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92 of The Best Podcast Episodes for Joanna Penn. A collection of podcasts episodes with or about Joanna Penn, often where they are interviewed.

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92 of The Best Podcast Episodes for Joanna Penn. A collection of podcasts episodes with or about Joanna Penn, often where they are interviewed.

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Turn Your Author Failures, Setbacks, And Mistakes Into Success With Joanna Penn And Orna Ross

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We all experience failures, setbacks, and mistakes on the author journey — but if we learn from them, they can be the basis for our greatest success. In this episode, Orna Ross and Joanna Penn share their biggest mistakes, failures, and setbacks as well as lessons learned.

This interview originally went out on the Ask ALLi Podcast on 11 December 2020.

In the intro, #1 NY Times bestselling urban fantasy author, Ilona Andrews, shares why going indie is such a good idea; Wattpad has been bought by South Korean company Naver [The New Publishing Standard]; US publishing had its best year in a decade in 2020 according to NPD Bookscan and Overdrive [The Hotsheet] and why we should not feel guilty about a good year of book sales revenue. ACX will be sharing returns data, paying royalties on certain returns, and making opt-out of contracts more flexible, but this does not go far enough according to Susan May and the Fair Deal for Rightsholders and Narrators Group.

Please take my survey on author income streams (by 31 March 2021); What to do if you’re not making a profit from your books [6 Figure Authors]; and 9 Characteristics of a Successful Self-Publishing Mindset [Ask ALLi]

Plus, Not Quite Lost: Travels Without a Sense of Direction with Roz Morris on Books and Travel, photos of Bath in the snow, and how awesome is The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman.

Today's podcast sponsor is Findaway Voices, which gives you access to the world's largest network of audiobook sellers and everything you need to create and sell professional audiobooks.

Take back your freedom. Choose your price, choose how you sell, choose how you distribute audio. Check it out at FindawayVoices.com.

Orna Ross and Joanna Penn at London Book Fair, 2018 — one of my favorite pictures of us!

Orna Ross is an award-winning and bestselling indie novelist, poet, and founder-director of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), the global non-profit association for self-publishing authors. This advocacy work has seen her named “one of the 100 most influential people in publishing” by UK publishing trade magazine, The Bookseller.

Joanna Penn writes non-fiction for authors and is an award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author as J.F.Penn. She’s also an award-winning podcaster, creative entrepreneur, and international professional speaker.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • What are author setbacks, failures, and mistakes?
  • How epic fails can lead to great successes — if you learn from them.
  • Freezing is a response to fear, and we all have to find ways to get beyond that — especially in these pandemic times
  • Common indie author mistakes — paying for a print run, not learning marketing, hiring the wrong people, undervaluing editing, working with bad companies and getting ripped off, the wrong book cover, build a website around your first book
  • When it's not a mistake but you need to give it up anyway — co-writing with family, overwork, projects you don't want to do anymore
  • Reframing difficult times

You can find the Ask ALLi podcast on your favorite podcast app, and lots more help at SelfPublishingAdvice.org

Joanna and Orna do a monthly Advanced Self-Publishing Salon, and Orna does other shows weekly with different co-hosts. You can find Orna Ross at www.OrnaRoss.com and on Twitter @ornaross and Instagram @ornaross.poetry

Transcript of the discussion

What do we mean by author setbacks, failures, and mistakes?

Joanna Penn: Let's start with some definitions. So, Orna, what do you mean by these words?

Orna Ross: Well, a failure, I think, a creative failure is when you set a goal or creative intention and it doesn’t actually go the way you intended it to go, and that can be through a setback or a mistake.

So, for example, your first book doesn’t make you a millionaire, which, you know, you’ll be shocked by how many authors think it will. Or you read back your book and you’re shocked to find that it’s full of errors, maybe your editor wasn’t a good hire. This is mine; you think a series will take a year to do, and five years later, it still hasn’t arrived. So, that’s failures.

Setbacks are when you expect something to happen, and it doesn’t, but for outside reasons or a change to your conditions. So, COVID would be the perfect example, obviously this year and all that happened, stops your travels, can’t do what you normally do, an unexpected death or illness in the family, something, you’ve a business partner who lets you down, that will be a setback. So, the idea is it’s outside of you, it’s other people.

Mistakes are something you do yourself, comes from inside you, could be conscious or unconscious, but essentially, you do something that you really shouldn’t have done, and you have to drop or reverse your original intention.

So, choosing the wrong tool or tech, doing an ad campaign that leaves you out of pocket, you know, a bad hire, those kinds of things, they’re mistakes, and I think the most important thing to say about all of the above is that they are learning fuel.

Joanna Penn: I like the way you’ve defined these things, because I don’t even like the word failure. I feel like failure is a bad thing, has negative connotations, and at the time all of these things can feel awful. And we’ve all been through many of these things. And, you know, certainly, we all, the COVID panic, that fear we all felt earlier in the year that kind of dulls a little over time, but we all go through these things, but I don’t like the word failure because it sounds so negative.

Whereas I try and reframe all of these things as, how can I learn and move forward and do better in the future, because we only progress by learning and we can do all the podcasts we do, and all the books we do, but people still make the same mistakes we do. And we continue to make the same mistakes, so that’s just life.

Orna Ross: Yes, I think that is the most important point, that creative failure becomes fodder for success. So, the creative way to deal with failure is, what can I learn from this? Where did it go wrong specifically? How do I make sure, especially the ones that we keep making over and over and, you know, there comes a point, and the sooner that point comes, the better. And sometimes we just do keep making the same mistakes again, and in order to develop your creative business, in order to develop your books, as well, and how you write and what you write, you need to grow as a person.

And that’s the role of these mistakes and failures, you know, they often come as little kind of pebbles, first of all, and then if you don’t listen, it becomes like a big stone, and then it’s a rock, and then it’s a great big boulder, and at some point, you have to take the learning.

So, you know, if you can do it while it’s still a pebble, that’s good. You can’t always though, but you’ve got to kind of take it and not allow yourself to be crushed by it, that’s the point. Don’t let it bleed, you reshape and reframe it, and it is in the act of doing that, that you grow as a person, as a writer, as a publisher, and as a business owner.

That’s why it’s so very important, and I think it’s why we’re doing this show, and why it’s really important for us as authors to share our failures and our mistakes because there’s so much smoke and mirrors in publishing. You see the success, you see the person who’s done really well, and people don’t tend to talk enough, I think, about the things that go wrong in the background. So that’s what we’re here to do.

Joanna Penn: Absolutely, and I think just on the lessons then, it comes down to sort of that Know Thyself, from the Greek temple of Delphi, every single mistake you make, if you can learn something more about yourself, it’s going to help you next time.

Epic fails can lead to epic success

Joanna Penn:  So, we’re going to talk about some of the big stuff like the really big epic fails. Let’s just call them epic fails, and then we’ll get into some of them more granular stuff, which people might definitely recognize.

I’m going to start because, I have a particularly epic fail on both a business level, a financial level and a personal level. So, back in, I can’t remember what year it wasn’t, like 2002, I was living in New Zealand. I was married, for the first time, to a scuba diving instructor and a boat skipper, and I was an IT consultant, and basically, I was like, let’s start a scuba diving business, what a great idea, that’ll be good thing to do. And without knowing anything about it all, I’m an action oriented person, you know this, so as soon as I have an idea, I’m like, right, do it.

Joanna Penn, 2002. Northland, New Zealand

We set up hiring a boat, scuba diving equipment, insurance, marketing stuff, divemasters, fuel, the cost of fuel! and New Zealand weather is really up and down. So, essentially, we did have a business for about a month, which was incredibly expensive. And also, then, my husband left me — there’s no blame, we’re not going to go into marriage issues!

But the fact is that this failure of knowing myself, in so many ways led to costing me in so many ways, but the positive and upside of this failure is what I learned is, I never want to have a business that is dependent on weather, is dependent on the price of fuel, the vagaries of employees, on my husband not being reliable, on high fixed costs, and crazy variable costs, and risk.

I mean, scuba diving is a risky business. It was dependent on a physical location, and everything about my business now, which is actually a highly successful business, is due to that failure.

I learned that I wanted to have low costs, low fixed, low variable costs, I wanted to be location independent. I wanted to have no employees, no physical assets. I didn’t need to insure a boat or people potentially dying.

And so, that epic failure shaped my business now. And the failure of my first marriage led to my wonderful second marriage to Jonathan, and the lessons I learned about myself in that marriage helped me with this one.

So, I am grateful for those mistakes and what I learned has meant that I’m more successful now, because of learning these lessons. And I don’t talk about this stuff that much, but I wanted to, before we get into like, oh, my cover design was a bit crap, I wanted to kind of go with the biggest epic fail that led to possibly my biggest success.

Orna Ross: Fantastic. I think that was quick learning because I’ve heard so many people say that it’s on their third business that things actually go, you know, it often takes number three. And that whole thing of third time lucky.

I too had an epic business fail, back in the early 2000s, but I’m not going to repeat that because it was, in many ways, similar sorts of lessons that you’re talking about. Mine was within publishing and the failure was because of the business partner arrangement that didn’t work out, but I learned a huge amount in that also about what I did and did not want from a business. At the time, the kinds of things that I said I wanted weren’t even really available, and it was the want, and the desire came before the means, of which only really came with digital self-publishing. My biggest mistake, I think, is one that I still wanted to talk about, you know, it’s a mistake that there is a tendency to keep on making. And for me, it would be a tendency to overwork, and that led me, in my forties, into burnout, really.

Not that I felt I was burnt out, but I hit a cancer wall, which a lot of people who overwork do, it’s a common, kind of, personality sort of thing and, are they related? Who knows? You can’t say for sure, but certainly what I do know, that the lessons that I learned then, I carried forward hugely.

And connected to overwork, I always think, is an undervaluing of the self, and I think we see that hugely in the author community where we undervalue our work, we don’t read contracts, we give ourselves away, we don’t charge appropriately, we don’t set up the business in a way that’s actually going to be profitable. There are so many ways in which we can undervalue ourselves, and I think that’s very related to this tendency.

So, it basically comes down to, you know, the idea of net worth and self-worth being in some way equivalent. And for me, coming out of that was very much, it’s why I invest so much time still in the whole idea of planning and creative planning, the kind of planning that works for me, because I can’t do very rigid, mechanized, you know, what normally people think of when they think of planning. And I think that’s why I’m still so connected to it, because it is very connected to those mistakes that I tended to make. So, now I have it much more ordered and, you know, I understand the value of creative rest, and creative play and how vital they are, not just to the job and to the work, but to having a good life and all of that.

