If you're a writer, it's important to keep your finger on the pulse of the publishing industry. But with so much information out there and so many resources, how do you keep up with everything? Let us help.
We've compiled a list of 10 people who are "must-follows" when it comes to getting the inside track on publishing news. We also have a bonus list at the bottom of all the Writer's Digest editors who are online and constantly sharing great tips, advice and news on writing. If you're looking for the best people to follow online, these lists are an excellent starting point.
—by Jane Friedman, former publisher of Writer's Digest
1. Jason Allen Ashlock
Jason Allen Ashlock embodies much of the optimistic entrepreneurship and experimentation in the publishing industry. He founded Movable Type Literary Group (now Movable Type Management) in spring 2009, and within five years the agency amassed a healthy roster of more than 200 authors and established a reputation for inventive and expansive multimedia management. He also helped launch The Rogue Reader, an agent-assisted publishing model, before stepping away from agenting in late 2013 to turn his focus to book packaging and creative management. He now aims to help authors, start-ups and organizations succeed outside the commercial requirements of traditional publishing.
Why follow: Ashlock offers a fresh take on publishing, often with a focus on multimedia opportunities. He blogs at his own site; sends out a monthly e-newsletter with important reads on the industry; and serves as an expert blogger for Digital Book World (digitalbookworld.com, a subsidiary of F+W Media, parent company of WD), where he covers innovation, experimentation and content strategy.
In his own words: “Stark contrasts are drawn in times of upheaval and transition, and the dominant publishing narratives have centered on Big Publishing and Indie Authors. But there’s so much in between: mid-size houses with impressive reach, small houses with fiercely loyal followings, author collectives, ad hoc indie associations, networked book studios, experiments from innumerable nontraditional publishers. Today’s author gets to choose among an array of options for building a team.”
In action: In an article detailing their experience running The Rogue Reader, Ashlock and his agent-partner Adam Chromy offer a rare lessons-learned case study of agent-assisted publishing. Read it at http://bit.ly/ashlock.
2. Joel Friedlander
There’s a cacophony of advice out there on self-publishing, but one of the few people offering comprehensive, start-to-finish education, without any snark or agenda, is Joel Friedlander, aka The Book Designer. Friedlander began his career in book publishing in the 1970s doing letterpress work, and has since moved into digital book design and production. He founded and runs Marin Bookworks in California, which works with a range of authors, small presses, and publishers.
Friedlander is particularly active on his blog and Twitter, and is a frequent speaker at major events for writers and publishers, including the Independent Book Publishers Association’s Publishing University and the San Francisco Writers Conference.
Why follow: Friedlander’s website offers more than 700 free articles on how to self-publish, market and promote, and he is continually creating new services and products (both paid and free) for authors. He also runs a range of contests, including the eBook Cover Design Awards to recognize excellent work in the self-publishing community.
In his own words: “Authors need to realize that no one will automatically be interested in their work, and that they need to create books that have a real reason for being. It’s not enough, in the business of publishing, just to write. Quality work that clearly sets itself apart from other books in the market, that contributes something unique and valuable, is the basis for successful publishing.”
In action:In one of his most innovative offerings to date, Friedlander created Microsoft Word-based book design templates, which offer an affordable way for independent authors to get professional-grade design for their self-published books, both print and digital. Find out more: bookdesigntemplates.com.
3. Rachelle Gardner
Agents can sometimes seem inaccessible to the average writer, but Rachelle Gardner has a well-established reputation as a friend and adviser to new writers seeking assistance and insight into traditional publishing. Gardner became an agent in 2007, but started her publishing career in 1995, working in a range of positions related to sales, marketing and editorial. She’s also the author of eight ghostwritten books.
Why follow: Gardner has single-handedly amassed some of the most comprehensive and well-organized information available on how to get traditionally published, and her blog, where she engages in discussions spurred by her posts, has one of the most active comment sections of any writer-focused website. Because of the enormous archive of material at her site (she’s been blogging since January 2008), start with the “Popular Posts” section if you’re a new visitor.
In her own words: “Nobody is trying to keep you out of publishing. The whole job of agents and editors is to bring writers in—to find new voices, to nurture them and get them published. We have to say no to many writers because there are more writers trying to get published than there are slots available. But don’t take it as someone trying to keep you out, and don’t buy the lie that the publishing industry has erected barriers so that most writers can’t get in. We are always looking for new writers—it’s our job, and it’s my passion.”
In action: In one of her more controversial posts in 2013, Gardner wrote about whether a traditional publisher will allow an author, while under contract, to continue self-publishing other work. Her opinion on the matter drew criticism, so she wrote a follow-up post to clarify her position. To read both posts, visit http://bit.ly/rgardner.
4. CJ Lyons
The bestselling author of 21 novels, former pediatric ER doctor CJ Lyons is known for being a master of the thriller genre—and a member of the Kindle Million Club (authors who have sold more than a million e-books through Amazon). Lyons’ first novel was released by a major house in 2008, but since then, she has actively self-published many of her novels, becoming a hybrid author who decides which projects she keeps and which ones she sells to traditional publishers.
