2019 Round-Up. Did I Achieve My Creative Goals? Did You?

Every year, I set creative, financial and health goals and share them on the blog and the podcast. It helps keep me accountable and focused, although, inevitably things change over the year. 2019 is no different!

You can read my 2019 goals here and whether I achieved them — and why I changed direction — below.


(1) Be a better publisher. Make more of what I already have.

It was my priority this year to go wide with audio and create more editions of my existing work, as well as writing and publishing new books. Once you create intellectual property assets, you have to manage them and that means maintaining the editions as well as marketing in order to sell more for the long-term.

I have definitely achieved this goal with new editions of older books, and also making sure that my new books are released in multiple editions simultaneously.

Joanna Penn Successful Self Publishing

This care of the backlist tends to get forgotten by many indie authors who see speed of publishing as the main goal, but of course, once the book is out there, it is only an asset if it brings in income for the long-term. Otherwise, it is just cashflow — money for time — as it is for those traditionally published authors who sign contracts for the life of copyright. You have to look after the book. Maybe that means updating the content, or at least the back-matter, or it might mean doing new covers for a series, or revamping the blurbs, or doing a promotional campaign on an older book to bring it back to life.

Do you have an Asset Master List? Basically, just a list of your books down one side and then the formats they are available in, as well as countries, and/or languages, and/or platforms? I use mine to calculate how many products I have in the world and identify the gaps for what else I can produce. For example, I still need to finish doing audiobooks of the backlist, as well as large print and hardback editions of specific books. Right now, I have 160 separate streams of income from my 32 books (and that only counts ebooks as one stream, rather than each individual platform).

Even if you only have one book, you can start an Asset Master List as you can start to identify what you can do to increase income from your one product. If you have more books, what are you waiting for?!

Also, I have to share my updated Kobo Writing Life map as I have now sold books in 136 countries! (over the last 8 years)

I have now sold books in 136 countries through Kobo!

(2) Write more books as J.F.Penn

I intended to write 3 novels this year, but only managed Map of Plagues. I have started Map of the Impossible (16K words) and have also started the research on ARKANE #11 which will be based around the Portuguese Empire. I’m the kind of fiction writer who loves the research process, so I am never going to finish novels at a fast pace, and that’s OK, because this pace is sustainable for me and I have a very happy creative life! (Plus, look at everything else I did!)

I did re-edit and narrate The Dark Queen and A Thousand Fiendish Angels, so those are now available as audiobooks.

Plus, I launched Books and Travel as (4) below and that is under my Jo Frances (JF) Penn brand.

All this audio focus will underpin my fiction as the years progress. I have built an effective eco-system for multiple streams of income around my non-fiction as Joanna Penn, so my plan is now to do that for J.F.Penn, too, but I know it takes at least 3-5 years of work to see any significant impact on sustainable sales. Luckily, I am patient!

I love my varied creative life, and fiction plays a part in it — but only a part. I have tried a number of times to force myself into the ‘full-time fiction writer’ box, but it never works. It’s just not me. I will never be the type of author who only writes one kind of book, so, I will now embrace my portfolio life and continue writing novels, but alongside everything else, I love to create!

(3) Continue serving the author community through The Creative Penn

The Creative Penn Podcast hit its 10 year anniversary in March 2019 and I shared the journey in a solo episode: 3.2 Million Downloads in 215 Countries. [It’s now up to over 3.9 million downloads across 222 countries]. I’ve also done some other significant solo episodes this year that hopefully, you have found useful:

These solo shows take a lot of time — and also money in terms of the travel and learning that go into the prep work — so a huge thank you to my Patrons. If you’d like to support the show with just a couple of dollars a month, go to Patreon.com/thecreativepenn

I produced updated editions of Successful Self-Publishing and Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and Other Introverts and recorded them in audio. Plus I did a mini-course on Productivity for Authors and then turned that material into a book, Productivity for Authors: Find Time to Write, Organize your Author Life and Decide What Really Matters.

