You don’t need a degree in writing to make a living as a writer. I know because my degrees are in Theology and Psychology, not writing, and I’m doing alright 🙂 Today I talk to Gabriela Pereira about the pros and cons of an MFA.
In the intro I mention: Amazon opening up its Ad platform to authors outside of KDP Select, KU launches in Australia and my thoughts on 35% royalties.
Book recommendations: Closing the Deal on Your Terms… Agents, Contracts and Other Considerations by Kristine Kathryn Rusch; and Six Figure Author: Using Data to Sell Books by Chris Fox.
Plus Kevin Kelly talking about the upside of the future as well on Chase Jarvis Creative Live podcast; Scientific American on the first steps in thought control and some light relief: The Secret Life of Pets. Plus, A Walk Around the Old City of Jerusalem with Thriller Author J.F.Penn. A short video taking you through the Arab souk into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and on to the Western Wall.
This podcast is sponsored by my new series of free webinars for authors. Join me for live presentations and Q&A. Starting with How to Write a Novel, How to Make Money with Books and Planning your Production and Marketing Schedule for 2017. Click here for more details and to book your free place.
Gabriela Pereira is a writer, entrepreneur, podcaster and author of The DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose and Build Your Community.
- What an MFA is and why people choose to do one.
- What an angst jar is and how creatives can use it.
- What the 3 pillars of the DIY MFA are.
- Visual methods for outlining and organizing.
- On the revision pyramid; what it is and how it works.
- Creating your own MFA reading list.
- What author identity is and how to use it.
You can find Gabriela at www.DIYMFA.com and on twitter @diymfa.
Transcription of Interview with Gabriela Pereira
Joanna: Hi everyone, I’m Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com. And today, I’m here with Gabriela Pereira. Hi, Gabriela.
Gabriela: Hi, Joanna. It’s so great to be here.
Joanna: Oh, it’s great to have you on the show. Just a little introduction.
Gabriela is a writer, entrepreneur, podcaster and author of the “DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, and Build Your Community,” which is a fantastic book and we’ll be getting into that.
First of all, tell us a bit more about you and your writing background.
Gabriela: Where to start, right? That’s a huge question. I guess I’ll start by saying I’ve done a lot of random things in my life and so it’s all kind of come full circle to where I am now.
In a past life, I was a psychology researcher, back in the day, I thought I wanted to develop developmentally appropriate toys for kids. I studied child psychology and I went to school for graphic design, actually worked in the toy industry for a while, did all this stuff. And then I decided to switch gears and start writing children’s books so I went to an MFA program and writing for children.
It’s sort of funny because at this point people ask me, “How did you end up doing DIY MFA? Like you’re working with writers and adults, where did the toy stuff go?” And I find that question to be so bizarre, because in a sense, I’m kind of still doing the same thing. I’m just building cool educational stuff just for grownups who like to write instead of for preschoolers.
But it’s all the same sort of muscles in my brain, like the same creativity that has to go into developing a really fun toy is kind of the same that has to go into developing a conference talk or developing a writing class or something like that. In the end, I see it all as the same thing but people who have known me for a long time will look at my trajectory and be like, “Well, what happened?”
Joanna: I think a lot of us end up doing lots of different things. I did psychology as well in a post grad degree. I think psychology is one of these things that if you don’t even do it for a job it’s still really useful in so many ways. But I want to come back on like the MFA thing. So MFA, Master of Fine Arts, if people don’t know and usually for our end, it’s creative writing. So you said there about doing yours in children’s MFA.
Why did you want to do an MFA? Why do people in general think that a degree is going to help?
Gabriela: I wanted to get an MFA for exactly the wrong reasons, but unfortunately, that’s the reason that I think most people get MFAs, so let me explain. I was basically just starting out, I was a newbie writer. I mean, I’ve been writing in college, I was an English major, done some dabbling in creative writing as a young person, but it was really in 2007 that I sat down, I was like, “All right, I’m gonna make this writing thing happen.”
I felt like I’d gone as far as I could go with community writing classes. Not to rack on those classes, they’re very good. But, you know, I just tapped out what I could do in the informal writing class realm. And I felt like I needed someone else to anoint me as a writer.
