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When I talk about being an author-entrepreneur, I often get quite a lot of negative comments, as if being a creative is incompatible with being a business-person.
But this is crazy, because artists need to eat and pay the bills … and in fact, I'd rather be an artist living the good life! Recently on my newsletter, I reviewed Austin Kleon's book Show Your Work, which goes into the themes around money and art. Today I talk to writer and publishing commentator, Jane Friedman all about this fascinating topic.
In the intro, I talk #AmazonCart, the Sell More Books show podcast, Amazon description changes and using Author Marketing Club's Premium service to format. Plus using IngramSpark for print expanded distribution and highly recommended book: Opening up to Indie Authors – A Guide for Bookstores, Libraries, Reviewers, Literary Event Organisers … and Self-Publishing Writers.
I also talk about the launch of ‘Day of the Vikings,' and how it was a brilliant, fun creative break in the middle of Delirium, another dark mystery. Desecration is also out as an audiobook and I've been learning about marketing for audiobooks, plus my German releases of Pentecost and Desecration, coming soon.
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Jane Friedman has spent more than fifteen years in the media industry as an editor, publisher, and professor. She’s currently the Web Editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, based at the University of Virginia, where she also teaches Digital Publishing and Online Writing. She’s also the Editor of Scratch Magazine, with topics around writing, money and life.
You can watch the interview on YouTube here, listen above or on the podcast feed on iTunes or Stitcher, or read the transcription below. We discuss:
- Why is there such a problem discussing money and art together?
- My own drive around proving that creativity can be a ‘proper' job that parents should encourage their children into
- The trade-offs that can make full-time writing possible
- The business models that writers are using these days
- Author collaborations and the gap in the market for ‘agents' who help with these
- The commonalities of authors making over $100,000 per year
- How to go from being an author to running a business as an author
- Understanding the profit and loss statement for your book
- The problem with short term thinking and buying into the dream of old-style publishing
- On the future of reading
Transcription of interview with Jane Friedman
Joanna: Hi everyone, I’m Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com, and today I’m here with Jane Friedman. Hi, Jane!
Jane: Hello, Joanna!
Joanna: It’s great to have you back on the show. Now, just as an introduction, Jane has spent more than fifteen years in the media industry as an editor, publisher, and professor. She’s currently the Web Editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, based at the University of Virginia, where she also teaches Digital Publishing and Online Writing. She’s also the Editor of Scratch Magazine, which focuses on writing and money and life, which we are focusing on today. Jane, you’re everywhere at the moment, does that about cover your background?
Jane: Yes, that’s a great whole summary, absolutely.
Joanna: You’re a big figure, I think, in the publishing community these days, so I’m really thrilled to have you on the show. So, I wanted to start off, I actually get quite a lot of personal criticism for my own focus on the business on being an author. Some people think if you talk about business then you must not care so much about the craft or the language. And people think art and business can’t go together.
So, why do you think there’s such an issue with money and art, and why did you start Scratch because of it?
Jane: Yes, I would say it’s interesting we’re starting with this question, because I guest spoke on it at a conference over the weekend, about the historical perspectives on money and art, and business and writing, and I did a really deep dive into some of our cultural attitudes towards art and business. And our thinking on this issue goes back a few hundred years, so it’s kind of like there’s this engrained idea in the culture that the two things are antithetical to each other. That idea was invented: it was invented by someone who was frustrated with his sales and felt like the only way to rescue his art was to say that it was superior because that it didn’t sell!
And we’ve had that idea ever since: this myth of the starving artist, that to keep our art pristine and to preserve this value to it, we can’t pay attention to the marketplace. I recently read a book by Elizabeth Hyde Stevens, she did this book called “Make Art Make Money,” which focuses on some of the lessons we can learn coming out of Jim Henson’s life, the great artist and puppeteer, and how he balanced these two sides and didn’t see them as opposed: that he saw how to make business serve art, and how he could use it as a way to fulfill his artistic vision. It’s not that he was pandering or selling out but he knew how to use the system to his own purposes.
And so I think it’s horrible that any writer or artist should be criticized for operating in the realities of the marketplace. I mean, certainly there are people who do totally pander, and everyone has to make certain sacrifices to go to the next level, but it’s totally ignoring the inter-relation of these two things and how art has often thrived because of the support of business and patrons, or sales. I mean, this has been a relationship that goes back for a very long time, and art can’t operate in a vacuum; I’m not sure why they ever thought it could, or that it should, or that it was somehow superior for it to do so.