Joanna Penn: Well, just to come back on that, because I think, also, we can learn from each other because, we’re very different people. Like, we’re good friends, but we’re very different people and we do things in very different ways and even like last week when clearly, I’ve been overworking, I really have been, I did a hundred-hour week or something, and I got to that point where I just wanted to throw everything in. And I’ve talked to you about this many times over the years, and you said to me many times, well, you just rest, duh, you don’t have to cancel everything and just burn the whole bridges down, you can just take a rest. So I sleep a lot.

So, I have been sleeping like 10 or 11 hours a night for the last few days, but I hear you talking to me in my head, obviously, when I hit these points, because of the lesson you learned. So, I definitely had reached burnout in my corporate job, back in the year 2000. So, I have experienced that, but I feel like, we can learn these lessons from each other and in the community, we can share these lessons and hopefully avoid, like, I hope I don’t have to learn that same lesson again, as you did, I mean, obviously.

Orna Ross: Exactly, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? If you don’t give yourself the time to actually observe what’s going on with the mistake, if you just kind of recoil, and you throw yourself into action again, without absorbing what it actually means, there is a danger in that.

Orna Ross: And then there’s the opposite, I think, mistake, if it can be called that, it doesn’t really fall into failure or mistake, as such, but it is something that happens, which is that you can’t, it’s the opposite to overwork, it’s that you can’t get going; you’re overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that’s coming at you and you can’t integrate it, or you just can’t get going.

The inability to work, paralysis maybe, or just, that feeling of being caught in the headlights and not being able to do anything. And I think the recipe is actually quite similar, it is still to rest and play, step away, and then absorb what’s being said and what is actually going on for you. Because I think we talk a huge amount in the indie community about the outer surface stuff, you know, the sales, and what’s going on when it’s going well, or even if it’s not going well, or I didn’t get my words out, you know, it’s very often at that level of production that we’re talking and thinking, but there is all that deeper stuff that we tend to connect just with our writing, but it’s actually very connected to our publishing and our business as well.

And the more you can get to know yourself in whatever activity you’re doing that you’re not happy about it, it’s that inner voice that tells you, I’m overworking, or the business partner isn’t really working, but you just ignore it, and you keep on going, and that’s where the mistake turns into the epic fail.

Joanna Penn: On setbacks, since you mentioned that freezing, I would say that paralysis, I definitely experienced that this year with COVID, and I think a lot of people have, and I know people who are still in paralysis, in that freeze mode, which has a lot to do with, obviously, the fear and very valid health concerns that people have.

Freezing is a response to fear, and we all have to find ways to get beyond that.

I think, for me, it was March/April, and I talked to our mutual friend, Mark McGuinness, who really helped me shift my mindset because that’s what it was for me.

It was shifting my mindset to move out of that fear and freeze mode back into action. But I learned a lot about myself through that, because I never thought I was that person who would be stopped by fear, and I was, and so I’ve now experienced that. So, if anyone else is feeling that setback, there are ways to get through that, like there are any of these things, and I guess, as you’re saying, the first thing is to be gentle with yourself, and take that step back and learn things, and then move back into it.

Orna Ross: I think fear is really it. This is the core thing for everything we’re talking about here.

Almost all the mistakes we make are a result of being afraid of something, afraid that we won’t get the book out in time, afraid that we’ll look like an idiot if such and such doesn’t, you know, it is some kind of fear that is generally driving us to make a mistake.

And then, with the setbacks, the stuff that comes from outside, it’s the fear of that, and the sense that it has more power than you have. And I think you said the most important thing of all actually there when you spoke about talking to Mark, is get help. Talk to somebody who can actually help you. Don’t just sit there feeling that it is inevitable or, you know, we can be really brilliant at creating excuses and explanations and causes and reasons as to why we are where we are, we can be intensely creative about that, rather than getting our creative juices going on the books.

So yes, getting help, the help you need and the right kind of help, I think, is really important.

Common indie author mistakes

Joanna Penn: Absolutely. All right. Well, let’s talk about some more common, although I think all those things are common, but these are super common things that people do in self-publishing, and these are definitely mistakes.

So, I’m going start with one of my biggest mistakes, again, on the small scale, my biggest little mistakes, and that is, I wrote my first non-fiction book when I was living in Australia. This was between 2006-2008. So, this was before the Kindle went mainstream. Smashwords was around but, you know, you could only publish in the US on the Kindle, and so I decided to self-publish. I was in the speaking community and everyone did it in the speaking community.

So, I wrote the book and I worked with a local printer and I paid upfront for 2000 copies of my book which was called, How to Enjoy Your Job or Find a New One. My catchy title for my first book, and there’s a picture I have of me standing there in front of all these boxes in our living room, like, I’m so proud of this, look at all this.

Joanna Penn with the first edition of what became Career Change. Most of those boxes went to the landfill!

It was about 15 minutes before I realized that I had 2000 books in my living room, and my wonderful husband was very supportive, but of course what I realized, after about 15 minutes was, how do I get them out of my living room into the hands of other people? Like, how do you do that?

The classic mistake of thinking that you publish it, and they will come, and this is something we see every single day in the author community.

And all authors, in fact, think that writing the book is the end of it. And, in fact, it’s just the beginning. So, I did, and then I was like, right, I must get in the paper and get on TV. And thus, I did those things. I was on national TV in Australia. I was in the papers all over the country, and I sold 200 copies of my book, and 1800 copies went to the landfill about a year later, because then I learned about digital publishing, I learned about blogging, online marketing. So again, that mistake, which cost me, probably, let’s say about 5,000 Aussie dollars, plus the design and stuff like that.

Joanna Penn at the Channel 9 studios, Brisbane, Australia about to go on TV

But again, that mistake led me into learning about blogging, podcasting, online publishing, online marketing, and has underpinned making way more money than I ever spent. So again, that mistake led to success.

Orna Ross: Brilliant. Personally, I think you should have kept the 1800. They could be collector’s item now; you could flog them-

Joanna Penn: Well, they’re all still secondhand on Amazon.

Orna Ross: Yes, of course, very good. I think, linked into that, an important thing that I see all the time, and that I tried myself when I started out with this, was the idea that you could get somebody else to market your book for you.

It’s the question I’m probably asked most often every week is, you know, who does book marketing for you? And that’s not something that an indie author can do, until you know how to do it yourself, then you’re in a position to hire somebody else.

When you don’t know how to market books, trying to hire somebody doesn’t work out.

And I know that because I tried to hire a few people along the way, and it just was an absolute complete waste of money. So yes, that’s just coming in on the back of yours there a little bit.

Orna Ross:  My mistake, that I wanted to talk about was, I know a lot of authors have previously published work, you know, so people who have already published with another publisher, an indie publisher, a trade publisher, somewhere along the line, and then, you know, you get your files back and you put it back out there again, and you think it’s fine, but on the way, you make a few little changes. So, that’s what I did with mine. I thought, well, it’s been edited already and, you know, I just made some small changes, it’s fine.

And I put it back out and, of course, the changes I made hadn’t been edited, and the reviews are there and will be there until my dying day. So, I think that was a big mistake and I think undervaluing editing, that’s why I’m bringing this one up.

I think undervaluing editing is a mistake that every single author makes at the start.

You don’t understand how important it is to get a professional edit. You’re too close to it, you think you’re good on the grammar and you’re good on this and that, it’s all completely irrelevant. Every single author needs, and I know it’s expensive when you’re starting out and all of that, but I just wanted to double, triple underline that one.

It’s always a mistake to forego the editing, and it’s always a good thing to get the best editing you can afford.

Joanna Penn: Absolutely. And unfortunately, you know, well, no, maybe not always, but you will often spend the most money on editing at the beginning. I think I hired four different editors for my first novel, Pentecost, which became Stone of Fire, because you just learn so much. But yes, we still, both of us, use editors and they’re just fantastic, and we just get better every time.

Joanna Penn: Okay. So, I’ve got another one, which is rip-offs. So, again, when nobody knows who you are. So, you know, winding back again to 2008, I had no website, no audience, no online sales, there was no Amazon KDP print, you know, CreateSpace, I think, hadn’t been bought yet, it was still a separate company, all of this stuff, and I was like, okay, well, how do I get people to notice this book? So it was, along with doing the PR and stuff, I paid for a chapter in a compilation book, and this scam is still around now.

Now, it is not a scam to have a chapter in a book that is a good book, let’s put it that way. I mean, there were lots of anthologies. I mean, I’ve got short stories in anthologies. I’ve written essays for non-fiction books. That’s not what I mean. This was a classic, you know, pay $3,000 and we’ll just put your chapter into this book, and we’ll put a famous name on the front, who they just got a chapter from them too.

And I’m not going to mention names, this was over a decade ago, but I still see these things out now. And again, what was the point? And then, of course, the deal is that you end up buying 500 copies of that book. So, it looks like it’s successful, whereas actually all the people in the book bought the book and then try and flog it. And again, they end up in the landfill.

And also, I paid for review, and this is again, a site that is still reputable (Kirkus reviews). But again, what does that do? That does absolutely nothing.

So, you end up paying these chunks of money, like hundreds of dollars, thousands of dollars, pounds, for things that don’t actually get you anywhere.

Whereas, what you should be doing is paying for better book cover design, better editing. Those are the things to pay for, not paid reviews or paid compilation books.

Orna Ross: Yes, and I’d like to say that a lot of ALLi’s work goes into pointing out good services and bad services, and when you start out at the beginning, you can’t actually tell the difference. You just don’t know. And as you say, there are some big brand names that are associated with some services that are really not great.

So, if you are in doubt, and especially if you’re at the beginning, and you’re not sure what’s a good service, what’s a bad service, John Doppler’s book, Choosing the Best Self-Publishing Services, is an ALLi guide that will help you.

If you’re a member of ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors, you can download the eBook version free in the member zone, just go to guidebooks. It’s really important, that guide will also teach you how to evaluate a service, so you know whether it is a decent service or not, because at the beginning, it’s impossible actually, because Google as well really doesn’t help, because most of the services that are popping up on top of your search engine are actually not great. I mean, not all, but certainly there are some terrible services that will come up if you Google self-publishing advice. So, be careful.

Joanna Penn: Can I just add on that, the date on your search is really important, to always use the date. I mean, people could listen to conversations with you and I from, even three years ago, even one year ago.

And there are companies, who a year ago we would have been like, yay, great. And now we’re like, caution, caution. So, this is the thing, if there are companies that we would have talked about personally years ago, on my website, or on the ALLi website, you know, we cannot police our history on the internet a lot of the time.