I literally had this idea in my mind that at graduation after I got my MFA, I would be sitting there in the pews of the church where the graduation ceremony was and somehow the skies would part and this beam of light would come down and Angel choirs would go, “Oooh,” and all of a sudden, I would be a writer. And of course that totally didn’t happen.
And it was actually at that very moment when that didn’t happen that I had my light bulb moment and I realized, “Oh, you don’t need to get an MFA to do all of this and you can kind of do it yourself.” And that’s when the seed was planted for DIY MFA and I guess you could say the rest is history.
Joanna: And we will come back to the book and everything that you’re doing, but that need for validation is, I think, what you’re talking about. So, as a psychologist as well, how do people get over that need for validation? So you obviously, that was maybe a couple of year process from you deciding you wanted to do it to you realizing you didn’t need it.
How do writers develop the confidence to give up that need for validation or get in other ways?
Gabriela: Well, I would say that you never really give up, right? this need for validation essentially comes from imposter syndrome. It’s like feeling that we aren’t enough, that we’re not living up to what we should be doing. Somehow people are gonna find out that we’re not really a writer.
And so people feel that they need to have that external stamp of approval as a way to shield them from having to get themselves that stamp of approval. And I’ll be honest, even now after I have a book published, I’ve been doing DIY MFA for a long time, and I’ll get emails from readers who will be like, “It’s so great to hear from an established writer.” And I look at them and I’m like, “I’m not an established writer. Like what are you talking about?”
But you still have that feeling of imposter syndrome. I interview a lot of authors on the podcast, people who are big name authors, who hit the top of the bestseller lists and they still have that feeling.
So, I think part of the issue is that people who are in creative careers, you need to embrace that impostor syndrome is just part of your life. It’s never gonna go away, but what you can do is develop tricks and sort of like little mind tricks to redirect or channel that impostor syndrome energy into creative work or sort of find ways to validate yourself. But also recognize it like it is always going to be there and you need to learn to live with it and work around it, not try to erase it all together.
Joanna: What are some of your mind tricks just while we’re on that?
Gabriela: Oh, I can show you. This is my angst jar. And you can see it’s pretty full. So this is a jar, I keep it right here on my desk where whenever something bad happens or something that causes me any sort of creative angst, so I get a rejection letter, I get a nasty email from a subscriber who doesn’t like something that I wrote or I said or blah, blah, blah, I honor the fact that like this happened.
Because I find a lot of times people will try to just shove that emotion under the rug and say, “Oh, I’m just gonna erase it or, you know, forget them, don’t worry about them,” and sort of throw the critics aside. And that’s a defense mechanism, but what it does is it kind of glosses over the fact that it feels really crappy to have rejection. You need to honor the fact that this hurts.
I write myself a little note and I’ll usually put like, you know, a little note on the outside sort of reminding me what it is, but I don’t ever actually open these again, I just put them in the jar. And then every time that feeling of angst comes up and it comes up over and over, it usually takes me several days to get over one of those notes, but I’ll sort of remind myself like, “Okay, it’s safe in the jar, the jar has it, let’s get back to work.”
That redirecting allows me to honor the fact that, yes, that feeling exists, but I’ve put it somewhere where it’s contained and safe and now I can get back to work.
Joanna: That’s great. And I have a ton of stuff on my wall and I keep thinking I need to do a blog post it, but I do change them up. But one of the things I have is, “How is today gonna impact your body of work over my lifetime” None of us know how long our lifetime is, and as you said, it’s in the jar, get back to work. I’m like, “Okay, I feel crappy about this, but how is me feeling this way gonna help my body of work?”
What I need to do is focus on creating rather than like destroying myself.
Gabriela: And that totally goes along with one of sort of the tenets that I have in DIY MFA. When I work with students, this idea of not compounding the pain of the emotion with additional angst or stuff.
For example, a writer who doesn’t do their word count or they miss a writing day or whatever and what do they do? They flog themselves and they beat themselves up and, oh, I didn’t write my words today.
Well, whining about it doesn’t make the words magically appear on the page, buddy. You’ve got to just sit down and write. So at the end, that’s the moment where I will put it in my angst jar and I’m like, “All right, I feel crappy about the fact that I didn’t write my words today, put it into the jar, all right, now I’m gonna do it like business is done.”
Joanna: What is DIY MFA? It’s obviously a book, but it’s a community. You’ve got all kinds of things going on.
What is it and I guess why did you create it in the way that it is?
