Lessons Learned From 11 Years As An Author Entrepreneur

In this solo episode, I talk about my lessons learned from 11 years as a full-time author entrepreneur, and why I am (finally) taking some time off.

In the intro, Soldiers of God short story, The Creator Economy for Authors course (use coupon SUMMER22 for 30% off), Science Fiction Writing online conference, Author Tech Summit; Pilgrimage on Books and Travel.


Today’s show is sponsored by ProWritingAid, writing and editing software that goes way beyond just grammar and typo checking. With its detailed reports on how to improve your writing and integration with Scrivener, ProWritingAid will help you improve your book before you send it to an editor, agent or publisher. Check it out for free or get 25% off the premium edition at www.ProWritingAid.com/joanna

Joanna JF Penn

Joanna Penn writes non-fiction for authors and is an award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author as J.F. Penn. She’s also an award-winning podcaster, creative entrepreneur, and international professional speaker.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.

Show Notes

  • It can take a long time to figure out what you think about a topic — but writing a book can help
  • Physical sickness and mental health issues can have a bigger impact than expected 
  • Pivoting a business model takes time
  • If you can’t take time out for life events and goals after more than a decade running your own business, you’re doing something wrong! 

You can follow my pilgrimage on Instagram @jfpennauthor and Facebook @jfpennauthor and Twitter @thecreativepenn

Lessons Learned from 11 Years as an Author Entrepreneur

(Almost) eleven years ago, in Sept 2011, I left my day job to become a full-time author-entrepreneur. Every year since I have reflected on the journey and what I learn along the way.

My challenges change and grow along with the business and you will likely be at a different stage, but I hope that you find my lessons learned useful along your own author path.

You can read all my lessons learned from previous years on my timeline so far – and remember, just like everyone else, I started out by writing my first book with no audience!

But with time and continued effort, everything is possible.

(1) It can take a long time to figure out what you think about a topic — but writing a book can help! 

I finally finished and published How to Write a Novel in July 2022 after starting with an initial draft in 2016. It has taken me that long to figure out my thoughts and also to feel confident enough in my craft to publish a book on the topic. 

Joanna Penn with How To Write A Novel

I was only able to write it because I rewrote my first three novels in early 2022 (lessons learned here), and that exercise proved to myself that I know what I am talking about.

There is often an emphasis on writing and publishing fast in the indie author community. But some books take time to mature, and are all the better for waiting until you feel the book is ready to emerge.

Long-term listeners/readers know I have been talking about ‘the shadow book’ for years now, and that is a similar project. I have 30K words and I even had a cover ready, but I don’t know when it will be ready. 

As I discuss in How to Write a Novel, I am a discovery writer. I follow the urging of the Muse. Once I settle on a book, I follow one of Heinlein’s Rules — I finish what I start — so ‘the shadow book’ will arrive at some point, but I still don’t know when.

I need to have some patience and give it time to emerge. Perhaps you have a book that’s similar? Maybe you also need to let it breathe and emerge when it’s ready. 

(2) Physical sickness and mental health issues can have a bigger impact than expected 

The pandemic has taken its toll on all of us in different ways and of course, COVID19 is still with us. These days we are learning to live with it, but most of us have had it, or know people who have had it, to varying degrees of severity.

I had the delta variant back in July 2021 and I talked about how much it impacted me in my 2021 round-up, Not Quite the Year We Hoped For, so I won’t go into too much detail here. 

Suffice to say, I was much sicker than I expected — both physically and mentally — and it had a bigger impact on my life and business than I expected. I’ve never really been properly sick, so it was a wake-up call in terms of the impact. Some days I could only do one or two things per day and didn’t have as much time as I used to. I had to rest a lot, and my productivity was way down. 

If you have a chronic illness or long-term health issues, check out Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s book, Writing with Chronic Illness.

I was still using an Airofit breathing trainer to get my full lung capacity back into February 2022, more than six months later. I think it helped — or maybe I just recovered with time — and I now feel I am back to where I was pre-Covid. 

