Ep. 10: Professionalism in Self-Publishing

Join us as we discuss how to be a professional self-publisher with Joanna Penn.

Get tips from IngramSpark, a professional self-publishing platform, and Joanna Penn, professional publisher and entrepreneur of The Creative Penn. We’re discussing tips that help you set yourself up for success when you choose to self-publish a book, including: mindset, product, book distribution, book marketing, relationships, and education. Never miss an opportunity to put your best foot forward. Create an account with IngramSpark to get started!


Justine Bylo [00:00:09] Hi everyone, welcome to Go Publish Yourself, an IngramSpark podcast. This episode is sponsored by Writer's Digest, a comprehensive resource for professional and aspiring writers of all media, genres and skill levels, helping ignite writers' creative vision and connect them with the inspiration, tools and community they need to bring it to life. I'm Justine Bylo, the Author Acquisitions Manager for IngramSpark, and today, unfortunately, we do not have Robin Cutler because we are filming at NINC here in St. Petersburg, Florida. But I am joined by the completely fabulous Joanna Penn.

Joanna Penn [00:00:48] Hi Justine, and hi everyone, and hi to Robin who's not here.

Justine Bylo [00:00:52] I know, I miss her.

Joanna Penn [00:00:55] We're having a good time. It's my first time in Florida. I really love it. It's been great.

Justine Bylo [00:01:00] Oh, this was really your first time in Florida?

Joanna Penn [00:01:02] Yeah, totally.

Justine Bylo [00:01:02] Oh wow!

Joanna Penn [00:01:03] It's really a great place and it's been an amazing conference. Novelists, Inc., we should say.

Justine Bylo [00:01:07] Yes. Novelists, Inc.

Joanna Penn [00:01:07] Yeah, in the back nine.

Justine Bylo [00:01:10] Yes, it's a conference for professional novelists and it's a really wonderful one. It's here in Florida on the beach, which has been a pleasure.

Joanna Penn [00:01:22] It has, but it's actually quite good for this podcast, right, because it's a professional organization and we're talking about professionalism today.

Justine Bylo [00:01:30] We are, and if our listeners are not familiar with Joanna, you definitely need to listen to her podcast because it is an amazing resource. Joanna is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author and an award-winning entrepreneur. She is a podcaster and a YouTuber and her site, thecreativepenn.com, has been voted in the top 100 sites for writers by today's episode sponsor, Writer's Digest. Joanna, your credentials, amazing, amazing, amazing. She did amazing presentations here at NINC this week. We're talking about how to be a professional writer and author today, which is a really great topic because, just like any profession, there's a level of professionalism that comes with being an author. A good place to start is your product. You need a high-quality product.

Joanna Penn [00:02:31] I want to step back. Before we do product--

Justine Bylo [00:02:32] Oh, okay.

Joanna Penn [00:02:34] because I think mindset comes--

Justine Bylo [00:02:32] Oh, okay.

Joanna Penn [00:02:37] before product. We're talking about being professional. What is professional? This is a very important question for people because it's absolutely valid to publish a book. Say, I've heard people want to do their granddad's war diary or their personal memoir that they're not intending to be turned into a movie. Lots of products which will come back to you, but books that are not necessarily part of running a business. I guess what we're talking about is how to turn the creative side of being a writer and publishing a book into something more professional which, for me, kind of means you are thinking about the money. You are thinking about marketing and thinking about getting the book out there, which of course, you can get out there through IngramSpark.

Justine Bylo [00:03:22] Yes.

Joanna Penn [00:03:22] But the mindset, I think many authors are…especially with self-publishing and independent, being an indie author in the past, I think it's changed now, but traditionally, published authors may have just delegated all of that aside and the mindset's more like, "Well, I'm the artist. Someone else is going to do all of the publishing, all of the marketing."

Justine Bylo [00:03:43] Yes, absolutely, and that was a traditional publishing house until very recently.

