Monday, June 13, 2011

Interview with Beth Ann Erickson



 Today, my guest is Beth Erickson of Filbert Publishing.  I've been lucky to share some of Beth's insights into the writing world in other posts, and I am thrilled to have her here today talking about her work.

1) Tell me a little about your book and give a short synopsis.

I've been freelancing since 1995 and have owned my own publishing house since 2001. It's been a wild ride, to say the least. In these last dozen plus years, I've corresponded with a lot of fellow freelancers, some veteran, some newbie through my ezine Writing Etc.

To say I've learned a lot would be an understatement.

So, what I did was form a small group of freelancers, and we worked together for two years helping them launch their business, avoid the mistakes I'd made along the way, market their writing, get paid. We talked monthly, I recorded CDs  to answer their individual questions, and they all received a monthly newsletter where I also addressed their questions. This three volume set contains all the text from these newsletters.

2)    What gave you the idea for this particular book?

Working with Writing Etc. subscribers, it became painfully clear that many freelancers are flying blind, not really sure where they're going or where they want to be.

Writing is an odd profession. We have to not only maintain our physical health but also our mindset. One wonky day can derail a project, if you let it. I find the mindset aspect of the writing profession fascinating. Work in many other professions during a bad day and you've got a bad day. Have a “bad day” as a freelancer and if you're not careful, you can miss deadlines, trash projects, and make some very unwise career moves.

Keeping words flowing is of paramount importance. Maintaining your mindset is a key part of that process. This is what prompted the exploration of mindset as I launched this fascinating project.

3)    Are you a full-time writer or part-time, and how do you organize your writing time?

I'm a full-time writer, have been for around ten years. Despite my longish tenure in this profession, I have to admit to struggling with my writing schedule.

Some writers sit down and write. Boom. Done.

Some ponder, waiting for thoughts to flow, then write.

Some wrestle with this crazy thing we call “life” and try to squeeze writing time in between the latest emergency.

I've lived and written in all three arenas, and to be honest, it all boils down to mindset. The most powerful sentence I've ever utilized is this one: “I wish I could, but I can't.” I use it often when dealing with family members, folks asking me to volunteer for something I'm not sure I want to do, anyone infringing on the valuable time I could be using to write.

It's imperative to jealously guard your time. Don't let anything or anyone in your writing time that you do not thoroughly adore, anything that doesn't get your creative juices really flowing.

If you're going to make writing your profession, you need to especially guard your mindset. This is a tough job. Competition is fierce. It's easy to wonder how you'll ever stack up in comparison to some really great writers.

But you can't focus on that. You can only do your best daily and write. Write often. Write what's in your heart. Release your unique message, no matter how uncomfortable it may make you. You're the only person who can do this.

4)    When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

I've always known I would write. Nothing buzzed my cage more than chasing down a good story. I also loved making up stories, English was my favorite class in school. It was a natural event to became a freelancer.

5)    What do you hope readers will take from your writing?

I hope anyone who reads my writing will become inspired to think. I want them to question reality, question authority, question “truth.” I love telling both sides of a story, then allowing the reader to reach their own conclusion.

Sadly, thinking is becoming a lost art in America today. We're spoon fed information about politics, our health, fashion, pretty much every topic imaginable. Writers can (and should) help filter that information with as unbiased an eye as possible. But that's not happening. Hopefully with enough “thinkers” in our midst, we can help others make decisions based on good, solid, publicly verifiable evidence.

6)    What types of writing do you prefer, and why?

I enjoy freelancing because it allows me to write. I never know what assignment will fall in my lap next. And I love it all.

I just recently finished an assignment where I had the opportunity to interview a Young Earth Creationist along side a biology professor/atheist. It was an astounding experience, something you have to do with an open mind and a real sense of curiosity.

Every part of this job is fun... except the clerical stuff, however receiving payment is pretty enjoyable. :)

7)    What is the toughest part about being a writer and how do you get past it?

Time. Because my schedule is so flexible, it sometimes appears (to others, evidently) as though I don't have a “real” job. This means if I'm not careful to jealously guard my time, I can wind up dealing with a myriad of issues that have nothing to do with my profession.

It wasn't until I I realized that nobody called my sister, an RN, at work with an “interpersonal emergency” that I started treating freelancing in the same way she treated her job. It's sacred. Now I tell people, “If the fingers are flying, you better be dying.” And I mean it. We're talking my life, my profession, my muse.

8)    What draws you to non-fiction writing?

I love the aspect of “instant verification.” With fiction, it's... well... fiction. Not real.

With nonfiction, if I share a technique to create a stronger sentence, land writing assignments, etc., the reader can instantly give it a whirl and determine whether it'll work for them. I think that's cool.

The information is instantly verifiable.

