The L&L Blog  /  Scrivener

Write Now with Scrivener, Episode no. 24: Joanna Penn, Author Entrepreneur | Literature and Latte

Joanna Penn combines her talents as a thriller author with her skills in marketing to have a successful writing career.

Joanna Penn combines her talents as a thriller author with her skills in marketing to have a successful writing career. Her latest book is Pilgrimage: Lessons Learned from Solo Walking Three Ancient Ways.

Show notes:

Learn more about Scrivener, and check out the ebook Take Control of Scrivener.

If you like the podcast, please follow it in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast app. Leave a rating or review, and tell your friends. And check out past episodes of Write Now with Scrivener.

Joanna Penn combines her talents as a thriller author with her skills in marketing to have a successful writing career.

With more than three dozen books written, Joanna Penn is both a prolific author and a skilled marketer. Self publishing her books, and selling through multiple channels, has enabled her to makes a six-figure-plus income from writing. Joanna came to writing after a university degree and several years of corporate work, neither of which fulfilled her.

"I have a degree in theology, which is not good for much, except writing thrillers. But I went into a corporate career; I used to implement accounts payable systems. I did technical consulting for 13 years in various companies across Europe and Asia-Pacific. It was golden handcuffs; I was paid really good money, but I was just miserable. It got to the point where I was crying in the toilets every day going, 'What am I doing with my life?' I'm earning money. I'm paying my bills, but I just couldn't see the point. I couldn't see a future that way."

Joanna questioned the direction her life was taking, and wondered if she could make a career out of three things she loves: reading, writing, and traveling. "That's when I started writing my first book called Career Change. This is essentially how I changed my own career, because I discovered writing and publishing, and then, later, marketing, blogging, and podcasting. I've been full time since 2011, and I started writing in 2006. It's been over 16 years of doing this; certainly not an overnight success career, but it's one I love."

Building a career like this doesn't happen overnight. Many authors dream of having a success with their first novel, but a sustainable career needs to grow organically. "You can't build a career on a lightning strike. But what you can build is multiple streams of income from global places over the year. And that's how I've built my career. I have hundreds of streams of income. Most of them are very small, but they all add up to more money. I have a lot of ways to earn money from my intellectual property assets. And that's how I see my books. I'm an artist, I'm an author when I'm writing them, but when I put them into the world, they're an employee, and they're going out there and they're making me money to sustain my creative living. I never want to go back to that day job.I'm very motivated to write and to reach readers as well."

Over the years, Joanna added new skills to her toolbox. She started out blogging when it was still fresh, learned about internet marketing, started podcasting, and recently set up a Kickstarter to crowdfund her latest book, Pilgrimage. "I'm doing, I'm learning new things all the time. How can I get better as an artist and as a crafts person? How can I get better at writing? But, also, how can I get better at business and marketing?"

She launched her latest book, Pilgrimage, on Kickstarter, with a goal of £1,000. When we recorded this podcast, she had nearly £17,000 pledged, and eventually reached £25,000. "I've been doing book marketing a long time. But this is a travel memoir about pilgrimage, which doesn't fit my audience. It is a completely new thing. So I didn't really think anyone would buy it. To be honest, I thought a few people would buy it because they're fans of me as a person. But it really seems to have resonated."

One of the three pilgrimages she followed, the Camino de Santiago, is quite popular among Christians. Joanna said, "I'm actually not a Christian myself." Even though she has a theology degree, which is, she says, how she lost her faith. She used this walk as a form of renewal. "I've always loved walking. We've had a difficult time in the world, and I needed to walk in order not to go mad. So it's a kind of mental health book, or midlife book, or solo walking book: it's all those things."

Joanna has used Scrivener to write all of her books. "What I do with any new idea is I open a blank Scrivener project, and then, on the left-hand side, I just have placeholders. When I walked the Pilgrim's Way back in 2020, I thought I was going to write a guidebook. So the original Scrivener project had practical things. I thought I'd write three guidebooks, and then I thought I would write something like an actual memoir, and then I ended up writing a cross between a travel memoir and a practical walking guide.

"Scrivener is great for just chucking all your notes in and figuring it out later. I always write out of order, so I use the drag-and-drop functionality of Scrivener; even in the editing process, I'm still moving chapters around. When I was walking, I have my my journals that I write in. Then when I get back, I type those up into my Scrivener documents. I read about 50 books on pilgrimage, on walking on the Camino, and I take notes and those go into Scrivener. I have some photos and they go in. And then I create the folders around the different parts and organize them."

Joanna has many years of experience marketing her books, and I asked her what is the best way for a new author to build up a platform like hers. "The email list really is the thing, and also write more books. Start there, and then choose one thing to do. Maybe it's pitching podcasts like this, or maybe it's getting on one social media platform and really trying hard there. But take it slow, and don't get overwhelmed."

Kirk McElhearn is a  writerpodcaster, and photographer. He is the author of Take Control of Scrivener, and host of the Write Now with Scrivener podcast.

Keep up to date