I also found the mental health side of it difficult, in terms of impacting my capacity for work, and also my tolerance for much else other than the basics. 

My income dropped as I didn’t write or publish as much. I also stopped doing a lot of the affiliate stuff I was doing, as well as archiving many of my tutorials. I couldn’t find the energy or the will to redo older things. 

Plus, I questioned a lot of what I was doing, and decided that I wanted to shift my business model anyway.

Life is short, and we all have to choose how to spend our time. 

These deeper questions have naturally arisen from the pandemic, but are also to do with my ‘mature’ business. Many of the authors and entrepreneurs I ‘grew up’ with online have pivoted to new directions or changed careers altogether. More than a decade doing anything leads to change

(3) Pivoting a business model takes time

I’ve been researching aspects of web 3 — AI, blockchain, VR and AR — for a few years now. There will never be one specific moment where things shift. It will emerge over time. [More in my future of creativity articles and resources.]

Look at how dominant internet business and web 2 companies are in 2022, and compare that to 2005. It’s crept up on us, and the next shift will be the same. 

There are also cracks in the web 2 model — problems with pay to play business models, and legal, governmental, and societal issues with big tech companies. There is a cultural shift toward local, sustainable, direct to consumer models that are based more on relationships than paid or algorithmic media.

As a result of sensing these changes bubbling up, and my own preference for creative and financial independence, I started my slow pivot to what may well be the next business model — direct to consumer first, and then wide publishing on the other platforms. 

I’ve sold direct since starting out online in 2008, but it’s always been a secondary to trying to succeed on the various stores. Now I want to make it my focus.

In July 2022, I launched my store, www.CreativePennBooks.com and while I will still publish wide on all the stores, I will develop my store with direct-only and direct-first products, both for books and also for other things related to my various brands.

[You can find my recommendations for building a Minimum Viable Store on Shopify here.]

I went with Shopify as they are developing an ecosystem with web 3, enabling sale of NFTs as well as cryptocurrency payment methods, so I have confidence they will be a scalable platform for the decade ahead.

I have always had the twin business goals of creative freedom and financial freedom, and this slow pivot takes me another step in that direction.

(4) If you can’t take time out for life events and goals after more than a decade running your own business, you’re doing something wrong! 

This is my last podcast for a few weeks as I am heading off to walk my Camino pilgrimage from Porto to Santiago de Compostela.

This has been a personal goal for decades and when I lay in bed really sick with Covid, I listened to audiobooks of people walking it, and promised I would walk it once I recovered. Walking the Camino is the one thing that I would be annoyed about not doing if I died right now, so it’s time to go do it!

Walking the Pilgrims’ Way, October 2020

I’m also writing about it along with the other two pilgrimages I’ve done over the last two years — the Pilgrim’s Way, and the St Cuthbert’s Way. It turns out I have a lot to say about solo walking pilgrimages in mid-life, especially as a secular pilgrim.

Clearly, a book like that has a very niche audience, but I only want to spend time on the projects that are worth my time. The ones that only I can write. The ones that might have an impact on other people, whatever that means!

After more than a decade, I still feel that I need to be checking in with the business every day, but that is my own addiction, not a true requirement. No one will die if I don’t respond to an email or a comment, plus I have my wonderful virtual assistant, Alexandra, who will be managing things while I am walking.

I want to take more breaks and perhaps even a longer break in the coming year. To recharge and focus on other creative and life goals, and also to think about the bigger topics that impact all of us as technology continues to change and our business models shift.

There are many voices in the independent author community now, and I need to keep earning my place as we move forward together

What do you think? Do you have lessons learned from your years on the author journey? 

Please leave a comment, or if you’ve written about it elsewhere, feel free to share a link.

The post Lessons Learned From 11 Years As An Author Entrepreneur first appeared on The Creative Penn.

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Author: Joanna Penn

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  • September 1, 2022