Creative Writing Fiction 3 minutes min2024-03-05 00:00

Joanna Penn's Journey to Indie Author Success

Picture of Joanna Penn beside some of her books.

Joanna Penn is an acclaimed indie author who writes nonfiction as Joanna Penn and thrillers under J.F. Penn. She left her corporate career in 2011 to become a full-time author-entrepreneur. We interviewed Joanna to learn more about her journey and get her best tips for aspiring indie authors.

Q: When did you first realize you wanted to become an author?

A: I've always loved writing and journaling, but it wasn't until my thirties when I was miserable in my corporate job that I thought—could I actually make a living as an author? I realized that if I could get paid to read, write, and travel, it would be my dream career.

Q: What steps did you take in those early days to work toward becoming an author?

A: I started writing with the intention to publish, which was very different from just journaling. I also researched the business side—how do you actually make money at this? I set aside time before and after work to write and learn about the industry. I knew I wanted to leave my job eventually, so I was determined to learn how to make this a viable business.

Q: How did the rise of e-books and self-publishing impact your journey?

A: It was huge! When Amazon Kindle launched along with tools like blogging and social media, I realized there was potential to reach readers all over the world as an indie author. I saw that self-publishing could actually work as a business model. I was an early adopter of Kindle and other e-reading apps—I could see this tech would change everything.

Q: Walk us through your process for writing and publishing your first books.

A: I just started writing! I began self-publishing in 2009 while still working my day job. I worked with freelance editors depending on the project. It took five years of hard work before I could leave my corporate job in 2011 and focus on writing full time.

Q: How has your editing and publishing process evolved over the years?

A: In the beginning, I used Microsoft Word, but now I write all my books in Scrivener. New technologies like ProWritingAid (PWA) have also become essential tools that improve my writing. I run my books through PWA before sending drafts to my human editor—this saves her time on nitpicky errors so she can focus on big picture feedback. I continue working with freelance editors, but I use programs like PWA to streamline the process.

Picture of joanna Penn drinking coffee plus a quote saying “I realized that if I could get paid to read, write, and travel, it would be my dream career.”

Q: What tips do you have for others hoping to self-publish successfully?

A: Treat it like a business from the start, and be willing to learn all aspects, from writing craft to marketing and finances. Find tools that improve your writing productivity. Be relentless in producing high-quality books, and care deeply about connecting with readers. Share your journey openly—helping others avoid pitfalls you experienced can be very rewarding too.

Q: How do you define success as an indie author?

A: I measure my life by what I create—my creative body of work. Of course I want to make good money, but I also want to produce work that means something to me and helps others. Seeing the indie writing community thrive after being looked down on early on is incredibly fulfilling. My definition of success is always evolving, but those creative and community aspects are core.

Watch Joanna and others describe how they rely on ProWritingAid in their editing process here.

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