Resources and tips for the self-published author.

Virtual Reality in Books, Role of Publishers, and More! 5 Questions with Joanna Penn

by Samantha Knoerzer •  April 1, 2015  •   Follow SamanthaKnoerze

Published in Interviews  •  20 comments

We’re super excited to have bestselling author/entrepreneur Joanna Penn as our guest today for our 5 Questions Series. The 5 Question Series focuses on interviews with the people who are changing the face of book publishing now.

Joanna (pen name J.F.Penn) shares how she embarked on her self-publishing journey, why she’s really excited about virtual reality and more!

Joanna Penn

1) Tell us about your background and how you embarked on your self-publishing journey?

I have a Masters degree in Theology from the University of Oxford where I specialised in the psychology of religion. This didn’t lead to a job, but happily, I’ve been able to use those interests more recently in my ARKANE thriller series!

After Oxford, I spent 13 years as a business consultant in Europe and Asia Pacific, implementing Accounts Payable systems into large corporates and smaller companies – essentially, I was a cubicle slave like so many others. Even though I was well paid and travelled internationally, plus I had a house and a car and everything you are meant to want … I still felt unfulfilled. In 2005, I started mainlining self help books and then started researching my first book (which I later rewrote as Career Change). I was missing the aspect of creation in my life and that was my first tentative step.

When I finished that first book, I discovered that publishing was another journey entirely, and I found the industry to be far too slow for my entrepreneurial and impatient personality. So I self-published, which in 2007 was essentially about a small scale print run and online PDFs. There was no international Kindle, no KDP and no Createspace, although these services were in their infancy in the US. Mark Coker had also just started Smashwords around that time, sparked by the same impatience with the industry. I also discovered that once you had a book, nobody actually cared and the only way to sell anything was to learn about marketing.

So I started blogging at in Dec 2008 as a way to share my journey so that others could save time, money and heartache on the journey to becoming an author. That led to more non-fiction books and in 2011, I published my first novel and began to write more fiction.

I’ve recently turned 40, and in looking back at the last 10 years, it is amazing to me how much my life has changed. I hope that encourages people because it’s just about little steps every day, every week, that make the difference. It is possible to go from cubicle slave to author entrepreneur!

2) What do you think is the one thing missing right now in book publishing?

A book discovery engine to rival Amazon’s algorithms. Goodreads goes some of the way but, of course, it’s now owned by Amazon. User generated content needs to be a core part of whatever the solution is as other rival platforms have fallen by the wayside because they have tried manual curation or only working with big publishing, leaving indies and readers out of the equation.

I would also like to see ACX going global so authors, narrators and producers outside the US and UK can work together, as well as similar solutions for translation markets that have better terms than Babelcube.

3) What role do you see publishers playing in the changing landscape of book publishing?

I used to think that all authors could be entrepreneurial and run their own business, but I’ve discovered over time that many authors don’t actually want to do that side of things. So publishers will play more of a brokerage and project management role for editing, design and marketing services, as well as doing the actual technical side of publishing when authors don’t want to, or can’t, do it themselves. Entrepreneurial agents are also starting to do this too.

There is definitely a role for publishers with an entrepreneurial, partnership approach, and I hope to work with more of them myself, especially around translations, gaming, virtual reality applications and other things that are outside my indie bandwidth. I also think publishers will increasingly niche down, building email lists around micro-genres that will enable a marketing platform for authors which may be worth giving up a royalty percentage for.

4) Share something about yourself that most people who read dont know.

I’m incredibly short-sighted. I started wearing glasses at aged 11 and transitioned to contact lenses when I was 20. I only wear my glasses before bed, when I am sick or when flying, so most people never see me with glasses – and they probably wouldn’t recognise me with them on! I love my contact lenses and I actually feel like a different person when wearing glasses. I’m looking forward to the Google Glass equivalent. I’ve lost that flinch reflex in my eyes so I would be more than happy wearing smart lenses – bring it on!

5) What are some of your predictions for 2015?

A massive growth in audiobooks off the back of Apple CarPlay and Google Auto, which mean that streaming audio will be built into all new car models. This also means that podcasting for marketing and platform building will continue to grow.

I’m also really excited about virtual reality and the growth of communities that will emerge on High Fidelity and other platforms. This is more likely to be 2017 before we see real applications for authors. If that interests you, check out this article I wrote about the future of discoverability and publishing with VR. And if you want to glimpse further into the future, I highly recommend the book, BOLD by Peter Diamandis.

Bonus Question: What’s your favorite book of all time?

That’s a tough one for any avid reader. I generally read 3-5 books per week and most of my entertainment/education/inspiration budget is on books!

So I’m going to defer on that one and offer you two lists of books instead:

More on Joanna Penn:


Joanna Penn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thrillers under J.F.Penn. She also writes inspirational non-fiction for authors and is an award-winning creative entrepreneur and international professional speaker. Her site, is regularly voted one of the top 10 sites for writers and self-publishers. Connect on twitter @thecreativepenn.



About Samantha Knoerzer

I am the Social Media Coordinator and Author Relations Manager for BiblioCrunch. And I love to read, OF COURSE! From the classics to YA and children's, you can find me reading it all. I have a masters in publishing from NYU's Print and Digital Media Studies masters program, and have undergraduate degrees in music, marketing, and english. I have a passion for reading, music, and travel. My goal is to travel to as many places around the world as possible. If you need to find me, you can catch me traveling all around the world at any chance I get – always with a book in hand!