Interview On Audio For Authors. Joanna Penn With Kobo Writing Life

In this lively chat, I answer questions about audiobooks for authors, including how to publish, market, and sell audio, plus the future of voice, impacts of the coronavirus, and more. Thanks to Tara and Laura at Kobo Writing Life for the opportunity to do a Facebook Live.

Watch the video below or here on YouTube or listen to the interview on the Kobo Writing Life Podcast in audio-only here.

In this discussion, we talk about:

  • The international potential of being an indie author
  • Why audio is undergoing a surge in popularity
  • When authors can consider moving into audiobooks
  • Options for self-narrating audiobooks
  • How to find a narrator
  • The possible future of audio and AI voices
  • How to market audiobooks

You can find Audio for Authors on Kobo here in ebook and audiobook formats. It’s also available on all the other stores – links here.

You can check out the Kobo Writing Life Podcast here or subscribe on your favorite podcast app. You can also listen to the episode below. You can self-publish your books at

Transcript of Interview with Joanna Penn

Stephanie: Hey, writers. You’re listening to the Kobo Writing Life Podcast. We’re bringing you insights and inspiration for growing your self-publishing business. I’m your host, Stephanie McGrath, and the publisher operations specialist here at Kobo Writing Life.

Tara: And I’m Tara Cremin, the senior manager of author experience for Kobo.

Stephanie: In this week’s episode, we have a special recording of a Facebook live we did with Joanna Penn where she talked to Tara about audiobooks and podcasts.

Tara: It was a really great live event that we hosted on our page and we think it’s really beneficial to this audience as listeners of podcasts. Her new book is called Audio For Authors and it gives lots of tips about different production of audiobooks, why you should, how you should market.

She also talks a little bit about going into like AI with synthetic voices and things like that, about how she’s going to be licensing out her own voice in the future, which is futuristic and interesting and all of the things.

Stephanie: And she talked about how she sees publishing changing in the next literally months during…

Tara: We wanted to put this episode out really quickly because we do touch on talking about the coronavirus a little bit and the effects that it’s had so far on publishing. Joanna talks about what she’s seeing for the moment and where she thinks things will go.

Stephanie: And since everything’s changing really quickly, just to know, we recorded this at the end of March 2020. We hope you enjoy it.

Tara: It’s pretty timely. And Joanna is always a great guest and I can’t wait for her to license that voice because she’s got a good speaking voice.

Stephanie: She really does. Please keep listening. We hope you enjoy.

Tara: We’re live with Joanna Penn here.

Welcome, Joanna.

Joanna: Thanks for having me, Tara. It’s great to be here.

Tara: Thanks for joining us. We wanted to say off the bat that things are quite difficult in the world right now and we don’t want to take away from that. But also we want to keep going so, we hope that everyone’s safe and that we can give some advice about non-terrible things that are happening.

We’re going to talk to Joanna and get all of her insights and everything. So, you’re incredibly well known in the indie community and you’ve always been a really solid resource for information.

For anyone that maybe isn’t familiar, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, Joanna?

Joanna: Sure. I’m British for a start. I’m in Bath in the southwest of England. I write non-fiction for authors as Joanna Penn and I have a podcast, The Creative Penn Podcast, which Kobo Writing Life sponsors. So, we’ve been friends for many years.

I also write fiction as J.F. Penn, F for Frances. And I’ve got about 32 books at this point.

I first self-published in 2008, so before the international Kindle, before Kobo, before so many of the things that we have now. And I’ve pretty much been talking about it since 2008. I left my job in 2011 to go full-time and I make a multi 6-figure income as a creative author, entrepreneur.

I’ve done everything over the years and continue to experiment with new forms of creativity and publishing. And I’ve been on Kobo since the beginning. So very happy to share today.

Tara: You’re always a very good spokesperson for us. We always appreciate it.

You’ve been publishing since 2008, what made you go into indie publishing in the first place?

Joanna: I’ve basically run my own businesses since around the year 2000. So, I guess 20 years now. It partially makes me feel old. I was already a businesswoman when I decided to write a book and I was implementing financial systems into corporates at the time, which is definitely boring. So, I wanted to change my life.

I wrote this book, which is available as Career Change. I wanted to change my career and when I looked at the publishing industry as it was then, and still really as it is now, I just went, ‘Why does it take so long to do anything?’ And also I’m a very sort of can-do person and the control of just getting it out there is what I liked even back then when it was print thousands of books and put them in your garage self-publishing era.

And every single year we get more and more stuff that’s exciting that helps indie authors reach the world. Through Kobo Writing Life, in fact, I’ve sold books, I think 144 countries now, something like that.

My KWL map. All the countries I have sold in via Kobo! Thanks, KWL

Tara: I do always enjoy seeing your KWL map!

Joanna: You guys are still the only people with a map on the dashboard so good on you. I love it.

I’m British and when I started I was in Australia… I’m also a New Zealand citizen. My family’s all around the world. I’m basically very international. My sister-in-law’s Canadian. I’ve got another sister-in-law from Nigeria. I’ve got this very international mindset.

So, from the beginning, I was always determined to get my books out to the whole world. Remember in 2008 we were only just getting into the iPhone. It’s crazy how technology has changed, but social media was just kicking off. And so, I realized that I could use these online tools to reach people all over the world. And that was not what publishers were doing. They’re still very territorial.

What I love about being indie is being able to upload my books to all these places. And because I own the worldwide rights, I can sell them all over the world and even from my own website, which I do as well. Freedom is probably my number one value. And that being an independent is so important to me, really.

