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Interview with Jane Friedman, Part 2

Photobucket [1]If you missed part 1 of my interview with Jane Friedman [2], click HERE [3], then come back. Jane, the former publisher of Writer’s Digest (F+W Media [4]) and continuing contributing editor for Writer’s Digest, is now a visiting assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati, teaching in the e-media department of the College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) [5]. When she isn’t here, appearing as a monthly contributor at Writer Unboxed, she can be found on her own fab blog, There Are No Rules [6], where she writes about the future of writing and publishing.

Please enjoy part 2 of my interview with one of the wisest minds in the industry, Jane Friedman.

Interview with Jane Friedman, Part 2

TW: Let’s talk value of all different forms of social media, specifically Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. What does each offer that is unique? Are any underrated? Overrated? Should all be utilized?

JF: Writers don’t have to use all these sites or tools; it just depends on where your audience is, and how readers are most receptive to interacting with you, or receiving updates. That changes depending on the audience’s age, geography, interests, etc. It will also change as technology and culture changes.

I’ll take this opportunity to point out that I think e-mail newsletters/signups are highly underrated, and all kinds of writers should be building a list. (And by this I mean a permission-based list that grows over time.) It’s one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal.

LinkedIn feels less useful for fiction writers, but more valuable for freelancers, due to the professional slant of the site, where a lot of experts congregate.

Twitter is helpful for writers first as a learning tool (since so many professionals in publishing use it), but whether it’s helpful for platform building and marketing depends on whether a particular demographic is active on Twitter.

Facebook is tough to comment on. I wrote a long post about Facebook that sums up my views. [7] The conventional wisdom is that no one fans you on Facebook unless they’ve already read your books; I think this is true for the most part.

But that doesn’t mean Facebook isn’t useful for grassroots book marketing; it’s great for engagement and rallying your devoted fan base to spread the word. Facebook should offer you the first round of most passionate people (e.g., family, friends) who want to help you. And Facebook is the No. 1 site in the world for visits—more than Google! Why wouldn’t you use such a powerful tool? (But do NOT use it to shill or push notifications/events to people with whom you have no relationship!)

TW: Is it important for an author to hone an online image, or should all of this be as easy as showing up and responding naturally to others?

JF: I think it’s as easy as showing up and responding naturally to others.

It’s a shame, but I think some author sites—as a result of advice from marketing professionals—go a little overboard in their branding 101. Things get too slick and intentional, and the whole operation comes off as inauthentic. (There’s that authenticity issue again!)

Certainly we all build an online image to some extent, and we have to understand how people perceive us online. But as long as you’re doing things that don’t feel forced or fake—and you’re not changing your mind every 5 minutes about what you want to write or who you want to reach–then it’s probably best not to sweat it too much. In fact, your fans/friends will begin to tell you who you are, and that’s really your image: what other people think or feel when they see you pop up in their line of sight.

If there were any rule to follow, I’d say: consistency combined with focus leads to strong online image. People don’t want to be confused about who you are and what you stand for.

TW: I recently heard from an author who believed “blogs are a dying breed.” Do you agree? Are blogs changing based on how other forms of social media are being utilized? How can we best merge blogs with these other forms?

JF: I don’t agree that blogs are dying. Certainly blogging patterns have changed as sites/services like Twitter and Facebook have become popular, but blogging still serves a vital role in conversation and platform building.

That said, I do tend to think of blogging more as content building. If there is a transition happening, that’s it. WordPress, as a content management system, actually exemplifies this transition exquisitely. WordPress to me is about building out a site with valuable content, with blogging functionality, or blogging as the organizing feature.

As far as how blogs are best merged with other forms: Think of your blog (or of your site) as your home base, and the place where you have the most engaged and loyal fans. Then, think of your social media sites as outposts where you reach a far wider, but usually less interested, audience. It’s still useful to reach the broader audience, and spread word outside of your existing base, because your loyal fans come from that large pool. But you really need the blog (or site) to help keep people engaged, as well as seal the deal for the people coming in from the fringes.

TW: Are websites still a necessary part of the author’s online face? If so, why are they still important? What sort of content must you have on an author site in order to make it an asset?

JF: Goodness, yes! Editors and agents always Google potential clients to uncover their online presence and activity as an initial indicator of an author’s savvy and potential to be successful.

A site that you fully control provides the official statement on who you are, and what you’re about. Do you really want another site (that you don’t control) to stand as the official word or repository for you?

Your site should point to all the critical places you’re active online, and have clear information on how to contact you. If you’re published, there should be a strong array of complementary content for your books for readers/fans, and if you’re really savvy, a community—or a way for your readers to interact regularly with you and with each other. This can be done through message boards, e-mail newsletters, active blogging/comments, etc.

