With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and editor/writer Cherise Hensley present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.
Interview with Jane Friedman
Jane Friedman is web editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, and the former publisher of Writer’s Digest. She has spoken on writing, publishing, and the future of media at more than 200 events since 2001, including South by Southwest, BookExpo America, and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Find out more at JaneFriedman.com.
You have been in the publishing business in various roles for many years, and are an expert in all areas of publishing. You’ve worked as an editor, a writer, a journalist, a blogger and a professor. What are some most rewarding experiences in your career so far?
The rewarding experiences always involve helping someone along their path. One of the more tangible or large-scale ways I did that at Writer’s Digest was launching a recurring event called the “Editor’s Intensives,” where we invited up to 50 writers to spend a weekend at Writer’s Digest offices with our staff to talk about the publishing industry and review their manuscripts one-on-one. I loved doing that event because of how meaningful and impactful it was—not just because writers had the opportunity to meet with professional editors, but because they met other writers and struck up lifelong friendships.
That event pretty much symbolizes what I loved about being at Writer’s Digest. I’m sad to say the event was discontinued after I left.
What do you think is the most important area a writer should be focusing on now to build their career?
Without question, a professional author website. Don’t misinterpret that as blogging. I mean a website, the hub of everything you do online, and the means by which anyone can learn about you, your books, and how to contact you.
It’s never to soon to establish a website. Why? Because there’s a learning curve, because a website is a work in progress always, because you don’t want to start a website on the day it’s supposed to produce results.
Unpublished writers think they have nothing to put on their website, and maybe that’s true, but I don’t care. Create one anyway if you’re serious about a long-term career as an author. Don’t let it become that “thing” you put off because you don’t like dealing with technology. Get comfortable with having and cultivating an online version of who you are now.
As time passes, you’ll start to experience how powerful having a website is. Opportunities and contacts will come to you that you couldn’t have imagined. And when that starts happening, you’ll start improving and customizing your site to bring more of what you want into your career.
Do it. Start a site. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It will never be perfect anyway. But it’s your single most important marketing and advertising tool, aside from your professional partnerships/relationships.
For authors seeking traditional publishing, rejections are the hardest thing to face. Do you have any tips for dealing with rejection and improving your chances with traditional publishers?
Tips for dealing with rejection:
- Realize it hurts like hell when it happens. Wallow for 5 minutes, no more. Get back to work.
- Never try to parse vague rejection letters. What a waste of time and energy. If you get useful feedback, consider it a gift. Use it to improve your work. If you violently disagree with specific criticism, put it aside for a few weeks or months, then revisit it. You may find the criticism right on the money.
- It’s imperative you not lose total confidence after rejection (no matter how long the rejection phase continues). Easier said than done, but find the coping mechanisms or rituals that work for you.
- Whatever uncertainty plagues you is natural and part of the process. Deal with it. Continue to read and write what you love.
- Keeping your work in circulation is one of the best cures for getting over rejection—you always have the possibility of a positive response ahead.
For improving your chances: Don’t submit your work until it’s ready. Hopefully you know yourself and your work well enough that you can honestly know when it’s time. If you really don’t know, you have nothing to lose by waiting. I really mean that, so I’ll repeat it again: You have nothing to lose by waiting.
For those authors seeking the Indie publishing route, what are your best suggestions for success in this ever-changing publishing climate?
Take the time to research options and services. (Review my 10 questions for e-publishing services.) Understand the challenges you face, especially when it comes to effective marketing and promotion. Make a choice that you can feel confident about and not regret in 6 months. Too many people are in a hurry to publish, and I’ve never met a single person who was in a hurry for a good enough reason not to feel extreme regret later.
If you’re a totally unpublished writer, spend as little as possible on your self-publishing effort, except when it comes to editorial assistance. Go electronic first; justify the print edition based on customer demand.
If you’re self-publishing an e-book, then success depends upon online marketing and promotion. Forget about print promotion, book signings, print reviews, etc. Those don’t matter. All that matters is catching the attention of people who are already active in the digital sphere. Make sure you know how you’re going to do that before pulling the trigger.
Do you have any upcoming books or events you are offering that we can look out for?
No books as of yet, but you can sign up for my e-newsletter, which focuses on tools for writers in the digital age. A list of my upcoming speaking engagements at writers conferences can be found at http://janefriedman.com/meet-me/.
Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.
Cherise Hensley is an English/Marketing major at Whitworth University. She has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management as well as the Rock & Sling literary journal. She has been involved in the production of other print media such as newspapers, magazines, and yearbooks. Cherise is an editor and a writer, and loves discovering new books to distract her from everyday life.