Joanna Penn Talks About Taking a Leap & Her Life as a Writer

Joanna Penn is the author of the ARKANE thrillers, Pentecost, Prophecy and Exodus. Read more at Joanna is also an entrepreneur and professional speaker. Her site for writers has been voted one of the Top 10 sites for writers 2 years running and offers articles, audio and video on writing, publishing and book marketing. Connect with Joanna on twitter @thecreativepenn

It is a pleasure to share this interview with Joanna! Be sure to visit her site, check out the resources she offers, including the Author 2.0 Blueprint – a free guide to help writers. She also has several courses that are very helpful for writers, and of course you should buy her books!


You made a big transition from “regular work” to writing. Can you talk a little about that transition and describe any particularly difficult hurdles, or anything that really surprised you?

After 13 years of being an IT consultant, I became a fulltime author-entrepreneur in Sept 2011. However, I would say that I had been building my business for 3 years before that while working part-time and getting to the point where I would have income coming in, so it was less of a risk.

The hard bits were adjusting to the financial differential, as I was on a high six-figure income and downsized considerably in order to change my life. This was a conscious decision though, as I don’t see the point of the trappings if at your core, you are unhappy. We moved from a 4 bedroom house with a car, to a 1 bedroom flat with no car, simplifying life down to the essentials, which turn out to be very little! This was very liberating for me, and I highly recommend downsizing if you want to try a life change. We don’t even own any furniture now.

I also found that I was going crazy in my house all day, so I joined the London Library where I go several times a week to work in a space with other writers. Even just the routine of the commute, along with other people around me, helps with that. I also have some physical networks in London which help me stay sane – we can’t have everything virtually!

It’s definitely easier to have a day job but I am loving my life these days, and after years in soul-destroying IT departments, I am very happy. I get to spend my time being creative and working on projects I think are important. With every book and every course, I am building an asset for the future.

I wrote a lot more on this when I reached 1 year as an author-entrepreneur here:

Most writers are working on tight budgets. Are there any tools or services that you recommend they definitely budget for? In other words, what do writers absolutely need to purchase?

Scrivener changed my life! It is writing software that helps you plot, organize and write your books, from plain text fiction to complicated research papers with footnotes etc. It allows you to drag and drop chapters around which really helps in the editing process. Then it has a Compile function which means you can output correctly formatted files for Kindle in .mobi format as well as ePub for Kobo and Nook, and Word for Smashwords or editing, or PDF or other formats. It means you are in total control of your digital publishing, and you don’t have to pay someone else to do your formatting. It’s only ~$45 so well worth the investment.

Here’s an interview I did with Gwen Hernandez, author of ‘Scrivener for Dummies’ where we discuss all the functionality

Can you describe a typical day? How much time do you spend writing, how much promotion do you do, how many hours on administrative stuff? (What I’m really trying to get at here is your process. I find learning about other people’s processes fascinating!)

I am a chronic organizer of my time, so I diarize a lot in advance and this helps me plan my days. So I try to spend 3 days a week working in the London Library, which is my fiction writing time, and I have one whole day a week for interviews, blogging, scheduling posts and tweets. I am also a professional speaker and entrepreneur so I have other business tasks, for example, speaking prep or media articles to write. At the moment it is about 50:50 split between fiction and non-fiction.

So a typical day is one of two kinds I guess:

a) Introverted and quiet, creating, with a focus on writing or editing or whatever is the latest project

b) business and marketing focused, creating material for sale or for speaking events, or courses. A more external focus and live interviews, video skype, podcast recording etc.

I find it hard to switch between these ‘heads’ in one day, so I diarize them separately and the mix depends on my focus for the month.

Do you have any favorite forums, writers’ sites, or blogs that you recommend (in addition to your own, of course)?

I am a happy member of the Alliance of Independent Authors and we have a great Facebook group which is very active in sharing what we’re all doing in terms of writing, Tten I definitely recommend the following: publishing and marketing. There’s also a great blog, How to successfully self-publish.

