By Lori Russell
Writers must keep up to date with trends in the publishing industry to know how to best market their work to agents, editors and readers. In this interview, editor, publisher & editorial director Jane Friedman shares what writers need to know-and do-to advance their careers in this time of change. Ms. Friedman is publisher & editorial director at Writer’s Digest Books in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is the editor of the Beginning Writer’s Answer Book and has a blog, There Are No Rules.
What does it mean that magazine and book publishers are becoming businesses based on content rather than print?
Consumers (or readers) should be able to access content in a way that is most convenient, makes the most sense, or is most cost effective for their needs.
Media companies-to stay viable-have to deliver content in a variety of ways, beyond a one-time print use. A piece of content might become an audiobook or podcast, a promotional download, a daily message sent to a cell phone or an email address (see DailyLit), a blog post, etc.
The question to ask (whether you’re an author or a publisher): What value does a certain format or package deliver to a consumer? Does a print (physical) form deliver the best value? Does it make the most sense given the nature of the content?
To really hit this home, consider that editors will become “content strategists” and writers will become “content providers.”
How do the trends toward digitization, social networks and customization affect writers?
Digitization is driving the change we’re seeing in media. There’s also an increased consumer desire for instant gratification and personalized, customizable experiences or content. In book publishing, you can see this particularly in educational markets. If a publisher has all of their content digitized and accessible in a content management system for anyone to manipulate/edit/aggregate, then that can allow teachers to select only the material they need, as well as add their own unique materials.
Social networks help everyone not only stay in close touch with friends and family, but also create very specific networks of people that have never before existed. So it’s very possible today to channel your communication and content to a very focused group of people, for a relatively low cost.
Writers must be involved with online life and expect to provide online content, and have an online presence. I’d say your career will come to an abrupt halt in a few years if you’re not willing to participate, market, promote, or engage in online activities and audiences.
Writers have to stop perceiving their work as a one-time effort, sold to publishers, that is then released into the world grandly, in print form. They also have to stop seeing the print book as the end-all-be-all of their efforts. As Seth Godin says, the book will become the souvenir, a by-product of all your other efforts. What will become valuable in the future is not necessarily a physical object (which is tangible and can be copied, in some respect), but the intangible things you offer (your time, your authority, your network/community, your expertise).
What do writers need to know-and do-to advance their careers during this time of transition?
This could be a book in itself, so I’ll give a quick-and-dirty list:
- If you’re not yet comfortable with all things digital, get comfortable. I’m not saying lose your life to the Internet and buy every last gadget, but be savvy about the scene. Editors and agents are seeking-and will demand-writers who know this stuff.
- If you don’t already have a website, build one. This may or may not include a blog.
- Build your social and professional network, both offline and online. This includes participation on relevant social networks or being connected to your audience. It is essential you know and continue to grow your potential readership and/or client base.
- Things are changing fast. This interview will probably be out of date in six months. Keep up with change by reading blogs by thought leaders: the O’Reilly Tools of Change blog, ChrisBrogan.com (an expert in social media), PersonaNonData, and BookSquare.
- Strengthen (and sell) your knowledge of various media, your knowledge of your audience and your reach to your audience/readership. Focus on how you can craft content or feed communities with your special expertise and know-how.
Lori Russell is an award-winning writer who has had the pleasure to work with several great editors in her 17 years as a freelancer. She is a contributing editor to Columbia Gorge Magazine and has been a regular contributor to Ruralite for more than a decade. Her articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the country and her short fiction and poetry has been published in several journals and anthologies. Lori recently completed her first novel, Light on Windy River.