Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Interview with Jane Friedman

by Jerry Waxler

Jane Friedman is the web editor for the national-award winning Virginia Quarterly Review (VQR), where she oversees online content strategy and marketing. Before joining VQR, Jane was a full-time assistant professor of e-media at the University of Cincinnati and the former publisher of Writer's Digest.

Jane's Keynote speach at lunch on Saturday will be on "The Future of Authorship." Jane will also be teaching two Saturday sessions on Platform, and two preconference workshop on publishing--Traditional Publishing on Friday morning, and Independent E-Publishing on Friday afternoon.

GLVWG member Jerry Waxler got in touch with Jane to ask her some questions about her sessions, workshops, and her view on the industry in general, including using social media to promote your writing.

Jerry: Seeking soothing reassurance

Not only are publishing strategies changing all the time, but they seem to be increasingly urgent, making many of us feel that if we don’t catch the latest wave we’ll fall behind. This might be why I enjoy reading things you write. You seem to be able to convey information without an out-of-breath sense of urgency. How do you feel about keeping up with all the changes? Are you constantly frantic or have you found a way to stay balanced in the midst of radical change?
Jane: Thank you! I do try to adopt a reasonable tone and illustrate how publishing strategies are becoming increasingly nuanced and individual.
It is very easy to get caught up in the “revolution”—whether we’re talking about the technology revolution, the publishing revolution, or the author revolution. While it’s very real, it’s also confusing and counterproductive for most authors to follow. You’ll find conflicting attitudes and opinions that leave you wondering how to proceed.
What I recommend is this: Find the 1 or 2 advanced, professional sources with perspective on this change whom you trust—the people who have the same values or goals as you, or have a voice that has always resonated. Keep yourself updated on the change through them. It’s good to have a filter so that you limit your exposure to the daily ups and downs of the industry. Check in with these trusted sources to stay current. While you don’t want to stick your head in the sand about the industry, or become ignorant of business concerns, at some point you have to put career productivity first.
On my own blog, journalist Porter Anderson writes a weekly round-up called Writing on the Ether, which recaps the most important news, opinions, and developments in the book publishing and media industry. If you have no place to start, you might start there for a weekly education. I also do a monthly round-up of Best Business Advice for Writers, which links to about 10 articles from various sources. I keep it very practical, but it’s also trend driven (e.g., how to use GoodReads effectively).
Jerry: Are social skills learnable?
In the modern publishing world, authors must come out of hiding in order to find readers. However, not every writer starts out loving to reach to the public. Here’s my two part question: a) Is it true that to succeed, writers must make the effort to reach readers, and b) if we are by nature, introverted, how do you recommend we overcome our inward turning tendencies and extend toward our future readers?
Jane: It depends on your definition of success, but I believe you do need some level of reader engagement to see your career grow. One example of an author who has done this successfully, and on her own terms, is CJ Lyons. Another is Bob Tarte.
When reader interaction did physically involve “getting out there,” e.g., going to events, it probably was limiting to be an introvert. And if that’s what reader interaction were actually about—today—I myself would be the most terrible marketer on the planet.
So, speaking as an introvert myself, we should be over the moon at how lucky we are to live in an age when we can effectively reach readers by:
·        staying at home
·        using whatever tools suit our communication style best
        (e-mail, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
·        crafting and controlling messages to our own satisfaction
·        limiting interaction when needed

But these tendencies of introverts …

·        bad at small talk (but not necessarily shy)
·        preference for small group conversation
·        avoidance of huge social gatherings—or being drained
        by them

… these tendencies don’t significantly impact our ability to be effective at reader interaction, not when we can control where, how, and when we communicate.
Furthermore, when you consider that a true introvert dislikes talking about himself, you have the makings of an author who is wonderful at reader engagement! These days, there’s far too much bad marketing and self-promotion (that amounts to talking, in a very uninteresting way, about oneself), and not enough good marketing and self-promotion, which is about serving readers. Knowing your readers and engaging with them is more about listening, understanding, curiosity, and good communication skills—not “extroversion” or “introversion.”
Jerry: Famous? Careful what you wish
You are one of the most famous people I’ve ever talked to. (At least you’re famous to me.) This is a strange thing about being a writer. We are all striving to be known by potential readers. But few if any of us knows what that would feel like. Could you tell us if it’s weird being “known” – what should we do to prepare for the “problem” of becoming known, ourselves?
Jane: The biggest problem of being known is probably the demand on one’s time. Usually, you have to protect yourself from a steady and growing stream of requests—whether from friends, fans, or strangers—who make both reasonable and unmanageable demands of you. A lot of people whom you’ve never met want to pick your brain, get your feedback, or meet for coffee. Or they just have this one simple question they want answered, not realizing that dozens of other people also have one simple question, too.
But I put myself in this position, and I wouldn’t be who I am now, or where I am now, if people didn’t value and seek my advice. So I try to help as much as time allows, and I try to create clear paths for people to find the answers themselves. (See my writing advice archive.) And sometimes I do meet strangers for coffee because I think wonderful and unexpected things can happen when you say “yes.”
Jerry: Your Two Publishing Workshops
Thank you for offering two pre-conference workshops, one for traditional and one for e-publishing. I suspect that many of our attendees could benefit from both. What do you think? Why might an author aspiring to ePublishing want to take the traditional publishing workshop? Why might an author aspiring to traditional publication want to take the ePublishing one?
Jane: I agree. Every author should be educated about both traditional publishing and e-publishing. That’s because your choice is no longer either/or. It’s both/and. Some of the most successful authors, like CJ Lyons who I mentioned above, have a hybrid approach. They partner with traditional publishers for some books, but self-publish (e-publish) others. More than ever it’s imperative that authors learn the basic framework of the industry so they’re making informed decisions over the course of their career. You have to learn to call the shots.
Jerry: How can social media help readers find good writers?
In the “old days,” to build platform, we were told to spend years developing a thick file of publication credits. To do so, we needed to impress magazine editors with our writing skills. Nowadays, platform building requires a following on Facebook and twitter. So help me understand how this change in entry requirements affects readers. How can readers find great writers, and how can writers use the quality of their writing to help build platform?
Jane: Readers are finding great writers in many ways, including (but not limited to):

