Jane Friedman is someone to follow if you write or aspire to. E-media professor, speaker, and former publishing executive — including of Writer’s Digest — she has been voted one of the Top 10 bloggers for writers and publishes the Best Tweets for Writers Daily on Paper.li.
She gets up late and drinks bourbon while attempting “to be human at electric speed” (or to understand how we can become more human when surrounded by technologies advancing faster than we are).
What is it like to live life at electric speed?
I’m usually on the grid before I roll out of bed (via iPhone), but that’s because I’m such a late sleeper. I’m not one of those super-productive people who are up at 5 a.m. Nine is more my speed. That means my daily blog post and first tweet in the morning are always scheduled the night before. So my morning iPhone ritual is to make sure all has gone as planned, and that I don’t have any urgent private messages.
Once I’m up, I’m online all day, except when I’m teaching class. Even then, I’m often in front of a computer and streaming online information. Because I have no obligations other than being a professor of e-media at the University of Cincinnati, I’m free to focus all my energy and attention on online media. It’s my work and my play.
I disconnect for a few hours in the evening to unwind over dinner and some guilty-pleasure TV shows. Before bed, I conduct a final online sweep. If I skip that final check-in, that means I’m behind in the morning.
To some, this might sound like a miserable lifestyle. But I don’t see it as stressful. My natural inclinations have produced these daily habits, and I am happy to continue them.
However, I have been contemplating a digital sabbatical, to spend a long, interrupted period of time focused on reading and research. Because my media now comes from a relatively narrow range of online sources, and because online media tends to simplify and reduce complex ideas, I feel that — to keep fresh and unique perspective (and to avoid the tempest-in-a-teapot dramas that online conversation tends to emphasize) — I might one day risk a digital sabbatical of 1-3 months.
How can a would-be writer get published?
It’s primarily about putting in the hours of writing practice (I recommend following Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule), followed by patience with the query and submission process. Even the most talented writers may go through a 5-year period where they can’t get anyone to accept their work. How well you can bounce back from repeated rejection often determines whether you’ll get published.
As far as the technical process is concerned, I have a blog post on how to get published that breaks it down, step-by-step.
What is your advice on self-publishing?
It’s a tremendous area of growth and opportunity for authors. Most e-publishing services are nonexclusive, free to use, and allow the author to retain complete control over the product and its pricing — a huge departure from early self-publishing services. Here’s a post I wrote that sums up the essentials: 10 Questions to Ask Before You Commit to an E-Publishing Service.
What determines success in e-publishing, aside from a quality book, is online reach to a target audience, and an ability to market and promote effectively. Once you make the e-book available, no one will know it exists unless you tell them.
What makes you joyous and/or despairing about publishing?
- The current refusal of many major publishers to make their e-books available for lending at U.S. public libraries.
- The ongoing vitriol directed at Amazon, which is one of the few entities in publishing that, through its actions, puts the reader first.
- The unwillingness of traditional publishers to offer higher e-book royalty rates.
- The ease and pace at which writers make bad decisions or get scammed because they’re impatient or don’t educate themselves about the industry.
- There are more paths than ever for writers get their work to market, at very little cost.
- Writers have more access than ever to the same distribution channels as mainstream publishers/media (in the digital realm at least).
- Social media has made it possible for powerful communities to develop that make it easier for authors to succeed on their own terms.
Are there real opportunities for self-publishers?
Yes, there are real opportunities if you have a quality book and you understand who your audience are (and you can target them effectively).
I feel like I’ll be mentioning the same names as everyone else, but that’s because they’ve shown very specifically how they did it. They include:
- Amanda Hocking
- John Locke
- Carolyn McCray (check out her articles at Digital Book World)
- Bob Mayer
- JA Konrath
Mayer and Konrath had traditional publishing careers that helped bolster their current self-publishing success — meaning they had a nice backlist they could digitize and immediately start making money on. It’s tougher to start from scratch, but Hocking and Locke did it, as have others, particularly those in genres such as romance and mystery.
What are you reading for pleasure right now?
Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton. He’s my favorite author. I wish he was more widely known in the U.S.
You’re a huge advocate of social media. Why?
Basically every opportunity that has landed in my lap in the past few years is related or directly connected to social media, such as:
- Invitation to work with the National Endowment for the Arts
- My professor position at the University of Cincinnati
- Invitations to speak (which involve some wonderful travel)
For people who are more introverted, social media is a godsend for networking. You can do it on your own terms and carefully think about your communication and approach.
Which platforms must writers absolutely be on?
I’m fond of saying none. That’s because if a writer hates using whatever I suggest is mandatory, then there’s little point in pursuing it. People can tell when you aren’t enjoying yourself, and it’s impossible to stick with something (for as long as you really need to) if you actively dislike it.
That said, Facebook is tough to ignore (it’s the No. 1 site that people spend time on).
Is it vital to blog if you are or want to be a writer?
No, in fact I actively recommend against it because so many people do it poorly and for the wrong reasons. I wrote a post about it here.
Many people enjoy your Best Tweets for Writers Daily on Paper.li. Who are your top sources that anyone interested in writing should follow?
My Best Tweets for Writers list is focused tightly on 15 people I chose because of their own tight focus on writing advice. Of those 15, here are a few of the most reliable curators:
How does it differ from The Jane Friedman Daily?
The Jane Friedman Daily draws from all the people I follow on Twitter, which is about 270. Most of these people are not writers, but publishing and media industry insiders — often digital futurists. So Jane Friedman Daily is more of a professional and cutting-edge view for those ready for it.
What are your thoughts on the usefulness of curation?
Right now, the world’s information is doubling roughly every two years. Given that, how do we find the content we need and want? And how do we discover new things?
Certainly Google and others (notably Netflix and Amazon) are improving search engines and algorithm-driven recommendation systems, but I don’t think such methods will be 100 percent effective. And our social networking streams will never be 100 percent effective either, even though our immediate network may be very smart about alerting us to important news.
This is where curation comes into play. The best and most trusted curators (whether individuals or brands) inform, provide context and analysis, and help us save time. We all need people who can help us make sense of what’s out there, and direct our attention to what’s most important, relevant, or valuable.
And finally, what is it you love about bourbon?
It’s probably in my blood; I grew up among cornfields in Indiana, close to the Kentucky border, where much of it is made. What distinguishes bourbon from ordinary whisky is its higher corn content. I find it a cheerful drink. I never get sick on bourbon.
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Main and final photos: David Rowe.