I think the tension that results is actually quite healthy, you know: we need a little bit of that fence, a little bit of that challenge, to push us to do better, to go further, to think creatively. It strikes me that sometimes when I talk about these issues, I don’t’ want to sound strident. I don’t take it really, really seriously; I’m sincere about advocating that writers think about the art and the business as something that can successfully play together, but I’m not like saying, “You’re wrong” if you can’t be a businessperson. It’s more about being open to the possibility that these things can work together.
Joanna: Well, for me, I, I feel very passionate, I have a lot of young women in my life, my nieces and my god-daughter, and they’re at the stage where they’re being told, “You have to do the certain courses, so you can get a proper job.”
One of my driving forces is I want to prove that being an artist, being a creative and a writer, is a, in quotes, ‘proper job’ that parents can feel happy that their children go into. But in order to do that, you have to be able to pay your bills, right?
Jane: Yes, you do. And a lot of people want to know, “At what point can I just focus on the writing, or not have to worry about the day job, or let go of some of the realities of life?” and that’s a very hard question to answer, because I think it’s so personality-driven, and what kind of sacrifices you’re able to make, some of your personal circumstances, if you have family members to support and take care of, there are so many factors that play into the decision and, and what kind of stamina you have in your acceptance of risk.
I think it’s definitely possible to be an artist and an entrepreneur and to not have the so-called day job, but there’s also quite a bit of work and persistence that goes into reaching the level where you feel a little bit, I don’t want to say comfortable, exactly, but you don’t feel anxious all the time about where the next pay check’s going to come from.
So, risk tolerance is really important, as well as just having some patience for what work you are putting in to the whole process to, to pay off. I think sometimes, this is the difficulty that every writer faces, is that they want results now, or financially they need to have the results now, and I’ve found over and over again, it’s not something you can necessarily force; it’s not at your command, and there’s quite a bit of faith that goes into it. And in fact, the last issue of Scratch, my magazine on writing and money, the theme is faith: the faith that the work that you put in is actually going to pay off in the long run, financially or otherwise.
Joanna: That’s exactly right. One of the things I did when I was going to give up my job, which I did nearly three years ago now, is we sold everything. We completely downsized our life, we sold our house, so we don’t have any debt, we don’t have a car, we completely downsized, and that really took the pressure off, which meant I could earn less money, and I do earn significantly less money now, but I’m so much happier!
Jane: Right, exactly, so there are trade-offs that you’ve made, the so-called sacrifices, and everyone has to look at their own lifestyle requirements and see what’s really possible.
Joanna: And it was really interesting, again, in Scratch, your editor-partner interviewed Cheryl Strayed, who wrote “Wild,” a brilliant book, obviously, and I’ve got a quote here, “Writing is a terrible way to make a living when it comes to the statistical chances that you will make a living, but if you can make a living at it, there’s a sort of poetry to how it works.” She talks about her credit card debt, d how a multi-six-figure advance can disappear! I’s a brilliant article.
But I wondered if you could maybe talk about what are some of the business models that authors can have in this new world?
Jane: Well, the traditional, old-fashioned model is strictly book sales, and everyone thinks that there was probably some golden era where authors made a living off of sales. Ifyou look back, that’s not necessarily true even authors like Mark Twain or Charles Dickens, who were quite successful by the standards of the day, often made more money on things like lectures and readings and appearances and serials and things of that nature. Prt of this depends on the genre or the community that you’re in, if you’re a genre writer versus a literary writer, but I think, especially on the literary side, the prevailing model is teaching, and doing things really into educating other writers, ich is in fact becoming a little more difficult, because of the glut of MFA students being produced, that’s a whole other problem that we could talk about!
And then on the genre side, there’s still that education component, being a teacher, but what I’ve been seeing that’s really interesting is probably on the non-fiction and journalism side, we’re seeing subscription and membership models, whether it’s a blogger or someone who’s running a full-fledged site or community, having some kind of wall where you’re paying for access. Or, it’s like this positive paywall, where you get a lot of your experience for free, but if you’re really devoted, an uber-fan, then you’re going to have to pay some kind of fee to get community board access or get special privileges, or be able to email the person behind the scenes who’s running the site.
So, those are some other interesting ways, more probably applicable to non-fiction, but certainly I think something that you’ve participated in lately is very interesting: the collective, the Deadbeat Dozen release, and I think there’s some really interesting opportunities that haven’t fully been explored in how authors can form collectives and do work together to bring a greater audience to everybody. I’m really interested in seeing where that goes, and alternate models.
Joanna: What I was thinking in that, the collaboration model is almost the only way to become more scalable. I’m doing a 50-50 royalty share with translators who are also going to be marketing partners, so I don’t have to do any more writing work, I can help them with marketing and we both make 50%, which takes one book and exploits the rights. So I see that as, like you’re saying, a collaboration kind of model.