Why follow:Lyons is generous with information and advice for other novelists who want to follow her hybrid path to success, and actively blogs about new lessons she is learning along the way. She emphasizes the value of an author’s choice in publishing, rather than advocating any single method.
In her own words: “When I sign a contract with a New York publisher, they’re acting as a subcontractor (just like a plumber would), connecting me to my readers using their specific expertise and knowledge. But it’s my decision who to form strategic partnerships with, based on what best serves my business and my readers. If you take that approach to publishing, then every author can create their own Global Publishing Empire—it’s simply a question of standing up and taking control of what’s rightfully yours: your connection to your readers. … For me, this means there is no looming ‘death of publishing.’”
In action: In a revealing blog post, Lyons discussed whether or not giveaways really work, and shared her download figures during a giveaway of a new e-book. Read it at http://bit.ly/lyons-free.
5. Peter McCarthy
Peter McCarthy was the vice president of marketing innovation for Random House before stepping into his current role as full-time marketing consultant for big publishers seeking new ways to reach readers directly through online channels. He remains on the cutting edge of trade book marketing strategy, to such an extent that his expertise recently was sought in the programming of an entire industry conference called “Modern Book Marketing.”
Why follow: As one of the leaders in consumer book marketing innovation, McCarthy has truckloads of professional knowledge on how readers find books through search engines, online advertising, and social media. While his consulting business is focused on sharing that information with big publishers, he also happens to share some of it through his blog, which is accessible to a general audience (and invaluable to writers). He also regularly contributes to the Digital Book World Expert Publishing Blog (digitalbookworld.com/category/expert).
In his own words: When asked the most important lesson for an author to learn about marketing, he says, “To cooperate. In essence, a respect for the fact that marketing is a profession, as is writing. This is not to say that authors have no idea about marketing, nor that marketers know everything. Just that in my experience, the more an author describes to me in his or her own words the goals, context, challenges, etc., and leaves it at that, the easier it is for me to do my job. … With marketing—particularly digital marketing—authors seem either scared or to know it all. Neither stance is likely to yield a satisfying outcome.”
In action: In one of his expert blog posts for Digital Book World, McCarthy offers up five big-picture ways social media can effectively multiply book sales. Learn them at http://bit.ly/pete-mccarthy.
6. Kristen McLean
Kristen McLean spent 17 years in a wide variety of traditional publishing roles, including five years as executive director of the Association of Booksellers for Children. Today, she’s the CEO of publishing start-up Bookigee, focused on developing new services to help transform the book industry—including WriterCube, a free database of more than 20,000 vetted listings of book marketing resources (media contacts, top bloggers, book reviewers, etc.) for writers.
Why follow: McLean asks big, sometimes difficult questions about where the industry is headed. While some of her work is specifically for publishers, she is also interested in serving the individual authors who are trying to figure out how to succeed in the new environment. She tells WD, “If you want to disrupt an entire system, you have to think about the start of the value chain, and that is the author. … They’ve been largely ignored by the rest of the chain, who are trying to figure out how their own segments are changing.” McLean regularly guest blogs on major industry sites; you can follow her latest on Twitter, where she is active in sharing links on the technological transformation of publishing.
In her own words: “‘Making’ the book is a fairly simple exercise compared to the two activities that bookend it: (a) writing a great book; and (b) marketing a book. … Given that discovery is a challenge, and there are more and more books being published all the time, a book has to be very, very good or very, very well-supported by marketing dollars to break through.”
In action: In a guest post for Publishing Perspectives (publishingperspectives.com), McLean argues that the publishing industry needs to foster its own start-up economy. Read it at http://bit.ly/bookigee.
7. Joanna Penn (J.F. Penn)
Compared to others on this list, independent author Joanna Penn is fairly new to the game, having begun her publishing career in 2008. But given her prominence in the indie author community as an informational resource, it feels as if she’s been around for much longer. Her thrillers, self-published under the name J.F. Penn, have sold more than 55,000 copies combined, and her blog The Creative Penn and its companion podcast for writers have been going strong for more than five years.
Why follow: Penn has interviewed nearly 200 authors, editors, agents, marketers and publishing industry insiders, and turned those discussions into podcasts, YouTube videos and blog posts, all available for free. Her interviews are geared toward helping authors write, publish, market and promote their own work, regardless of genre. She also writes informative blog posts about her successes and failures as an independent author, and is transparent about how she’s achieved her success.
In her own words: “I love the hours I spend alone writing in libraries, but I also love the connections we can now make online. The writing community I have found through blogging and Twitter makes this a social creative world, plus I can share my stories with a global audience through online publishing. Being a writer and creative entrepreneur at this moment in history is fantastic!”
