, self-publishing, print-on-demand, and book sales and promotion on the Internet.

The site is filled with useful ideas, links to resources, original articles and reviews, podcasts and videos written and narrated by Ms.Penn.

This interview was conducted by email from April 20-23, 2009.
— Michael Pastore, Epublishers Weekly

1. Let’s start by setting the scene: what’s it like living and writing in Brisbane, Australia? From looking around the web, it seems to me that there is a thriving community of writers and publishers in Australia. And how is writing and publishing in Australia different from doing it in England, where you have also lived?

I am English but left in 2000 to pursue adventures down under. I lived in New Zealand for 7 years and have been in Brisbane, Australia for 2 years now. Brisbane has brilliant weather and is on the coast by the river. It is paradise really, although Melbourne and Sydney have a lot more going on in the literary scene. It is quite different here to being into the writing scene in the UK. I lived in London where I could go to many and varied events with big name authors regularly. There is not so much opportunity here in Australia for that – although there are a number of festivals which are great! If people are interested in some of the writers down here, here is a link to the Top 50 writing blogs in Australia.

2. Your website has an interesting page about your writing history. Can you tell us about that?

I wrote the post in order to show that you don’t have to be a prize winning published author in order to be a writer. I talk about the journals I have written over the years, poetry I had published, the technical writing I have done, compilation books I have been in and finally my self-publishing journey. It is encouragement for people who may feel under-confident about writing, as it proves we all have a lot of skills under our belts. We all write a lot in our lives. It just needs to be taken further to become a book.

3. Your book “How to Enjoy Your Job”, seems to be very timely: I don’t know very many people who actually do enjoy their work. What is the secret to employment enjoyment? ... And how can a person tell if he/she should try to enjoy the job, or leave it?

I wrote “How to Enjoy Your Job” after 11 years as a business consultant working in Europe and Australasia for large management consultancy firms. I worked with many people in IT and finance and just saw so much misery. People are trapped by their own expectations, financial commitments and just not knowing what else to do. There were also a range of self-destructive behaviours that people were using to just get by.

I was one of these people for many years and was determined to change my own life. I wrote the book that I needed the most, because I wanted to enjoy my own job and my life. The book talks about the realities of a miserable working life and the damage it can cause, and then looks at ways to change each of the most common working problems: boredom, stress, other people, feeling trapped, being undervalued, financial issues and the job being a mismatch with your personal values. I then go through the career change process and how to identify what you really want to do. I may re-release it with another title because many people have said it is more a life-change book than just one about jobs. 

The secret to loving your job is to identify what you want and then move towards that over time. Life is too short to be miserable for the majority of your week. I am still going through the process myself as it is not an overnight change. I now work 2 days per week as a consultant and then work on writing, my blog and internet products for writers the rest of the time. Funnily enough, this “global financial crisis” seems to be helping many people reassess. If you tighten your belt and can live on less money, do you need that high stress job?

I needed to write this book to save my own life. Seth Godin has said “the book you write will change your life” and this has been true for me. My husband also changed his career because of proof-reading the book and we are both very happy in our new life. For me, this is reward enough, but it is also for sale on in print and the ebook is available for free on Smashwords here! You can also get a free workbook at

4. This was your first full book: how were you able to make the great leap from just thinking about writing, to actually completing the book?

I am a huge reader and I love books. I love buying books and having bookshelves full of them. I even shipped several thousand to New Zealand from England, and then on to Australia! I probably could have re-bought the entire collection for that money, but I couldn’t bear to lose them! So I have always hero-worshipped authors and set them on a pedestal. I thought I wasn’t good enough to be like that, and so never even tried to write a book.

I spent 22 years thinking about writing a book and I had many false starts because of these feelings. I finally wrote the first book when I discovered two things. Firstly, that non-fiction is a valid genre and I didn’t have to be a fiction writer to be an author. That might seem obvious but I always thought I had to write prize winning fiction!

The second was discovering self-publishing options. I saw that if I couldn’t get a publisher, I could still hold a copy of my own life-changing book in my hands. I did send a traditional query off when the book was finished, received one rejection and then dived straight into self-publishing it. I didn’t want to wait any longer! Now I am addicted to it and have so many ideas for more books!

I now understand that my writing is my opinion, and if it helps someone, then that is brilliant! If it doesn’t, then no worries. My books have already helped people and that validates what I write. I tell new authors this as well – don’t fit into what others want you to be, write what is on your heart.

5. Your next book, From Idea to Book, offers sensible advice about planning and writing. What is that book about?

I wrote the next 2 books together as I wanted to share everything I have learnt with new authors. This book takes people through the actual writing process as well as publishing options. I tackle the psychology of writing as well as tips for getting the words down, goal setting and organising. There are also sections on self-publishing, print-on-demand, ebooks and also traditional publishing queries and submissions. The book is ordered in a Q&A format which makes it very easy to find the answers to the most common questions new authors have. It will be on Amazon soon and is currently available for $1 in ebook format here.

6. I’ve always thought that the most difficult and interesting part of the writing life is the need to develop four separate skill sets: writing, learning, book production,and marketing. The marketing is the most confusing for new writers. And you’ve written a whole book about that, From Book To Market.

