I have a VERY special treat for you today. Jane Friedman, former publisher of “Writer’s Digest” and publishing industry expert, agreed to a Q&A for “Rogue Writer.”
Jane took time from her busy schedule to answer 10 questions, so that I may feed her expertise to you. Jane, thank you for your honesty, humility, and willingness to teach. SO, here it is:
You’re only 34 (according to your blog), and you’re already the former publisher of Writer’s Digest and a visiting professor of e-media at the University of Cincinnati. How did you reach such success so early?
It’s not talent or smarts. The conclusion I’ve come to is that it has been about these 3 things:
1. Being extraordinarily focused and stable in my career direction. I stayed in one place for a long time (F+W Media, 12 years). I outlasted a lot of other people and gained more responsibility as the years passed. I focused on developing my skills in a very specific area, and I didn’t waste energy on anything but that one, single passion: publishing (or: writing/editing).
2. Being dedicated and consistent. This is nearly the same as No. 1, but relates to what I pushed out to the world, or my external-facing career. When I started a blog, it wasn’t immediately successful. But I stuck with it, and I improved my skills. Same with speaking at events, same with Facebook, same with Twitter, same with other stuff that isn’t yet fruitful. Not every effort can be a winning one, but most ventures require patience for them to pay off. Given that we live in an environment of instant gratification, people who can see things through are often the ones who get a return on their time and energy.
3. Being aware of trends & industry. I’ve always loved reading news and opinions about the publishing industry. I seek out stories about who’s succeeding, or who’s pushing the envelope. When you read trend stories year after year after year, even if you can’t articulate it, you’re learning something fundamental about how the industry operates, and where it’s going. You’re soaking up the DNA of the industry, the texture and context of every decision, success and failure.
There’s been a lot of growing interest in the self-publishing industry. Recently, the Huffington Post reported that eBook sales are up 116 percent, while paperback sales are down 31 percent. What’s your take on this trend?
It will only accelerate, and eventually most people will read e-books. Paper books won’t die, but they’ll become more like the vinyl record.
What are your TOP THREE pieces of advice for writers just starting in the self-marketing/self-publishing world?
1. You have to be focused like a laser beam on what your message is (or what you stand for) and who you’re trying to reach. Too many writers haven’t identified their genre or key readership, and that quickly leads to meaningless or wasted marketing and promotion efforts.
2. You have to be patient. I’ve had writers ask me, after 2 weeks of writing a blog, or after 1 month of participating on a community: Why am I not seeing results? Well, that’s because it takes time to build reputation, authority, and trust. It doesn’t happen overnight. Most people give up before their effort pays off.
3. You have to be service-oriented. No one cares that you’ve written and released a book. People want to know what’s in it for THEM. Always make that clear, and always be focused on serving and helping others. This attitude also helps you avoid you appearing like a smarmy shill for your work. Be a person, not a constant all-day marketer.
What about for writers choosing the more traditional route–through publishing houses? What’s your best advice (top three tips) for them?
Those other 3 tips still apply, but I can add these 2 tips as well.
1. Treat your agent and publisher as professional partners, but not as caretakers. They will not take care of you. They are too busy looking out for themselves. They’re treating it like a business, and you should too.
2. Be very clear on what your publisher is doing to market and promote your book. Get specifics, and be proactive in partnering with them. Don’t wait for them to come to you. They can help amplify your own marketing efforts.
What inspires YOU to write?
All the little things that keep me up at night. Memories and past experiences that I replay in my head, because they are still unresolved in my heart. The dilemmas that we face when we have to choose between 2 cherished values. How it is that we deeply hurt the people who most love and care for us.
Do you ever suffer burnout and/or Writer’s Block? If so, how do you combat it?
Not really. But if I’m feeling tired, uninspired, and listless, if I stay offline for 12-24 hours, and spend time with friends, that will do the trick.
I’m very consistent. I’ve been around since April 2008, and I stay focused on writing and publishing topics, for an audience of writers. Word gets around when you do quality work, and I try to keep delivering day after day.
Tell me about a discouraging time in your professional life and how you overcame it (i.e. rejections from literary agents or magazines, not getting a job, no one giving you a chance, etc.).
The most discouraging time was when my insight and expertise on important issues were disregarded by my superiors, and I was asked to support and promote what I didn’t believe in. I never overcame it. So I left.
What’s your favorite aspect of your work today?
I love developing content and curriculum—whether for Writer’s Digest (online and in print) or for my students, in the classroom. I love to help, teach, and serve. And I’m very lucky I can focus on that exclusively now.
Can you share a few recommendations of other experts in the writing and publishing industry, whom it might be beneficial to follow?
Yes, I highly recommend Christina Katz, Dan Blank, Guy Gonzalez, and Robert Brewer.
Jane recently released a new ebook, “The Future of Publishing: Enigma Variations.” It’s only $1.99 and “consists of 14 variations or brief insights on what the future of publishing holds.” When you have a moment, feel free to check it out!
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