* for everything self-publishing in print and ebook format

* for publishing industry insight

* for copywriting, content marketing and online business

* Brain Pickings for creative randomness

* Justine Musk for empowering inspiration, and a lot of great book recommendations

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Just about anyone who has undertaken some sort of creative endeavor can tell you about the walls that you discover. If you want to bust through those walls, and be “epic” there are plenty of posts that will encourage and motivate you. That’s not what this is, though. I’ve stumbled across a few walls lately, but instead of busting through them, I’ve been sneaking around them, or struggling to climb over them. I have not had the pleasure yet of busting through anything.

While everyone else has been feverishly writing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I have been participating in a different, and much smaller writing group. Several months ago, a friend and I were talking about how we both wanted to try writing fiction. We each write professionally – she as a technical writer, I as a copywriter – but neither of us had ever seriously attempted to write fiction beyond a creative writing class in college. There was an invisible wall stopping us.

We both have notebooks filled with observations and ideas, but nothing solid. We were stuck behind a wall when it came to actually writing a story. Talking usually helps when you are trying to get past a

Sometimes you’d rather sit down and rest than to try and get past the wall.

wall, so we just chatted about it. As we talked about the different elements of story-telling, we decided it would be fun and useful to take an online creative writing class. We started looking at all of the free ones available, but none of them included what I consider an essential element: writing. That first wall to writing a novel loomed as large as ever.

To get past it, we decided to put together our own creative writing class, and started carving a path around the wall.

Writing groups have been around forever. There’s one in my town that meets at a great bar every Tuesday night. It’s probably a good group, but I’ve never gone. Going would mean I had to get dressed and leave my house. Also, going to a bar every Tuesday would be expensive – the cost of fuel and beer…Anyway, for someone who is almost a hermit, going out to a critique group feels onerous, and presents what for me, is an insurmountable wall.

My friend, let’s call her Debbie, and I made a list of the topics we would expect to be covered in our dream creative writing class. We decided it wouldn’t too burdensome to research and present on a couple of the topics each and that a seminar-style class would be interesting. Debbie and I found three other people willing to join in the experiment, and here’s how it works:

  • We are making heavy use of Google.
    • We have a circle on Google+ where we post random thoughts, comments about topics, or whatever.
    • Google Docs allows us to share all sorts of things. For instance, a day or two before presenting his findings, the person who researched Point of View shared a document with a list of links and his thoughts about each one. In turn, other members of the group asked questions and left comments that the presenter responded to during our meeting.
    • Google Hangouts (within Google+) is what really makes all of this possible. We “meet” in a Hangout once a week.
  • While it’s not a requirement, most of the people in the group are using participation as a catalyst to work on a writing project. The week we talked about plotting, a few of us wrote out a plot for a story.
  • The group provides accountability, structure, a place to bounce ideas around, and will hopefully result in some stories being written.

We are only in our third week of meetings, but so far, it seems to be working pretty well. During our first meeting, we hammered out a list of topics, and people chose which ones they wanted to research and talk about, then we decided who would present the next week. The topic for the second meeting was plotting, which I talked about, and the group discussed in a very general way. We were all planning to share a basic plot line during the third meeting, but circumstances dictated otherwise. (People are busy, it’s a weird time of year, and stuff happens. It’s all right.)

Point of view was the topic of the third Hangout. And BOOM! We hit another wall.

When you are telling a story to a group of friends about yourself, you naturally use first person. You’ve probably been around someone who used third person to talk about themselves at some point, and you probably thought they were weird. When you tell a story about someone else, you naturally use third person (limited, to your own view, of course) because to do otherwise would be strange. Most of the books we read for pleasure are written in what is known as third person omniscient. There is also a POV called second person, but it’s weird and difficult to read.

Anyway, if you are a writer, and you start thinking about all of this stuff, it can act as the biggest, scariest, barbed-wire encased wall in the world. It just stops you cold. You get all tangled up in the technical details of writing. This is a wall we are just going to have to climb over. There’s no path around it, because this wall is the actual telling of the story. As a writer, you need to understand point of view, but you still have to tell a story.

One way to get strong enough to climb over the wall is to play with point of view: write the same scene from different characters’ perspectives. Write it in first person, then third person limited, then third person omniscient. If it sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. You are climbing over a big, gnarly wall. That’s never easy.

