Hoping to publish? [stifled laughter]

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Andy and I attended a (free!) Social Media Week New York event called “Hoping To Publish? An Agent, Author, Marketing Director and Publisher on what to expect and the questions to ask, in the Trade or Self-Publishing Worlds.

Social Media Week

As you may recall from a previous post on this blog (one that featured a big creepy portrait of Kyle MacLachlan), Andy wrote a book many years ago, I edited it last year, and now we’re both wondering where the story goes from here.

We were hopeful that “Hoping To Publish?” would shed some light on our options, and indeed it did. Here are my top takeaways:

  • The world of book publishing is every bit as complicated and nuanced as the worlds of professional sports management, Japanese lacquer painting, or geopolitics, and the pros on this panel—who included a 40-year veteran of major publishing houses; an award-winning five-time novelist; and a longtime, seen-it-all literary agent—clearly spent much of their lives learning the ropes. (I should add that these are the ever-changing kind of ropes, which makes learning them that much harder.) This is not a space for the faint of heart or lazy of habit!
  • Generally, while the film and music industries have embraced “indie” production, bookish tastemakers do still tend to cast a pall on authors who self-publish memoirs and works of literary fiction—though writers of genre fiction seem able to avoid this stigma and can often do pretty well for themselves, both financially and socially. The panel agreed this construct will probably not last, that the literary elite will eventually fall in line with the rest of the media at some point, but for now, most of the speakers cautioned that self-publishing outside of categories like science fiction and erotica can amount to career suicide.
  • It’s really hard to get published. One speaker joked that, in the ’90s, when she was trying to get her first book published, everyone and his brother had a book deal—her coworkers all had book deals, the guy she sat down next to on the bus had a book deal. But in our post-crash (and nearly post-bookstore) world, it’s a tougher go for all.
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Example of a sad face (courtesy Flickr user kokopelli1330)

Yes, in all, it was kind of a bummer. But the panel did also take care to mention some silver linings:

  • Authors today can play a much greater role in the success of their books by working themselves to pump up their following via social media;
  • If your goal is to just to produce a physical object of your work for funsies or posterity (rather than to make a career of being an author), self-publishing is a cure-all godsend no matter your genre;
  • If you love to write, you should try not to get discouraged and keep writing no matter the publishing landscape. Because, at the end of the day, aren’t we all just writing because we love to?
I Love You hand

See? This guy just loves to write! (courtesy Flickr user Summer)

In our case, since Andy’s novel falls in the genre fiction part of the spectrum, we’re thinking that self-publishing could be a good way to go with her book. At the least, we’ll have an awesome book-baby we can hold in our arms and pass around to our friends, and if the stars align, she might make 50 or 100 bucks and get trolled on the internet by some nerds!

Dear readers: Anyone want to chip in their two cents on this behemoth topic?

Why I might stop calling myself a freelancer

As a wordie (hey, there are foodies, right? why not wordies?), I’m always interested in people’s different reactions to the same word, including my own.

For as long as I can remember, the word “freelancer” has had positive connotations for me. I associate it with independence, bohemia, diverse and interesting work. But when I read my friend and fellow wordie Suzan Bond‘s recent Fast Company article, I experienced something of a change of heart.

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Identity! (photo of a windowsill I saw in Prague this summer)

I won’t summarize her story, since Suzan did a marvelous (and concise) job of laying her premise out, but will say I’m starting to think about different ways to introduce myself that wouldn’t be as apt to connote “beginner,” “student,” or “hack” to other people.

I could say…

  • “I provide editorial services to nonprofits and small businesses.” This is exactly true, but rather clunky and perhaps a bit stuffy for a conversational entrée.
  • “I’m a writer/editor.” And then when they ask What do you write?, I say the above.
  • “I’m in business for myself.” “I have my own business.” “I’m self-employed.” Etc. Then the above.

I’m sure something will stick in time. And if “freelancing” has taught me nothing else, it’s that all is fluid! But right now, my curiosity’s piqued.

Fellow self-employed friends: How do you introduce yourselves?

A sci-fi plebe gets initiated

I should have known when I learned that a friend of mine named her blog after a Philip K. Dick novel that she was into science fiction (or should I say speculative fiction? help!), but I really didn’t think about it.

Only several years later (which was already several years after I’d met her) did the topic of sci-fi come up in earnest between us. We were in a rental car on our way to a wedding and she said, apropos of not much, “Have you ever edited a book?”