If people search for you online, you must have something that serves them and engages them, if you want to grow your audience and the loyalty of that audience. An author’s best asset today is a home base (website) that can capture and define their fan base, and serve that fan base over time. Social networks can complement this effort, but they can’t replace it.

TW: J.C. Hutchins posted on WU recently about the importance of considering a multimedia approach to telling and selling stories [8]. Apps that can be sold on iTunes. Phone numbers and websites you might include in a story linking to real messages left by characters. (Etc…) Some readers liked this idea, but others felt resistant to adding another responsibility to the author’s list. What do you think? Should every author have this in the back of her head at this point? Or is it okay to sit back, focus on the writing, and let the publisher plan these initiatives?

JF: It’s early in the game for authors to be thinking about multimedia and transmedia. Publishers haven’t truly figured out how to make even a mobile app profitable and sustainable. I don’t think we’ve seen a business model emerge when it comes to enhanced e-books or multimedia editions. Publishers can’t follow the money yet, which means authors might be wasting their time if there’s not surefire profit to be made. The Wall Street Journal just published an article on this issue that shows how unsteady the industry feels. [9]

But it is an important trend that writers need to stay informed about, and for those writers who have skills in other mediums (audio, video, apps, games, art, whatever), this can only be helpful. Plus, when it comes to more entrepreneurial authors (e.g., Seth Harwood, Al Katkowsky, David Carnoy), being able to create and distribute content across multiple mediums/platforms has been integral to their platform and audience development.

Which means: Sharing/distributing your story across multiple mediums is beneficial right now from mostly a marketing angle. The revenue angle is difficult for an author to tackle without the right partnership. Authors whose stories have multimedia/transmedia potential should be sure to find an agent or publisher who is clearly exploring these options, and/or is thinking innovatively about how the author can benefit most from the sales or use of those rights.

Some have argued that transmedia will be a key driver of storytelling in the future. I think the jury is still out, but I always remind myself (and others) that the biggest video games can outgross the biggest movie releases—and some videogames have more people engaged than popular, primetime TV shows. We see Hollywood agents who think the publishing market is an area of tremendous opportunity, where lucrative deals can be made. [10]

But this isn’t to say authors are going to become game developers, just as authors wouldn’t today be expected to adapt their work to the screen or direct the film version. However, I’ve got my money on the writers who have a mind for developing stories that work across mediums, or who can be innovative in how they adapt and distribute their work.

TW: Facebook and Twitter are the Now. Are you aware of any new forms of social media that seem to offer something new, that may be the Tomorrow?

JF: Not so much, but the three companies to always keep an eye on are Amazon, Google, and Apple. They’re driving the future of publishing, and of course online behavior, more than the publishing companies.

I’d keep a close eye on how these apps or sites develop:

TW: What most excites you about the future of publishing and social media? Alternatively, are you concerned about anything; would you like to offer any cautions?

JF: People are already too fearful and suspicious of technology and how our behaviors are transforming, so I don’t offer cautions. We have enough anxiety to last us the rest of our lifetimes.

I’d like to encourage everyone to stop being afraid, and start acting like the visionaries and dreamers I know they can be. I only see opportunities for more storytelling, more sharing, more understanding, more meaningful relationships.

I admit that social networks and online communities can be a distraction from focusing on creative work, and can rob us of time in solitude (though it’s always our choice)—but I also refuse to demonize what we all crave: socialization and connection.

If you have a drive to express yourself, such distractions aren’t going to keep you from creating. And even if it did, there’s value to the expression and communication in social media. There are many different forms of storytelling, and many ways to share. Not everything we create in this world has to be in book form, with an ISBN and bar code, to have value to a reader or an audience. I wish more writers would understand that. (Andrew Shaffer is someone who does. Check out his site. [11])

What if you told a story through photos on Instagram? What if you told a story through location tips on Foursquare? (What if you invented locations and added them to Foursquare! Mischievous!) Writers are imposing limitations on themselves when there are unlimited opportunities to experiment, at no cost. What a gift! Take advantage of it. New tools appear every day. Go have fun. Play.

Jane, thank you for a fantastic interview! Readers, please do check out Jane’s website [2] and her valuable blog, There Are No Rules [6]. Comments? The floor is yours.

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About Therese Walsh [12]

Therese Walsh [13] is the editorial director of Writer Unboxed, and co-founded the site in 2006. She was the chief architect and first editor of the upcoming Writer Unboxed book, Author in Progress [14]. Her second novel, The Moon Sisters [15], was named a Best Book of 2014 by Library Journal [16]; and her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy [13] was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2009 [17], and was a Target Breakout Book. She's never been published with a lit magazine, but LOST's Carlton Cuse liked her Twitter haiku [18] best and that made her pretty happy.