Joanna Penn [00:03:48] There you go. When you want to be a professional self-publisher or professional indie author, the first thing that has to change is your mindset because you need to invest in order to create quality product, to do the marketing, to learn things. That would be my first tip to people. Do you want to be a professional author? Do you want to make a living at this? Or do you want to, get an extra grand a month? What are your goals around your author business in general and, if you decide, "Okay, yeah, "I'm going to take this seriously, I'm going to do this as a professional, or, at least, in a professional manner." That can really change things. When I started out 10 years ago now, it's almost 10 years.

Justine Bylo [00:04:28] Wow.

Joanna Penn [00:04:30] Yeah, I know, it's crazy. My goal was, I'm going to leave my job and write for a living. It took me five years from when I first made that decision, but that's what I do, and I have done now for seven years. I've made a living from my writing.

Justine Bylo [00:04:45] Sounds incredible.

Joanna Penn [00:04:46] Oh, thank you. Well, it's just that first decision is mindset, because there's a lot to learn about the other stuff. But, if you're like, "Yup, I'm going to do it, everything else can be done."

Justine Bylo [00:04:57] When you do make that decision, is it a business plan? How do you set out doing the roadmap for becoming a professional author and actually making that goal a reality?

Joanna Penn [00:05:11] Well, you can listen to a lot of podcasts. Actually, that's how I did it. Right at the beginning, I started listening to a lot of audio. Because many people listening to this will be commuting. You'll be going to the day job, they'll be doing their chores, they'll be at the gym. People tend to listen to podcasts and audios when they're doing this stuff. You just need to learn all of this, get the stuff that goes into that, but it doesn't need to be a rush, but it's that kind of decision to learn. Coming back to products, so we can get into that now. The first sort of decision with product is, I do want my book to be as good, or better, than any traditionally published book. The way to do that is by having sort of a professional workflow which, for me, means working with professional editors, professional book designers, and professional book printers and distributors like IngramSpark. Because if you have a professional product that can go on a shelf or go on a website or go in your hand at a conference, then that represents your professionalism out in the world. That commitment to, "Yeah, I'm going to be that high-quality, that, to me, is also part of the mindset."

Justine Bylo [00:06:23] It's your calling card at the end of the day because you need that high-quality product because it's good writing and so, you want the book to represent what's in between the pages, essentially.

Joanna Penn [00:06:35] Yes, exactly, and I don't think anyone sets out to go, "Oh, I'm going to make a bad book."

Justine Bylo [00:06:40] No, no.

Joanna Penn [00:06:40] They just don't. But, I remember my first book. The cover wasn't so great. I had hired someone, but it wasn't really a genre-specific cover, which we all know now is important. This was even before eBooks, before the Kindle, when I was doing it first. I started in print first. It's really funny to kind of…oh no, now I've gone back to it.

Justine Bylo [00:06:59] You're an anomaly.

Joanna Penn [00:07:02] I know, now I've gone back to print in a heavy way. That's what’s interesting, coming back to products, and putting yourself out there in lots of ways. Of course, with IngramSpark, I now do large-print, which is, it's so funny, as well as normal print. And you guys do hardbacks and all of that. But large print is a really interesting market that a lot of people don't even think about.

Justine Bylo [00:07:22] Yes, and I kind of love large-print books because I'm a little blind.

Joanna Penn [00:07:27] It's not just for a certain demographic--

Justine Bylo [00:07:29] No!

Joanna Penn [00:07:29] It's for lots of different people.

Justine Bylo [00:07:32] Yeah, it's not just for your grandmother.

Joanna Penn [00:07:33] I wasn't going to say that but, yeah, yes, exactly.

Justine Bylo [00:07:35] Sorry I said it, yeah, but it's for those of us who cannot see.

Joanna Penn [00:07:40] Yes, exactly and it is really important, but it's also an underserved market. So, this is another thing about professionalism. It's about thinking,"Okay, I'm in this for the long-term. Yeah, I know if I publish a large-print book, I'm not going to make a million dollars in the first month."

Justine Bylo [00:07:55] No, no, no.

Joanna Penn [00:07:56] But it's serving an audience over time. With the product, so covers, editing, production, making sure, and, again, to me, you can set and forget with many of these, with much of the business. I upload my books on IngramSpark and then, I'm not going in there checking rankings and stuff. That's not how it works. In fact, I was even sharing at the conference this week that I got approached by a Korean publisher who actually found my books. They must have found it through IngramSpark because of the ISBN. They actually approached me via, this ISBN, we would like to license this book in South Korea.