In action: In fall 2013, Penn wrote a blog post on how she makes a living as a full-time author, with an accompanying pie chart breaking down her true sources of income: product sales (45 percent), book sales (42 percent) and professional speaking (13 percent). It also illustrates how each book ends up producing multiple income streams. Read it at http://bit.ly/joannapenn.
8. Bob Sacks
Bob Sacks has been delivering news and opinions about the magazine publishing industry (with occasional pieces on news-papers and Web-based media) for more than 20 years, partly though a free e-newsletter established way back in 1993. Sacks’ career in publishing began in the 1970s, when he started a weekly newspaper in the metro New York area and later became a founder of High Times magazine. Over the years, he has been director at companies such as McCall’s, Time Inc., New York Times Magazine Group and Ziff Davis. Currently he is a full-time consultant in the magazine publishing industry.
Why follow: If you’re a freelancer or journalist, then subscribing to the BoSacks e-newsletter is one of the best things you can do for your industry IQ. In addition to sending three reads every weekday, he often adds his own insightful commentary, and circulates the opinions of others who respond to him. Even book authors can benefit from the articles he shares; many of the challenges faced on newsstands mirror those on bookshelves.
In his own words: In a recent email to his subscribers, Sacks wrote, “Print will survive because it does things that a Web-based product can’t do. … It is a relatively inexpensive product and on most occasions contains excellence in editorial quality and beautiful reproduction of art and photos. When you get right down to it, the whole dialogue of the death of print has been terribly exaggerated. Most of the trauma is from failing newspapers and magazines who can’t supply the reader with the kind of 21st-century content that they need, desire and are willing to pay for. Those titles that can supply outstanding content aren’t suffering.”
In action: Sacks is frequently on the road, speaking at industry events. To get a feel for his myth-busting talks, visit http://bit.ly/bosacks-future.
9. Mike Shatzkin
For people who work in the book publishing industry, Mike Shatzkin represents the insider’s insider. Shatzkin has worked in every conceivable role in the field, including bookseller, author, agent, and sales and marketing director. For the last 30 years, he has served as a consultant to the world’s largest publishers, and is actively involved in ongoing conversations with the industry’s movers and shakers.
Why follow: Because of the depth of his experience—and access to top-level publishing executives—his blog posts on industry news and trends offer a level of insight and perspective that is often unmatched by other analysts. Even though his audience tends to be other insiders, his posts about the evolution of publishing are clear enough to be understood by authors, and often carry critical insights into how the landscape will evolve.
In his own words: When asked what advice he would give to authors on choosing a path to publication, Shatzkin says, “The choice between self-publishing and using a publisher is ultimately the choice between having professional help to do a lot of things or doing and managing them yourself. … The other big consi-
deration is whether ‘books on shelves’ is important to an author. Self-publishing will probably (but not certainly) deliver higher margins for e-book sales and even perhaps for online print sales. But you won’t be in bookstores in any appreciable way unless a publisher prints copies and pushes them out for you.”
In action: Shatzkin is involved in the programming of major industry events, including Digital Book World and Publishers Launch. His blog posts frequently cover the themes and findings presented at those events (which are often too expensive for an author to attend), making them accessible to the writing community. For a strong example of the kind of analysis he's known for, read his post about Amazon’s impact on publishers and authors at http://bit.ly/shatzkin-amz.
10. Victoria Strauss
Even if you don’t know her name, you probably know her work. Co-founder of Writer Beware, career novelist Victoria Strauss has been working as a publishing industry watchdog since the 1990s. She works to document, expose and raise awareness of the huge variety of literary schemes and scams that prey on writers, and the website of Writer Beware often serves as the starting point and continuing resource for anyone unsure of an agent, publisher or contract.
Why follow:Every week, Strauss analyzes complex business and industry issues that impact all writers. She offers clear explanations of things like the evolution of contracts, self-publishing services and new publishing imprints, with a reasonable, informative tone, and often speaks directly with companies or people who have come under scrutiny from the author community. If you have a complaint about a publisher or service, Strauss’ Writer Beware is often the first place you should contact.
In her own words: “When I was submitting my first novel, I had no idea that publishing scams existed. I never encountered any, but I could have—and knowing how easily I might have been taken advantage of makes me determined to protect others from falling into that trap. ‘Pay it forward’ has become a hackneyed concept, but I truly believe in it, and it gives me huge satisfaction to be able to help writers in a measurable way. I also have to admit that I’m fascinated by the psychology of scammers!”
In action:In one of her most helpful blog posts, Strauss deconstructed the reversion of rights clause in book contracts, carefully laying out its history and evolution, and digging out specific examples from her own contracts over the years. To read the post, visit. http://bit.ly/vstrauss.
7 Additional Must-Follows (The Writer's Digest Staff)
Make sure you're following all the folks on the WD Team who share a constant stream of great writing tips, advice and quotes. Click on each image to follow on them Twitter.
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Brian A. Klems is the online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.