I have almost finished the edits on Audio for Authors: Audiobooks, Podcasting and Voice Technologies, so that will be out 6 March 2020, available now for pre-order.

I’ve also been learning a lot and sharing my lessons with you along the way. I attended the WIRED conference on AI (London), London Book Fair, Podcast Movement (Orlando), Frankfurt Book Fair (Germany), and the Business Masterclass (Las Vegas). It has been a brilliant year of learning for me, made possible by the fact that I have not done any professional speaking. I needed a reboot and I certainly got that in 2019, and I hope that you have found my lessons useful along the way.

Continuous learning is critical for creatives and entrepreneurs. We need to keep filling the creative well, but also learn new skills and ideas and meet people outside our immediate niche. We cannot stay in the safety of the indie author echo chamber or we will find ourselves blindsided by changes to come.

Freedom remains my #1 value, but curiosity is a close second, and I will keep sharing what I learn as we go forward together on the author journey.

(4) Content marketing for fiction — Books and Travel

One of my biggest achievements this year was the successful launch of www.BooksAndTravel.page.

Books and Travel

I’ve been posting travel articles and bi-monthly podcasts since March and have started writing my travel memoir in real-time with solo episodes, as well as interviewing lots of fascinating authors about wonderful places. It is evolving to be far more ‘memoir-y’ than travel tips, focusing on the emotional resonance of places, the truth beneath the hype and the personal experience of people from different places.

I come off the phone after the interviews fired up about seeing more of the world, so the show is nurturing my creative soul. For now, that is enough, and I won’t be thinking about monetization for at least another six months because I don’t know what it will turn into or who the true audience is. Sometimes, a creative project is just a creative project!

Here are some of my solo shows in case you want to try them — there are also transcripts and pictures from my life.

I love the show — it feeds my creative soul. I don’t know if I will continue doing The Creative Penn Podcast for another decade, but my evergreen love of books and travel will certainly abide!

You can subscribe to the Books and Travel podcast with the links below or just search for Books and Travel on your favorite podcast app:

Subscribe on RSSSubscribe on iTunesSubscribe on AndroidSubscribe on StitcherSubscribe on Spotify

(5) Focus on freedom. Outsourcing, batching and systems

I’ve been able to do a lot more this year because I’m not doing so much admin work and I’ve got a lot better at saying no (as explained in my Productivity book!). There are still days when all I do is prep work, marketing, accounting, etc but that’s just part of running a business.

My team is pretty sorted these days which means most things run smoothly. Alexandra manages the blog and transcripts for both podcasts and will also be taking over my main inbox in January; Dan does podcast and audiobook edits and production; Jane does my book covers and graphic design and I have a couple of other people who help me with technical things, some freelance writing, and social media stuff.

I moved from Quickbooks to Xero for my accounting software and that has been fantastic — the integration with multiple currency PayPal accounts is brilliant and saves me so much time with reconciliations. We all have to update our systems over time as new and better options become available. I’ve also been looking at my various monthly recurring payments for software as a service and getting rid of things I don’t really need.

A profitable business has to focus on making more revenue, but also reducing expenses where necessary and so I have made some choices to cut expenses where I think the return on investment is not worth it.

(6) The Healthy Writer and the traveling writer

It’s been an interesting year for my health, a pivotal one in many ways.

I seriously fell off the wagon in the first half of 2019 — we bought a house in late January and it took until May to settle and move in, so with that stress and all the moving things, my eating patterns went out the window. We’ve had some family health issues which have added stress and then had a (rather alcoholic) family holiday in Spain, then I had laser eye surgery, and recovery from both of those sent me further off-course.