Marketing is so important and I have discovered that I LOVE this side of things! I learnt this the hard way because I self-published, ordered copies and then sat looking at them! I didn’t know what to do next.

So I spent a year learning everything about marketing both traditionally and on the internet. I have done all sorts of programs, read a lot of books and then have been trying it all out. My blog documents a lot of these experiments – for example, the press release that got me on Australian National TV with my (self-published) book!

I wrote the book to share everything I have learnt and put into practice myself. I actually won a prize for my own book marketing plan which is also available for free download here. It was 9 months after my publication – but hey, I had to learn sometime!

“From Book to Market” is full of Q&A style chapters on how to sell and promote your book including how to make book trailers for free, build your website and blog and how to use social networking. Once again, you can get it for $1 here (and it will soon be on as a print book)

7. Writing was once considered a solitary profession, with the writer cut off from the world, living in an isolated ivory tower or alone in a cabin in the woods. How are things different in our Internet era?

I am so excited at the moment with what is happening in the creative world of writers! The internet makes it seamless to connect with people all over the world who are interested in the same things as you. I found you via a blog and we connected. I am interviewing brilliant and creative people on my podcasts, all of whom I met online. I physically network in Brisbane a few times per month, but most of my writing buddies are online. We are on Twitter, we blog. It’s such a fantastic, connected world now! If writers ever feel lonely, then come join us on Twitter for some encouragement and support.

8. Your books have two dimensions: information and inspiration. How important is the “inspiration” facet of the writing game?

I am a non-fiction, self-development author so I want to be helpful to people as I have been helped by other writers. My personal goal is to be someone like Jack Canfield who offers fantastic informational content in his coaching and books but also inspires people to achieve their goals. All the practical information in the world is not enough without knowing that others have made it too. They can inspire you! In my blog and also in my writing, I try to encourage people to give things a go and see what happens and I share my experiences when I try something new.

9. There is a term floating around the Internet: "Indie Publishing." What is that all about?

Indie is short for independent and it essentially describes a group of authors and small press publishers who are doing things differently to established, traditional publishing.

It is similar to the music industry that was dominated by big name artists and record labels and new bands struggled to make an impact. Then along came mp3 files, GarageBand software, mySpace and iTunes. Independent bands and labels sprouted up everywhere selling over the internet, liberated from the dominating parties in the industry. The music industry is now dramatically different.

In the book world, indie authors are self-publishing, creating ebooks, using print-on-demand, podcasting and selling their work over the internet. They are trying all kinds of new ways to be creative, sell and promote online that bypasses the NY and London publishers. Many are disillusioned by traditional publishing and believe the market should decide what books are bought, rather than the publishing houses. It is not necessarily anti-establishment and many indies would still like a book deal. However, it is more a positive way of getting creative work out there, as opposed to being rejected and then giving up.

Interestingly, “Indie” is becoming a badge to be proud of, as it is in the music industry. As the large publishing houses suffer in the recession, these indie authors and small presses can survive and even thrive with cheap and free creative models.

10. Your upcoming project looks very interesting: tell us about Author 2.0.

Author 2.0 is an online course that teaches how to write, publish, sell and promote your books using Web 2.0 technologies. The aim is to help authors build their platform online and either sell themselves through self-publishing or help to attract a publisher by building a following. Now, more than ever, publishers want authors who have fans ready to buy their books, and of course self-publishing means you have to distribute and promote yourself.

The course features 12 modules: Writing in a digital market, Self-publishing and print-on-demand, Website building, Blogging, Ebooks, Social networking, Press releases, Video and book trailers, Podcasting, Traffic tactics, marketing and becoming an Author-Entrepreneur.

Each module is a “How To” practical course featuring a mini ebook, a video, an audio from an expert and a transcript. All of these help the author build an online platform themselves by implementing each module. Most of the tools are free or cheap and the videos show you exactly what to do.

The expert interviews include John Kremer (1001 Ways To Market Your Books), Penny Sansevieri (Red Hot Internet Publicity), Mark Coker (Smashwords), April Hamilton (Indie Author), Yaro Starak (Top blogger Entrepreneurs Journey), Sheila English (COS Productions book trailers), Dan Klass (podcaster extraordinaire), and Chris Knight (CEO, EzineArticles).

All of this is based on my own experiences and I use all the methods I teach in the course myself. I am still learning, but it is such an exciting time that I wanted to bring other authors along for the ride! You don’t have to be very technical either as the online tools are all pretty easy (and I show you how to use them!)

The course will be US $297 and all online so will be available globally. It will be launching in late May 2009 and people can find out more here. There is also a 50% affiliate program. This means that anyone can join up, recommend the course with their own special link and receive $148 back at the end of the month. This affiliate marketing is common in other online markets but is relatively new in the author scene. I will also be looking to work with writing schools as I think their clients would benefit. My aim is to empower and excite a whole new crop of authors using web 2.0 to build their platforms!

11. How can readers contact you, and find out more about your works?

My main site is and there are lots of free articles as well as podcasts and my “How to be an author” free eworkbook. I also use Twitter to send out links to useful publishing, writing and book links daily. You can follow me @thecreativepenn . I’m also on Facebook here.