Episode Summary

Author, podcaster, and influencer Joanna Penn joins D2D’s Kevin Tumlinson to talk about where the indie author industry is going.

Episode Notes

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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Kevin Tumlinson  00:21

Hey, everybody, thanks for tuning in to another—well, we’ve rebranded. We used to call this D2D Spotlight and now we’re calling it Self-Publishing Insiders. For a very important reason: we actually have a Self-Publishing Insider for this episode, the lovely Joanna J.F. Penn. Hey, Joanna, welcome to the show.

Joanna Penn  00:41

Oh, thanks for having me, Kevin. We’ve been chatting for years now. So this will just be a good chat. Just so everyone knows, it is six o’clock in the UK. So I do have a gin and tonic. And I know it’s only lunchtime where you are.

Kevin Tumlinson  00:56

This is my lunch gin.

Joanna Penn  00:58

Excellent. I mean, this is the thing. We’re just all working from home. And your home, can I just say, looks like you’re in a tiki bar, and I’m here in my very pro office.

Kevin Tumlinson  01:09

That’s where we are, yeah. You know, here we are, Kara and I are at an RV Resort. We’re on the road full time, even during the pandemic. It’s been an adventure, but we’re here in Kerrville, Texas. So if people are wondering, this is an actual bar, but it’s an outdoor bar that doesn’t get used publicly right now. So I commandeered it. We’re practicing safe social distancing is what I’m saying.

Joanna Penn  01:35

Oh, we totally are. We should say hi to everyone who’s joining us live. And we will be answering questions. Hello, Helen and Tory and Jimmy and everyone else. So yeah, we’ll be answering questions or I will. Maybe Kevin will, although he’s not drinking gin. So you can put your questions in the comments there and we will get to them.

Kevin Tumlinson  01:55

This is what’s fun about having somebody who also does podcasting on this show is like, you’ll jump right in. Like you, you know, let’s just tell everybody, let’s get it out of the way. Take over, that’s fine, Joanna. So, you know, we do talk a lot. I’m glad to have you on again. It’s been, what? A couple months since last time we talked. When was the last time we talked?

Joanna Penn  02:17

Well, we did a action adventure thriller summit that Nick Thacker organized. And I think this is something that’s really important. Like for everyone listening, you know, I feel like you get this as well, which is we are part of the nonfiction author community. But we’re also, we also both write action adventure thrillers. In fact, I target you very often on my BookBub ads, on my Amazon ads.

Kevin Tumlinson  02:43

Really? Is it working out for you?

Joanna Penn  02:45

Yeah, totally.

Kevin Tumlinson  02:46

I target you, too. We’re just targeting each other. So that’s good.

Joanna Penn  02:51

But I think it’s really good because I feel like one of the questions I—in fact, I got it just earlier today I was doing another interview—and they were like, so to be a successful author, you presumably also need to run a nonfiction business? And I was like, no, you know, that’s what I do. But, you know, and obviously you, working with the wonderful Draft2Digital. But obviously, we also know lots of authors, many of who have been on this show who are just writing in one genre or another genre. And I think, you know, the main thing is to choose what’s most important to you. And even if I was only doing … I don’t think I could only do fiction, you know? I like helping the author community. So what about you? Do you feel like both things are important?

Kevin Tumlinson  03:33

I feel like both are vital for me, but I do think I could pick one life or the other. I don’t have to do both. But it’s been kind of an adventure to do both. And I love the community so much that the nonfiction stuff is just kind of a way to give back. Is that kind of how you see it as well?

Joanna Penn  03:52

Well, I do make, you know, good money through my non—

Kevin Tumlinson  03:56

Let’s just put it out there. We like money. But even without the money, I was doing plenty of, you know, help for this community before I was making a dime back from it. So I feel like I can say, I don’t necessarily need the money. But the money’s a nice bonus.

Joanna Penn  04:13

Oh absolutely. And of course, both of us being long-term podcasters, for the first five, six years of my podcast—though, you know, podcasting was not the thing is today. So I think that the message I’ve been giving to people recently is, and especially with the pandemic, people really thinking about what’s the most important thing to them, and kind of giving up other things. And I feel like, there really is nothing I want to give up. I love doing both. I like writing fiction, nonfiction. I like doing the different podcasts. And, you know, I think that is a successful creative career when we can truly say, actually, I enjoy all of this. And I don’t want to give anything up right now. I mean, I would, like everyone I would like to have more time. But, you know, we do what we can.

Kevin Tumlinson  05:04

We create a lot of stuff, but we can’t figure out how to create more time. I keep working on it. I keep working on it. Here’s what’s happening, I’m gonna call this out, because it’s funny. There’s a kid on a tiny little like motorized toy tractor, who is literally just circling me.

Joanna Penn  05:23

It’s because you’re fascinating. You’re fascinating.

Kevin Tumlinson  05:28

I can only assume.