I’m sure that there will be many more walls between now and when I’m writing a post to tell you that my first work of fiction is available on Amazon. But, I’m equally sure that those walls can be avoided, climbed over, or maybe even busted through.

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Got It Covered? What Self Publishers Need to Know About Ebook Covers

oday, I’m happy to share this excellent guest post by graphic designer, GX. Most writers are good with words, but not too many are also good designers – some are, and I envy your many talents! When it comes to a good cover, many writers thing something like, “Eh, the story is the important part. I’ll just throw something together for a cover.” In the post, GX explains exactly how that line of logic is fatally flawed.

Prior to the self-publishing revolution, authors had just one task: to write. Once the book was written, the publishing house took care of everything else: the editing, the interior design, the exterior design, the printing, the distribution, the marketing and publicity.

And authors paid dearly for all that stuff – not directly, of course, but through the minuscule royalty rate they received. Even now, most traditional publishers only pass on to their authors a maximum of 17.5% of the retail price of the ebook – compare that with the 70%+ you can earn via Amazon KDP or Barnes and Noble’s Pubit program.

These days, Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, Kobo and Apple take care of your “printing”, distribution and sales and, through their web pages, to a greater or lesser degree, they also help with publicity. Of course, if you still want to print physical books you could try a service like Printivity for the task, but either way you’re still responsible for editing and proof-reading, formatting and – most importantly – making sure your book has a great cover.

As a self-publisher, the most important and powerful weapon in your sales and marketing arsenal is, without question, your ebook cover. It’s the first thing the potential reader/buyer sees; before they’ve even read a review or even the author’s name, they’ll have seen the cover. And it better be good because – to paraphrase an all too true truism – you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

Curious about the story? Me too.

But what is a “good” book cover? Is it one that tells you everything you need to know about the book? Is it one that’s “arty” or “fashionable” or one that simply looks like a lot of other covers?

Well, no. Your book cover has a very specific function. And, despite what you might read elsewhere, that function is NOT to tell a story, show off your intellectual credentials or creative abilities or display your refined and/or expensive taste. No, your cover’s function is simply to draw sufficient attention to your book that a casual browser will STOP for a moment and take a second look.

That’s it. That’s all. Because if they don’t stop to take a second look, they won’t buy your book.

But if they do…?

Unlike reading a synopsis (which might take a minute or two) a cover takes no more than a second or two to assimilate. That’s all the time you have to do one thing and one thing only: convert that casual browser into an interested party.

Stop! Look.

Most likely, the first time a buyer or reader sees your ebook cover it’ll be about the size of a postage stamp, perhaps backlit on an iPad or laptop screen, and it’ll be fighting with dozens of others on the same page for attention. So, how do you compete with all those other books? How do you make sure your ebook is the one that people are drawn to?

Easy. You ensure your ebook cover is EYECATCHING and ATTRACTIVE. Attractive as in, it attracts people. And that’s it. If you get a casual browser to pause for an instant because they like your cover, you’ve done your job. Should the cover suggest genre? If it’s a genre book – a thriller or romance – then that won’t hurt. Should it suggest tone, perhaps? Again, that’s a nice-to-have. But these things are irrelevant if your cover looks like it was designed by the five-year-old son of your best friend who, you’ve been assured many times, can do wonderful things with a set of crayons and some fingerpaints

It amazes me how often I see book covers (sometimes even ones designed by professionals) that are bland or boring or dull – indistinct imagery, washed out colors, small, overly ornate illegible fonts, poor composition… I’m just as horrified by the D.I.Y. covers that look like an explosion in a font factory. For the inexperienced designer there are hundreds of potential areas for disaster. As ebook covers are a relatively new phenomenon, even traditional book designers may not get it right. Hardcopy books are designed to be picked up in a bookstore and examined: if they’re lucky enough to get a window display, then their sheer size will make anything on the front cover visible. But if you’re looking at something that measures barely an inch by an inch and a half at low resolution, then you’d better be sure people can SEE it.

As a self-publisher you are not just competing with other self-publishers – you’re competing with thousands of traditionally published authors, most of whom will have entire design departments dedicated to making their books look good. Your book has to stand alongside the very best of them.