Jane: Exactly. So, trying to look on the big picture level, there’s the collaboration, there’s the readers that pay you, there’s crowd funding, where readers and other passers-by, patrons, and that patron might be a wealthy person who really believes in what you’re doing, or non-profits or government agencies. I know especially in Canada–I don’t know if the same is true in the UK–but in Canada, I know there’s more of an environment there where as a writer or artist, you can expect more assistance than you can in the United States.
So there are lots of different ways to go about it, and I think probably at the moment, it’s best to diversify. I would never recommend someone focus on one to the exclusion of all others: you have to, usually, put together a collection of these things, especially earlier in your career. I think that the longer you stick with it, the more freedom you have to shut some doors and say, “I’m only going to focus on this.”
Joanna: I’ll tell you what, I think there’s some problems that need to be solved, and you have these “Big Question” blog posts–“Smart Set,” that’s what you call them–which are great. And one of my big questions that I want to see happening is ACX will do the royalty distribution, that’s what’s missing in these collaborative deals. So with the Deadly Dozen, we needed to have somebody else to collect the money and distribute the money: ACX does that, with my translators, I realized I have to do that, and I’m not happy about it. I actually want to pay an agent or some middle man to do that kind of distribution of royalty for less money than a publisher, basically. And I see that piece in the puzzle is the thing that’s missing to allow more authors to do this. I mean, I would be doing more of this, if there was an easier way to split the money, basically.
Jane: I totally hear you, which is why I have a lot of interest in the collective idea, because if they’re providing the administration behind what you’re talking about, for a more reasonable fee than a publisher, for sure, and maybe even an agent. Although I wonder if agents aren’t going to be more helpful in that as time goes on: I guess we’ll see.
Joanna: I see that as like a role that companies starting in that niche, I think could do potentially very well, just to clip the ticket on the way through and manage all that. That could really change things.
Jane: I agree.
Joanna: And as you’ve said, I think that’s starting to happen. Now, one of the things, as well, is that you’re aware of many of the people in this space who are doing very well.
What do you see as the commonalities between authors who are making, let’s say, over 100,000 US a year, what are those people doing?
Jane: At the moment–this is very trend-driven, I want to point out–they tend to be quite prolific, they’re producing a lot of work, and I don’t mean necessarily books, it could also be a combination of books and blog posts and classes and social media activity–it’s the omnipresent feeling, like they’re everywhere at once, you wonder how they can produce so much work. So there’s that.
I think they are also very consistent in what they’re producing. They’re very focused on serving a particular readership or community, and they’ve usually been in it for quite a while, because to reach six figures, that’s an engine that’s taken a long time to build, so unless you’re like one of these overnight successes–which I actually don’t believe in–you’ve probably had a run-up of a decade or more to that type of income.
And I think that also that income entails usually a lot of insight into who you’re reaching and how, on a numbers level, through analytics and, and an in-depth insight into who’s buying your stuff, and how to get them to buy the next thing, whatever that is.
Joanna: It’s great you say that, I agree. I met Barbara Freethy at the London Book Fair, and I think she really struck me, because she’s just such a kind of nice, quiet, normal lady, what a good businesswoman, but the fact is, she has thirty-eight books and she’s been writing for twenty years, so if you actually do the math, at thirty-eight books, you only have to sell 500 or so a month, of each of those books, and you do make a lot of money.
Joanna: And it’s so funny, because the penny dropped for me: it was like, “Oh this is how publishers are so rich: this is why publishing has been a great business! Ding!” Because I don’t think you get that perspective when you only have a couple of books, right? You can’t see it.
Jane: That’s true.
Joanna: You can’t see it. And then, once you understand how publishing does make so much money, you can see how you could do it, too!
Jane: Right, yes, to become an almost like a small press.
Joanna: Yes, basically. It’s so interesting. But I wondered, some people listening will be going, “Oh, wow, that sounds so exciting,” and other people will be going, “Oh my goodness, that’s just way, too much for me.
If people want to go this route, you know, how do people transition from being an author, say, with one or two books, to running a business as an author?
Jane: Sometimes I think you recognize the change once it’s time to switch gears, and by that I mean that you suddenly realize that you’re turning a profit! For most writers, that doesn’t happen for quite some time, where your expenses are below what your income is, for the writing itself.
When you realize that you have to start saying no, I think that’s a major turning point for a lot of people, because, especially earlier in your career, you want more opportunities, and you’re probably also trained to say yes, accept everything, get all the exposure you can, for free, etc. And then you realize, “Oh, I can’t do that anymore,” because the number of quality opportunities, or the amount of money you can make doing your own thing outweighs the lesser request or opportunities. So I think that’s also a critical juncture.