So, please, everyone check that it is a recent thing that people are using. Also, people will regularly use quotes from me and my book, and probably you as well, on their websites, even when we’ve got nothing to do with it. And again, we might not know. So, both of us welcome emails saying, just checking, did you really recommend that service? Do you still recommend that service? Because I think that’s important to, isn’t it? Things change and what was great suddenly might not be great.

Orna Ross: Absolutely, and some of those rogue services are pretty unscrupulous. So, ALLi approved partner badges turn up all over the internet, on services that are absolutely appalling. So, always check our actual listings to make sure that somebody is an approved service because, yeah, you can’t be sure.

Joanna Penn: That can happen! Right, tell us about your book cover disaster.

Orna Ross: Oh yes, my book cover. Now, I’ve changed my covers lots, on lots of my books across the years. I’m not talking about when you’re due a refresh, or when your branding changes, or when everything begins to look different, I’m just talking about just getting it wrong because, and this is the mistake that I made.

Book covers. I see people making too literal about what’s in the book, rather than trying to convey the emotion of the book.

So, it was Blue Mercy, one of my standalone novels, and it’s a mother-daughter story. I went for a picture of the mother and the daughter on the book, and the daughter in my book is overweight and kind of surly, and all of that. And I went for somebody who kind of looked, you know, Jane, my brilliant cover designer, who works with you as well, did everything that I asked for, and gave me exactly what I wanted, and it was terrible. It was a terrible cover, in terms of it did not sell because no one-

Joanna Penn: Such a good book, by the way. Great book, terrible cover. I remember it well.

Orna Ross: It was just, nobody wants a book with an unattractive surly person on the front of it, on that kind of book. So, Jane did a redo for me, and it just has this woman tastefully disappearing into the rain, with an umbrella over her, conveying the emotional tenor of the book. So, that is the mistake. With your book, don’t worry if you’re heroine, on her big night out, has a blue dress, and the cover has a lady in a red dress, that’s not important.

Does it actually get the emotional feeding of the book, and does it match the genre? Is it contemporary? Will it look right when set beside comparable books?

They’re the things to think about, yes. So, that mistake didn’t last long as I watched the sales plummet.

Joanna Penn: But what’s great about that issue is that it’s easily fixed. Although, we say easily fixed, both of us, you know, I’ve got there, Desecration, that’s my fourth group of covers for those books. I still don’t really understand what those books are as they are cross-genre — crime thriller, psychological thriller, an edge of horror and the supernatural.

So, it’s really difficult sometimes, especially as independent authors, but don’t think that traditional publishing gets it right, I mean, there’s frequent recovering of books and re-titling and re-author naming. So, it’s not just us. This is a regular and you know, let’s call it, yeah, it’s like a little mistake that’s easily fixed.

Joanna Penn:  And related to that, another issue around branding. And this is perhaps again, not valuing ourselves enough, or not thinking big enough, but I, inevitably, set up a website called howtoenjoyyourjob dot com, which I don’t own anymore, don’t go there! It’s a Chinese site now.

But setting up a website around your first book is another classic mistake.

So, you think, oh, I just need to set up the URL for my book and like, miraculously, that’s going to mean anything these days with multi-millions of websites out there. It really doesn’t matter that much, you do SEO, search engine optimization, in other ways. But, actually, what you have to do is think bigger.

So, it took me three more websites before I settled on TheCreativePenn.com. And, of course, I own tons of websites now, because I have loads of them, but it’s thinking about branding around your theme, like thecreativepenn, but it’s also my name, Penn. And you’ve got ornaross.com and, you know, in the end, most of us settle on branding by name. So jfpenn.com, my fiction name, because inevitably, you end up writing more books, and if you only have one book, then you’re just not going to do this, generally. You’re not going to do this as a career, or you’ve got other things like speaking or other things. So, what I would say is, that’s the mistake. The mistake is building a website on the name of your first book.

Orna Ross: Very common, and Facebook pages also. People do that, and then they end up with, you know, three or four Facebook pages, one for each book, and their audience is completely dispersed. So, yes, getting the name at first.

And then another one, another mistake that I have made, that I see other people making is bad hires. So, not being careful enough, being in a hurry, again, afraid it won’t come out. So, you know, that fear that, oh, it won’t be done in time.

So, just going on Upwork, or wherever, and just getting somebody that seems, I mean, Upwork is great, if you take the time.

The mistake is hiring without due diligence, without really taking your time, and working out, you will save so much time in the end, rather than hiring somebody who is not great.

Now sometimes, there’s nothing you can do upfront, but the mistake I’m talking about that I have made, and that I’ve seen many people make, is taking on an editor too quickly. Taking on, you know, any hire and not really going into it. Chris Ducker’s book, Virtual Freedom: How to work with virtual staff to buy more time, become more productive and build your dream business, is good on this.

Joanna Penn: I think you’re right, and actually I learned from Chris there, the classic mistake, I just want another me, just give me one person who can be me, and I can give them stuff, but that’s not how it works. You have to have lots of people doing their individual things. And I think that bad hire, you almost have to do one because you have to learn how to let someone go, and that’s awful, but you have to do it and you end up going, oh, I’m really sorry, I’m so sorry, it’s my fault.

[Check out my interview with Chris Ducker on working with virtual assistants here.]

I did all of that and now, I’m a lot harder about, this is exactly what I want. And we have a trial period and, you know, I’m doing it right now, actually, with somebody new and, you know, just said, look, nothing personal, we just have a trial period and then see how it goes, you know, friendly, happy.

Orna Ross: It’s really important because sometimes it’s not even about the skills, it’s about the fit.

So, somebody that I had to part ways with, she was really good at her job, but every time I got an email from her, I was feeling tense and anxious because she was, kind of, the boss of me. I felt I was running around to give her things, and she kept coming up with suggestions and stuff like that, so she was actually overqualified for the job, which is something, also, you find a lot in publishing people, and also people who want to be writers who are not actually devoted and dedicated to what they actually do.

They’re writers who are doing something, there are people who both write and provide a service, and they’re excellent, but there are also people who really want to be writers and who are doing a bit of editing on the side, and who aren’t fully qualified, who think, because they have written a book, that it gives them the skills to be an editor, and it doesn’t, and so on, all the way through. So, the only way is to make that mistake and find out, if you can.

Joanna Penn: Great. I have another one.

Sometimes it might not even be a mistake, but it’s something that we need to stop doing and give up.

So, I’m going to say, for me, I co-wrote three sweet romance books with my mum, as Penny Appleton, and I really, really wanted to help my mum start a new career. I did it with the best intentions.

I did help her co-write those three books of which, you know, we are proud, but at the end of the day, Orna will remember this, I’m like, I hate this, I’m not sweet romance. I like dark fantasy, graveyards and stuff. We’re just so different, me and my mum, in that way. We’re very similar in other ways. And it was terrible conversation, I felt I had all the heart palpitations, I had to go to her and say, mum, I can’t do this anymore. I cannot write this, it’s not my thing.

But, in the end, we had a really good conversation and we now think about it, she’s been on my podcast and we talked about it in public, if anyone wants to hear that conversation. So, now she’s written two more, entirely on her own, and she’s now off riding her own bike. You know, I helped her onto the tandem for a bit, and now she’s off riding her bike.

But I had to let that go. It wasn’t a mistake, it was just that I had to stop doing it, for my own mental health and before we killed each other! So, that was one of those things. What about you?

Orna Ross: Mine is a more generic thing of a project that just didn’t come together. And again, it was born out of that mistake I talked about earlier, of underestimating the time and undervaluing my own time, and all the other things I was doing and, you know, not planning it carefully enough and the tendency to take on too much.

So, I wanted to do a non-fiction series on the creative process, on how it is used, not just in writing, but in life, and how there is an equivalence there as sort of a uniform process of works throughout. And it came to me as a seven-book series, and I got the covers done and I put it out there and I thought, because it was all there and it still is all there, but for some reason, that series has just never come together for me. And the worst thing about it is it’s a terrible breach of trust with your readers who are interested and express their interest and sign up for your emails and all of that, and then you don’t deliver, and it’s horrible.

So, what I will say is, I kept on trying, I kept on trying, I kept on trying. And then, earlier this year you said to me, maybe just let it go. So, I did, and the relief, I cannot even begin to tell you. So, when you let something go that isn’t working, you know, I kept delaying, rather than deleting and when I press the delete button, it was such a relief.

Now, what I’ve done is taken a whole load of that stuff and put it in an author-based planning schedule which is all there and working really well for me, and I have a lovely creative planning workshop now set up with authors and I’m able to work on that and put it out there in that much smaller, more contained, tiny focused way, and that focus feels fabulous. I’m really absolutely loving it.

So, sometimes we tend to say, okay, I’ll delay it, I’ll do it later. But just deleting, I think, is a tremendous relief. And I think we’re all probably carrying projects around, pet projects, that maybe pressing delete might be a good thing to do.

Joanna Penn: Yes, and that circles right back to what we said at the beginning around knowing yourself and trusting that that intuition is right. And maybe sometimes it takes a friend to remind you of that. And you know, that can really help too.

So, people listening, think back over your author career, or even your personal life, if you want to take it, you know, in a bigger sense, take some time to reflect on mistakes, failures, setbacks, and consider what you learned from them, and how they’ve played a part in your success.

Even as we, I don’t know, I’m reframing the pandemic year. Obviously, some terrible things have happened and it’s still happening, but we can’t live in that depression all the time. It’s like, how can we reframe this? What are the brilliant things that are going to come out of this year? And there are so many things that are happening because of the pandemic.

So, I think that’s part of it too.

How can we reframe what might have been difficult at the time into something positive for our future?

Orna Ross: Just to finish on that. Michelle has given us a nice quote, and she thinks it’s Nelson Mandela, he said, I never lose. I either win or learn.

So, I think that’s kind of our theme. So, thank you to Michelle for that quote.

Joanna Penn: So, happy writing,

Orna Ross: and happy publishing. Bye-bye.

The post Turn Your Author Failures, Setbacks, And Mistakes Into Success With Joanna Penn And Orna Ross first appeared on The Creative Penn.

Jan 25 2021 · 1hr 7mins
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A Techno-Optimist’s View Of The Creative Future For Authors. Joanna Penn On The Kindle Chronicles Podcast

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It can be daunting to think about the future for authors and publishing when converging technologies are expanding into the realm of creativity, but there are many opportunities ahead — if you engage with the tools rather than run from them.

In this interview, Len Edgerly interviews Joanna Penn about Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Worlds: The Impact of Converging Technologies on Authors and the Publishing Industry. This episode was first broadcast on the Kindle Chronicles Podcast on 19 December 2020, used with permission from Len Edgerly.

