SHY EXPLORER SERIES: Asking the Experts by Judy Clement Wall
I’m on a quest, asking the experts – people already in the industry – for publishing advice to writers…
I was excited when Publishing Executive (and Twitter force of nature) Beth Wareham agreed to talk to me. I knew she’d be full of information and insights. She’s like that. What I didn’t know was how inspired I’d be by what she had to say. She totally rocked our interview; see for yourself.
Beth Wareham is the executive director of publicity at Workman Publishing.
Follow her on Twitter
j: Like the music and movie industries before it, the publishing industry is in the middle of a transformation brought on, in part, by the internet, the popularity of e-books, and the growing opportunities for indie authors seeking non-traditional paths to publication. What do you think – is it a good or a bad time to be a writer trying to get his/her first book published?
Beth: This industry has never been so cool. We are buying self-published books off the internet to publish in the real world; companies are turning Apps into books; Twitter launched “___ My Dad Says,” Dennis Leary’s tweet book, and Eat, Tweet from Artisan, the first book of Twitter recipes. Everyone is writing!
You have never had so many interesting ways into a book publisher. Everybody has a crack now, not just a New York Times or New Yorker writer. You can build your own platform of followers on Facebook and Twitter. You can have your own network on Youtube.com. It’s power to the people – or writers – and it has never been a better time to get published.
j: For authors (especially new authors without a track record), what is the role of social networks, like Twitter?
Beth: The power of social networks cannot be understated. While traditional media will always be important (along with the biggie: the famous person’s on-air endorsement), social media is powerful in a different way. It’s the backyard fence, the village square. Everyone is telling everyone what they are doing and what they like. It’s all about the personal recommendation. I love it because, for the first time in a long, long time, people have a break from the Madison Avenue spin game. They can get real. And, oh boy, social media has made customer service a huge issue. Your airline can be trashed by Kevin Smith or the little old lady from Kansas City.
j: Has Twitter changed the way you do business?
Beth: Of course. Twitter is one big market research engine. I can get on there and sift and parse information. I can watch news stories as they hit from news organizations and from people in the streets. I can pitch ideas and schedule meetings. I can start conversations with people who would never give me the time of day on the phone. I read long interviews and research and articles sent around by some of the finest minds in their field.
Sure, there is a lot of dross, but you get good at finding what you want and need. I can ask questions on Twitter and real live people give me feedback. Washington DC is referred to as “the echo chamber” and that is a good description of many businesses. Now, you have a whole bunch of potential readers to chat with and bounce ideas off.
j: Nobody wants to follow someone on Twitter who self-promotes constantly, but self-promotion is a big part of author sales now. How would you advise authors to use Twitter most effectively? Any funny stories of ineffectual Twitter use?
Beth: My favorite Twitter story is the ABUSE I used to take in my last job about how silly Twitter was. I had just started on Twitter and was in love, and they just cackled like birds on a wire. And then the Iranian election happened and nobody knew what was going on…except if you were on Twitter. What an experience to watch that! I was mesmerized. And then Twitter started generating some really great writing and writers that we hadn’t seen. Twitter has really earned its place in the world. I am a HUGE fan.
The Husbands (I am a reverse Mormon) always say when we leave a party, “Everybody told me how wonderful they are. I didn’t have one normal conversation.” Well, part of that is just New York. But the husbands are saying something real: people are turned off by people who boast. It’s just bad manners. Instead, on Twitter as in life, you need to dazzle with your writing and ideas and friendship, and let your Twitter friends brag on you. Add content and value. Help your followers learn, be better, be happier, be more informed. The rest will no doubt take care of itself.
j: What do you look for in a writer’s platform?
Beth: You look for numbers in a writers platform. You look for how connected a writer is to the subject they are writing about. You look at broadcast experience and the depth of their personal story. An author sets the tone and goals with the platform. If you are a writer interested in children, you best be tweeting with moms. If you are a race car driver, you best have the big names in auto racing on your account. It’s not always about the numbers – it’s often about your core audience.
j: I hear a lot of doomsday predictions. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of publishing and the ability of consumers to find quality books by wonderful writers?
Beth: I understand the fear thing. “Oh, we’ve got this giant company and have to make soooo much money to survive! What will we do?” But there was something under that fear that I found so sad: people in the business had given up on books.
Books and writers will never go away. It is such a profound need for human beings to see other lives and other minds. It is so important to talk to each other and a book is another way to do that. Books are where you begin to imagine and dream about what is possible for your life. Books are magic and have given me more than I can ever repay. We will always have great writing. I don’t care if it’s back lit or not.
I was thinking of leaving the business and thought, “This is the most exciting and challenging time in publishing I can ever remember. I want to be a part of that, and I want to help figure out the way forward.” I like risk and adversity. For me, it is creative catnip. All of those things are in the air right now, and it’s really making everyone step up their game.
j: If you had one piece of advice to give to writers wanting to get their books published, sold and read, what would it be?
Beth: Quit obsessing over the end game and WRITE. Granted, really well-written deserving books get published and sink. But many don’t. So focus on what you can control: writing a great book. Everyone in publishing knows that if you have the writing, anything is possible.
j: Last question: What do you like to read and what are you reading?
Beth: I cannot tell you what I am reading or I will never hear the end of it. It’s the biography of a scientist – not the one with the white fluffy hair.