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 writer/blogger Cherise Hensley-Jenkins 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.
AUTHORNOMICS Interview with Therese Walsh
Editorial director Therese Walsh co-founded Writer Unboxed with Kathleen Bolton in 2006. Her latest novel, THE MOON SISTERS (Crown, Random House), earned starred reviews from both Booklist and Library Journal, and was named one of the BEST BOOKS OF 2014 by Library Journal. Her debut, THE LAST WILL OF MOIRA LEAHY was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2009, was nominated for a RITA award for Best First Book, and was a TARGET Breakout Book. She has a master’s degree in psychology.
Your site, Writer Unboxed, has been named by Writer’s Digest as one of the best websites for writers for almost ten years straight. What’s your secret?
Hmm, is there a secret? If there is, it’s this: Writer Unboxed provides a daily stream of essays written by art-of-fiction devotees from all walks, who push beyond obvious advice to access true wisdom.
What prompted you to create Writer Unboxed? The shift from physical to virtual reading and publishing has affected many writers and creative minds alike in these past couple of years. How have your main goals when starting Writer Unboxed changed in comparison to now?
Writer Unboxed was founded in January of 2006, before Facebook went public, to put it all into perspective. The shift to digital publishing wasn’t on our radar then. Kathleen Bolton and I set up the site simply to publish articles about the industry and story. We wanted a platform because we felt we had something to say. It grew in a grassroots way from there, as we conducted interviews, were introduced to more people, and realized the site would be best served with many voices present.
Keeping up with a site that has such a large following must come with ups and downs, whether it’s technical mishaps or man-made errors. What have you noticed is the most important aspect to prioritize? Content? SEO? Traffic? Readers?
I think there are three answers here, relating to foundational issues.
First, the site itself must be stable and able to sustain the spikes in traffic that come when a post goes viral. To that end, we now have our own server.
Second, the content itself has to provide value, so while each article isn’t vetted, the contributors (and our guests) are all on the same page re: the tone and goal of the site.
When all of that is in place, our community shows up. These readers/writers return because they’ve learned that we will provide them with high-value content they can rely on to help them reach their writing goals.
Why is online writer support so important? What have you noticed works best for authors to gain online support, and what are a few things authors don’t spend enough time doing online?
Writers have found ways to ‘tribe up’ in the digital age, which feeds a social need, as we spend most of our time working in isolation. Now we can write for a while, take a coffee break, and connect with our writing group on Facebook or hop onto a site like Writer Unboxed to weigh in on that day’s essay.
It’s not just social, though. Because so many writers experience the same challenges, connecting can become an empowering experience by learning how others faced and coped with those same challenges.
In terms of what authors should do more of online, I’ll suggest something you may not expect: Utilize a social media blocking app (like ‘StayFocusd’ for Chrome), so you can attend to your daily writing goals without distraction. The ‘net, especially social media sites, can too easily become not only a crutch but an addiction, keeping writers from their work. Keep track of the amount of time you spend online vs. off, and take steps to control your ‘net habit if you consistently fail to reach your goals.
There is also a “secret” Writer Unboxed Facebook community. Can you tell us a little more about how this group works? How do you decide which members to include?
The WU Facebook group —over 5,000 members strong—is unusual in that it’s a moderated, promo-free space for writers focused on giving and receiving helpful, empowering information. Everyone is included who agrees to the terms, which are sent to all who inquire. Members aren’t allowed to post links l to their own sites, essays, interviews, books, etc… Because of that, the content that you do see, is distilled to the ‘best of the best.’
Many people struggle to maintain a website with fresh content to keep readers coming back for more. How do you keep coming up with new material for your site and keep readers coming back for more?
Having so many contributors (~50) and guests is key here. We each have a plethora of ideas, and so we never really run out of them. Knock on wood.
When creating an online platform, authors are constantly learning things they had never even thought of, or even knew existed. What is something you know now that you wished you would have known when Writer Unboxed first started?
Building a site dedicated to writers when what you will eventually sell is a novel (as opposed to a nonfiction book for writers) is probably not the best use of your time.
From the conferences, to being able to communicate with different writers from different parts of the world, to building a community that was in desperate need to be created, what has been the most exciting aspect of Writer Unboxed?
The community itself is what keeps me tethered to WU, and what makes me glad WU exists.
Two ‘most exciting’ things:
WU’s first UnConference was incredible, because people from all over the world (e.g. Australia, Spain, England, Alaska…) came together to participate. It was also genuinely heartwarming to bring people together who had only known one another online and see those relationships solidify and strengthen.
This past year, Writer’s Digest also published our first book: Author in Progress. It was an exciting venture, conceptualizing and directing the editorial for the book, and giving some of our writers their first publishing credit.
In what ways do you hope to expand services in the upcoming years?
I have only one idea for expansion at the moment, but I’m still thinking it through so I’m not quite ready to make it public. Meanwhile, we’ll continue to offer positive, empowering articles for authors in progress.
Thank you for interviewing with us, Therese!
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-Jenkins has an M.A. in English from the University of Idaho, where she taught composition courses. She graduated from Whitworth University with a B.A. in English and marketing and also has a copy editing certification from UC San Diego. She has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management as well as the Rock & Sling literary journal and has been involved in the production of other print media such as newspapers, magazines, and yearbooks. Cherise is a teacher, an editor, and a writer, who loves discovering new books to distract her from everyday life.