Len Edgerly is a nonfiction author with degrees in business and poetry. He's also the host of the long-running Kindle Chronicles Podcast, where he's interviewed Jeff Bezos, Margaret Atwood, and Dean Koontz among many others.

Joanna Penn writes non-fiction for authors and is an award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author as J.F.Penn. She’s also an award-winning podcaster, creative entrepreneur, and international professional speaker.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • Writing with Open-AI's GPT-3 and why ‘centaur-writers' might be the future
  • Why authors and the publishing industry need to engage with this new technology
  • You don't need to know HTML programming to use the internet to sell books — and you don't need to know the technical side of blockchain to understand how it could transform the industry
  • How AI might be able to solve problems that are too big for humans, like health care and the environment
  • How virtual reality could affect the bookselling business
  • How the pandemic accelerated technological change

You can find Len Edgerly at Kindle Chronicles and his podcast on your favorite podcast app. More on AI and the future of creativity here.

You can also find my previous discussion with Len in episode 505 on Changes in the Publishing Industry Over the Last Decade.

Transcript of Interview with Joanna Penn

Len Edgerly: Hi, this is Len Edgerly. Welcome to the ‘Kindle Chronicles.' Today is Friday, December 18, 2020. I'm coming to you from Sanibel Island in Florida.

As we approach the end of a year that has taxed the resilience of any optimist, techno or otherwise, I'm pleased to bring you a full length conversation with Joanna Penn, whose latest book about artificial intelligence, blockchain, and virtual worlds, I think is a terrific jumping-off point for thinking creatively about the future for authors, readers, and the world of publishing. Let's get right to it.

Joanna Penn writes nonfiction for authors and, as J. F. Penn, she writes thrillers and dark fantasy. Her podcast, ‘The Creative Penn' is a weekly feast of useful information for authors and anyone interested in the written word or the future.

In the middle of the night on November 28th, here in Sanibel, I saw that Joanna had released a new Kindle book, really a long essay in Kindle format. It's titled Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Worlds: The Impact of Converging Technologies on Authors and the Publishing Industry.

I began reading it immediately and that was a problem for getting a good night's sleep that night because I take her view of technology in the future as being fresh, intelligent, and entertaining. I reached out to her for an interview and we spoke this Tuesday, December 15th this week connecting by Skype between here in Sanibel and her home in Bath, England.

I began by asking why she wrote Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Worlds: The Impact of Converging Technologies on Authors and the Publishing Industry

Joanna Penn: Like you, I'm into technology. I follow a lot of blogs. I've been reading ‘Wired' magazine for many years. I listen to a lot of tech podcasts, so I've been aware of it. And on my main podcast, ‘The Creative Penn' podcast, I share a few futurist topics in the introduction every couple of weeks just to keep people up to date on things.

And then about 18 months ago, I did a big solo show, it was about an hour, on the 9 ways I thought publishing and authors would be disrupted by AI in the next decade. And since then, so that was July 2019, I've been like, ‘I really must do an update on this.'

And then I think it was July 2020 or maybe May this year, as we record this, GPT-3 was released by OpenAI. And I must admit, I had a few moments of, oh, my goodness, this is such a fundamental thing. And then I took some time to process that.

Len Edgerly: And let's say what GPT-3 is.

Joanna Penn: There's a company called OpenAI and their essential goal is to create a general artificial intelligence which if people don't know, we're surrounded by narrow artificial intelligences which do specific things. But this is something that would apply in multiple domains more like a human, I guess, in different ways.

GPT-2 is a transformer technology, essentially it ingests or we could say reads, a whole load of data, and in this case, it's written language data, and then it enables the natural language processing engine to output other text-based or language-based material.

GPT-2 was, again, sort of 18 months ago and GPT-3 is 100 times more powerful, with millions times the amount of knowledge you or I could read in a lifetime.

It doesn't just output sentences, it can output articles, but it can also write code, it can do poetry, it can do things that people didn't expect it to do and it's not plagiarized. So it's not like when you type into Google, ‘tell me how big Canterbury Cathedral is,' or you can get Wikipedia and you can't just copy that. What GPT-3 does is it comes up with something that is original.

The other thing that happened this year is the first AI written article was gone to copyright under a Chinese court and I've been engaging with the World Intellectual Property Organization, the UK government, in writing submissions on artificial intelligence and copyright.

More detail in my podcast episode on Writing in an Age of AI

So to try and wrap the story up, basically, this year has been this tipping point in so many ways. The pandemic has accelerated it. I'm really worried that the authors and the publishing industry are not engaging in this. Literally, it has been impossible to get people interested in talking about this and even submitting to World Intellectual Property Organization.

So in the end, we've just done this stuff, me and my friend, the founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, Orna Ross. We've done these submissions ourselves despite asking a number of different organizations to be involved.

I feel that it's a really important time in history and this is too important to leave technology to all the techie people.

We have to get involved as artists, as creatives, as rights holders, as people whose livings depend on this in the future.

To go even further, this was going to be a podcast episode but it turned into a lot bigger than just an episode and so I put it into a book. I'm really glad I did because it solidifies a moment in time, and I will do more of these things. But as you know, writing something down helps you turn your random thoughts into something more coherent. I hope you thought it was coherent.

Len Edgerly: Oh, absolutely. I think that was part of the power of it, was the clarity of it. And I was also interested because I think it's about 60 pages, if they were on print pages. It's basically an essay, isn't it? It's an essay that you wrote and were able to distribute on the Kindle platform. Is that how you think of it?

Joanna Penn: Well, it is here. Here's the print book.

Len Edgerly: Oh, it is in print too. Good.

Len Edgerly: Actually though, because of something I read in your book on my Kindle, I had to buy a hardcopy book of the ‘1 the Road'.

Joanna Penn: I have that on my desk too.

Len Edgerly: I said, ‘There's got to be an e-book version of this.' I was like, ‘Well, all right,' and the truck found me.

Joanna Penn: I've got another one for you. This is ‘Pharmako-AI.' And for people listening, we're sharing, AI Centaur wrote a book. This one, ‘Pharmako-AI,' which is brand new, is actually written with GPT-3.

Len Edgerly: Oh, really? Wow.

Joanna Penn: The one you were holding, ‘1 the Road' is written by an earlier edition.

Len Edgerly: And this is three years ago. I was amazed that something going this creatively into the whole space had happened in 2017.

Joanna Penn: Exactly. And I think this is what happened as well.

I don't know if you know but the UK has a conference called FutureBook, which is obviously meant to be a future conference. I attended that and was bashing my head against my Zoom screen because it felt like they were 10 years behind. Literally, I heard a publisher say, ‘This has not been done before. Simultaneous publishing in multiple countries at the same time.'

And I'm like, ‘But I've been doing that myself since 2008,' or whatever it is. And then the same week, I went to the Wired Live conference online and heard Demis Hassabis from DeepMind. I heard people from virtual worlds conference, just so many things where I was like…I found it very hard to keep these two organizations in my head at the same time going, oh, my goodness,

I'm in the middle of these. I love publishing, I love books, I'm an author, I desperately want us to move into this realm of possibility, how do I make people come along too?

Len Edgerly: It reminds me of the reaction to ebooks, 10 years ago or however many…2007, the Kindle and the slowness with which the publishing industry reacted and actually, the resistance. There was a real effort to just stop this wave, like King Canute at the shore.

It almost seems like this is a similar wave in terms of its impact. And if anything, the adoption rate is even slower than it was from e-books. You would have thought there would have been people at publishing companies who said, ‘Boy, if we had known then what we know now about e-books, we would have jumped on this thing. We wouldn't have let Amazon completely dominate the space.'

Am I right that you're sensing there hasn't been a lesson learned like that in terms of the urgency of staying current with this technology on behalf of the book industry?

Joanna Penn: Yes. But then I guess I also represent people who are independent creators and this is much bigger in the music industry and the film industry, independent filmmakers, independent musicians, now independent authors.

I sell digitally globally, I sell direct, I sell e-books and audio and print and all these things, I do myself.

And if you think it's much easier to be nimble when you're a one-person company than is a huge conglomerate whose business model has not been threatened until 2020.

Because of course, publishers, their job, they make money by selling books to booksellers. They don't actually make money by selling books direct to readers (at least at the moment). And most of this technology, so digital technology, e-books, for example, enabled my living to happen.

You and I as podcasters, we are enabled by technology and it gets rid of the middleman. We don't need a radio platform. We just do our thing, right? And the same with books. You can employ freelancers as I do, editors, book cover designers.

What I see with this new wave and as you know a bit about blockchain, we can come back to it, it really does get rid of the middlemen and it's going to disintermediate a whole load more people in the supply chain, even things, like I do payments through Stripe and PayPal and things like that, even those companies are now looking at how they're going to use this type of blockchain and direct peer-to-peer sales because this is the way things are going to go.

What I see with publishing is it is not a very technologically savvy industry and as you say, resistant, but physical books are not going away. You and I know that. We love physical books. But equally, I want to sell globally on every device, and I want to get paid for my knowledge and this is the only way I see doing it.

Even payments in the publishing industry, it is so antiquated. How they manage, I don't know. And so many authors who do end up auditing these platforms find issues, of course, because they're so manual.

What I'm seeing in this next wave is just an even better way for authors, for publishers, for everyone in the book-loving supply chain to expand the wealth.

And as you know, I'm a techno-optimist, I think you are as well. And so I don't see this as a negative, I see this as a huge positive, but we do need to make some changes.

Len Edgerly: That brings us to blockchain because as you say in your essay, in your book, the whole issue of copyright in this environment is potentially a huge bar to innovation with AI.

First of all, I'd love to hear you explain what blockchain is because I've tried to explain it to my family and everything. And my dad is 93 and we've had some just really fun conversations where I'd say, “All right, imagine a theater and everybody has a laptop and somebody on the stage says, ‘I'm buying this from Joanna for $10' and all the laptops write it down and then it's distributed.” I've heard other attempts to do it.

Do you have a way to visualize what blockchain is that would help somebody that isn't in our space understand the significance of it?

Joanna Penn: Well, to be honest, what I do is just cut out the technical explanation because most people use the internet every day and they do not know how TCP/IP works!

Len Edgerly: Good point.

Joanna Penn: They don't need to. We use internet banking all the time. We order stuff on Amazon or we order groceries on our phone and they arrive. You don't have to understand how the internet works in order to use it.

What I tend to say to people is remember how it was in the '90s or even the early 2000s when we weren't running everything on a mobile device or we weren't doing this, although Skype was probably one of the earlier adoptions, but remember when this wasn't normal, when you couldn't just do this for free over the internet. So what I say to people, because this is the big thing about blockchain, I think people confuse it with Bitcoin. So they go, ‘Oh, it's a scam,' and it's like, ‘No, no.'

