Book Marketing: Reach More Readers Through Guest Posting

Providing useful, inspirational or entertaining content on popular blogs in your niche can be a great way to reach your target audience, especially when you are just starting out. Nina Dafe shares tips for how to do this effectively and which mistakes to avoid.

Reach more readers guest posting

If you took the decision to become an authorpreneur and write a non-fiction book, it’s more than likely because you realize that they are a great way to:

  • Position yourself as an expert in your field
  • Increase your authority and credibility
  • Give you a larger platform to share your influence, thought leadership and message
  • Increase your followers, subscribers and fanbase
  • Expose you to your ideal clients – keeping you booked, busy and making bank.

However, none of this is possible if nobody knows that it (or you) exist! The truth is, “if you build it they will come” is only true in Hollywood. A literal field of dreams, if you will.

If you want to create more impact and ultimately sell more books, you will need to attract more attention to you and your brand. This means becoming more visible through networking, PR and marketing.

A great place to start is mastering guest posting by becoming a guest author, blogger or contributor on another person’s platform.


Having now been featured in over 40 platforms, including Thrive Global, HuffPost, Bustle and the TEDx blog, here are some tips for getting started with guest posting based on my experience:


Before you even submit your guest post, there are a few things that you should do to make sure that you give yourself the best chance of success, including:

1. Research

First and foremost, do research to make sure that the platform that you want to guest blog on actually accepts pitches and/or submissions – as not all blogging platforms do. I can’t tell you how many pitches I’ve received, even though I don’t accept guest posts on my blog!

Once you’ve established those basics, you’ll want to get clear on who the platform’s demographic is and whether it ties in with yours. So research:

  • Who the platform’s target audience is
  • What the audience’s interests and/or pain points are
  • How your expertise can help them
  • Whether your topic has been covered before

Next, check their submission guidelines to see how they prefer to receive guest posts. For example:

  • Is there a word count?
  • Are there particular topics that they like/dislike?
  • Can you promote yourself within the article or do they prefer that be confined to your author bio?
  • Do they prefer submissions to be emailed or sent via a particular platform?
  • Do they prefer that you pitch your guest post idea or send a fully-fledged article?

2. Network

As the saying goes, “people only do business with people that they know, like and trust”. With this in mind, another great step to take before sending your pitch would be to find ways to connect with the editor of influencer so that you can establish a rapport. More on this, later!

Linking together

During your pitch

Now that you’ve laid all of that groundwork, you can formulate and send your pitch.

Here are some common mistakes and how to avoid them:

1. Having unclear subject lines

If you are sending your guest post via email, you’ll want to make sure that the email subject line is not vague. Make it as clear as possible so that it doesn’t get lost in the pile of emails that the editor or influencer is reading every day!

This can be done by following any instructions that they may have about this in their submission guidelines. If there aren’t any, I like to make it clear that I am sending a pitch and what it’s about, as in the example below:

[Pitch] 3 Networking Mistakes and How to Avoid Them According to Experts

2. Starting with your bio/qualifications

Although counter-intuitive, resist the urge to start by introducing yourself and your history. Editors and influencers are busy people, receiving thousands of emails a day. Do them (and yourself!) a favor by getting straight to the point of why you’re contacting them.

Your short, professional author bio should go towards the end of the pitch instead. Also link to your media bio and/or the “press” page of your website, if you have one, so that they can check out your expertise and previous PR experience to build credibility.

3. Failing to establish a rapport

Yes, you want to be brief but you also want to be human and relatable to create a rapport. You can do this by complimenting the editor/influencer that you are writing to and establishing common ground. My favorite way to do this is by mentioning:

  • When we met each other, either online or in-person previously
  • A mutual friend
  • My favorite past articles, programs, talks and their impact

This is why I mentioned the importance of networking pre-pitch earlier. It’s also important to maintain this rapport post-pitch- but we’ll get to that later.

Laptop with crumpled paper, blank notepad and pencil on old wood

4. Waffling

Once you’ve gotten their attention by establishing a rapport, shoot your shot and pitch!

As I said before, keep it brief. Get straight to the point by providing a quick summary of your guest post. Headings, subtitles and bullet points are your friends when it comes to avoiding waffling and making your email more inviting to look at and read as well.

5. Not being unique

If you did your research thoroughly, as previously mentioned, you’ll know if your guest post topic has been covered on the platform before and in what capacity. Use that knowledge to set yourself apart by crafting a unique pitch.

In other words, try to present a unique and different perspective in your guest blog post.


Have you heard the saying “the fortune is in the follow-up?” That’s because it’s true! Here are some helpful tips to know about it:

1. Timing is everything

As previously mentioned, editors and influencers are very busy people. This means that pitches can fall through the net. If this happens to you, you’ll want to find a way to follow up so that they don’t forget about you, lose interest or think that you’re being a pest.

Most guest blogging guidelines will mention if and when you can expect to hear a response to your pitch. Contacting them during this time will place you firmly in the pest category – don’t do it!

My rule of thumb is to contact 1-2 weeks after that time. If no response time is given, 1-2 weeks after sending is also a good time to send a follow-up email in general.

If handled correctly, in my experience, 9 times out of 10 they will thank you for following up and/or apologize profusely before actioning it.

2. It’s a good relationship-building tool

A little known fact is that, because editors and influencers are such busy people, they tend to use the same experts for particular topics. Sending a good pitch and demonstrating your expertise within a guest post is only half the battle of building a good relationship with them and becoming a regular contributor, though. This is why what you do post-pitch is so important for building that know, like and trust factor.

Thank you note

Here are some of the ways that I do it:

Say thank you
When alerted that your post has been accepted and/or published, send a thank-you email. You can also go the extra mile by sending a thank you card, gift or some of your merchandise.

Give them publicity too

The best relationships are mutually beneficial. Editors and influencers want publicity for their platform too. You can reciprocate and help them achieve this by sharing your post:

  • On social media, tagging them and/or using relevant hashtags
  • With your email list (forwarding it to them so that they know you did it, of course!)

Be an asset

Another way to reciprocate is by finding ways to be an asset and add value outside of guest blogging. My favorite way to do this is by:

  • Asking how I can be of service and finding ways to do so
  • Connecting them with other content creators who would also make great guest bloggers for their platform
  • Building and maintaining the relationship by continuing to follow up (see my bio for details about 7 ways you can do this without even having to leave your bed!)

So, to summarise…

Mastering guest blogging is one of the BEST ways to share your expertise, gain authority, market your non-fiction book and, ultimately, sell more copies. However, your greatest PR success will come through remembering that:

  1. People only do business with people that they know, like and trust; so-
  2. How you conduct yourself with editors and influencers pre and post-pitch is just as important as the pitch itself.

Have you thought of using guest blogging as part of your book marketing strategy? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Nina DafeAs an international bestselling author (of The Art of Unlearning: Top Experts Share Personal Stories on the Courage to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone), Nina Dafe mentors heart-centered, visionary Christian women who want to banish the blocks keeping them from crushing their business goals once and for all.

She is also an international speaker, talk show host, and award-winning blogger whose writing has been featured on multiple platforms including Thrive Global, TEDx, HuffPost, She Leads Africa, Bustle, Relevant Magazine, and Radiant Health Magazine. Named one of 101 women of influence by Monique Melton, you can find out more about Nina and her 7 tips for getting collaborations, referrals, PR and speaking opportunities (leading to increased credibility, subscribers, followers, customers and more) without even leaving the bed at!

Empowering Authors Around Copyright With Rebecca Giblin

Your author career is in your hands. Publishers are not charities and even if you have an agent, you need to know about the importance and value of copyright so you can make informed and empowered decisions about your writing. If you’re an indie author, you still need to understand copyright, because when you sign up with online distributors, you are making choices around licensing.

In today’s show, I interview Rebecca Giblin about a recent study on publishing contracts, what clauses to watch out for, why this is so important for authors, plus the potential impact of AI on copyright.

In publishing news, The Bookseller reports that Penguin Random House has withdrawn its ebooks and digital audio titles from unlimited access subscription models,“to preserve a diversity of content in the marketplace and the actual and perceived long-term value of our authors’ intellectual property.” Plus, I’m interviewed on The Kindle Chronicles Podcast about audiobooks and how things have changed for authors over the last decade.

In the futurist segment, This Time Tomorrow Podcast on 5G; plus, a Chinese court rules an AI-written article is protected by copyright [Venture Beat], Google’s AI language model Reformer can process the entirety of novels [VentureBeat], and Hollywood is now using AI tools for analysis and companies are developing AI for scriptwriting [The Guardian]. I talk about the implications of this for creatives and why we need to double down on being human.


Today’s show is sponsored by my patrons, those wonderful people who support the show with a few dollars a month. Knowing that you enjoy the show and find it useful keeps me coming back to the mic every week after all these years! If you’d like to support the show and get an extra Q&A audio every month (as well as the backlist), go to:

Rebecca Giblin is an author and Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne, specializing in copyright and technology regulation. She is Director of the Intellectual Property Research Institute of Australia (IPRIA), and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow leading the Author’s Interest project.

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 below.

Show Notes

  • Why Rebecca is passionate about helping authors with copyright
  • The difference between the ownership of copyright and the authorship of copyright
  • How dangerously easy it is for authors to transfer ownership
  • When and why reversion clauses matter
  • Other important clauses to negotiate into publishing contracts
  • What authors can do to protect and increase their income
  • The potential of the selling direct model
  • The possible impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on copyright law
  • Getting authors to value themselves

You can find Rebecca Giblin at and on Twitter @rgibli

Transcript of interview with Rebecca Giblin

Joanna: Tell us a bit more about your background and how you ended up focusing on authors and copyright in particular.

Rebecca: I’ve always been absolutely obsessed with books and that obsession started when I was really young and I actually grew up in a house that didn’t really have any books in it. So I would do all kinds of things to access them.

I would read all of the local libraries and my school libraries. I would go down to the local charity shop. I knew when the soft touch volunteers were working and I knew that I’d be able to negotiate a really good rate. I think I used to be able to get them for about 1 cent each back in the ’80s.

So I’ve just had a really lifelong abiding passion for books. And so it’s probably quite natural that as my research career has progressed, there’s always been this really strong theme of work around literary culture, and protection of authors and also libraries and the broader public interest in access to books as well.

Joanna: Fantastic.

Tell us a bit more about the Authors Interest project in particular and why it’s so important.

Rebecca: This project stemmed from a growing concern that I had, which is that, while authors are always put at the forefront of debates around copyright law, very often they’re actually being used to further other people’s economic interests.

The thing is that copyright is structured around protecting the owner of copyright rather than the author of copyright. And countries have different ways of dealing with this. Some particular countries in Europe have greater protection of authorship. Common law countries, like the UK, and Australia, and the U.S., we have far less.

But this is something that I really wanted to do something about. I wanted to make sure that when authors’ interest were put within these debates, it was actually going to help them actually further their very valid and important interests instead of always protecting other people.

What I really wanted to stop was authors benefiting from policies just only on a theory of trickledown economics. I wanted direct change to actually help authors in what is a really tricky time for them in the history of the book industry.

Joanna: That’s fantastic. I want to pick up on something you said then, which is, things benefiting the owner of copyright, not the author of the copyright. I think many people might be confused.

Many authors often don’t understand what they’re doing when they sign a particular contract.

Explain the difference between the author and then the potential owner of the copyright.

Rebecca: Usually the author will be the first of their copyright and the copyright is created automatically. As soon as you write something down on a piece of paper and it satisfies some very minimal hurdles, then copyright magically springs into existence.

And then, often the author will either transfer that entirely or license it as a condition of being able to get the work produced and available.

In the case of books, very often they enter into a contract with a publisher and they sign away or license certain rights. And those contracts can be phrased in all different kinds of ways.

Too often publishers require authors to hand over the entire copyright as the cost of access, which is the kind of contract that I would say almost nobody should actually sign. And you should think really carefully before you do that. Although there might be valid reasons to in certain circumstances.

But, more commonly you will be asked to give an exclusive license of your rights. And very commonly there will be a broad license over many kinds of uses and typically for the entire term of the copyright. So that’s your entire lifetime, plus another 70 years.

An exclusive license of that kind is in essence exactly the same as transferring ownership of those rights. So, that’s why the contracts are so important because, while you’re the one as an author that starts off with the copyright, you can very easily transfer all or almost all of that with just a flick of a pen.

Joanna: It’s so funny because I’m primarily an indie author, but I do see quite a few contracts. People send me things.

I saw one recently and someone said, ‘This is okay, isn’t it?’ And literally there was a clause that said, ‘All languages, all territories, all formats existing, and to be invented, for the term of copyright.’

And I was like, ‘Seriously, did you not spot this? This is like the second clause. This is really big. Do you not understand what is going on here?’

To me, that is an obviously bad clause. But you’ve done a study of publishing contracts from the archive of the Australian Society of Authors.

What are some of the things that you’ve found that authors should watch out for in contracts?

Rebecca: Unfortunately, the kind of clause you just described is all too common. And this is why authors need to be really careful and they need to be a little bit savvy because their copyright is their business and their means of making a livelihood here.

What authors should be making sure that they do is, even if they do have to sign over a broad right as a condition of getting that distribution deal, or that contract, or whatever it happens to be, they should be very thoughtful about making sure that there are appropriate reversion clauses in that contract to allow them to get those rights back.

So the kinds of reversion clauses that are really common that people might’ve heard of are out-of-print clauses, for example. So you might’ve signed over all your rights for the entire term of copyright, but there can be a clause that says if the book goes out of print sometime during that period then the author can get their rights back.

Also, really important, what we call use-it-or-lose-it clauses. These are for circumstances where the publisher has taken some rights, for example, rights in foreign languages, like you talked about, or foreign territories, but then they don’t go on to actually exploit those rights.

There should be a clause there that you negotiate in order to make sure you can recover those rights in that eventuality. And that’s particularly important I think for hybrid writers who probably have got some skills and some capacity to make use of those rights in the event that the publisher doesn’t actually do it themselves.

That might be self-publishing on a platform internationally and to those foreign territories. Or it might be working with one of the emerging services for the fairly economical generation of an audiobook or whatever it happens to be. So, really absolutely vital.

What we found is that very often the out-of-print clause is really inadequate or outdated. You want to make sure that you get one that’s based on objective criteria. It shouldn’t just be based on technical availability and say something like, ‘Well, you can get your rights back if the book’s not available in any form.’ That’s not adequate.

It needs to have some kind of objective criteria that might say, ‘All right, so you can get your rights back if sales have been below X amount in the last two accounting periods or X number of unit sales.’

It needs to have something very clear there so that everybody understands their rights and responsibilities.

And for those use-it-or-lose-it clauses, what we were horrified to find in our research was how few contracts actually had those. Now, this is the kind of clause that reputable publishers are usually pretty happy to negotiate in if you ask for it, but they still tend to not to be there just upfront.

It’s really important that authors know to ask for those and negotiate them in. And this is where doing a little bit of reading and Googling, doing your due diligence and finding out what they should ask for is really, really important.

You might not feel like doing it at the start when you’re really excited about your contract, but you’ll absolutely wish that you did maybe three years later or five years later when those rights haven’t been exploited or the book’s gone out of print and you desperately want to do something else with it.

Joanna: Exactly. And many people are so bowled over with the emotional happiness of, ‘Yay, somebody wants me,’ that they forget the reality down the line.

For example, territory. It’s so funny because I’ve always been very globally-minded. I’ve sold books now in 136 countries, which most traditionally published authors will never sell books in that many countries because the books aren’t available in those countries.

If people sign a World English contract, which is very standard, there’s just no way that those books are going to be available in countries like Namibia or Thailand, and that’s what drives me nuts about this World English idea.

Whereas an Australian publisher, for example, where you are, absolutely sign a contract in Australia for all formats if you like.

But an Australian publisher just doesn’t have the necessary reach into all English-speaking markets. Would you agree?

Rebecca: There are some that do. There’s a couple that do a very, very good job of that, and there are others that really don’t have much of an international sales force at all. So that’s another really important question to ask.

Look at what rights they’re asking for and ask them to justify that.

If they’re asking for the world rights, then be asking, ‘What is your plan for selling my book to every country in the world? And where’s the clause that says if you fail to do that, I get them back.’

Those are all just really sensible questions that nobody’s going to take offense at. It’s not the kind of thing that costs you a contract. It’s just ordinary business savvy.

