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How To Be A Successful Writer – Tips From Joanna Penn

Be A Successful Writer – meet Joanna Penn!

B2W always says it’s worth asking those who DO the job you want … So I cracked open my little black book and contacted successful ‘authorpreneur’, Joanna Penn.

Joanna is an award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thrillers under ‘J.F.Penn’, she also writes non-fiction for authors. She’s also a podcaster and an award-winning creative entrepreneur. Her site, has been voted in the Top 101 sites for writers by Writer’s Digest.

What I love about Joanna’s advice here is it’s just as applicable for screenwriters as it is for novelists. I can relate to all her advice … I’ve literally done everything she advocates here for B2W for script reading/editing, but also my career as an author too. We need to realise our writing careers – and our ability to make £££$$$! – is in OUR hands. Let’s go …

 1) A Successful Writer THINKS Like An Entrepreneur!

Joanna says that to be a successful writer we need to undergo what she calls a ‘mindset shift’. We need to think, ‘What do I want my life to look like?’, both in the short term and the long term.

But it’s not enough to simply wish for stuff to happen, we need to make it happen. This is why we need to also think about we need to do in order to achieve those goals. The only way forwards is to set and manage our goals, evaluating them as and when we need to.

TOP TIP: If you want to be successful, you need to set and evaluate your goals and then think like an entrepreneur. MORE: Top 5 Secrets For Successful Writers

2) We Need To Work Out What We Don’t Know

Learning new things is key to being successful, but it can be difficult to work out what we don’t know. So don’t start there!  Once we have decided what we want to do and set our goals, we need to figure out HOW we do this … Which means we also need to pinpoint what skills and knowledge we are lacking.

From there, we need to figure out how to get this knowledge or skills to make our goals happen … Then undertake it! Joanna calls this ‘upskilling’.

TOP TIP: Start with your goals, then be honest about what you need to make them happen to find gaps in your knowledge and/or skills.

3) We Need Money

Lots of Bang2writers have goals, but not the means to make their ambitions happen. Joanna says a good way of making money while building your writing career is identifying a common problem or need, then offering the means to solving it. She calls this ‘The Service Model’.

Great services to offer include editing, teaching, public speaking, online courses, blogging, social media marketing, consulting. That’s just for starters! If you have a skill or area of expertise, you can monetise it in the digital age. I have done this with B2W, especially my courses like Breaking Into Script Reading.

What’s more, you can also utilise these skills or areas of expertise in other ways. Bartering or doing skills swaps can be valuable ways both parties can benefit. This is why B2W puts such an emphasis on both community and peer review via the B2W social media too. It can be a powerful way of making contacts and fostering meaningful relationships.

TOP TIP: Offer a service if you need to make money as a creative. You can also benefit from skills swaps. Make sure you still leave time to build your writing portfolio.

4) We Need To Learn The Difference

Joanna says there is a huge difference between, ‘I want to write a novel’ (or screenplay!) and ‘I want to make money with books’ (or screenplays!).

If you want to concentrate on the latter, then this is the section for you. At the time of writing, Joanna is someone who has published 28 books and made multi-six figures with her creative business last year!

She says concentrate on the following two things …

i) Who will buy them?

In the case of non-fiction, make sure your books are USEFUL. Even a niche book, like ones about writing, needs to have some kind of purpose or learning objective. (Consider the ‘solving problems’ idea Joanna talked about in the last section). Branding is a great idea. Joanna said that Creative Essentials, who publish my writing books, do a particularly good job of this. Joanna’s own non-fiction books for authors are great at this too, check them out HERE.

It’s the same with fiction. Joanna’s ten book ARKANE thriller series does everything she just described above … But instead of being USEFUL, they are ENTERTAINING. Again, learn the difference.

Spec screenplays need to be entertaining too … Producers and filmmakers want to tell GREAT STORIES, whether genre or drama.

 ii) Write books and scripts people actually WANT!

There are a lot of writers out there writing books and scripts destined to go nowhere! Just because you like the sound of a story, doesn’t mean anyone else will. That’s the bad news.

But the good news is, Joanna has some great recommendations on tools to check whether people could actually want your book. Check out the auto-population tool on the Amazon site itself, plus KDP Rocket and K-Lytics. All of these will let you know whether people are searching for books *like* yours! If they are, then you know people want it.

There are similar tools available for screenplays too. Sites like IMDBPro and ScreenDaily will tell you about scripts producers and filmmakers are buying and/or making.

TOP TIP: If you want to make money writing, remember your target audience, plus use the tools available.

5) We Need To Investigate New Models

Joanna also talked about keeping our fingers on the changing marketplace. In 2019, she believes paid advertising is a MUST for those selling books online. She recommended both Amazon advertising (for books only) and Facebook advertising (for books, webinars, courses, etc). If this means doing a course on how to do this properly, so be it (as in section 2 in this list!).

Joanna is also a big fan of Patreon. Creatives can get direct income from their patrons via this platform. Joanna supports her excellent Creative Penn podcast on Patreon and says there is a strong emotional link for her, providing content her patrons want, direct to them. You can see her page at Perhaps it might give you some ideas for how your existing fans can support your creative work.

TOP TIP:  Realise the marketplace changes, so make sure you stay up-to-date!

6) We Need To Market Properly

You don’t have to go far on social media to find creatives marketing their wares BADLY. What’s more, Joanna makes the great point that social media hasn’t always been here … There’s a strong chance the platforms many creatives take for granted may fall out of favour and DISAPPEAR. (Who remembers MySpace or BeBo??).

Joanna says the best kind of marketing is what she calls ‘attraction marketing’. The idea is, you give stuff away for free which in ATTRACTS potential customers. This blog article is an example of attraction marketing – it is giving you, the reader, useful information about how to make money as a creative.

But attraction marketing doesn’t have to *just* be useful. It could be inspiring, funny, or something else. Sometimes it can be a combination of all these things. Bang2writers have called my free ebook, How Not To Write Female Characters, all of these things!

TOP TIP: Give stuff away for free, to attract your ideal readers and customers. MORE: The Truth About Success: 30 Top Creatives Who Broke In Late 

Don’t Forget

You can find Joanna’s free Author Blueprint ebook and mini-course at and if you have any questions, ask her on Twitter @thecreativepenn.

Hope you become a successful writer! 

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2 thoughts on “How To Be A Successful Writer – Tips From Joanna Penn”

  1. 50 Cent gave stuff away for free in his career as a drug dealer and when he was starting out in rap. A lot of other types of businesses do that as well. I never thought of applying it to writing.

    I find Bang2Write and The Creative Penn really useful, thanks!

  2. Thanks for sharing! I love this post, it’s all about inspirational stories. I have also found that I can do things that I didn’t really need to do: I don’t want to get into “the next big thing”, I want to learn things and I want to learn more. I just remember that I saw an article yesterday on how to become a writer and I think it also mentions some same advice that tackled here like about using your interest as a motivation for the work.

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