One of the great benefits of the self-publishing revolution is that start-up costs are low. However, many authors make the mistake of thinking they can save money by “doing it themselves”. But, just because youcan do everything yourself, it doesn’t mean you necessarily shoulddo everything yourself. You’ve almost certainly learned how to use a comb and a pair of scissors at some point in your life,

Eye catching AND attractive

and you could probably save money by cutting your own hair, but most people go to a professional to get it done because they know they’ll get a better job and they’ll end up looking betterthan if they did it themselves.

So, sure, you could buy a stock photo and add some text and you’ll have a book cover. But is it really good? Does it look professional? Eye-catching? Attractive? Unique? Will it help sell your novel

Unless you have some considerable design experience, you’d be best off leaving it to the professionals. Unless you really are cutting your own hair to save money, youcanafford a

This cover fits so many stories.

professionally created ebook cover. And a good cover is an investment: it may help sell more copies of your books, and that will generate more income. A good cover can pay for itself many times over.

And for those who claim that they can’t afford a professionally designed cover, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t need to cost a fortune. In fact, it needn’t cost more than a decent haircut. And it’ll last a lot longer.

As a self-publisher you have a couple of choices when it comes to getting an ebook cover from an outside provider: you can pay for a custom designed cover, whereby a graphic designer or graphic artist will create a cover specifically for the book based on information provided by the author. This is the “made-to-measure” option and usually comes with a “made-to-measure” price tag, but the author ends up with something custom designed to fit their book perfectly.

Alternatively, you could purchase a pre-made, pre-designed or “ready-to-go” ebook cover. This is more like the “off-the-rack” option, with commensurately lower prices, but there is no loss in either quality or professionalism. At Graphicz X Designs we also guarantee that all ready-to-go ebook covers are one-offs, for the purchaser’s exclusive use. So, even in you can’t run to a custom design, you still get something absolutely unique.

Colorful, pretty, and fits any number of tales.

But, you may be wondering, how can that possibly work? How likely is it that I’ll find a cover that suits my book? Well, “very likely” is the answer. As I mentioned, an ebook cover doesn’t have to tell the story within: it has to be eyecatching and attractive. It can suggest the tone of the book, and it might help – particularly with genre fiction – if the cover also reflects the genre: romance, sci-fi, thriller etc. But there are also plenty of bestselling books out there with covers that have little or no connection with the contents. Covers can also be abstracts, patterns, or just non-specific. Once again, as long as it’s attractive enough to make the browser stop for a moment and think: “hmm, that’s interesting” or “that’s intriguing” or even simply “ooh, I like that!” then the job is done.

There are a number of companies on the web offering pre-made covers: at Graphicz X Designs we currently have over 350 ready-to-go ebook covers in a multitude of genres and designs from just $30, so there may well be something that suits you perfectly. And if not, there’s our custom design service starting at $200. We’re also here to answer any questions you might have about ebook covers – and that costs nothing at all!

Whatever choice you make, remember that you’ve put a lot of your time, energy and effort into writing your book and, before you send it out into the great outdoors, at the very least it deserves to be properly dressed!



Twitter: @graphiczxdesign

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Emily Suess Talks About Self Publishing Contracts

Today, I am happy to share a guest post from Emily Suess. Emily is a freelance writer in Indianapolis, and has done extensive research regarding one company that offers contracts to self publishing. When I think “self publishing” I don’t think “contracts” at all. Instead, I envision needing help from a range of independent service providers – a freelance editor, a proofreader, a graphic designer, and maybe a layout specialist. Or, if there is no budget, investing the time to learn how to do a lot of things, finding trustworthy beta readers, and taking the plunge by putting a product out there. 

For some people, all of that is too much to contemplate. So, those folks work with companies that facilitate the whole process. They operate much like a traditional publisher would, but the writer has to pay up front for services. Frankly, I don’t understand making that choice versus finding and hiring individual professionals, but to each his own. 

If you are considering working with such a company, please heed Emily’s words of wisdom! 


How to Vet Self-Publishing Contracts

First, before I get into the good stuff, I have to get my disclaimer out of the way: Don’t take any part of this post as, you know, actual legal advice. Although my parents think I’m kind of brilliant and I passed the LSAT once, I never went to law school.

