"Don't shut yourself off ... or limit yourself"
Kelly Boyer Sagert
We are back with prolific writer/author Kelly Boyer Sagert, who this month has generously given us the gift of her knowledge, expertise and experience. Sagert's writing credits include books, magazines, plays and essays, and she also teaches writing classes through the WritersOnline Workshops program by Writer's Digest. (For more information about her, visit her website.)
When I talk with working writers—those who rely on their writing for some or all of their income—most say how difficult they find the “job hunting” part of the process. Was this something you struggled with before you got your “writing cred”? What tips do you have for them to keep the assignments—and cash!— coming in?
|Kelly Boyer Sagert|
Oh, definitely! Getting assignments early on can be a challenge. And my advice is to be open and flexible about the possibilities. Don't shut yourself off by saying that you will only write for magazines, or for newspapers or for online sites. Or whatever.
Don't limit yourself, topic wise, either. If a legitimate opportunity comes your way, especially early on in your career, take it! You'll build up your resume, learn more about the publishing process, network with additional editors and publishers and gain confidence. What do you have to lose? Nothing but time, and you may discover whole new worlds.
Another area where many writers and authors seem to need help is the PR/marketing aspect. The whole idea of promoting themselves can be very challenging for many of them. Why is it so important that they hone their skills in this department?
Mostly because nobody else will do it for you (at least not for free)! It's crucial to build up a reputation as a solid, reliable writer, because that can help you to get your next job.
What marketing tools do you recommend for writers and/or author?
I mostly rely on social media and I strongly recommend attending writer's conferences. You'll meet other writers who can inspire you, you'll hear speakers who can educate you, and you'll connect with editors and publishers who can hire you. In April, I'll be hosting a Christian writer's conference in Amherst, Ohio that I hope turns into an annual event.
I got my first regular magazine work in 1994 by begging the editor of Ohio Writer (yes, begging, and it wasn't pretty) to let me write for her. It turned into a multi-year gig and I got to meet lots of other writers that way.
Are you a fan of social media? How can writers use it to benefit themselves and built a reputation or platform?
I am . . . and I'm not. I think it's very important to get your name out there and to connect with other people, and I do that on Facebook and Twitter and, to a small degree, Google+. But, I don't have a strategy and I don't deliberately promote myself or my work. Instead, I have casual conversations about my day, which naturally revolve around writing from time to time. Sometimes I think that I "should" be more aggressive in my social media participation but that's just not me.
When you first started doing media events (interviews, book signings, talks, etc.) to promote a book, did you find it harder than you expected? Looking back to your early days of being interviewed, is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I've never found being interviewed or giving presentations difficult. I absolutely love it and still can't quite believe that someone wants to listen to me! In some ways, I still feel like the new writer of 1990. In April, I spoke at the ASJA conference in New York City and I was in awe. As far as doing something differently, I wish we hadn’t hit Mark Johnson the weather man on the nose with a boomerang when we were promoting my book on the Morning Exchange.
You also have interviewed more than 100 authors. What has being in the interviewer’s chair taught you about being interviewed? And what do writers need to understand about the interviewing process, whether they are the subject of the interview or the one asking the questions?
Whether interviewing or being interviewed, prepare for the interview. If you're interviewing, discover information about the interviewee ahead of time and don't waste too much time on the questions that have been asked in other published pieces. If you're interviewing someone who has been profiled numerous times, ask him or her to share a question that he or she has never been asked – and then answer it.
If being interviewed, be ready to answer all of the most obvious questions – and then let it go and just be yourself. You don't want to sound robotic or like someone who has memorized pat answers. Show your personality and share anecdotes that show your human side. Go with the flow and have fun!
Do you have a favorite interview questions that you always like to ask your subject?
I like to hear outrageous stories, so I might ask about the funniest thing that ever happened to the writer while researching/writing/promoting his or her work, or the biggest mistake made, or something similar.
There’s no denying that the industry has its ups and downs. What do you do to keep your spirits and energy level up when projects don’t go as planned? What advice do you have for those just starting out when they get more rejections than acceptances?
I try to keep enough projects in the works so that no one project can be too deflating if it doesn't work out. That's what I recommend for newer writers, too. Don't let yourself become too invested into any one piece of writing; get lots out there and the momentum should build. Who knows? After building up your publishing creds, you may be able to return to that initial dream project and make it happen.
When I talk with writers, I find that many feel “burned out” because of the business side of writing: the marketing, pitching, website updating, blogging—all the things we have to do that aren’t strictly writing but are part of the whole picture. Often it seems like we spend more time with the biz side than the creative side. What advice do you have to help keep the two aspects in better balance?
That's definitely a tough one. When I get feeling burned out, I try to get more rest, to read for pleasure and to set aside some time to write about something I want to write about, just because. You have to recapture the joy.
What do writers need to understand about the pursing this career? Is it just about writing well, or are there other talents or abilities they need to develop?
Writing well is just part of the equation. Persistence is key. Persistence is huge! You simply cannot give up. You have to just keep going. Flexibility is also important. Don't focus so heavily on writing the Great American Novel (which may or may not ever happen) that you miss out on opportunities around you. Networking is also important, online and in person, so that you can recharge your batteries and discover new writing opportunities.
With the holidays coming up, what’s the one writing/writer-related thing you want Santa to bring you this December 25?
Hmmm. Maybe a mystery-writing how-to book or membership to a mystery writing organization, because I'm playing around with expanding into that genre.
Are you listening, Mr Claus? Check your list and bring her what she wants!
As for us, we have received plenty in our writing Christmas stocking in terms of great information from Kelly Boyer Sagert and I'd like to extend my thanks to her for being part of The Writer’s Place Blog!