Joanna: Then the use-it-or-lose-it clause is also interesting. I think the biggest thing that this is relevant at the moment is audio rights because most publishers seem to have taken audio rights, or authors have signed over audio rights.

But many of them, I would say most of them, are not actually getting those books into audio.

Publishers can put that clause in, but what is the time limit? Is it three years, five years, 10 years for saying if you don’t do it in this amount of time?

Rebecca: That has been a big change over the last few years. It used to be that authors used to be able to hold onto their audiobook rights much more commonly than they can today. And this is a really troubling one because we know that books tend to sell the very most in the first months after publication and certainly within the first year.

If you don’t have an audiobook ready to go on publication, then that means that there’s a certain number of lost sales that you can expect.

Publishers who don’t actually invest in making that book available upfront, they might be quite behind the curve and they’re just waiting to see whether there’ll be enough copies sold to actually justify it. Whereas if you had held the rights yourself, then you might have done something a little bit differently.

So there’s a very big mix. There are some publishers who are so obsessed with audio and so worried that if they give the rights back too soon, then this might be the one that got away. Maybe it will grow big just after you get the rights back.

They don’t want to have any kind of a time limit on the audiobook rights at all. And there are others that take a more reasonable view and say that, ‘Look, if we haven’t done anything with them after a year, realistically, given we know how books sell and how most of the sales happen in the first year, we’re probably not going to really do very much with it. So if you’ve got another plan then, sure, you take it.’

There’s very big variability on the audiobook question.

Joanna: Definitely.

I think generally the rule is to work with a publisher for what they are really good at, and then try and keep everything else so that you have the chance to do it yourself, or work with other partners in those areas.

Rebecca: That’s right. Many publishers are great at this and they don’t try and take rights that they don’t have a plan to exploit. And that’s something really welcome that we found in the contracts.

Not everyone was trying to take worldwide rights. We saw quite some contracts that just asked for Australia and New Zealand rights. And if the publisher really only has a plan for selling in Australia and New Zealand, then that’s the appropriate thing to do or the UK, or wherever it is that they happen to have their strong footprint.

But at the very least, if they do take broad rights, then they need to be willing to put clauses in to return those to you in the event that they don’t use them. That’s just absolutely crucial.

Joanna: Fantastic.

You mentioned that copyright is the means of making a livelihood. And you’ve noted the decline in author incomes, and of course, many of us are concerned about the dominance of some of the players, technical or publishing-related in English-speaking markets.

What are some of the things that authors can do to protect and increase their income that you’ve found?

Rebecca: Given that the overall book market really isn’t growing very much, I think one of the key interesting questions is to figure out how authors can get a bigger share of that pie.

We also have to bear in mind that, for traditional publishing at least, there isn’t very much pie to go around. If you look at a breakdown of the economics of traditional print publishing, it just doesn’t make any sense, financially it doesn’t make any sense.

Now, the majors, yes, are very often doing very well. They’ve had a huge amount of industry consolidation. They’ve reduced their costs to the bone. They often don’t pay their employees particularly well either. So, there are some efficiencies there.

And we’ve had in the UK Simon and Schuster and Penguin Random House have had profits of around 16%. So they’re going gangbusters.

But, at the other end, the independent publishers, they’re facing rising costs, particularly salary costs or labor costs. And that’s within a market that’s not particularly growing.

I think coming into this question, we have to acknowledge that many parts of the industry are already struggling very much to stay afloat. So where does that extra money come from?

One of the really interesting answers to that question comes from Cory Doctorow and his ‘Shut up and Take my Money’ platform.

You might be familiar with this already, Joanna, but he came up with this platform a couple of years ago thinking about the same question where he set up, got permission from his publishers basically to be able to sell his eBooks online. And he sells them to anyone anywhere in the world. So, he holds the rights to do that.

He doesn’t have to worry and say, ‘Sorry, you’re in Bulgaria, I’m not allowed to take your money because of territoriality.’ He can take the money from anyone. That’s why it’s called ‘Shut up and Take my Money’ because he was frustrated at his books not being available to people.

By doing that, he’s actually pocketing the 30% that Amazon would usually take or the other online retailer would usually take, as well as the standard 25% also that the publisher would give him in royalties.

So, that’s a really interesting way that he’s come up with effectively more than double his royalty rate, by taking on the role of the retailer there. So that’s one possibility that I think has really interesting potential for the future.

Joanna: Obviously a lot of us indies have been selling direct. I’ve been selling direct since 2009. I use which is fantastic and gets around all the EU digital tax stuff. I recommend that platform to people if they are interested in one that’s available everywhere.

Rebecca: This is one way for traditionally published authors to try and get their cut to something that would mimic an indie’s cut, while taking advantage of the marketing platform and breadth of the traditional publisher.

I think that’s why it’s interesting, maybe more for your traditionally-published authors than the indies who are already been over this for a long time.

Joanna: It is interesting. I think selling direct is definitely one of the things that many of us are doing, those of us who are not obsessed with ranking for example, because, of course, for direct sales, no one sees the ranking on Amazon or any other platform, and it doesn’t get measured by anyone’s bestseller list.

But I get like 92% of the money. It is definitely a way forward, and we won’t get into it today, but of course blockchain has a lot of potential for enabling this. I think on or off it, you’ve talked to as well, but we’re very hopeful for a blockchain potential for stamping copyright and selling direct through the value chain.

Exciting things in selling direct ahead!

Rebecca: Ideally you would be able to have your cake and eat it. You would be able to get the 92% and you would be able to have some kind of ranking that could be ascertained, like as a way for people to see, ‘Okay, this book is selling,’ which could also be facilitated by a blockchain kind of solution.

Joanna: Definitely. I think there’s so much to come in that area.

Let’s talk a bit about the future and AI, because you talk about publishers not making money, and I think, what we’re seeing a lot of journalists-type platforms, news platforms are using AI writing software now. We’re talking about nonfiction here.

I just sent you an article from Venture Beat reporting that the Tencent robot Dreamwriter AI had been granted copyright on an article in China, which, as far as we know, is the first AI piece of writing that has been granted copyright.

Now, it is in China, but the U.S. patent and trademark office has also called for comments on the impact of AI on creative work. [AI Trends]

What are your thoughts on AI qualifying as a work of authorship?

Rebecca: I look at it as a really interesting question for us copyright nerds, because we’ve always had this rule, right around the world. China was the first one, I heard that has departed from this, that you need to have a human author.

This was the Foundation of the Berne Convention, which Victor Hugo put forward and first got up in 1886. You’ve heard about it much more recently over and over with this monkey selfie, which just is the copyright case that won’t go away.

When the monkey stole the camera from the photographer, who owned the copyright and the resulting photos? And the answer was, there was no copyright because the monkey can’t hold copyrights because they’re not a human.

It’s the same thing with the machines. And there are some interesting laws in place already.

In the UK for example, there has long been a provision that says that the author of the computer-generated work is taken to be the person who basically put the arrangements together for the creation of the work.

So it might be the programmer who developed the AI software in the first place, but that only takes us so far because now we’re talking about deep learning and neural nets. And there is nobody really who made the arrangements necessary for the creation of the work.

It really is left completely to the machine in a way that was not envisaged when that law was passed in the UK. So, we’ve got real issues to grapple with here and we need to be thinking about what we want to achieve with copyright.

There’s two major things really which we can, as a shorthand, we can call them incentives and rewards.

We want to incentivize the initial creation of cultural and informational works so that society can have access to knowledge and culture. We also want to incentivize there being continued investments in their continued availability.

On top of that, we want to recognize and reward creators for their contributions of personality and labor that gave us that amazing thing.

If we think about these rationales, then maybe we don’t always have a reason to give full copyright to an AI because maybe the AI doesn’t need to be recognized for their contribution of personality in the same way that a human author might.

But perhaps we want to give some lesser incentive right. So there are all of these kinds of considerations that we’re thinking about at the moment.

Joanna: It’s interesting because I was having a bit of an existential moment around this news article, mainly because in it it says, ‘The articles’ articulation and expression had a certain originality, and it met…’

Rebecca: It didn’t though, did it?

Joanna: ‘…And it met the legal requirements to be classed as a written work.’ So, to me, it was less around the fact that it got copyright protection than the fact that they considered that it had some kind of originality.

The fact is that a lot of people are already reading articles in financial papers and sports and things that are written by AI.

If I was a big publisher, and if I had control of that much IP and I could read my entire backlist into an algorithm. Let’s say I’m a very large romance publisher with a huge number of reasonably formulaic books that have been very popular over many years. People can infer what that publisher might be!

If I could read all of those books into a deep learning algorithm [like Google’s Reformer] for it to output certain books, then I could pay people to just clean up at the last minute. If I’m not making enough money, wouldn’t I do that?

This is an existential question: will authors be disintermediated by AI writers in the same way that many journalists have been?

Rebecca: You telling me that has triggered this memory in me from, I think it was two years ago.

There was a neural net that was asked to learn how to write titles for romance novels [from 2017]. And I think the results of that suggests we’re a little bit further away from having to worry about authors being disintermediated in that way.

I remember some of them. One of the titles was, ‘The surgeon’s baby surgeon.’ There was another one that was, ‘The husband man.’ These are the kinds of titles that the neural net had come up with, which made me feel like maybe the title writers were not going to be out of a job very quickly.

But, this is a really important, deeper question because there is going to be a time where the results are not just funny and embarrassing. They may well start to compete on broader platforms than nonfiction and basic sports writing and finance news. And then what is it that we do?

Then the question becomes, do we permit that as a matter of copyright? Because those contracts that we were talking about, they don’t actually permit, unless the whole copyright’s being taken. I can’t think of any that I’ve looked at that would permit the rights holder to use the work for that particular use, that might be a right retained by the author.

So they would need to get permission or there would need to be some kind of copyright exception. And then we need to get into all of these questions about, well, when should it be permitted for people to learn an AI system on somebody else’s IP when it’s something like a novel?

We can see that there’s a real spectrum here. If somebody comes along, they train the algorithm on Stephen King’s catalog and then you ask the neural net to write a horror novel from just that catalog, really taking his tone and vocabulary and expression.

If your result, let’s take this very far into the future and more sophistication, the result is a good imitation and people will happily substitute it at a lower price for the higher price genuine Stephen King.

That’s a situation where I think the author needs not just have a right of compensation, but they need to have a right to be able to veto that.

But then if we take it to the other side, let’s say we’ve got a neural net that’s trained on every novel in human existence, then it gets much trickier because there’s not going to be any one individual author’s tone taken or voice taken.

It would be also quite difficult, I think, to understand what contribution access to any single book actually made. So these are going to be really vexing and tricky questions as well.

Joanna: And again, it brings up for me the idea of blockchain and micropayments, because what you could say is, okay, we read into the database X, let’s say 100,000 books. All of them qualify for a micropayment if they are used in another work down the line.

That’s the type of thing that, again, could be tracked with the potential blockchain technology out there.

But, as you say, it’s impossible right now in the same way that I can’t track when I write a novel, I know that some of my influences include Stephen King, and Dan Brown, and John Connolly, and people who I’ve read are in my brain in some way. But I couldn’t tell you what percentage of my influences come from who.

I think this is fascinating. You and I like to geek out about this stuff. I know some people are listening are like, ‘Oh no, the AI is coming for our jobs.’

But, I always say to people, look, the main thing is to be human and to build a personal brand and make people value you. There will always be artisan products, in the same way, we’ve got mass-produced everything, but we also have artisan-produced stuff which people will pay more money for.

That’s the future I see; mass-produced on one level and then artisan on the other.

Rebecca: I think that’s right. I genuinely think that, while we’re going to see huge increases in the use of AI for developing fact-based works, we’re really, really far, if they’ll ever breach that, to getting any kind of readable literary fiction from these algorithms.

I think that there is something really special in the human brain, the human mind, and the connections that it makes, and that for a neural net to produce something like that in any kind of foreseeable future, it’s going to be a thousand monkeys typing for a thousand years kind of situation.

The amount of time that you’d have to spend wading through all of the muck to find it would make it unfeasible when there are so many terrific writers out there producing great work that is much more easy to find.

I’m maybe a little bit less worried about that from taking over fiction writers’ jobs. But definitely those remaining jobs that still exist in journalism and freelance writing, I think that there is definitely a risk that these kinds of technologies are going to be taking over more and more of that work and leaving less and less sort of side gigs for writers looking to supplement their main writing income.

Joanna: I totally agree. I think the blogging content places, the prices on that have gone down so much. It’s very difficult to make money doing online content writing and stuff like that. I think that is what it will go first, especially to those places that already have a lot of content to read from.

A company launched just before Christmas (Dec 2019) “publishing high-quality content in 100 languages within minutes in every vertical and category with natural language generation.” [AI Trends]

Big corporates will use this kind of company to develop internal content based on what they already have with AI writers. So, I agree with you.

Last question, because you’ve mentioned there, I agree with you that there are terrific writers producing great work, which were your words there.

But the problem, and this may be why publishers won’t use the AI.

The problem is that those authors are undervaluing themselves so much. It’s actually cheaper to get a human to write something than it is to use AI to do the work.

The reason a lot of these companies are using AI writers is that it’s cheaper to use the AI writers. But if it’s cheaper to use a human writer because the author undervalues themselves so much that they are willing.

I know people who have signed these contracts for the life of copyright all formats for not even an advance, for just a small percentage of revenue. And that might even be just a tiny amount. They might not even make a couple of thousand dollars from their work at the time. What are your thoughts on that?

How do we get writers to value themselves?

Rebecca: We’re really at this point now. You can be shortlisted for Australia’s most prestigious literary prize and gross well under $5,000, so a couple of thousand pounds. That is absolutely a possible thing to do in today’s book market.

That is cause for some despair and lots of thinking about what we can do about it. There are two issues here.

There’s absolutely sometimes the question of creators undervaluing themselves, creative labor is seen as being really desirable. Lots of work has been done in this in the field of cultural economics. We know that people will, if their choice is to paint a picture or paint a fence, then they’ll paint the picture for much less money than it would take them to paint the fence.

And there’s also, because it’s so desirable, then there are lots more people in the queue. And also it’s very difficult for anyone to predict in advance which book is actually going to sell.

And so the publisher, if someone wants more money, can very easily just take the next person in line who is going to take it. So we’ve got all of these really troubling labor dynamics there that can result in a lot of the value being extracted from the author and being transferred somewhere else.

But we’ve also got these bigger structural problems, at least in the traditional book industry. I’ve talked already today about how little money there can be for some segments of that.

I’ve been very geeky already, so I’m going to keep going. We’re really dealing with this unfortunate monopsony or oligopsony situation here. And those are big words that just talk about buyer power.

We’ve got book markets, for example, that are very heavily controlled by Amazon for lots of reasons. And they have buyer power or monopsonous power, they call it in antitrust or competition law. That allows them to really squeeze the publishers that they work with and the authors that they deal with directly to charge all kinds of fees to the publishers, to reduce their margins, to insist on certain kind of percentage of sales and so on.

Then, in turn, those publishers feel they need to pass that squeeze downstream and they squeeze their employees, they consolidate, they reduce the money that’s spent on marketing. But a lot of their costs are fixed costs, so there’s not a lot of room left to squeeze. And the one person who is the most negotiable tends to be the author.

In the second sense is where the publishers are really getting squeezed, we find that that squeeze is being passed down to creators, and that’s why we’re seeing such dramatic reductions in the size of advances, I think, over the last few years, because everyone else is squeezed in many cases and so the author gets squeezed as well.

I think one of the crucial things is going to be to address those competition issues that give those big buyers along the way. And the big buyers are Amazon and the big buyers are also the big publishers.

This is in the book industry, but also other kinds of creative industries. I think it’s going to be crucial to reduce that buyer power, re-introduce competition, and hopefully allow there to be some more money left at the end of the day for the creator.

Joanna: Absolutely. And, as we’ve discussed, really getting authors to be more empowered and knowledgeable about what they can ask for in contracts so that they have the potential to make more money themselves if the publisher doesn’t exploit those rights.

Rebecca: Absolutely. And I’m very sympathetic. I would often much rather be doing my own writing than thinking about copyright as well.

I understand why people don’t want to think about it. It’s complicated, and it’s frustrating. But, as a writer, if you spend a couple of hours doing some research around contracts, there’s a lot of terrific resources online, very reputable people talking about what you should be asking for, what you absolutely shouldn’t be signing up to, and how to ask for something different.

A couple of hours of investment is going to be knowledge you’ve got for your whole life.