More on copyright law and blockchain technology here.

Think about one of those terrible websites, Bitcoin has a lot of great things going for it, but people get confused whereas it's like, ‘Okay, Bitcoin is not the only blockchain technology.' Yes, it's part of it but what we're talking about is a fundamental redesign of an architecture around the platforms that we use to run creative business.

What we're moving into in the next decade, as you probably know, this is being put in by governments, by banks, by the infrastructure that we run society. I think Estonia digital voting blockchain. Amazon has blockchain as a service on AWS. This is not new, but it's not mainstream yet. Most people won't get out their phone and use a blockchain app but that's what's coming.

What I'm looking at now, and I think we're on a third or fourth iteration of what people are realizing this technology can be for. So yes, it can be for payments. I just say, ‘Think about PayPal on steroids with fewer fees,' would be one way.

And then the second thing, this smart contract idea is what truly has set my mind aflame. At the moment, we register for what is a faintly ridiculous ISBN which has no functionality whatsoever. It's crazy. And if people say to me, ‘Joanna, can you prove that you have a copyright on your work?' I'm like, ‘Okay, well, here's a certificate that I got from some online place.' And I'm like, ‘How does this actually prove that this is my copyright?'

And then for publishers they sign contracts. Everyone's relying on paper. A lot of the time, I say to authors, ‘What does your contract say?' And they won't know because they signed it a decade ago and no one can find it.

The idea of smart contracts is we could decide, let's say, with this podcast, this is a piece of intellectual property that we both co-own because we're both co-producing it.

And what we could do is say, ‘All right, we're going to attach a blockchain IP number to this piece of work and other people can use it in their models and train it with a British voice and an American voice and we could get a micropayment and we don't need to be involved. We just know that it will trigger, we'll get paid, it's awesome.'

And so that's exciting. And then you think, ‘What else could it do?' It could enable, for example, management of entire intellectual property estates. One of the issues when people die is how do you manage all the disbursements or even while you're alive?

What if I want to give 10% to charity for every sale? And if a sale is 0.5 cents all of these micropayments are what will go through.

I'm getting excited but thinking about streaming, thinking about the models of payments that are happening now, we can't split like we used to. You cannot split an audiobook on Spotify into $1.99 or, you know, 99 cent payments, it's a tiny, tiny micropayment for seconds listened to or whatever it is.

So we have to redesign all of this stuff for what is the architecture of the future and it has to be distributed and it has to be fair and it has to be transparent and we just don't have that right now.

We have to trust that people are being honest.

What this does, it has the potential to make everything a lot better. Obviously, we're going to have to migrate things onto blockchain architecture. But in my mind, this really could transform things. And for creators, for people like us who create stuff, this is very, very exciting but we have to say that it's not there yet but it's definitely coming because companies like Spotify, Facebook, Amazon, are having to solve this problem.

And in fact, as we speak, this week, I think its the EU Digital Services Act or something, is going through.

Len Edgerly: I saw that.

Joanna Penn: Which means that these companies have to verify the background of the stuff that is uploaded, and so they need a technological solution.

So what I would say is publishing wouldn't do this themselves, this will be forced upon publishing. This will be forced upon people slowly, based on the changes of the ecosystem that we use to manage everything we do. And that's the way it's going to work basically.

Len Edgerly: When I think about the independent writer, the creator, where so much of the energy is coming from as opposed to how slow, naturally the larger organizations have to use. I think of when e-books first came out, Amazon released Kindle Direct Publishing the same day as announcing the first Kindle. And so in KDP, over time, it got easier and easier.

If you had a little bit of technical savvy, you could put your book up on KDP and in 24 hours, it's on Amazon. And it was all sort of user-friendly.

Do you picture as this rolls out in the next 10 years, there's some kind of a way for a person of average to maybe moderate tech-savvy to organize payments for an article they write on the blockchain? Or it's pretty opaque now to me. I've bought a couple of Bitcoin at a nice price, it's a nice investment over the last two years.

Joanna Penn: Definitely.

Len Edgerly: But it just gave me a migraine to try to think about actually going out on the blockchain to try to do that, so I just use Coinbase's, which is one of the exchanges.

At some point, for it to really be of use to independent creators, it has to be a little more user-friendly than it seems to be right now, just to use the tool.

Joanna Penn: Absolutely. And it will be I think the same. For example, I use Stripe and PayPal. If you want to buy an e-book or an audiobook directly from me, you can go to my Payhip store at payhip.com/thecreativepenn and you can choose to pay with PayPal or Stripe.

Now you can use things that you understand so you're quite tech-savvy but someone can use their credit card. They don't even need a PayPal account. So you can use a credit card, you can use a PayPal account. But what happens is through the Stripe interface, the money will end up in my bank account within minutes, which is just marvelous, and most authors don't have that because they haven't set that up.

Now, that's actually really easy to set up and I'm actually going to do a tutorial on how to do it next year. But what you have is all these companies, so yes, at heart, this is still a technological domain and I'm not a programmer. I'm not intending to go in and be programming anything on blockchain technology.

But what I am is someone who's willing to try new apps. For example, this direct audio has only happened in the last couple of weeks. As I was about to press ‘publish' on that book, I got access to BookFunnel audio app, which enables me to sell direct and have people listen in an app on their phone.

Now, that's the type of thing that's going to happen. Again, you don't need to know how to code HTML to use the internet and it will be the same with blockchain, it will be the same with a lot of these AI tools.

You don't need to be a programmer already. What you do need is a trusted curator who will tell you, ‘Go to this website and do this,' and that's what I've been doing for the last decade anyway around the various sites. And to be fair, I actually think possibly Amazon KDP can be quite complicated. Certainly, something like Facebook advertising is terribly complicated.

Len Edgerly: That's right.

Joanna Penn: This will actually simplify things. So just coming back to AI rather than blockchain, I now use Amazon auto advertising for my books in German which were translated by AI, edited by a human, but I use automated AI algorithm advertising because I don't speak German.

You just tell the Amazon ad what books to advertise, you tell it your budget, and it will go and optimize that without you having to do anything. What we're looking at, and again, this is the techno-optimism, what we want to do is use technology to optimize the things that we really don't want to do.

I don't want to do my accounting, I want these tools to do it for me. I don't want to do my advertising, I hate advertising, but I know it's the thing that you have to do but I love that the algorithm will do it for me.

I think that the AI tools, and blockchain technologies, will automate and make our lives easier so we can spend more time doing the things we enjoy which is creating

Len Edgerly: I love the idea of a techno-optimist. I know some techno-pessimists, I think I might be married to one. Is there a dialogue between people that are as positive and optimistic about this, as you and I are, and someone who, either through fear or sometimes philosophical reasons that this is just the wrong path for humanity, is fighting it?

Is there a healthy dialogue that can happen between people that are coming at this same reality of the technology from very different human perspectives?

Joanna Penn: I think you have to find your common ground. Most people don't realize how much narrow AI is already in a lot of the things we use. For example, most people even if they're not that technical, if they're using the internet, they're using Google and Google, they own DeepMind now which is the company that came up with AlphaGo.

And now, in fact, as we speak, this week, AlphaFold which came out of DeepMind solved the problem of protein folding which could revolutionize drug design. It seriously is one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs in health in a very long time and this is an AI tool.

What I would say is for people who feel pessimistic, then it's finding some common ground around what is important.

The breakthroughs in healthcare because we have focused on it during the pandemic, have been incredible. And the money that's been poured into it, we will reap the benefits of this if we can stay alive long enough.

That's what's exciting and I don't think there are many people who would say, ‘I don't want better health care.' The other thing I think about is the environment and certainly, Kevin Kelly has written about this. Have you read ‘Novacene' by James Lovelock?

Len Edgerly: No. What's the title?

Joanna Penn: Novacene by James Lovelock. James Lovelock came up with the Gaia hypothesis back in the '70s or something, an independent scientist, brilliant guy. He's over 100 now and his last book was like, ‘We are destroying the planet, humans deserve to die.'

And this latest book, ‘Novacene,' he basically says that we are in such deep trouble, but the human brain cannot possibly solve these problems, but AI can. So this book is wonderful because you realize that what we're looking at is there are so many variables that we're looking at with the environment, with health. There are big issues that AI will help us solve in collaboration with humans pointing it in that direction.

I focus on authors and publishing but that's my domain. But what I would say is that when people, it's the media as well, the media will focus on some negative thing. Like the self-driving cars, I think, something else this week, I think Uber have just pulled out of this. They're not going to go with the self-driving on their own company because one of their cars killed someone or killed the driver or something. But if you look at the tradeoffs with self-driving cars, the number of lives saved will be just dramatic and will change so many things. So we are going to have to face these tradeoffs.

And again, copyright is an interesting thing because, and what I read in some of these submissions on intellectual property, I was reading between the lines that copyright 70 years after the death of the author is holding up the data being used in these models.

If you hold up the progress, they are going to change the law and you are the ones who will lose. So that's why I suggest in the books, that we come up with some kind of data licensing for training these models so that we can have vibrant voices from all around the world in all different languages that will go into these models.

I don't spend every day going, ‘Yay, AI is amazing,' but Kevin Kelly says it as well in the book, ‘The Inevitable,' which is just fantastic, he says, ‘51% of humans, the world, everything is good and if we can just keep it on the 51%, then we're going to be okay.'

Len Edgerly: That's the definition of an optimist.

Joanna Penn: Exactly. But the other thing is that people, you have to engage with it. If there is something you're scared of, then engage with it.

For example, I do think there are massive problems with ethics. I do think there are problems with some companies making way too much money even though I use those companies myself to make money. But the only way I can change that is by being involved and engaging in the situation.

I was pretty nervous about putting out this book because I don't have a PhD in AI. My degree is in theology but I have a vested interest in this working and I'm 45 years old. I expect to be doing this for at least another half of my life.

So how can we do this to benefit the creators but also the readers, the consumers, and also, the models and the future of whatever this may be?

Len Edgerly: There's real leverage if you get in at this point with understanding and concerns about, like you say, your segment, what matters. Let's talk about the third piece in the title, the VR. One of the ideas that fascinated me:

You talk about a virtual reality bookstore and how that might happen. Sketch that scene. That sounds like a place I want to go to.

Joanna Penn: It's funny because I wrote that in the future but back in 2015, when I first tried a Oculus headset. You put it on, if people don't know, you put it on and it does cover your head enough that your visual field is going to essentially think that you're in a real place. That's the idea of virtual reality.