Realizing when you might actually have enough money to hire assistance, even if that’s just a Virtual Assistant, because you realize that one or two hours of time, you have more earning potential in that time than, say, tackling your email inbox. I think those are signs that you need to start thinking a little more strategically, and you also need to set up–I hate to say it–quarterly income and expense spreadsheets, and start tracking the growth, and being very strategic about, “OK, in the last six months, I got more money from X than Y. Why is that and how am I going to change what I’m going to do in the next six months as a result?”
I think that sort of strategic thinking is overwhelming and is probably too much for the person who at the moment may only have one or two books, that’s like, “How will I ever reach that?” So I think you have to take it bird by bird, book by book, step by step: you don’t want to try and master that right out of the gate. I think there’s an overwhelming momentum that you reach, and you realize, “OK, it’s time, I need to be smarter with how I’m prioritizing my work”.
Joanna: I’m going through all that sort of right now. I really feel at that point, and I’m going to write another book about it, I think, because I think, like many writers, like yourself as well, you actually work things out when you write about it!
Joanna: So almost I don’t know what I think until I’ve written it, which is kind of crazy. Now, you mentioned profits spreadsheets there, and I did say this to someone the other day; I said, “What’s your P&L on, on that book?” and she went, “What are you talking about?” So you actually have a P&L in Scratch, you go through one.
I wondered if you would explain an overview of what a P&L is, obviously, that was from a traditional perspective, but also how people can assess that themselves.
Jane: In Scratch, we ran this Profit and Loss Statement that a traditional publisher would use, but an independent author could totally use it, and what it does is it calculates up front, “OK, what are all my expenses going to be, I work on a freelance basis,” and then on, like a unit cost, if you’re doing print books, or if you have ISBN costs and those sorts of things; you build in all of the costs up front, estimated and actual. And, you can even put your hourly rate in there, if you want to pay yourself an hourly rate. And then, you have to do some sales estimates, and hopefully you can do that based on a historical perspective of what the last book did, or talking with other people, what their experience has been, if they’re willing to be transparent about it. And so then you plug in the sales numbers, and you also calculate the discount that the retailer’s getting, and then you see, “OK, how much money am I going to make in, say, the first year of sales?”
And then you can also run it for longer: you can run it for two years, or five years, or ten years, to get an idea of what’s the potential for this book. And then what’s really interesting, I think, in publishing we would call it a season P&L, where you would take all of the books that you were going to publish in a specific season, that might be ten books or a hundred, and then you look at the bigger picture, because then you put all of your low-profit books with your high-profit books, and you see if you’re hitting the right target.
So, an author could do that with all of the books they have planned to release in a three-to-five-year period, the projects maybe you know won’t sell as well against the projects that are a little more, catering to your readers, or to your market, that you know will, and then see what the overall picture is.
Joanna: That’s a really good idea, and I especially like the three-to-five-year idea or the ten-year idea, because of course people, like you say, want money right now, and the fact is, the great thing about self-publishing is, you get to make a little bit of money hopefully every month, for a long time, rather than getting a bigger spike, and then potentially never seeing anything else.
Do you think that one of the biggest issues is the short-term thinking across all publishers?
Jane: Totally a hundred percent agree: short-term thinking is one of the greatest banes of any company, publisher, author’s existence. Everyone is so focused on, “Can I get this to pay off in two weeks, or two months, or even two years?” and I try to emphasize in all of my talks and blog posts, it took a long time, even for me, and I feel I kind of do things alright, it takes me a while to get the hang of it, but it takes two years, three years, four years, before things gain steam and I really feel a little more comfortable or have some mastery where I can actually say, “Alright, what are the results?”
People seem to have a lack of patience and stamina, to some degree, and they’re not willing to let things play out, and that’s why I also emphasize sustainability in whatever you’re doing. You don’t want to burn out in the first year, going down a checklist of social media activities or whatever it happens to be, because someone told you to without any, recognition of what it is you can actually enjoy or do, regularly, but so it does amount to something after three or five years of doing it, and you can feel like you can point back and say that was meaningful work, that was a good journey and I learned something, regardless of the results.
Joanna: I really feel that, too. I feel in the last year I’ve relaxed a lot more around launch, I put out a book this week, and I’m kind of not even making a fuss about it. I’ve sent an email to my list, I only just started tweeting, just before we started speaking, and I’m just not that bothered anymore about the initial bit: it’s just another thing in the body of work, as such.
Jane: Exactly. So you’re in it for the long game; I’m in it for the long game, so I don’t have to be so anxious about, “Did I achieve the sales goal in the first year?” because I’m going to keep doing it, and I know that time is on my side.
Joanna: I wondered about that. Do you think it’s partly the fault of big publishers who have kind of sold a dream, and there’s been this kind of veil of secrecy over the reality of sales, do you think that that dream has now disintegrated?