You’re going to be doing the right thing by yourself and your work if you make that investment. So I do really recommend it.

Joanna: Absolutely. And of course, you’re a reputable person! so, where can people find you and everything you do online?

Rebecca: Well, we do have a blog, none of it is authored by an AI, we write it all ourselves. So that’s at And you can find me talking about random things on Twitter at @rgibli. I love having conversations with people about all of these issues on there.

Joanna: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for your time, Rebecca, that was great.

Rebecca: Thank you. It was lots of fun. Lovely talking to you, Joanna.

13 Writing Tips for Non-native English Authors

Choosing the right words is a challenge for every writer but for those who speak English as a second language, that challenge can be even more daunting. ER doctor and author Rada Jones shares her favorite tips for writing in English when its not your mother tongue.

13 Writing Tips for Non-native English Authors

These days, I’m an American, but I still speak like Dracula’s first cousin. Two decades ago I left Transylvania to join my husband. After a painful metamorphosis just as astonishing as that of a larva into a butterfly, I became an American author.

I tried writing as soon as I arrived, but my stiff, formal English didn’t carry me far. My writing got stuck like a boat in shallow water, and wouldn’t take off. So I quit.

Did you know that languages are not all the same? Even beyond vocabulary and grammar. They each result from a specific culture and expresses a particular attitude. I learned that at an art gallery in Montreal.

Everything had an English description, also one in French. All the French descriptions were longer. Beautiful and nuanced, French rolls off the tongue richly adorned with adjectives and adverbs. So does Romanian, especially when cursing. English is short and to the point.

For thousands of pages I struggled with verb tenses, split infinitives and Oxford comas, wishing I was born an English speaker. From research papers to patient reports, I climbed English like it was a sand dune, more down than up.

sand dune Sahara desert

Two and a half books later, I still strive to find the words that will make my prose sing. But I’ve learned that writing in a foreign language is not all bad. It keeps my writing fresh and authentic. It keeps my readers awake.

I’m blessed with a unique voice that I can’t get rid of. I sound like nobody else. So, as long as I don’t get overly creative with my grammar, it’s all good.

I’m here to share what I’ve learned from wrestling with English for twenty years. I hope you find it useful.

1. Read in English

A lot. In the genre you’re aiming for. Reread the works you love. Reread those you hate. They will both teach you.

2. Write with a thesaurus

The difference between the right word and the “almost right” one is the difference between winning and losing.

Say I’m writing: ”She left fast.” Sounds awkward. A better verb? “She rushed.” I work in Word (I’m too cheap for Scrivener) with a thesaurus open in my screen. I look for synonyms. Run, hurried, dashed, sprinted, flashed, scurried, charged, teared, tore, scuttled.

Which is the right one? It depends. Is she a mouse? Then it’s “scurried”. Is she a soldier? Then it’s “charged.” Is she infirm? Maybe “scuttled.” The thesaurus will get me the exact word I need.

Thesaurus Pair

[Note from Joanna: Another great thesaurus tool is the emotional thesaurus series from Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, which we discuss on this podcast episode.]

3. Adverbs are the devil

They are there to get you. Weed them out. Spend your time on important things – verbs, nouns, pronouns.

Artful sentences like: “Her watercraft moved slowly and gleefully over the translucent surface of the beautiful welcoming blue lake,” should become: “Her boat slid over the water.” They know the water is blue. If it wasn’t, I’d tell them.

Simple is good. Clear is great. Readable is priceless. Remember, not all readers have advanced degrees. A reader once told me: “I don’t read unless I must. I read your book in one sitting.” That made me proud.

4. Go heavy on the verbs

Short ones are better. Active ones are best. Avoid passive voice at all costs.

5. Keep sentences short

The longer they are, the harder to follow.

I had an ex who was devoid of periods. One of his paragraphs would cover a page. I had to read his emails over and over to make sense of them. I wouldn’t have bothered if we didn’t share custody. Don’t be like my ex. Periods are your friends.

6. Use short words when possible

“Ran” rather than “Contended,” “Administered” or “Participated.”

“Said” rather than “Enunciated,” “Articulated,” or “Imparted”.

7. Read aloud as you write

Listening to the music of your words helps you trim down the extras. It synchronizes you with the rhythm of your writing.


8. Use Grammarly

The basic version is free. The premium one is worth it. It helps you shed unneeded words and fix your comas. It makes your writing cleaner and clearer. [From Joanna: Click here or below for my Grammarly tutorial. I use it for every book.]


My tutorial on how to use Grammarly to improve your writing

9. Partner with a native speaker

Somebody to laugh when you botch your clichés. That will teach you. My husband laughed through my writing, fixing “Passing out” for “Passing away” and “Looking like a flower” for “Looking like a rose.”

10. Hire an editor

I don’t do it for my blog – my medical jargon would stifle his style and his bills would stifle mine. I do it for my books, even if I may not recoup my money.

I don’t write for money, even though I like it. I write to tell the world what I have to say.

[Click here for a list of recommended editors.]

11. Color your writing with your culture

Use a foreign word to catch a glimpse of color, like stained glass in a window, once in a (great) while. Use the clichés of your native language to enrich your writing. They aren’t clichés in English. They’ll freshen your metaphors.

In Romanian, “The purring cat scratches the deepest,” “Lies have short legs,” and “Health is wealth.” Oh, and “Books will make you rich.”

12. Embrace your differences

Being an outsider gives you a unique perspective that most native English speakers don’t partake of. Being different is a niche. Own it.

13. Get inspired by the glory of others

Nabokov was Russian. Joseph Conrad was Polish. Jack Kerouac’s native language was French. Kazuo Ishiguro’s Japanese.

Their novels are some of the most celebrated works written in English. If they could achieve that, so can you.

Are you a non-English speaker? How do you deal with writing in a language that is not your native one? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Rada JonesRada Jones MD is an ER Doc in Northern New York, where winters are long, people are sturdy and geese speak mostly French. She is the author of two crisp medical thrillers, Overdose, Mercy, and Poison. Find more at

7 Tips For Researching A Novel

Research is an important part of the novel-writing process and the internet makes discovering new information easier than ever, but primary resources offer insight and details you won’t find anywhere online. In this article, author and YouTuber Tara East gives us some tips on how writers can find primary resources.

7 Tips For Researching A Novel
No matter what genre you’re writing in, it’s highly likely that you will have to do some research.

Some authors conduct their research before they begin drafting, others do it once they have completed a first draft, and others write and research simultaneously.

How you conduct your research is far more important than when.

The following seven tips are aimed at writers who are about to start researching their novel, but everyone can benefit from these suggestions.

The internet makes researching and fact-checking incredibly easy. You needn’t wander down to your local library anymore, now your laptop is the library and all you have to do is type in the keywords.

Researching online is easy and convenient, but writers should not rely on this one source alone. After all, it is not always easy to determine the reliability of the source you are reading and if you are researching a particular industry or profession, you may find contradictory information as workplace procedures vary between countries and corporations.

Online resources are useful, but writers must also make the effort to find primary resources.

A primary resource, in this context, is someone who has first-hand experience or knowledge on a particular topic. If your protagonist is a surgeon, for example, a primary resource would be memoirs or blogs written by surgeons. These resources will improve your understanding of the profession, but you will gain even more insight by interviewing a surgeon.

Speaking with an industry professional will provide unique details and insights that you can’t find online. Plus, you’ll be able to ask questions that pertain directly to the novel that you’re writing.

Good research contains both primary and secondary resources. The following seven tips will guide you through both of these approaches.

doctor and stethoscope

1. Familiarise yourself with the topic

Before you start reaching out to primary resources, you should familiarise yourself with the topic you’re researching. Think of this stage as a research warm-up.

Open up your web browser and give yourself full permission to go down the rabbit hole. Experiment with different keywords and make sure that you have a notebook beside you or a word document open so that you can record reoccurring terminology or any questions that arise while you are reading.

Look for newspaper articles, feature stories, interviews or fact sheets. You can also read blogs, essays, interviews, and memoirs.

Caveats to online research are knowing the difference between productive reading and procrastination, and discernment regarding the reliability and credibility of online resources is also needed.

If you find a useful article or web page, be sure to make a record of it so that you can return to later.

2. Tap into your existing network

Secondary resources and online research are a great way to ensure that minor aspects of your novel are correct, for example, when you are looking up weapons or maps.

However, there may be major aspects of your novel that require greater understanding, or perhaps you are writing about a topic that has little information online.

In this instance, you’ll likely need to interview someone who has first-hand experience or knowledge on the topic.

Before you start emailing random strangers, considering tapping into your existing network. Ask your family and friends if they know anyone relevant to your research. You may be surprised to discover that you and your ideal resource are separated by only six degrees!

I spent two years trying to find an embalmer who’d be willing to speak with me. One night, I was complaining about this fact while having dinner with a friend, she immediately whipped out her phone and fired off an email. As it turned out, she went to school with a guy whose family owned a chain of funeral parlors. A week later, I got my interview.


3. Pay attention at conferences and events

When meeting other authors and industry professionals at conferences and events, be sure to pay attention to their current project and publishing/work history.

You may meet a crime writer who has great connections with the local police force; if appropriate, you could ask that writer to introduce you to an officer who’d be open to an interview. Now, you have a fantastic resource that will assist you in the writing of your crime novel.

You can build so many connections by attending writing conferences and events or by joining local writing groups. You can then draw upon this network whenever you need help finding reliable primary resources.

For example, I met a retired detective through a writing course. While he decided to leave the course a week later, we stayed in contact via email. Not only did he agree to be interviewed (multiple times!), he also fact-checked the novel and became an early beta-reader.

4. Reach out to resources

If you’re struggling to connect with resources using the methods outlined in tips two and three, you may need to reach out to industry professions directly – without an introduction.

You can email resources directly by finding their contact information online. Make sure your email is professional and polite, remember: you are asking someone to give up their time for no personal benefit.

In your email, be sure to include: your name, why you would like to interview them, some information regarding your project, your background/bio, and the kind of questions you’d like to ask.

For example:

Hi John,

My name is Tara and I am currently writing a crime novel. I read a recent interview with you in [X] magazine and was impressed by your long history working as a [X].

I am writing to you today in the hopes that you’d be interested in me interviewing you. Your knowledge of the industry is extensive, and my novel would benefit tremendously from your insights and experience.

The protagonist in my novel is a detective on the verge of retiring. While attempting to resolve his remaining active cases, his life is disrupted in a twenty-year-old case is suddenly reopened.

I am looking for details regarding your daily work routines, police procedure and your reflections on the job in general. I have previously published two books and have an active website, which you can look at here: [insert website].

Thank you so much for considering my request, and I look forward to your response.


Emails are an easy and non-intrusive way to request an interview with someone. You can approach professionals in person, provided it is appropriate to do so, but email gives people the time to reflect on your request. Also, some people may not appreciate being put on the spot! A thoughtfully written email can open more doors than you may expect.

5. Prepare

Spend some time thinking about what you need to know before you go in for the interview. Ideally, you’ve already done extensive background research on the topic, so use your time with your interviewee as a way to fact-check the information you’ve found online or through other resources.

office desk coffee

For example, if you are writing a police procedural set in Melbourne, Australia but most of the information online pertains to American procedures, then ask your interviewee to clarify local workplace policies and processes.

As already stated, the interviewee is giving up their time for no personal gain. So, make sure that you have your questions ready before you go into the interview.

Feel free to discuss any (relevant) plot points with them that you are struggling with. Layout the scenario and ask them what would realistically happen in this situation. If there are any scenes where believability is an issue, ask the interviewee if what you have written is possible.

Remember, you’ve chosen this interviewee for their expertise, so don’t be afraid to ask for advice or clarification on any of the relevant technical plot points you are struggling with.

When I was interviewing police officers for my mystery novel, I asked them to walk me through standard homicide procedures. Then, I outline two specific scenes where I was unsure what the police procedure would be and I asked them what they would in that situation.

6. Ask for details

Details: the one thing a primary resource can provide that online sources can’t.

If you are interviewing your resource in their place of work, make sure that you pay attention to the surroundings. What is the layout of the building? What is the quality of light like and how does it smell? Is it busy, loud? How does the place feel, somber, stressful, hectic, calm?

Ask the interviewee for specific details. What is their typical day like? What are the best and worst parts of their job?

As you warm up into the interview, ask them about any unusual cases or events they’ve been involved in or any interesting workplace stories they’d like to share.

If they are working in a high-stress or unusual job, ask them how they feel about the work and how it affects them emotionally and mentally. Note: You will have to use your judgment before asking these personal questions as not everyone will be comfortable answering them.

If the person works in a harsh or physical environment, you can ask them how their work has affected them physically.

The kind of details you are looking for will change depending on the topic you are researching and the person you are interviewing. Think about the tactile details (sound, touch, sight, smell, taste) you need to know to make a scene come alive.

For example, when interviewing embalmers, I asked to smell the chemicals they use when preparing a body for a funeral. I got them to walk me through a typical day and to show me the equipment that they use. I also asked them how they answer the question, what do you do for a living? at cocktail parties. Their answer – bricklayer, it has a lot less follow up questions! – was so good that I put it in my book.


7. Be polite and professional

Being polite and professional is a good habit regardless of who you are speaking to, but in this instance, it is even more important.

If you carefully prepare for your interview, ask good questions, act courteously and thank your interviewee for their time, it’s far more likely that you will build a good rapport.

If it feels appropriate to do so, ask the interviewee if they’d be open to checking any of the scenes relevant to their profession or if they’d be happy for you to email them for clarification or further details.

Ideally, you want to leave this interview knowing that you can contact this person again if any additional questions arise (and they will!) during the writing process.

When writing my crime novel, I was able to email my police officer contacts to check minor details like lingo, how long you can detain someone without evidence, and how technology has changed workplace procedures.

Finding the right professionals to interview can take a little time, but it’s well worth the effort.

The details gained by conducting interviews with primary resources can add credibility, authenticity, and intrigue to your book. Several of my early readers said that the embalming scenes in my novel were among their favorite because the sensory details made it feel so real.

A primary resource will provide you with insights that the internet can’t, and it is these details that will take your work to the next level.

How do you conduct research for your books? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Tara EastTara East is an author, blogger, and YouTuber. She has four degrees and her articles on culture and creativity are widely published. Her fictitious works include the mystery novel Every Time He Dies and the Time-traveling novella When Bell Met Bowie. She maintains a highly active writing advice blog at

[Library shelves image copyright chuttersnap and Unsplash. Doctor image copyright impulseQ and Unsplash.]

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

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

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.

5 Tips To Help You Write A Novel In A Month #NaNoWriMo

At this point, I’ve written 17 novels and I’m about to write the first draft of my next one during NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, when writers all over the world try to write 50K words during November. Of course, if you’re reading this at another time, no worries! You can still use these tips for your writing project.

If you’re getting ready to write your first or next novel, here are 5 tips to help you get that first draft written.

You can listen to this episode on the special Kobo Writing Life Podcast episode below or on your favorite podcast app.

Special NaNoWriMo promotion 50% off my books for authors on Kobo: 

You can get my Writer’s Toolbox which includes The Successful Author Mindset, How to Market a Book, and How to Make a Living with your Writing or/ you can also get The Successful Author Mindset in audio format. Get 50% off at checkout with discount code: KWLPODPENN [Available 25 Oct – 30 Nov 2019]

(1) Know what you’re going to write before you write it

For NaNoWriMo, you start writing on 1 November, but you can plan your novel before you start to write it. If you’re writing in a series, perhaps you already have your world sorted, and characters in mind, so you just need a plot. If you’re starting from scratch, then it’s likely you have some idea in mind, so start writing notes.

I’m a discovery writer, or ‘pantser,’ so I don’t outline in advance, but I always have an imagined character before I start a book, and an opening scene. I might also have notes from research or other thoughts.

Wherever you’re at on your author journey, make sure you spend some time thinking about your story before sitting down on that first day to write.

One of the most important things to decide is your genre and this is a tough question for any author to consider. I’d suggesting writing in the genre you love to read and if you don’t know what that is, look up a book that’s similar to the one you’re intending to write and check its category on Amazon. Is it a thriller, a romance, historical fiction, YA, horror?

It’s good to have an idea of what you’re writing as this will help with characters, plot ideas and where you’re heading in terms of an ending. For example, romance readers love a happy ever after, but thriller readers appreciate a battle to the death and the triumph of the heroine at the end of the world.