Gabriela: It’s evolved over time. Now it’s essentially a school of thought as it were or a curriculum, an approach to creative writing. But I’ve begun actually toying with this idea of expanding beyond creative writing because I feel like the pillars of DIY MFA apply to most creative fields.
But basically, the three pillars are what hold up this idea of the Do It Yourself MFA or, you know, education in creative writing.
You have the writing piece of the puzzle and that’s your creative output, it’s like getting the words on the page, mastering the craft, staying motivated, managing your time, managing your creative energy, creativity, getting ideas to flow and all those things.
The reading piece is the middle one and that it’s funny. Most people gloss over that one but it’s also the one that people tend to latch on to the most. The people who get it and really get with DIY MFA are the ones who really appreciate the reading piece. And that’s all about reading with purpose. It’s not just about reading anything and everything, but it’s about having a strategy.
I know we might touch on this later, but it’s not about never reading for pleasure again. It’s just about understanding that you can turn that switch on and read like a writer or read with purpose when you need to and then you can kind of go back to coasting and doing whatever you want.
And then of course there’s the community piece of the puzzle and that involves both building a community with fellow writers, building a community with readers and actually building a platform so you can sell your work. This is especially important for indie publishing, but these days, it’s basically for everybody.
And then of course there’s the connecting with the publishing industry, understanding the business side of writing. So those three pillars are the three pieces of the puzzle.
Joanna: And they’re really great. Well, I want to come back to your writing process because you started with the children’s MFA, you’ve written this nonfiction book, you’re a podcaster, you blog. And actually, the book, I think, is like you say a curriculum. You’re very structured. The book is very structured, very organized and I thought, you know, very well-structured.
Gabriela: Oh, thank you.
Joanna: Credit for you for that. Definitely it’s really impactful, but it’s very well-organized.
How did your own writing process work especially as someone who’s had this kind of MFA training?
Gabriela: It’s funny because I tend to write like a designer. My brain, I think, is wired more like a graphic designer than a writer, I just happened to like the writing piece a little bit more.
I used to write essays for the MFA program and I’d actually outline them with a subway map outline. And my teachers would be like, “I don’t know what to do with this,” and I’d be like, “Well, okay then.” But like it’s something that even comes before the DIY MFA was a thing. I was already thinking in terms of the visual structure, so I think that that is sort of just me.
And unfortunately, I can’t really give writers advice and say, “This is how you can be more structured,” because for me, it’s just like, well, it’s how my brain thinks like I just visualize things and for me it’s very much a visual thing.
The big thing for me as far as having all these balls in the air, for me it’s like switching activities is the break so I can always be in motion. I’m not a person who can sit and do nothing. Even when I’m watching TV, I’m knitting something or I’m crocheting or I’m doing some sort of craft or whatever, because I can’t just sit still. Maybe I have something that I need to work out.
But aside from that, it means that I need to always be working on a project and I’ve been like that since I was a kid. I mean, my mom used to worry that I start our projects every single day and she’d be like, “Oh no, not another trip to the art store, oh.”
Joanna: That’s great. But you managed to then fill in the blanks. It’s funny to say that because I got lost in my plot recently and I was like, “Just draw a picture.” Because I was a business consultant and would always draw pictures, it was just easier. So I drew a picture of my plot on just one page and you know the various things. And then I was like, “Oh yeah, I get it now.” And then you’re saying that, I’m thinking, “Why didn’t I…” Because I really struggled with outlining, you know, Scrivener or a spreadsheet or whatever.
But you can outline with visual stuff too, right?
Joanna: But then there is a long way between the visual outline and a finished book and that’s a long book, right?
Joanna: It’s a big chunky book.
How do you get the words on the page, what type of writer are you in that way?
Gabriela: For this book, I tried a few different things. I try to practice what I preach so that whole chapter on iteration, the very first chapter in the book where I talk about doing a word count and testing and seeing if it works, and then switching things up, I literally did that.
I started out thinking I’d write this book on mini writing retreats, because I was trying to juggle doing this and working here and then also writing this book because I didn’t want to put my job on hold to write the book. Otherwise, that would tell me that I can’t write and run DIY MFA, I have to pick one and I didn’t wanna make that choice.
I needed to find a way to fit it around it so I thought, “All right, we’ll do these mini retreats.” The first one went really well, I was super stoked. The second one was not good at all.