Joanna Penn  05:29

Well, why don’t we talk about that as well? Because I feel like there have … I mean, we have been speaking a lot at conferences for many years as well. What’s happened in the last couple of months is that the number of live events and conferences has just skyrocketed to ridiculous numbers. So much so that I I’ve started to say no to a lot of things because there are so many. And this is something that I think is really interesting that I’ve discovered. So at the beginning of things I thought oh, yeah, online will work fine for everything. And now I feel like I’m desperate to get back to a in-person event. And I actually feel just as tired from the Zoom conferences as I do live events, but without the good stuff.

Kevin Tumlinson  06:18

More. Yeah, I feel more tired.Like, because there’s so much that goes into it—organizing things, I’m constantly having to record something, build much more elaborate presentations than I would have to build for a live event. I don’t know if you’re experiencing the same thing. Is this the story of your experience as well?

Joanna Penn  06:37

Yes, absolutely. I did one the other week. And what is good, and I’d like to encourage everybody who is a speaker at these things, is that people are starting to pay. And I think this is a great change. It used to be … I mean, obviously with podcasting, it’s different. You’re doing it for marketing reasons, or like this is a community. But when I’m speaking at a conference, an online conference where people charge, then you should be paid. And so part of the job of all of us, so self-publishing insiders, many of us are speakers, is to encourage people to pay creatives. And there are a lot of moves in this direction in many parts of the industry. But I’d encourage people, if you’re asked to speak at an event online, if they are charging, then it’s worth asking for some payment. Because as you say, you do a lot of work—the same amount of work. And in fact, I even get the same anxiety beforehand. I mean, even talking to you on here, I still get that sort of pre-, you know, show anxiety.

Kevin Tumlinson  07:38

I do too. In fact, I have a routine, my wife has pointed it out to me, that I go to the bathroom like six times before each podcast.

Joanna Penn  07:47

I do too!

Kevin Tumlinson  07:49

And then I clear my throat for like half an hour beforehand. You know, just constantly clearing my throat.

Joanna Penn  07:56

You’ve got to quit the dairy, Kevin. That’s what it is. You’ve got to stop the dairy. That’s all.

Kevin Tumlinson  08:00

I’m totally off dairy. I don’t know, where does the phlegm come from, if it’s not dairy?

Joanna Penn  08:06

Sorry, everybody, but these are some interesting insider tips from the community. But I think it’s also interesting because obviously, I think you and I, many people have met us at conferences, and we are both friendly people. You know, but most people in the community are introverts. It’s not easy. It’s not easy to do speaking, it’s not easy to do these live things. But part of being an independent author, part of being a full-time creative, if that’s what you want, is doing these things. And it is kind of bringing it to whatever you’re doing, bringing the energy, trying to help the community and focus on the audience. And this is something that I think has become even more important as our, sort of, the way of connection has changed. And I wonder, because, you know, one of the things they’ve said is that the pandemic has accelerated the development of AI. And what I think will happen—you know, I’ve been saying this for years—but the mixed reality, the virtual reality … If you and I could be doing this within a VR space that people could come and join us in, will that be the thing that actually replaces in-person conferences? Or will it just be like an online Zoom? And that just won’t be fun?

Kevin Tumlinson  09:25

What do you think though? What’s your hunch say? Will that replace physical conferences?

Joanna Penn  09:32

I think it’s really going to depend. I definitely think that, because so many … I mean, like everyone’s adopted online now, all the people who were resisting it have adopted it. So what that will mean is, so if I’m asked next year to speak at the number of things I’ve been asked to do in the last couple of months, I physically cannot do them all. Even you, in America, you could not physically go to all the places if you’re paid $200 or something to speak at something. So what I think will happen is that we will all choose the couple of conferences that we want to go to in person, and maybe those will become more expensive. And then we will do a lot more online. What is interesting though, what I found is, I’ve—as a participant—I’ve registered for a number of events. And I have only, like, consumed the information from the ones I have turned up for live. And that’s interesting because you and I are used to listening to podcasts and I just thought, oh, I’ll just listen to the replays. And I haven’t at all, because, you know, the days move on and the days move on. But the ones I’ve committed to spend a couple of days on the thing all day, it’s actually been beneficial in many ways, but also totally exhausting.

Kevin Tumlinson  10:48

Yes, and there is, what I’ve noticed is the type of content has been shifting. And I think it’s because there’s an awareness now. So normally when you’re approaching these physical conferences, you’re usually preparing something, you’re supposed to prepare something, like, well in advance. Sometimes months in advance. And a lot of times you don’t know what anyone else is going to be talking about, you don’t know what the other presentations will be. And now it’s kind of like, I can get a menu of things that everybody’s working on. So I can kind of fine tune what I’m presenting to what everyone else is doing. And that makes the content for those things seem much more relevant, I think.