(2) Keep it simple

Maybe you want to write a multi-character epic set across a universe of worlds … Fantastic! But maybe don’t choose that goal for your NaNoWriMo project. Make it easy on yourself and use a basic structure for your story.

First, put a character in a setting. To use The Hunger Games as an example, Katniss lives in Panem, working to feed her family in an oppressed district. If you’re a new writer, keep your story simple and pick one primary character, then write from their point of view. The more characters you have, the more complicated your book, so try to stay focused on one protagonist — although of course, there will be other minor characters.

Then, come up with something that disrupts the character’s existing life. Katniss wants to save her sister from the Reaping and volunteers to take her place.

Then, give the character something they want to achieve and put lots of obstacles in place to stop them achieving it. Katniss wants to stay alive and win The Hunger Games, but increasingly, she also wants to tear down the existing system of Panem. She faces obstacles in the challenges that the games present, the other Tributes who are trying to kill her, as well as President Snow and the whole corrupt system, plus her own internal battles.

Finally, build to an ending that satisfies readers of the genre. I’m sure you read a lot of books so you will know what you love in stories. Bring elements of that into your ending. Of course, if you’re a discovery writer like me, you might not know your ending until well into the writing process!

You will need to flesh out each of these elements as you write, but try to keep it simple with one main character point of view and you will achieve your goal of finishing a story.

If you need more help with writing a novel, check out my course for writers, How to Write a Novel: From Idea to Book.

How to write a novel course banner

(3) Schedule your writing time and make the most of it

Writing 50,000 words in a month is an ambitious goal and the only way to achieve it is to schedule your time. I use Google Calendar to block out chunks of time to write but you can use whatever works for you — as long as you schedule it and then show up for that time.

You can’t write a novel in ‘spare moments,’ because no one ever has any spare moments! You need to rearrange your life in order to get your writing done. That might mean getting up an hour earlier, or taking a lunch break and going to a cafe or the library to write, or skipping Netflix after dinner. It might mean asking your family to do the chores or just leaving things to pile up for longer than you usually would. It might mean telling your friends that you won’t be going out much in November and using your weekends to create.

If you’re struggling to find the time, well, how much do you really want this?

We all have to give up something to achieve our goals.

Once you have your writing time locked in, then turn up and do the work. That means writing words on a page. They are unlikely to be great words, but that’s OK, just get them down. This is the first draft, so tell your inner editor to come back next month, but for now, you are creating.

Find somewhere you won’t be disturbed and set a timer. Don’t do anything else in that time but write. Join some of the NaNoWriMo community writing sprints, or find a writing group in your city, then go and actually write, not talk about writing! I go to my local cafe at 7am before the rush so I can get a table for a few hours. I buy my coffee, put on my noise-canceling headphones and push play on my Rain and Thunderstorms album. Then I write.

(4) Use effective tools but don’t use them to procrastinate

There are many writing and productivity tools these days and copious apps that say they can help you get more done. If you find some that work for you, then fantastic, but don’t use them as an excuse to procrastinate.

For example, I have now written 29 books using Scrivener. It is the secret weapon of many successful writers because it’s so good at helping you organise your manuscript. Once you know how to use it effectively, you will never go back to using MS Word, but maybe don’t try to learn during your month of writing. You need that time to create, so learn it beforehand or later on. [If you want to learn how to use Scrivener, check out Learn Scrivener Fast.]

Another secret weapon for prolific writers is using dictation, but again, it’s hard to start dictating on day 1 when you’re not used to using it.

In terms of timed writing, there are lots of methods and special apps, but seriously, just set your phone to 20 minutes and write.

If you find yourself struggling to concentrate, then give yourself a periodic procrastination break. For example, in a two-hour writing session, I will get up for more coffee, have a stretch, check Twitter and Insta and the news and then sit down for the next session. If you find this break going over ten minutes, give yourself some tough love. Get back in the chair!

(5) Acknowledge your self-doubt and fear — and get back to the blank page

Even after so many books, I find it a daunting prospect to go back to the blank page — it’s exciting but also scary! What if I don’t have any ideas? What if I get writer’s block? What if I can write words but they are just really bad? What if someone reads my work and thinks I’m crazy or stupid? What if this is all a waste of time? There are so many brilliant writers so why am I even trying?

Don’t worry. You are not alone. All these thoughts are normal. The creative process is a rollercoaster of emotion and experience, and it doesn’t stop after the first book, you just know to expect it!

I suffer from self-doubt as much as the next writer, but I know that once I sit down at my laptop and start to type, a story will emerge and over repeated writing sessions it will turn into whatever it is meant to turn into, and then I will edit it and work with professionals and it will emerge into the world at some point. You just have to balance the curious mystical process of creation with the actual work of sitting down at the page and typing.

If you need more help with these mindset issues, then check out my book The Successful Author Mindset, available on Kobo in ebook and audiobook formats. You can use promo code KWLPODPENN to get 50% off the audiobook in November 2019.

Your next steps: This is just a first draft!

Remember, whatever you write during NaNoWriMo is just a first draft and if you made it to 50,000 words, then you still have a process to follow to turn that into a finished book. We don’t have enough time to go into the editing process in this special podcast episode, but have a listen to the backlist of the Kobo Writing Life Podcast and you’ll hear tips from lots of writers on their writing process, as well as publishing and book marketing tips.

Happy writing!

Are you doing NaNoWriMo? Do you have tips to share? Please leave a comment and join the conversation.

Top image: Photo by Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash

12 Book Translation Tips For Authors

Once authors have started to sell in their native language, many turn to new markets and translation is becoming more popular among indie authors as digital sales expand in other territories. I first translated books in 2014 but found the lack of marketing tools made sales almost impossible, so I pulled out in 2016.

But in recent months, I have gone back into translation, first in German, with an eye on other markets. We now have marketing options like auto-targeted Amazon Ads in some countries and digital sales are expanding. In this article, Ofer Tirosh offers some tips on what to consider if you are interested in translation.

12 Book Translation Tips For Authors

Writing a book is hard enough in one language. But now that your blood, sweat, and tears have dried with the ink on your pages, you are probably thinking about maximizing the number of readers who can read what you wrote.

After completing your book and marketing in your native tongue, the natural next step is to translate your book for additional markets. Here are some questions and answers to get you started on this multilingual journey and offer some best practices and tips.

This article is intended primarily for authors who have published in one language and seek to expand their reach. The easiest way is by reaching beyond their local language and home markets to additional ones. But non-authors may find some valuable tidbits as well: translators or publishers who are considering expanding to new markets.

1. Is translation worth the extra effort and expense?

The first obvious question when considering book translation is this: Should I even bother?

The answer to this one is equally self-evident, IF (1) you have shown you can attract readers to your writing in your native tongue and country, and (2) want to reach more readers, and (3) the content of your book is of relevance to someone outside your homeland and home language, THEN the effort in terms of time and money of translation is low — relative to authoring new content. But read on….

[Note from Joanna: I would also add that you must have an ability to market your book in that language. Either you have to work with marketing partners, or you can use established methods of marketing like KU + Amazon Ads or Facebook Advertising. Without book marketing, you won’t sell any books!]

2. Which foreign markets give you the biggest bang for your translation buck?

Obviously, the answer to this question will vary from book to book and market to market. Do your homework, and ask yourself the following sub-questions:

  • Which markets will find my book most interesting or relevant?
  • Which of these have the most readers?
  • Can I reach these readers through Amazon or do I need help with distribution and other platforms?
  • How much will each of these markets cost me to enter?
  • And are there ways to translate into multiple languages at once to get the best return on my investment?

All these questions require serious research. Don’t skimp. Weak research can cost you big time later. Once you decide where you want to go, the next question is how.

E-learning or online translator concept. Learning languages onli

Who Will Translate Your Book for You?

There are two basic ways to do a professional book translation: with freelancers or translation agencies. Let’s consider both options, in that order.

3. Auditing the book translation process: How do you get a second opinion?

The usual way is with one translator per language, but we have learned that this approach is fraught with risk and can impact quality. Just like in medicine, it’s always a good idea to look around for several offers.

Even after you decide on one, do a small sample and then get a second opinion from another linguist in that language to check the work of the first. Then send the proofed work back to the translator and do a final round. Prepare all parties for this process in communications and in contracts. The incremental expense is an excellent investment to ensure the quality of your translation.

4. What are the pros and cons of working directly with freelance translators?

There are armies of freelance translators on offer for every language, and there are freelance platforms like Upwork, Freelancer and Fiverr from which to choose them. These platforms give you profiles for each, containing ratings and reviews.

So you can more easily and confidently make a selection, with that said, do an intensive vetting, as described in the answer just above and at the very end of the process, save something in your budget for an independent proofing round of the translation work.

[Note from Joanna: Other translation options are dedicated portals like Proz or TranslatorsCafe. LinkedIn is another place to search for translators, as is your national translators association.]

5. What are the advantages of working with professional translation agencies?

If you are not hard-pressed for cash, this is a no-brainer. A professional agency, with experience in books, is the fastest and easiest way to get a quality translation. The incremental cost you pay to a translation company would likely pay for itself with reduced time and aggravation.

Instead of vetting individual freelancers, and supervising their work, you have a professional translation management team, with already-vetted translators, with the translation agency assuming responsibility for the accuracy and meeting deadlines.

Typically, translation agencies will do a sample translation free or charge or at a nominal cost. An agency will also be able to more efficiently handle multiple languages at the same time or advise you about sequencing multilingual translations.

books and money

6. What are book translation services likely to cost?

Kindlepreneur assembled an excellent survey of dedicated book translation services. Babelcube will translate your book for free but take a hefty 15% from your royalties.

Most high-end book translation agencies will offer you a free quote for your job, while others provide per-word translation rates, starting for 2 or 3 cents per word for machine translation up to $0.15/word for human editing and translation.

Is Machine Translation a Viable Option for Authors or Translation Agencies?

7. Are there “do it yourself” translation tools for authors?

Faced with those sobering costs, there are freelancers and even authors who opt to work with machine translation software like Google Translate or DeepL and do it themselves. While book translation software or a book translation app may appear cheaper than working with an agency on a per-word basis – assuming that your time has no value — the result is likely to be gobbledygook in places.

You can ameliorate the situation if you work with an editor or proofreader in the target tongue, but then you can expect to pay rates of a freelancer on the low-end, or an agency on the high-end.

[Note from Joanna: I am in the final stages of producing 3 books in German. I used for the first draft and then worked with editors and proofreaders in German to perfect the manuscript. It has certainly cut down my translation costs but machine translation is definitely only a first draft!] 

8. Which translation software services are used by translation agencies?

There’s an entire class of translation tools that support professional translation services. Software, as a service translation tool, like MemoQ, Smartling and SmartCat are targeted more towards translation companies, rather than individual authors. For the individual author, considering the acquisition of such software would be overkill.

How to go into a book translation project with eyes wide open

9. Do your homework

Look before you leap. Solicit multiple bids, get clear quotes from multiple freelance translators or book translation agencies, then collect (free) sample translation from your final candidates.

See if the candidate has experience working with books like yours in the target language. Check the ratings and reviews of the candidate’s book translation agency or translator. Review the contract for potential hidden costs or extra fees.

office desk coffee

10. Understand the interaction

Check if you will have direct access to the translator or a project manager. Ascertain how much input and interaction you can have in the process, and whether you reserve the right to reject a translation without penalty or give feedback and corrections. Make sure you retain full ownership over your translations. Get a clear schedule, get a guarantee, and establish penalties for slippage.

11. Do the math

Given the word count of your original, what will be the total price of your translation project? How does the expected cost of translation compare with projected royalties?

Ultimately, book translation services costs that have an intelligent human agent are likely to average around $0.10 and go to twice that much, all in. You can expect a typical 60,000-word book to set you back at least $6000.

Look at the bottom line

Calculate how many foreign book units should be sold before you can break even with the cost for translation. Based on your research of the target market, you can project how likely it is that you will be making a profit. These are sobering considerations, but better to know now than to know later — that is, too late.

Have you considered translating your books into other languages? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Ofer TiroshOfer Tirosh is CEO of Tomedes, a professional translation services and localization company that specializes in helping authors translate their books. Tomedes offers free, no-obligation quotes, supports more than 90 languages, and guarantees to fix without cost any error found in its translations for a full year.

6 Ways To Stay Productive In A Creative Slump

Every creative person encounters times where we’re not feeling creative at all. In this post, Macy Thornhill shares ways to support yourself to get past the natural blocks and slumps that come with the creative life.

stay productive in a creative slump

“Being a writer is not just about typing. It’s also about surviving the rollercoaster of the creative journey.” ― Joanna Penn, The Successful Author Mindset

As writers, we’ve all had those times when we’re procrastinating. Whether it’s because you feel like your creative spark is waning, life is getting in the way of your writing goals, or, if we’re honest, because you’re a little afraid to take the plunge into serious writing.

How do you keep yourself productive when you’re in a creative slump? Sometimes, it’s possible to write your way through it. But other times the best you can do is keep yourself productive in other ways. But how do you know when you’re staying busy, versus when you’re doing busywork?

Over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two about writer’s block and creativity. With these tips, you’ll be able to keep yourself motivated and inspired, while waiting for that spark to come back.

1. Take Time To Think About Your Writing Career

“When you feel that creeping self-doubt, acknowledge it. Write down your feelings in your journal in your journal… and then continue with your writing.” ― Joanna Penn,

Sometimes, especially when you’re just starting out, it’s easy to get overwhelmed as a writer. It’s lonely work, and it can take a while to build up a readership or client base before you really get going.

It can be tough to self-motivate sometimes. When you’re finding it difficult to carve out time for writing because life gets in the way, or you’re not sure where to start, take some time to think about your goals.

For me, I have a notebook that I write in daily. It’s one part diary, one part bullet journal. I use it to keep track of what I’m working on, and where I’m hoping to take my writing in the future.

Find a way to keep yourself on task, whether it’s weekly writing goals or a list of places you want to eventually submit to. You’ll find it’s a great way to stay motivated.

2. Connect With Other Writers

Whenever I feel stuck, I find it motivating to spend time with other writers. Not only is it great to talk shop with someone going through things with you, but other writers might also see things you miss.

Procrastination and writer’s block can come from a mistake you don’t know you’re making. Connect with other writers, through writers groups or classes, and let them help you work through the problem.

At the very least, it might be enough to get you excited about writing again. If you don’t have a writing group in your area, try the Twitter hashtag #amwriting to connect with other writers, or find writing communities on Facebook or Instagram.

One caveat: As described in The Successful Author Mindset, writer groups can have an opposite effect on your creative flow. Group members can be critical for the sake of being critical and you can get lost in the avalanche of untargeted feedback. So make sure the group you’re in is one that will help you grow and move forward.

The Successful Author Mindset Cover LARGE EBOOK

3. Write Something New

Many writing blogs advise against starting a new project when an old one is floundering, but I think the trick is to do something small. If you’re working on a novel, try a short story. If you’re writing fiction, write a non-fiction article.

The shift in your thinking can sometimes be enough to shake something loose creatively. So get out there and try something new in your writing! You could surprise yourself.

4. Work On Your Portfolio

A writer’s portfolio is a calling card for clients, agents, and publishers. If you’re in a serious writing lull, sometimes, going over your best pieces can help you remember your goals. Updating your portfolio can keep you busy, without succumbing to busywork.

What you need in a good portfolio depends on you, but a welcome page, resume, and references are a good start. Update and organize your contact info.

When you’re choosing pieces, make sure to choose not only your best but samples of the kind of work you’re most interested in doing. Try not to mix genres too much here. You want to show flexibility, but with a clear voice, and clear goals. Finally, mention the domain of your portfolio on all your online profiles, so potential clients, publishers, and agents can find you.

5. Resist Temptation to “Research”

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: “Oh, I really can’t write this scene without checking…” and two hours of Google later, you still haven’t written anything, but you now know everything there is to know about 18th-century juggling, how to bury a body, and the correct way to swaddle a baby.

Woman writing on a laptop

When we’re procrastinating, research can be a very tempting distraction, especially now that you have an endless universe of data at your disposal. But resist the temptation. Without a clear idea of what you need to find, you’re not going to be effective as a researcher. Use your research only when you have a specific goal, and don’t use it to avoid producing work.

6. Take a Writer’s Walk

Sometimes, we can get so busy with writing we forget other things. If you’ve been pushing for a deadline, working on a big project, or looking for clients, it’s tough to make time to stop and smell the roses. Literally. Sometimes a change of scenery is exactly what you need to get your creative juices flowing.