I do have some traditional publishing deals for foreign rights and would definitely do other traditional publishing deals if the contract was what I was looking for. I’m certainly not saying that it’s not worth doing, I’m just saying dependent on what people want, that’s a good way to consider it.

Tara: Nice. Indie publishing has for such a long time been predominantly about eBooks, but now we’re seeing a move into different formats, especially with audio and you have a book that’s out, Audio For Authors that’s right behind your shoulder.

What do you think has led to this change or what’s caused the appetite for audiobooks to be so big right now?

Joanna: I think there’s a couple of different things in terms of audio popularity and what we’ve seen in the last seven years, I think it is, the Audio Publishers Association has seen double-digit revenue growth in audio. And realistically, the main thing is the smartphone. That has really changed people’s behavior with audiobooks.

I used to listen to books when I was a kid and you’d get the tapes and you put them in. And of course, they’ve been accessible for people with visual difficulties, but this has made them mainstream. And I also think the crossover with podcasting has helped.

This has also helped in the demographic because it used to be that, again, hearing books were for a certain demographic, and then if you go to a library, that’s another demographic. But now pretty much anyone in the developed market has a phone in their pocket.

And so the speed of download is really important. That has changed. So, all of this stuff has meant that audio has become more just used in so many ways. All the news outlets have a little podcast, and things are just appearing in audio in the same way that maybe a decade ago. We start to see everything arrive in audio. I think Kobo started in 2012.

Tara: Kobo Writing Life was 2012 and then Kobo was 2009.

Joanna: Yes. So, we’re really looking at the decade of ebooks and digital has now morphed into audio. And what we’re seeing in some markets is audiobooks are overtaking eBook sales and they’re not necessarily cannibalizing sales. But there are sales of other things.

For example, personally I listen to a lot of non-fiction on 1.5x speed and then I’ll also buy the paperback or the hardback to keep as a sort of extra, or I might listen to an audio drama and that might lead me to buy another book.

I think what I want people to consider with audio is it’s not a replacement, in the same way that ebooks certainly some genres like romance are very heavily eBook-dominated but non-fiction I find I sell lots of audio, lots of print, in all different formats, large print, hardback, paperback, and eBooks. So, this is what’s so exciting. We can do all of this now.

Tara: I love that you listen at 1.5x speed. I can’t do that all.

Joanna: It depends on what it is. But I think what happens is that over time you want to learn more. People just sound so slow when you listen to them at normal speed. And it’s funny because I think you also step it up. I was at 1.25x and now I’m at 1.5x, but some of the apps now go up to three times.

Tara: I can’t do it.

Have you ever slowed anything down? Is that an option for you?

Joanna: Yes, you can. You can slow things down, but it’s funny because I narrate my own non-fiction audiobooks now as well. Audio For Authors is self-narrated. And it’s funny because when I’m narrating it, I’m thinking someone’s just going to speed this up. It’s funny.

Narrated by me!

Tara: If I ever narrated anything that would be the use of slowing it down because just the Irishness in me talks very quickly.

Joanna: I love your voice.

Tara: Even now though, I’m like, ‘Oh no,’ I’m telling myself to speak slowly. So, I see we are having people join there. So, hi to…Amadia is in Toronto. We’re in Toronto here as well. Susan’s in Ottawa. We’ve got Rich coming from New York, Tracy’s in Montreal. Hello to everyone that’s there.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask them throughout and then Joanna and I will pick and choose or I will, coming up, and then we can discuss at the end as well.

What you’re saying about audio is very interesting to me how audio is so similar to what eBooks were like 10-ish years ago about how this new market, but that’s not new. Books have always existed. I remember going to the library as a kid and picking up books on tape.

Again, it’s interesting that it’s changed into such a popular kind of new-ish media. For an author that’s considering audio, what’s your advice? How do you weigh up in investing your time in that?

When does it really work for an author to move into audio?

Joanna: Yes, of course, there is an investment. However you look at it, it’s an investment, so if you’re a new author and you’re just writing your first book and then maybe just leave it for now, unless you have a budget.

You’re either going to need a budget of money or you’re going to need a budget of time. And we can talk about self-narration in a minute if you like, but it’s generally not recommended. 95% of authors do not narrate their own audiobooks for good reason, although it’s much more common in non-fiction, obviously.

But in terms of when it’s worth it, it’s worth it if you already have an audience. So, if you’re more of an established author, maybe you’ve got 5 books, maybe you’ve got 10 books, or maybe you’ve got a book that’s selling really well in digital, then essentially, you could take some of your royalties from the sale of the books and use that to invest in your audiobook.

The other thing is it’s really going to depend on genre because for example, for non-fiction, what’s so interesting is listeners are not so price-sensitive and so if there’s a three-hour audiobook that they might just buy it. Whereas my husband only listens to fantasy audiobooks that are over 40 hours long because that’s the type of listener he is.

I’m the type of listener who’s like, ‘Wow, that looks really interesting. It’s only two hours long, but I’m going to buy it anyway.’

So what you’ve got in the audio market are all these different types of listeners, but the thing is, the price to get a 2-hour audiobook made to a 40-hour audiobook is very, very different. So, let’s say an average of 250 USD, what’s that, 300 CAD or something?

Tara: Thereabouts.

Joanna: Something like that, per finished hour. And then multiply that by 40, you better have a bestselling fantasy novel to actually get that made. That’s if you’re paying upfront.

Now the big providers, ACX, which is obviously Amazon’s, and then Findaway Voices, which is what distributes to Kobo Writing Life audio, of course, people can upload directly to Kobo Writing Life audio as well. So let’s take Findaway.

Findaway Voices will help you find a narrator. They also have Voices Share and ACX have a royalty share deal too where basically, Findaway is one you can pay a percentage upfront and then share royalties for a certain amount of time. You can even buy out the narrator if it’s going well.

