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Ep 076: “How To Make A Living With Your Writing Pt. 1”

Welcome to the 76th episode of The Author Hangout, a podcast designed to help authors, especially self-published and indie authors, with marketing their books and improving their author platform. Authors struggle with various aspects of marketing and we are here to help!

“I don’t think being a writer is the path to great riches. It really is a case of: it takes time.”– Joanna Penn

How To Make A Living With Your Writing Pt. 1

It was awesome to have Joanna Penn back on the show. We interviewed her in this epic two-part interview talking about how you can make a living with your writing, the author mindset, and how writing one manuscript can turn into dozens of products to sell.

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Intro

She’s a USA Today and New York Times bestselling Indie author who has sold more than 350,000 books in 68 countries during her writing career. While her fiction collection includes the popular action adventure thriller series, Arkane, her non-fiction collection includes informative books such as How to Make a Living with Your Writing and Business for Authors, How to be an Author Entrepreneur. Voted as one of the Guardian’s Top 100 Creative Professionals, please welcome international speaker, creative entrepreneur and founder of The Creative Penn, Joanna Penn.

How did you become an author and publish your first book?

I’ve always been a massive reader and books since 16 have been a big part of my life. It never really crossed my mind that you could make a living doing it. I did a Master’s Degree in Theology at Oxford University. One of the oldest degrees in the world, and the most useless. Then I went into IT consulting, which is kind of random too. Fast forward 13 years later, I was just miserable in my day job. You wake up one day and you realize you’ve just spent years and years going down a path that you didn’t believe you actually chose in the first place. I was super miserable in this corporate job. I started listening to podcasts and audio books, this was some time in 2006. I decided to write a book. I wanted to learn how to help myself. I was reading self-help and I thought, the best way to learn will be to write a book about how to change your career and how to find the job you love because I didn’t know what that was, so I write this book, I re-wrote it later on…it’s called Career Change now, but back then it was called How to Enjoy Your Job or Find a New One. What’s so crazy is, that first book changed my life. It didn’t really change anyone else’s but Career Change still sells every January.

What is your most recent books you’re writing?

“I’m working right now on a novel called, Destroyer of Worlds, which is my Arkane action adventure thriller book 8. It’s set in, mostly in India although there’s a scene in London with a bomb in Trafalgar Square, which is pretty exciting. My Arkane thriller is sort of Dan Brown meets Lara Croft. It’s a kickass conspiracy theory really and they’re a lot of fun to write. So, Destroyer of Worlds, I’m also going to start writing about mindsets, which is the psychological side of being a writer. Which will roller coaster up and down. The other big thing, I talk about this a lot, for many years I’ve tried to move to dictation and failed miserably but in the last month I’m happy to say I finally cracked it. I’m using Dragon Dictate. I’ve done 48,000 words this month mostly all dictations, which is actually writing with my voice. Mainly for productivity reasons. You know, the stamina…when you speak, it’s a lot easier to speak than it is to bash the keyboard.”

Tell us about your newest book, How to Make a Living with Your Writing

“I wrote this kind of big massive tone, which is Business for Authors and how to be an author entrepreneur. It goes into accounting and tax and all these really big serious…if people really want to run a business as an author or have a corporation or a limited company or anything, then Business for Authors is a great book. But what I realized when I wrote that book…it had everything I know about business and applying it to being an author. What I realized that it’s not actually the percentage of people who are at the point is very, very small. How to Make a Living with Your Writing is a shorter version that is much more simplified and it’s really aimed at people who want to make a living as opposed to those who actually are setting up a business. My aim was to communicate the practical side of the money but without getting into all the details of how to work with an accountant, which for most people is a little early in the process.”

What are the early principles that we can unpack that authors should be considering getting things started with how to make money from books?

“I think, there are lots of them obviously, I think probably the biggest thing is understanding that the income can be scalable. What that means is that if you have a day job, you work for a certain number of hours and you get a certain amount of money. It doesn’t matter if you work really, really hard, you’re still going to get the same amount of money because you’re on a salary you’re being paid for your time and that’s not scalable. As authors creating intellectual property assets (reframing the book in that way) what you have to think is, yes it takes time to write it, but once it’s written you can sell it for the rest of your life and 70 years after you die. So, that’s scalable. You can sell the book once, you can sell it a hundred times, a thousand times, a million times, but you have only spent a number of hours and time creating it. So, with scalable income, you create it once and you sell it over and over and over again and you can also exploit various different rights that I think will come back to you.”

What are some tips regarding writing and productivity that authors can really consider?

“I plan my diary for months in advance. I also plan days off because I’m terrible at taking days off because I love what I do but I do schedule…we had this podcast scheduled in for a number of months because I work months ahead. What I do make sure…today, I’ve done a number of interviews and tomorrow and the next day I’m completely empty. This is something I’ve learned, now obviously if people have a day job then it’s fine finding that space, but I’m a professional full-time author. For me, the days when I do stuff like this interview it’s a different head. So tomorrow I’d just be the Destroyer of Worlds. I would be finding ancient artifacts around India and I would be right in that world. They’re 2 different brains. For example, when I had a day job, I would get up at 5 and write before work and then I would get into work and do that. You have to schedule time for your writing.”

Jumping into the 2 sections talking about how to make money from books, you start things out talking about “it’s not just one book” dive into that just for a second.

“I often find that authors think that they are writing a book. When the pen drops, this is actually not true. This is pretty amazing, this is why publishers actually want your book; when you finish your manuscript, it feels to you just one thing but it turns into multiple products. If you think about just ebooks, take the main ones, Kindle, KOBO, ibooks, Nook…that’s 4 different products, 4 different editions, 4 of that manuscript and 4 ways to sell it. Then you’ve got print, that’s a 5th. Then you’ve got audio, that’s the 6th. So already, you turned one book into 6 different products. Its multiple streams of income. I get paid from all these different companies every month. I get streams of income from wherever my books are selling. Then you multiply that by the country market and…what’s so great is your introduction was just out of date because now I’ve sold in 74 countries, something like that, it just keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

You must listen to the podcast to hear how these numbers expand even way beyond that, all for just one book!

Were hoping that that first book would just sell like crazy? What was your early mindset about this whole writing career stuff?

“Well, at that time, when I wrote that first non-fiction, even fiction, I didn’t expect to be leaving my job. Maybe I thought about…really, I thought I would leave my job as a professional speaker. I thought I would make an income as a professional speaker and I have made money for speaking in a number of years, or maybe as a blogger or making money online and speaking. As I’ve written more books; on the scalable model, I understand that fiction is the very best scalable model because you never have to update it. Non-fiction means that you have to update it all the time. But winding back the clock, there’s this crazy pervasive myth in the publishing industry that you write one book and you make a million dollars. I don’t know how that happens but it seems to be what everybody thinks.”

Stay tuned next week for the second part of this interview!

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