Spending time in nature also boosts your memory, improves your mental health, and even increases brain activity! If spending too much time in your home office is sapping you creatively, get some fresh air, and replenish your creative energy. It’s better than sitting at home, staring at a blank page!


The best way to build a successful writing career is to make writing a habit, and show up for yourself. But we’ve all had times when it feels like the creative spark has left us. Sometimes it’s a day or two, sometimes a couple of weeks at a time.

When you’re in a slump, it feels easier to fill your life with pointless online meandering or lose yourself in irrelevant statistics.

It’s fine to take breaks, but spend that time to move closer to your goals. If you use this inspiration gap to work on other aspects of your business, you’ll stay motivated, and will return to your writing in no time.

What do you do to motivate yourself when you hit a writing slump? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Macy ThornhillMacy Thornhill is the frantic scribbling squirrel over at She loves writing herself out of sticky situations and helping fellow scribblers grow their freelance writing business.

5 Ways To Use Voice Search To Sell More Books

Have you asked a question out loud to one of your devices in the last week? Did you ask Siri the weather on your Apple Watch? Did you ask Google Assistant to provide you directions? Did you ask Alexa for a flash news briefing or to play some music? These voice requests are becoming more and more common with some predicting that voice may be over 30% of search from 2020. 

Think about that from a book marketing perspective. If someone is in their car and wants to listen to an audiobook, will yours come up in voice search? If you want traffic to an article, can it be found by voice? Like ensuring your book can be found through typing a Google search, it’s becoming increasingly important to be found in voice search. In this article, Zara Altair gives some tips.

voice search

Authors use categories and keywords to help readers find their books. Digital retailers like Amazon use these keywords to help readers find books that relate to their interest. In the online world. search engines used to work similarly using keywords to match information to a searcher’s request.

In the larger world of online search, search engines like Google and Bing are shifting how they discover and present information to people who search for something like your book online. The search engines are shifting from keywords to phrases and topics. The search engines base their results on what matches the natural language of the person searching.

As people use mobile devices like smartphones and tablets more people search using voice and natural language than typing in keywords on a computer screen. According to Statista, the number of mobile search users is expected to increase to 221 million users by 2020.

rank knowledge

If you’ve ever said ‘OK Google’ and asked for information, you know how this works. And you know that a voice query (question) gets one answer. When people search for a good book in your genre or you as an author, you want to be the answer.

Unlike search results on a screen where there is a top answer and then other results, voice gives one answer. You’ll be vying with your competitors for the one answer. It may seem unfair but there’s no second choice with voice results. Search engines look for featured snippets, information about you above the ranking list, and knowledge graphs as the first source of the one answer.

When you follow the tactics below, you are better able to guide search engines on the results they display for readers.

author feature snippet

You can see this on your computer by comparing the old search results of rank with a featured snippet with the new search results Knowledge Graph side by side on the page.

Search for your author business (real name or pen name). If Google has created a knowledge graph, claim it. What’s important for you in this new world of search results is the Knowledge Graph and a featured snippet about you as an author and each of your books. These are the results that voice search uses.

How To Create Your Author Strategy for Voice Search

Authors can prepare for this shift in how people search and how search engines deliver results by taking steps to implement a search strategy for their online presence. Each step is a tactic to increase the probability of being the right answer for mobile searchers.

1. Business Mindset

As an author, you are a business. In terms of search, you are an entity. Everything online about you is a component of how search sees you as an entity. As a business, you need to create a consistent message about yourself as an author and your books wherever you are online.

  • Blogs
  • Social network postings
  • Emails
  • Articles written for websites or printed publications such as magazines or newspapers
  • Postings made to a user review section of an online vendor or marketplace
  • User reviews submitted to various existing user review clearinghouses (e.g. Yelp)
  • Podcasts

Search engines gather information about you from a wide variety of sources. The more these sources align, the better search engines understand your business entity, you as an author.

The most important action you can take is to present a consistent message about your author business, the entity, online.

Each of your books is also an entity, so you need to apply the same strategy to each of your books.

2 Organize and Present

Search engines look for clear and concise information to answer searcher questions. You have no control over what Google or any other search engine returns as the result of a search. But you have methods to direct search engines to appropriate answers for a search query.

Think blocks of text and soundbites that quickly answer a searcher’s question.

For instance, in your author blog articles break up paragraphs into short blocks of information.

  • Use headers and subheads to tell search engines what each section of your page or article is about.
  • Use the same tactic for the book description for each of your books. Break up short paragraphs with headers to lead readers down the page and help search engines determine what you have in each section.
  • Use bullet lists for concise, easily searchable information. Non-fiction authors can use bullet lists in the book description.

Use these tactics when writing about yourself as an author and for each one of your books. The more you organize your content on the web into chunks around one phrase the easier it is for search engines to find you and present the answer.

  • Use meta descriptions for each page on your website. Depending on your website create the meta description in the SEO section of your site. A meta description is a short 150-166 character description of the page. It’s like a mini-ad for the page. This works well for your author page and for each book.

Here’s an example: Heather Bailey will sweep you away in her book Cliff Hanger. Sparks fly and danger lurks when Tana and Jim meet. Romantic suspense fans will love the thrills.

Put the most important information first like your author name and the book title. Google can cut off the description at any point. And, the search engine will look at the page and may pull something else from the page. You have no control over what Google displays, but a well-written meta description helps.


Avoid long paragraphs that cram a lot of information into one paragraph. Break up what you say with distinct topics and short paragraphs addressing each topic.

Clear, concise, and organized information increases your chances of search engines returning what you want your readers to hear.

A webinar Meet the One Answer Challenge with software search engine optimization (SEO) tool SEMrush, goes into more depth about writing for voice search.

3. Go Wide

When you publish your book at different digital retailers (wide distribution) like Apple Books, Nook, and Google Play, you help search engines discover your books. It’s a tactic for making your books discoverable on different voice devices because each voice device searches first within its own framework. Alexa searches on Amazon, Siri searches in Apple Books, Google searches in Google PlayBooks.

  • Amazon Alexa
  • Apple Siri
  • Google Voice Search
  • Windows Cortana

For authors who work exclusively with Amazon and receive a bulk of their income from Kindle Unlimited, the choice of going wide is a personal decision. You’ll need to balance your income stream with the desire to improve discoverability online.

4. Audiobooks

Audiobooks are the perfect medium for voice. An audiobook is your book in voice. Each voice device can read audiobooks. Readers can ask their voice device to read your book to them. If a reader has not purchased the audiobook, the device will tell them where to buy the book.

Joanna Penn audiobooks

Each voice device has a separate way to access audiobooks, but all devices can play the audiobook to the listener.

Audio editions of your book are powerful connections for voice devices.

5. Create a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Page

Search engines like frequently asked questions. An FAQ page consolidates basic information about you as an author with questions and answers. One of your answers may be just what a reader is looking for.

Think readers first and what they want to know about you. The best questions are those readers and prospective readers ask about you and your books. Use questions your email subscribers ask.

Assemble 10 to 15 of the questions readers ask the most and create a short, concise answer. Most website tools offer a pre-formatted FAQ page. If you’ve ignored it before, add it to your website.

Technical Pro Tip

Authors who love tinkering with tech can create personal voice answers for Alexa and Google. Create a skill in Alexa and an action for Google. Both search giants have simplified developing apps for their voice devices.

Use Alexa Skills Blueprints and Google Template for Actions to get started.

Voice Search is Here to Stay

Each of the five actions is a tactic in your strategy to become the one answer in voice search. Overall, you want to present yourself and your books with clear, concise text. Use short paragraphs. Use headers to tell search engines the topic of each section.

There are no guarantees. Search engines can choose whatever they sense is important on a web page. Use a consistent strategy about your author business and your books wherever you are online. When you are clear, readers can find your books as the one answer.

Are you ready to embrace the voice-first revolution? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Zara AltairZara Altair creates website relational search management and semantic writing for small business clients. She writes historical fiction, The Argolicus Mysteries, where politics and murder collide in an Italy ruled by the Ostrogoths. In addition, she coaches beginning writers to Write A Killer Mystery. Find her video tutorials on YouTube.

How To Turn Your Novel Into A TV Series

As more streaming services come into being, stories are needed more now than ever. Tim Hawken shares his experience turning a book into a TV series, what (and who) you need to know, and how to bring that dream closer to reality.

how to turn your novel into a tv series

Having your book turned into a film or TV series is every author’s dream. With streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and more buying up content left, right and center, there has never been a better time to be putting a pitch together for your own story.

But where on earth do you start and what do you need for the best shot at having it picked up? I recently went through this process for my Hellbound Trilogy of books, teamed up with screenwriter/producer Ken Kabatoff (Travelers on Netflix) and actor Charlie Bewley (Twilight, The Vampire Diaries). The experience taught me a lot about putting a pitch together, as well as managing emotions and expectations throughout the process.

Here’s a step by step guide on what you need for a pitch and who you’ll need to think about attaching to the project to get it over the line.

1. Find The Right Partners

A TV show isn’t built in a vacuum and neither is a TV pitch. At the very least, you’ll want people to give you feedback. Better yet, you’ll have a writing partner or a team to help push the project’s momentum forward.

two working colleagues

For me, it all started after an editor of a magazine I had written for gave an actor friend of his (Charlie Bewley) the first book in the Hellbound series. Charlie identified with the lead character Michael, so got in touch direct asking if he could help bring the story to the screen. He in turn was friends with a few screenwriters and suggested up-and-coming talent Ken Kabatoff for the job.

You could say it was blind luck that this all happened (in a sense it was) but remember, I’d done the work to write a book in the first place and put it in the hands of the right people.

Lightning has since struck twice with another actor getting in touch out of the blue to work on a different project. Sew your own seeds and they should also grow. Hustle to get your book to people who know folks in the business, or go direct by looking at shows in a similar genre and looking at writers that might fit.

Of course, the creators of Game of Thrones aren’t looking for their next job, they have more than enough offers on the table. But plenty of screenwriters are hustling for their next gig as much as you and are willing to put in the hours to create something. IMDB is a great resource here to not only find possible leads for writing partners, by finding other talent to attach as things progress (more on this later).

2. Write A Pilot

A TV pilot is a script of your first episode for the series. Every pitch needs at least one full episode written out, to prove the worth of the story and to prove whoever is writing the thing actually knows what they’re doing.

Thankfully, I’d been approached by Ken and Charlie on this front, after Charlie had read and loved the series. Ken and I worked to put together a workable draft, then polished it up until it shone.
typing blogging
Screenwriting is quite different from novels, so it was huge to have an experienced person guiding this along and doing the lion’s share of the work. I acted more of an advisor to the story, making sure the concept stayed true to the books.

Be warned that there will likely be scenes in your own work that might not work visually on the screen. Some things need to be tweaked to suit, so find a good balance of protecting the integrity of the work, while being flexible to adjust scenes and maybe even combining two minor characters into one.

If you’re writing the thing yourself and aren’t quite sure where to start, I recommend reading a few good pilot scripts to get a feel for the structure and pace. This article is also quite helpful when it comes to hints and tips.

3. Write a Show Bible

A show bible is a pitch document that outlines the world your story is set in, summarizes the key narrative arc of the season, sketches out key characters and offers an episode-by-episode breakdown of the first season.

Assuming you’re going beyond a single season, which most shows would like to, you should also outline what will happen in seasons 2, 3 and beyond. If you’ve got a series of books, then it makes sense to follow the same pattern and have each season based on a single book.

Because a lot of show bibles can look a bit bland, we also commissioned concept artist John Gallagher to bring the world of Hellbound to life visually. It’s quite a cool way to prompt the imagination and give TV executives a more visceral sense of how the show might look and feel.

Another way to lift up the pitch to be fun to read is by writing it in the voice of the main character. One incredible pitch I came across during my research was the show bible for Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. If you’re interested, have a read here. Be prepared for a laugh.

4. Attach some talent

There are a bunch of ways you could approach this part. Some advice out there says it’s best to leave the show open for a studio to attach talent themselves, others say it helps to have a lead actor, director and maybe a producer.
robots making a film
At the very least, you’ll need a reputable agent to get the idea in front of the likes of Netflix. We used Charlie and Ken’s current representation to help with this, so I only needed an entertainment lawyer for contract negotiation. I was lucky.

Finding an agent can be tough of course, just like in the book world. Unfortunately, however, there’s no reasonable self-publishing option in TV or film, so it’s a necessary step. Just make sure your pitch and pilot are as sharp as they can be, do some research into which agencies might suit your genre (look at shows like yours and find out who repped them), and query, query, query. ICM Partners and CAA are two of the big ones if you need somewhere to start.

5. Nail Your Verbal Pitch

You’re going to have to nail your verbal pitch both for an agent and for whenever the time comes you might find yourself in a room of TV executives. This should add color to the documents you’ve already produced, foresee any questions or issues people might have, and make a good case for why your show is going to make them money.

Like with anything, practice makes perfect. Rehearse in the mirror, roleplay with others in your team and really dial it in. Because I’m based in Australia, our screenwriter Ken Kabatoff was doing the pitching in LA. We went over scenarios countless times on Skype and Ken also did the same with Charlie. It meant that when he walked into the offices of Netflix, Hulu and more, he was ready to give things a red-hot crack at making Hellbound a reality on the screen.

Unfortunately, despite the team’s best efforts, Hellbound wasn’t picked up by any of the major studios. After months and months of work, the pitch was received incredibly well. However, the asking budget of over $100M for the first season was just too much. As Ken joked ‘we could make Earthbound for less’, but that wasn’t a compromise we were willing to make, so let the project go to rest.

Still, I learned so much during the process, made some great contacts in the industry and had a wonderful time talking story with true professionals. Hopefully, I’ve been able to impart some of that learning to you and it will help you turn your own novel into a TV series.

Happy writing and happy pitching.

Have you considered turning your book series into a TV or streaming script? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Tim HawkenTim Hawken is an award-winning author of 4 novels and numerous short stories.

You can sign up here to get a free copy of the first book in his Hellbound series. It’s a thrill ride through the depths of Hell with Satan as your guide.

Artificial Intelligence And The Indie Author With Joanna Penn And Orna Ross

Every week, there are news reports on how AI will impact jobs, but what about the impact of AI on indie authors?

Can we surf the change instead of being drowned by it? Could it make our lives better as creative entrepreneurs?

I recently did a mega-solo podcast on 9 Ways that Artificial Intelligence Will Disrupt Authors and the Publishing Industry, and in this interview, Orna Ross interviews me about some of the specifics that might impact indie authors, in particular.

We discuss:

The interview is on the Alliance of Independent Authors AskAlli Podcast feed. The interview starts after the introduction around 12:25 mins. Links and notes here and you can subscribe below.

Subscribe on iTunes   Stitcher Podcast Logo for link to ALLi podcast for podcasts logo   Pocket Casts Logo  

Click here to watch the interview on YouTube.

You can also listen on Soundcloud here:

Transcript of the interview on Artificial Intelligence and the Indie Author

Orna: Okay. But today we are going to talk about something that sounds maybe mysterious, sounds maybe scary for a lot of authors. But that you have been investing a lot of time and attention and you’re hugely interested in and you’re actually making work for you. And that is artificial intelligence. And our theme for today is really how can indie authors harness the power of AI? Where are we with it? What’s it doing? What can it do for us?

And on all things AI, you are our guru so I’m going to be quizzing you, but first, before we start on what it can do for us, what is it? Explain to the people, what are we talking about when we’re talking about artificial intelligence?

Joanna: I think as writers and readers, we have read all the scary things and we probably watched all the films. And so the biggest thing that people can get confused about is artificial general AI, which is “Can there be an Orna Ross bot?” Which is a robot that thinks like you, that does everything you do and general intelligence is completely different to what we’ve got right now. And again, it’s like we always say about being an indie author. The language just has not really evolved enough in this space.

So what we are really talking about is the very niche intelligence. So it’s very, I want people to think very, very, very, very, very, very specific. So it’s a bit like you would have apps on your phone that do different things. That’s really what we’re talking about. So, essentially it’s software that can analyze data and perform an action.

Joanna: So, and of course it might not be software, it might be software that goes in hardware like a robot at some point. But one of the most common things that all authors are going to know about is and readers is if you go on Amazon and you buy a book, it’s going to recommend some other books. Now, there is not a human sitting there and Amazon HQ going, “Oh, Orna bought this book. I think she’d like that book” and like writing it back to you. We all know that that is ridiculous. Like it makes you laugh because we know that’s not true.