Jane: I wish it would disintegrate a little more! I like to call it the Myth, and I don’t use that as a judgmental word, but as a Joseph Campbell Myth. Like, the myth of the published author who produces this book and that’s when your life, your writing life becomes sustainable, when you get that contract from a publisher, and it releases. By far the most disappointed authors I meet are the ones who’ve just had their first book release, and they’re like, “That’s it, there’s nothing?”
I mean, certainly your first book is cause for celebration: at every step of the way, you should be celebrating these milestones, but that’s just the beginning, that’s the very first step into a much larger career. I think publishers, in whatever way it is, they’ve been reticent or secretive or just kind of, I don’t know, ignorant, not sharing the realities, I don’t think they’ve helped themselves, because it also creates this antagonism, the disappointed authors, or the authors with the incorrect expectations, of course their fury or their disappointment’s going to be directed at their publisher, in many cases.
So I don’t think it benefits the publishers, to be anything except upfront about what’s going to happen. And maybe some are, and authors just don’t hear it, they have on their rose-colored glasses and they don’t actually hear the conversation in honest terms, because they think, “Well, I’m the exception,” all authors think that. “My book will be different. I’ll get on the bestseller list. I will make a living.” So, I, I guess there’s plenty of blame to go around, for the Myth.
Joanna: It’s funny, because I had a drink with an editor from a publishing house–I asked her, I was showing her pictures of the portal, you know, the KDP, I can see my sales, and she said, “Well, we can’t do that with our authors, because they don’t want to see the reality of their daily sales.” The fact is, most books do sell very few copies a day, right? You know, they really do.
Jane: Very few. Having worked at a mid-size publisher, I saw the sales reports and I knew exactly what the expectations were, but there was totally this cultural reticence, and also rules that you shouldn’t share specific sales numbers, because of the trouble that could cause. I just always found it very unproductive, all around. I felt like if you could have a very transparent, authentic conversation with an author, within the environment of a relationship that you’ve already established, like between the editor and the author or the agent, editor and author, and talking about the full context of how we’ve come to this point, why the sales are this way, I think that’s very, very good. But most publishers, they don’t take the time or they’ve been burned one too many times.
Joanna: I want people to feel good about that: the reason why I bring it up is because it’s the reality: most books sell very few copies every day, whether you’re indie published or traditionally published, but hopefully that continues for a long time, that is the business model, small over time.
Jane: Right, and I hope that traditional publishing gets away from this launch mentality. I think slowly we’re getting away from that. I think the independent authors have been so good at pointing out to the larger community, “Let’s not focus on the first three months or six months, because the real potential is over the career.” But publishers have traditionally been so terrible at backlist marketing, and just going on to the next season, that they’re not capitalizing on the riches of the backlist. There are some exceptions to that, but I think they also have to change gears, and, because in the digital era, every book can be new, regardless of how old it is at the moment it’s discovered.
Joanna: Absolutely. And we mentioned a little bit about rights before. What are some of the things that you’re seeing now? A lot of people are now doing Germany: it does seem to be the next thing, I’ve got my first book in German coming out in a couple of weeks, and I hear a lot of indies now talking about that. And obviously audio is just starting, it’s just hit the UK with ACX. What are some of the rights that you see, the rights exploitation, the other opportunities for indies that are coming up now?
Jane: You’ve hit on two of the biggest, so the audio, article after article in the mainstream media has pointed to the immense growth in that sector. I think it’s a missed opportunity if people aren’t looking at that. And then, the translation rights, because all of the other countries in the world are catching up still to the US and to the UK in e-book sales, you will know better than I, probably, if it’s the iBooks store now that has some of the impressive growth internationally. I think Kobo, too, in Canada and elsewhere, because it has the Japanese corporation behind it, so it has that good international footprint.
I think what most worries me, and one of the reasons Scratch was started, was to help authors be a little more aware of the long-term financial picture for books in terms of their contracts, because a lot of traditional publishers are really tightening up the terms, and making it harder for authors to walk away, and I wish that the contracts were a little more—this is probably hoping for the impossible—cognizant that the environment’s rapidly changing and that a contract that’s set for a particular time limit, like three or five years—especially if it’s e-book only—I think that’s more fair, and is better for everybody to be able to re-evaluate whether that relationship or partnership should continue. But we’re not anywhere close to that, I think.
Joanna: You’re right, and it’s so interesting to be kind of in this space and knowing what you’re doing, and I get so frustrated when authors don’t even read—there’s a great book by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, “Contract Terms to Avoid,” or something like that, and it’s very clear in there what you should not sign!
