Book Review: Jane Friedman, The Business of Being a Writer
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Jane Friedman. The Business of Being a Writer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018. $25 paperback.
Literally thousands of books offer advice to would-be writers on how to become a successful writer. Of course, the definition of success can be quite different for each person, from fame and recognition, to money and career, to a subtle combination of both. As a fairly successful academic and scholarly writer for the last twenty-five years who is embarking on a new vocation as a medieval historical fiction novelist, I was eager to see what Jane Friedman’s The Business of Being a Writer has to offer. Serendipitously, just prior to agreeing to review the book, I had noticed the author’s blog and a post on the differences between self-publishing and independent publishing that I found quite informative. So, I was hoping that this book would contain numerous insights and recommendations for me as I explored my new career options.
The Business of Being a Writer met all my expectations and more. The author has a wealth of personal and professional experience in the writing and publishing worlds, and she is quite up-front regarding what it takes to be a successful writer. In that sense, she starts with a section on first steps to making it as a writer. Not only does she focus on the various pathways to becoming a writer (academic degrees, freelancing, just doing it, etc.), but she also is adamant about two aspects of becoming a writer that are often neglected or ignored: making money writing and the importance of marketing, relationship building, and branding. Both aspects are often considered tangent to the “art” of writing; the author indicates that if they are not considered early on and attended to throughout the process of creating content, then success will be difficult if not impossible. As a result, each section of the book touches on these two aspects in ways that make the reader seriously listen to this advice in relation to the topics being discussed.
After the introductory section, the book provides four more sections: “Understanding the Publishing Industry,” “Getting Published,” “The Writer as Entrepreneur,” and “How Writers Make Money.” The author presents a twenty-first century guide to the publishing industry, describing trade book, magazine, online and digital media, and literary publishing. In the section on getting published, there are ten chapters on such wide-ranging topics as figuring out where your book fits; understanding literary agents; researching agents and publishers; book queries and synopses; the nonfiction book proposal; working with your publisher; self-publishing; publishing short stories, personal essays, and poetry; traditional freelance writing; and online writing and blogging. In the entrepreneur section, the author focuses on self-marketing, setting up an author platform, how to build an online presence, producing sales, and book launches. In the final section on making money, nine chapters examine starting a freelancing career; editing and related services; teaching and online education; various contests, prizes, grants, and fellowships; crowdfunding and donations; memberships, subscriptions, and paywalls; advertising and affiliate income; pursuing a publishing career; and corporate media careers. Three appendices provide examples of various contracts, legal issues, and recommended resources.
The vast experience and expertise of this author shines through in this volume, along with very down-to-earth advice. As someone embarking on a career in fiction writing, I thoroughly marked up my review copy for future review and reference. The continual mantra surrounding self-marketing and setting up an online author platform to build readership and interest are meant to resonate with those who still believe (or have been taught) that these areas are the purview of the publisher rather than the author, which is no longer the case. There are many online resources provided for those who wish to pursue freelancing opportunities. I was also impressed by the information on choosing a literary agent and the importance of having writing samples and indeed sometimes a finished product before contacting either an agent or a publisher. This book is highly recommended to anyone considering a vocation as a writer as well as to anyone currently in the writer’s marketplace for the sound and practical advice that it provides.
Bradford Lee Eden is an independent scholar and librarian. He has master’s and doctorate degrees in musicology as well as an MS in library science. His recent books include Middle-earth Minstrel: Essays on Music in Tolkien (McFarland, 2010); The Associate University Librarian Handbook: A Resource Guide (Scarecrow Press, 2012); Leadership in Academic Libraries Today: Connecting Theory to Practice (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014); The Hobbit in Tolkien's Mythology: Essays on Revisions and Influences (McFarland, 2014); and the ten-volume series Creating the 21st-Century Academic Library (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015–2017). He served as president of the Library Publishing Coalition (LPC) in 2015–2016. He is also editor of the Journal of Tolkien Research, an online peer-reviewed journal available at http://scholar.valpo.edu/journaloftolkienresearch.