Q&A With Jane Friedman: Making the Hard Decisions

From Jane’s website: Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise iJane Friedmann digital media strategy for authors and publishers. From 2001–2010 she worked at Writer’s Digest, where she ultimately became publisher and editorial director of the $10-million multimedia brand. More recently, she served as the digital editor for the Virginia Quarterly Review, where she led a strategic overhaul of its website and launched digital subscriptions.

Jane currently teaches digital media and publishing at the University of Virginia and is a columnist for Publishers Weekly. The Great Courses just released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (2017).

Q. In one sentence who is Jane Friedman?
A. I’m the perfect balance of realist and optimist.

Q. Name three things you wish you had done differently to get where you are now in your career?
A. 1) In college I wanted to minor in computer science; I wish I had pushed myself to do that in the absence of encouragement.
2. When I was younger, I avoided making hard decisions even if I knew they were the right decisions. Today, once I recognize the right action, I take it as soon as possible.
3. I wish someone had told me that you can’t be friends with people you manage, no matter what the circumstance. I could’ve used a mentor, someone with 10 or 20 years more experience in publishing or management, but didn’t have one.

Q. What one thing happened to you that made you stop and think, “Is this really what I want out of life?” or have you always been satisfied with your career and personal trajectory?
A. My attitude toward life changed after I finished watching the TV series Six Feet Under. I divorced, I moved, I eventually left corporate publishing.

It might sound exhausting, but to some extent, I’m now asking this question every day when I’m completing work. I try to be self-aware about how I’m feeling—what’s draining my energy and what’s adding. It’s like what Steve Jobs advised in his famous graduation speech: “Every morning I look in the mirror and ask myself: If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” I’m always tweaking what I do daily, as well as thinking long-term: OK, it took me 5 years to accomplish this, or 10 years to reach that goal. Am I doing what’s necessary today to achieve what I’m envisioning 1, 5, 10 years out? How does my work today serve where I want to be tomorrow? If I can’t find a connection, I shed it.

Q. Which is more important, time management or creativity, and why?
A. Time management. You have to make time to allow creativity to flourish. John Cleese once said, “If you’re racing around all day ticking things off lists … and generally keeping all the balls in the air then you are not going to have any creative ideas.” (Thank you to Porter Anderson for sharing that quote with me!)

Q. According to a 2013 Forbes article, between 600,000 and 1 million books are published each year in the U.S. An infinitesimal percentage of those books ever gain a following. Given this do you think there will be more business for your services in the future or less, and why?
A. People will always believe that their book is the exception, that they will beat the odds, that they’re the special snowflake. Whether they’re right or not, the very motivated author typically seeks a guide or mentor to increase their chances at success, or help them make quicker progress than they would on their own. So I don’t see my business slowing down any time soon.

Q. If you could take a slow boat to anywhere, where would you go and what would you do when you got there?
A. I’d head to a cottage on Inis Meain, where I once spent a Christmas holiday alone focusing on my own creative work without interruption or obligation.

For more information about Jane Friedman and the services she provides, check out her website at www.janefriedman.com

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