Friday, November 9, 2012

Author Interview: Joanna Penn, author of the ARKANE thrillers

Author Interview: Joanna Penn, author of the ARKANE thrillers.

You are in for a treat with this one.  Joanna Penn is amazing!  I am a huge fan, not only of her terrific Arkane series, but also of her blog and podcast,  Joanna has given hours of her time to help other writers achieve their goals and dreams, and I, as one of them, can’t say enough about how much I appreciate her efforts.  I was absolutely thrilled when she agreed to be interviewed because she has so much great information. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

About her:
Joanna Penn is the author of the ARKANE thrillers, Pentecost and Prophecy. Read more at  Joanna is also an entrepreneur and professional speaker. Her site for writers  has been voted one of the Top 10 sites for writers 2 years running and offers articles, audio and video on writing, publishing and book marketing. Connect with Joanna on twitter @thecreativepenn

You started out as an IT consultant, what made you want to switch to being a writer?  What was your motivation?

Joanna Penn: I always wanted to be an author but for many years I was blocked by thinking I had to write literary fiction, and prize-winning sentences. When the penny dropped that writing books of other genres was absolutely fine, then I started finally to express myself.
In terms of switching, I spent 13 years as an IT consultant and it was soul-destroying work where nothing ever remained, and certainly there was little of anything creative or joyful in it. I wanted to spend my time building something for the future, entertaining people, inspiring people and creating assets for my own business, not someone else’s. 

Here’s a longer answer on how I went from affirmation to reality over a four year period.  

Your Arkane series is a riveting thrill ride; can you give me any tips on creating a suspenseful thriller?

Joanna Penn: I think modeling success is critical. I deconstructed a successful thriller by one of my favorite authors, James Rollins in order to learn how the structure worked. I made a spreadsheet and for every scene, I wrote down the first sentence, last sentence, what happened, the pacing, how many pages it was, whose point-of-view it was and basically tried to understand how the book worked. A few things clicked for me after that, like writing in scenes which revolutionized my thinking and book construction. 
So I’d advise you to do that with a book you want to emulate. 

Where do you get your ideas for writing? I would imagine you do a lot of research.

Joanna Penn: I love researching and I read a lot of non-fiction which informs my writing. For example, I’m just reading ‘Stiff’ by Mary Roach which is about cadavers and what happens to bodies when they’re donated for medical research or embalmed. I’m combining some of that material with ‘The Knife Man’ by Wendy Moore which is about John Hunter, one of England’s greatest anatomists in the time of the resurrection men, when they dug up bodies for medical dissections. This is for my NaNoWriMo novel, not one of my ARKANE books. 

But basically, I get my inspiration from my non-fiction reading, across religion and psychology mainly, and then also from travel, architecture and art history, some of my obsessions. 

Your website, is one of my favorite website and packed filled with advice for authors on marketing their books, can you give me three of your favorite tips on marketing?

 Joanna Penn:
(1)        Marketing is sharing what you love with people who want to hear about it. If you use that attitude as your guiding star, you will never spam anyone again and it works across any of the tools available. 

(2)        Attract people through being interesting, inspiring or entertaining. For example, posting pictures of your research on your blog or Pinterest, sharing news stories related to your book or your niche on twitter.

(3)        Email marketing is still the most effective, so develop relationships with your fans through a list gathered by asking people to sign up at the back of your books. 

I started listening to the Creative Penn Podcast a few years ago and anxiously await each new episode.  I understand interviews and recordings take loads of time, what is it that keeps you doing your podcast, and what benefits have you seen from starting it? 

Joanna Penn: I started the podcast when I was a newbie writer, blogger and entrepreneur. I knew nothing so I wanted to learn from others so I started the podcast as a way to get interviews from knowledgeable people. That is still my driving force, so I try to interview people who I want to hear from on topics that I am still learning about. So one benefit is learning, or to challenge my own thoughts.
Another benefit is relationships, with the interviewees who I spend 45 minutes on the phone with and often end up being friends with, as well as the mutual marketing that happens when you cross-promote other people. It’s kind of social karma, kind of relationship marketing, and also has a benefit for the audience.
All in all, it’s a win-win for everyone which is why I continue to podcast! 

There are over 140 episodes now and you can find the back-list here: 

Last question, what bit of advice can you give to an author struggling to get their work noticed, whether it be by agents, publishers, or readers?

Joanna Penn: We all struggle to be noticed, and probably the biggest thing is:
a)         do something
b)         keep doing it over time 

I’ve been blogging, tweeting, podcasting, videoing, etc. for 4 years and really it took several years before anyone knew I existed and my fiction is still at the bottom of the pile!
It’s about consistency over time, keep delivering quality work in whatever niche you’re in and slowly, things will happen. 

If you want more detail on this, then I really recommend Michael Hyatt’s great book “Platform: Get Noticed In A Noisy World” or I have lots of free marketing info here:
Joanna thanks again for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this for me.  I really do appreciate it. So much good advice and tips!


  1. I still don't know what a podcast is, but just as soon as I leave this comment, I'll click over to the link (above) and check it (them?) out. I hope it gives me an idea on how to shed my introverted skin or I'll never "get noisy" about my writing.

    Great post!

    1. Debra, once you discover podcast you will be hooked. They are like mini writer's conferences you can listen to in your pajamas. There are so many with such great advice. happens to have one of the best.

  2. So many good tips here. Thanks for introducing me to Joanna.


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