The ideas that she offers are illuminating, not only for the authors who self-publish themselves, but also for the vision she shares with other professionals in the world of publishing, including editors, translators and marketers.
If other big names in international self publishing follow, this may be a signal that the Italian book market has a chance to recover from the crisis in which it has fallen. This recovery will not be in the hands of those who have managed publishing in the past but to the independent publishers and self publishers of the future.
Self Publishing School Director
Self Publishing School: Hi Joanna, you're well known in the worldwide selfpublishing tribe, can you please give some short hints about your career in writing and why you selpublished? (even with some numbers)
Joanna Penn: I was a business consultant for 13 years, working in Europe and Asia Pacific, and despite it being a good job, well paid, with travel perks, I was very unhappy. I wanted to understand how I could have a job many considered to be a ‘success,’ but still not be content. So I started studying self-help and career books and wrote my first book, How To Enjoy Your Job back in 2008 (now rewritten as Career Change). I sent off one query letter to an agent and had a one-line rejection, and it was at that point I decided to go ahead and self-publish.
I don’t like asking for permission. I like to move fast and get things done, and I knew I could do it myself. That first time, before Kindle, before KDP, before print on demand was mainstream, I made a lot of mistakes – I only sold about 100 books of a 2000 book print run and the rest went in the landfill. It was at that point I knew that I needed to learn about marketing, and I began the process that led me to start TheCreativePenn.com and to ‘learn on the job’ about being an author-entrepreneur.
I left my day-job in September 2011, and am now a full time author, speaker and entrepreneur. I have 11 books out, most in ebook, print and audiobook format, as well as books in German, Spanish and now Italian. I write thrillers with an edge of the supernatural, as well as inspirational non-fiction. I’m a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author with over 250,000 books sold.
Self Publishing School: Can you tell us something about your last novel "Profanazione" and specifically why you decided to go into italian market (as a self publisher!). We know that our market by numbers if small in respect to the english market. Are you sure to return on the investment for translation?
Joanna Penn: Profanazione opens with a murder in an anatomical specimen museum in central London. Detective Jamie Brooke joins up with Blake Daniel, a reluctant psychic, to investigate the case and they find themselves embroiled in grave-robbing, body modification and the genetic engineering of monsters. The full blurb and book trailer are here: http://www.jfpenn.com/profanazione
Translation for self-publishers is a bleeding edge activity right now, but I have a very global focus in my business so I was keen to investigate how it could be done. I started talking about doing royalty split deals with translators and invited people to contact me if they were interested in working on that basis. I was so lucky that Virginio B. Sala, an experienced author and translator, enjoyed the book and wanted to give it a go. I love Italy and have traveled there a lot, so it features in a number of my other books and our family has ties to Sardinia. All of this meant that the Italian language was worth pursuing even though the market is small.
Virginio and I discussed the possibility that the book would sell hardly any copies at all, but we both agreed it was worth a try. Successful self-publishers these days are all about experimentation, and although the ebook market is small in Italy right now, perhaps it will grow over time!
Self Publishing School: With our Self Publishing School we coach and train many writers to market their work. Can you tell us what are the main steps you take to promote one of your work? When do you start? And what is the MOST IMPORTANT THINGS you take care about?
Joanna Penn: With fiction, the most important things are resonating with the target audience for the book. Mysteries and thrillers are popular throughout the world, and my books have an edge of the supernatural which make them mainstream fiction, with a darker edge. The book cover and the description as well as your metadata on the self-publishing systems, e.g. keywords, categories etc are critical. Pricing is also a marketing tool, so we are using free days on KDP Select to kickstart the algorithms for Profanazione.
Writing more books is another key aspect as more shelf space means more discoverability options, but this is harder with translations, as the translator must feel it is worthwhile to continue.
Then you have as much content marketing as you can handle! If you’re marketing in your native language, you can do interviews, blogging, social media, podcasts, video, press and anything else you can think of.
I think it’s best to reframe marketing as sharing what you love with people who are interested in hearing about it. Then take that as a long term attitude and incorporate marketing aspects into your life e.g. taking a photo a day that has nothing to do with your book and posting it on one of the social networks.
Self Publishing School: Many italian self publisher look very interested (me too!) at the english market for their work, in order to reach a global audience. Can you tell what are the main concerns about going globally?
Joanna Penn: If you’re marketing in a language that isn’t easy for you, or that you don’t speak at all, you need a marketing partner. Google Translate will only go so far! You will need help with more than just the book itself if you’re working with a translator, for example, the book blurb, keywords and information for your newsletter will all need translating.
On the other hand, it may give you an advantage for marketing. For example, there are plenty of Italian-Americans, or Italian-Australians, who are interested in books that feature the country of their heritage. Blogs and social media personalities may be interested if you use that angle for marketing. Plus, you have some of the most famous landscape and architecture in the world, so you could do videos that people want to watch for that alone, or use pictures in your marketing. There are lots of ways to make being Italian work to your advantage.
Self Publishing School: What is your specific marketing plan for "Profanazione" in Italy?
Joanna Penn: The marketing plan will always be limited for a first book in a language not one’s own! In fact, if you only have one book in any language, it will always be harder to market than a more established author with more books. Time in the market and number of books means a lot so this is not a spike marketing plan, more of a long term approach to my career which hopefully will last another 50 years!
But we are doing a few things!
Although I am not a fan of exclusivity for my English books, we are using KDP Select for Profanazione, which means that we can take advantage of some promo opportunities. Profanazione is free from 26 - 30 August, so hopefully people will try it, review it and perhaps sign up for the Italian email list so they can be notified of the next book in the series. This will get the book moving in the Amazon algorithms, critical for automatic recommendations and appearing in the also-bought section of the site.
We’ve also done a book trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOEObItdPFA and a video about the research behind the book https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAQ8I-ZRTso that we hope will pique people’s interest. There’s also a SlideShare version of the research video: http://www.slideshare.net/JFPenn/profanazione
Once we get the print book completed in the next couple of weeks, we will be reaching out to book bloggers and doing a giveaway. And of course, if anyone would like a review copy, please do contact me!
I’m also reaching out to my contacts and attempting to learn more about how to reach readers in Italian, so the plan will evolve over time. The aim will be to build the fans of the series over time, so more books are definitely on the way.