You are moving out of your physical space into a virtual space. And the technology has come on so much like the changes in optics are what now make this even better than it's ever been. And what we've seen this year again, the pandemic year, is an acceleration in the adoption of these technologies in business training, gaming has been around for a while, but this is moving into other spheres.

There have been examples of musicians and various people running events in gaming platforms like Roblox, Fortnight, doing concerts, using these spaces that are essentially gaming platforms as virtual world spaces for events. And this is just awesome because it enables scale. You can have a million people at your online concert in Fortnight or Roblox which you can't do on Zoom and you can also monetize it in a very different way.

So what I think about in terms of coming back to the bookstore, again, it's just such a tiny example, don't you think? We should be thinking much bigger for our domain. A physical bookstore within a virtual world.

Most of us accept a certain tradeoff in terms of the data that people know about us for targeted advertising or offers. For example, Amazon, you and I both buy a lot of books from Amazon digitally and physically. They know our preferences very well.

I also use Waterstones, and I use a loyalty card, so they know my preferences too. So let's say I go into Waterstones for want of being more specific. I go in my virtual headset, I go to the Waterstones site, I walk in and instead of it being like most bookstores, physical bookstores, there are only certain sections I want to visit. My husband likes war books, I don't, so I'm never going to shop in that section. So why is that whole section of the store or crafting, I'm not going to be knitting, or cozy mysteries, no, thank you.

Most of a bookstore is not targeted at you, in a physical store. But if I walk into this virtual store, it knows my history, it knows what I like and I am going to spend so much money in there. Don't you reckon? There's going to be all these shelves, all these shelves and I'm like, ‘Oh.'

And then as soon as I reach out, so you can reach out in the physical realm, you're going to touch something in the virtual realm and maybe, it will open up and I can read it, I can zoom in, maybe I could watch a video with the author. And then I'm like, ‘Yeah, I'll have that' and I'll swipe it into my shopping basket or whatever. And then it learns something about me and then it offers me more and then it offers me more.

What you're in is a much more immersive retail space but also, this means if we met at a virtual conference, it just means the whole space can become a way to do better targeted marketing and better digital to physical retail.

Now, again, you could see this as a negative thing but in terms of publishing and book sales, it's tremendously positive to think you cannot stock many books in a physical bookstore, even some of your really massive Barnes and Nobles, you just can't. So the only way to do it in a personalized, super-targeted way that still engages our visual cortex, you can even do haptics now, you can do smell, you can have the old books smell if you like. Even if you're a secondhand antiquarian bookstore, you could create your beautiful shelves like that.

I just see it as a way, instead of the online shopping experience that we have now which is a 2D screen and you click and that 2D image appears in your home as a physical book, this would actually be a much more immersive experience and I think will drive many more book sales and much more purchasing than even the physical realm because you just can't find stuff.

Len Edgerly: What my experience of VR experimenting is I'm amazed at how easy it is to trick my mind into believing that I'm in this space, I'm looking around 360 and whether it's a game or different things, and it's still pretty crude.

It's a little blurry, at least to my eyesight, it's heavy, it makes me sweat when I wear it. But as you start thinking about it getting lighter and clearer and all of this, it already convinces most of my mind that my reality has changed. And if I think 5-10 years in the future, these kinds of experiences are just going to get so vivid. You'll really have to pinch yourself to figure out which world you're in.

Joanna Penn: I'm an Apple shop generally and the Apple headset is rumored to be coming and the glasses end 2021-'22. So let's say by 2022, you've got whatever the first generation of Apple headset is and we both know that their strength is in design. And instead of it's a bit like you're wearing headphones that go over your head and I'm wearing these little earbuds. There'll be different designs of glasses and headsets that will change the experience. Already, the latest Facebook one, The Verge, Oculus Verge or something like that…

Len Edgerly: Quest.

Joanna Penn: Oculus Quest. Quest. Yes, is already self-contained.

Len Edgerly: Yep, and it's lighter and it's quite nice.

Joanna Penn: Yes, it's lighter. Even my phone and the book, these contact lenses, they're more AR, so augmented reality, but I wore contact lenses for 20 years and I can just stick stuff in my eyes. So I'm up for that because that's really interesting.

But what I think we're going to see is these different experiences that people will have. I was listening to this guy speak at Wired, and I'm not a gamer, so I'm not someone who does a lot of this stuff anyway. But the way he was describing what's going to happen in virtual worlds is that it will be another economy, that people will do their jobs in virtual worlds.

People now are sitting in Zoom and Slack from their various places that they might sit within their virtual world, office, or environment, that you and I, instead of meeting over Skype, might meet on some nice Florida beach and have a chat in our virtual space.

I think that at the moment, again, most people's experience of this stuff is gaming. So it's ‘Ready Player One,' for example, the movie and its sci-fi things. But the reality is that this is moving into spaces that are around education, around workplaces.

And the other thing that's brilliant, given some of the, especially in America, the race issues of this year, what is fascinating is that in a virtual space, you can control what you look like, what your skin color is, whether you're even a human at all and you can control your gender or how you display yourself.

So what this guy was saying is these virtual worlds can break down the barriers that humans instinctively have wired into us around. If we're at a conference, we see someone, we judge them, by whatever we judge them. We can't help that. So much of it is deeply wired. But these virtual worlds will change that, and I love that. I think that's almost magical.

Len Edgerly: It's very freeing.

Joanna Penn: It is. Yes.

Len Edgerly: You talked about your expectation that before 2030, you'll probably be giving a presentation in a virtual world. When you picture yourself in that setting talking about your work, will you be presenting differently because you're not at a book show or something that we're used to?

How do you think it'd affect the creative act of communicating with people as a speaker?

Joanna Penn: What I hope is that there will be some kind of help in the experience. Let's just assume it is an auditorium in a virtual space so I can see the avatars of people who are there. So it's just like a normal talk but in a virtual space. What I would like as a speaker is to be able to choose the settings. I don't want to see bubbles coming up from people's heads going, ‘She's terrible,' or ‘she's amazing.' That's not what I mean but I would like to know more about my audience.

So when I normally speak, I will aim to get there early and I'll often walk around and I'll just say, ‘Hi, why are you here?' And I'll try and find some anecdotes and just to find out who's there.

I would see that as a speaker, as an event organizer, you will be able to tailor your material so much more. I've spoken a lot on Zoom this year. It's pretty awful to be honest. Most people have their cameras off, for a start, or they've got some image or whatever. So it's not a nice experience. It's effective but I don't think it's nice as a speaker.

What you want is the ability to get some feedback. So what you would hope in a VR space is that it's more like a physical space and that you can see people's reactions, perhaps find out more about them. I might have a setting that would say, ‘What genre do people write?' Let's say I'm doing a talk on how to write a novel. I want to see like maybe I can color code avatars…

Len Edgerly: These are the romance readers.

Joanna Penn: Yes, and there are the horror writers. And if I see that the room is mainly full of horror writers, I'm going to talk differently than if the room is full of romance writers.

I'll tell you one of my biggest issues when I speak is how many books do people have? Because it is a very different talk that I give to an audience of writers who've all written over 10 books than an audience of people who've never even written a book. And what's surprising at most of these conferences is a lot of the people have never even written a book whereas the people who've written 10 books are not sitting in the audience. They're off writing books. So I often end up having to change what I'm talking about to kind of, not dumb it down but it's a different level.

Len Edgerly: Make it more appropriate for them.

Joanna Penn: Yes, make the material more appropriate. And as a speaker, that's your job, is to give the audience what they need, and you can only do that the more you know. And this is about augmented reality too, which I think is possibly even more exciting because I can see it working in my daily life.

So if I wear my nice Apple glasses, with gorgeous frames, platinum frames or something, and I'm walking around the London Book Fair, for example. A lot of my audience support me financially, they've either bought my books or courses, they support my Patreon, I would love a little arrow that says, ‘Here is one of your patrons.'

Len Edgerly: That would be genius.

Joanna Penn: Not just be nice to that person but this person writes this and does that or let's say you're looking to license your work, this person has a publishing company out of India, go and talk to that person. Conferences are a right pain to kind of find the right people.

Len Edgerly: Exchanging business cards and it'd be like speeding that whole process up. The other thing I can imagine, I'm experimenting with this Halo health band from Amazon. You could be getting a reading on the heart rate of your audience in any particular…

Joanna Penn: What talk are you giving? Is this the romance conference?!

Len Edgerly: As your enthusiasm for the future rises, I would expect the heart rate, the average heart rate, of the audience to go up a bit.

Joanna Penn: Oh, I see, yes, what your point is. I totally get what you mean. It's actually interesting. So I'm wearing an Apple Watch and actually today in the UK, they just launched Apple Fitness, which integrates with the heart rate monitor on my watch. How cool is this?

Len Edgerly: I know.

Joanna Penn: This is totally integrating our health and you and I both love this stuff and I absolutely acknowledge that they are using my health data and I am happy for them to do that because I'm getting the benefits. And so this is where all of this stuff comes into play, is how much are we willing to share or ready to share in order for the benefits of what we will get by sharing?

The bookshop example is a good one. I would much rather share more data about my purchases so that I am offered more books that I want to buy. And that's why Amazon does so well, because it keeps just emailing us with, ‘You want this and this and this.' ‘Yes, please.'

I think that's a really interesting way but what we're talking about here, we've talked about loads of different domains of technology, they're not all the same thing but what they are is what they're calling converging technologies. And on the back of 5G, off the back of the pandemic, and adoption of digital for people who weren't adopting digital, they're all coming into play.

Some people have said that this pandemic year has accelerated development that would have taken 5 to 10 years, down to a sort of 18-month timeframe. That's what's just incredible about the speed at which things are happening and like you said, I put this book out a couple of weeks ago and already a whole load of things have changed.

For example, there's another chapter on audiobooks narrated by AI. Now Google Play, two days ago, started selling AI-narrated audiobooks. Today, and we talked about AI-assisted translation, Alexa can now do multiple language translation on the fly. So this is not 10 years' time, this really is starting to happen now.

Len Edgerly: I was going to ask you, the pandemic, I can sort of understand why it's sped up the convergence and the rate of change but having set that speed, even if we get to the other side of the vaccine and we're approaching something like normal life, perhaps late next year or early 2022, would you expect the world to breathe a sigh of relief and go back to a slower rate of technological change?

Does this become the new normal, thanks to the pandemic?

Joanna Penn: I don't think it's going back in the box. A lot of things were already moving fast. GPT-3, for example, being 18 months after GPT-2, and I think about it as GPT-X which are the iterations ahead of us. But so for one thing, it has changed behavior in so many ways.