I think that model is pretty good, but again, a narrator has to consider your book to be worth doing. So, you have to have quite a good platform to do it.

And then the third way, well, of course, you can license your audio rights and there are lots of fantastic audio production company, so you might consider that for a royalty. Make sure you do it for a limited amount of time and possibly a limited market as well territorially, but definitely limited time.

And then the other way is to do it yourself. I’ve been podcasting for over a decade, so I have an audience who know my voice and I’ve worked with a voice coach and I have a technical person who helps me with the production. So, it can be worth self-narrating if you have an audience, if you have the right book, and the willingness to learn some skills.

Tara: I think with self-narration it really works for nonfiction when you’re the expert in your field of what you’re doing. I was at a conference recently that they had a great example of if you’re considering narrating your own book, how about you like take your book, sit in a closet and just read out loud for an hour. And if you can get through that, then maybe you can do your own book. If that’s really painful and like you can’t act the things, then it’s probably not for you.

Joanna: Although with self-narration, with fiction, there are two main schools of narration with fiction. One is the acting, trying to do voices, try and be the character. And the other one is the storyteller, which someone like Neil Gaiman is an expert in, which is, and I have done for some of my short stories, which is a, you don’t try and act, you don’t try and do an Irish accent.

You don’t try and do things that you can’t do. You just tell the story in a way that a parent might tell a child. And so, I think I just want to encourage people with that too because we are moving into this time where audio is such a growth market that it’s worth doing.

The other thing is as an independent, if you go through Findaway, if it’s really, really terrible, you can just upload new files.

Tara: And that will replace everything.

Joanna: Yes. This is what’s so great as indies. But if you sign an exclusive deal with anyone you might not have a choice.

We talk about you being Irish. I had a friend who had a traditional publishing deal for audiobooks and they had a person, he basically read it like a leprechaun and we were like, ‘That’s a terrible Irish accent.’ And it ruined the book.

Tara: It was, ‘Top of the morning to you.’

Joanna: That’s what it was. And that was not what it was meant to be. As indies, we strive to be as professional as traditional publishers are and we use our ability to move quickly as an advantage. But we still want to have fantastic quality.

Tara: Do you narrate your fiction as well as your non-fiction?

Joanna: I’ve done some short stories and I might do some more. I keep moving towards it and then stepping back.

Tara: I was listening actually to your Audio For Authors and I thought it was really interesting because you’re such a front-facing kind of public person. You’re on podcasts and I’ve seen you out in conferences and things like that. But you were saying that you’ve still never done a live reading of your fiction, which was just amazing.

I almost want to ask you to do it right now.

Joanna: What’s interesting, so this might help people who write in different genres. You’re interviewing Joanna Penn. I’m here as Joanna Penn, but I rarely get interviewed as J.F. Penn, my fiction persona.

And it’s funny, it’s not like I have multiple personality disorder or anything, but anyone who writes fiction and non-fiction, there’s a very different mindset with fiction. And I think the same in narration.

What I found is I almost don’t have an ‘out-loud voice’ as a fiction author. My fictional voice is silent. And that’s really interesting to me. So, this is something else I want people to consider is how much audio will help your writing grow.

For example, even if you’re not going to self-narrate, you’re going to have to adjust your book for audio unless you understand writing for audio, which is something I’m trying to educate people on.

And so, you have to really understand these types of things. For example, with fiction, we’re encouraged to say, ‘Oh, just write.’ Tara said, Joanna said, and the word ‘said’ disappears in writing. When you’re reading the page with your eyes, you skim over it.

But in narration, the repeated sound becomes very noticeable. So, you do have to rewrite things for audio if they’re not clear. So, I think that’s actually a good skill for both fiction and non-fiction.

I just saw that Wayne Stinnett’s here and he said, ‘My narrator has changed the way I write,’ and yeah, absolutely, and I found by self-narration I have changed the way I write. And I think it’s made it all the better because the fiction is more lyrical, is more…you know, not literary. I don’t write literary, I write thrillers, but it’s made my writing better for both genres.

Tara: That’s awesome. That’s something that people might not have realized because they are separate, but you would just think that audio is just one direct version of like a normal narrative book, but it improves your writing and can be considered differently.

You talked a little bit about how authors can produce audiobooks, but what are your tips when trying to find a narrator? Is it really based on the story? Do you chase who’s the popular narrator right now?

What’s your advice to authors about finding a narrator?

Joanna: One, listen to some audiobooks in the genre that you’re trying to look for and you might just find somebody that way. It will also depend on where you are in your journey because the top narrators, if you’re like, ‘Oh, I want that person who narrates Stephen King,’ or whatever, that person’s going to be expensive and that person will probably be booked up for months and months to come.

Especially right now at the time we’re speaking, there might be lots of narrators who are looking for work. And there are narrators with home studios who do a lot of this stuff. And a professional narrator can do a book pretty bloomin’ fast, but that will cost you.

By all means, if you have the budget, pitch the top narrator in your niche. But otherwise, it’s actually quite difficult because the voice that you have in your head is probably your voice when you’re reading it yourself as the author, and it’s quite hard to find potentially somebody to read it.

For example, my ARKANE thrillers are read mainly by Veronica Giguere who is an American female narrator, whereas I’m English. And in my head, originally my books were read in an English voice, but now Veronica is my narrator for that series.

And this is another thing, if you write a series, it’s a good idea to have the same narrator across the series because people follow narrators as well. Once they get into it, they might stick around for the narrator. So cost and also then you get interviews like auditions.

