Lessons Learned From 9 Years As An Author Entrepreneur

Nine 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) The global, digital, scalable, location-independent business model is incredibly resilient — especially in pandemic times

When I decided to build an online business back in 2008, I always intended it to be global, digital, scalable, and location-independent. Just to be clear on what that means:

Global — I focus on reaching people internationally instead of locally. I’ve sold books in 155 countries (and my books are available in 190 countries) but not in my local high street bookstore. Below is my Kobo Writing Life map showing my sales on the Kobo platform. This is just one platform for one format, and I sell on pretty much every platform in all formats, but KWL are the only platform with such an awesome map!

My Kobo Writing Life sales map, Sept 2020. 155 countries

You can also find my podcasts, The Creative Penn Podcast and Books and Travel, on pretty much every podcast app in every country, but I rarely speak in person anymore as I can reach more people with my words online.

Digital — I create for the digital world first. I do have physical products — print books — but I use print-on-demand, so I don’t have to manage inventory or pay upfront for printing.

Scalable — I create once, then sell over and over again. Once I have written a book, I can license it innumerable times and make money from it for the life of copyright (if I manage it well). I prefer to create products that can be sold an unlimited number of times e.g. books, online courses, digital audio, although I would like to do some limited edition print products at some point.

Location-independent — I do not need to be in a particular physical location. I run my business from my laptop and have worked all over the world since 2008.

This business model has always been good to me, but in 2020, the global pandemic meant it really demonstrated its value. I have had no disruption to the business because there is nothing physical to disrupt. If anything, people have bought more books and courses online.

Joanna Penn writing cafe setup

My laptop set up in a local cafe (in pre-pandemic times!)

The rest of the world has now discovered this way of working so there will be changes ahead.

The online space is busier than ever, but having worked this way for over a decade, I intend to continue to keep finding better ways to reach new readers globally and to add more digital streams of income to the business.

Question: How can you make your author business more global, digital, scalable, and location-independent? (if that’s what you want, of course!)

(2) Goals change over time — and that’s okay!

When I started writing way back in 2006, my first goal was to leave my day job and make a full-time living online. Writing books was only one part of that picture because I couldn’t see past that first book. I started earning money with speaking as well as blogging and affiliate income, plus I kept my day job.

By the time I left my job in Sept 2011, I was making money from multiple streams of income. I had a few books by then but only one novel, so fiction was a small part of that. My next goal was to get back to a six-figure income because I had left a six-figure job for writing.

I also had a goal to enable my husband, Jonathan, to leave his job. I thought that running our business together would be the next logical step and that it would give us both freedom. He was also stressed and traveling a lot at the time and we wanted to move out of London so the timing was right for a change.

In 2015, Jonathan left his job to join the company and we moved to Bath. He helped the business by scaling operations and putting appropriate systems in place which actually ended up freeing more time for both of us.

And then we lived happily ever after … 🙂


Together in Spain, May 2016

But goals change!

Last month, Jonathan returned to a day job working as a statistician in the pharmaceutical industry. (I talked about this in episode 500 of The Creative Penn Podcast if you want to hear more detail.)

He wanted to stretch himself and follow his curiosity and his own path in an industry he has been in for over 20 years. It’s also a very good time in history to be working in pharma and let’s face it, right now the healthcare industry needs all the help it can get!

My goals have also changed.

I don’t want to grow the business to 7-figures in a way that involves moving into publishing others or author services which is the way that many companies scale in this industry. I don’t want employees — and now it’s just me again (although of course, I still work with creative freelancers).

I still want to be a 7-figure author as I discussed with Emily Kimelman in this week’s podcast, but through scaling my creativity and producing a body of work that I’m proud of, that creates income streams for the long-term, not just for short-term cash-flow. That means creating and licensing my intellectual property — which, let’s face it, is the fun part anyway!

I often talk about the author journey — but it’s also a life journey, and our goals change as individuals and as partnerships and families. I’m still figuring out what this next step looks like but I’m certainly excited for the next year ahead!

Question: How have your goals changed over time? 

Please feel free to leave a comment and answer the questions, or let me know what you think. All the best on your author journey!

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Author: Joanna Penn

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  • September 9, 2020