Instead, take what I’m about to tell you as friendly advice from someone who’s done a lot of digging on the subject of self-publishing, from someone who has interviewed more than a few authors with harrowing tales of being ripped off by sketchy self-publishing companies, and from someone who has spent a lot of time talking to reputable pros in the industry.

The Million-Dollar Self-Pub Question

The question I get asked most often is: Where should I self-publish my book? I’m glad to give a few recommendations for places to start, but honestly? I can only guide your search. I cannot answer this question definitively for anyone.

Policies change, companies get swallowed up by other companies, and just because your best friend had a wonderful experience with a company doesn’t mean you will. Signing the wrong contract can leave you broke and miserable with no way out. And as horrible as some self-pub companies are, if you sign a contract you didn’t read, you deserve whatever misery comes to you.

Sound harsh? Good. Because I’m not joking around here.

Vetting Self-Publishing Contracts

So, like I said, I can’t pick your company for you. However! If you’re overwhelmed by the self-publishing choices out there and need some tips to help you separate the wheat from the chaff, I can help with that. I’ve outlined some of the big-ticket things to look for early in the vetting process.

Note: If you can’t even get the company to give you a sample contract, mark them off your list immediately. And never, ever pay a dime for anything—even add-ons—without getting an agreement in writing. I don’t care how nice the sales person or how pleasant the experience so far.

Signs of a Crummy Contract

  • It’s only one page long. Things like rights, terms, termination, fees and clearly defined services aren’t something you can spell out in a couple of short paragraphs.
  • It grants all rights to the publisher. As the author of a work, the last thing you want to do is sign over all the rights to your book. The rights you do grant to the publisher should be limited to print and electronic in most cases, and they should have a set termination date. You can always sign a new contract later, but it’s hard to get out of a contract that never ends or one that renews automatically.
  • It requires you to pay for production files if you leave. The shadiest outfits make you pay to leave. Even though you paid the self-publishing fees upfront precisely to have them format your book, they charge you again (some of them $750 or more!) to email you the PDF document they already created when you decide you’re unhappy and want to publish elsewhere. Companies with these clauses have no motivation to do good work, because they make plenty of money even if they piss you off.
  • It requires you to pay the company’s court costs if there is a lawsuit and you lose. More money buys better attorneys, so who do you think is more likely to win a case if you do have a legal dispute with your self-publishing company? Little old you? Or a multi-million dollar company with a law firm on retainer?

Reading the Fine Print

Now, just because you’ve found a couple of contracts without these requirements doesn’t mean it’s time to sign on the dotted line. It just means that you’ve narrowed your choices, tossed the truly crummy businesses aside, and made it possible to focus on a more thorough vetting of self-publishing companies.

Read the remaining contracts a few times. And run through all the possible scenarios. If you only sell 4 books, how much money will you be out? Can you afford the costs without draining your life savings or whipping out that pretty plastic card? No? Then walk away.

Finally, if there are terms in the document you don’t understand, pay a real attorney to give you a professional opinion. Shoot, even if you think you know everything, hire a lawyer anyway. Don’t risk getting suckered by one of the scammy outifts.

But Emily, that sounds like it costs money and will be so much work. I just want to publish this thing and be famous already!

If that’s how you feel, go to Kinko’s or Staples or something and print a few copies on 20-lb. copy paper.

No, seriously.

Emily Suess is a freelance copywriter in Indianapolis. She writes about self-publishing and freelancing on her blog, Suess’s Pieces. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.

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Author Interview: Derek Haines

Today’s installment in the Indpendent Writing Series is an interview with writer Derek Haines. Derek and I became acquainted through Goodreads. He sent me a message after I left a review of his book Louis. As a reader, I am still a little shocked every time an author contacts me. It is amazing how easy it is to connect!


I counted 13 of your books for sale on your site. Did you self publish all of them? 

Yes. I’m frightfully independent and have for the most part always been self employed. Perhaps I’m just not very good at doing as I’m told, which probably explains why self publishing is so attractive for me. My first book

Author Derek Haines

was a collection of poetry, and as at the time I was in the printing industry, I managed to have a small run printed and went about trying to find people to read it. I think my mum proved to be my best customer though.