Joanna Penn  11:26

Yeah. And well, the other thing, obviously, is the interactive. So, hello to some more people who’ve joined us live, Richard and Fatima and Lexi and Steven, all those people who are joining us live. And the thing is now, so we can be presenting and we can also see the comments. And this is both a blessing and a curse. It can be a real distraction, but it can also be fantastic, where you can get feedback as you go. You can ask questions, you can tailor your material as you go. So what I think is interesting, and for us as independent authors when we’re talking about book marketing, is itused to be that we would just do these separate podcast things. But I feel like now, we’re moving much more into these different conversations. So what I would say is, if people listening, if you’re a new author, or even if you’re, you know, you’ve been going a while, Please expect that this is going to only continue. And if you haven’t been learning how to use these tools, then upskilling, learning how to speak confidently, smiling. You and I both smile a lot, you know, but smiling is really important. You know, be ready to do this type of thing and be willing to interact. And as we said before, it can be quite uncomfortable. But equally, I think it’s just like necessary. So I do have something I wanted to ask you. And I think everyone will be interested, which is, another trend that has obviously accelerated is the use of online marketing for traditional publishers. Because we’ve seen physical bookstores kind of go out the window for a few months. So I think a lot of people have seen ad space become even more cluttered, as traditional publishers have kind of realized, “Oh, I need to do online marketing.” So do you think that it’s going to become even more competitive to do online marketing in a world where traditional publishers are going to jump in even more?

Kevin Tumlinson  13:21

I absolutely do. Yeah. I think it already has. And that’s why I think content like this is going to become even more important. Because there’s, this sort of creates its own filter in a way, right? I know as a viewer, I can tell right away whether this content is relevant for me, whether or not I like the people I’m watching and interacting with. But when it comes to like digital advertising, I’m getting inundated with that, you know, and it starts to all feel like the same thing. And I’m automatically, I’ve found myself automatically ignoring all that stuff. What about you? I’m supposed to be interviewing you, so …

Joanna Penn  13:58

Oh, sorry. I thought it was a—

Kevin Tumlinson  14:00

I’m just kidding. Yeah, this is great because we get both perspectives. And I think everybody’s gonna be very interested in hearing what you have to say.

Joanna Penn  14:09

Well, I agree. And I actually think we have perhaps become even more, we are filtering even more. So for example, just today, in fact, The Bookseller here in the UK, which is the big publishing industry magazine, they put out a tweet— I’m subscribed to them—saying … Sorry, they sent an email saying, “Please do this survey on social media.” And this is something I’ve been thinking. Like, you know, I’ve seen a lot of people—because things are very polemic, let’s just call them polemic right now—people are actively turning off feeds, or they are giving up social media, or they are filtering in huge ways and they are not consuming in the way that they were before, because it is just too much. It’s all too much right now. So what we’ve done is we’ve all shrunk. I think most of us have kind of shrunk our attention to the people we care about, the authors we care about, the emails that we care about. And I think that, as you say, it’s the personal brand. It’s the personal relationships. And I think, like, I’ve been emailing more than I ever have to my email list. And I almost feel like, at this point, I could give up social media entirely. Because I think that the email relationship is so much … the email and the podcast for me personally, I know not everyone has a podcast. But for me, the podcast and the email are enough. But, you know, everyone has a different thing. But I do think that personal brand is going to become more and more and more important. And then Lexi, I’m just going to pick up on this question from Lexi who talks about, “How does all this open interaction with your readership influence what you write, or the content you create?” And so I, and it’s funny, I tend, what I … It’s the other way around, really. I tend to write and create what I want, and what I’m interested in. And then I just share it. And what I have learned on the journey is that anything I’m interested in as an author is something you’re going to be interested in. And if you’re not, you will have turned off anyway. So coming up to 500 episodes of my podcast, you wouldn’t have listened to all of them. So essentially, it’s like, you—if you follow what you enjoy, if you follow your curiosity … A bit like, you know, Kevin and I writing our adventure thrillers. You know, we’re both interested in certain things that are the same. So we overlap in a tiny way in terms of our fiction, and also our independent creativity, but we are also interested in lots and lots of different things. So for me, I think, create what you love, and share it. And the people who resonate with you will find you.

Kevin Tumlinson  16:51

That’s what I have felt from the beginning. Although the common wisdom is the opposite of that, right? And I’m not against “write to market,” or—

Joanna Penn  16:59

I just can’t do it.

Kevin Tumlinson  17:00

Yeah, I can’t do it. I’ve tried it. I don’t know about you, I’m sure you’ve done the same thing, but I went out … Because like, you know, you get that sort of feeling that you’re a fraud or whatever, imposter syndrome. And so I’m like, I need to plot my books, outline, and I need to go do research, and I need to write to market. And all that stuff failed for me.

Joanna Penn  17:23

I’ve just never done that. And I think what’s interesting is, you certainly hit some and you certainly miss some. In the, for example, my, the book I thought would change the world was Business for Authors. I thought everyone wanted that book.

Kevin Tumlinson  17:39

Which I did like.

Joanna Penn  17:40

Yeah, thank you, but you’re in the tiny minority. It probably has sold the least of my books. But then, the one thing I did do “for the market” is, I took the top tips in there and turned it into How to Make a Living With Your Writing. You can just see that behind me there. Whichever side it’s on.

Kevin Tumlinson  17:59

Product placement.