Or if you, you know, go surfing on the Internet and then you log into Facebook and you get served an ad. Like I was looking at trips on the Grand Canyon and I logged into Facebook and there’s an ad for the company I was just at, that is part of artificial intelligence.

Joanna: So it’s basically a catch-all term that is covering everything from, you know, Amazon ads or Facebook ads through cancer diagnoses based on image recognition.

And there are some incredible breakthroughs around that area. Diagnoses that humans cannot reach that level of detail, or you know, some of the stuff around climate change. I’m actually a firm believer that technology will help us solve the biggest problems of humanity down to helping you with your algorithms around Facebook ads. So I want to and the point of this is also to look very positively about our future, but also as an awareness.

So for us this is an awareness of how things are going to change and are already changing and watch, you know, can we surf that change rather than be drowned by it. I guess that’s probably a good enough overview.

Orna: That’s an excellent overview. I mean obviously, our science fiction people and a lot of authors who are using AI as an actual plot function or a theme in their books are going to be very familiar and very comfortable with it. But I definitely know that in talking to authors that they are scared of the idea, first of all, because there are issues around copyright, aren’t there, there are issues around, you know, up to now, for the visible future certainly up to now you’ve had to be a human to have copyright and to own intellectual property. Well, there’s quite a movement isn’t there to actually say that AI should own copyright. Do you have any thoughts about that?

Joanna: Well, I think this is a really interesting area. As we’ve discussed before, ethics are not legalities. So we’ve talked about this with the ethical author.

There are plenty of things that are legal for us to do as authors, but quite a few things we think are not right ethically. And what’s really interesting is there’s a hashtag, #AIforgood. You can have a look at that movement. There are people like Amy Webb who’s written a book called The Big Nine.

There are lots of people who are trying to help shape the future of AI almost so that it doesn’t end up like some of the Internet right now. I think we can all agree, like, I would not have a business without the internet. We would not be having this conversation without the Internet. We all agree the Internet is incredible and has revolutionized our lives as creatives, as humans.

But we can also acknowledge that there’s a dark side and it’s going to be the same with AI. And I feel like the copyright thing is one of those areas where this is another reason it’s important for us to have our voices heard and to be involved and not to be scared about it because at the moment I write a book on Scrivener, no one is saying that Scrivener owns the copyright to the book I put out there. I format my book on Vellum. Vellum doesn’t own the formatted version of my book, although at some publishers they actually own the layout. Right?

Layout can be part of a copyright. A book cover is part of, you know, a publisher’s copyright or the image maker’s copyright. So the question is, well, if, as has already happened, an AI created Rembrandt was sold at Christie’s for, I don’t know, I think it was, it was a lot.

[It was $432,000 – Christie’s]

Orna: It was a lot of money.

Joanna: So, who gets that money? So the people who made the art own the AI, right? But what if I want to make a Rembrandt? Can I use their AI software to make a Rembrandt?

Or if you think about Forbes, for example, they use an AI to create a lot of first drafts for their articles. The Washington Post owned by Jeff Bezos also has an AI creating a lot of first draft journalism or financial journalism. A lot of that is done by AI now. Sports journalism is increasingly AI. [Forbes]

So, you know, you don’t want to have reporters at every tiny little league or small game. You just get the news in different ways. So the question is not just, well, what if an AI creates a whole book?

But, you know, what if I, okay, so I could do this right now. I could read in the whole of the Creative Penn, which over the last 10 years has millions and millions of words into what’s known currently as GPT2, it’s called natural language generation [OpenAI], generate some text based on what I have given it.

And so who owns the copyright to that?

Is it me or is it, what about all the people who’ve guest posted on my blog? What about you who’ve been on my podcast four times? Do you get any say in that? So this is where we are. We’re at this very interesting point. And of course, if you post something on Facebook, like, you know, they could take, take it down whenever they want. So if I use an AI to create a book and then they decide they changed their mind, does that disappear?

Joanna: So there are many, many questions that we have to think about, but why it is so important for us to talk about this is because things are already happening. These examples, I’m telling you, these are already happening.

The first screenplay has been written by an AI. The first film has been made from the screenplay written by an AI. The first novel in Japan made it into the shortlist for a literary award. Poetry is all day, every day by AI poet bots, some of which there’s a site you can, it will say “Poet or not?”

[Listen to the Sleepwalkers podcast for more of these examples, and also to my interview with Marcus du Sautoy on Creativity and AI.]

And you get to choose and like, half the time you can’t tell. Music, there’s been the first album. I mean, there are so many things that are already happening. So, yeah, I mean, you know, I could talk about this all day, but it’s very exciting. But where we are is we don’t know where it’s gonna go.

Orna: We can just look forward and see trends. And I suppose it’s important to say, for those who are listening, that there are two reasons why we’re kind of talking about this.

First of all, we want to demystify as much as we can, what’s going on. And for those people who may be a little bit kind of “Aaah!”, you know, avoiding it or resisting it or not wanting to go there because they think, “I don’t understand what it’s all about.” Just kind of a bit of information.

But also if we could talk a little bit, I think this is the most important part, impossible to say everything that can be used to do but what can, there are things that we as indie authors right now could do, which could actually potentially grow our author business. Can you talk a little bit about those?

Finishing Your Sentences

Joanna: Absolutely. Well, the thing is it’s already everywhere. So if you use Google, so Gmail’s really interesting at the moment. I don’t know if you’re using it, but the smart finishing your sentences, it is getting really good. [Smart Compose – The Guardian]

So and that is a text generation tool based on learning from your data. And that’s essentially a small part of what a GPT2 could do, which generates paragraphs or even whole books from some texts. [Check out to try out a tiny snippet]

But in terms of right now, many indie authors who’ve been paying attention to things like Amazon advertising, you can use auto-targeting within Amazon ads, and in fact, some, sometimes they can work really well. Like if you have a very, like your books, they probably wouldn’t work so well with because you have nonfiction, literary fiction, poetry, all under the same name. But like Joanna Penn books do pretty well with auto-targeting because they are a specific niche.

Joanna: So that’s one example where authors can already be using AI stuff, but essentially anything that is on Facebook, Google, Amazon, I mean everyone’s probably used an Uber or something like that on their phone. You know, all social media, so much of this is driven by AI.

And then of course in the wider world, you know, everything from insurance to, you know, getting around on the underground now, a lot of this technological travel stuff is driven by AI. So in terms of what you can start with, what I would say is right now it’s in what you’re doing every day and, but it’s early days in terms of how you can use it to grow your business. But in the next year, this is where things are getting more interesting. So translation, which and this is, I found this to be an incredibly emotional topic with people.

AI Translation

Joanna: So AI Translation has become incredibly good. So there are some very big, big names involved in translation, machine translation basically. And it’s all to do with the amount of data available obviously, but it was October, 2018 I think the first book was translated from English to Mandarin in 30 seconds with 95% accuracy [The New Publishing Standard].

And I’ve been using a service called which is a German AI translation. You can upload your book and I have now done this with four books and it will translate your book, from English into German or many other languages in one minute. And it’s kind of like, there is a free level. So it’s worth trying to do. Have you tried it yet?

Orna: Not yet.

Joanna: No? Well, it’s very, very interesting. Now, I don’t read German, so of course, I translated it and went, “Oh, that’s interesting. Don’t know what to do about that.” So I sent it to a few people and the company is German, so they have a lot of data in German. I can’t really comment on any of the other languages.

But what happened to me this year is that 7% of my book sales income came from Germany, and that’s in English. So that to me implies that if I put books out in German, I might be able to sell some. So I am going through with these books.

So the AI is essentially the first draft and then I’m working with editors. And this is what you’re going to have to do, right? Like any book, you work with an editor to polish up that document. But this is an interesting thing with copyright as well because in Germany a translator can have the copyright on your translated book.

But because this is an AI translated editing job, actually the contract for the editor is quite different. So on first glance, you could say, “Oh, well this will put translators out of a job.” But think about what I’ve just done.

I’ve gone from using zero German translators to actually now working with three different people and paying them to clean up my books. So this could potentially be an explosion in a different type of work.

And that’s what I want people to think about AI, the media, as ever, is full of, “Oh, AI’s going to take your jobs, your job is going to disappear.” But what’s actually going to happen is your job is going to change. And we’re used to that because the job of an author is not the way it used to be and everything changes all the time. So that’s one example with translation and I’ll tell you what, it’s getting better and better all the time.

Joanna: And if you haven’t used even Google Translate recently, you know, you’re missing out because things are just, the translation thing is crazy. So that’s one thing.

Orna: I would like to pick up on what you’re saying there in terms of the translators and to me it’s very like audiobook narration, which was an absolute minority sport 10 years ago when audiobooks were essentially a subsidiary right that publisher is sold specifically to audiobook companies and the only people who generated audiobooks were well-known actors like Stephen Fry or whoever.

Then we got the audiobook explosion and now so many narrators making a good nine to five living. Actors who, you know, between jobs are doing an audio books and a whole load of people employed that wouldn’t have been employed otherwise. I think this is an absolute cert with translation. I think it is the breakthrough that translation has been waiting for.

At the moment, translations in the hands of literature societies who pay grants to translators to do months of work to translate a book, whereas the real creative work in that translation is actually the editing work that takes it from being, you know, pedantic sort of prose into something that is quite different, into the style of the author and so on. And I predict we’re going to see some amazing books for that reason and that translators are going to really be in demand and are going to become sort of creative entrepreneurs themselves.

I think that’s only a matter of time and it’s going to happen pretty quickly. The second thing I would like to say about the whole thing is that the pace is incredible. It’s just, when you think of how long it took for certain things to be developed in publishing and even in the last 10 years around ebooks and format, you know, formats and things, and you look at how quickly this stuff moves from being rubbish to being not bad actually and then to, “Oh wow, this is blowing my mind.”

It’s really, really the pace of change is very, very fast. And that’s why though this might seem to be quite futuristic, it’s already here and it’s coming down the track very, very quickly.

Joanna: If you are a translator listening or this has been passed on to you, the smart thing to do is to immediately start using these tools. A bit like editors. I mean if you give a book to an editor or a proofreader, right? They pass it through software. And you can buy that software yourself.

The brute force part of editing and translation, for example, can be done with software and then the artistic element and the bit that knows story and all of that type of thing as an editor makes their job, you know, just get that basic stuff out the way more quickly. So I think this is really interesting, but it’s also interesting the other way.

But the downside of automatic translation is, you think we’ve got enough content right now? Wait until we have a tsunami of content.

I mean, there was a phrase like that a few years back. Everyone said, “Oh, self-publishing will bring on the tsunami of crap.” But of course, you know, there are many brilliant, brilliant things coming out of indie.

Same thing with translation. You think people are scamming KU now? Wait until they can take a whole load of stuff and just mass translate it and stick it up there.

So as ever, we’ll have to keep pace with the people who want to scam these things.

So I want to come back to audio because the other thing, and you just mentioned the explosion of audiobook narration, but this, I think this is going to be another job but that has to change significantly because AI narration is already happening in that you can, you can just play from your Kindle if you want with text to speech.

AI in Audiobooks

Joanna: You can have a book read to you. You don’t even need to buy the audiobook version. And many, many people use text to speech anyway. But, what has happened, there’s a company called, which is launching pretty soon, their website’s up so I’m not telling you anything secret, but they actually have the first emotional narration.

And if you go and actually have a listen to their examples it’s very, very interesting. When the quality is up to scratch, they will have books in the Audible store, iTunes, etc. alongside human narrators. So this is not, as I thought it would be, a separate tier. So for example, I really want to read The Economist this month. I don’t care if it’s read by a bot, but what they’re doing is actual human quality AI narration.

Now, if you think how long it takes for an audiobook to be narrated, produced everything, and it’s a long time — and it’s expensive. I know, I’ve been doing it, and huge respect to audiobook narrators. It’s a big job.

But if that can be done in a minute, like the translation of a 60,000-word book, then things are going to be interesting.

So again, this is where the skills become difficult because often a narrator is not the same person who does the audio editing and the production, which is more of a technical audio job. And I outsource that at the moment as well. I do my editing, but then it gets produced and mastered by Dan Van Werkhoven. But what this will mean is, it will get rid of a lot of the bulk narration and then it will just need editing.

They’re developing a tool that means you can edit it. And I asked them pie in the sky questions. So, for example, could you use my voice to narrate my books in German because I don’t speak German, but what if you could put my voice in German? And the answer was, “Yeah, guess so.”

Orna: Wow.

Joanna:  Or what if I don’t want to listen to an American man narrate this book, and a lot of nonfiction is an American male voice. What if I want a female Irish voice?

Orna: Everyone wants that, don’t they?!

Joanna: Or what if I want an African American deep baritone instead of a female Irish voice, why can’t I choose the voice that my audiobook is delivered in?

And then it becomes, “Okay, wow.” It becomes a much more creative game. So again, I want people to think, “Yes, it could well replace them, the load of people you just talked about. But the game has changed.”

What if we actually spawn a whole new rush where and this is where we have to be very careful licensing audio rights because at the moment they will, that takes everything. So at the moment you could not, if you have signed even the ACX contract for exclusivity, you could not have Orna narrate in her voice and me narrate it in my voice and an African American man do it. You could only do it once.

So this to me means that actually audio rights can suddenly can split into a huge number of things. So the experiment I will be doing is attempting to get my voice as an AI so that you can license my voice to narrate your audiobook. Why not?

Orna: Why not, indeed? You’ve nothing else to do.

Joanna: The thing is I won’t have to do the work. I’ll just get paid a license for you using my voice.

This to me opens up massive income streams. I will just get a micropayment as part of the audiobook. So that’s a case where the AI engine will be owned by DeepZen. And I will, they will license my voice as part of that.

Now I think this is brilliant because they are doing it ethically. No one needs to license my voice. There’s enough of my voice on the Internet for you to deep fake me completely. But the fact is they are saying, “Right, we want, you know, these types of voices and then we will pay the owner of the voice.” And that to me is brilliant.

Orna: Fantastic. I mean, we could talk for hours here and we can’t.

So just two more aspects that I’d like to cover before we wrap up, the whole Alexa thing. You know, this idea of Alexa skills, and so on.

Can you, first of all, explain what a skill is and then talk a little bit about how Alexa skills and similar can be used to market audiobooks?

Joanna: Sure. So, there are a number of voice technologies, so maybe on your phone, maybe you use Siri, maybe use Google assistant, maybe use Alexa. There are in the home. My Alexa’s in the other room, my Echo, you know, maybe you’ve got an Echo, maybe you’ve got a Home Pod and now Alexa is going into lots of devices. Maybe you have it in your car, sorry-

Orna: But maybe you don’t or maybe you don’t use it or maybe it’s there and you don’t know what it is. So just explain what it is.

Joanna: The thing is, well, what it is is a voice-activated assistant. But the stats now are in America, 41% of homes have an actual device. [TechCrunch]

And if you have a phone, a smartphone of any kind, you already have these types of assistants and maybe all you say is, and this is how you can get started. Maybe you say, “Hey Google, what’s the weather today?”

And I suggest you do that because this is changing things. So, in terms of the way voice search is going, a lot of the stats say that 50% of search will be voice and mobile from 2020. [Wordstream]

I mean everyone at least should have a mobile website because most searches now mobile, everywhere, but it will be mobile by voice. And that’s really different because what you say with your voice is different to how you type. So being findable on the new voice-enabled Internet means having voice content.

Because the other thing is it will talk back to you. So this is very early days. But again, things get fast quickly.

So Alexa skills are like apps essentially. So, for example, when I had my eye operation, that’s why I had Alexa because I would say, “What’s the news today?” And she would say, “What do you want? BBC, The Guardian?” And I’d say “BBC.”

And then that would start playing. And the content is audio because maybe you’re in the car, you know, maybe you’re in the kitchen and your hands are covered in goo and you want to know how to convert pounds to ounces or whatever. So all of those types of things. Also kids, this is really interesting. Two massive demographics, to parents with kids. They want their kids to reduce screen time, but they’re happy putting them in front of a smart speaker and also older people.

[For more on voice, check out Talk to Me: How Voice Computing will Transform the Way We Live, Work and Think by James Vlahos which goes into this in more detail.]

So I now need magnifying glasses (reading glasses) for close distance and many people as they get older, their eyesight goes. So using voice is a really good way of using search when you can’t see your phone or a laptop.

