In a recent story for IndieReader, “Self Publishing: Second Class No More,” I made the point that traditional publishing is no longer the only game in town. “Today, empowered authors are asserting greater control over their career—and driving revolutionary changes within the industry,” I wrote. British author Joanna Penn is a forward-thinking author who has taken her career into her own hands, making publishing decisions based on her own needs and career goals.
In our discussions, Joanna made some interesting points about publishing from an entrepreneurial perspective. I’ve asked her to share her story with us. Enjoy!
Terri: Would you please tell us a bit about your publishing journey to date?
Joanna: When I set out to write fiction, I wanted to create something I wanted to read myself. I like kick-ass action-adventure thrillers. I also like action movies with lots of explosions and I’m passionate about religion, psychology, and travel. Basically I wanted to write popular commercial fiction that was a cross between Dan Brown and Lara Croft and would entertain people and take them out of their lives for a time. The traditional route of querying and rejections didn’t interest me and I already had a growing online presence, so I decided to try self-publishing.
Two years later, I have two independently published thrillers in the ARKANE series which have sold over 40,000 e-book copies in the last year. They both have lots of 4+ star reviews on Amazon and they have remained in the Amazon bestseller lists in the UK for months.
Terri: You’ve been very successful publishing on your own, yet you’ve decided to go with an agent. Would you please tell us why?
Joanna: I realize that I can continue self-publishing and reach a fantastic audience with e-books. But I am also aware of the commercial potential of the books, and I want the opportunity to reach more readers through print deals as well as through different translation markets. I am keen to investigate the film/TV possibilities and that is definitely something you need an agent for. I also want to become a better writer and hope to partner with an editorial team who can stretch my writing further than the freelance editors I have employed so far.
I’m at the beginning of my author career and these are not my only ideas or the only books I will write. I see each project as something to be evaluated on its own merits. For these commercial novels, I think pursuing a publishing deal is right, but for other books, self-publishing will be the right move. I have years of writing ahead of me and I am excited to see what kind of future I can create.
Terri: How and why did you find and select your agent?
Joanna: Before I attended Thrillerfest in New York in July 2012, I had never queried my fiction. At Thrillerfest, I decided to attend the agent pitch session. An entrepreneur, I know that sales figures often speak louder than a one-page query letter. I led my pitch with my self-publishing sales figures, talked about my existing platform, and provided an overview of the books I’m working on. I had several agencies interested as a result of that pitch session; one of the agents I met invited me for coffee to talk in more detail.
After submitting full manuscripts and a week of discussions, I decided to go with Rachel Ekstrom at the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. We had a great rapport and Rachel is passionate about the potential of the books. She also has a background in marketing and understands my online platform as well as how self-publishing fits into my business model. The Irene Goodman Agency also specifically addresses self-publishing in their contract which is fantastic and forward-thinking, as today more authors play with various methods of reaching readers.
Terri: You live in the U.K. Why did you choose a U.S. agent?
Joanna: I’m based in London but I wanted a US agent for two main reasons. First, I sell a lot more e-books in the U.S. as it has a bigger market. I also think the audience likes the type of thriller I write, so getting a U.S. deal is my primary aim.
Second, in the U.S. there is a much more accepting view of authors who self-publish, and U.S. agents are open to authors who choose that route. The UK has quite a snobbish attitude about what is considered a valid writing career. Even traditionally published bestselling genre authors are considered secondary to the award-winning literary fiction authors who get a lot more press.
I know a number of authors in the U.S. who have a hybrid business model, combining traditional publishing with self-publishing—for example, Scott Sigler, CJ Lyons and Chuck Wendig. That model isn’t widespread or accepted in the UK yet but I hope to make it more prevalent.
Terri: You’ve said you won’t sign a deal that won’t allow you to continue self-publishing. Would you please tell us why?
Joanna: Publishing is a business and publishers want to sell books, as do I, but their volume of sales needs to be considerably higher than mine in order to make a profit. I am interested in seeking a traditional deal for my commercial fiction with the ARKANE series, which has a shot at meeting their objectives. I have other projects that wouldn’t be suitable for commercial publishing that I will self-publish. I have a non-fiction career-change book out now, for example, as well as some other works in the pipeline that may not fit under my commercial brand J.F.Penn: Ancient mystery, modern thrill. So the first reason to keep self-publishing is for my own creative freedom.
Second, I am an entrepreneur. I need to make a living and self-publishing works in a more financially stable manner than traditional publishing. Amazon pays monthly and because of their detailed reporting, you know how much money you will get in 60 days. It may be less money than you’d make with a traditional publisher, but it is paid monthly and continues for as long as you are selling. In my experience, the income has gone up every time I have published a book and begun marketing it. Traditional publishing is more of a spiked income model. If you sign a deal, even a six-figure deal, royalties are split over several periods and you may never see any royalties later. So I like the idea of combining the spiked income with the steady monthly income to create an overall living wage.
In the closing address of this year’s Edinburgh Festival, literary author China Mieville talked about authors needing a salary. (Scroll to the bottom, just above the last section.) By salary, I assume he means a decent monthly wage. His work is brilliant. If he self-published short stories between his traditionally published novels, I think he would find that sweet spot as well.
I see this as a potential business partnership and I am going into any negotiation with eyes wide open. I know what I can do on my own. I am looking to go further than that with any deal, but I won’t be curtailing my future freedom or income by signing any contract too fast!
J.F. Penn is the author of Pentecost and Prophecy in the ARKANE series. You can find her at http://www.JFPenn.com: Ancient Mystery, Modern Thrill. Joanna is represented by Rachel Ekstrom at the Irene Goodman Literary Agency in New York. Joanna also runs http://www.TheCreativePenn.com offering articles, videos and audio on writing, publishing and book marketing. Connect with Joanna on Twitter @thecreativepenn
Terri Giuliano Long is the bestselling author of the novel In Leah’s Wake. Her life outside of books is devoted to her family. In her free time, she enjoys walking, traveling, and listening to music. True to her Italian-American heritage, she’s an enthusiastic cook. In an alternate reality, she might be an international food writer. She lives with her family on the East Coast and teaches at Boston College.
In Leah’s Wake is her debut novel.
For more details about Terri and her book events, please visit her website: www.tglong.com, www.tglong.com/blog, Or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter: @tglong