I said not exactly, but mentioned a few things that kinda-sorta came close. Why was she curious?

men in space

Men in space! (courtesy Flickr user 1950sUnlimited)

“Well, I wrote a sort of sci-fi novel maybe 10 or 15 years ago,” she said, “and it’s basically been sitting in a drawer since then. Recently, I’ve been feeling like I’m ready to do something with it, but I think it could use a second pair of eyes. I’m not sure exactly what an editor would do, besides be a genius and fix all my mistakes… But let me know if you want to talk about it.”

I was SUPER intrigued. For one, my friend wrote a secret book!! For two, it was a sci-fi book—especially weird!! For three, I love me the prospect of a crazy new project.

I’ve found that one of the best things about my first year-and-change of full-time freelancing has been the ability (or heck, sometimes the necessity) to take on a wide variety of editorial gigs. As I heard the author John Vaillant recently say, “I am a professional generalist.” Aside from the thrill of solidarity it gave me to hear a big-name writer identify himself that way—I’ve always been a mega-generalist and sometimes struggled with my lack of speciality, but he’s proof you can have an awesome career as a jack of many interests—his quip also perfectly described one of my favorite job perks: variety.

I told my friend that, although I: a) am not a fiction writer, b) am not even a huge fiction reader, and c) have never, to my recollection, read a sci-fi novel*, I was confident that I could at least do a decent job of copyediting her book, and that if I found I had any developmental suggestions for her in the course of doing so, I’d pass them on. She agreed to hire me, and off I went.

Dune

Dune! Power! Kyle MacLachlan!! (courtesy Flickr user KAZ Vorpal)

I’ve been combing through her formidable 480-page book since the middle of last month, with the goal of finishing by year’s end, and I’m having a blast with it, for many reasons. To name a few:

  • The change of pace is invigorating (see the jollies of the generalist, above). I love what I normally do, which is writing and editing external communications for nonprofits. It’s interesting, it has clear goals, and it’s for a good cause. But fiction! I can crank up the artfulness and shelf for a time the thoughts that the text I’m working on will need to be fact-checked, or instigate a call to action, or fit in a 500-word box. Our only goals here (though they are heady ones) are to tell an engaging story in the most appealing way we can. Hooray for that creative focus and freedom.
  • I’m getting to know my friend better through reading her impressive writing, which is lovely. And I’m probably enjoying reading the story more myself since I know who wrote it. Double win! Oh, and I’m gaining a better understanding of why people like sci-fi. Triple win!
  • As the weather cools, this is the perfect long-form project to curl up on the couch with: blanket over my knees, cup of coffee on the end table, laptop just where it was designed to be. Another nice change of pace: there’s nothing frenetic about this task.

So this post is part shout-out to my talented and industrious friend for believing I might be of some help to her labor of love, part written revelation about the wonderfulness of changing things up at work, and part teaser—’cause this book should be out on Kindle next year and I’ll be engaging in even more shameless self-promotion then!

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Hey other freelancers: Do you like the way variety shapes your professional life? (Or maybe you hate it?) Penny for your thoughts in the comments.

*Unless you count a college boyfriend trying to read all of Frank Herbert’s Dune to me in installments. I tried hard to keep up with it, but usually fell asleep before he finished.

The Good Life

Today just got a lot… gooder!

The Everybody’s Invited Guide to the Good Life is here.

My excellent friend Hannah Kane (both of the aforementioned creative party planning troupe and of the genius Scrum Your Wedding) asked me if I would edit this very practical yet properly whimsical how-to for living more luscious, thrilling, and satisfying days and nights. Only a miserable grump would have taken a pass.

Here’s an excerpt:

If your reaction to the words ‘mindfulness’ and ‘meditation’ is a gigantic eyeroll, try to bury your skepticism for a minute. Meditation can help reduce pain, depression, and anxiety, for realsies. And it doesn’t require that you be on a spiritual journey (though it’s fine if you are)—it works because meditation is simply mastering the art of paying attention, and there’s nothing woo-woo about that.

The guide is packed tip to tail with real-talk suggestions, “Dropping Science” proofs in the sidebars, and interesting activities with names like “It’s your funeral” and “Anticipation Horizon.”

Halloween 2014

Living the good life: Not just for Halloween anymore (photo courtesy Natalya Bagrova)

Also, the guide appears to have debuted on the Internets as a free download, which would be just like those altruistic Oregonians.

I must urge anyone who could use even a dash more play, surprise, and adventure in their existence to grab a copy.

And let me know how you like it!