So you upload some of your text, make sure that text is representative of the book. Maybe there’s the male character and the female character, or if it’s non-fiction, it’s got quotes in and different things. And then you’ll get the auditions and you can make a decision.

Now, again, it’s very difficult so you can get help. Findaway Voices particularly will help match narrators as well. And this is the other thing. If you don’t listen to lot of audio, your ear may not be as attuned, I guess as people who listen to a lot of audio and they might just go, ‘Yeah, yeah, I know that narrator, they’d be really good for this.’

That’s what I find people in the industry have been listening to voices and know the voices. So definitely networking, talk to other authors in your niche. And also it’s a way of cross-selling. If you use a narrator that someone else in your niche uses, that might be good as well.

Tara: Wayne has a comment there that Nick Sullivan was his 63rd audition for his first one.

I guess patience and persistence is key.

Joanna: Definitely. And remember the narrator is a bit like in terms of the freelance aspect, a narrator is like an editor. They are a professional and you have to respect the professional for the job they do.

I’ve spoken to people on both sides of the equation and authors can be a nightmare to work with and in the same way, some narrators can be a nightmare to work with. So please, when you work with a narrator, respect their professionalism, please communicate openly and honestly.

But also you’re hiring someone to narrate, it’s like an adaptation of your work. It will not match 100% what is in your brain. You have to accept that they’re going to do a job. And once you’ve listened to the thing and you’ve signed the contract, you’re in it. So respect the professionals.

Tara: Rich has a question.

Do you think that the screenplay format is better for audiobook writing? Have you ever written in that format?

Joanna: I have written screenplays and this is a really interesting question and something I’m thinking a lot about at the moment.

The audiobook format is a piece of work that exists as an audiobook and a book. So, it’s an audio version of a book. An audio drama or some of the other pieces that are coming out now on let’s say take the BBC drama, which is one of the most famous things in the world, those audio things are written as audio screenplays so this is the difference.

There’s a very different type of writing when you’re writing for an audio drama than when you’re writing an audiobook. I’ve written screenplays for the screen, but none of them have been produced. I have actually thought that exactly that, I should adapt them to the audio drama format.

Because, for example, you open the shot on this small farmhouse, well, that doesn’t work in audio. You have to have the noises of some chickens or whatever. So you have to rewrite with sound effects basically.

But I have definitely thought this for my screenplays is adapting them for audio drama. And this is where I think several people have said, ‘What about the future of audiobooks?’ I think we have to start thinking more imaginatively and more creatively about what audio is.

This is something I think indies will get into as well because it’s a lot cheaper to produce an audio drama than it is to produce a film. So, what you can do is write an audio drama. You can submit it to the big agencies. This can be paid work and it’s much cheaper to produce. You can potentially get big names doing your work if you license that. But I definitely think the moving into writing for audio first is going to be a big thing.

Tara: It’s kind of like a radio play, right, versus writing a standard book?

Joanna: Exactly.

Tara: I do like that people are experimenting so much with audio. Malcolm Gladwell is a huge name and he has his own podcast, but I loved his latest audiobook because it’s non-fiction and he had interviews and he uses the actual audio from the interviews. And it was just like an eight-hour podcast, which like I absolutely loved and thought it was really interesting and I hadn’t like seen that before.

Joanna: That’s becoming a lot more common, the background stuff. And because we’re authors and we’re really locked into the book format and that’s the thing we write first, and then we turn it into audio.

Whereas this is a different mindset shift, which is I’m creating an audio project and maybe there’s a book that would go with it, but you don’t publish the script of the audio drama but may then novelize the audio drama or we take some of our novels and turn these into… I just think this is another potential creative project. And I just love all this stuff. I really do.

Tara: Marina just reminded me there. Hi, Marina, she’s on our Kobo Writing Life team as well that it sounds similar to some Kobo Originals contents. We have a Kobo Originals team and last year they put out Charles Dickens. I can’t remember…’A Christmas Carol’ I believe?

Joanna: ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Yeah.

Tara: But it was Soulpepper Theatre. We went to see the play and then all of those actors that were in the play actually created the audiobook. It was like multicast and our release sounding really good, like it wasn’t just a straight-up read. It’s been nice to see like the different experimentations going on.

Joanna: This leads into a bit of a futurist thing. I’m just going to get into it now. We can come back to the other questions. But what is also happening is the voice synthesis market is starting. I actually had a phone call the other day. I’ve got a voice double and which is an AI, which has been trained on my voice, which can speak words I write.

It’s based on me…you’ll hear it and be like, ‘Oh, that’s weird.’ But basically, this is what’s coming. And they reckon it’s going to be within a year or two years. It was meant to launch at London Book Fair, but of course, the news has got buried in all of this virus stuff.

But there are now AI narrated audiobooks on, I don’t even know if they’re on Kobo, but they’re through Findaway. Findaway is part of it. But essentially the AI voices now have emotional tone. And this is the thing that has been missing. Although, to be honest, I listen to some audiobooks and I’m like, ‘Is this an AI?’ Because sometimes they sound appalling.

I don’t narrate anyone else’s books but my own but I want to have a voice that you can license to read my audiobooks. So, if you write a book for authors, I’d love my voice to read it for an audiobook, but I don’t want to do the work. I just want to license it and I’ll just get some kind of micropayment.

The idea is within, let’s say within two to five years, I’m not going to say earlier than that, but we will have a license of voices that you can use to create different things. You could either do it for an audiobook or for an audio drama. You could actually license those actors’ voices and direct them to whatever tool we use.

But what I want people to think is the price of audio is going to come down dramatically in the same way that we know we have tools like Vellum and we can easily publish eBooks now, which we couldn’t a decade ago. Now, we’re getting more and more tools and the voice synth market is going to make it even easier to create audiobooks.

