Penn, who lives in Brisbane, Australia, has self-published three non-fiction books. At her blog, The Creative Penn, she shares her knowledge on writing, publishing options, Internet sales and book promotion.
Thanks for joining us, Joanna!
Like many of us, you have a day job and write on the side. What's your day job? How do you find time for writing?
I am actually a business IT consultant with a mining company in Australia. I work as a contractor so currently I do four days per week or sometimes three. I found that moving to four days per week enabled me to actually get the time to write my first book and have not gone back to full time since then. That extra day just gives me a big slot of time to write and meant I could manage three books in two years. I seriously recommend it to people. Just ask – you never know what your boss will say.
Finding time is hard for us all! I spend most evenings and weekends working on http://www.TheCreativePenn.com with blog posts and emails, as well as social networking and arranging interviews and speaking opportunities.
Can you tell us about your program Author 2.0? How'd you come up with the idea?
The Author 2.0 Program basically teaches writers/authors how to write, publish, sell and promote their books using Web 2.0 online tools. I decided to write the course when I realised that I was loving the online space for all this platform building, digital publishing, etc. but many other writers did not have the technical skills or enjoy it. Many people didn't even know where to start, for example, in setting up a blog, or publishing an ebook, or even what print-on-demand is. I am fortunate to be working in the IT field so I am very comfortable playing with this technology, and I wanted to help others.
I also discovered I could publish my own book on Amazon.com for under $100 and wanted to share that information with others because it changed my writing life. Then I wanted to share about blogging, podcasting, ebooks, cross-media writing, making money as an author… and so much more. So I wrote the course with 12 modules, each covering a key area of writing, publishing, sales and promotion online. Each module has an ebook with loads of written information, then there are videos per module where I show you how to do things e.g. how to create and publish an ebook, or how to use Twitter. There is also an audio interview with an expert in each module, for example, in the Author Entrepreneur module, I interview John Kremer, author of 1001 Ways to Market Your Books, as well as experts in all the other fields. The people who take the course find it packed with information and we also have monthly teleseminars for questions.
Here’s a free Blueprint for people who are interested — it contains lots more information.
Can you share a few tips for authors marketing their books?
The first thing is that you need to think of marketing as telling people who are interested in your niche that you exist and offering helpful and valuable information. If people are interested, and they like and trust you, they will buy your book/product. There are so many ways you can get yourself out there these days, and people have to find what fits them and their market. Do you love video? Audio? Twitter? Live speaking? You have to enjoy it or you just won’t do it. I was surprised to find that I actually love marketing now that I know what I am doing!
The most successful things for me personally in terms of marketing for platform building and book sales have been:
- Having a great blog. The Creative Penn, for example, is regularly updated with interesting, relevant content, and easily clickable “Buy this Book Now” links, and free workbooks/blueprints. This means you get traffic to your site and people see your books. They are far more likely to buy your books if they know your other writing is great. The search engines also come regularly and you can build your expertise in the field. I am so passionate about blogging now – I absolutely love my blog, and my readers.
- Being active on Twitter (or another specific social network for your niche). This has really exploded my market and my traffic and the time I spend pays dividends.
- Speaking either live or on teleconferences. I love to talk about my niche of using web 2.0 tools as an author, and I also speak on digital branding. I do many teleseminars for other blogs as well as my own, and I also speak at least once a month at various events near where I live. I have done writers groups, full day seminars, evening networking events and guest spots. I often speak for free but I make product and book sales from these appearances. As I mentioned before, people will buy if they like you and are convinced by your knowledge. How do you get this opportunities? Just start asking people and offering, or put something on your site advertising yourself as a speaker for starters.
For more examples, I have a free marketing plan available for download on my site.
You're ever-so-popular with the writing community on Twitter. How'd you manage that? Got any social-networking advice?
I used to think Twitter was a waste of time and then I read Grown Up Digital by Don Tapscott. I recommend that book to anyone who doesn't “get” social networking or the social web.
So I joined Twitter around February 2009 and like everyone else, didn't have a clue how to use it. I started tweeting useful links to blog posts in my area of interest – writing, publishing, internet sales and book promotion. I found that other people found me and followed me, and also started to retweet my links (pass them on to other users). In this way, my followers started to grow.