For example, my mum who doesn't like doing video now has Zoom, ‘I'm going to Zoom so and so,' in her vocabulary. She got Netflix. She hadn't got Netflix before, so she got Netflix. She's 74, she's not into tech at all and she's started to adopt some of these things.

Then you've got people who have resisted, like in publishing, people who've resisted e-books, like not you and me clearly, but people are like, ‘Oh, I really need to read something. I guess I should try this e-book thing or this audiobook thing.'

Audiobook sales in some European countries have now overtaken e-book sales, which is just crazy and that's going to continue. What we're seeing is, and again, you're in America and I'm in the UK and these are quite digitally developed economies.

I was reading about India, which is just fascinating, India went to more digital payments a couple of years ago. And in this pandemic, they have moved much more into online purchasing and things like credit cards, and stuff is starting to happen in these economies where it has not been really adopted so far.

Or another country like France which is possibly the most protective of its physical bookstores and all that. France, Spain, Italy, we've seen a huge growth in digital purchasing this year because people have not been able to go to a bookstore.

And so those people won't go back. Both you and I, once we adopted e-books, yes, we still read physical books, but a large chunk of that reading does not go back. I haven't read a physical newspaper for many years. I read three different newspapers on apps on my phone. I don't listen to the radio, I listen to podcasts. People's behavior is not going to go back.

People aren't going to rush back to the office. I don't know about there, but people are saying here that, ‘I'd like to go back to the office but not five days a week.' So it might be three days a week, for example, or something like that but other people have moved.

I hear Las Vegas, for example, even though the entertainment economy is pretty screwed at the moment, the housing market has gone nuts because people can now live there, and they can get to San Francisco reasonably easily.

And then the other thing is that we've got companies like Google's DeepMind, we've got OpenAI, which now has licensed GPT-3 and its other stuff to Microsoft.

What we're starting to see is changes that are going to change this underlying architecture and that is only going to continue.

So as we mentioned, the Digital Services Act, I think it's called that, whatever it is, the EU one, Facebook has to solve this problem, Amazon has to solve this problem. And when those companies have to solve a problem, that's when these big changes just get pushed through regardless and then we have to jump on board.

What may happen is you might find Instagram, every photo you upload is registered on the blockchain automatically because Facebook have to know where it came from and so it's registered to you as users. So this is an economy of trust. This will fix deep fakes, this will fix plagiarism and piracy and all these things.

It's a huge thing but the convergence, I think, is what we need to consider. And like we talked about with how do you explain it to people, you just say, ‘Remember 1995,' or remember what it was like when you had one of those little Nokias that wasn't a smartphone and it was just a little Nokia, or before that when you didn't even have a cell phone and look at how so much of our world happens on the internet.

What is the next internet? What is the next electricity? And that is going to be the blockchain, artificial intelligence. This is going to drive the next economy. And so retraining, being aware of what's going on, taking advantage, playing, I think the attitude of play is really important and I think optimism is important too. Some things will die. Die is an unfortunate word.

For example, I was walking in Bath earlier. There's a big department store called Debenhams. I guess it's a bit like Macy's or something like that. It's gone bankrupt. It's a department store. Department stores are pretty much over. They're gone. That has finished. And they've been on our British High Street for over 100 years and they are gone and something else rises in its place. And that's where I feel we are, which is something is rising, and let's surf that change rather than drown in it.

Len Edgerly: I love that image. You picked that up from Kevin Kelly and I don't think I'd seen it but when a wave comes, you can either surf it or drown in it. And it's all timing. I do bodysurfing in waves in Maine and the difference between jumping at the right time or being too late, too early, it's almost infinitesimal. Even as much as I've done it, I've never done anything like real surfing, but the moment you jump in, and it's probably each person has, well, if I'm going to use this metaphor, one person doesn't get to jump on a wave at a different time than another person. There's only one right time to jump on a wave and get the ride.

Joanna Penn: Although I think perhaps it's more of a tide. The tide is coming in and it will lift the boats but also if you're kind of tied to the anchor of the old way…

Len Edgerly: That's where you drown.

Joanna Penn: …that's where you drown. And also, I think it can either be a pleasant experience and something that you can embrace, or you can resist it and get really wet and miserable. And I think that we have to have this attitude. Otherwise, as I said, things will be forced upon us.

A lot of people are asking me at the moment, ‘So what can I do right now?' And I'm like, ‘Actually, there's not much you need to do right now.' What's happening is that that tide is slowly creeping in and what I'm doing is saying, ‘Look at what's coming,' and I'm going to try and navigate it and I will talk about it, because that's what I do. And I'll tell you what works, what doesn't work for me. Inevitably, I'm usually early. So if I say, it's going to be two years it will probably be five years.

Len Edgerly: Yes, me too.

Joanna Penn: Exactly. That's interesting with both you and I, but both you and I have also seen that podcasting that we've both been doing for like a decade is now huge. It's now gone nuts. So we were a decade, were we early? Yes, we were early but we if we hadn't have been early, we would not have the platforms that we have now and the listeners that we have now.

So being early is sometimes good. But equally, I'm a businesswoman. I'm an artist and I'm a businesswoman, and I fully intend to make really good cash out of this next wave.

I have a creative interest, I have a business interest, and I have a curious side like you.

That's why I'm staying on top of this. I read the financial news all the time, I'm reading books about things. I feel like I need to take a next step with my own career and I need to share much more than I do currently and so that's the way I'm going. Who knows whether we'll be talking like this in a decade or in some virtual space.

Len Edgerly: That's right. We get to choose which beach we want to meet on next time. This has been so much fun. I've been speaking with Joanna Penn, author of ‘Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, and Virtual Worlds: The Impact of Converging Technologies on Authors and the Publishing Industry.' Thanks very much, Joanna.

Joanna Penn: Thanks for having me, Len.

Len Edgerly: Before we go, I'd like to say how renewed I felt about technology in the future after my conversation with Joanna Penn this week. I love the idea that Apple may well be the one to lead the way in designing VR headsets or glasses that finally unlock the power of new virtual worlds and I love looking forward to what pioneering authors like Joanna will create in partnership with ever more powerful language machines like GPT-3. And who knows, maybe there will be an AI partner out there who will help me to take the podcast to a new level.

I will also give up my efforts to explain how blockchain works after talking with Joanna and I'm instead going to look forward to simpler and easier ways for regular people to use and benefit from it. I highly recommend Joanna's ‘Creative Penn' podcast. It's released every Monday and it's a great mix of interviews, personal updates on her writing, and as she said, glimpses of the future that she includes I think every other week or so.

The post A Techno-Optimist’s View Of The Creative Future For Authors. Joanna Penn On The Kindle Chronicles Podcast first appeared on The Creative Penn.

Jan 22 2021 · 54mins

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Planning Ahead for a Creative and Productive Year in Your Author Business: Advanced Self-Publishing Podcast With Orna Ross and Joanna Penn

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Planning ahead is an important step for your author business, enabling you to make decisions about what you want to focus on as well as make time to achieve your writing and financial goals.

Kicking off our 2021 #AskALLi Self-Publishing Salons, as always, is our Advanced Salon with ALLi Director Orna Ross and New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Joanna Penn.

In this month's salon, Orna outlines her quarterly creative business planning process and how she applies it to her own novels, poetry books and ALLi publications, while Joanna talks about her high-level project approach and more granular time-blocking.

The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to create an actionable plan, so tune in to get started!

Our advanced salon is brought to you by specialist sponsor IngramSpark.

Find more author advice, tips and tools at our self-publishing advice center, http://selfpublishingadvice.org. And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.

Now, go write and publish!

About the Hosts

Joanna Penn writes non-fiction for authors and is an award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author as J.F.Penn. She’s also an award-winning podcaster, creative entrepreneur, and international professional speaker.

Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com

Jan 08 2021 · 46mins
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Jan, 5th 2021. Bonus new years episode! Thank you joanna Penn for your inspiration!

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Welcome to the bonus episode, this episode is entirely dedicated to Joanna Penn for inspiring me so much over the past few months. She made it upset about her New Year's goals and I wanted to do the same. If you have anything you want to share go to my website and look at the ways to contact me ellenpowellwritings.com


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Jan 05 2021 · 6mins
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Creative Business Goals For 2021 With Joanna Penn

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I love the new year! As the calendar turns a new page, we get to start again. After a very strange 2020, it feels like hope is in the air, and I'm ready to embark on the next year of my author journey. Are you ready for a fantastic 2021?

Here are my creative and business goals for the year ahead. Feel free to add yours in the comments and we can keep each other accountable.

2021: A Year of Expansion

2020 was a year of letting go in so many ways. It was an encounter with mortality and left its mark on many of us with decisions to change our work, our life, and our health; to make more of the precious time we have, and to stop doing those things that don't bring joy in some way, or at least take us a step in the direction we want to travel. I certainly evaluated my creative and business life and pared back a lot of it as part of my Author Business Plan.

It was a year of contraction, of diminishing, in terms of our sense of control (or the illusion of it!) as well as our physical space and freedom to roam. I want my 2021 to be a year of expansion — creatively in terms of what I write, mentally in terms of the things I learn about, and physically, in terms of my health and where I travel (once we're out of the woods with the virus, of course.)

I now have a mature author business and 2020 has proved the resilience of the global, digital, scalable business model. My multiple streams of income remain pretty stable if I keep producing books, podcasting, and marketing. But this year, in Sept 2021, I will hit my 10 year anniversary of going full-time as an author-entrepreneur, and if you're not growing, you're dying, as the old adage goes. I am not content to just write the next book, publish, market, and repeat.

Of course, I will continue to serve this community with useful information about the various aspects of the author life as it is right now, but I also want to keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible for authors. Here's how I intend to manage my expansive 2021.

The Creative Penn Books and Podcast

There are some books I want to write and publish early in 2021:

  • How to Make a Living with Your Writing – Third Edition. Things have changed a lot since I put out the first edition in 2015, and the second in 2017, and this remains my bestselling non-fiction book, so that will be out by end of Q1.
  • How to Write a Novel. I've been sitting on a draft of this for a while and many of you have emailed and asked for it, so expect this by the end of Q2.

Thanks to your enthusiasm, The Creative Penn Podcast continues for another year!

On the days when I wonder whether the show is still useful, I get emails and comments from many of you saying it is worth continuing, and my patrons at Patreon, in particular, keep me enthused. Thank you for your support of the show!

I'll be sticking with the weekly format on Mondays as usual, and I will be adding in some inbetweenisodes on topics that I am investigating on the creative future (more detail below).