Jane: Yes. Every author needs, I feel like there’s no excuse, you need to know how to protect yourself. And then for other opportunities, going back to your original question, there’s so much happening that’s interesting on the serialization side, not just with Wattpad but just in general, so I think we’re going to see a huge growth in mobile reading, it just seems inevitable, so I think authors need to be keeping an eye on what services or platforms or opportunities are coming along to capitalize on mobile-based reading, because we haven’t even scraped the surface of that.
And Wattpad, I think that’s 75% mobile-based reading, and that’s of course a community of predominantly young people, so I’m just very curious to see how that evolves, because I think it’s going to be one of the next great things for all types of authors, being able to deliver their work in a more appropriate way for mobile devices.
Joanna: I totally agree with you. And just on the future of reading, mobile’s obviously one of the big things, but we’ve seen that scanning app, that fast reading app, I think, I can’t remember what that’s called, actually.
Jane: I can’t remember what that’s called.
Joanna: And then there’s Google Glass, which is really interesting, because it’s that kind of voice, heads-up display on things.
Do you see this kind of technology changing the way we read?
Jane: I don’t know. I feel like the one word at a time going really fast to increase your words per minute, that that feels so goal-driven, like you don’t enjoy the reading as much. I may be being very old-fashioned in thinking that, but it seems to me like—on the other hand, it, when I tried that out, it kept me very focused, like there was no way I could go play Candycrush while reading, if I was in that app. I think it does feel very far out to me as far as the immediate opportunity is.
I’m thinking predominantly of app-based reading. In the US, I don’t know if this is in the UK yet, but Wooster, it may be just iPhone based, it may be for the Android too, a way to read literature in serialized form. I feel like there’s another one that I’m missing. Juke Pop Serials, I can’t remember if they’re app-based, but there are some of these interesting offerings out there that some writers are either welcomed in, just no gates at all, you can give it a try, or you have to kind of get through some kind of submissions process.
So, at least, speaking from personal experience, when I’ve read fiction, or non-fiction, on my phone, it’s usually through an app, that’s why I’m really focused on what apps are being developed that are going to be helpful in that way.
Joanna: Absolutely. I read a lot on my iPhone, on the Kindle app. You think you never will, and then you start, and then it doesn’t make any difference! It’s kind of crazy. Well, anyway, tell us a bit more about Scratch magazine and what people can find there.
Jane: It’s a quarterly publication, and we’ve had three full issues. One’s totally free, if you go back to our Fall 2013 issue, you can get the whole experience and get an idea of what it’s about. And then we have a January and an April issue out this year. So, we always have a feature interview with a big name writer. Cheryl Strayed, as you mentioned, is in the most recent issue, and then I usually do an industry-themed interview with someone you may not have heard of, but has a lot of prominence somewhere in publishing. And then we do a couple of personal essays each issue, from people talking about the intersection of writing, money and life. We do a round table that has a theme, so we’ve done web editors, creative writing professors, and literary agents.
Joanna: That was a great one.
Jane: And then we usually fill it out with some kind of hard-nosed business stuff, so I always do a contracts piece, we had the P&L piece in the recent issue. I like to try and explore one trend really in depth and talk to a lot of different people about it, so, last issue, I focused on serials, which is why I’m kind of gung-ho on that after exploring that field. So, we try to have a balance of what I would call the “life” side, how these issues can be very personal, and we develop attitudes to writing and money, and then also things that are very practical and try to advance people’s understanding of the economics.
Joanna: It’s fantastic, and I urge anyone who’s interested in the business side of being an author, to check it out, even if you don’t want to be a full-time author, it’s really brilliant for learning new stuff. I really enjoy it. And I read it on the app, as well.
Jane: Yes, you can read it on the app, or website, or if you want, we have a pdf, an epub edition, for people who prefer that.
Joanna: Just tell people how much it is.
Jane: Oh, it’s $20 per year. A bargain!
Joanna: It is, it’s ridiculous! It’s crazy for the amount of work you guys do: it’s amazing. So, thank you for all the work you do, I really appreciate it.
Jane: Thank you.
Joanna: And everything you put out, it’s great: your blog, you really do offer a lot to authors, which is just fantastic.
Jane: Thank you. As do you! To speak about consistency, which we touched on before, you’ve been consistently producing these interviews in multiple formats for several years now.
Joanna: Four years, it’s crazy!
Jane: Yes, and I’m sure you would say that has had immense benefit, even though you’re giving away the content for free. Or this form of the content.
Joanna: Absolutely. And we didn’t even have time to touch on platform, I know you have also been doing it for years, I think when you’re a writer, like we are, it is easy in a way to want to do this as well, so, it’s a good time. Tell people your website and where they can find Scratch Mag online.