So, that’s something that’s coming. And if you’re sitting there listening to this and you think, ‘I definitely can’t afford audiobooks right now,’ well, give it a year or two or three and write some works so that when this market matures, you’ll be able to do that.

The other exciting thing is there are lots of narrators in the English language, but other markets, other languages around the world don’t have the market we have. So, essentially, this type of AI voice is going to mean that lots of other languages can have books in audio.

Tara: That’s really exciting. We’ve definitely been watching this at Kobo, and that’s something we’re all really on the edge of our seat. We found that the audio, it’s like almost there, but it’s not quite there. If you listen to some of the books that we have right now for an extended period of time, you can kind of tell the tone that it’s a computer.

And one thing I thought was really interesting is that most of them tend to be a British accent. I wonder is it that North American listeners respond better to like a British accented AI? But yes, I’m excited to see, because it’s definitely coming. It’s just a matter of when the technology is going to catch up.

Joanna: Rich just asked, what companies? So has a facility that they are working on and the company that just did something with Findaway is And if you just go to or Google that plus Findaway you should get the press release. It literally was two weeks ago. It was meant to be at London Book Fair, which of course got canceled. There we go. Anyway, that’s a bit about the future but I guess we’ve circled back to now.

Tara: I’d like to get your take on marketing an audiobook. Being as the readership is different, does the author say that they have their finished product ideally releasing together? Because I know that seems to be the best way to double whammy your marketing.

What are the different tactics between marketing to different audiences?

Joanna: Yes, releasing at the same time is a really good idea. I certainly did that for Audio For Authors and it went live on Kobo and on Storytel and everywhere except Audible because they have a real backlog at the moment. But I’m also selling it directly through So yes, having it available on the same day is good.

But this is something really funny because this is something that we can do but we are sometimes a little bit impatient. So, we’ll just upload the eBook, make it go live and then we might do the print book and the audiobook much later.

Of course, it’s fine to do it later, especially if you’re still budgeting. But yes, having it go live at the same time is great because, and this is the main thing, you don’t know what a reader prefers.

Any kind of marketing is going to sell all formats. If you’re on a podcast or you’re on a Facebook live interview, then there are people listening who prefer a paperback and there are people listening who prefer audiobook and people listening who prefer eBook and whatever device they’re on in whatever country they’re in, which is why I’m wide, pretty much with everything because I want to reach all those readers in every format in every country.

Having all of the formats linked together as much as possible would be great. Whenever you have a book page on your website, you should have all your different formats linked there and also you can use something like which Draft2Digital make, which is just one link that you can use on social media and which goes to all the different things and that now includes audiobook links. That’s obviously still in development, but it’s pretty good. I’d say it’s like 80% there. It’s better than nothing, better than trying to share 200 links.

More tips on marketing audiobooks!

Tara: Especially as you’re expanding your offering that you’re just going to have links to like everything. So, it’s really handy having just one.

Joanna: It is. The other thing is using audio to sell audio. The reason I sell so much non-fiction audio is that I have a non-fiction podcast and because a lot of the interviews I do are as Joanna Penn, so I naturally sell more audiobooks and eBooks and print books as Joanna Penn.

You don’t have to start a podcast though, people. Remember what you can do is pitch podcasters. Do your research in your niche and it doesn’t need to be just about the topic of your book. Fiction authors, in particular, are terrible. They’re like, ‘Oh, I just have to be on like a thriller author discussion podcast.’ No.

What you want to do. I think Wayne Stinnett, who’s on the call, writes about boats. I think that’s right, Wayne? Sorry if I’m wrong, but boats and the sailing community.

So, it’s a very obvious thing to try and be on sailing podcasts that have…like not necessarily fiction podcasts. And for example, with my books, I’ve been on psychology podcasts because my fiction has a lot of psychology. And travel, I’ve got another travel podcast, The Books And Travel Podcast, which is trying to tap into that market.

You can also think about who you are. For example, right now everyone is a stay-at-home parent in those areas where you are at home with kids. But say you are a stay-at-home mom or a mompreneur, that’s a good example. Or maybe you love gardening, just think about all the different things that make up you and the topics of your book and then go look for podcasts and then pitch for the podcast interview.

Everyone’s looking for content, and if you can do a decent interview… And just a little tip, a decent interview involves intonation in your voice and smiling. People can hear a smile in your voice. So, there are lots of ways to make yourself engaging and then people go, ‘Oh, I really enjoyed that interview. I think I’ll check out the book.’

If they are listening to a podcast, they are more likely to be an audio listener. If I hear someone interviewed on a podcast, the first thing I’ll do is go look for the audiobook. And I get really annoyed if there’s no audiobook. And it’s surprisingly common, very annoying. Even on big podcasts, you know, people not having them. So, that’s a couple of ideas. Obviously, you can also do ads and stuff, you know, Facebook ads, all the ads…

Tara: BookBub.

Joanna: BookBub and now have Chirp, which is only in some territories.

But a couple of other things, make sure you email your list obviously and then add into your autoresponder series that you have audio. And if you can tag people on your list for audio, then do that. Then you can market to them specifically.

The other exciting thing is to say,

‘You can get my audiobooks for free and my eBooks for free and my print books for free if you go to the library or if you order them on your library app.’

You can only do this if you are wide with audio and eBooks and print books.

And this again is through Findaway, the pay per checkout model means that libraries and patrons of libraries can get eBooks and audiobooks for free and you still get paid, which is fantastic, and also public lending right, which you have in Canada, we have in the U.K., sorry Americans, you don’t have it, but those of us in the Commonwealth, we get paid for that lending as well. So, it’s extra money in your pocket.

