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Interview – Joanna Penn

JoannaPennNewColorSmallThis woman really needs no introduction. You know her, trust me. You know her as an author, or an entrepreneur, a motivational speaker, an interviewer, or as all four, because she is. She definitely wears a lot of hats and she looks fabulous in all of them. 🙂 I’m so happy to have Joanna Penn on the site today! This woman is just a master class on writing and publishing. She’s an inspiration. She has a new book out called Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur, and it’s available in ebook, print and audio. She was voted as one of the Guardian UK Top 100 creative professionals 2013. Her website, is regularly voted one of the top sites for authors and self-publishers. Writing as J.F.Penn, Joanna is also a New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author. Be sure to connect with her on Twitter @thecreativepenn

Happy reading!



First, thank you for being here! I know how busy you are, and I know how much you do! Not only are you the author of some of my favorite books, which we’ll get to in a moment, but you’re also the creator of one of my favorite sites: The Creative Penn. So let’s start there. You’ve talked about how you first came up with the idea of the website and what your objectives were for it. But recently, you’ve said that you’re switching direction a bit with it. Can you talk about that decision a little more? What was your process into deciding what you wanted the site to evolve into and become?

The Creative Penn is coming up to its 6th anniversary in Dec 2014. When I started the site, I had one non-fiction self-published book and I was just learning about the process of publishing ebooks and print on demand, only just dipping my toe into marketing. I had never even considered writing fiction and I had never had a paid speaking event. I was still working at a full-time IT consultancy job in Brisbane, Australia.

Six years on, I have 12 books, 8 thriller fiction and 4 non-fiction. My books are published in ebook, print and audiobook format in 58 countries and four languages, and I am a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. I’ve been a full-time author-entrepreneur for 3 years and regularly travel to speak professionally as well as for book research. I am now living in London, England and have begun to focus on fiction primarily.

So basically, I’ve been blogging and podcasting for that whole journey. I have lived the process in public! So the next iteration will be going back to the fundamentals, the writing and creativity, as well as continuing to investigate how creative entrepreneurs can expand their work into the world. I’ll never stop blogging and podcasting completely, but I will be cutting down in order to focus on more fiction.

You’re a consummate professional. I love your podcasts. How do you decide who you’ll interview and how do you prepare each interview?

I meet interesting people online all the time, and I like to take that to the next level by interviewing them. I always try to learn something new myself during the process but it is important to me to interview people I want to talk to. So I do think of the audience, but equally, I want to continue my own education.

I prepare questions before hand based on reading their books, or their blog and checking their social media and try to ask things that are not just run of the mill.

Publishing is obviously changing a lot these days. What are your biggest takeaways from all you’re learning about and experiencing?

Authors are entrepreneurs – we create value from ideas.

If you embrace that definition and stop asking permission, or waiting to be picked, your creative life will really explode and the opportunities that come your way will be beyond what you can imagine. It takes time, but we live in such an exciting time right now!


Alright, let’s switch gears a minute and talk about your fabulous books! Smart, suspenseful and fast-paced, I love them. Tell us a bit about your average day and writing routine.

I measure my life by what I create, so I need to write something most days. I either write in the London Library, or at my desk at home, or sometimes in a coffee shop. After the writing is done, I spend time on the marketing stuff – blogging, podcasting, interviews etc. Living in London is fantastic as I have so much inspiration so I often do research trips to exhibitions – Day of the Vikings was inspired by a trip to the British Museum. I also travel a lot for research – a perk of the job! Then I have days when I am preparing for speaking events, or actually speaking professionally. As an introvert, I find it draining although I love doing it, so I often need quiet recovery time after those days.

As a writer of thrillers myself, one of the hardest things I find in terms of writing is making sure information and clues are given to the reader at the exact right time to have the most impact yet make the most sense. I hate thrillers or mysteries that feel too coincidental. 🙂 It’s why I love your books so much, they’re very streamlined and perfectly paced. What’s your secret to writing such pulse-pounding stories?

Thank you! I think it’s about writing what you love to read and I have lived on a diet of exciting books and movies for the many years I had a miserable day job. I always wanted to escape on my downtime, so I read James Rollins, Matthew Reilly, Lee Child, Dan Brown and others, and then that’s what I wanted to write as well. It’s important to me that there are explosions and fight scenes, and a kick-ass female character! Morgan Sierra is clearly my alter-ego!

It’s no secret that you have your hands in quite a number of pots, from all your work with The Creative Penn to doing translations on your books to organizing your podcast schedule and getting those recorded. It certainly takes a lot out of you! And at the end of the day, when all is said and done, it’s still about the books you write. So what’s your advice on how to summon the mental fortitude it takes to sit down and write after a very long day?

I don’t write after a long day. I am a morning person 🙂 You have to figure out when you have that creative energy and write then. When I had a day job, I would get up at 5am and write before work, and do the marketing stuff in the evening. Now, I still write the original stuff in the mornings, and then I do the rest later. In terms of the bigger picture determination, it’s about how much you really want this. Do you want to be a full-time author making a good living from your books? If you do, get your butt in the chair. If you are just writing for creative expression, then fantastic, don’t worry about the rest of it – just have fun!

What’s next for you, both with The Creative Penn and your books?

I just released Business for Authors: How to be an author entrepreneur last week, so I am still in a launch phase for that, doing podcasts and interviews and things. I have just started the next ARKANE adventure, Gates of Hell, which will be out before Christmas. I’m also plotting a new series that I will start during NaNoWriMo this year. The Creative Penn podcast and blog will continue as well, so don’t worry about that!

And last question: I can’t ever end an interview without asking for advice. So, Joanna, after years of work and tons of hands-on experience and your own trials and tribulations, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? And what would your best piece of advice be?

I have been an avid reader of self-help books for many years, so there is a lot of advice. I’ll pick some from two books I always recommend that have really helped me.

The Success Principles by Jack Canfield. You have to define where you want to get to and then do whatever it takes to get there. So if you want to be known as a fiction author, write a lot of fiction.

The Compound Effect – Darren Hardy. It just takes a little every day for years and your life can be changed beyond recognition. I’ve seen this happen in my own life. From miserable IT consultant to happy author-entrepreneur: it just takes effort and consistency over time.

Thanks so much Joanna!

1 Comment »

  1. Very inspiring. Just checked out her website, and anybody self publishing should check out her self-pub page. Awesome resources, and great to hear of her journey

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