Jane: I’m at www.janefriedman.com, and you can find my blog there as well as my huge archive of writing advice. And I have a little parody on the future of publishing, if anyone wants a good laugh. And then Scratch Magazine is at www.scratchmag.net, and we have a blog, too, if you go to www.community.scratchmag.net, so either way, you’ll get there.
Joanna: Brilliant. Thanks so much for your time, Jane, that was great.
Jane: Thank you.
Top image: Flickr Creative Commons money by tax credits
Selena Silcox says
Loved this podcast. I’m an accountant by trade, so getting the business-side of things right from the beginning was important to me. Writing because you love it, first and foremost, is of course important, but if you want to make money, you need to have a plan, or you’ll tread water rather than move forward.
My business and writing plans are ever-changing, and I revisit them every 6 months to make sure I’m on track.
The one thing that stood out for me in this interview was when Jane talked about having patience. As an accountant, I saw a lot of small businesses fail because people went in thinking they would make a lot of money quickly, and that just isn’t the case. It’s the same for writing, and something that a lot of authors advocate, but it seems like newer ones (myself included early on) don’t pay attention to. It’s the long game we should be concentrating on, and the creating of a career over time, rather than trying to hit it big with one book in the short-term.
Writing is the art – selling is the business. Thanks for some great insights.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Selena, and it’s great to hear comments from an accountant 🙂 The long game is so important and I try to compare my writing career to my previous day job.
No one is valuable for at least 5 years in any job, and then after 5 years you start being worth something … and when I left business consulting after 13 years, I was worth a lot more! So once, I have 5 years full-time I will expect to be doing better than I am … which is another 2 years for me. Then in another 8 years, I’ll be humming along 🙂 See you there!
Bryan Cohen says
Fantastic interview! Thank you so much, Jane, for dropping by the podcast and sharing your wisdom.
And Joanna, thank you for the shoutout for the Sell More Books Show. We’re honored to have you as a listener :).
Joanna Penn says
I’m enjoying the show Bryan 🙂 It’s great to have the news rounded up as you do. I’m including it in my newsletter this week as well. Authors need that info 🙂
John Wheeler says
Thanks for sharing both thoughts in this conversation. Most people know Jane as a trusted resource for writers, someone who is clued into the future of the publishing and media industry.
Jane Friedman says
It’s always wonderful being a guest on Joanna’s show, especially when I get to talk about my favorite topic. 🙂
Thanks for your comments & for listening!
Lisa Rivero (@Lisa_Rivero) says
Really good stuff, Joanna and Jane. This is just what I need at the moment for my summer of long-term planning. I’ve just cut back my adjunct teaching load to one evening course per term so as to have my days at home for my writing and editorial work–a first step in saying no and cutting back to make room for growth in other areas. The detailed planning work has never been easy for me (I prefer to fly by the seat of my pants most of the time), but I am seeing now that it is a skill I must learn if I am to honor my writing career.
Joanna Penn says
Cutting back to make room for growth is a great thing to be doing Lisa 🙂
Dan Holloway says
Very interesting conversation between two of my favourite writerly people. Art and money is one of my pet subjects as you know. My first love is the art world, so I’d be crazy to pretend that making money diminished the value of art. In fact, I’ve just been reading a wonderful interview with Marina Abramovic in which she responds brilliantly to people who criticise her for making money.
And yet I can’t shake the fact that there is something problematic going on (indeed, to take the historical route Jane travels, the fact that so many artists who were reliant on patrons, from Michelangelo to J S Bach, were so unhappy about having to take commissioned work to make their living emphasises this problematicity.
I think what troubles me, especially in self-publishing but in all publishing to some degree, and art as well, is a real fear of the subjective when it comes to the portrayal of art. There is no accompanying fear of data – bloggers, columnists, and the wider chattering classes are happy to herald greater or lesser degrees of sales, but there is a real fear of talking about greater or lesser quality of art. and so the latter conversation tends to get lost altogether and the “of course, it’s about good books” trope becomes the meaningless add-on to “and here’s a bestseller talking about how to sell” – even the qualification to talk in prominent places about books can become “profile” or sales. There is an egalitarianism about self-pubishing that’s disingenuous as well as liberating. It’s fabulous that everyone is part of the same community whatever their sales record and whatever their position on tha path. Only that egalitarianism is an illusion as well, because the juiciest slots go to the best sellers, and yet any discussion of the best artists gets sidelined as being undemocratic and, shudder, “subjective.”
So I think my problem isn’t with art and money being bedfellows, it’s with the way that teh conjunction of the two is touted in the media in order to disguise the fact that money means more to the media than art. To go back to art, marina Abramovic and Jack Vettriano are both very good at what they do, and neither will be reduced to beans on toast except by choice in the near future – but I sense if they were self-published authors, whilst both would be welcome on a platform, it would be because both are financial successes, and they would gain their places over those closer to teh breadline, whilst if it were suggested that Abramovic were, whisper it, a better artist than Vettriano, that would be deemed wholly inappropriate and the panel would be pulled from the programme.
