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S2/E6: The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman


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Jane Friedman has made a name for herself as a publishing expert. For starters, she is the founder and co-editor of The Hot Sheet, a newsletter monitoring publishing industry trends for aspiring and established authors alike. While The Hot Sheet requires an annual subscription of $59, Electric Speed is free and focuses on digital tools and resources. She also speaks at writing events and conferences (which is where I was lucky enough to meet her), offers online classes, and publishing-related consulting/critiques on things like query letters, author websites, and more. She also has a class on The Great Courses you can check out. (Tip: Wait for a sale or search for an online coupon for Great Courses! They’re very common.)

Admittedly I didn’t read the whole book, but that’s because it’s so well organized. I was able to get out of it the types of publishing and other forms of writing work that I’m interested in and leave the rest. The only reason you would need to read every word of this book is if you’re not sure yet what kind of writing you want to do and you’re open to learning about all of them.

In my case, I know that I want to Indie Publish my novels, so I skipped the sections dealing with Traditional Book Publishing (like querying for an agent for my book) and anything to do with nonfiction book publishing (like submitting a book proposal).

I want to submit my stories and essays to traditional markets (literary journals and contests), so I read the relevant sections there. And I produce a podcast (essentially an audio blog), so I read that chapter.

I plan to occasionally submit articles (mostly based on the research I do for my novels and podcasts), so I read the sections on publishing to trade journals and commercial magazines.

In March, two talented writer friends and I will be launching Inkster Author Services, and I will be offering Developmental Edits and Manuscript Critiques, so I read the chapters related to freelance editing and freelancing, in general. But I completely ignored the “Corporate Media Careers” chapter, because I know I’m not open to that right now.

Eventually, I’ll offer online writing classes focusing on productivity and craft for the genres in which I write, so I read the chapter on teaching, but I skimmed the sections that focused on teaching at the university level because I know that’s not a good fit for me.

You get the picture. So this is all by way of saying that there is a LOT of info in this book, but here are my three things.

Three Things

1 Indie vs. Traditional Publishing. Not too long ago, there simply wasn’t a great option for taking the Indie path in publishing, but a couple of huge developments happened in this industry. First, Print On Demand (POD) technology started producing books whose quality rivals that of conventionally printed books. This means that now authors can publish their books without a huge investment for a print run. Second, Amazon decided to jump into the ring. In the early 2010s, they introduced the Kindle Direct Program (KDP), which allowed authors to directly publish their books for free within a matter of hours (not months or years) and keep up to 70% of the sales price of their books. (See footnote at bottom.) Third, the Big 5 Traditional Publishers have been laying off people, and there are now a huge number of experienced and talented editors and proofreaders who have gone freelance. Indie authors can now avail themselves of the same sort of editing process that traditionally published books go through.

2 Not too much has changed, however, when it comes to publishing your short stories and essays. While there might be fewer printed journals than there once was, there are more online outlets than ever, as well as Indie-published short story anthologies. If you’re interested in publishing in this way, the main thing to remember is that you are usually submitting the whole manuscript for consideration along with a cover letter. The cover letter should introduce your story, share your relevant experiences, and make the case for why you think your piece would be a good fit for this journal or contest. (She includes a sample or two.) There are two developments worth nothing. First, the omnipresent Submittable, which has become the standard for most literary journal submissions, charges the journals for the use of their program. In turn, these journals now charge writers a few dollars to help cover their expenses. So while free submissions are still possible, small entry fees are normal and not necessarily a red flag for scams and sham journals. (Note: Setting up a Submittable account is both easy and free for writers. There is no monthly or annual subscription cost. You will only incur the fees associated with the journals where you’re submitting.) Second, the days of only submitting a story to one journal at a time are (mostly) behind us. The lion’s share of outlets now accept “simultaneous submissions.” Do double-check the journal or contest listings, however, before you send a story in. And if you are accepted somewhere, let the other outlets know ASAP!

3 The process for submitting articles to magazines and trade journals has changed the least. The process remains more or less the same as it’s always been. Unless you’re assigned articles by a particular editor or publication, you’ll pitch articles. With the pitch process you don’t submit the whole manuscript for consideration, but instead, outline the idea in an email. Friedman recommends that your pitch reflect the style of the publication you’re targeting. In addition, she says it’s important to lead with a strong, short hook (25 words or less), demonstrate that you’ve done some of the key research (or at least have access to it), highlight any writing credentials you have, and list any expenses you expect will need to be covered (if any). And prepare yourself for inevitable rejections. They’re a normal part of freelance life, even for in-demand freelancers. As soon as you get a rejection, rework your pitch letter and send it back out to another outlet.

*Friedman defines platform as “an ability to secure paid writing opportunities – or sell books, products, and services – because of who you are or who you reach.”

More thoughts on platform:

Platform does not develop overnight. You aren’t going to finish reading this book, follow a three-step formula, and – presto! – have a platform and be done. No two writers’ platforms are developed in the same way or have exactly the same components. Think of your platform as a fingerprint; your background, education, and network affect what your platform looks like in the beginning. Luck also plays a role. For most writers, platform is an organic result of building visibility in their community and developing readership for their work.” Jane Friedman, The Business of Being a Writer (2018)

This book is a very standard 320 pages and packed full of detailed information on just about every type of writing stream or pursuit. I’ve given you a mostly top view of three things that caught my attention (out of many), but she’s great about walking you through the process of getting your work out there. And the book is great about including concrete examples of things like contracts, query letters, and more.

I hope this was helpful to you! Come back next week to hear my three things (and a hack!) from Lisa Cron’s “How to Nail the First Three Pages” class on Creative Live.

Until then. . .

Happy writing, people!

Footnote: Jeff Bezos was inspired to launch the KDP program in part by the fact that many famous and successful authors (like Dr. Seuss!) were often rejected dozens of times before finding acceptances. Or as Kathryn Stockett puts it: “In the end, I received 60 rejections for my book, [The Help]. But letter number 61 was the one that accepted me. What if I had given up at 15? Or 40? Or even 60?”


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