Joanna Penn  18:00

Product placement. But, and so that is a subset of the information in Business for Authors. But what I learned out of that—this is a good tip, if you write nonfiction— How to Make a Living With Your Writing is a more sexy title than Business for Authors. Nobody wants to run a business. Everyone wants to make a living. So I learned something with that. But it is interesting, because I definitely did not, I thought that people needed that book. I mean, it’s a bit like Audio for Authors, which I put out earlier this year. Also, it’s, yeah, I mean, it’s a very small market who actually want to do audio. Like, you and I think everybody loves it, but they don’t actually. It’s not that interesting to most people.

Kevin Tumlinson  18:40

It’s hard sometimes to convince people why it’s actually vital and important to your author business. I say that as somebody who hasn’t done it enough, like I’m way behind on getting my books to audio, so that’s my problem. I’m working on that.

Joanna Penn  18:57

Yeah, well, I think the write to market thing is, if you have short-term goals, short-term income goals, then it can work. I’ve never come into this with a short-term income goal. I came into this back in, you know, 2006, in order to change my career, with the understanding that a career takes many years to build. And also it’s very sustainable. You know, I—even since we’ve known each other, which must be eight years or something like that—there have been a lot of people who’ve disappeared. I mean, a lot of a lot of authors have disappeared since you and I have known each other. And certainly since I came in, in 2006, so many people have disappeared. And that’s because this career is not sustainable unless you write what you love and market, you know, market in a sustainable manner. Yeah, so you have to figure out what that is for people. And in fact, I’m going to just pick up some of these questions. But Diaz says, “As a first time writer, what is the best way to come about marketing?” And, I mean, this is where your mindset is going to be really important. Because there are short-term tactics and tips that you can get from other people. But for me, you know, as a first time writer, I don’t know whether that’s fiction or nonfiction. But for me, it’s about looking at the long term. So if you’re a first time writer, then you will also be looking at the next book. You’ll be looking at, you know, setting up a website, starting your email list, and thinking about, what is the marketing that suits you? So I can’t really tell anything about you, Diaz, from that picture. But um, you know, like for me, audio works for me, podcasting works for me. I’m never going to be someone who does a lot of live stuff, like Kevin, for example. I do ads because we have to do ads, but I will never love them, like Mark Dawson. Or, you’ve had Brian Meeks on, right?

Kevin Tumlinson  20:58

Yeah, we’ve had Brian, and David Gaughran also is big into the ad game. I’m not that big into myself. You know. You and I are a lot alike when it comes to that. I’m a content marketing guy.

Joanna Penn  21:11

Yes. And this is interesting. So we say content marketing, and that is what it is. But what I say is, we’re creating something that is useful, or entertaining, or good value, and it lasts. So this conversation will sit on the internet. And it is marketing in many ways, but hopefully, it’s also useful for people. And interesting. And so for me, I much prefer to spend my time creating something new in the world. Every moment I spend analyzing my ads is depressing, because I haven’t created anything new. It’s just a necessary evil, basically.

Kevin Tumlinson  21:48

Right. Well, I mean, since you broke protocol here, and we’re answering questions already, we’ll start going through. And I’m just gonna, because you like comments too, let me roll back. We’ll just start getting to some of the comments and just saying hello to some folks, because we got, Jimmie here is from Dallas. That’s not altogether close to where I am. We’re in Texas. That doesn’t mean we’re anywhere near each other, but hey Jimmie, how you doing, man? But here, frankly Cambridge, Ontario, Canada might actually be closer to me than Dallas. So.

Joanna Penn  22:21

I think we’ve got way too many people to say hello to everyone now.

Kevin Tumlinson  22:24

Yeah, I’m not gonna do everybody. I just wanted some of the early people who dropped in. So, here we go, how about this? Kathy asked, “I’ve heard Robin Cutler speak of a U.S. based Ingram program to sell print direct. Do you know anything about this?”

Joanna Penn  22:39

Yeah, so it was Aer.io. And I believe it’s now changed to something else. I think it might be related to bookstore.com or something like that. But I’m in the UK. So I’m not really that … Now what I would say, you know, Kevin won’t mind me saying this. Draft2Digital Print, a lot of people have been emailing me about this. And I say, I love Draft2Digital, but this is a US-based program. And so I do my print through Ingram Spark and I don’t sell print direct, because—and the main reason being, it’s a pain in the neck. Like, I don’t want to be managing that. And I think at the moment, it’s just not really good enough to do for an international audience. So I can’t answer Kathy’s question directly. But certainly go to the Ingram Spark podcast or the Ingram Spark website. They’ve actually redone their site recently and, yeah, fantastic for going print internationally around the world.

Kevin Tumlinson  23:43

Yeah, here, we’ll pop this URL up too, just in case you want to check out D2D Print, which is trucking along, I’m just gonna say that: draft2digital.com/printbeta.

Joanna Penn  23:49

Trucking along, for the US.

Kevin Tumlinson  23:54

I’m no longer allowed to say things like, you know, it’ll be here in x weeks. I’m no longer allowed to say any of that.

