Joanna PennJoanna Penn is a person at the vanguard of indie authorship. She runs The Creative Penn website and has made a name for herself with her self-published books, How to Enjoy Your Job (2008), From Book to Market (2009) and From Idea to Book (2009). She’s also a blogger, speaker, internet entrepreneur and international business consultant. She’s now ventured into the realms of fiction and her first novel, Pentecost, is launching right now. Overachiever, much? I helped to beta-read Pentecost and can vouch for its exciting thrillery goodness. It’s a ripping read, with great characters and excellent MacGuffins, so if you like thrillers, you should try it out. On the basis of Joanna’s experience in the indie author scene, she’s got a guest post here today talking about the lessons she’s learned along the way. If you’ve been thinking of going it alone with your writing, you’ll appreciate this post:

On Being An Indie Author: 5 Lessons Learned

Attitudes towards self-publishing or independent (indie) publishing are changing fast in today’s digital world. Print on demand technology is now mainstream and dramatic ebook sales have turned heads in the publishing industry, outselling hardback fiction last Christmas. More authors are now entering the indie publishing market because they realize it is within their control to see their book in the hands of readers. You don’t have to wait for the gatekeepers anymore and that’s exciting!

In the last three years, I’ve self-published four books and I would love for you to avoid the mistakes I’ve made! Here are some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned that will save you time, money and heartache in your journey towards becoming an indie author.

1) Know thyself. This ancient wisdom holds true in the internet age. To be successful as an indie author, you have to be willing to play around with new technology as well as take the risk of looking stupid or failing before you succeed. You need to be impatient enough with traditional publishing to want to embrace the DIY attitude. You have to consider multiple aspects of the process from writing, to building a platform, and then everything that goes into publishing (which is more than you think!) You have to be (kind of) a control freak and a perfectionist because you need to get everything right. Your personality definitely matters when it comes to indie publishing (although you can cultivate these personality traits!) Look at what you need to do and assess whether or not you are willing to jump in 100%.

2) Embrace technology. Print on demand changed my life as an indie author. It means you can load a digital file to a provider like LightningSource or CreateSpace and your book can be available for sale on When a customer orders a copy, it is printed and sent direct to the customer. No holding stock. No upfront costs for printing. No shipping effort for you. That can save you thousands of dollars as you don’t have to order a small print run as old-style self-publishers had to. Please don’t print a garage full of books unless you have guaranteed distribution. Understand and use POD as well as ebooks and the cost of entry to publishing a quality product is much lower. Learning about publishing technologies and online tools like blogging and social networking are the linchpins of a successful indie author. You are doing yourself out of a lot of money if you don’t embrace the computer!

Pentecost3) Treat indie publishing as a business. You are a small business-person which means you need to track costs and income. You are not just a writer when you go the indie route. I set up my own company when I started The Creative Penn, fully intending it to become a publisher as well as the vehicle for my speaking business and online book/product sales. It’s also good to remember that small businesses usually have a rough time for the first 3-5 years. I’m at the end of year two now and track all my sales as well as expenses. I still have a day job (like most writers) but the business pays for itself. This means I can budget for the inevitable costs of running a small business and also use the income to develop my business.

4) Use professionals for outsourcing. I have tried doing everything myself before i.e. book cover design, formatting of files for the Kindle, interior book layout etc but I have found that there are just some things I can’t do well enough to have a professional finished product that is indistinguishable from traditionally published books. In the name of all serious indie publishers, I implore you to use a professional copyeditor as well as a pro cover designer (unless you are highly skilled at either). Those two are critical for a quality output. I also recommend you use someone with technical ability for formatting ebooks and print output. It will save you time and a lot of frustration which is worth the money (see above for budget!)

5) Embrace marketing. When I self-published my first book, I didn’t know anything about marketing. I thought that people were just out there waiting for my book. After practically zero sales in the first month, I decided to learn about marketing. I read books, did online courses, listened to audios and played around with direct marketing. I made it onto Australian National TV with one press release, but I only sold one book so then I learned about internet marketing and blogging which has been the turning point for me. I had no marketing background but embracing marketing has changed my whole life. You need to learn to love it too as there are millions of books out there. How will anyone know about yours unless you start marketing?

Importantly, being an indie author is a great adventure where you can choose your own path. It’s empowering to spend your time writing and promoting your own books instead of chasing that elusive traditional publishing deal. There are also more success stories these days of indie authors getting print deals after self-publishing generated great sales, so whatever your goals as an author, independent publishing can be a great start. I wish you the best on your indie journey!


Joanna Penn is the author of Pentecost, a thriller novel, out now on Joanna is also a blogger at The Creative Penn: Adventures in Writing, Publishing and Book Marketing. Connect @thecreativepenn

Watch the book trailer for Pentecost here.