Episode # 76 – Joanna Penn Talks Business for Authors

In Uncategorized by Julius S13 Comments

joannapennnewIt’s not often that I bring a guest back onto the show. But if anyone was going to make a reappearance, it would be Joanna Penn. Thriller and non-fiction author, recently of Business for Authors, Joanna is a force in the self-publishing world. In this episode we talk about why you have to start looking at writing as a business if you want to make it an income and not just a hobby. Show notes rspcast.com/penn

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Business for Authors

Amazon Profile



Previous interview with Jo – Listen to that for the background.

The Creative Penn – (and podcast)

Jane Friedman

 Self Publishing Podcast

 Sell More Books Show

 Audiobooks for Indies

 Dean Wesley Smith – I have interviewed him, and he has some exceptional courses.

 Hugh Howey – Another great interview, and Hugh does point out that you should look at people who are making it work over and over again.

Show notes:

Business Background

Joanna has a background in business having work for corporations but also run her own business. She wanted to use that knowledge to educate writers in the way of business!

Graduate Level

There is a lot of stuff out there on marketing and the basics of being an authors. Business for Authors is a more graduate book, for people who are a bit further down the road. Joanna has found that even authors who are advanced when it comes to writing, are not particularly business savvy, or are even afraid of some of the terms. This is a serious financial risk, and Business for Authors is there to educate people on it.

Baseline Income

This is an important concept. Until you reach you own defined level of baseline income, you shouldn’t be working on projects that are not going to bring you in money. Don’t write a memoir if you can’t pay your bills.

Business Models

Right now there is a big focus on the high production, popular books model, but there are others out there. Sporadic books combined with other income sources; speaking, teaching etc… A full time author doesn’t necessarily make all their income from their books – they will often have a lot going on on the side. Some people just don’t want to write sparkly vampire fiction, and that’s okay, there are many models that an author can follow.

You should also look several years into the future. A year can go by and it can seem that not much has changed, but after several years (I like four), you can really see progress. Work out where you want to be in four years times, what you want to be writing/doing, and how much you want to be earning. This is all the sort of things that can go in a business plan – much more detail on that in her book.


You have to spend time and money learning the skills of being a writer. The idea of just writing a book and expecting it to make you rich is a myth. Many authors think about buying things as a loss of money, it’s just gone, but the reality is that it is an investment. Editing, covers, learning, are expenses that you will get a return on (hopefully, everything comes with risk).

Write Things Down

Write down your goals, you are going to be much more likely to reach those goals if they are down on paper. Then tell people about those goals, and if you can find someone to hold you to accountable to them, that is going to be a game changer for you.

Action Steps

  • Get and read Joanna Penn’s book. Even if you know quite a bit about the business side of things it is worth a read. Take notes, note down actions you need to take from the book.
  • If you haven’t start writing down whatever it is that you want to write (even if it is crazy). Divide these books into two columns “business decision” and which are a “passion decision.” Books that are good for business get done in working hours, books for passion get done at other times.
  • Related to the above step. Look for crossovers between the two columns. Joanna gives the example of wanting to write about spiritual places in a memoir format, that won’t sell though, so she writes about those places in thrillers, which will sell. Find your own crossovers.
  • What is your “baseline income” – how much do you need to make from your books to be able to live? Work out the bare minimum figure, the comfortable figure, and the aspirational figure. Now, divide that number by 365 – that gives you how much you need to earn per day. Remember that doesn’t need to just be books, think audio, think translations, think speaking gigs. In the short term, even think about swapping some “hours for money” with a bit of freelance writing.
  • Spending money – allocate a fund for learning and development. How much should you be spending a year on books and courses and learning? If you allocate an education/development fund it will be much easier to spend the money. For example, “I have to spend $500 a year on writing/business courses” makes you far more likely to make the investment. Likewise, “I have $1000 to edit and get a cover for book XYZ” will actually mean you spend the money.


Leave a comment below or get in touch with Simon by email at simon@rockingselfpublishing.com

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Julius SEpisode # 76 – Joanna Penn Talks Business for Authors
  • Michael Coorlim

    Super-helpful as always, Joanna. Just picked up the book – can’t wait to give it a read.

  • FANTASTIC episode, so much to take away. Joanna’s advice can be applied to other self-owned businesses as well, I think. I bought Joanna’s book and look forward to learning new things for both my writing and other career. Thank you for all this, Simon! Great interview, as always.

    • SimonRSP

      Absolutely, very much applicable to other self-owned businesses, especially those that are creative in nature!

  • DB Daglish

    This year I self published for the first time, there are eight now since May 2014. But when one type began selling I wrote more in that genre (2 more since June and in middle of another). While writing was a passion I now see it as a business and already earn 4000% more than the average ebook author (not the minimum – the ‘average’). Yet that income is still small because of a goal of a full time income. If I can get into that mindset in six months…anyone can.

    • SimonRSP

      Wow, great progress DB, especially over such a short period 🙂

  • Alyne de Winter

    <3 <3 <3 <3!
    This was like an elixir of wisdom! I'm ancient when it comes to writing but new to business. I never did this "for the money" but Indie publishing creates a new vision and encourages serious output. It is overwhelming online and it took me a while to learn to narrow down my 'teachers" to three: Joanna and Jim Kukural and the Boyz. It helps a lot to cut through the deluge.
    Joanna does make business sound exciting and writing those lists is really fun as you see things falling into place.
    I am going to get the book!

    • SimonRSP

      I’m going to assume those are hearts rather than giving the episode “less than three” ;P.

      Thanks for listening as ever Alyne, and I’m glad you’ve chosen to read Jo’s book, it really is excellent 🙂

      • Alyne de Winter

        They are hearts! I used to think they were Om signs….

  • Richard Keller

    I’m a new self-publisher and a new listener to the podcast. Boy, Joanna’s interview hit me right where it counts. I’ve been thinking about the lack of monthly sales rather than the total picture. I’m purchasing the book and keeping it on my desk

    • SimonRSP

      Welcome to the podcast Richard! This is a great one to start on :).

  • Mat Morris

    This was a wonderful interview. Loved it and shared it with a number of my local writing friends.

  • Very informative as always, I’m so very grateful for people like Joanna Penn and you, Simon for letting us all in on the secrets. As a note, Jane Friedman seems to be missing in the mentions and she seems to fit right in there.

    • SimonRSP

      Thanks Barbara! And yep, I just updated the show notes to include her, thanks for letting me know.