And at that point, I was like, “Okay, this is gonna be a very expensive book to write. If I’m gonna have to go and stay at a hotel every time I need to sit down and write, that’s not gonna work for me.” So I got myself in a rhythm where I would literally walk my young son at the time he was three and a half, and so he was just starting preschool. I’d walk him to school first thing in the morning and then there was a Starbucks right around the corner from his school. And I would go, I’d sit in Starbucks until it was time to pick him up, he went to school in the mornings. I go back to school pick him up at around 11:30, 11:45 walk home and then the rest of the day was my day job.
That gave me a very finite period of time that I knew I needed to get stuff on the page right then because that was going to be gone if I didn’t show up to pick him up, he would not get picked up from school.
And let me tell you, there were some days when the teachers were like, “Are you serious seriously, woman? What’s wrong with you?” But yeah. For me that’s what worked.
But I have no idea if that’s gonna be the rhythm for the next book or the next one after that.
That’s the thing with writing, right? A lot of people think, “Oh, you get into your system or you find that magic pill, the perfect solution.” But the thing is every day is a different day and you can find some consistency that works for you but after a while, you might have to switch things up again.
It’s having that ability to step back and look at your process and say, “Hey, is this still working for me?” And then make adjustments accordingly. That’s really what DIY MFA is about. It’s about honoring and understanding that your process is going to change and that you need to be aware of that and then make adjustments as you go.
Joanna: I agree and I’ve moved continents and countries and cities and the only thing that probably is the same is that I listen to rain and thunderstorms. I’ve been listening to the same album of rain and thunderstorms for like eight years. And it works for me. I think it just puts my brain into some kind of state.
But I agree with you that the physical place may change and as our life change. Okay, so I have lots of questions because there’s so much in the book so I’m going to ask you one question on writing and then we’ll get into the reading and community and so. I’m gonna ask you about the editing.
Can you explain your editing or revision pyramid because you’ve got lots of these good diagrams, so let’s go with the editing or revision pyramid. What is that and please explain it?
Gabriela: The revision pyramid is based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And so that’s a psychology term, you probably remember it. Maslow was the guy who came up with this idea that you have this pyramid and the stuff at the base of the pyramid, you sort of work your way up.
At the bottom of the pyramid were things like food, water, shelter, the basic necessities to survive. The way up you have relationships or safety, I guess, is the next one and then relationships and then feeling like you’ve achieved something and then finally like self-actualization and inspiration and creativity is like at the very tippy top.
And I started thinking, you know, the original idea came from hearing an author speak at a reading and someone asked like, “How many times did you revise your book?” And the author said, “I revised it 38 times.” And, you know, the whole audience gasped.
And then she said, “But I didn’t revise everything for each time. I’d go through once and I’d only look at this and I’d go through again and I’d only look at this.” And that was the moment where I realized like, “Oh, we have permission as authors to not look at everything with every passive revision.”
That planted that seed and then I saw Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I was reviewing some psychology or whatever. I remembered it and I thought, “Well, that could really work for revision.” The revision pyramid is basically the same idea.
You start at the base of the pyramid with the things that your book needs the most or the things that will most deeply affect your book as the whole organism. In my mind, the most basic element is the narration because that’s what establishes the reader-writer relationship. The way you choose to tell the story, the point of view you use, the voice that you use, that’s really the fundamental piece.
It’s also conveniently the piece that by the end of your first draft, you’ve pretty much nailed down. You’ve figured out like, yeah, you might have written some scenes in different points of view where you might have messed around with different voice or style. But by the time you get to the end of that first messy draft, you know what the voice is, you know what the point of view is. So it’s kind of like you get a free pass because you can check off that layer of the pyramid after you’ve done the first draft.
And then as you move up, you have character, you have the story structure, you have the world building, the scenes, and I guess scenes or world building is part of scenes and then the details.
The ideas that you’re going broad to most narrow and as you go through your book with each pass, you’re tackling smaller pieces of it at a time until eventually you’re really just dusting it off and doing little cosmetic changes.
The other key thing is a lot of people start at the top, they’ll start with like correcting grammar.
Gabriela: Yeah, or typos. And it’s like, well, if you scrap the whole chapter, you’ve just wasted an hour of your time doing the line edit on that chapter, that was a waste. This avoids that problem of fixing things that you might discard later anyway. That was sort of the inspiration behind it.