I also love that information is both timeless and timely. It's timeless in the sense that some facts, techniques, and such can stand the test of time. The psychology of persuasion is quite timeless meaning that human behavior doesn't fundamentally change much over long periods of time. An advertising book written in the early 1900s contains timeless information that marketers can use in the early twenty-first century.

That being said, information is also timely, it can have an expiration date. For example, information on how to properly build a website has changed a lot since the advent of the Internet. A book on Internet marketing written in the 1980s would be of dubious use today.

That dichotomy, timeless versus timely, is fascinating and a big reason why I'm drawn to nonfiction.

9)    What kind of research did you do for this type of book?

I'm always researching and am never quite sure where the road will lead. For the books I'm talking about now, the three volume set for freelancers, I researched it by talking to freelancers, finding out what they wanted to know, and simply giving them the information they requested.

I've been freelancing since 1995 and have picked up a few pointers along the way, I've worked with various mentors, and have been battling in the trenches for far longer than I like to ponder.

It's interesting watching newbies in this profession, the basic mistakes they make are astounding. Writing for free, not realizing the worth of their work, attempting to apply high school grammar rules to writing for the mainstream reader... it's frustrating to watch.

With these three books, I covered everything I figured my little group of readers would find helpful in that regard.


10)    What about your book makes it special?

The series was written as a project. I had a group of working freelance writers who I worked with in a near one-on-one environment over two years. These are the actual documents I sent them to answer their questions and get them on the road of profitable freelancing.

I didn't intend for these papers to get published, but as word spread, I had enough people ask for copies that I finally published them. Plus, I never intended to “write about writing.” It's a silly concept, if you ask me. So, this series is also my swan song for this particular genre. It says everything I want to say, every secret, technique... all of it. I'm moving on to new subjects and loving every minute of this crazy profession. :)

11)    What is your marketing plan?

My marketing plans remain quite constant. I grow an e-mail list and publish a very information-dense zine twice a month. I strive to provide quality information, tips, tricks, techniques, to make a living as a writer. That zine, Writing Etc., is the crux of my marketing plan.

The management of Writing Etc. is an interview in itself so I wont' go into details on the hows and whys every writer should maintain a website, but that website becomes the hub for everything you do online. Without it, you're pretty much left in the dust.

12)    Where can people learn more about you and your work?

I maintain two websites pertinent to this discussion. The first is my publishing company that produces and distributes Writing Etc., named http://FilbertPublishing.com. My personal website and blog is http://BethAnnErickson.com.

13)    What are your views on self-publishing versus traditional publishing?

I was fortunate to begin my fiction writing career with a small publisher. It took all of a few moments to realize I was the entire marketing department for my book. My publisher published the book... that was it. No galleys, no ARCs, no advertising, nothing.

That's a reality all writers face. No matter who publishes your writing, you'll be the primary person marketing it. That's why I advise all new writers to never promote a book, that's just one product. Instead, promote yourself.

Simply put, the only “product” you promote is yourself. You don't change, your latest project/product will. If you plan on creating more than one product, be very careful how you market it. If you market each product alone, you'll drive yourself crazy, without a focus. Focus on your long term career, promote yourself as an expert (make sure you truly are an expert in your topic, btw), and your marketing is automatically simplified.

14)    Do you have an agent and do you feel an agent is necessary for non-fiction?

Nope and nope. Nonfiction is an easy sell. Fiction writers, on the other hand, could benefit from an agent's expertise. But nonfiction... nah.

15)    Any tips for new writers hoping to write non-fiction?

Select topics you're passionate about. Follow your imagination and never force it. You want your work to be your own, very unique. Remember when I was talking about how you market yourself instead of individual projects? This is why you do this: The only commodity you're selling that is truly unique is yourself. I can replicate your topic. I can even try to run off with your audience. But I'll never be able to replicate your unique spin on any particular subject.

You are unique. Your voice is the only aspect of your career that cannot be replicated by anyone else. That's why you must revel in your opinions, your voice, everything about yourself. That's why it's important that your personality shine through every word you write.

Don't dilute your writing by making it grammatically correct in every way, don't squelch your personality by writing in an academic style.

You're you. If you want to make it in this biz, take a stand, be delightful, share your version of reality, enjoy your moods, and share 'em all with your reader.

This is a messy biz. But, it is what it is. Accept reality and be yourself, because you are all you've got.

Beth, thank you so much for joining me today and sharing your expertise.  You've certainly gleaned a lot from your experience and we're all lucky you are willing to share.

2 comments:

  1. Penny, this was a great interview you did with Beth. I receive Beth's newsletter. I think I need to take more time with each issue so that I make sure I'm getting everything out of them I can get.

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  2. Susanne, I, too, get Beth's newsletter and usually find something worthwhile in each issue. I love how she's willing to share her knowledge.

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