1. Out of everything that someone could say helps people become better writers, how did you choose those four qualities for your book?
I realized, but only after being out of graduate school for over ten years, that there were ‘secrets’ to getting published that were not being shared in the academic setting.
We all know that Craft is a must in a writer succeeding. But why were some really fabulous writers not getting published and others were? Why were some writers winning prizes and others were not?
What I came to learn was that it wasn’t ‘what you know but who you know!’
Of the six books I’ve had published in the past 13 years, all of them were, in one way or another, through talking to someone, hearing about a press, or being referred to a press.
I also realized that my lack of confidence had held me back. I wanted writers to know that they weren’t alone in their anxieties and intimidation by the ‘literary giants.’
As for Community, again, it was only after I decided to commit myself full time to my writing career did I learn that being active in the literary community REALLY mattered in the level of success that I was going to achieve. That was another biggie that was not discussed in academia.
2. Are these traits important for writers in all genres? Do they apply to everyone?
I actually believe that they are important for all genres; poetry and fiction as well as non- fiction and memoir.
I am going to say that they even apply to screenwriting and journalism. There are anecdotes in the book from journalists that would really surprise you. Everyone thinks that some genres are ‘easier’ than others (I’ve had fiction writers say ‘oh poets - they have it easier because a journal will publish one page faster than 10.” ) But that’s not necessarily true; poets face steep competition!
3. How can you be successful as a writer if you don’t have as much cash or time for things such as editing, writing courses, or a MFA?
I actually think this is a very hard question. I have found that having funds to commit actually makes a difference. Money for professional editors is almost non-negotiable.
That said, I think if you work very hard, find the contests that don’t charge a fee, commit to a very strong program of submissions and getting published, you will succeed. Volunteering for and getting involved in a literary organization doesn’t cost anything, right? But it does take time.
As far as getting over the ‘money for editors’ issue, if you cultivate relationships with friends who are writers, you can offer a trade for their editing help. “I can’t pay you to edit my novel, but I’ll help promote your work on social media, or I’ll write a press release for you.” A little support to another writer can go a long way!
4. How do you develop a platform if you are new to writing and don’t already know many people who would be potential readers?
Start by getting involved with as important and large of a writing organization that you can.
Some organizations have ‘requirements’ - such as being published before you can join, and some will allow ‘aspiring’ authors to join.
National organizations like PEN, the Author’s Guild, The National Book Critics Circle, The Women’s National Book Association , can all help in building a significant and strong platform.
5. When should you keep trying the traditional route to publication and when should you go ahead and self-publish?
I am an advocate of traditional publishing. Although there are people who have had successful careers with self-publishing, they are few and far between!
The work it takes, and the gumption required to do the ‘shameless self promotion’ required of self published authors is staggering. So a writer has to be realistic : do I have those qualities?
Also, I feel that self published authors are still stigmatized. (Even if self publishing advocates deny this. And, by the way, there are scams in self-publishing that are very sneaky. There are publishers that charge outrageous amounts to published your book and that promise the authors things that they don’t deliver or that are ineffective.)
Bookstores don’t feature self published authors. Reviewers won’t review self published authors.
So the author looking to self publish needs to know that they will have a handicap going in.
Also, from a career standpoint, unless you sell over 3-5,000 copies of that self published book, it almost doesn’t ‘count’ with any future publishers.
My stance is this: Even the smallest micro press puts a stamp of approval on your book that is worth sharing some royalties and revenues for.
With a micro press, you still have to do almost all of the hard work that you might do if you were self publishing , but you have a press behind you that’s given your book it’s blessing.
It’s worth the time to wait, is what I recommend.
Please order Joan Gelfand’s You Can Be a Winning Writer: The 4 C’s Approach of Successful Authors – Craft, Commitment, Community, and Confidence here.