#203: Joanna Penn on How to Leverage Your Writing Skills to Develop Multiple Streams of Income

When you play your cards right, you can earn more as a writer than many doctors and lawyers earn in their professions.

Crazy, isn’t it?

But if all you’re doing is providing services to clients, you’re still just trading hours for money.

In today’s podcast episode, my guest is Joanna Penn. Joanna is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. She’s also a podcaster and award-winning creative entrepreneur. Her website, TheCreativePenn.com, was voted one of the top 100 sites for writers by Writer’s Digest.

Over the past decade, Joanna has built a very lucrative business that includes multiple income streams with a compounding effect.

As a result, she’s doubled her income twice in the past few years — all without having to write for clients.

Our conversation will expand your thinking about passive income streams and spark new ideas about assets that can pay you dividends.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tell us about yourself and your business

Joanna Penn was an IT consultant for 13 years. She was earning a six-figure income but was miserable. In 2006, she started writing books. She left her day job in 2011.

Today, she has written 32 books and has two podcasts. Her website is powered by content, which drives course sales, affiliate marketing and other income streams.

You believe that writers shouldn’t just trade their time for dollars. Instead, they should create assets that generate income 24/7 through a variety of income streams. Tell us more about that

In her last five years of IT consulting, Joanna was a contractor getting paid for her hours. She started reading about copyright law and discovered that you can earn money on the things you create throughout your lifetime — and even after your death.

Once she understood this business model, she started to create recurring streams of income.

This type of income is scalable. She creates a piece of content once and then it sells again and again. Every new book she releases helps to sell her backlist.

In 2015, the income from her business surpassed the income she was getting from her day job. It has since doubled and then doubled again.

How do you know what to create or write about?

You need to stop and think strategically. Think about what you’re trying to achieve.

Different books serve different purposes. Some are for cash flow, some for lead generation and some for long-term returns.

Most of her non-fiction books are for cash flow, such as Successful Self-Publishing. It goes out of date every few years and has to be rewritten.

Some of her non-fiction books are long-term assets, such as The Successful Author Mindset. It’s evergreen and won’t go out of date.

Fiction is usually an evergreen asset. Stories don’t go out of date.

You have to decide what to create first. Figure out what you want to achieve and then set aside a chunk of time to work on it.

You could also allocate a set percentage of your work week to asset building.

Allocate a set percentage of your work week to asset building.

Joanna sets aside a block of time every morning to work on her fiction — even though she could make more money during that time doing other things. But her fiction books are assets that will generate revenue over time.

You can also turn your nonfiction content into multiple assets. For example, you can put a chapter of your book on your website to drive more traffic.

How difficult is the path to success for fiction writing?

If you want to write the great American novel, you’ll need to spend most of your life on one book.

With a traditional publisher, it takes a long time to get published. Because Joanna self-publishes, the process is shorter. Therefore, they start contributing to her baseline income more quickly.

Her first novel took about a year to write. Today, it takes her about three months to write a novel.

You have to figure out what you want to do in your life and then design a business that supports the life you want to live.

Follow what you love — but also find a business model that works for you.

Once you have a catalogue of books, you start to gain critical mass. But it takes time.

Is there still a market for information products and courses?

Anytime Joanna learns something, she turns it into a course as well as a book.

Information products and courses are brilliant — but you have to have an audience.

Joanna only creates evergreen courses. But she does market courses for other people whose content isn’t evergreen.

Affiliate sales is another income stream for her. Her nonfiction books are filled with affiliate links.

How do you build an audience for your books?

Attraction marketing and podcasting are great ways to build an audience for nonfiction content.

For fiction, you can use Facebook advertising and Amazon advertising to drive readers to your books and then build an email list of readers. But for this to work, you generally have to write books in a series and in the same genre. You need a big backlist to make decent money.

It’s easier to make money in nonfiction because you can build an ecosystem around your content.

Are there some income streams that are particularly challenging (or that we should avoid)?

When Joanna didn’t have a backlist of assets, she spent a lot of her time speaking, consulting and freelance writing.

She found traveling for the purpose of speaking engagements to be exhausting.

She also did a lot of videos a few years ago. She prefers audio and mostly sticks to that now.

You need to trust your feelings about what’s good for you. Double down on what you love to do.

It can help to focus on something that’s completely different from how you spend most of your time when you build up your backlist of assets. Pick something that’s different from your day job.

Tell us about your book, How to Make a Living With Your Writing.

This is Joanna’s best-selling book. It covers everything we talked about as well as how to self-publish.

She also has a free e-book: Successful Self-Publishing: How to Self-Publish an Ebook, Print Book and Audiobook.

Where can listeners learn more about you?


The Creative Penn podcast



Plus … whenever you’re ready, here are 4 ways I can help you grow your freelance business:

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2.  Download a free copy of my new book for writers who are NEW to freelancing.

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3.  Join my implementation program and be a case study.

I’m putting together a new implementation group this month. If you’d like to work with me to grow your income quickly with better clients (and become one of my new success stories). Just email me at [email protected] and put “Case Study” in the subject line.

4.  Work with me privately.

If you’re a 6-figure writer who’s trying to earn more in less time, with less stress, I might be able to help you get there faster than you think. Email me at [email protected] … put “Breakthrough” in the subject line and I’ll get back to you with more details.