I’ve followed Jane Friedman for quite a few years, and she’s an excellent resource. I also saw her keynote at a recent conference, and she is an amazing speaker. Her newest book, THE BUSINESS OF BEING A WRITER, is great for anyone who wants to know more about the current warps and wefts of the publishing world:
Writers talk about their work in many ways: as an art, as a calling, as a lifestyle. Too often missing from these conversations is the fact that writing is also a business. The reality is, those who want to make a full- or part-time job out of writing are going to have a more positive and productive career if they understand the basic business principles underlying the industry.
The Business of Being a Writer offers the business education writers need but so rarely receive. It is meant for early-career writers looking to develop a realistic set of expectations about making money from their work or for working writers who want a better understanding of the industry. Writers will gain a comprehensive picture of how the publishing world works—from queries and agents to blogging and advertising—and will learn how they can best position themselves for success over the long term.
How did The Hot Sheet first come about?
In 2011, journalist Porter Anderson began contributing guest posts at my site (JaneFriedman.com) with news and analysis on the publishing industry. After a few years, we eventually wrapped up that effort, as it wasn’t really an income generator for him or me, aside from a smattering of sponsorships.
So after that ended, we were talking about what else we might do together, and came up with the idea of a paid subscription email newsletter for authors, something that built on my expertise and understanding of the author community, and his industry access and travels to publishing conferences. Our oft-repeated tagline was “no drama, no hype.” We wanted to offer news and analysis that avoided the bias and rancor that can characterize discussions in both the traditional and self-publishing community. (Indie authors tend to excoriate traditional publishers and authors; traditional authors and publishers tend to demonize Amazon and look down on indie authors.)
No drama/bias/rancor is a welcome relief; it’s also nice to hear about the parts of publishing that not many people talk about. In THE BUSINESS OF BEING A WRITER, you dispel the myth that publishing is harder now than it used to be, despite the current “cognitive surplus.” How might writers’ impressions play into some of these perceived barriers?
Social media makes it immediate and easy to compare notes with other authors, and learn about how often and common it is to get rejected. While the information sharing and camaraderie is valuable, it can also encourage unproductive thoughts and anger (e.g., focusing on an unfair system, seeing editors/agents as idiots or disrespectful, etc). But the historical record shows that the relationship between authors and publishers has always been strained and occasionally adversarial. Even Horace complained about his publisher!
That said, discoverability today is harder. There’s no sure way to make your book or name stand out when so much potential media competes for readers’ attention. This is why so many authors will give away their work for free or cheap: the attention is worth more to them than payment. The act of publishing, whether you traditionally publish or self-publish, isn’t all that hard. Selling what you publish—that’s when authors find out where the real difficulty lies.
The other thing I’ll add is that while it is a challenging environment for debut novelists, more novels are published today than at any other time in history. The opportunities are greater, but the number of people competing at a high skill level are also greater. So I think it ends up being a wash as far as whether it’s more difficult to get published. But to the writer it’s always going to feel hard. (Some say it should feel hard to weed out the unserious.)
I’ve often heard conflicting opinions about giving away work on the free or cheap, and it’s reassuring to know that writers can find opportunities in most situations. Between writing, consulting, maintaining your online presence, speaking, and everything else on your plate, to what degree do you find work/life balance and avoid burn-out?
First, I like what author Alain de Botton says on this topic: let’s stop pretending such a thing even exists. “Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life,” he says. I agree.
Still, I have put in place protections for my own sanity.
- I try to limit client appointments to three days a week so I have uninterrupted time to focus on writing and editing work.
- I check and respond to email about once a day, in the afternoon.
- I segment some social media to specific parts of the day rather than checking in frequently.
Because I work from home, it’s important that when I step away from the desk at the end of the day, I don’t return unless it’s an emergency. I say “no” to just about anything that would require me to work from home in the evening.
I also keep work email off my phone, even during work travel. That is probably the No. 1 way I preserve my mental health and I highly recommend it. Yes, it’s caused a few headaches here and there, but it’s a rule now. I don’t email from my phone, ever.
All of those are excellent ideas–especially separating email from the phone. In what ways do you see authorship further evolving amid current and new developments?
It depends on what sort of author you’re talking about. For traditionally published authors, we’re going to see increased pressure on novelists especially to become better marketers and promoters of their own work. The publishers just can’t effectively market or support every title, and sales of fiction are trending down. It’s harder to get that attention I mentioned earlier.
Indie authors are feeling more pressure than ever to advertise their books to keep sales up—to use social media ads, BookBub ads, and Amazon ads in particular. But knowing how to advertise well, and maintaining effective campaigns, is time consuming and something I considered a specialized skill. I hate to think that success in the future will depend on authors becoming online advertising experts (or having the funds to advertise), but that’s what it feels like right now.
All authors can invest in their long-term success by getting readers and fans onto an email newsletter list, so they can stay in touch with people most likely to buy their books. I know everyone’s sick of hearing about email marketing, but it works—and it’s by far the best defense against the power and control of platforms like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and others.