In the past, I think we’ve discounted libraries. We’re like, ‘Oh, I love libraries but I want to get paid.’ But now you do get paid. So, that’s a really good call to action is, ‘Hey, you can get my books for free. Just check on your library app or ask your librarian to order them.’ So, those are just some ideas. I mean, there are tons and tons of ideas.

How To Get Your Book Into Libraries And Bookstores With Mark Leslie Lefebvre

Tara: That was great. There’s so many there.

Coming back to the main one of making your audiobook available, and because we have the direct upload at the moment, but it’s not widely available because we’re rolling it out slowly. If anyone’s interested in direct upload on Kobo Writing Life, just send the team an email at and we’ll make sure you have access to that.

And we’re hosting it all in-house, which is why we can get the books published up so quickly. We say 24 to 72 hours, but it’s usually up within a day, once it goes through, which for audio files is crazy fast. So, just letting everyone know about that.

You talked about your podcast, which is incredibly popular, ‘The Creative Penn’ and we mentioned at the beginning that we are proud sponsors. I love listening to it. Why do you think that podcasting has become so popular recently? I’ve been listening to podcasts for 10, 12 years and now it seems like everyone and their sister has a podcast, which is the name of Steph, our podcast host for other podcasts. Everyone has their own thing.

Why do you think podcasting has become so popular?

Joanna: The tipping point for podcasting was I think around 2015 when Serial hit the news. And again, it’s the smartphone penetration is a big deal. Got to love you millennials. I’m sure you’re a millennial, Tara. You’re like that age.

Tara: I actually like to use the term an oldennial. I like to say I’ve coined that, but I don’t know if I have. I think if you can remember when there was no internet, you’re on the older end of millennial.

Joanna: Fair enough. I’m Gen X, definitely no internet. It’s funny because I think that’s the market that has really helped podcasting. And it’s funny because I went to Frankfurt Book Fair, the audio summit last year, and they were saying young people, under the age of 60, are listening to audiobooks and they were kind of stunned and it’s because pretty much everyone now has got their phone.

Especially as we’re talking in the time of COVID-19, which it shall be known as in the future, this weird time, we’re going to have probably a lot more downloads of podcasts, a lot more downloads of eBooks and audiobooks and things as people consume without being able to get their print stuff.

Commuting, which is not happening right now, but commuting is a huge time when people listen. But also what’s interesting is people do listen at home. I listen to podcasts when I’m cooking. People have found that it’s a way to get away from screen time almost. You’re still attached to your device, but you’re listening rather than watching.

It’s my preferred method of consumption. We’re on video here, but maybe some people are going to listen in on audio.

Tara: We’ll be having this on the Kobo Writing Life Podcast as an episode in the future. So, it’ll just be audio.

Joanna: Exactly. And I think we spend so much time in front of computers and the visual, light and everything that having audio is just another way to learn or to be entertained. My husband really loves comedy podcasts. So, there are all different reasons why people listen.

What I would say is if you’re listening as an author, that’s why pitching is so good and because there are so many niches now. And as you say, obviously the difficulty is many podcasts have no listeners at all or very, very few. But it’s a good way to start with a small podcast, to be honest. I wouldn’t have gone day one to like ‘The Tim Ferriss Show.’ That would be great for all of us but you have to start small and then build up to the podcast.

And of course, keep pitching as well. Dave Chesson from Kindlepreneur is a good example. He actually, when he finally came on my show, he said, ‘Do you realize I pitched you like four years ago and you said no?’ Things have changed over four years. You’re now Dave from Kindlepreneur.

But this is the thing, over time, you will change, your podcast will change. And also I would suggest, and I have a bit of a rule, which is I won’t go on a podcast that has fewer than 30 episodes because many podcasts don’t make it to 10 episodes.

Tara: People don’t realize how much work is involved.

Joanna: It’s so much work!

Tara: We’re creeping up on 200 episodes of the Kobo Writing Life. I’m excited about that when we hit it.

Joanna: I’m almost at 500.

Tara: Oh wow. I know you were talking about looking at different niche podcasts for people to be on, but what is your advice, or what are the best writing ones out there that you enjoy listening to?

Joanna: Oh, that’s really an unfair question. Because I’m in the podcast niche and I have so many friends who are podcasters, I can’t possibly answer your question! Let’s just say the Kobo Writing Life Podcast is an excellent podcast and people should listen to that. They should also listen to The Creative Penn!

Tara: Absolutely.

Joanna: And all my friends, I love you all, but it’s very hard to pick them out.

What I would say is how I behave on my app now is I will use the search bar to find stuff. I use Apple Podcasts and for example, right now you might be searching for COVID-19 and if you type that in, you’re going to get a whole list of different shows.

And then a bit like sampling on eBooks, what I do is download an episode and I’ll give it 5 to 10 minutes. And if I don’t like it, I’ll ditch it. I’ve changed my behavior much more to preferring to listen to different shows on the same topic rather than…I often change up the shows I listen to depending on the topic I’m learning about. So, that’s another shift in behavior. I used to only listen to the same shows all the time and now I kind of dart around listening to topics.

Tara: And I think I do the same sort of thing actually. It’s just like sometimes you just pick episodes of certain shows.

It’s important that you’re tagging your stuff correctly and metadata always being key.

Joanna: Podcasting metadata is hugely important, but of course, you only control that if it’s your podcast. What I would say is making sure to repost if you can.

What I will probably do once you guys put this live is I will also have a thing on a transcript on my website with the links to all the shows and it promotes your podcast, but it also promotes me. It also makes it more SEO-able, search engine optimized.

