6 things I learned from interviewing 300+ women writers

by Nicole Melanson ~

Graduation caps in the air

I’ve spent the past few years interviewing 300 or so women in the literary arts, and there are some patterns of success that stand out from that time. They’re not earth-shattering; in fact, they’re rather elementary. But they are the things my most successful interviewees have in common. I’m sharing them here to help you progress your writing career to the next level, whatever that may look like for you.

Hands of woman writing in a journal

1.

Writers write. I know, I know—you were expecting something so much more profound! Soz. But hear me out: the reason I had so many authors to interview is because they were actual authors—not just daydreamers. These women had gruelling day jobs, dying parents, young children, failed marriages, empty bank accounts…or else they were stunning, whirling dervishes of professional success with scintillating social lives. Regardless of individual circumstances, every one of them sat down and wrote. Some started writing at 4 AM, others worked from midnight on. Somehow, they prioritized the act of writing and made it happen despite a wealth of compelling distractions.

Group of writers working around a table

2.

You need to find your tribe. Not just any tribe but your tribe—the people who appreciate what you’re trying to do and know how to help you do it. All my interviewees spoke about the importance of having someone else ready to read their work and provide constructive feedback. For some, it was a partner; for others, a writers’ group. Some of the more established authors built a rapport with a particular editor. The point is, all of them had a checkpoint between their desk and their publisher’s. Find someone who isn’t afraid to tell you when you’re writing garbage, keep your pride in check, and thank them profusely!

Woman working through a stack of papers

3.

Be prepared to revise. The act of writing? It’s flirtation. Revision is where you pick your lover’s socks up off the floor, unball them, and put them in the washing machine even though you’re tired and would rather be watching a trashy television show. Some of the writers I featured loved the process of revision; others loathed it. All agreed it was absolutely essential. Revise, rinse, and repeat.

Facebook thumbs up logo

4.

You need an author page on Facebook. By all means, rabbit away on Twitter; it’s a fun way to chat to other industry professionals and I’m not saying those people are never going to buy your book—just that they’re not particularly interested in how you feel about your book. They might “like” and retweet you, but the people coming to read your innermost thoughts are flowing in from Facebook. They’re the ones who want to know what your dog said to you this morning and how you translated that into a sestina. They’re the ones who are going to attend your book launch even though it’s snowing and your publisher refuses to spring for refreshments.

Another reason you need a Facebook page? So you can be tagged. You might have a personal account, but if you haven’t set up a public author page, there’s no way to loop you in on a thread, share your writing with prospective readers, or help you connect with fans that might be interested in supporting your work. Ask any publicist what it’s like trying to promote someone who won’t even open the door. (Elena Ferrante, feel free to disregard.)

If you’re looking for some practical advice on working Facebook magic, Tess Woods has a ton of useful tips here and here.

Young women taking selfie

In addition to Facebook, if you’re writing for a younger readership, you should be on Instagram bantering over pics. Teens these days do read, but they’re also into photos and you need to get comfortable sharing selfies and shelfies if you want to catch their attention. Bonus points if you can throw in an audio or video component; mixed media is where it’s at with the next generation.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. I had one author pitch me for an interview and I felt concerned when she told me she had no social media accounts whatsoever. Her approach was to visit local libraries and nursing homes collecting the email addresses of interested audience members after every reading. And that’s all she did. And it worked! So the lesson there is understand the way your target reader thinks and don’t underestimate the importance of building up a database of people keen to receive updates about your work.

Woman posting a letter

5.

You have to actually submit. You just do. If you’re not sure where to start,  read Catherine Nichols’ “Homme de Plume” and The Guardian follow-up “Sexism in Publishing” and you’ll see how the odds are stacked against women writers, meaning we need to work twice as hard as men to get our names in print. Then read Kelli Russell Agodon’s “Submit Like a Man”, pull together some poems, a short story, an entire manuscript…and hit SEND!

Yes, it’s true that from time to time publishers will approach someone and beg them to write something—anything—just so they can publish it, but here’s the thing: the people they approach are already celebrities. They’re Olympians and politicians and rock stars and self-made Insta slebs with a million followers. They’re not me, and they’re probably not you either. Unless you’re willing to put yourself out there and risk getting your heart ripped into confetti, you’re not going to get a book deal. How does a publisher know you have their next international bestseller hiding in the bottom of your sock drawer if you never send it out? Sometimes the only difference between a published author and a dreamer is a good, solid query letter.

Woman tossing hat

6.

Lastly, learn to let go. For some of my interviewees, this was easy; they were ready to be released from their book. Others described struggling to recognize when their work was done, or feeling overly invested in reviews, literary awards, and peer criticism. The timeline is different for everyone, but at some point, your book ceases to belong to you and becomes part of The Great Universal Library instead. People you don’t know will read it. Many will hate it. Some of them will tell you this, even if you burst into tears on the spot. You have to be willing to relax your grip regardless. You have to be strong enough to press on with the hardest challenge ever presented to literary mortals: Writing the Second Book!

Woman's crossed fingers

I hope this has been helpful to you. Thank you for reading, and best of luck with all your writing endeavors!

Cheers, Nicole

Advertisements

16 thoughts on “6 things I learned from interviewing 300+ women writers

  1. Wow! I came here through a friend who posted on Facebook! “Unless you’re willing to put yourself out there and risk getting your heart ripped into confetti, you’re not going to get a book deal.” I’m going to print this out and stick it on my laptop. Wonderful advice.

    Like

    • Hi, Lisa! I’m glad that spoke to you. It’s so hard to find the balance between believing in your own words enough to give them shape and knowing when to pack away the artist’s ego and just get on with the business side of things. Thanks for reading. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A great article Nicole – the Facebook info was especially useful to me. And I heartily concur that you have to be willing to revise. And revise. And revise until you are sick of the sight of your work. Many thanks!

    Like

  3. Hi Nicole, Lovely to see you back again after your hectic year. (I remember well deciding against two different schools and a kinder in one year, so I could never imagine four! You’re a hero!) And thanks for these tips. All so true (especially revising!). You’ve also raised one of my ongoing dilemmas: Facebook Author pages. I have personal and author pages, but I hear that more and more that the distribution of author page posts is deliberately limited as a way to make authors pay to have the post ‘improved’. On one hand, it means you get to even more people, I think. But on the other hand, it’s money we don’t really have. Dunno. With my book coming out this year, I’m going to experiment, though marketing ain’t my forte!

    Like

    • Hi, Robyn. FB is so tricky like that! If you have a public page you and don’t pay to promote, your posts do go unseen by many of your followers. However, having an official page makes it easier for people to find and follow you, and you can be tagged by publishers, publicists, peers etc. who are trying to promote your work. It also makes for a clear public persona. On the flip side, if you just add everyone who would normally like your author page as a friend on your personal page, you have the advantage of them seeing more of what you share. But then you have to be careful to manage post exposure so you’re not sharing something you’d normally limit to close friends and family with a bunch of readers you don’t really know. Also, if “fans” don’t realize that’s how you’re running your personal page, they might not ask to add you as a friend so you miss out on making that connection. Tess Woods is a good example of someone who makes the public page work to her advantage, whereas Joanne Fedler capitalizes on her personal account. Both worth a look! 🙂

      Like

  4. I loved this post! Your description of the revision process really struck a chord. “Revision is where you pick your lover’s socks up off the floor, unball them, and put them in the washing machine even though you’re tired and would rather be watching a trashy television show.” Thank you so much for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

Penny for your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s