Which is a long-winded way of saying I want teh discussion of art to be as frank as the discussion of sales. I want a world in which I can say someone (Penny Goring, to take an obvious example) is one of the best self-published writers of her time in just the same way I can say Hugh Howey is one of the best selling. And I want to be able to say that many of those who are rewarded with sales produce art that is not as good as those who have lesser sales, and I want it to be conversation-starting and thought-provoking but not treated with abject horror that I could even think it. And I want to be able to make the suggestion that many bestselling writers are experts at their craft rather than brilliant artists – and I want not to have to append that statement by saying that of course being a crafter is just as valid as being an artists – I want to have teh conversation about art on teh same terms as people have the conversation about sales – and then I will stop being worried by the niggling doubt that there’s something wrong in teh way art and money are talked about together 🙂
Joanna Penn says
I know what you’re saying but personally, I think there is already SO MUCH discussion of quality and critical review of artistic stuff and literature in the world, so MANY books on creativity and writing all from the non-business point of view, so many people with opinions on what is ‘quality.’ People have been discussing the artistic side of writing for a VERY long time – but only recently has there been a little transparency into the world of sales.
I am trying to talk about the sustainable business of being an author – and I don’t want to talk about what ‘quality’ means, because I think it’s different for everyone. This site is not a curator of literature, it’s turning into a business blog – so I’m always going to focus on the sales side! Your blog discusses what you consider to be quality, and you champion writers well. There’s room for us all 🙂 x
Dan Holloway says
Absolutely there’s room for us all 🙂
Debbie A. McClure says
Thank you ladies for a truly thought-provoking interview. Believe me, I was taking notes as I listened and watched the video. Jane, you mention Canada having more financing options for Canadian writers, but I have to say my experience in trying to get that kind of support from the CCA has proven less than stellar. In fact, I was recently rejected as an emerging writer before even getting into the running because my publisher had a print run of less than 350 for my last book. In this digital age, many small publishers and writers are doing POD and ebooks, not substantial print runs. Talk about disappointing and frustrating. At present, the CCA does not support self-published writers, although they’ve begun talking about it.
As a writer whose background is in commissioned sales, I went into this writing thing expecting to run it like a business, and knew I’d have to work my butt off over time to build a solid base on which to grow my writing career. Although we struggle with the finances, and I’ve had to take on minimum wage part-time work to help, I know from experience that any business takes 3-5 years before being really established. A magic bullet of a runaway bestseller would be wonderful, but I’m not counting on it. As a result, in my keynote speeches and workshops on writing, I am very clear to state that writing is a business as much as a creative process, and the writer is the engine driving the entire machine. Hearing you both echo this reaffirms my belief that artistry of any kind and business are not mutually exclusive. In actuality, these two ingredients should be top of the recipe for long term success. Now that, I’m counting on. 🙂
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Debbie, and I’m thrilled you reiterated
“I know from experience that any business takes 3-5 years before being really established. A magic bullet of a runaway bestseller would be wonderful, but I’m not counting on it.”
I’m coming up on 3 years as a fulltime author-entrepreneur this September and I know I have a good few years of solid work to earn at a level towards what I used to be on – but I am so much happier!
I’m also working on a book about the business of being an author – trying to articulate a lot of these thoughts – some of that will be posted here as work in progress – this is stuff we’re all thinking about!
Andrew J Chamberlain says
Listening to the podcast reminded me of this article:
When I first saw it I felt like I was seeing the opposite end of a long spectrum from Joanna’s view of the world, and I know which end of the spectrum I sit.
I don’t know the detailed circumstances of these authors, but the article is a powerful reminded of the need for us all to not only createour art but also to promote it, as well as ourselves.
The article didn’t help its own case by asking us to feel sorry for someone who may soon not be able to afford a South London office to write in- really? Most writers are happy to have a room in the house, a lot are at the kitchen table!
I suspect most authors wont be able to get their act together to the degree that Joanna has, in terms of mastering social media, marketing, and promotion, BUT we can beleive the principle, and we can all engage at some level, and 99% of us will have to get engaged at smoe level.
Joanna recently spoke about how the division between self publishing and commerical publishing is breaking down, I think we will also see barriers breaking down between the writer creating their art and who is promoting it – self help is now the way forward.
E.S. Ivy says
With regard to whether or not Amazon is letting you use author central for modifying your book info – it worked for me yesterday, so maybe they changed something back.
Thank for all your information, as usual!