Also with dementia sufferers, they are really brilliant because you can ask what the time or the day or whatever over and over again and they don’t get annoyed. So lots of different things.

But in terms of selling audiobooks, I’m looking at building Alexa skill.

So, obviously you can control things on the app and whatever, but it really is a kind of one-touch, like the Amazon one touch, in voice form. So what I want people to think is we’re introverts. So often we don’t like speaking to technology.

I really think this is a big thing that authors don’t naturally use voice and why so many people struggle with dictation. But the truth is this is, this is a way that more and more people are searching the web. And if you think about translation, a lot of people don’t write in a language that they want to listen to.

Orna: Absolutely. I think what was interesting in the last 10 years, we saw a switch to the written word, you know, in social media, texting your friends rather than calling, you know, phone call, that kind of thing.

And it looked like the written word might be in the ascendance. But now I think what’s happening with audio is that people who are, we love the written word, as authors, we write, that’s what we do.

But most people don’t like writing. Most people much prefer to speak.

And so it will be meeting them in the speaking zone in order to tempt them across to the written word or the audiobook to our content in whatever shape or form.

Joanna: But the time for creators is even bigger. And this is a really important thing to say is that when you look at all the list of all the jobs that will change or disappear, the one that doesn’t go away is being more creative.

So if you even look at streaming TV, so Netflix is a great example of an AI-powered business. We’ve got Disney about to launch their own streaming, we’ve got Apple, we’ve got all of these different mediums that need more content and a lot of that starts with written. So it might be a book, it might be a screenplay, it might just be a pitch.

Audio dramas are booming. If you can write for audio first, and this is a really interesting topic that I’m really getting into, writing for audio is a growth market. Absolutely.

Don’t just consider that the only thing for your book is this printed or ebook format. What if I wrote this idea as an audio drama, how can we think about this new world of stories and information and all of this type of stuff?

So it’s very, very exciting.

Orna: It’s super exciting and we will be, it’s one of the things we’re going to be looking at very closely at Digital Book World and of course Bradley Metrock, who we both know and have interviewed, is very into this whole concept of #voicefirst. And it’s worthwhile.

You may not decide to do it, but it’s definitely worthwhile as an author thinking about voice first, be it as a way of dictating your book, rather than slaving over a hot typewriter or whatever it might be, typewriter’s showing my age, but laptop, you know what I’m trying to say.

AI Compositions

Okay, quickly moving on to our last question. I wanted to talk about the possible use and again, I completely get that it’s really, really new for the possible uses of this natural language generation.

And how might we be able to use that to make our lives easier? I mean, we all want to write more books more often, produce more books, more often, sell our books more widely. Are there ways in which it might be able to help us to do that?

Joanna: Well for one, it’s such a big question full of landmines with what people believe.

So, let’s acknowledge that AI can be creative, as in it has composed music. The game of Go, when Alpha Go beat Lee Sodol, which was a kind of seminal moment in 2016 it was a creative move that no human has come up with in years of human history that transformed the whole of China’s education system, was a creative move.

[For more on this, read AI Superpowers by Kai-fu Lee]

So I absolutely believe it can be creative. And let’s face it, all creativity is input and output. We grow up, we aren’t born able to write, right?

We’re able to come up with a novel or we learn these things and by reading, we input stuff into our brain and our output is our typing or the thing we create. So GPT2, and it was built by OpenAI, which has not released the full version because they consider it to be dangerous for making something like fake news. [The Guardian]

There’s a site called, I really urge people to go and have a look at that because it’s a very tiny snippet and there are a few books coming out this year that are going to get more into this.

But essentially it’s all about the data you train an AI on. Think about a niche. So that’s why I talk about reading in the whole of The Creative Penn, that may be enough data for it to generate something that sounds like my voice. Now the question then is how ethical is that? Are those my words? The whole plagiarism thing. And also what’s to stop you, Orna Ross, from reading in The Creative Penn?

Orna: I would do that!

Joanna: Totally and generating an article that you then post on your website and we’re in the same niche, so you post on the ALLi website crediting yourself. To me, there again, it’s a double-edged sword.

I would love, love, love, love to read in the works of Stephen King, Dan Brown, John Connelly, Jonathan Maberry, some of my own work into the AI and have it generate something that is a first draft that is then a percentage of everybody’s work. That would be a really good book and maybe I gave it some prompts to come up with a work.

But the question there is who, who owns that book? No one’s going to know, like plagiarism. We’ve heard of some people who have been caught, but there are a lot of people who have not been caught plagiarizing. It’s a double-edged sword. I would love to use a tool that will help me write the first draft. There’s no law against this right now, but I would ethically think that Stephen King deserves some money. So does Dan Brown and the other authors.

These things are not available now, but as we’ve seen with some of the deep fake videos, this technology is at some point going to be out there.

Orna: It’s a really interesting question because if you return to the idea that copyright is in the expression, if you’re feeding in this stuff, it will be like the translation, say, 70% there in the sense but really the artistry and the creativity comes in the 30% doesn’t it?

I’m being slightly devil’s advocate and a bit provocative here, but is it that different from Shakespeare taking plots and then, you know, making them Shakespeare’s? He took stories that everybody knew and picked up work right left and center. By the time he was finished with it, that 30% he added made it a completely different thing. We don’t remember the works that he-

Joanna: The originals.

Orna: At all, it’s his works that are here because of the artistry that he brought in.

If you pump in what is essentially a load of words, ideas and plot sequences, nobody owns words, ideas or plot sequences. People only own the expression.

I mean, I wouldn’t like to be a copyright lawyer, or maybe I would, that’d be gainful employment and it’d be interesting. But trying to parse out those different dimensions, I think, is quite challenging.

Joanna: And could you even prove it? I mean, if you read my novels, you’re going to find elements of all those authors in my novels.

And I mean, you and I both write nonfiction. How many original things can you say about like how to market a book or author mindset, all these things and all our books have quotes from other authors who influence us.

This is where maybe blockchain might come in, maybe there’ll be an engine where I could license those works and feed them in a bit like Deep Zen licensing voices when they could very easily just steal it and change a decibel and you know, so those of us who want to do things in an ethical way, these are the types of things we can shape.

This is the first time in years I have considered a job because part of me really wants to go and work with a big publisher with a big backlist and where they own the IP and then you could go, “All right, let’s read in eight 18,000 crime novels or 18 million,” however much it is and see what comes out.

I mean that’s fascinating.

This is also another issue. So the quality of the output depends on the quality of the input. No surprise. And what we’re getting is a lot of the people who are playing with GPT2, the only training data they have is out of copyright works, which as we know are mostly written by white men of middle-class or upper-class means because they were the only people generally able to write and publish.

So this to me is dangerous because one of the biggest issues in AI is diversity. It’s also a big problem in publishing. So I want us to read in books by writers of color, women, everybody, all the different people who are not just books by white men out of copyright.

In order to do that, we will have to change the copyright laws so it’s acceptable. This is a minefield of really interesting stuff.

Orna: It really is.

Joanna: We need to protect ourselves in order to continue to make revenue, but not protect ourselves so much and this is where some of these rules are wrong or bad.

I want to license my work, I want to license my voice, I want to get paid. But I also want my work to be out there. So if you want to license my voice to narrate your book, go ahead. If you want my back list to feed into your AI, I’d like to be paid for that. But go ahead. Do you see what I mean?

Remember fundamentals

Orna: I totally do. And I think we are going to have to wrap it up there and we could go on and on. But, it’s so, so interesting. I think the important thing to say is that it will always come back to the fundamentals.

You know, new technology always comes along, but it will, if we think about what are the fundamentals that people want from us, as authors and what are the things that we can do and bring to our own expression of the ideas and so on. We shouldn’t go too far on because the thing is you can get so interested in all the different ramifications and all the different aspects of it, I think if we keep coming back to that question of “Is there anything useful this could do for me right now?”

And we keep having the discussion and keep having the debate and the talks about it. Anyway, thank you so much for, I’m absolutely, I’ve been so excited about this particular show for ages and I learned loads and I’m certain that everybody listening has. There are a few books I asked you to kind of recommend things that aren’t too geeky that are particularly relevant for authors. So just to finish off, if you could read that list for us and all of this, folks, will be in the show notes as well as the website addresses for the various companies that Joanna has cited already.

Joanna: Well, I should mention that I did a whole podcast episode just me on my own talking in a lot more detail about the  9 Ways that Artificial Intelligence Will Disrupt Authors and the Publishing Industry.

Also given that everyone’s listening to podcasts, Sleepwalkers podcast, there are only 10 episodes, incredibly highly produced and will give you a really interesting look into the wider ramifications and what’s going on. And that’s what blew my mind. I went, “Oh my goodness, I did not realize we were this far.” So that’s a great podcast. Wired magazine online or the actual magazine and if you like physical, like I actually subscribe to the physical one cause I like to have it and see it. And their issue just came through my doors on DeepMind, which is a British company that is owned by Google that is at the forefront of these things.

Joanna: Then the two books I would recommend AI Superpowers by Kai-Fu Lee, which again, I think we don’t read enough about the amazing stuff going on in China. I think, again, the news and especially stuff with Trump and politics, it spins China in a certain way, but AI Superpowers, really fascinating about what’s going on in China. And then finally, Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. If you haven’t read Harari, his book Sapiens has won all the prizes. I believe he is one of the greatest thinkers of our generation. I read every word the man writes and this book, Homo Deus is really about questioning our role in a future where we could, you know, what if you pay to upgrade your children and the person next door doesn’t, what does that mean for our species? So it’s a much wider ramification. Those are some of the books and we’ll link to them in the show notes as well.

Orna: Fantastic, Jo, thank you so much. And stay tuned to The Creative Penn podcast for more and more and more on this topic and all of the good ones relate to self-publishing. Thanks and we’ll see you next month folks for audio, we’re going to talk about audio.

Joanna: Yes, we can say what’s happening in the next month. I’m going to Podcast Movement in America. So I’m going to bring back some lessons learned because podcasting is now a huge industry.

Orna: Absolutely. And we’re going to talk about it in relation to marketing audiobooks in particular, because, by then, audiobooks will be selling $1 billion worth value in the US alone. So, you know, sometimes we think of audiobooks still as niche, we know they’re growing like crazy. This is not a small thing. This is a big thing. It’s still growing like crazy. So, we’ll be talking about that next time and do send us your questions and comments and we will get to those also. So thank you again.

Joanna: Happy writing, happy publishing.

The Creative Introvert With Cat Rose.

You can be a successful creative entrepreneur and an introvert. It’s all about finding the best way of working for your personality and your business goals, as I discuss today with Cat Rose.

In the intro, I talk about the importance of thinking long-term, both about your creative projects, but also about building assets and making sure your writing is not just about short-term cash flow.

Check out Dean Wesley Smith’s article on day job thinking, his book, The Magic Bakery, and episode 332 on the importance of intellectual property for writers who want to make a sustainable income for years to come.draft2digital

Today’s show is sponsored by Draft2Digital, where you can get free ebook formatting, free distribution to multiple stores, and a host of other benefits. Get your free Author Marketing Guide at

Cat RoseCat Rose is an author, podcaster, and creative coach. Her latest book is The Creative Introvert: How to Build a Business You Love on Your Terms.

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

Show Notes

  • The definition of an introvert and how it’s not the same as being shy
  • Working freelance and finding clients before other streams of income begin to flow
  • Juggling creative work and business with quality of life
  • The importance of consistency in podcasting
  • Tips on how to pitch to be on a podcast
  • Surviving and thriving at networking events
  • Reasons creatives fail at doing what they love
  • Identifying what your pay-offs are to make the hard work worth it

You can find Cat Rose at and on Twitter @CreativeIntro

Transcript of Interview with Cat Rose

Joanna: Cat Rose is an author, podcaster, and creative coach. Her latest book is The Creative Introvert: How to Build a Business You Love on Your Terms. Welcome, Cat.

Cat: Hi Joanna. Thanks for having me.

Joanna: It’s great to have you on the show.

Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing.

Cat: Writing has actually always taken a backseat for me to visual forms of art. For most of my life, I’ve been into drawing. Illustration was my dream job for many years until I tried it and actually decided it was better as a hobby than a job for me personally.

It wasn’t until I started blogging in 2013 that I really decided that I loved writing, at least non-fiction. I’ve never been much of a creative writer, but I basically started blogging because I was reading lots of them and I wanted to passive-aggressively argue with my boss about veganism. That’s basically how I started blogging.

I blogged in the health and fitness world for maybe three years before I turned to writing about marketing and how to get your art out as a creative introvert. And I’ve been writing ever since.

Joanna: And you got into doing it full time because you weren’t enjoying your job, right?

Tell us about how that happened.

Cat: That’s it. My job was on paper brilliant. I was fresh out of university and I landed a job in the heart of the West End in London doing web design and a bit of marketing. But for whatever reason and it wasn’t like the colleagues it wasn’t necessarily the clients. It was just the environment, I worked out, that was not very conducive for me in terms of my productivity or my just general happiness.

It took a few years. I think I say maybe three years and this is all around the same time so I quit at a similar time as when I started blogging and started realizing that there is a whole online world and that freelancing and all of these different opportunities for people working from home for themselves was out there.

Joanna: So you found your environment not so happy. And you talk about that in the book.

Let’s get into introversion. I talk about being an introvert a lot on this show, and I’ve been on your show talking about being an introvert.

Just in case anyone is unclear, can you define introvert and how it’s different from being shy?

Cat: Sure. This is a big misconception that people had. And actually, that I had when somebody said to me I think you’re an introvert.

I was like I’m not necessarily shy. Please explain more. And he did.

So the definition that I go on now is based on Carl Jung’s work and the Myers-Briggs and it’s basically somebody who gets their energy from spending time alone and processes information more slowly and deeply.

There are other aspects to it, like we didn’t get the same high dopamine hit, which is just like a happy brain chemical, that extroverts get from social interaction. So for this reason, a lot of introverts can come across as shy or aloof purely because we don’t get like that happy, excited puppy effect from being around people.

Joanna: Which I substitute with alcohol.

Cat: Right. Yes. That works.

Joanna: Instant extroversion. And I would say I’ve used it to get that slightly more interested vibe. That’s why I have a drink at events because I don’t think I can get there otherwise.

That’s the first time I’ve heard about the dopamine thing that’s really interesting.

Cat: It is. And once I understood that I stopped beating myself up for being awkward in social situations and wanting to leave before some of my friends did.

Joanna: I think that’s so important. And I think we’ve both been impacted by Susan Cain’s book Quiet, which came out what must be five, six years ago. Maybe even more than that now. It definitely changed my life because I read that book and I realized oh, my goodness, that’s me.


Cat: Exactly. And I think that was the first thing my friend pointed me to. And that’s when I started looking around me and thinking, a lot of these creatives that I tried to meet up with – there was an illustrators meetup group that I used to attend – and again we were all relying on alcohol to socialize and to come across as normal humans.

I realized everyone here is probably an introvert. And that’s what started the creative introvert blog essentially.

Joanna: Let’s get into the business model because similar to you I found in the last day job I had I was working in an open-plan office with a couple of hundred people and ended up with migraines. I really suffered. I put on loads of weight, comfort eating all the time and I just couldn’t stand that business model of a day job in an open-plan office.

Part of the reason I do what I do is because I’m an introvert. I like being on my own. Let’s talk about your thoughts on creating a business that works for our personality type.

What should we keep and what should we throw away?

Cat: First of all, it’s determining what your needs are. I say that this starts just in general with self-knowledge, which is not a new concept. People have been studying the self for a very long time.

But for me, this is things like what your values are and what drives you? What scares you and in what environment do you thrive? What time of day are you most productive?

There is loads of information about how you can work these things out online. But I say for a lot of people it’s just experimenting, especially when I started freelancing. I knew it was a test. I knew that this whole working from home thing would be a test and there would be other challenges to it. And I played around with a lot of things like my schedule where I did work and stuff like that.

[From Joanna: Year 1 was a challenge for me! You can read about my lessons learned here.]

It’s a constant process. This thing of working out what you need and how, when and how you are at your best. It can mean that there is a line that I realized that you can cross into self-obsession and the longer that I’m in the self-help space the more I’m seeing that is a real danger. But for the most part, I do think that most of us could do with a bit more self-awareness or self-inquiry.

Joanna: In that first year, what fears did you tackle and what did you experiment with that didn’t work or ended up working?