Doubling down on selling direct

I've been selling ebooks directly to readers for over a decade from various platforms, but now I have a proven platform with Payhip.com and BookFunnel for both ebooks and audiobooks, I'm going to streamline my direct sales process and better integrate it with my email list and autoresponders so I can drive more direct sales. I'm also going to release on my direct sales platform first before publishing to the stores to encourage direct sales. At the time of writing, you can only get Your Author Business Plan on audiobook from me directly.

I'll be doing a tutorial on this so you can see how it works soon. You can also buy directly from me: Payhip.com/thecreativepenn and have ebooks and audiobooks delivered by BookFunnel. Successful Self-Publishing is free in both formats so you can see how it works as a reader/listener.

J.F. Penn Thrillers and Dark Fantasy, and the Books and Travel Podcast

In terms of my fiction, I'm intending to publish:

  • Day of the Martyr, ARKANE 12, inspired by the relics of St Thomas a Becket (and my pilgrimage walk), by the end of Q2
  • One more fiction project, as yet to be determined
  • Tree of Life in audiobook format, hopefully by end of Jan 2021
  • The Mapwalker trilogy boxset – ebook, print, and audiobook, Feb 2021

My Books and Travel Podcast now has 50 episodes, including a number of solo shows about my own book research and trips, as well as many of my photos. Check out my recent episode on This Too Shall Pass: Thoughts from the Pilgrims' Way.

I love the show and every interview inspires wanderlust (and expansion!) in my soul. It's been particularly good during the pandemic year, and I absolutely intend to continue with it. Content marketing takes a long time to prove its worth, so you have to enjoy the journey and think long term about how people discover things slowly. Even though Books and Travel is not specifically monetized at the moment, I love it and it is evergreen marketing for my books, so that will continue in 2021.

The Creative Future

Everything listed above is ‘business as usual,' what I need to deliver in order to satisfy my existing community. But I don't just want to meet expectations — I want to exceed them.

I've also been bored for a while now, with a feeling of stagnation in the status quo of the publishing industry. But I see things coming on the horizon that we need to prepare for, especially with the acceleration of digital transformation in the pandemic year.

My (surprise!) little book at the end of 2020 on Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and Virtual Worlds: The Impact of Converging Technologies for Authors and the Publishing Industry, covered a lot of what I've been thinking about for the last four years, and occasionally talked about on the futurist segment of the podcast.

I'm going to continue this theme in 2021, but take it much further for my own career and (as always) share the journey with you.

Back in October 2009, I posted a video on YouTube about why I loved my brand new international Kindle device so much. At 2:30 mins in, I talked about the fact that my ebooks were available on the device, published through a friend in the US, and I suggested that an improvement could be allowing authors outside the US to publish on the Kindle.

Of course, that happened soon after, and just over a decade later, we have a thriving eco-system for international authors who publish with a global and digital-first view. We have useful tools and many wonderful companies who support our writing, publishing, and book marketing tasks. Check out episode 471 for an overview of 2009-2019, a decade of self-publishing with me and Orna Ross.

The internet and digital business transformed opportunities for authors and publishing from 2010 to 2020, and further transformation is on the horizon.

I want to be part of the inevitable shift in the next decade. My mind is teeming with ideas and I'm constantly reading books and listening to podcasts and going to online talks and generally immersing myself in it all. I want to write and speak and podcast about these topics, and I want to engage with businesses who are working on these new opportunities and become a part of the creative future.

I know that most writers are not ready to engage with many of these things. Most are wrangling the latest book or figuring out how to use the existing ecosystem, and perhaps you are one of those who would rather I just focus on the basics.

But there are so many voices in the self-publishing space now and many excellent resources you can learn from (start with the Self Publishing Advice blog, guidebooks, and podcasts from the Alliance of Independent Authors). I need to continue to differentiate myself so you continue to find value in what I share, but also, I need to follow my curiosity.

Of course, I will continue to do podcast episodes on the writing craft (as I am still learning that too!), as well as publishing and book marketing topics, but I will also be doing more episodes on the possibilities of the creative future. You don't need to take action — yet — but you do need to be aware of the changes ahead.

I'm also going to engage with these technologies myself in 2021 and start to implement them in my creative business. I intend to:

  • Co-create a story/book with an AI natural language generation tool, like GPT-3 or similar
  • Register copyright on a blockchain
  • Sell an ebook or audiobook on a blockchain
  • Earn cryptocurrency (Bitcoin or Ethereum) with my creative work
  • Publish and sell an audiobook narrated by an AI voice
  • Create a current state and future state architecture of the author business so we can see the path ahead (which is the kind of thing I used to create back in my day job as a business consultant years ago!)

These might sound like futurist things, but I know how to do most of these already based on my research and I just need to put them into action. (There are also authors doing these things already, but they don't necessarily talk about it like I do!) They are unlikely to make any significant money, and they are not mainstream (yet), but this method of experimentation is how I started self-publishing in 2008 when ebooks were still downloadable PDFs, podcasting in 2009 when you had to download files and I still used a tape player adaptor in my car, and laid the foundation for the multi-six-figure creative business I have today.

As ever, I'll share my lessons on the blog and the podcast, and I may also write and publish one or two small books on these topics, similar to the short one on Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, and Virtuals Worlds, but with more detail. I'm a writer, so I really only know what I think once I've written a book on a topic!

I'm also going to keep learning and stay abreast of developments at the higher level. In 2020, Orna Ross, from the Alliance of Independent Authors, and I submitted to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the UK Government on the topic of Artificial Intelligence and Copyright Law. This technology is too important to be left to the technologists, and few authors and creatives want to get involved. I want to learn more so I can be effective at engaging with this area and become a bridge between technology, creatives, and commerce — and continue to campaign for the rights of creators as we move into an era of AI. 

I intend to keep focusing on the creative future so we can surf the changes ahead, rather than drown in them. I hope you will continue to join me on the journey.

Health and Travel

As I write this on the final day of 2020, there is positive news of the vaccine rollout, but there is also a fast-moving virus strain here in the UK and we are mostly back in lockdown. (The government is calling it ‘tiers' but it's basically lockdown!)

I'm expecting it to be at least a full pandemic year — from March 2020 to March 2021, but I am really hoping to be back in the world in the second half of this year. I'm planning trips to Portugal and Japan, as well as some more ultra-marathons and another walking pilgrimage in the north of England. My plan is to work hard in the earlier months so I can have more time off later in the year for some much-needed travel, family catch-ups, and book research trips.

My recent haul of travel books from Waterstones as I dream of escaping again!

I'll be continuing with my twice-weekly weights and workout as well as my intermittent fasting lifestyle and my big walks, and I intend to be even fitter at 46 than I am at 45!

Financial Goals

My main goal will be to sustain The Creative Penn income at a steady level while freeing up time for my experiments with the creative future.

I have a lot of study to do, books to read, and events I want to attend, but my existing multiple streams of income happily enable me to do this. It's certainly not ‘passive income,' by any means, but by simplifying business processes and focusing on what is core to my existing community — my books and my podcasts — I should be able to free up 30% of my time for a new direction while retaining my income at the same level.

That's it from me! Let me know what your goals are for 2021 in the comments or tweet me @thecreativepenn. Let's keep each other accountable in the year ahead!

The post Creative Business Goals For 2021 With Joanna Penn first appeared on The Creative Penn.

Jan 01 2021 · 25mins
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Building the Self-Publishing Future with Joanna Penn

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J.F.Penn is an award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author and also writes non-fiction for authors as Joanna Penn. She’s a podcaster and an award-winning creative entrepreneur. Her site, TheCreativePenn.com has been voted in the Top 100 sites for writers by Writer's Digest. 

Find Joanna and her work at TheCreativePenn.com

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Nov 05 2020 · 48mins
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State of The Industry with Joanna Penn

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Joanna Penn is a North Star in the Self-Publishing Industry. She is someone who was already there when the guys first got started, and most people think of them as being there from the very start. She has written, published, and podcasted consistently for over a decade. She has seen fads and trends come and go, and through it all, she has kept her focus, (only occasionally and momentarily letting herself get distracted by any shiny object). Sean says her podcast, The Creative Penn, was the first podcast he ever listened to and Niamh also says that she followed Joanna even before she started following the guys.

For all of these reasons and many more, Joanna is someone worth listening to when it comes to the current state of the industry. Listen to this episode to learn why she is as excited right now as she has ever been for indie publishing and why she never believes the hype when anyone claims that the sky is falling.

After listening to this episode, be sure to go to The Creative Penn to tune in for Episode 500 (yep, that’s right, she has recorded 500 episodes!!!) for her lessons learned in over a decade of self-publishing.

Oct 07 2020 · 56mins
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Stark Reflections on Writing and Publishing EP 148 - A.I. Voice Double Conversation with Joanna Penn

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In this special bonus/additional episode, released between regular weekly episodes of the podcast, Mark has a conversation with Joanna Penn about emerging digital A.I. technologies and what it means for writers.

The initial conversation is using the words that Mark and Joanna would share in conversation, but the voice was generated using their respective Voice Doubles from Descript OverDub.

After the AI Voice Double conversation, the real Mark and Joanna share their thoughts and reflections on the conversation, the process behind creating the computer-generated conversation and what it all means for the publishing and writing communities.

Joanna Penn writes non-fiction for authors and is an award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author as J.F.Penn. She’s a podcaster and an award-winning creative entrepreneur. Her site, TheCreativePenn.com has been voted in the Top 100 sites for writers by Writer's Digest.

Links of Interest:

The introductory, end, and bumper music for this podcast (“Laser Groove”) was composed and produced by Kevin MacLeod of www.incompetech.com and is Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

Aug 14 2020 · 28mins
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How to balance creativity and business – with Joanna Penn

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In today's episode, we will talk to Joanna Penn about balancing business and creativity and why, if you want to make a living doing your art and doing your creativity, you cannot have one without the other. Your biggest takeaway will probably be an amazing mindset change and tools that can help you run a successful creative business online. Let's dive in.   

Joanna's course "Business for Authors": https://bit.ly/32LuVbe
Joanna's Website: https://www.thecreativepenn.com
Joanna's Fiction: https://jfpenn.com
Get your freebie here: https://storyartist.me
My dystopian fiction: https://dfwink.com

Jul 23 2020 · 34mins
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Joanna Penn on Productivity and Audio for Creatives

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This week’s guest on The 21st Century Creative Podcast is Joanna Penn, an Award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thrillers and dark fantasy, which she writes as J.F. Penn. She is also known for dispensing information and inspiration for authors and creatives via her popular podcast The Creative Penn, and her […]

The post Joanna Penn on Productivity and Audio for Creatives appeared first on Mark McGuinness | Creative Coach.


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