Creator Download: Joanna Penn

How something that started as a marketing exercise became a creative outlet

Joanna Penn, the force behind The Creative Penn podcast, has long been an early adopter; her foresight and infectious enthusiasm have earned her a loyal following from over fourteen years of podcasting. She’s consistently ahead of the game, being amongst the earliest independent authors to publish on Kindle, embrace selling direct, and more recently, incorporating Artificial Intelligence tools into her writing, publishing, and marketing processes. 

As a successful author, Joanna has published numerous best-selling novels (as J.F. Penn), as well as non-fiction books aimed at helping other writers succeed. Her journey, which began as a corporate professional seeking a more fulfilling creative outlet, has evolved into a thriving career that continues to impact the lives of countless aspiring creatives.

With The Creative Penn, Joanna provides a rich repository of valuable advice and inspiration for writers, artists, and creative entrepreneurs, attracting a loyal and ever-growing audience from around the world.

In this interview, Joanna talks about her podcasting process, the importance of putting yourself into your work, and where podcasting fits into her creative business.

How would you describe your podcast?

It’s weekly inspiration and information on writing, publishing, book marketing and creative business, for independently-minded writers and authors.

Why did you start your podcast?

Back in 2009, there weren't many podcasts. It wasn't even called podcasting, it was just downloadable audio back in the day. One of the entrepreneurs I followed, Yaro Starak, taught me how to make a living with blogging. He had a podcast and I really enjoyed listening to that. I didn't know anyone who was an author, and I could see that, if I had a podcast, I could interview people on my show and connect with them. 

In those early days, I would phone people on a landline and hold a recording device next to the phone. And then we moved on to Skype, and things changed over time. So it was that combination of early content marketing, plus wanting to build connections with other people, and marketing my books as well.

What advice do you wish you'd been given when you first started? 

New listeners, or new subscribers, might come for the interview, or the topic of the day, but they will stay for the host. It took me about five years to get this. It was around 2014, when a listener emailed me and said, ‘Do you think you could possibly share some more information about yourself before you get into the interview, and talk about your own writing?’ 

Some people have been listening to my show for almost fourteen years and they come back every week, because they're interested in what I'm up to. In my weekly show I give a personal take on publishing news, and then I read some comments from listeners. My advice is, put as much of yourself as you can into your podcast. I didn't know that at the beginning, I thought it was all about the guests. But even if you have a really famous person on your podcast, you might get a big spike of traffic, but then it will disappear. People come back for you, not for that famous person. 

From the business side, if you want advertising revenue, you have to get listeners coming back. Having some kind of news in your introduction is good. Interview shows and topic-based episodes are evergreen, but if you have something where people are like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to know what's happened this week’, they'll come back regularly. I'm sure that's why my listenership is consistent.

How many people does it take to create an episode of your show?

I do the vast majority of the work, and then I have a virtual assistant to help with formatting. I do the research, I do the interview, I edit the podcast, I use to edit the audio, and then put the cleaned-up audio into to transcribe. 

My assistant picks that up, formats it, and adds it to my WordPress site, Then I read through it, prepare and record the introduction, add affiliate links, and schedule the podcast. 

Do you monetize your podcast? 

Yes, it's more than a full-time income on its own. I get advertising revenue from my sponsors, and also sponsorship from my patrons on Patreon. I also get indirect revenue from book sales, courses, and affiliate income. The podcast is the engine of my nonfiction business. Podcasts definitely sell books. 

How do you promote your podcast?

It's mainly word of mouth, I've never done any advertising. Also SEO is important. You might find the website and then go to the podcast, or you might be searching on a directory and find it that way. Basically, it's content marketing. I'm very grateful for how I was trained by Yaro Starak, because he always emphasized using a transcript for SEO. Then Google started indexing audio too. And of course, Spotify indexes audio and YouTube indexes audio now. So all of my podcast content is now indexed. 

What have you learned about yourself since starting a podcast?

I think when I started, I didn't know how much I would enjoy creating audio content. I'm an author and a writer first, but now I consider my podcast to be part of my creative body of work. And in fact, it reaches more people than my books. The podcast has had over 8.3 million downloads, across 228 countries, and it's only 175 countries that have bought my books. Many more people are impacted by the podcast than by my writing, which I think is fascinating. What I started for marketing reasons has now become a way that I enjoy creating in itself. I’ve also gotten into audiobook narration, because now I just use my voice more. 

Who listens to your podcasts? 

Authors and writers. That means traditionally published and independent authors who write fiction and nonfiction from around age 30 to over 80 years old. My listenership is worldwide, but it’s primarily from US, UK, Australia, Canada and Germany.

What was the last podcast that you listen to?

Hard Fork with Kevin Roose and Casey Newton. It's a tech podcast, and this episode is on ChatGPT 4. It’s a New York Times podcast, and they're funny guys. Kevin Roose wrote FutureProof, a book about AI, and it’s always an insightful show.