Independent Thinking with Joanna Penn – Auckland 2014

JoannaPennNewColorSmallSo this Tuesday we had the pleasure of Joanna Penn’s company here in Auckland. She’s a blogger at, and a fiction author as well. I know her work mostly through her YouTube channel, though, where she interviews people in the book & writing industry.

I’ve been especially hooked over the last month or so, while I was painting for What Stars Are Made Of. She’d be my ‘background music’, and every now and again I’d take notes as well. In some ways, it was nice just to be able to physically meet someone I’d followed online a lot.

Not that I’m a stalker.

Okay. The actual talk, title ‘Independent Thinking’ was first and foremost about getting people excited about the independent publishing business.ย She also pointed out that other industries are going independent and losing the middle man – think Etsy, farmers’ markets, indie bands and festival movies. It makes a lot of sense.

As she does in many of her interviews, Joanna reminded us of the importance of multiple streams of income. This could be different formats for our books – print, digital & audio – as well as other ways of making money, like speaking events. For me, I’m currently digital, will be going into print as well, and am intending to try audio next year. In terms of income outside my fiction writing, I do intend to have an annual art exhibition from next year onwards, am considering selling art through my author website as well. I’m also a part time teacher.

Next, Joanna showed us the stats for the online & indie marketplace. This doesn’t just mean that more people are reading digitally (I can still only really cope with digital book in non-fiction, though I’m making an effort to read fiction as well!), but also that we buy most of our print books online. We’re told there’s been a rise in indie bookstores as well.

Global sales were another important piece in her presentation. At the Festival of Education earlier this year, one speaker discussed the ‘Asian Century’, a projected rise in the Asian cultures over the 21st century. This aligns well with what Joanna is saying – the US markets may be declining or plateauing but the rest of the world in only just going online. She also pointed out that many people are skipping computers and going straight to smartphones or tablets. I personally know people (myself included) that find it easier to read on my phone than on the computer. Maybe because it’s in smaller chunks? Idk.

Another point that was referred back to throughout the morning was to define what success means for you. Your decisions, your goals, your business model and your products will depend on your definition of success. I’m reading Joanna’s Business for Authors at the moment, and have just got to the part where she talks in more detail about this. For me, there are two main caveats: give up my day job, and have a body of work I am proud of, that is true to myself.

The next bit was very much the business side of things: write what people want. Top genres are romance and fantasy / sci-fi, but I think that no matter what genre you write in, you can find the audience for it. In Joanna’s latest video interview, the point was also brought up that romance authors were some of the first to go indie – so romance readers are used to this form of publishing. I’d never thought of that before, but it certainly makes me more hopeful!

We were also reminded to use the search function in Amazon to help with keyword generation. I outlined and highlighted ‘keywords’ in my notes so she must have really emphasised the importance lol.

In terms of your body of work, Joanna had a few things to say – write in series, write across genres (with different names, if you want), and have a range of prices and book lengths.

In terms of discoverability, she pointed out that there are two ways people find your work – through your book (e.g. browsing Amazon) or through knowing you (in person, through your blog or through connections). Once people find it, there’s a nice little acronym that sums up the purchasing process:

  • Attention
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action

Joanna also emphasised the importance of a mailing list, which seems to be the big piece of advice from a lot of indies at the moment. The idea is that it’s the only thing in your control – if Amazon changes its royalty system, or Twitter shuts down (shock, horror!) you still have the emails of people who want to hear about your future work. I have a grand total of 9 on my list!

She ended with two very important points:

This is only the beginning, and have you made art today?

As a side note, one of the most useful things about this talk was not the generous information, but meeting other indie authors. There’s loads of us. Seriously. LOADS. And I even got to meet some more indie children’s authors! It was great to connect with some more kiwi writers, and I’m looking forward to helping this industry grow.

2 thoughts on “Independent Thinking with Joanna Penn – Auckland 2014


    But seriously! I’m listening to her Business for Authors audiobook (which may be the same thing you listened to because some of it sounds familiar) and just tweeted her today about how much I loved it. I’ve really looked at writing as a business, as well as something I love, and she helps me embrace that. Can’t wait to share this post!


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