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21 Apr

Are you an entrepreneur? Joanna Penn Workshop report

Joanna Penn challenged participants in her recent workshop, How to Make a Living from your writing, to be both entrepreneurial and ambitious. In the light of recent reports of the financial difficulties many writers are experiencing (such as this article in the Guardian 20 April ), it was perhaps an unexpected message.

But the energy in the room suggested that Joanna’s lively presentation was giving us some real food for thought in terms of empowering ourselves as writers. The publishing industry is changing at eye-watering pace and Joanna sees this as offering exciting opportunities for proactive writers. As one of the founding members of the Alliance of Independent Authors which has just celebrated its third birthday, Joanna is a firm advocate of self – or as she prefers, indie – publishing, but many of her messages apply however people might be published. Few publishing contracts come with big marketing budgets any more – unless you’re already a celebrity – and if we want our work to reach readers, as authors we’re expected to take the initiative.

This means thinking in a business-life manner. It means defining what success means for you, and setting goals accordingly. It means regarding our books as scalable products that we create once and can sell forever. It means creating multiple income streams from one book (paperback, e-book on different platforms, audio book and more). It means being prepared to learn and experiment with new technology, and new ways of reaching readers. And it means identifying the support you need.

Most of all it means continuing to write. Most days, Joanna spends her mornings, till 12 noon, writing. She asks herself, on a daily basis, whether she has made art today. She left us with her top three lessons:

– It’s much easier to have a day job than to write for a living

– Time in the market and patience are key

– It takes time to let go of self-censorship and find your true voice

I was fortunate to bump into Joanna again a week later at Indie Recon, the fringe festival at Foyles for self-publishers timed to coincide with the London Book Fair. She told me that she’s looking forward to hearing how people have put their ambitious plans into action – so I suggest we report back in a year’s time!

To find out more about Joanna’s workshops and publications, visit

Report by Sarah Dale

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