Joanna: And it still amazes me that some people think editing is fixing typos and grammar whereas that really is the least important thing. Being an indie is great and I pick up indie books. And, you know, sometimes it’s just like, “Okay, this really did need some work,” but I’ve just read the whole book. Because the story was so good that it pulled me through and even though there were some typos, and I’m not saying we should leave typos, but, you know, sometimes a story can be the thing that pulls you through. So I totally agree on that.
I do want to ask about reading because this reading with purpose, I think, is a great point. And many authors worry that by reading books in their genre, they will accidently plagiarize or somehow affect their own creativity. I’m one of the opposite view, I read everything I can in my niche and genre, one, because I enjoy it, but two, that’s how I like to learn.
Talk a bit about reading with purpose and how people can do that and not worry.
Gabriela: So, there are two things to that, right? And I think the idea of having the reading infect what you’re writing, that’s something that, as a writer, people have to gauge for themselves.
I, for instance, have certain times when I’m working on a project that I can’t read other stuff that’s related to that project because then it will slip in. And one of my paranoias is as I was writing the DIY MFA book is I was worried I was going to somehow accidentally borrow writing advice from people who I wasn’t trying to borrow from. You know what I mean?
There was a point where I had to sort of set a limit and say, “Okay, Gabriela, you are not reading any writing advice books for a chunk of time because you’ve got to just focus on your book.” So there is sort of a level of setting those boundaries.
As far as reading with purpose in general that when sort of how to do it, again, I like very clear instructions, I’m a very logical left brained person. So, you know, when I started thinking, “Okay, what would one have to do in order to basically build the equivalent of a graduate school reading list?”
Like you go and you’re taking a graduate course on Nabokov and you get a reading list from the professor, only guess what? As the writer, if the course in literature is basically stuff related to your book, you get to set the reading list.
I started thinking what books would go on that list. Well, you need some books that are similar, like some compo titles and what not, but then you also need to expand the scope of that. And you need to look at books that would inform your book but aren’t necessarily in the same genre or books that might be useful for research purposes.
You also want to take a look at some of the classic books and even if they’re not related to your genre or your topic, and then you also want to know what’s new, what’s the contemporary stuff?
You want to find a balance between those things and I’ll give a concrete example. At one point, I was writing middle grade manuscript and I’m still playing with that, I might go back to it someday, but it was basically a retelling of Homer’s Odyssey but involving kids.
I started by reading the Odyssey and reading the Illiad and reading the “Epic of Gilgamesh” and all of the sort of travel epics like ancient travel epics. But then I started thinking, okay, well, there are a lot of like on the road books like, you know, Jack Kerouac and like sort of road trip stories. I started looking at those to see how contemporary road trip narratives tended to operate.
And then I started looking, okay, let’s look at some middle grade travel narratives and I looked at some of those stories. And then I was like, “Okay, well, now let’s see what’s actually new in middle grade right the second because if I’m writing middle grade, I kind of need to know that too even if it’s not a road trip story.”
Eventually, I cobbled together a list of about 18, 20 books and I didn’t read all of them but I’d sort of go through some of them and get a sense of like, okay, this is the body of literature that informs this project and work. For me, I found it really helpful because it meant I didn’t have to go to the library and get lost in like stacks and stacks of books.
Joanna: Yeah. I think that’s a good way to do it. And, you know, I find that research side of things to be one of my favorite parts for books and also I think that we have to remind people that there’s no copyright in ideas. The copyright is in the expression of the idea and you can retell Homer’s Odyssey till the Cows Come Home and it will be a different book. Also that’s out of copyright anyway.
Gabriela: Yeah, public domain.
Joanna: Yeah, yeah whatever. Okay, so let’s talk about the crafting your author identity because I think this is really interesting especially coming from the more literary end of the scale where a lot of the MFA people are.
You talk about this author identity. Is this something different to the real person? And how is this done effectively when an author is just starting out? Because often I don’t think you really know who you are as an author when you’re starting out.
Gabriela: It’s interesting because I use the word author identity to basically mean your brand as an author. But I find that most writers don’t like the word brand; that freaks them out.
As a designer, the designer side of my brain is like, “Well, yeah, it’s your brand identity, duh!” You know, for me, it’s like I’m thinking like a brand, so I’m thinking like, “Oh yeah, FedEx logo.”
