Q&A: Jane Friedman, Former ‘Writer’s Digest’ Publisher, Tells All

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:

Please welcome Jane Friedman, former publisher of "Writer's Digest" and publishing industry expert. Check out Jane's new ebook, "The Future of Publishing: Enigma Variations" (link at end of article).
1) SHARI: 
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.
Your site (JaneFriedman.com) says your award-winning blog, “There Are No Rules,” receives around 55,000 visits a month. How did you grow it to be so successful?
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.
9. SHARI: 
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.
10. SHARI:
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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I don’t care for the word ‘blog’

I recently began a networking project with three other professional writers. And let me tell you, these ladies have a LOT of great advice to offer.

Therefore, I’ve invited each one to write a guest post for “Shari Lopatin: Rogue Writer.” Throughout the next few weeks, I’ll introduce each one to you. I encourage you to visit their sites, maybe even follow their blogs.

Today, please welcome Texas writer, V.V. Denman–who first caught my attention with a hilarious post about book-throwing to get the attention of literary agents. I recommend visiting her site, as she has a lot more great content to share:

I don’t care for the word blog.

Personal preference, but it just sounds weird. And it’s not even appropriately descriptive.

It makes me think of blob, flog, blood, bog and flop.

File:Bleeding finger.jpg File:Flogger 02.JPG File:Soggy field - geograph.org.uk - 883524.jpg

All of those words conjure negative thoughts in my otherwise happy little head.

Blog rhymes with dog, frog, hog, sog and clog, all of which can be undesirable.

File:Frog eye closeup.jpg File:Military dog barking.JPG File:Guinea Hog Norfolk.jpg

Can’t we call this thing we do something that makes us sound better, not worse?

If I tell someone, “I’m a blogger.” It sounds like I’m a logger/booger mix.

In case you can’t get that visual image out of your head, I’ll give you this photograph of loggers, but spare you the one of the booger.

File:Loggers klaralven.jpg

What’s a nice normal noun we could use to describe ourselves?

The term writer would work, but that’s somewhat overused.

I checked the online thesaurus, but apparently it’s not comfortable with blogger either. The word isn’t listed. So we’re on our own.

How about internet information recorders? Or daily keyboard scribblers? Or online diary makers? Or just public ramblers?

What about you?

What would you like to be called?


V.V. Denman is a Christian writer from North Texas. When she’s not feverishly typing at her keyboard, she’s rolling her eyes at her husband’s corny jokes or laughing with her five children. Her two dreams in life are to raise said children to be responsible adults, then maybe, just maybe get a bit of her writing published. Visit her at vvdenman.com.
Photo Credits: Jabba the Hut – Sideshow Collectibles / Bloody finger – Wikimedia Crystl via Flickr / Flogger – Wikimedia Henna / Soggy Field – Wikimedia Alan Murray-Rust / Frog – Wikimedia renwest via Flicker / Drain Out – Buy.com

5 Killer Twitter Tips: Expand Your Network Power!

I used to hate Twitter. No, seriously–I did.

Until I discovered its networking power. Less than six months ago, I opened my account. I initially had six followers, most of whom were personal friends. I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out how some people had 1,000 followers, yet only followed 300.

Now, I’ve not only helped build my company’s Twitter account to that status, but I’ve reached nearly 300 followers myself. Recently, I hit a personal landmark: more people are following me, than I follow others.

How have I managed to build this growing social media presence? Here are 5 killer Twitter tips that will help you develop your presence into a powerhouse:

1. Don’t make your tweets about you; make them about everyone else. People are selfish creatures. So, what makes you think they’ll care about YOUR blog post? They won’t. But they WILL care about improving their own presence on Twitter (hey, you’re on my blog, reading my stuff, aren’t you?).

2. Ask questions. If you wrote a cool blog post on how gardening inspired your creativity, your tweet could look like this: “How can gardening help YOU become more creative?” Then link to your post. Questions tease people’s curiosity.

3. Always, always thank or acknowledge your new followers. If you choose not to follow certain people or entities back, fine. Be prepared, they may not stick around. However, they’ll be more likely to keep following you if they see you’ve acknowledged their presence.