Justine Bylo [00:08:34] That's fantastic.

Joanna Penn [00:08:34] Yeah, that's fantastic and that's just being out there in the world and in print, because this is only a print deal. I was like, "Do you want an ebook?" And they were like, "No."

Justine Bylo [00:08:47] The pendulum has swung in a big way.

Joanna Penn [00:08:50] It is interesting, it's really interesting. The point is, with this mindset and this idea of distribution and professionalism is, you're putting your books out there in the world for the long term and things happen that you don't even expect over time, which is just brilliant.

Justine Bylo [00:09:05] You have a great point about distribution and the fact that, if you put it out there and you make it available for people to actually find, that you never know who is going to actually seek it out.

Joanna Penn [00:09:19] Yeah, and in fact, on bookstores, this is the other thing, because I was, just for those people listening who might still just be with one other publisher for their print books, it's actually having the books on IngramSpark. We went to Edinburgh. We were in Edinburgh in Scotland and I went into a bookstore and my husband's like, "Come over here. Your book's in the bookstore." I hadn't pitched the bookstore. They had ordered my books from IngramSpark and they were for sale in a physical store in Edinburgh and I was like, "Whoa, that's crazy." It's because they're on the catalogs, right? And if they're not there they can't order them and they can't get a discount. So, for me, this is a really big step. I did want to share with people, my numbers. So, my print numbers, my print revenue was 10% of my book sales revenue last year, and this year it's 21%.

Justine Bylo [00:10:07] Yay, oh my God we just high fived, that makes me so happy.

Joanna Penn [00:10:12] That is IngramSpark, because I didn't print on demand on the other big retailer for a while, and that's representative of how much reach you could have through your global distribution services.

Justine Bylo [00:10:28] You're also fantastic though at marketing, which I do think goes hand in hand with distribution, so I do think your marketing efforts have totally gone to that rise in print sales, as well. Can you talk a little bit about marketing and professionalism, and how those two work together?

Joanna Penn [00:10:48] Firstly, I'd say the professional attitude again is the right one, which is, "I need to learn marketing." It literally is that, at the beginning, I understand those authors who go, "I don't want to do marketing. I just want someone else to do it for me." The truth is, the best person is you, because you know your books. And the other thing is this, print revenue jump is not to do with me doing anything differently with marketing, so in fact, the only thing I'm doing specifically for print is large-print Amazon ads.

Justine Bylo [00:11:19] Wow!

Joanna Penn [00:11:20] Obviously Ingram's books are on there too, but the keyword research around large-print for example was interesting. But with marketing and professionalism, I think it's up-skilling, so it's learning how to do these things, it's also picking your battles. So, I know on the IngramSpark podcast you've talked about how to get books into libraries and other bookstores and stuff like this, so it's like okay, if your goal is to get books into bookstores, there are ways you can market to those people, or to market to libraries. I tend to focus on online marketing, so doing some ads, but also things like podcasts, great for non-fiction, but just keeping the attitude…the open-minded attitude of I'm running a business, marketing is an important part of business. And also not to be…don't think it's scammy or sucky or anything, it's like, I have a good product. I wrote this because I want to entertain people with fiction, I want to inspire, or I want to inform people, or I want to help people, so you want to put your book in front of people who want your book. They just don't know it yet. So, I think just up-skilling is the point, and kind of have that positive attitude of, "I'm learning this, and this is creative. Marketing is creative."

Justine Bylo [00:12:34] Yeah, and you're so right, and your point about if you're going to target brick and mortar bookstores, target brick and mortar bookstores. If you're going to target libraries, target libraries. If your audience is online, then focus online, and really focusing those marketing energies.

Joanna Penn [00:12:52] Exactly, and just because we've talked about it here, I gave a presentation on global publishing and talked about IngramSpark. But also anything online is global marketing, so our discussion here, we're in Florida, but people can be listening anywhere in the world, like my podcast has been downloaded in over 200 countries.