Years later when self publishing by print on demand in paperback became available I jumped at the chance and published two more books. One collection of essays and then my first attempt at a novel. It was atrocious in hindsight, but it was a great learning exercise in discovering what was required when self publishing a novel. Although I learned a lot from that experience, I still know that self publishing a perfect book is extremely difficult and although I try hard, I know I haven’t achieved the level of quality that I would like as yet. This is one of the frustrations with self publishing because you don’t have a cohesive team behind you doing all the nitty gritty work involved in a manuscript’s preparation. While I do have external help, it’s not the same as a professional group of proof readers and editors working together.

Another increasingly problematic aspect is that ebooks have actually made self publishing more complex in many respects, as unique versions of a book’s file are required for each publishing platform. With totally different file requirements for POD, Kindle and Smashwords, just to name three, the work needed to prepare or update a manuscript is much more time consuming than when I only published in paperback. As you said, I have published 13 books, but in actual fact, it feels more like I have 39.

You write on a wide array of topics, and across genres. Do you think this limits your sales at all, or do you still have lots of repeat customers? (A friend said, “People either read authors or subjects,” and that statement prompted this question!)

I love writing and when a story gels in my mind, that’s my next story. The absolute beauty of self publishing is not having any limits on subject or genre. My last book, which was a romance set in a hospice would never have made it across an agent’s desk. This I think is the essence of self publishing in that the restrictions have been lifted and stories have become much more important than whether a manuscript fits the publishing norms of 110,000 words and fixed marketable genres.

Self publishing is about breaking the traditional rules and experimenting, and in doing so, it has created a lot of debate. Although it’s now an accepted alternative by many readers, I think there is still a long way to go yet before the book publishing market in general settles down.

Oddly enough, I’ve never given any thought to how a book connects with others I’ve written or how it will affect sales. While it’s nice to sell books, sales have never been my main motivation in writing. My profession as an English teacher pays the bills, so book royalties are a nice surprise when they come. I have always regarded writing and publishing as a passionate hobby and a side income. But I do have a small loyal readership who seem to return when I publish a new book, so they are clearly attaching to me as an author.

The most important reasons for me to write are to tell a story I want to tell, and that perhaps my grand children will read them one day and connect with my words. A way of leaving more than just footprints in the sand. 

One of the things many authors have mentioned in these interviews is that self publishing has made everything more immediate – from the speed with which a book can go from idea to published, down to the speed with which authors get feedback on new works. Have you noticed this immediacy and if so does it change anything about your processes?

Getting a manuscript ready for publication is certainly not any quicker as it takes a long time to get it to an acceptable standard. But the one thing I have noticed is how immediate reader’s reactions are and how connected authors and readers have become. When I first started self publishing in paperback, there was almost no connection between my readers and myself other that the odd review. But now a review or social media comment can start an immediate interaction involving more people that just the one reader and the author.

This is great and connects readers with authors, but the downside is that it can take up a lot of time, which robs from the time needed for writing. It’s a double edged sword.

We “met” because you sent me an email after I posted a review of Louis. Do you contact everyone who reviews your work? Have you ever changed a story or made adjustments to a story based on feedback received from your fans? (One writer that interviewed did, with great results, so I’m just curious if many others have made similar changes.)

I always listen to what readers say about my books and I’d be a fool not to as it’s the very best way to improve. As you said, we met after you posted an honest review of my book and highlighted a problem that needed my attention. While like any author, I love getting glowing five star reviews, it’s the reviews that say, ‘hey I loved this about the book, but this aspect really didn’t work for me’, which are the most important. They are the balanced and honest reviewers, as no one necessarily loves everything about a book. There’s often a ‘but’ in a review and this is what I do definitely take on board. I do try to reply or thank most reviews I receive from readers, good or bad.

Although I must admit that with this new immediacy and connection, there are certain occasions when I do ignore reviews when they say things such as my novella was too short or that the reader’s mood wasn’t right when they read my book and hence they didn’t enjoy it. I accept their views, but don’t enter into a dialogue.