·        Amazon bestseller lists (print and e-book)
·        Other Amazon features (e.g., readers who bought X also
         bought Y)

·        Goodreads and other reading community sites
·        Social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc)
·        Physical bookstores
·        Book clubs (offline and online)
·        Traditional media coverage (public radio, magazines,

·        Old-fashioned word of mouth

Everyone knows that the best way to sell your second book is by thrilling readers with your first. It’s almost become a cliché (at least in the online publishing community) that you should focus on building platform by writing your next fabulous story that gets people talking.

However, and I’ll use CJ Lyons as an example again, there’s nothing wrong with nurturing that word of mouth and giving readers more tools to help spread the word. In the Q&A I did with her at my website, she shares some of her most essential strategies for engaging readers. I also think it’s interesting that while she puts story quality front and center, she also took time to train herself in online marketing and promotion. (She reveals her sources in the Q&A).

Jerry: The New Social Pleasures of Writers Sticking Together

Recently, writing seems to have caught on in a big way. So many of us seem to be flocking together in groups, in the region and online. Since I began to apply myself in earnest to this activity, writing has turned into a groundswell of collective enthusiasm. As a writing popularize, you are in the epicenter of this wave. How is it affecting you? What sort of changes have you seen in the ethos of the writing community since you first became involved with it? Where do you think it’s heading?

Jane: The biggest change by far is the growing voice and footprint of the self-publishing and e-publishing community, and the associated explosion of services for the independent author. While some of these services are much needed and welcome, it’s difficult for a new writer, without a history of experience, to distinguish between a service that’s worth her time or money, and one that is not. When in doubt, look carefully at the background and qualifications of the people who provide the service, and avoid those that don’t clearly identify who you’re working with.

Also, there’s been a greater polarization of attitudes—or more strident attitudes—associated with the revolution mentioned at the very beginning of this interview. This creates the confusion for any writer walking into the current environment. Should you self-publish or traditionally publish? Do you need an agent or not? Should you blog or not? Do you really need a platform? Should you focus more on writing or more on platform? Does an e-book really have to be polished, or can it be just good enough to pass muster with a 99-cent price tag? Do the traditional publishers really offer value? Do bookstores really matter?

I could probably continue for several paragraphs about the many questions that divide writers, as well as people inside the publishing industry. My advice is to take the long view and seek those who avoid going to extremes in their pronouncements. Discussing the gray areas within an issue—parsing through all the intricacies—shows more wisdom given the times we live in.


  1. Jerry: This is a wonderful interview. Your informed questions cut to the heart of what Jane can offer us—and here she gave us a hint at the amazing resource we will have in our midst at the conference. Thank you!

  2. Jerry, what a coup for your writer's conference: Jane Friedman! Good for you. Really enjoyed this interview. If I didn't have two other conferences on my schedule that weekend, I'd drive all the way to Allentown to join you. Wishing you all the best from a distance.

  3. I've got much to delve into, since I am right at this critical juncture in my career as writer. Last year I self-pubbled two children's books, and now, I am ready to publish my first ever adult non-fiction book, about my lifelong experiences with the medical industry, in hopes of being a bridge between hospitals/doctors and the patients they serve. Currently, I search for an editor, but in keeping with what you say, there's almost a "can't see the trees for the forest" scenario confronting me. Yes, self-publishing has opened doors but those doors have become floodgates. I spend my days combing through supposed resumes of "editors," and only wish there were a quality filter to help me hone in on the real ones...Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated...

  4. Jerry:

    Great post and interview.

    I have been following Jane for some time and I can attest that she is one of the most astute individuals in the writing and publishing business today.

    Jane's last piece of wisdom is so true:

    "My advice is to take the long view and seek those who avoid going to extremes in their pronouncements. Discussing the gray areas within an issue—parsing through all the intricacies—shows more wisdom given the times we live in."

    This I can say: Jane has more critical thinking skills than 99.9 percent of the people claiming to be book-writing experts or book-marketing experts. Jane also tells the truth whereas many don't.

    I say this from experience. I have a measure of success in this industry with my books having sold over 750,000 copies worldwide. My books have been published by traditional publishers and I have self-published several of my titles. It is always a treat to read a balanced and trustworthy viewpoint of the publishing industry today.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author
    "Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free"
    Author of the Bestseller "How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free"
    (Over 175,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller "The Joy of Not Working'
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

  5. Jerry and Jane, thank you for this thorough and informative interview.

  6. Jerry and Jane, thanks for touching on the introverted author.

  7. Jerry and Jane, I appreciate your balanced and comprehensive interview about the state of publishing today. The information you present offers practical and level-headed advice, filtering out all the noise and clutter that bombards anyone who wishes to publish today. Thank you.

  8. Jerry, thoughtful and intelligent questions, and as always with Jane Friedman, insightful responses with very helpful links. Thank you both!

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