But the idea with the author identity is, A, it’s not a fixed thing. It’s not like you just sit down and decide that this is my author identity and it will be like this forever and ever and ever and no one will ever change it.
I mean, look at like Miley Cyrus. Like she was Hannah Montana at one point and now she is different. So even people change their identity, they’re reinventing themselves. I mean, there are a lot of celebrities who are masters of reinvention as they go through their careers.
And so understanding that your author identity is fluid is one thing, but then there’s also a consistency to it. Yes, you can change things, but it’s like changing outfits. As you grow more mature, you might go from wearing skinny jeans and t-shirts to wearing maybe a business suit, but it’s still the same person underneath and so that person is consistent.
And as far as is your author identity the same as you? The answer there is yes, but no. It’s basically the polished version of you, it’s the version that you want people to see. And the examples that I often give is there’s a lot of hot mess that happens behind the scenes when the doors of this office are closed, there’s a lot of tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth even the way I am explaining, the tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth is a way of explaining it, it’s certainly not the way it actually looks. Because that would really not be appealing, like people would not want to see that.
You have to understand that like there’s a point where you need to be intentional and it’s not about being fake. It’s not about trying to be someone you’re not, it’s not about trying to put on a persona or something like that. It’s just about being authentically you, but presenting your best self to the world. And it takes practice, nobody nails it from the get go. One of the best things about starting out is that you have very few followers, so if you mess up, no one sees it, I love that part.
Joanna: That is such a good point and why I also think is interesting, so we’ve had “The Girl on the Train: Paula Hawkins” and I got really angry about this because she won debut author prize of the year, whatever something in England. Now obviously “Girl on the Train” is massive. It is the first book by Paula Hawkins, but it is not the author’s first book. Even though it was built as a debut book, it was a debut book by an author who was already previously published under another name.
So they had basically reinvented her to try and start again, which I think is not just the publishing industry thing. You know, pseudonyms are very, very common. And in fact this week as we’re talking, Elena Ferrante in Italy is being unveiled, you know, unmasked. I mean, who cares really? We’ve got J.K. Rowling, who’s Robert Galbraith. We’ve got some big names doing things on the pseudonyms and things.
What are your thoughts on the use of pseudonyms to reinvent brands?
Gabriela: I think I would drive myself crazy if I had to do that. I have enough of a hard time keeping one identity on track. It would make me completely nuts to have multiple identities.
As far as like the ethics of it, I mean, there’s no law against it. I say that if I were a fan of the book and I found out that that author was pretending to be something they’re not, that’s gonna to shade my perception of them. I’m going to trust that author a little bit less.
And the thing with trust is that it’s sort of like with every book, the reader and the writer are making a pact. The writer is saying, “I am going to bring it, I’m gonna really just bring it on the page.” And the reader is like, “Okay, I’m going to go for a ride with you, I’m going to go along for the ride.”
And the writer can stretch that trust and you can do it in the craft, you can do it in the way you present yourself as a writer in your author identity and your platform etc., but eventually, you stretch too far and it breaks. So I think that’s a choice that the author or the publisher or the publishing machine makes and that’s their choice because for me, that trust with my readers is just way too important.
Joanna: Yeah, I think you said…well, I mean I have Joanna Penn and J.F. Penn, but the thought…
Gabriela: But that’s a calculated choice.
Joanna: Oh, absolutely.
Gabriela: That’s for a strategic reason, that’s not like to, you know, reposition one identity as a debut.
Joanna: Yeah. I mean, this is the thing. I think about this quite a lot especially, you know, with romance authors, for example, mostly pseudonyms. So it’s something I find very interesting, one of the benefits of being an indie author of course is you can do this stuff every easily whereas as traditionally published, it’s very hard to change your author name.
Once you’ve been published under a name traditional publishing has always kind of said, “Oh, well, this author has dropped off but we could do it under another name.” I think it’s quite a common practice. So let’s talk about the publishing industry a little because…I mean, obviously when you first went to do an MFA, you must have had a dream of traditional publishing would have been your thing.
This book, the DIY MFA, is traditionally published with Writer’s Digest, is that?
Joanna: Great publisher of writing books. You now have a lot of authors who come to you looking for advice.
What are your thoughts on the changing side of publishing and what are your kind of recommendations and your thoughts on the myths that get people into this in the first place?
