Interview with Jennifer Mattern
If you are interested in writing as a business at all, you should know Jennifer Mattern, the brains behind several valuable sites for writers, including AllFreelanceWriting and AllIndiePublishing. Jennifer is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the intersection of writing and business. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for the Independent Writing Series.
First, thanks for doing this interview. It always amazes me when super-busy, successful folks offer their time to answer my questions!
Not a problem.
You are one of the busiest and most prolific freelancers I know. I’m most familiar with AllFreelanceWriting, but am aware you maintain several other sites, and have written several non-fiction books including The Query Free Freelancer. What have I missed? Can you tell us about your current projects?
The Query-Free Freelancer is technically written, but not published yet. It’s going through yet another round of edits, additions, and some rewrites. My previous nonfiction publications were all released only in e-book form. And there are several more of those to come.
I’m actually pulling my Web Writer’s Guide off the market by the end of this year, and I’ll repurpose some of that content in new e-books under the Query-Free Freelancer brand. Unfortunately the focus on Web writers was too limiting, whereas the information in the e-book really applies to a wider freelance audience than that.
Beyond that, I’m also writing fiction under three different pen names. These are newer projects, and the first novel won’t be published until the Query-Free Freelancer book is released. The niches are mysteries (cozies), horror, and children’s books (nonfiction and fiction).
I have a three-year publishing plan in place covering those niches, alternating the mystery and horror novels and working in shorter pieces for children in between.
As for websites and blogs, I currently administer 50 WordPress installations. Around two dozen of them are live sites. Five or six larger sites are in development (having the designs finished and having initial content created — sometimes by me and sometimes by other contributors). There are some small sites that I don’t heavily promote. And then there are some others tied to newer domains that are still in the planning phase.
A few examples, other than All Freelance Writing, are AllIndiePublishing.com (which is re-launching soon), BizAmmo.com, and a new blog at WritingForBloggers.com (which isn’t officially launched, but does have some starter content up now).
You make a great business case for pretty much everything related to writing. Will you talk a bit about the business side of self publishing?
Simply recognizing the business side of self publishing is an important step for authors. It’s not just about the art of writing. It’s great if you can write well. But that alone rarely sells books. If you want to make money, publishing either digital or print books, you will ideally do a few things.
1. Produce a high quality manuscript (which includes hiring outside editors for anything beyond “information product” e-books).
2. Make smart business decisions (to find a balance between driving prices up because you spent too much and releasing something that looks like garbage because you were cheap).
3. Have a solid marketing plan in place. This should actually start before you begin writing the book, but better late than never.
If these three things come together, everybody wins. Your readers get a good read that isn’t riddled with errors. Readers save money because you don’t drive up prices with poor business decisions. You make more sales. You maximize your profits. And you build a professional reputation and grow your author platform which will help you sell future books too.
Do you have a favorite independent author right now? (I would never be able to answer this question!) In the same vein, are there sites, blogs, or forums that you find especially helpful as a writer – in addition to your own, of course!
My favorite is Peter Bowerman, hands down. He’s a nonfiction author writing about, well, writing. Why do I love his work? Because you’d never guess it was published independently. That’s what makes for a great self-published book — no one looks at it and wonders where it came from.
If you’re a freelance writer, you have to read his The Well-Fed Writer. But more importantly, if you’re interested in independent or self publishing, you should get a copy of his The Well-Fed Self Publisher. He takes a serious business-minded look at independent publishing. He shows you how to do it professionally (not just running to some vanity-style POD “publishing company”). And he mixes a conversational style with a no-BS approach that I love and respect.
You write both fiction and nonfiction. Do you find that you use entirely different processes for the two? Are you able to switch from one to the other fairly easily?
I can switch between fiction and nonfiction projects pretty easily, but only because I have to. I never work on only one project during any given day. I don’t deal with boredom well (which is probably why I always have so much going on). And I find that mixing things up a bit helps me get more work done in the grand scheme of things.
All of my websites involve nonfiction writing. None of my client work involves fiction. So if I want to write fiction, it must coexist with that nonfiction work. If anything, I find it more challenging to hop from one fictional project to another than moving between fiction and nonfiction.
I wouldn’t say my process is terribly different between the two styles of writing. I like organization. And I love, and heavily use, outlines. That’s true of anything I write, from a client’s blog post to a novel. I know some writers find them limiting. But really you’re only as limited as you allow yourself to be. As long as you think of outlines as living documents rather than rigid or static ones, they’re effective guides that grow and change as you move through each project.
Recently, I heard a well known writer talking about the often repeated phrase “there are no gatekeepers anymore.” He suggested that every reviewer on Goodreads or Amazon is a gatekeeper. What do you think? Has self publishing made it easier to be heard, or is it more difficult than ever? Or, is it just a different set of obstacles now?
This is a tough question, and it’s one I have mixed feelings about. Look. There’s a lot of crap out there right now. And that has the potential to hurt independent authors because some readers have a bias against them after one or more bad experiences. Then again, even major publishers release garbage on more than an occasional basis. That’s nothing new in publishing.
I think what the current environment does is provide a unique opportunity for independent authors and small presses to blur the lines — ignoring the gate and jumping the fence, if you will. And while I wouldn’t call reviewers on Goodreads and Amazon “gatekeepers,” if you screw around once you join the party, they sure have the ability to kick your ass out.
We’re slowly moving in a direction where readers are going to pay more attention to the author and less to the publishers. If you can build a name for yourself — your author brand — you’re going to sell books. But that’s no justification for publishing anything half-assed. So sure, it’s easier for authors to be heard. But it’s also easier for them to get lost in (or contribute to) the excessive noise.
The trick will be avoiding anyone or anything that promises to make self publishing cheap or easy while learning as much as they can about book marketing and PR. Fortunately those skills can be learned and many authors these days seem too lazy to bother. That means any author willing to put in the effort has an immediate edge. And they won’t have to rely on traditional gatekeepers to open any doors for them.