Oddly enough, I can’t recall a review that made me change elements in a story. Maybe my punctuation, grammar or manuscript formatting might be rubbish sometimes, but apparently I don’t leave too many plot holes.

People have been talking about the fact that ebooks (and I would add books that are printed on demand) never go out of print and therefore have what amounts to immortal shelf life. Some authors have said that sales of their older books increase with each new book that they publish. Since you have written and published so many books you are in a good position to say if that seems to be true for you or not. Is the “long tail” of ebooks all it’s being cracked up to be? 

This is definitely one of the main advantages of self publishing. When a book is published by a traditional publisher, it is relegated to ‘out of print’ quite quickly if it doesn’t sell well. However, with self publishing it’s possible to try again with a book, either by updating the cover, changing the title or possibly doing a complete re-write of a book. I mentioned my first novel being a disaster earlier, but it now sells modestly well under a new title with a new cover and after being completely re-written. There’s nothing stopping me from doing this again either.

Most of my older titles still sell and it is noticeable that they get a little boost when I release a new book as new readers discover me and look for more. The main advantage with self publishing is that my books remain available for as long as I want them to be. So yes, I do think there is a ‘long tail’ effect.

Do you have favorite writing-related forums or blogs that you particularly enjoy? Do you attend writers’ conferences, or see any value in doing so? 

I have a long list of writing, publishing and book review blogs I read regularly, but I tend to avoid online forums. I prefer to comment on well informed blogs and interact with readers of my own blog and participate in a few selective Facebook writers groups. As an English teacher, I’ve had my share of conferences, so I have an aversion to them. Perhaps due to my independent nature, I just don’t make a very good committee member. I must admit though that I just love Twitter. I thinks it’s the instant nature of it and perhaps a little anarchy and lack of rules about it that I like.

Finally, are there particular sites or books or other online places you would like me to point my readers to? I would also love to include a couple of images with this post – maybe one of you and one of one of your books? 

My website and blog are my main focal points on the net. From there anyone can find my social media contacts.

As for a book, I must admit to having a favorite. One Last Love should never have been written by me as it was so far removed from any genre I had written in before. But for some crazy reason it is my bestseller by a long way. It just proves that you never know what will be popular with readers.

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Interview with Jennifer Mattern

If you are interested in writing as a business at all, you should know Jennifer Mattern, the brains behind several valuable sites for writers, including AllFreelanceWriting and AllIndiePublishing. Jennifer is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the intersection of writing and business. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for the Independent Writing Series.


First, thanks for doing this interview. It always amazes me when super-busy, successful folks offer their time to answer my questions!

Not a problem.:)

You are one of the busiest and most prolific freelancers I know. I’m most familiar with AllFreelanceWriting, but am aware you maintain several other sites, and have written several non-fiction books including The Query Free Freelancer. What have I missed? Can you tell us about your current projects? 

The Query-Free Freelancer is technically written, but not published yet. It’s going through yet another round of edits, additions, and some rewrites. My previous nonfiction publications were all released only in e-book form. And there are several more of those to come.

I’m actually pulling my Web Writer’s Guide off the market by the end of this year, and I’ll repurpose some of that content in new e-books under the Query-Free Freelancerbrand. Unfortunately the focus on Web writers was too limiting, whereas the information in the e-book really applies to a wider freelance audience than that.

Beyond that, I’m also writing fiction under three different pen names. These are newer projects, and the first novel won’t be published until the Query-Free Freelancer book is released. The niches are mysteries (cozies), horror, and children’s books (nonfiction and fiction).

I have a three-year publishing plan in place covering those niches, alternating the mystery and horror novels and working in shorter pieces for children in between.

As for websites and blogs, I currently administer 50 WordPress installations. Around two dozen of them are live sites. Five or six larger sites are in development (having the designs finished and having initial content created — sometimes by me and sometimes by other contributors). There are some small sites that I don’t heavily promote. And then there are some others tied to newer domains that are still in the planning phase.

A few examples, other than All Freelance Writing, are (which is re-launching soon),, and a new blog at (which isn’t officially launched, but does have some starter content up now).


