Author, podcaster and creative entrepreneur Joanna Penn on crowdfunding her latest book project via Kickstarter

By   Hannah Bickerton 5 min read

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Jo Frances Penn writes thrillers, crime, dark fantasy — and now travel memoir — as J.F. Penn, and non-fiction for writers as Joanna Penn. She’s a New York Times and USA Today bestselling fiction author, and an award-winning podcaster and creative entrepreneur. She has two podcasts, The Creative Penn Podcast and Books and Travel.

If you’re looking to learn more about crowdfunding, download whitefox’s free guide here: The Ultimate Book Crowdfunding Guide.

Hi, Joanna. Can you tell us a bit about your latest book project Pilgrimage: Lessons Learned From Solo Walking Three Ancient Ways?

Over the last two and a half years, I’ve solo walked three multi-day pilgrimage routes to help navigate the challenges of the pandemic and my midlife mental health issues. This book is a travel memoir about my journey to recovery, but is also packed with practical tips on solo walking, as well as insights into the historical, cultural and spiritual aspects of the ways.

I’m not a Christian, but I am a seeker, and many people are called to pilgrimage at different times of their lives as a way to heal or make a change. It certainly helped me at a difficult time! 

I walked the Pilgrims’ Way from Southwark, London, to Canterbury, the route of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, as well as the St Cuthbert’s Way from Melrose in Scotland to Lindisfarne, Holy Island, and, finally, the Camino de Santiago along the Portuguese Coastal route. 

What led you to crowdfund this book project and why did you decide to use Kickstarter over other crowdfunding platforms?

Crowdfunding is a fantastic way to raise the funds to do a special print run, and I wanted to make a beautiful product to honour this book that has been years (and many kilometres!) in the making.

It can also be much more profitable than publishing on other platforms as the creator retains more of the money, as well as being able to connect directly with fans. After the campaign is over, you can publish on all the usual platforms, so it really helps the business model of book sales. Many small publishing houses also use it for projects.

Kickstarter is an established crowdfunding platform, and it’s trusted by creators and fans alike. It also has a thriving ecosystem of book-buyers, which was dramatically increased by Brandon Sanderson’s $42 million campaign in March 2022. Many independent authors are now using Kickstarter as the first part of their multi-stage launches, bringing more readers to the platform, and there is a Publishing category for buyers to find interesting books. I’ve been backing projects on Kickstarter for over a decade, so I finally decided this was a project I wanted to launch this way. 

I have a video (with transcript) on why I decided to go with Kickstarter and the benefit of publishing this way here.

What different rewards are you offering to backers that support your crowdfunding campaign and how did you come up with these?

As this is a book, the primary rewards are all book related. There is a special edition signed and numbered hardback which includes silver foil and colour interior pages, then there are unsigned editions of the hardback, paperback, and large-print editions, as well as the ebook, audiobook narrated by me, and a spiral-bound workbook. 

I have a digital bundle of the ebook, audio, and PDF workbook, as well as print bundles with the hardback. Plus a course on Writing Setting and Sense of Place, and a limited number of consulting sessions. All the details of each are included on the Kickstarter sales page, which in itself was a lot of work!

You are offering special editions of Pilgrimage, but what is it about them that makes them special and why did you choose these elements?

I usually publish my print editions through Amazon KDP Print and Ingram Spark and distribute to bookstores, libraries, and online platforms globally through them. They produce excellent quality books, and I will publish Pilgrimage through those services later in the year. 

But I wanted to do a special edition for this very personal book of my heart. I wanted to have beautiful interior colour pages, a wrap-around dust-jacket cover, and use silver foil, as well as higher-quality paper. I worked with my designer and then, who have a printing centre in Peterborough, UK, to produce the books and they will also manage the shipping. I use them for my online Shopify store,, so I am confident in their quality.

The paperback edition also has some colour photos, and I will sell all editions from my store later in the year. But the versions that go out on Amazon and Ingram won’t have the colour pages or the hardback extras.

What advice can you offer to authors looking to crowdfund their own book project?

In terms of the set-up and sales page, video, and the details of the project itself, I highly recommend Get Your Book Selling On Kickstarter by Russell P. Nohelty and Monica Leonelle, who also run a community for authors selling on Kickstarter. 

I set up and ran my campaign according to their guidelines and as I write this, Pilgrimage is 1467% funded, so it has hit its goal 14x over and still has 9 days to run.

In terms of other tips, you definitely need an audience of people who are interested in your creative work, and you need to build that before you ask them to back your project. 

I’ve been building my author platform since 2008, so I already have an existing audience for my fiction and non-fiction through my podcasts, email list, and social media. However, I was nervous because this is my first travel memoir, so I was unsure if people would be interested. It turns out enough of them are to make it a success! 

I also recommend planning the project and marketing campaign well in advance, as it is a lot of work to run a successful Kickstarter. Plus, you need to be very careful around aspects like international shipping costs, which can throw out the profitability of a campaign. 

Although it’s been a steep learning curve, I am thrilled with my Pilgrimage book and its campaign. I will definitely be doing more Kickstarter projects in the future for other special books, in addition to my usual publishing methods.

You can find Pilgrimage: Lessons Learned from Solo Walking Three Ancient Ways here on Kickstarter (until 5 Feb, 2023) and then you can find it at

If you have questions, you can tweet me @thecreativepenn or contact me here

If you’re looking to learn more about crowdfunding, download whitefox’s free guide here: The Ultimate Book Crowdfunding Guide

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.