Jane Friedman, Publisher

Jane FriedmanBy Marian Schembari, Contributing Editor, Digital Book World

Jane Friedman claims she offers “tough love for writers”, and as publisher and editorial director of the Writer’s Digest brand community, that’s exactly what she does.

When I asked Jane what exactly her job description entailed, I was surprised by a list involving everything from “community leader” to “event overseer” to “creator of resource directories”. This woman is busy, and keeping up-to-date with all the happenings in publishing – from Cincinnati, no less – seems like an incredibly daunting task that she tackles with a seriously calm and collected attitude.

Acknowledging the difficulty of not being part of the New York publishing scene, she says her Midwestern location makes her feel a little removed and makes it much harder to keep up with the rapid changes happening in the industry. On the other hand, that distance also gives her a great perspective which, coupled with the job itself, means she’s not biased about which direction publishing goes in. She focuses on informing writers and authors about what’s happening in the industry, and identifying the best ways for them to take control of their careers.

Writer's Digest's 90th Anniversary IssueJane explained that the best way to keep abreast of changes in the industry is to “read like mad,” and since print can’t keep up anymore, her information sources are almost always blogs. At first it was Publisher’s Lunch and Publishers Marketplace, but new sources of information have really exploded over the last few years.

“Now we can get valuable insight from at least 15-20 different bloggers,” she says.

What I wanted to know was, what does one recommend to authors nowadays? With changing business models and an enormous amount of online opportunities, what’s the best advice?

Here are some snippets from our interview:

“Writers tend to be very active online but not savvy about anything technological or digital,” Jane explained. “They can get online and are great with socializing and critiquing and forming groups, but they’re often not really advanced beyond that socialization aspect. Fortunately though, because they are online, it’s easier to reach them and get them online and interacting.”

So how does an author grow online?

“Provide meaning and create a solid platform. It’s important to build online relationships with people who can be supportive and encouraging. Build contacts and mentors.”

What are some basic steps authors should take to create an online presence?

“They need some kind of online home base, whether it’s a blog or full-blown site; a Facebook page or Twitter account. They can start small but it’s necessary to have something where you can point people to and say, ‘Here is where my activity is.’”

Jane then told me a pretty cool story about one author, Darrelyn Saloom, who is in the process of writing a memoir about a female boxer. The “phenomenal” manuscript isn’t yet complete but after getting on Twitter she started gaining some traction.

“This gives her a huge built-in audience,” Jane explained. “Twitter may not be the magic bullet, but if the people you’re trying to reach are there and you have the voice, they just respond and you can get a lot further.”

Saloom is diverse in her tweets, something Jane thinks establishes an important balance, and her followers consist of people interested in memoirs as well as others in the writing community. While occasionally tweeting about her life, she mostly shares information she finds useful, or about her writing progress, and generally mixes it up between things writing-related and personal. “She’s very helpful to other people and she likes to promote and encourage the writers who are around her. That tends to make you more popular and I know that’s a big part of why so many people are responding to her.”

Twitter, Facebook, blogs, fancy websites and the million other little things we all do to create a larger web presence can seem incredibly daunting – especially to an author who’s just starting out. But after talking with Jane I started to realize that it’s not about getting involved in every community, but really giving yourself to the few you’re comfortable with. It’s not just about getting people to read your book, but promoting other people and helping other writers.

That’s what these communities are all about. And the return on your investment can be enormous.

Jane Friedman is the publisher and editorial director of the Writer’s Digest brand community, where she oversees Writer’s Digest magazine, Writer’s Digest Books, and the Writer’s Market series. She is the author of the Beginning Writer’s Answer Book; blogs on the industry as part of the Writer’s Digest community at There Are No Rules;  and serves on Digital Book World’s Community Advisory Board. She is a vegetarian, bourbon-drinking editor, at least mostly sane, living life forward, even though you can only understand it backward.

Marian Schembari digs social media and books. Usually at the same time.

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