Cat: One thing that I hear a lot of freelancers do and I was definitely victim to this is just working a bit too much in those early days or months. Even and working purely from home and sometimes purely from my bed and sometimes not getting out of my pajamas.

I realized fairly quickly that that was not conducive to my health or happiness either. So things like I need to get out of the house to do a bit of work. I remember we spoke about this before, but go into a coffee shop and doing a bit of work in a quiet corner of a coffee shop seems to be like particularly conducive to writing.

Joanna: Absolutely. I write my first drafts in a coffee shop but I have to wear noise-canceling [BOSE] headphones, so it’s a bit both. It’s tuning out the noise and I play rain and thunderstorms but equally, I still like being in an environment where there are people even though I’m not interacting with the people.

Cat: Yes. That’s there. And as soon as a mom with a screaming baby comes in, I’m out. I’m tapping out. That’s me done for the day.

But in general, it’s having just the right level of stimulation. I think that’s it. And also shifting your environment. I think a lot of creative people thrive with a level of change. I think if we’re just in the same environment all day, which is like an office job right. That’s one of the problems there. We seem to do better work. We change things up.

Joanna: You’re an author but you’re also a coach and you have clients. A lot of people when they leave a job need to do some kind of freelance work. So certainly, when I first left I did more speaking and freelance stuff because I didn’t have the recurring income from other sources. That’s getting out there and finding clients. And as an illustrator or a freelance writer that can be challenging for introverts.

What did you do in those early days to pay the bills?

Cat: A lot of it was continuing on web design but doing that in a freelance way and that wasn’t easy. And I really must say it was because I left my previous job on good terms that occasionally they would throw me a bone. Basically, it’s like hey we’ve got some overflow here some work, but that was a big thing for me. It was not turning something down because it wasn’t as sexy as another job at that point.

I really just had to take everything I could get and some people will say you have to only take the work that you truly love. But really to pay the bills, I honestly had to do pretty much any crummy design job. It’s only been very recently that I’ve stopped doing design work so that’s always been the kind of bread and butter for me.

Joanna: I think you have to have that ramp down of one thing and ramp-up of another thing and that’s something that people often don’t recognize with the idea of a business model. It’s not like, “Oh I quit my job and then I make 100 percent of my money from book sales” for example. There has to be a changeover period.

How long did it take you to shift into where you want to be?

Cat: There’s always room for improvement and I mix things up a lot. Last year I was particularly focused with The Creative Introvert. But this year I’ve stopped creating more things. I don’t feel the need to create a new course or a product.

Right now, for example, I’m continuing on with the League of Creative Introverts, which again has grown very slowly over the past I would say three years. But I still haven’t hit my goal there either.

There are definitely a lot of areas which I’m still developing and in a lot of ways I’m trading my productivity with other lifestyle factors currently. I mentioned to you before we started recording that I’m traveling at the moment. So that has kind of taken a bit of a hit on my work output but has definitely upped the quality of life. So there’s always a bit of a push and pull.

Joanna: I’m the same. That travel aspect to me is filling the creative well. So all the things that go into your brain while you’re traveling and out there experiencing other things at some point you will bring back and put into your creative work, I’m sure, although you’re probably too busy right now.

Cat: It’s been interesting juggling things but that’s another thing that I discovered is that I thrive with a lot of different projects on the go. And we talk about people being multi-passionate or having lots of different interests and I don’t think that’s a bad thing as long as you’re getting something done in each of those areas.

Joanna: You have your book, The Creative Introvert, and one of the things that I get asked a lot is how do introverts do book marketing?

What have you found successful in marketing your book as an introvert?

Cat: I definitely even still struggle with self-promotion. This is something that I’m constantly learning about and I teach it partly as a way for me to drill it home myself and hold myself accountable. So I’m definitely not going to say that I find book marketing easy.

One thing that has helped me with this particular project is that I’m genuinely proud of the book and I can’t say that about everything or even most things that I do. I think that’s also a classic introvert thing or a creative thing is that we might be overly humble about something that we’ve done and that makes it harder to get the word out.

That’s what I started to see is that a lot of us, we know what we have to do to tell people about our book. At the same time, we’ve got this other voice enough that is giving us all of these words that it’s not good enough or whatever other excuses that we come up with.

For me it hasn’t really been so much the tactics, it’s really been reminding myself that this is something that I’m proud of and that I can tell people about it. So it’s more like the inner work, this self-confidence thing, as cheesy as that sounds, and that’s been helping me with marketing.

Joanna: Right. But people still want to know about the tactics.

Let’s talk about your blog. How does blogging sell books for you?

Cat: My blog now is really more my podcast. I’m writing a blog and effectively reading it out and obviously having guests on as well.

That has definitely changed my business in the sense that before I started a podcast I wasn’t really selling anything. And about six months into starting the podcast things started picking up and so I’ve really seen that the podcast has helped me massively.

I have a weekly newsletter so that’s a great way of keeping in contact with people. And that’s how I first started talking about the book. Something else I did when I first launched the book was I offered a six-month book club. So after the launch, we’ve been sitting down every month to talk about a different part of the book.

Definitely, when it came to the launch I was trying to encourage people to get those preorders in. And I think that definitely helped.

Joanna: How did you publish it? Is it traditionally published or self-published?

Cat: Self-published. And that was an interesting experience as well. I remember thinking if nothing comes of this at least I’ve learned the process of getting a book on Amazon, which was interesting.

Joanna: Any lessons learned from that, for people listening who might not have done one yet?

Cat: Don’t give up if you get frustrated. Because I definitely did. I thought I’d be fine because I’ve got a bit of a background with book design and using software. But I struggled a lot with.

Little formatting problems and stuff like that so, honestly, I was trying to find information about that. I really don’t think it’s a great user-friendly service at the moment. I don’t know what you think about that.

Joanna: I pay a designer to do it to do my print design. So I didn’t do that but I just do the uploading. So I think you can make it simpler for yourself but because you’re also a designer that’s probably it and you do you have a lovely design for the book. I think it’s really good. But I wouldn’t recommend most people do design themselves right.

Cat: Right. And just I guess like figuring out how things work with Kindle Direct Publishing. KDP. I feel like getting your head around that and asking for help if you need to, a lot, I think is a good piece of advice.

Joanna: It’s interesting because, of course, you have a blog. You have a podcast. You do illustration and software. You’ve obviously learned these new skills over time. Coming back to podcasting, for example, many people are scared of podcasting because actually it’s got just as much of a learning curve as say self-publishing.

Any tips for podcasting successfully?

Cat: For sure at the beginning, have a plan. Have at least 10 episodes planned or under your belt because I see a lot of podcasts start and peter out or they’re not consistent. I’ve been pretty consistent from the get-go. I’ve had one a week at least since I started.

And something else I let myself off the hook for was not have to speak off the cuff because as an introvert I really struggle with that. So having notes really helps for even those first few episodes. They were existing blog posts that I basically read aloud. So definitely make it easy for yourself as much as possible.

Editing is something that I still do and I’m not quite sure why because I could easily hand that off to somebody else but it’s again it’s picking out the parts of podcasting that are not in your wheelhouse and trying to hire out. Sites like Upwork have been really helpful for odd bits like that.

Joanna: Absolutely. I still get heart palpitations before I call someone. I am not someone who enjoys calling. And also I don’t like pitching and in fact, you helped me with some pitching for a while.

Why do introverts struggle with pitching and what are some tips if listeners would like to get on podcasts than would start their own.

Any tips for pitching for your podcast interview?

Cat: I’ve learned definitely how not to pitch from the kind of pitches I receive myself. And I’m sure you’ve received hundreds and hundreds of pitches that are not particularly thoughtful.

So I think in the first place really get to know and love the podcasts that you’re pitching. That does help. I think a lot of people who write to me won’t have used my name or call me something strange like, ‘Hey team the creative introvert’. I’m like oh come on it’s clear that I’m not a team.

But anyway, it’s lots of little things like that make it easy for the host.

Something that I do is I will bullet point the speaking points that I can speak about and try to match them with your podcast hosts and their show and what you think that they might need or find useful or at least what their audience would.

Definitely take your time with that and that doesn’t mean you can’t have a template. Have a very, very short bio, like one paragraph, that you might want to put that at the of the end of the pitch but always start with something personal.

As a rule of thumb in terms of the mindset around that, because I think that’s the other part. Like I said, you can write an email but actually, hitting send is another matter. So it’s forgetting about the reply or even there is any kind of response really because in a lot of cases you won’t get one.

So preparing for that in advance and seeing it. I think there was a game I used to play with myself that I learned from somebody else which is how many nos can I collect today?

Without being linked too negative about it, it’s like just go for it without focusing too much on getting the answer that you want. Just try to send those e-mails. And at the same time don’t overwhelm yourself. I’ve definitely learned that it’s better to send one or two a day rather than try to do you like 20 in one day.

Joanna: It’s funny because I feel like half the time I start things myself because I don’t want to pitch. So I’ll start a podcast myself and then eventually people would just pitch me and that’s essentially what has happened for me is generally I get pitched to be on podcasts or to go and speak without having to do that.

And I guess in the same way with self-publishing you don’t have to get rejected by anyone because you’re just in control of your own stuff.

What did you did mention? The League of Creative Introverts?

Cat: Yes.

Joanna: Community is really important. But I find networking conferences are absolutely exhausting, but also necessary in some way. So let’s just talk about networking in person or events in person.

What can introverts do to network without suffering too much?

Cat: Stay home. No, I’m kidding!

First of all, it’s getting clear on why you want to go to the event in the first place. I think a lot of us if we don’t really see the purpose of it, it’s really hard to remind ourselves why we’re going through that, and the anxiety beforehand.

But get your reasons why. If there’s something that you want to talk about to people or specific people that you want to meet, that’s all going to be a lot more helpful. And in advance try to find out as much as you can so you know what to expect.

This is something that has really helped me because it’s not necessarily related to introversion but I think a lot of us do suffer from some level of social anxiety. And part of that is just the uncertainty of what’s this event going to be like. So if you can get in touch with the organizer and ask any questions that you have in advance, do that.

But the other thing that I found helpful is if you can find out people who are attending, which I’m finding is happening more and more. I used to sign up for events on Eventbrite and other services. And often you can get in touch with attendees.

The advantage of that is that you’ll have somebody to talk to that you can kind of scope out when you first get to the conference. And this happened to me, recently, I was put on a room sharing list at a big conference and that was really great because my roommate was awesome and we were a tag team for the conference, which really helped me.

And then if you to get yourself into a conversation with somebody who you really wanted to speak to, I would recommend focusing your attention and your energy on them. Asking good questions, rather than stressing out about pitching them, so that way you can basically make it about them. I think that really goes a long way, even subconsciously, when you’re talking to somebody if you were the one doing a lot of listening, which a lot of introverts are more comfortable with. That’s not a bad thing. And then you can follow up with them the next day. Definitely, do that.

Joanna: And I’d probably add two more things. One is set intentions in writing. Everyone’s a writer on the show, so writing down what you want to achieve from that event. Because I feel like as our introvert brains go deep in one area and the overstimulation can make it really hard. So if you write down your intentions, that will help you tune out the things that don’t serve you.

And obviously, be open to serendipity. For example, I will make sure that the sessions I go to are about working towards my intention for it.

Cat: Yes, and that’s what I meant with getting clear on why you’re going. I love the idea of writing it down because that makes it more real, doesn’t it?

Joanna: And I think there I’m almost writing it as an affirmation. I write in that positive forward-thinking way and I use gratitude as well. I don’t often talk about this, actually, but I’ll say “thank you for the opportunity to meet someone who will help me do x.” And really just look at it that way.

Cat: So you’re being grateful before the thing has happened.

Joanna: Yes. So that is an affirmation.

Cat: I really love the touching on gratitude. That sounds pretty helpful.

Joanna: It really is and I also do that before I speak in public. I’ve talked about that in my book on Public Speaking but I write a whole page of thank yous that everything’s going really well and thank you that people really enjoy.

Cat: Thank you for the standing ovation.

Joanna: Yes. Thank you for all the money that’s going to arrive. It’s not a prayer in that way, it’s just an affirmation.

But then the other more practical thing that you mentioned was the guest list. I will often use Twitter or a Twitter hashtag. There’s usually a Twitter hashtag for an event and if you find people’s Twitter handles in advance.

First of all, you can have a look at their website, see what they’re up to. And you can potentially tweet them beforehand. I really like that because it means people might come up to me actually and say oh I saw you on Twitter and I see what you. So as an introvert I much prefer people coming up to me, rather than me going up to other people.

Cat: Yes. And it’s like having an excuse for us to talk to somebody. I think a lot of us struggle with that. That first introduction. But with Twitter or however you found somebody you’ve got a hook, or you’ve got something to say.

Joanna: I think the other thing about introverts, apparently, is that we don’t like small talk, which is really funny and only when I read ‘Quiet’ by Susan Can I discovered that. I found myself talking to people about things like have they done their will. The first conversation I’ve ever had with someone and it’s about death. Okay. You need to get some small talk going.

If you know what people do beforehand, then you have a topic that is more interesting than just small talk.

Cat: Well, that’s it. Small talk is painful and the quicker I can get to the juicy stuff the better.

Joanna: On your website, as well as in the book, you have a thing about many creatives fail to make a living doing what they love for various reasons.

What are some of these reasons that creatives fail?

Cat: I feel like there are many but one that springs to mind is persistence because it’s hard. If everyone could make a living doing what they love they would but naturally we won’t love every single thing we do. And honestly, I don’t love every part of my business.

But the payoff has to be worth the challenge. So for me, it’s that feeling I get if I do go on stage that’s worth the anxiety beforehand and I think a lot of people don’t get to the point where they’ve identified what that payoff is.

And again, going back to what I was saying about self-knowledge. You can work these things out, it just takes some experimentation and that takes persistence.

So keeping going I think is one of the hardest parts of it really.

Through experimenting, I found a bunch of things that I loved, which I wouldn’t have found if I just thought I’m building a pet portrait business. That was the only way I could have a business I loved. It turns out that that wasn’t what brought me joy and that these really unexpected things brought me joy like podcasting.

Joanna: You talk about building a business you love. So yes have a life you love, but the fact of a business is, as you say, there are things that you won’t love.

I’ve been going through my year-end with my accountant and I love money but and I love working out all of that. But I don’t particularly love going through all the paperwork and finding all the receipts and all of that kind of thing.

I feel like one of the reasons that creatives fail is because they don’t do the stuff that is not creative and they feel that if you can have a creative business or creative life then you shouldn’t be doing that type of thing or working out how to use KDP or going through the frustration of something technical because that’s not creative.

Do you think it’s not learning that practical stuff?

Cat: Completely. When I was banging my head against the wall with KDP, I had to keep reminding myself of what would be the end result, which would be having published my first book all by myself, which I really I could kind of get into that feeling place and be like yes I want this. This is worth it.

So that’s what I mean about getting to the nub and the thing that is bigger than the struggle and reminding yourself of that.

Joanna: Tell us about what your business looks like right now.

What business model do you have and what are your multiple streams of income?

Cat: The League of Creative Introverts is the online membership community. This is a monthly paid subscription so that’s the core of the creative introvert.

Then I’ve got the coaching side of things; so that’s one-to-one conversations with people.

And I sell a few products like T-shirts other designs are using Red Bubble which there could be a better solution to that but Red Bubble is doing fine right now for me.

And then there’s the book. As for speaking, that’s like as and when I can. I haven’t been doing much of that in the recent months but I’m still getting my chops up with that. But ultimately, I would like to be doing the paid speaking rounds and workshops.

Workshops was something that I started doing when I moved out of London and I moved to Brighton and that community seemed really conducive to kind of holding workshops and getting involved there as well.

Joanna: That’s fantastic. And I think so often again creatives fail because they think that they will just do the one thing. They’ll just have the one book or they’ll be an illustrator and they won’t have to do different things but I love that you’re doing multiple things right now.

You’ve also got plans for future stuff, which is great because I feel like there are a lot of introverts speakers, by the way, because it’s actually easier being on the stage than it is in a crowd.

Cat: Yes. 100 percent.

Joanna: Where can people find your book and everything you do online?

Cat: Everything is at And if you do search for the creative introvert on Amazon. That’s pretty much where I’m selling it now, unfortunately. I’d love to have it in stores but not yet.

Say hello to me on Twitter or Instagram @CreativeIntro.

Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time Kat. That was great.

Cat: Thanks for speaking to me.

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