You make a great business case for pretty much everything related to writing. Will you talk a bit about the business side of self publishing? 

Simply recognizing the business side of self publishing is an important step for authors. It’s not just about the art of writing. It’s great if you can write well. But that alone rarely sells books. If you want to make money, publishing either digital or print books, you will ideally do a few things.

1. Produce a high quality manuscript (which includes hiring outside editors for anything beyond “information product” e-books).

2. Make smart business decisions (to find a balance between driving prices up because you spent too much and releasing something that looks like garbage because you were cheap).

3. Have a solid marketing plan in place. This should actually start before you begin writing the book, but better late than never.

If these three things come together, everybody wins. Your readers get a good read that isn’t riddled with errors. Readers save money because you don’t drive up prices with poor business decisions. You make more sales. You maximize your profits. And you build a professional reputation and grow your author platform which will help you sell future books too.


Do you have a favorite independent author right now? (I would never be able to answer this question!) In the same vein, are there sites, blogs, or forums that you find especially helpful as a writer – in addition to your own, of course!

My favorite is Peter Bowerman, hands down. He’s a nonfiction author writing about, well, writing. Why do I love his work? Because you’d never guess it was published independently. That’s what makes for a great self-published book — no one looks at it and wonders where it came from.

If you’re a freelance writer, you have to read his The Well-Fed Writer. But more importantly, if you’re interested in independent or self publishing, you should get a copy of his The Well-Fed Self Publisher. He takes a serious business-minded look at independent publishing. He shows you how to do it professionally (not just running to some vanity-style POD “publishing company”). And he mixes a conversational style with a no-BS approach that I love and respect.

As for websites, Peter’s is a great place to start. You can find his blog at I’m also a fan of Joel Friedlander’s site,

You write both fiction and nonfiction. Do you find that you use entirely different processes for the two? Are you able to switch from one to the other fairly easily? 

I can switch between fiction and nonfiction projects pretty easily, but only because I have to. I never work on only one project during any given day. I don’t deal with boredom well (which is probably why I always have so much going on). And I find that mixing things up a bit helps me get more work done in the grand scheme of things.

All of my websites involve nonfiction writing. None of my client work involves fiction. So if I want to write fiction, itmust coexist with that nonfiction work. If anything, I find it more challenging to hop from one fictional project to another than moving between fiction and nonfiction.

I wouldn’t say my process is terribly different between the two styles of writing. I like organization. And I love, and heavily use, outlines. That’s true of anything I write, from a client’s blog post to a novel. I know some writers find them limiting. But really you’re only as limited as you allow yourself to be. As long as you think of outlines as living documents rather than rigid or static ones, they’re effective guides that grow and change as you move through each project.


Recently, I heard a well known writer talking about the often repeated phrase “there are no gatekeepers anymore.” He suggested that every reviewer on Goodreads or Amazon is a gatekeeper. What do you think? Has self publishing made it easier to be heard, or is it more difficult than ever? Or, is it just a different set of obstacles now? 

This is a tough question, and it’s one I have mixed feelings about. Look. There’s a lot of crap out there right now. And that has the potential to hurt independent authors because some readers have a bias against them after one or more bad experiences. Then again, even major publishers release garbage on more than an occasional basis. That’s nothing new in publishing.

I think what the current environment does is provide a unique opportunity for independent authors and small presses to blur the lines — ignoring the gate and jumping the fence, if you will. And while I wouldn’t call reviewers on Goodreads and Amazon “gatekeepers,” if you screw around once you join the party, they sure have the ability to kick your ass out.

We’re slowly moving in a direction where readers are going to pay more attention to the author and less to the publishers. If you can build a name for yourself — your author brand — you’re going to sell books. But that’s no justification for publishing anything half-assed. So sure, it’s easier for authors to be heard. But it’s also easier for them to get lost in (or contribute to) the excessive noise.

The trick will be avoiding anyone or anything that promises to make self publishing cheap or easy while learning as much as they can about book marketing and PR. Fortunately those skills can be learned and many authors these days seem too lazy to bother. That means any author willing to put in the effort has an immediate edge. And they won’t have to rely on traditional gatekeepers to open any doors for them.

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