Justine Bylo [00:13:12] Wow!

Joanna Penn [00:13:12] I know, which is kind of crazy, so when you put stuff on the internet people can find it, and that's awesome. So, I would say to people, you don't need to go, "How do I focus massively in Australia?" Like if you put things on the internet, people can find that in Australia, and of course, you can directly target. But I just think we need to have more of a broader idea of, if your books are available and you're doing online marketing in any form, people will find them. It might take a while, and this is the other professional attitude, for me, I'm 43.

Justine Bylo [00:13:46] You don't look it.

Joanna Penn [00:13:49] I'm fully expecting to be doing this for at least 50 more years.

Justine Bylo [00:13:52] Hey, at least. I'd give you 60.

Joanna Penn [00:13:54] Oh, thank you. As a professional, this is what I'm doing for my life, so if I put a print book up, and then it doesn't sell a thousand copies next week, then that's fine, because as far as I'm concerned, that's going out into the world, and that's building my business for the long term. So, I'd encourage people to really think like that. The traditional publishing industry and the media reporting on the books that go absolutely nuts makes authors think that's what happens, but it's not what happens. And you can make a really good business writing great books, working with professionals, publishing, doing some marketing, doing it for the long term in a sustainable manner, and I think it's the best job in the world.

Justine Bylo [00:14:43] I would agree with you, and it's about the long game not the short game.

Joanna Penn [00:14:47] Yes exactly.

Justine Bylo [00:14:48] Yeah, very good advice.

Joanna Penn [00:14:50] I think the other thing I want to say about professionalism, as well, is professional behavior for the long term.

Justine Bylo [00:14:56] Please talk about that one, yes.

Joanna Penn [00:14:59] It's funny, and you hear about these things, but also we've seen it in the media, some authors who will…and of course you have to decide on your brand, and some authors do have a brand that is argumentative or political or whatever, but you have to be aware that in the long game your reputation is really important. So, professional behavior is making relationships with people at conferences or online, respecting people, also you never know, they say something like, "Be nice to people on the way up because you might need them on the way down."

Justine Bylo [00:15:34] That's a great quote.

Joanna Penn [00:15:36] But it's so funny because like I said, I've been doing this 10 years now and many of the people I've met over the last 10 years, next year they end up being super, super bestsellers or they end up…someone was at one company goes to another company, so fostering relationships within the industry is really important. And just don't be an idiot, don't really just, just try to make friends and learn from people, respect who they are, and over time that really pays off.

Justine Bylo [00:16:06] Yes, and they say in Tennessee, "You catch more flies with honey than…"

Joanna Penn [00:16:10] I know, that's good. Back on working with professionals, it's even things like paying your bills early, I always pay my freelance editors and cover designers immediately, because I want them to want to work with me for the long term.

Justine Bylo [00:16:26] I was actually talking about that at dinner the other night with a few authors, and how they have fantastic cover designers, because they pay those bills early and their cover designers love them and they have great covers.

Joanna Penn [00:16:38] Exactly, because again these relationships at the beginning, you're like, "Do I find an editor? How do I find a cover designer? How do I find a virtual assistant?" But then when you have those people you want to keep them, so I think just be the person that people want to work with over time, and that's just going to really serve you well, so that would probably be a big tip.

Justine Bylo [00:17:00] Well, I think one of our last topics, which you talk a lot about in your podcast, and in your books is education, and educating yourself as an author, so do you have advice for our listeners about how to start the education journey, and some resources, obviously The Creative Penn is a wonderful one, for how to become well-rounded educated authors?

Joanna Penn [00:17:31] You have to decide what you want to focus on again, and I would really think about finding mentors. And I don't mean mentors in the sense that go and sit with them and they tell you stuff, I've had a lot of mentors, none of whom I've met, but in terms of books and podcasts and businesses that you think, "Yeah, that's what I want." So, for example, I write thrillers and I write non-fiction. I have a podcast. I'm a speaker. I'm not the same as a lot of people, maybe you love Stephen King, I love Stephen King, but I will never have a life like Stephen King, because he only writes fiction, whereas I will always write different things, I'll always have other businesses and other entrepreneurial things going on. So, understanding who you are as a writer is really important. For example, if you're listening, it's so amazing to me, you meet some people, like a very quiet lady or something, and then you find that she's written like 250 books. I'm like, okay then that's amazing.