Gabriela: Well, I mean, oh my gosh, so many answers. Well, for starters, yes, there’s a lot changing but the one thing that doesn’t change is the fact that authors have and always will have a seat at the table but they often don’t think they do. Especially when writers are starting out.
We’ve almost put the publishing industry on this pedestal like, you know, to get an agent or to get an editor or this, that and the other. And I’m not gonna lie. There were definitely times where I felt like I had the whole agent fangirl moments, but the truth is when I connected with my agent as an intern in the agency, I knew him as a person before I pitched him to be my agent. And, as with my editor, I met her at a conference. We had a nuts and bolts conversation about what this book could be before we even considered having a book proposal sent to her.
I think there’s a point where I think writers forget because it is so hard, because this stuff doesn’t drop out of the sky. It’s easy to kind of put all your eggs in that one basket and so you forget that you have a choice and that when you do make a decision to publish traditionally, it is a business decision. I mean, my husband is a lawyer and so I’ve always sort of been absorbing through osmosis sort of lawyer stuff and he’s always saying like, “It’s better not to have a contract than to have a bad contract.”
So at the end of the day, if it’s not something that’s going to work for you, you need to walk away. And I think having the option of indie publishing, I don’t think indie publishing should be a second place decision. In fact, I find that when authors do go publish indie as a reflex reaction to not getting an agent or not getting a book deal that they wanted, etc., that’s usually a recipe for disaster.
Joanna: Yeah, I agree.
Gabriela: But I think understanding that if this contract over here is not up to your liking, it’s not take it or leave it. It’s take it or go and do this other thing and make it the way you want it to be.
But understanding that at the end of the day, the author drives the ship, because without the author, there’s no book, there’s no actual words to publish. So understanding that it’s not to act like we’re divas and that we’re gonna be like crazy diva authors, but at the same time understanding that like we are part of the business machine and we need to operate like we are part of the business.
Joanna: And in a professional manner as well.
Joanna: Which, you know, it always amazes me when you see some behavior of authors. I used to think that publishers and agents were just up themselves in some way. But when you see the behavior of some authors at conferences or you actually see some submissions that happen, it’s just like, “Yeah, I understand why they’re little standoffish in many ways.” So if you’re a professional, you’re right.
You can actually meet them more easily, I think, if you behave in a professional manner.
Gabriela: And honestly, I’ll even add to that. It’s funny because there are some real crazies out there, I’m not gonna lie. I go to a lot of conferences and there are some people who you’re like, “Oh, I feel really embarrassed for you.” But the truth is for most of the people watching this or listening to this podcast, you already know how to behave yourself in a professional manner.
You’ve got this, just be normal, be a person, be helpful, be genuine.
For the summer when the DIY MFA book launched at the Writer’s Digest conference, I did this pilot program, a special intensive where about 150 authors had some preconference prep with me and then I sort of walked them through the conference. And one of the things we worked on was the conference networking skills and it’s one of those things where it doesn’t have to be rocket science, it doesn’t have to be hard.
I think people work themselves up because they think like, “Oh, you have to be a wheeler and dealer and you have to schmooze and duh, duh, duh.” And it’s like you really don’t, just be a person, be your awesome self and if they don’t like it, then go be your awesome self with someone else. But like it is what it is, like just be a person.
Joanna: And I guess circling all the way back to the beginning, the journey that I’ve seen many people go on is that imposter syndrome and worrying and then behaving in a certain way and then once they’re empowered, they choose to go indie anyway.
Because as soon as you are empowered and you don’t need the validation, then often the business choice can be indie, which is certainly what I chose. So we are pretty much at the end, but just tell people like a little bit more about the book and also where they can find you and your podcast and everything online.
Gabriela: Well, the DIY MFA book is out now at like all the main places where you would find books. And you can find me at diymfa.com, you’ll find links to the podcast there, you’ll find a link to the book there, you’ll find links to all that awesome stuff there. So yay, come and visit and please join our Word Nerd community. We have email newsletter and also a Facebook community, a private Facebook community. And it’s really an awesome group of people and, you know, good discussions going on in that group, so it’s really fun. So be part of it.
Joanna: Brilliant. So thanks so much for your time, Gabriela. That was great.
Gabriela: Thank you so much, Joanna, this was a blast.