Orlando in August was my low point. The conference hotel had barely anything I would call ‘real’ food and so I lived mainly on bagels. I’ve had recurrent shoulder pain for a while but it seriously flared up, inflamed more than ever by the high sugar intake. My weight was too high, and I had more joint pain than I’ve had in a while. I had moved into chronic pain and it impacted my mood and mental health, my sleep, my marriage and my creativity. Not good.

But low points are important because they make us take action!

I saw a nutritionist on my return and started on a low inflammation way of eating — basically no (or very low) sugar and low GI. I started feeling better within days and my joints started to improve. I had a steroid shot in my shoulder to reduce the pain and inflammation and started working with a personal trainer twice a week for shoulder rehab and also building strength in my back to correct my posture.

After four months, my health has seriously turned around. I love my bi-weekly training sessions and this way of eating suits me so well. I don’t find it an issue at all, and I’m down a dress size, my body fat is down by 5%, I can deadlift 50kgs and lift an Olympic bar (20kgs) overhead (both for 3 sets of 5-8 reps each) — whereas I couldn’t even stretch my arm up vertically before and couldn’t even lift 1kg weight. I’m 45 in March 2020 and I’m now confident I will be meeting mid-life fitter, stronger and pain-free! I have booked to do the 100km Race to the Stones again in early July 2020 (here’s my report from when I did it in 2016). Those of you who were around back then will know I said I’d never do a double-ultra again (!) but I really want something to measure against and I am confident I know how to look after myself better this time.

In Las Vegas, Lisbon, Amsterdam, and the canal I walk along most weekends at home here in Bath

In terms of travel, I’ve done a lot for my writing life. Fiction book research trips to Amsterdam (April) and Lisbon (September) for ARKANE #11, plus Orlando for Podcast Movement, and then Las Vegas for the Business Masterclass. I started the year in Australia with family, and have also been to Spain. You can always follow my pics here on Instagram @jfpennauthor

We did have a big cycle trip planned in Asia, but because of family health things, my husband Jonathan has been back and forth to New Zealand four times, and we couldn’t commit to an extended period away. That is on hold until things settle down. 2020 may well be a year of family-related travel.

Financial goals

I don’t have to return to a day job! Hooray! That is my main driver for this creative business.

The business income remained steady but my expenses increased, resulting in less profit. This was around virtual assistant help and also hosting costs, as well as my (extensive) international travel. I have plans to address all of those things, so 2020 should be more profitable.

It’s important to increase income, but it’s also critical to reduce expenses. After all, it’s not about how much you make, it’s about how much you keep. 

I have saved and invested, my net worth has increased, we bought a house and I have read a lot of books and listened to a lot of podcasts around the Financial Independence Retire Early movement (FIRE). I’ll be having Brad from the Choose FI Podcast on the show in early January to share some of the principles — and I also recommend Playing with Fire, a documentary on financial independence and rethinking our choices to make life easier and more sustainable. If you want to learn more about money in 2020, check out my list of recommended money books here.

Joanna Penn, London. December 2019

In conclusion …

It’s been an excellent year in terms of stretching myself, learning new things and expanding my ability to create in different ways. My year of ‘no speaking’ has been effective because it freed up my time to travel for learning and book research, which I’ve loved. I’m speaking a couple of times in 2020, but I’m determined to make it only a small part of my life going forward. It’s not my Zone of Genius (as per Gay Hendricks book, The Big Leap), and I can serve the author community more effectively through the podcast anyway.

I’ve finished 2019 with more books, more audiobooks and podcast episodes — all of which are intellectual property assets that bring me income for the long-term. My net worth has increased as well as my physical health. I have ended the year pain-free which is probably the greatest gift! I’ve also learned new skills around voice and experimented with AI tools that take me into the 2020s with confidence that my business can surf the changes ahead. I’ll be back on 1 Jan with my goals for 2020.

OK, over to you! Let’s keep each other accountable. Please do leave a comment with how your creative year went.

  • If you’re an artist, up to a creative challenge, and love this story, enter your email here. Click here for more info.

  • December 29, 2019