Joanna Penn  24:02

Well, what I would like to tell people about again is the Books2Read, which is obviously a Draft2Digital service. Books2read.com now has audio, and as we talked about, it’s had audio for a while, I know. But I keep having to tell people, please put your audio links in your Books2Read link, because there’s so many people now who want to do this. I’m also excited because it looks like I’m gonna get a Chirp deal on an audio book. If you’re wide with audio through Findaway Voices, Chirp is BookBub’s audio service and you can start applying for these things. So I think, you know, again, we’re both obsessed with audio, but I think 2021 is going to be really big for audiobook marketing. So that’s really cool.

Kevin Tumlinson  24:46

Yeah. I’m looking forward to some things, and I think you know about it too, and we can’t talk about it, but there’s something really cool coming down the pike with Findaway. I can’t wait for it to come. It’s gonna revolutionize …

Joanna Penn  24:59

I probably don’t know what that is.

Kevin Tumlinson  25:01

All right. I’m not gonna say another word. It’s just gonna be awesome. Keep your eyes on Findaway Voices. That’s how we’ll end that. So Charles has a comment that could lend itself to a question. So, “Hello. It seems really hard …” Let me read it from down here. It’s easier. “It seems really hard if you’re multi genre. It’s been hard to figure out how to present myself.” What advice would you give Charles?

Joanna Penn  25:25

Oh, Charles. I feel you because I am still going through this myself. And I’m actually gonna do a little video myself on my London—well, I call them my London books, but I’m rebranding them again. So I have a trilogy: Desecration,DeliriumDeviants. I have tried crime thriller. I’ve tried, you know, British detective, I’ve tried … and now I’m putting them into psychological thriller. I just do not know what the hell’s going on with these books. They have, you know, they have a detective, they have a psychic, they’re British, they’re horror … So basically Charles, all I can say is—and people love them, they get some of the best reviews my books get—but it’s hard for people to find them because I they’re hard to find. So basically, I can’t tell you, Charles what to do with this. All I can say is, what’s wonderful about being an indie author is you can actually change your covers, change your categories, change your keywords, and try again. So if things aren’t hitting, like I’ve just discovered, like with BookBub ads, I’m like, why are these just not getting clickthroughs? And it’s because the covers just don’t fit with the other books on the page. So I’m going to rebrand those again. So what I would say is, those of us who write multi genre, cross genre, we can’t help ourselves. Like, just, I mean, I read all over. Yeah, I mean, I read all over the shop. You know, I’ve just read the latest Max Brooks, which is like a Bigfoot horror. And then I’m reading a techno thriller right now. And, you know, I’m reading a book on money. And you know, I read all over the place. So what I would say is, embrace being multi genre, and consider having a long-term career where you figure yourself out slowly.

Kevin Tumlinson  27:14

Yes. You know, I’m glad you brought up what you’re doing with the rebranding because I’m doing the same thing with my Kotler books. Right. And because I’m writing another series, and I decided I wanted to create a sort of unifying universe for the whole thing. And so I’m rebranding them. And so I’m really curious to hear how that’s going for you. Because I’m constantly updating covers and stuff anyway, that part I’ve been doing for years. But this is the first time I’ve like changed the name of the series, basically.

Joanna Penn  27:45

Yeah, well, that I’m doing that again. Again, I don’t have any results for you. But I mean, this is the thing, and my first three books had different names. I wrote under a different author name, you know, we just get to play with this stuff over time. And I mean, traditionally published authors and publishers do this for their authors all the time. And in fact, you know, dead authors get new covers on their books. So, like, I don’t think it’s an issue. Some people say, does that mean you’ve done something wrong? You’ve got it wrong? You’ve failed? No, it just means we’re trying something new, you know?

Kevin Tumlinson  28:19

Yeah. We got it a different kind of right. We were going for a slightly different right.

Joanna Penn  28:26

Yeah. Exactly. Hattie says—hello, Hattie—says “Love your podcasts and books. Very happy they’re available through Storytel! PS: wish you would have narrated them all.” So first of all, thank you, Hattie. And I’m really excited that you found the books through Storytel. So if people don’t know, this is again Storytel, I think it’s Swedish, right? And you can get your audio, it’s like an all you can eat, it’s a subscription service for audio. And I have narrated a number of nonfiction and also some of my short stories. But this is another thing, I’ve just decided to not do my full length books. I just don’t have the time, right? I just don’t have the time.

Kevin Tumlinson  29:10

Yeah, I have the same problem. I would love to do it. And I have people asking constantly if I will narrate the Kotler books, because those would be a lot of fun to do, but they’d also be a lot of work. I just don’t have the time to do it.

Joanna Penn  29:23

Exactly. Exactly. And also, Jimmie here has a question. It’s quite a long one. I’m not sure you can get it all on the screen. But the last bit is, “What is a way to get an email …” Okay, here we go. Jimmie—

Kevin Tumlinson  29:36

Here’s a COVID mask for you.

Joanna Penn  29:39

Yes. There you go. Thank you, Jimmie. Says, “I frequently buy the series or preorder the next book.” I love you, Jimmy. You are someone who pays my bills. Thank you so much. “The Mapwalker fantasy adventure trilogy is awesome.” Thank you. “What is a way to get an email list started and the value of going wide in publishing?” Oh, these are big questions.