4. Be an information forum. Choose who you follow wisely–the experts in your field of practice. C’mon, you know who they are.  THEN, let them feed you information, and you can  tweet it to your followers. Your news will be coming from legit sources, and people will turn to you as an expert in the field.

5. Tweet often, but remember: it’s better to tweet fewer solid tweets, than many useless tweets.

Social media is a time investment. The tools may be free, but becoming an online sensation doesn’t happen overnight. Your community will build slowly, but, it will build. Just keep at it, and you’ll reap the rewards.

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The Curse of Knowledge–Do You Have It?

I bet Adam and Eve never saw this phrase coming thousands of years after that dang apple.

Google Images
Nevertheless, here it is: The Curse of Knowledge.

“What in God’s name is she talking about?” you might ask. Well, it’s the golden piece of advice for any writer OR business owner trying get a message to the public.

What is the Curse of Knowledge?

You cannot summarize the curse of knowledge in one sentence. It’s an idea, an understanding.

Think of this: Have you ever listened to a doctor describe a diagnosis, and every term they used scrambled your brains? Or perhaps, a lawyer’s “jargon talk”confused your understanding of a topic even more.  

This doctor, or lawyer, was so engrossed in his or her field of specialty, that upon talking to YOU–an outsider–he or she FORGOT how much they know. Consequently, you did not understand or fully absorb their message or information.

This is the curse of knowledge. And every professional deals with it.

Break the curse!

Journalists know about the dreaded curse. They are some of the foremost experts in taking something complicated, and breaking it down. The result? The average reader can absorb the information.

How can you learn this skill?

First and foremost, self-awareness is key. If you know the curse exists, try to identify when it reveals itself. Here are some other techniques you can use to break the curse:

1) Ask yourself, “Could a 5th-grader understand what I’m trying to explain?” If not, go back and simplify. (Hint: Layman’s terms)

2) Ask a colleague or acquaintance OUTSIDE your field of specialty to review your article, or blog, or video, etc. Then, ask what message they took away. If it’s not what you wanted to convey, you know the curse struck.

3) Your communications are littered with jargon. This is very typical in business or corporate writing. If you’re writing for your executives, then fine. However, if you’re writing to encourage the average person to take action (whether it’s to buy something or donate their time), this type of communication will turn people away.

So tell me, have you been struck with the curse of knowledge? And how did you overcome it?

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Are You Platinum-Worthy?

I am finally a person.

After all these years, my bank has deemed me “Platinum-worthy,” at last. I received my new debit card via mail the other day. Not because I ordered it, but because my other three-year-old card expired March 1.

Google Images

Here’s a little secret though: I didn’t even know Platinum debit cards existed.

I’m not quite sure what makes me Platinum-worthy. I don’t even own a credit card. Is it because I’ve been a loyal customer since 2003? Or perhaps the fact I’m finally a homeowner? Maybe, since I’ve broken my record of longest-held job (three years!), my bank said, “NOW she’s a grown-up. Send her the silver!”

Regardless, I now know I’ve made it to the “middle class,” even if I’m at the bottom.

Here’s my question to you

I know this particular post may not be writer-related, but I thought it was worth writing about. Therefore, here are some questions to consider, even for writers:

Do you think you’re “Platinum-worthy?” Why or why not? How do you think these labels define, or even separate, a society? And can they have positive effects, such as incentives to work harder and succeed?

Finally, for my WRITERS . . . how might these questions develop into a deeper theme for a story?

Barnes & Noble Welcomes Self-Published Writers? Yup!

For the first time ever, self-published authors may have a shot at placing their books on the shelves of Barnes and Noble–so to speak.

Google Images

This news, reported in a Feb. 24 article published by GalleyCat on Mediobistro.com, comes right as Borders announced it’s filing for bankruptcy. According to the article, Barnes and Noble opened its doors to writers using the PubIt! self-publishing program.

Just to make sure this was a legit report, I hopped onto Barnes and Noble’s corporate website. Sure enough, there sat the official press release, “More than 11,000 Independent Publishers and Self-Publishing Authors Bring Their Digital Works to Barnes & Noble’s PubIt!™ Publishing Platform.”

How does PubIt! work?

