Thursday, July 12, 2012

Writing and Writers: Jane Friedman

 Writer’s Block airs every Tuesday, at 9 a.m. MST on KFUN/KLVF, streaming live at


On the subject of e-media and 

new opportunities

Jane Friedman
Jane Friedman recently left her position as an assistant professor of e-media at the University of Cincinnati. She is the former publisher of Writer’sDigest, the go-to magazine for writers, and has spoken on writing, publishing, and the future of media at more than 200 events since 2001. Her new role is that of online editor for the Virginia Quarterly Review.

In our interview Jane said she comes from a creative writing and liberal arts background. Before entering academia for a couple of years, she worked in traditional publishing, first at a mid-size publishing house, and later at Writer’s Digest.  
While her new position at VQR is publishing related, there are distinct differences. VQR is a non-profit entity rather than commercial, and has a more literary approach to content.

Jane talked about her past experience and her new opportunities. I asked her to share her thoughts on what e-media means both from a promotions point of view and from a consumer’s perspective.

She said e-media is a funny term. In the university environment – and perhaps in the thinking of most people – it means anything related to communication: radio, television, internet and other electronic transmissions. New media more specifically focuses on the internet and on-line tools like e-books, blogs, websites and the various other, and seemingly growing, number of social media sites.

She said prior to issuing an e-book, authors should be comfortable with the scope of the online community, pointing out that if you’re not active online it will be more difficult to create a presence. Jane had a few recommendations for authors who are internet novices.

First Things First

  • Create your own website where you have all the information about your books, events, or anything that’s going on related to your work. 
  •  If you have no publishing partner research what’s out there and select what will work for you. Your decision will be based on what you know about your readers and how they will respond to what you have to offer.
  • There are a number of resources available, two of which Jane recommended. Bookbaby and Smashwords are well-run companies used by thousands of authors. Neither is better than the other, but each provides options suited to author needs.
The use of e-media tools is based on the assumption the people you want to reach are active online. Jane said social media typically works as a triangle. 

  • Readers and the types of sites and tools they use.
  • You the writer, and the sites and tools you’re comfortable with.
  • Your work.
The sweet spot it where they all come together. Some tools may be better suited to specific types of writing. Prose, poetry, fiction and non-fiction present different and distinct challenges in creating an on-line presence.  

Market research is essential in determining what will work, beginning with finding out where readers are and what they're doing (looking at) on line. There is no one specific tactic or strategy. Jane said what you use depends on the work itself and what you enjoy doing. If you don’t enjoy it (blogging, tweeting, facebooking -- my word not Jane's) you won’t continue to do it, and that’s what counts; consistency over the long haul. “Efforts snowball based on small actions you do every day. Those actions give you visibility, which eventually translates into a growing audience and your platform.”


What are the elements of a good blog? Jane gave three easy-to-follow tips. 
  • Make it easy to read. Don’t use blog templates that have small type or use white type against a black background.
  • Create headlines that work. Make sure headlines, taken out of the context of your blog home, attract readers. Make your headlines search-friendly and related to your topic.
  • Make your blog outward focused. Think about your readers and what will interest them. Use the principles of good writing: get to the point quickly, break up the post with headlines, subheads and bulleted lists and keep the writing tight, generally no more than 500 words, unless you already have a loyal following.

The Future of Publishing

We talked briefly about The Future of Publishing: Enigma Variations, Jane’s free e-book about, well, the future of publishing. The book is a slight departure from what she was encouraged to do. She had no interest in writing about the future of publishing because nobody knows what the future holds, especially when it comes to the publishing world. When she decided to proceed with the project she elected to say something about the topic in a humorous way. This parody contains a dozen or so chapters riffing on predictions made by others. I have to say, it’s fun to read. In the final chapter Jane gives her honest opinion.  

On to new beginnings

Jane’s new adventure in publishing is taking her back to her roots. She said around Virginia Quarterly Review they sometime refer to the journal as eating your vegetables. I took that to mean it’s good and good for you. VQR is comprised of high-quality journalism, essays of nurture, and photo journalism not found in other journals

Predominately a print publication VQR has been around since 1925. While there have been some digital versions, and there is a website, the online presence needs attention. Jane’s role is to revive the journal's social media impact and look for ways to build an online community. Through her efforts she will be promoting the brand, building content that lives online and translating the print edition into an online experience. Plans are to generate unique content for the website not related to the print version.

VQR does take submissions, but Jane said now might not be a good time to submit work as management is preparing to hire a new editor. She recommends checking online for updates. 

Generally VQR is theme-based by issue and full of photo and international journalism. Additional content includes short fiction, poetry and a range of essays. Content may be best described as eclectic. Check out archived articles online, or order a print edition to see what VQR looks like in living color.

Jane’s final advice to writers is to be patient. The publishing process in any form takes time. Don’t expect results within weeks, she said, and remember, "...small actions, every day, over a long period of time will pay off."

My thanks to Jane, who in the initial stages of her new job, took time to call in and talk about writing and the online tools you can add to your tool box.

(Photo of Jane from her website)


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  1. Congrats to Jane on her new job! Sounds like it's going to be a real challenge and loads of fun...If I understand rightly, she is tasked with taking VQR into the Digital Age, awesome!

    Btw, I checked their submission box and found it closed as of 1 June - to re-open only in the fall...

    And thanks Sharon for an excellent interview full of interesting information.

  2. Thank you, Claude. Jane was a great interview. I find her posts and recommendations a constant inspiration, and I know she will do well at VQR. She did say to keep checking the website to know when submissions open. Good luck with your writing.