Kevin Tumlinson  30:00

I’m gonna take Jimmie’s question down so that we can see each other. And, go!

Joanna Penn  30:07

Yes. Okay, so what is a way to get an email list started? Funny you should ask. I’m actually, tomorrow morning, re-recording my tutorial on this very topic. So that will be available at thecreativepenn.com/authorwebsite at some point. But basically, you obviously, you have to set one up. So the first thing, and like what we all do when we’re just starting out, is we essentially just put up a link that says sign up here. It doesn’t matter if it says sign up for my newsletter, sign up for my email list, just something, and you will get a couple of people signing up. Like literally, you will get a couple of people signing up. One will be your mom, or your wife, or your partner or friend, but then people will come from the back of your book. So that’s the next tip. Put a link at the back of your books to your list and say “If you would like to hear from me,” and I know you might feel a bit kind of ugh about it, but seriously, that’s where you start. Then the next thing you do is, you think about what you can offer. So for many years, I did a short story that you could get. And now I have a novella. And then now of course, you’re seeing, because of Dawson, you’re seeing the starter library is now the common thing to give away. And of course, for my nonfiction site, I’ve been giving away the Creative Penn Blueprint, the author blueprint, for over a decade. Although I do update it every couple of months, so don’t worry, it’s not the same thing. And then actually, another thing I’ve been doing recently is, the BookFunnel promos have been interesting for email list growth. So you can find that at bookfunnel.com and have a look at their promos. Then in terms of the value of going wide in publishing, oh, there are so many things I could say here. Let’s say that many people have an issue with certain companies dominating markets and having too much power. So, obviously, we live in a very political environment. But we only have control over what we have control over. And this is an area we have control. I believe that if you are an independent author, you have to be independent. Which means you make money, you don’t rely on one company for all your income. And I think last year, Amazon was about 11% of my business income. Yeah. Which is …

Kevin Tumlinson  32:28

Oh. It used to be a lot higher, though, right?

Joanna Penn  32:30

Many years ago, it used to be a lot higher, but I’ve actively brought it down every single year. Because it’s difficult. I mean, I don’t make money just from book sales. It’s important to say that, obviously. But for book sales, obviously Amazon is a large chunk. But equally, I like having the income from all the other vendors. Because it’s, those are the growth markets as well. I think that, and then if you talk about the way we were saying before, around competition,there’s a lot less competition advertising to Kobo in Canada or Apple in Australia or whatever. So I think, and then reaching readers. So we just mentioned Storytel there. If you are exclusive with the one company, you miss out on all these other readers around the world. The other thing with Draft2Digital in particular is, you miss out on libraries, and how many of us grew up in libraries? This is like a passionate plea. Please get your books into libraries. You know, seriously.

Kevin Tumlinson  33:36

I want to, I just want to throw this in, because the way you phrased that sounded like you were saying that Draft2Digital doesn’t send you to libraries. But we know that the opposite is true.

Joanna Penn  33:46

Did I? No, I meant please put your book with Draft2Digital because they do put books into libraries.

Kevin Tumlinson  33:52

Right. Exactly. Yeah, we have a great library reach actually. One of the best of the aggregators, yeah.

Joanna Penn  33:55

Well that’s what I mean. And I think, Findaway, people often tweet me, “oh, I found your audio books in libraries.” But the other thing is, people say, “oh, but I don’t know how to market wide.” Well, for example, with your email list, putting into your email autoresponder, “Hey, did you know you can get my books for free? Just ask your librarian to order them in the catalog.” And you’ll still get paid for that, which is very cool. So look, nobody can … Also, let’s just say with going wide, you can, I mean, many people do start out exclusive, but it’s like a business plan to think about how do you expand your reach, but also, it’s not just ebook, it’s also print. It’s also audio book. And over time, you can do all these different things. I know it’s a lot to consider. But there is a big world out there. It is not just America. It is not just Amazon.

Kevin Tumlinson  34:51

What? What? There’s a world outside of America?

Joanna Penn  34:56

I’m in it. I’m out here in the world.

Kevin Tumlinson  34:58

Oh, I just thought, I just figured that the UK was just another part of the Northeast I hadn’t visited yet.

Joanna Penn  35:06

Somewhere near Greenland, apparently.

Kevin Tumlinson  35:09

So yes, you know, so the whole wide versus exclusive, of course Draft2Digital wants everyone wide. But I think you kind of, you hinted at this a little bit, but some people will start exclusive. They’ll start on Amazon. Let’s just say it that way. And then they can go wide later. Do you have a strategy that could help with something like that?

Joanna Penn  35:34

Yeah, well yeah, I think the biggest thing about going wide is you need more than one book. I do really think, like if you do, if you’re just starting out and you only have one book, like seriously, you have enough to learn. So I would say chill, unless of course you’re in different countries and for many countries, they can’t even—this is another thing, being International—and this is so funny, anything outside America is international. Whereas actually, you guys are my international. But, um, a lot of people can’t even get paid by Amazon, or they can’t publish in that way, you know, whereas you guys open to many more countries and some of the other platforms as well. Kobo, obviously, is I think the most international store. And of course, you can get into Kobo through Draft2Digital. It’s really hard to know what I’m meant to say on this.