Personally, I’d never heard of PubIt! Therefore, I followed the link to this program from the Barnes and Noble press release. Here’s what I found:

  • PubIt! appears to be Barnes and Noble’s self-publishing platform for eBooks.
  • It launched four months ago, according to the press release.
  • The website for PubIt! states there is no cost to use the service.
  • According to the PubIt! service policies, “the publisher will set a List Price for each eBook between $0.99 and $199.99.”
  • It also appears, from the service policies, the publisher will be paid royalties off the List Price.
  • I personally found the site and platform easy to use, from my brief time poking around.

What does this mean for writers?

This is a huge paradigm shift for publishers and writers. Can lesser known, self-published authors now compete with major names such as Nora Roberts, Dan Brown and Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants)? Do publishing houses and literary agents hold the same weight as they used to? Or can any marketing-savvy writer now make his or her way into the world of publishing and take the literary audience by storm?

Here’s another scenario to consider: perhaps this is a way for giant, Barnes and Noble, to tap into the huge market of self-published writers. Is this just a ploy to make money, while the real edge still remains in the hands of major publishing houses?

Take a moment and contemplate. Then tell me: what do you think?

Colon Hydrotherapy in Your Backyard

The light couldn’t turn green fast enough as I sat in my car, jaw clenched in horror, staring at the awkward, hand-painted sign protruding from the side of the road.

Google images

“Colon hydrotherapy in your backyard. Call . . .”

I took a mental note of that number–to avoid it at all costs. Only in my neighborhood.

First of all, I don’t know too much about colon hydrotherapy, or exactly how it works. And I’m a health writer.

But the thought of learning the answer to those questions–in my own backyard, nonetheless–was enough to keep me awake in fear for the next few nights. By the end of the week, the sign was gone. Gee, I wonder why?

I began contemplating then. Does one need a license to perform such an immaculate procedure? Perhaps, should something of this nature be executed in the sterile confounds of–say–a medical clinic?

Apparently, no. At least in Laveen, Ariz.

Don’t look far for writing ideas

I’ve often come across individuals who believe they have no solid material for good writing. After all, they haven’t traveled the world and lived among the Aborigines.

However, some of our best ideas come from within, or right next door. I live a seemingly uneventful life to anyone who knows me:

Car, house, cat, boyfriend, 9-5 job. Yada yada yada.

But, I live in a neighborhood where the local pre-teens play a solid game of streetball Sunday afternoon, while my cowboy neighbors click-clock down my block on their horses. And, the company with whom I share the confines of a vicinity feel the need to advertise their colon hydrotherapy services on the side of the road.

Hmmm. If I were Larry David, I’d have the premise for my next Seinfeld episode.

When it all boils down, the best writers are those who OBSERVE their surroundings. What do you observe, and how has it helped your writing?

4 Ways a Journalist Can Help Creative Writers

A creative writer once referred to me as a “writing scientist.”

I laughed at the time. But the more I think of it, as a journalist, I am a writing scientist. My degree is a Bachelor of SCIENCE in Journalism. There is a science to being a reporter, but over the years, I’ve discovered there is more of a science to writing.

My career has revolved around journalism (I started as a newspaper reporter), and more recently, writing for marketing and social media. Yet my roots are engrained in creativity. I’ve returned to those roots lately and discovered how my “writing scientist” background actually improves my creative writing.

Here are five ways a journalist’s training can help any creative writer improve his or her work:

1. Intrigue the reader immediately in 30 words or less.

In journalism, we’re trained to write a “lead” to every story. That’s the first sentence–it’s also the first paragraph–and it must be 30 words or less. But most importantly, the lead must catch the reader’s curiosity. If not, we lose that person for good.

Creative writers have the same task, but for different reasons. They want people to read their stories. However, if people are not enticed at the beginning, will they keep reading? I can think of countless books I’ve brushed aside because the beginning bored, or dragged, or “eased me” into the story.

Creative writers should start their novels and/or short stories the way journalists begin their articles: intriguing, and in 30 words or less.

2. Keep the story moving–don’t linger too long.

The average reader loses interest in an article after 500 words. Therefore, journalists need to cram as much information into those few paragraphs as possible, while keeping the story interesting.