Anything you can do to make you more easily found is a really good thing. But learning how people behave on these devices is really interesting.

Another one we haven’t even had time to really talk about is voice search and voice assistants and the voice-first community now and how people search differently when they speak into their device rather than type into their device. Or even they ask their smart assistant, ‘Hey Google, play the Kobo Writing Life Podcast,’ or, ‘Hey Google, find me an audiobook on whatever.’

And this is another thing, Google play has not been mega, mega big for most people for a while. But now I think what we’ve got to start thinking with the voice assistants is, okay, how do people find me in all these different ways on all these different platforms? Again, circling back to wide publishing, that’s another good reason why.

Tara: That leads into that question and that Marina has about audiobooks as a tool for accessibility. Do you find that authors are focusing on providing content that is accessible or was just this a nice bonus?

Joanna: I think it’s a nice bonus. I hate to say it, but, there are obviously a lot of authors who very much care about making accessible content, and I’ve been doing show notes and transcripts for years. But being honest, it’s been for SEO and has had the side benefit of accessibility.

What’s so funny is so many people have told me they never listen to my podcast. They only ever read the transcript, which has changed because they’re missing out on a lot of stuff, which I don’t put in the transcripts.

Tara: But it’s good that you have the option there for both.

With the current state of the world at the moment, we’re going to be seeing a lot more online events. I think in the immediate few months, nobody can tell what’s going to happen. But podcasting must make it easier for you to have more experience with online events like that.

Do you think that there’ll be more digital conferencing and what do you think is good advice for best practices around this?

Joanna: That’s what I was saying to you before the call. My life and many professional authors’ have probably not changed that much. We can’t go to other places, but most of our work is in the house. I’ve been doing podcasting for over a decade on Skype and this type of thing. Probably in terms of doing more of this, yes, I think there will be more.

However, I think it’s got really noisy and it’s going to get noisier. If everyone goes online with these amazing offers, we’re all just going to be inundated. I believe that once this time has passed and they have figured out how we can all get on with life and not just die, then I think we will be back to physical events.

But what I hope is that physical events, more of them might offer the digital pass, which we have seen become…happen in the internet space, but has not become so popular elsewhere.

I’ve spoken to a conference via Skype before and it’s really hard, especially if you do a keynote, you’re like, ‘Oh my God, I’m some big head on a screen.’ It’s just awful. But I’m really hoping that this crisis will bring about virtual reality in a much better way.

I would love to be able to speak at more conferences in America, Canada, all over the world. But the hassle of traveling, even without COVID-19, can be difficult. The virtual reality thing has been dancing around the edges for years, but this could really help make it mainstream, or if not complete virtual reality, something a lot better than this.

Tara: You’re going to go like Tupac and have a hologram Joanna Penn.

Joanna: Basically. But there’s going to be a huge investment. There’s been a couple of IPOs that have literally launched since COVID-19 kicked off because they’ve seen the future.

Wayne said Key West Mystery Fest 2021. Yes, Wayne. I’ll be there in hologram. I love that idea. I get asked to speak at a lot of these smaller group events, which is just too expensive from the U.K. to do all this type of stuff.

And I think there will be ways that we can do a lot more of this. I hope that people will consider the audio and video experience to be much more of an important part of being an author. We’ve seen all the reports on author incomes. We know that multiple streams of income are much better than just relying on one thing, and this is marketing as well as potential income.

I get paid to speak, but equally doing more speaking can help you sell books. So, it can be lots of different ways to earn money. I want authors to consider upskilling around this area because let’s face it, most authors are introverts. I’m an introvert. I joined the professional speakers’ organization. I’ve done a lot of training. You’re not just born doing this easily. You have to practice.

Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and Other Introverts by Joanna Penn. Second Edition. Audiobook narrated by the author.

And I hope that people considering podcast interviews, considering professional speaking, will kind of upskill so that they can sell more books and also be more memorable, which is you have to do this stuff. Sorry people, you just have to do it.

Tara: I do like the idea of having people that are hosting conferences as well a little bit more aware about having the digital packs because it can also be costly to authors that don’t have the means to travel to these things. So, it’s nice to be able to kind of broaden who you’re kind of sending this information to.

It’s something definitely that we consider, how can we kind of help people as much as possible, physically being there? I know Kobo have Toastmasters that I found really helpful when you’re starting to speak.

Any tips for getting out of your shell?

Joanna: Toastmasters is great. The thing that I would say overwhelmingly is you have to consider it’s not about you. For example, whenever I speak, even just for this, so I’ve got next to me, serve the audience, serve the audience is what you always think about when you’re speaking.

The biggest issue, if you go to a literary festival, it’s just terrible. These authors, with their noses in their books trying to read and they’re so obsessed with how they are feeling, but it’s not about you. You’re serving the audience.

That should be the same with a podcast interview. Who are the audience and how can I best help them? And if you help them in hopefully an engaging manner, then they will remember you and they might check out your book. Like literally, that’s what you’ve got to think.

And it’s not so much about getting over everything. And even having rapport like with you and I having some rapport because people trust the host of the event most and you’re the guest. So, the host is also really important. So understanding your audience.

These are things we should know as writers anyway, but it’s really good to think, ‘Oh my God, I’m so nervous. I’m so nervous.’ Well, it doesn’t matter because it’s not about you. How can I serve the audience?

Tara: The last episode of the Kobo Writing Life Podcast we had out with a Toronto musician, Eamon McGrath, and his second novel is coming out soon. But he talks about the difference between playing a gig as a musician and then having a book tour and he’s just like, it was so hard. I had to like learn how to read my book. And that’s something that I think maybe people don’t realize.

