I wrote this back in 2021 but had so much fun with it, and still believe it accurately illustrates a session with Jane Friedman, that I’d like to share it again. Her virtual masterclass, “From Anxious to Savvy: How Every Writer Can Build a Lifetime Book Marketing Foundation” is coming up on Saturday, March 23, and no matter where you are in your writing, you don’t want to miss this!
I met Ms. Friedman in person at a workshop held by the Indiana Writer’s Center at Marian University in 2019.
Now, I’ve come across celebrities. I once passed Steve Harvey at the Detroit Metro Airport baggage claim at 2 am. But at that moment in the college hallway, I understood the feeling people talk about when they describe meeting a major influence in their life.
(She might remember me as the cartoonish character wagging my tongue while she was trying to get her mojo in place before class. I took my seat, grateful I could stop my mouth-rattling and if she was too, she never let on.)
That workshop was “Getting Your Work Published” and it marked a turning point in my career as a writer. At that time, I’d had a short story collection published by small press and while I sensed that not all of my works-in-progress were best suited for the same trajectory, I didn’t know how to make an informed choice.
The slides were set and the microphone checked, Jane cleared her throat and said something like, “I’m about to school y’all.”
Okay, she didn’t say that. Memory is a funny thing. That’s what I remember, though. Because school me she did.
The presentation was chock full of sample pitches and bios, cover images, charts and graphs, do’s and don’ts, and insider tips. Ms. Friedman took questions from the class like she was rolling a basketball over her shoulders. Honestly, I’d never seen someone go Harlem Globe-trotters while discussing the publishing industry, but that’s the closest comparison I can make.
I sat in the car for a good ten minutes afterwards, a tuning fork still sounding from the information I’d ingested. Rarely outside of grad school had I encountered so much information so densely packed and tightly organized. Ms. Friedman’s talk covered everything from agents, queries, proposals, and comp titles, to book covers, editors, formatting, and distribution. Plus hybrid publishing!
I was familiar with or had working definitions of a lot of the material when I walked in (helped in no small part by www.janefriedman.com), but for so long I’d been drowning in these concepts—especially the varied advice I received about them. By the time I walked out of that room, Jane had given me a life vest, an inflatable raft, an oar, and a first-aid kit.
Naturally, I signed up for her free newsletter, “Electric Speed” (recently I added “The Hot Sheet”) and when 2020 came around, her consistent online course offerings were indispensable to my burgeoning author career. Ms. Friedman’s classes illuminated the nuts and bolts of the writing life: I learned about self-publishing, blogging strategies, working on my author website and managing my author platform. On top of that, top-notch guest lecturers like Allison Williams and Dinty Moore offered valuable insights into the process of memoir.
I’d like to say I’m Jane Friedman’s number one fan but there’s too many contenders and I try not to start fights (I’m barely five feet tall and out of shape). Instead of giving *myself* a title, I’ll simply say that Jane Friedman is a national treasure for writers, a strong supporter of Midwest Writers, and you should sign up for everything she’s putting out there. It will change the trajectory of your author career.
“When it’s time to publish your book,” Jane says, “remember that there is no such thing as a career-ending decision. While I want everyone to feel confident and informed about the publishing options available to them, the honest truth is that many writers end up in a publishing situation that isn’t quite what they imagined, or working with a publisher they’d never before considered. And sometimes the publisher (or agent) isn’t as all powerful or impressive as you once imagined! At some point in the process, you come to realize that much of your success rests on you and the qualities of the work you’ve been developing for years. This is ultimately for the best: you will partner with publishers or services as it suits you, and most writers will modify their path for each and every project. Simply put: You don’t rely on publishers for success.”