Kevin Tumlinson  36:26

You don’t have to plug us at every turn. You’re good.

Joanna Penn  36:28

I’m good. Okay. Everyone knows I’m on your team. So in terms of a decision, in terms of going wide, yes. So having more than one book in a series is really good, especially box sets, I found box sets do really, really well on these other platforms. And then also, two, make you are actually linking to the other stores. I mentioned Books2Read earlier. That’s a really good link. But also on your website, make sure you’re linking. People are like “Oh, but I’m not selling anything on the other stores.” It’s like, have you told anyone that you’re available?

Kevin Tumlinson  37:05

Maybe it’s because you’re not telling anyone that you’re there.

Joanna Penn  37:07

Exactly. And then, you know, there’s this obsession with Amazon ads at the moment. But essentially, BookBub ads, you can do BookBub ads to all the other platforms, and they’re a lot cheaper. You can do Facebook ads to all the other different platforms. Then there are specific marketing things like Kobo, obviously if you go direct, you can do things. There’s things you can apply for, if you go through Draft2Digital, where you can get promotions on things like Apple. But yeah, I mean, I do, and then in your emails, make sure you link to all the different stores, and then podcast. Let’s come back to audio with podcasts, right? This is so important. If you do a podcast, so my show is being downloaded in 222 countries, right? I think that’s probably the reason I’ve sold books in 149 countries, is because people all over the world get media like this. And if you are not available on their device, then you won’t sell any books. So if someone hears you and they’re in Canada and they want to shop on Kobo, and you’re not on Kobo, they’re not going to buy your book. So you just, it’s almost like wide is a mindset. And once you shift your mindset, then all these other things open up to you, all these possibilities. And you realize that you can reach people in all these different ways, and that’s kind of magic. And in fact, Elyssa says here, “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don’t advertise outside of Amazon, of course you won’t sell outside of Amazon.” That’s exactly right. It’s definitely a mindset shift. Indeed.

Kevin Tumlinson  38:50

Exactly. I would be remiss if I didn’t put this comment up because of how true it is. “Kevin sees the world as Texas and the places that aren’t Texas.” Yeah. That’s absolutely true. So, I had a question in mind and I just derailed myself, so we’ll just stare lovingly each other, I guess.

Joanna Penn  39:14

I’m just going back up. Shirish actually says, “I’m a regular listener of Joanna’s podcast. It’s because of her that I made all my books wide even though it was scary.” Yay, go Shirish. I’m really pleased to hear that. And look, it is scary. But the other thing is, I think that the difference between the Zon and the wide environment is that it does take time to build in the other stores, like it takes time. So the people who go like in and out and in and out, and not really giving it time to build. Whereas if you kind of double down on trying to reach people in these different ways, then you can. And I, you know, I just like it better knowing that people can find my books in whatever their favorite store is, and whatever format as well. I do, let’s just be clear on the print and the audio. So Ingram Spark and Findaway are my wide choices for these formats.

Kevin Tumlinson  40:18

Yes. Here’s some questions. Hold on. Here we go. “Hi Joanna and Kevin! For authors with limited promotion budget, do you recommend focusing on one ad platform? And if yes, which? Or, a smaller individual investment in multiple?”

Joanna Penn  40:36

Hey, Mattie! I think this is really interesting. I’m trying a few things at the moment. I’m actually enjoying BookBub ads more than I have done before with a, like, a $5 a day spend on specific books in specific markets. So I’ve been, for example, what I found with Apple is, if I can get an Apple reader into my series, they are … They’ll spend much more money, because there’s no Kindle Unlimited. So they will spend money. So it’s worth me sending $5 a day into Apple for … And I do US, UK, Canada, Australia, generally.

Kevin Tumlinson  41:21

Yeah, I love … That’s an interesting point. And that’s one I, let’s hover on that for a second. Because I hadn’t really thought about that. Like, if you are actually cultivating readers outside of Amazon, there’s a greater potential. Like, that’s where I think you probably should focus your ad dollars, right? Cause you can get a bigger return.

Joanna Penn  41:42

Yeah, exactly. So if you do have the $5 a day, and in fact, David Gaughran’s book, BookBub Ad, whatever it is, Guru. But David Gaughran has a book on BookBub ads, which I bought in hardcopy, and was like, I’m gonna do this. I’m gonna, I recommend that book. Spend your first $5 or $10 on David’s book. And frankly he’s probably giving it away for free, he gives away so much for free. But if you, I think BookBub, a lot of people just think, “Oh, I have to get the big deal and do that massive spike, and spend like $1,000.” But you don’t, you can do $5 and you can find some … That’s how I target Kevin. I target Kevin on things, you know, I’ve got a whole load of authors, Kevin and Steve Barry.