My keys would be:
- Have a purpose and be clear on your branding. I tweet under @thecreativepenn for my main site and occasionally at @changejob for my book How to Enjoy Your Job. I have a clear branding for each and each niche is separate. My purpose in tweeting is a) being useful to a growing audience and building relationships b) building my online reputation and influence c) getting traffic to my own posts.
- Be useful and stay within your niche. I only tweet on topic or in discussion on topic. I won't post links that wouldn't interest my audience. I guess I act like a newsfeed in the industry.
- Promote others first and only your own blog/website occasionally. I post 80 percent other people's links and then 20 percent my own blog/videos/podcasts.
- Connect with people. The links I post often help me connect with other writers and bloggers.
- Put the time in. I probably spend five-seven hours per week on Twitter. A couple of hours at the weekend surfing for useful links, reading blogs and scheduling tweets. Then during the week, I go on a few times and reply, check what people are saying and join the conversation. I have cut back all other social networks, although I also use LinkedIn, Facebook, FriendFeed, YouTube, etc.
One interesting feature on your Web site is the weekly podcasts. Why do you put in the extra effort to produce them? Is this something the rest of us bloggers should consider?
Firstly for those who don't know, a podcast is an audio file that is distributed on the internet. You can download my podcasts as individual mp3 files or subscribe on iTunes.
I love my podcasts and doing those interviews adds a great deal to my own life, let alone my listeners! I love to be useful and add value so I try to interview people on topics that help writers and authors.
I initially started them because the best bloggers are multimedia (I am also doing video now) and I also wanted to learn from people myself. They are also a great marketing tool. Think about it. If you listen to me chatting away with someone for 30 mins every week, you get an understanding of who I am. You also get great content from the interview and want to come back for more. Over time, you feel like you know me, you hear me laugh and we develop a kind of relationship. All podcasters will speak of the fantastic relationships you make with podcast audiences. It's brilliant.
Also, I get to talk to some amazing people and develop relationships that go beyond email and twitter. Everyone likes to be promoted so there is benefit for the interviewee and hopefully a link back to the blog post which also helps with Search Engine Optimisation for me.
It does take extra effort as I have to find people and schedule interviews, then research the questions, do the interview and then edit and prepare the podcast and post. It probably takes two-three hours per interview which I do weekly, sometimes more often. I do it because the return is greater than the cost for all the reasons above. It also puts my voice out there in the podosphere! I am on iTunes with currently 30+ episodes and as people discover me they can check the backlist and find other interviews they like. It also gives me a platform and I can help other people. It is also fun! Podcasters are an amazing bunch of people and I fully intend to be a podcast novelist as well (once I have finished writing !)
A couple of recommendations for people starting out:
- I should be writing by Mur Lafferty – podcast for wannabe fiction writers and packed full of famous interviewees as well as writing advice.
- 7th Son podcasts by J.C. Hutchins – techno-thriller novel trilogy – the most popular podcast novel series in history and now released in print.
Why did you decide to participate in novel-writing month? How's it going?
NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month (November) and I decided to have a go because ideas have been percolating on a novel for months. I just wanted to have some dedicated time and space to get it started. I finished my last two books in February and then wrote the Author 2.0 program, so it's about time I got writing on another book. I always wanted to write fiction but have also felt intimidated by it. I have a lot to learn!
NaNoWriMo is a time of great encouragement and you feel you can write anything without judgement. I am starting my novel this month, not finishing it though. I want to spend a year developing it and getting it to a really high standard. I have so far self-published but I might have another go at traditional publishing with the novel. It's going well. I have 18,000 words so far and lots of ideas sketched out. It is a thriller – a cross between Dan Brown and James Rollins with a thread of historical truth (on the religious/psychological side) and high body count. Lots of explosions and fast paced writing! I have been doing videos and posts on my progress and lessons learned which people can see on my blog.
Thanks for all the great tips, Joanna! Hope everyone who’s reading will check out her blog — It’s well worth the time.