Creative writers have more leeway. However, still keep the story moving. Writers will lose the reader’s sense of excitement if they spend too long describing a setting, or the way a character looks. Get the information in, then keep the story moving along.

3. Is the story newsworthy (a.k.a. unusual)?

A reporter will not write an article about a firefighter who saves a cat stuck in a tree. It’s cliché, and it’s nothing new. Yet, a journalist will write a story about a dog that saves a cat from a tree.

Why? It’s unusual.

And the bottom line is this: people want to read stories that are out-of-the-ordinary. Whether it’s in a newspaper, or a novel, this rule applies. Creative writers need to really think about their story. Has this been done before, in this way?

4. Write in Layman’s terms.

The average American reads at a 4th-5th grade level. Now, I’d imagine those who choose to read literary works of genius read at higher levels (I’d hope). Yet, if a creative writer explores a subject not known to the general public, make sure to explain what all those odd words mean.

Additionally, sometimes writing in Layman’s terms makes a story more entertaining to read. Complicated vocabulary doesn’t necessarily translate into better literature (ever listen to a PR hack blab for some company or politician?). What does equal better writing, however, is sentence structure and word choice.

With that in mind, good luck!

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Write for a Cause! ‘Writers for the Red Cross’ Launching

(Used with permission)

Calling all writers who want to make a difference! The Red Cross needs you.

My local chapter of the Red Cross, knowing of my writing reputation, pinged me on Twitter with information on a new national Red Cross campaign that combines writers and their communities. That’s right . . . as a writer, YOU can make a difference in your community–using nothing more than your talents (as a side note, I have no self-motivated interest in publicizing this; I simply think it’s a great idea and want to inform my fellow writers of the opportunity).

The campaign is called “Writers for the Red Cross,” and it’s launching mid-February. According to the Red Cross on its campaign website:

What is Writers for the Red Cross? This online event is intended to raise funds and awareness for the Red Cross and its work in communities across the country. We’ll be auctioning off publishing-related items and services donated by authors, publicists, agents, and editors. We’ll also have daily guest posts from authors about “What the Red Cross Means to Me” and a daily countdown of “31 Things You Didn’t Know About the Red Cross” on the official event website. All donors who give over $25 will also be able to select one free book from a range of books donated and shipped by publishers for the event.”

Why Writers? Writers share our commitment to community by bringing people together through their stories. And these communities continue to be strengthened as readers come together with writers in their local bookstores, in book clubs, online through social media…and through partnerships with national organizations with a similar mission of community: national organizations like the American Red Cross.”


You better hurry. Although the campaign launches in mid-February, the campaign’s website says fundraising ends March 31. A Red Cross representative told me they especially need donations of 15+ copies of books to use for donor incentives. If you’re an author with a new book, great opportunity for you!

Visit the campaign’s website for more details on the event, as well as how YOU can get involved: http://www.writersfortheredcross.org/

Make your writing count. Share this with your contacts, and write for a cause!

Why do YOU Write? (take the poll)

I’ve struggled this past week. I’ve struggled to come up with a cool, new creative post that also educates.

After all, I’ve been gaining readership and I don’t want to lose my newest engagers now! I posted to Twitter and Facebook, asking my friends and followers what they’d want to read about writing.

And then, this one girl answered.

From Twitter. Her screen name is @Xenani. She linked me to a recent blog post she wrote, “Write for Yourself.” And it got me thinking. Lately, I’ve been writing short stories and my book—I even entered a short story contest through Columbia University’s Literary Magazine in New York.

Yet I found myself struggling with a new blog post idea (can anyone say “Writer’s Block?”). My new tweep reminded me why I write in the first place. I write because I love it. Remembering this simple fact, about WHY I write, gave me the idea for this blog post. Writer’s Block solved!

So, here’s my question to you: Why do YOU write?

Take the poll below, then check the results. This one’s strictly for you–to force you to look deep down and think. And of course, it’s fun to see what others think!

Always remember the reason you first began writing. Reach to those roots when you hit Writer’s Block, and find inspiration!

Looking for additional writing inspiration? Check out my wildly successful post, “Be the Chicken Nugget in a Bag of Vegetables.” Or subscribe to my blog (upper righthand corner) for email notifications of future posts about writing tips, funny stories, and media strategy.