Kevin Tumlinson  42:27

Oh, really? All right. I’ll take that company.

Joanna Penn  42:31

If you’re not in our genre, Steve Barry is really famous. And Kevin is not as famous.

Kevin Tumlinson  42:38

I’m not as famous.

Joanna Penn  42:39

Sorry, dude.

Kevin Tumlinson  42:40

We do know each other. So I count that as like, I get some famous points he and I know each other. We’re getting a question from Charles. “Is it cheaper to do a BookBub ad for a vendor like Kobo or Smashwords as opposed to Amazon or Apple?”

Joanna Penn  42:54

Well, it’s gonna depend on the other … Obviously. BookBub ads are pay-per-click ads, and you’re still bidding against other people. I may have just ruined it for myself, by giving you that tip. But that’s been the story of my life. I just share everything. Yeah, exactly, that’s what we do. So it’s really going to depend. But what I would say is, you know that thing, and Charles says it also down here, is $5 a day enough money to spend? Yes, it is. And they will … In fact, what’s interesting in these other markets is that you won’t, you might not even spend $5. So if you try and do, say, Kobo in Australia, you might not even be able to spend $5 a day. So, it’s really interesting. And that’s why I recommend David’s book, because he has a sort of step by step process for figuring out how to use BookBub in that small consistent manner. And it is obviously cheaper to target these other markets, even targeting Amazon Australia over Amazon US is a good idea. By the way, everyone, please remember to adjust your prices for the international markets. That’s actually really important. Something many American authors don’t really do. And that’s important.

Kevin Tumlinson  44:14

Yeah, you should, if you go, especially on Amazon makes it a little easier. Go on Amazon for the specific targeted region, and look up books that are in your genre, and look at the profitable prices and you can probably find the right price for that book. That’s one thing. Do you have another tip? That’s Kevin’s tip. What’s your tip?

Joanna Penn  44:32

No, that’s good. That’s a good tip. The other thing is, if you do go direct on Apple, which I do, they actually give you tiers. And it’s always fascinating, like, who has a clue what to put in Colombia, for example? And I mean, on average, you have 15 prices or something. Something like that. Apple has like 50 or something. So it’s very interesting to learn about different … I love it. I’m such an international person. I love to learn, like, oh, Colombian. But I also want to mention Nick Thacker, who I also used to target ads, and Nick is actually here.

Kevin Tumlinson  45:09

I swear I was gonna pop this question up, because he also has a BookBub book by the way.

Joanna Penn  45:14

Yes he does, which I also bought. I also bought that too. It’s also, I belive, I think it’s in Kindle Unlimited. Booo. Oh, sorry, Nick. No, no, this is what’s so lovely about the author community obviously, is that we make friends with people and then we target them with advertising. It’s all in good fun. And it’s funny, because at the beginning of the indie space, we had this mantra, which was, we’re not in competition with each other. We all raise each other up. And in a way that’s still true, but equally it’s not. Because if I bid on Nick Thacker or Kevin Tumlinson, they might be bidding on themselves as well. So we are actually in direct competition.

Kevin Tumlinson  45:58

We’re actually competing with each other. Shh.

Joanna Penn  46:01

But hey, it’s fun, you know, we have a good time.

Kevin Tumlinson  46:04

Well, we’re at the end, actually. So, unfortunately, Nick, she’s not going to answer your question, buddy. All right. So, Joanna, thank you so much for being a part of the show and sharing your wisdom. I know we kind of ranged over a whole lot of topics, but I think there was a lot of meat here. I think we got a good one.

Joanna Penn  46:26

Oh, good, no it’s always good to chat with you, Kevin. And thanks as ever to Draft2Digital for just being wonderful support for the indie community. And yeah, I’ve really enjoyed being with you all this evening.

Kevin Tumlinson  46:37

Yeah. And, of course, thank you, everything you do in this space is very helpful to the author community. So, the Creative Penn podcast, which you can find right there. Go visit thecreativepenn.com. And you can also find Joanna’s, links to Joanna’s other stuff. You can get out to your Creative Penn handles from there as well, right?

Joanna Penn  47:00

Yes, everything. Thecreativepenn.com or the Creative Penn podcast on your favorite podcast app.

Kevin Tumlinson  47:05

Wherever fine podcasts are sold. So, and thank you everybody for tuning in, wherever you happen to be. YouTube, Facebook, etc. Make sure you subscribe to us there. If you’re on Facebook, you can just kind of follow us there on Facebook. If you’re on YouTube, I’m legally obligated to tell you to click subscribe and hit the little bell icon for notifications every time we do one of these new live episodes, and we do a lot of them. And make sure you’re going over to D2Dlive.com, where every time we have something like this, you get a cool little countdown, it’s like a doomsday clock, where you can see who’s coming up and what’s going on. And that is gonna wrap us up for this episode of the Self-Publishing Insiders podcast, video, etc. Joanna Penn, thank you so much once again for being a part of the show.

Joanna Penn  47:56

Thanks, everyone. Bye.

Kevin Tumlinson  47:57

Bye, everybody.