Joanna Penn, Writer and Entrepreneur

Most writers can write books faster than publishers can write cheques’ – Richard Curtis

Like a few courageous souls, Joanna Penn decided to leave her day job to write and become an author. Not an unusual story you say? Joanna Penn is not only a writer. She is an entrepreneur that has used the tools of the 21st century to their fullest,  using the Internet and new publishing avenues offered by Amazon to self-publish two novels; Pentecost and Prophecy with a third one, Exodus, on its way to the virtual shelves. Moreover, her documented quest to become a writer on thecreativepenn.com has inspired thousands and built a legion of nearly 30,000 followers on Twitter.

The London-based author began her career as an IT consultant and when asked about her career choice following her Masters in Theology at Oxford, she mentions that ‘in order to pay off my student loan I became a Management Consultant in IT for a large firm.’ Thirteen years later and after having lived in Australia and New Zealand, Joanna Penn came back to London to launch her writing career as she was ‘desperate for some culture and London is so brilliant for that.’ If London is Joanna Penn’s home, the Internet is where her writer’s career is flourishing.

Joanna Penn’s writing baptism came with the National Novel Writing Month. The latter’s concept consists of writing 50,000 words during the month of November and in 2009, Penn decided to participate. 30 days later, Joanna Penn had ‘the seed’ of what would become her first novel, Pentecost.

Joanna Penn owes her writing genre to the author of The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown. Of him, she said:

‘Here was an author writing about religious and historical artefacts which was precisely what I wanted to write about… I wanted to use my religious and archaeological knowledge to write a kick-ass action-adventure with a female protagonist based on Indiana Jones or Lara Croft.’

Another literary inspiration for Penn is the American author James Rollins, her personal favourite, especially his religiously-inspired Sigma series and his latest novel, Bloodline.

Brown and Rollins are both Americans, but what about the rich English literary history and the many well-known authors that lived in London? The Oxford graduate mentions Sebastian Faulks’ A Week in December, written from the perspective of seven characters living in the ever moving city of London over a week, as her favourite book. ‘That book is a fantastic snapshot of London life from all ends of the spectrum.’ Joanna Penn also uses London as an inspiration in itself. ‘I can research here and be stimulated by how much literary history there is in London.’

London is blessed with landmarks, some used in Penn’s fiction. ARKANE,  the secret agency at the heart of her first three novels, is situated under Trafalgar Square. Moreover, she recommends that people visit the Freemasons Grand Lodge of England (near Aldwych) which offers free tours to the general public, something that most Londoners don’t know; the Freud Museum in Hampstead, where the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud spent the last year of his life and left a series of magnificent artefacts; and – what Joanna Penn qualifies as a gem – the John Soane Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which is filled with Egyptian artefacts and works of antiquity.

Writing is only a part of being what Penn labels as an ‘author-entrepreneur.’ This is ‘a seven day a week, 9 to 5 job and then I do the marketing online in the evening.’

The Internet is the pivotal platform of Joanna Penn’s writing career. Self-publishing was deemed ‘terrible’ before the likes of Kindle and Kobo, but now authors can receive 70% of their book sales from Amazon, compared to a mere 15-20% from traditional publishers –  according to the British born author. An increasing number of authors now combine traditional publishing and self-publishing including Penn herself who recently signed with a New York agent. ‘Technology means we can publish much faster and the income stream is totally different. Amazon pays within 60 days based on sales.’ With traditional publishing it can take up to a year to put a book on the shelves but this route may provide ‘peaks’ in sales, thus adding revenues for self-published authors.

Joanna Penn has overcome Richard Curtis’s problem of the writer enslaved to his publisher. She and writers such as E.L. James (50 Shades of Grey) have simultaneously become writers, online-marketing gurus and publishers thanks to both technology and their entrepreneurial spirit.

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