Joanna: Well, that comes back to narration, certainly all the way back. And it may be that I will do more as J.F. Penn if I actually narrate my books, that’s almost why I’m considering it. Like what have I got to lose at this point?

Tara: Would you license your own voice to do it? Was that something that you’d be more comfortable with, do you think?

Joanna: I would license my voice for non-fiction. I will see with fiction. But it’s funny because I was talking to Descript, they actually said to me, ‘You have a different voice as Joanna Penn than you do as J.F. Penn.’

Tara: No.

Joanna: And I was like, ‘Okay.’ They said, ‘We have to build you two voice doubles because they’re not the same.’ And I was worried that maybe I am two people.

Tara: It sounds like you are. We’ve got a few minutes left. You tipped on this a little bit in terms of audiobooks, but you do a great annual prediction at the start of every year.

I wanted to ask what you have for any predictions for the rest of this year or next year?

Joanna: Well, that went out in the window, didn’t it? I think everything went out the window.

Tara: Well, now it’s your opportunity to give your updated…

Joanna: Okay. Circling back to the whole virus thing, we’ll talk a bit at the moment about the five stages of grief and the anger and the denial and then the acceptance of whatever and how we’re behaving now.

Then the final one is meaning, the sixth stage is meaning. And I think this will have a huge impact on authors.

Traditionally published authors are going to see that they cannot rely on the print supply chain for their income. 65% of Barnes & Noble stores are closed in the U.S. All of the physical bookstores in the U.K. are closed. So, anyone relying on physical bookstores is going to be in trouble because of course, that money’s going to come down the track.

A lot of authors are having their book launches postponed or they’re being told, ‘Well, sorry you just missed your slot.’ I think a lot of traditionally published authors are going to go, ‘Mmm, I better put some books out indie.’ I think we’re going to have a wave of trad pub coming in. I think a lot of indies are realizing that they would like more streams of income. I’m going to sell direct hard now.

This is a change for me. I have sold direct for years, but I just went up and pimped my store, put my audiobooks up, and made good money within 24 hours. Because the truth is, as much as I love Kobo and all the other stores, we don’t get paid for 30 days, 60 days, however long the various things are. But we certainly don’t get money in 10 minutes, which is what you can get with selling directly on a store like Payhip, which is what I do.

So, that’s a behavior change that I’ve noticed in myself already in two weeks is this. And also I don’t care about ranking so much as I care about money in my pocket. This is also a big thing because if you can turn on another income stream when something happens to get rid of another one, that’s huge.

I think more authors are going to be doing online stuff like online courses potentially, doing virtual events as you said. And I think just everyone’s kind of questioning what is really important? And so I think we’re going to see probably more people also writing books, which is great.

And also more people just changing the way they do things because they’ve considered what’s really important in life. If this goes on for more than three months, then we’re going to probably see publishers go out of business. We might see bookstores go out of business, but hopefully, that won’t happen.

I do see that there will be this difficult area of cashflow. I’ve heard that there are issues with paper supplies coming over the border so you can see how printing and the physical supply chain has been broken. But the digital supply chain is fine. People are still reading books, so that’s pretty exciting.

Tara: And if not reading more now I think kind of indies are always a little bit ahead of the curve on things and I think they’re definitely kind of in a good position, not having to rely on so many physical books and things like that.

Joanna: Definitely.

Tara: Awesome. Are there any other questions that we have on the side there?

Is there anything else that you’d like to talk about that we didn’t cover in these last couple of minutes?

Joanna: I think just to really encourage people. I agree with you, indies are a bit ahead. I’ve been podcasting for decades. You’ve been listening for more than a decade. I almost was like, sorry, how come people are finally catching up to podcasting and audiobooks? This is crazy.

But the fact is we are often ahead and what I want people to realize is most people still haven’t listened to an audiobook. Most people still haven’t even read an ebook and most people haven’t listened to a podcast. So, let’s encourage people.

That’s why I think libraries are a really good way into people’s minds — get it for free. And then if we encourage people to listen to any type of online stuff and buy online eBooks and audiobooks, that will help everybody and start educating people around what they can do with this. I would encourage people to think, look, this is still day one with audiobooks. It’s like 2011 with eBooks. It really is. We’re just starting, really.

Tara: I know. Some people sometimes get put off about not having been on the indie train immediately. They’re like, ‘Oh, it’s 10 years too late.’ But I completely disagree. There’s something new always all the time.

Joanna: Day one. And I feel that as in 2008, I’m learning something new every single day. And like I said, I just spent last week just pimping my Payhip store. I’m always doing something new, always learning from people.

That’s the other thing as an indie, you need to be always learning and loving it. I love this. I’ve always loved it. I’m still loving it. That’s why I’m still here.

Tara: Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Joanna. This has been terrific. And thanks for the time. And thank you for the questions that people have dropped in too.

Joanna: Thanks, everyone. Come on over to The Creative Penn Podcast. If you like listening and of course, thanks to Kobo Writing Life who are a sponsor of my show and I’m a very proud KWL publisher, so thank you.

Tara: All right. Thank you very much, everyone and we’ll see you guys all again soon.

Joanna: Bye.

Tara: Bye. Thank you for listening to the Kobo Writing Life Podcast. If you’re looking for Joanna’s book Audio For Authors, you can find it at along with all her other titles. And if you’d like extra tips to grow your Kobo sales, visit

Stephanie: This episode was produced by Tara Cremin and Laura Granger. This episode was edited by Kelly. Music was provided by Tear Jerker and special thanks to Joanna for being a guest on our podcast. If you’re ready to start your self-publishing journey today, sign up for free at Until next time. Happy writing.

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Author: Joanna Penn

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  • May 12, 2020