Justine Bylo [00:18:37] Yes.

Joanna Penn [00:18:39] But her business model is never going to be the same as mine, and this is really an important thing, because there's now a lot of education in the author space, lots and lots of it.

Justine Bylo [00:18:49] It's very saturated.

Joanna Penn [00:18:50] Yeah, it is, and I think the most important thing is to, when you hear something from someone, is how is this person's living made, and also, "Do I want my life to look like theirs?" I travel a lot to speak, I do have a more out-there personal brand, but if you're someone…and I'm an introvert, it's funny people never believe I am, but I am…but some people really just don't want to do that. Maybe they only want to write a certain type of fiction, so maybe they're better off really going hard on a certain type of online advertising. Facebook advertising or BookBub advertising or whatever, whereas I'm like okay, going on podcasts is something I think is really important, or maybe you're someone who loves videos, and maybe YouTube is the way forward. There's lots of different angles for learning stuff, maybe you're not a conference type of person, then in that case, read books, buy audiobooks. So, I think because there is so much education, that's probably the best tip, is to really find people you resonate with and learn from those people. Rather than, I've had so many people come up to me and say, "What you said really touched me." Because what I said was, "Look guys, you don't have to do the stuff you don't enjoy."

Justine Bylo [00:20:10] That is huge advice, because I feel like authors think that they need to be able to do everything. That's a huge burden.

Joanna Penn [00:20:18] Exactly, and I basically came out and said, "I do a few ads on launch, but I don't really like doing ads, it's not something I focus on, whereas I like doing podcasts, and this is fun for me, so I'm going to do more of that." So, it was like, just lean into the things you enjoy. For example, maybe you are a visual person, do Instagram, do Pinterest, ignore the things you don't like. I hope that helps people, and ignore the people that don't resonate with you. If you're just like actually that person's…that's not the life I want. So, don't do what they say, do you know what I mean?

Justine Bylo [00:20:53] Yeah, do what makes you happy as an author.

Joanna Penn [00:20:55] Yes exactly, find models that you can go okay, to get to that point, what do I need to learn, and how do I need to do it? I know people who are doing very well from libraries, but they really have gone after libraries, and just focused on…and maybe they'll speak at a librarian convention, which is completely different.

Justine Bylo [00:21:15] Oh yes, and they're very fun.

Joanna Penn [00:21:16] Exactly, so this is the thing, like really don't take everything like a fire hose. I know it can really be difficult, but pick and choose and be quite strategic with what you do, or you're just going to explode.

Justine Bylo [00:21:31] Yes and we don't want that.

Joanna Penn [00:21:33] We don't want that, and just keep refining it. I mean it, like I said, this is my 10th year or whatever, and after we finish this, one of my jobs today is to sit down and review the notes from this conference. And then actually delete a whole load of them, because I can't do everything that I've learned in the last few days, so what am I going to take as my, "Okay that's the thing I'm going to do?" So, that would be my tip for people.

Justine Bylo [00:21:57] Have your takeaways, your major takeaways and focus on those from your conference, your education, that YouTube video, that podcast and work on that. Joanna, this has been fantastic, and you have offered so much wonderful advice, and if our listeners want more of her wonderful advice, and just listen to her wonderful tips and tricks and cheery attitude about publishing and writing in general, please go check out thecreativepenn.com, it is a truly wonderful website, and her podcast is a joy always.

Joanna Penn [00:22:37] Thank you very much.

Justine Bylo [00:22:38] We love listening to you. If you like what you hear, please subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes, the more positive ratings and reviews we receive, the more authors and publishers like you will be able to discover our podcast too. If you're ready to publish today, please visit the IngramSpark website, and for even more tips on publishing like a pro, check out our weekly blog and free online self-publishing courses available in the IngramSpark Academy, talk to you soon, bye.

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