AMA Round Two: Self-Publishing and Writing

If you have a burning question for me about literally anything, send it in! I’ve got one more AMA to go. (Here’s the previous one, in case you missed it.) You can send your questions via DM, email, or leave them as comments here. Go nuts.


I just had a very general question about the process of self-publishing. I’m collecting pieces to contribute to one or more memoirs I’m planning on writing later on, and I’d be wholly grateful for any advice you have on the subject. Thanks!

—Tori

Because I know nothing about history, it’s a little risky for me to say this, but: it has never been easier to self-publish than it is now, so don’t feel intimidated. There are hundreds of options for printing short runs of books or printing your book on demand. I didn’t do much research on all of the options because the Kickstarter made the parameters so solid for me: I owed X number of books already, and I wanted to have Y left over to sell in stores and on my website.

The Kickstarter site has links to several printers, by the way, which are well worth checking out even if you aren’t going to fund your printing through a Kickstarter. When you look at companies providing what you don’t want, it will help you figure out what you do want and—more important—need. Plus, you can get an idea of costs and shop around with that knowledge. Many printers offer design services as well. (Max designed and laid out the books for me, so that was a lucky break.)

You can find out everything else you need by Googling. That’s how I learned how to buy a barcode and ISBN and all that. Making your book look as legit as possible is tedious work but none of it takes that long. I didn’t consult this book while I got PL and N.B. out, but I read it ages ago and remember really liking it. I think it has a lot of good, practical advice. You’ll learn as you go and that’s ok; it’s really not a big deal! It’s exciting, and important, but there’s no reason to feel out of your depth. Everyone on the other end of these interactions is a person, and was once clueless, too. Be clear and honest and try not to take up too much of anyone’s attention or time, and the bookstore owners and printers and designers and journalists should treat you well as you try to get your work out into the world.


I just recently discovered your writing and I absolutely love it. I’m also a writer and I currently work for a magazine. I’m moving cities, though, and I have the chance to start a career in a brand new place. Do you have any general advice that I should carry with me as a young feminist writer?

Samantha

I don’t know if I’m a feminist so maybe I can’t speak to that. And I don’t know if I’m a career writer yet, either! I’m a freelancer and it sounds like you plan to (continue to be) a staff writer, so perhaps this response won’t be useful to you. But I try to choose the outlets I write for with an eye towards their overall integrity and ethical judgment. It’s a losing game, but not one I’m willing to give up playing.

There are very few publications online or off that haven’t fucked up hugely, more than once, but there are degrees of this. Grantland essentially killed a woman. But maybe if a friend of yours were an editor there and wasn’t involved with that particular story, you’d have felt comfortable writing for them. Maybe if it were the same editor who signed off on the story in the first place, you still wouldn’t mind.

Everyone sets their own limits in this way, if they set limits at all, and mine won’t be yours. But every time I’ve shrugged off my reservations about a certain outlet, I’ve regretted it deeply. I would say give it a try once: write for a website you don’t respect, and see how you feel aferwards. If you don’t care, you can proceed accordingly. If you do care, now you know how bad it feels and you won’t want to do it again. There are two publications I’d say I’m ashamed to have written for. Have fun trying to pick those out!

Anyway, let me make it simple. Here’s what I think has been most helpful for me in getting to freelance more and for more money:

  • Network with other women writers and talk about what you get paid. Share this information aggressively, especially when you’re feeling shy or hesitant. In some misogynist hell-world where all women live life like they’re in a permanent beauty pageant, other women will lie to you to try to disguise what they make, hoard their high-paying gigs, hide their editor contacts and so on. I’ve never known this to happen but maybe I’m blessed with excellent friends. I tell people what I got paid for different pieces on a regular basis and I don’t lie. If I can’t remember, I go check. I learned a lot of this generosity from Lux Alptraum and Alana Massey.
  • You can push back on bad edits. You don’t have to be rude about it, but you can firmly explain why it’s there and fight for it to stay. If someone cuts lines that address racial dynamics, or acknowledge trans bodies, or any other politically important detail that they want to pretend is superfluous—and this has happened to me more than once—it’s up to you to put it back in. And it’s up to you to have it there in the first place.
  • Better to ask for an extension in advance than beg for forgiveness after you turn in a piece late. Sometimes I give myself more leeway with deadlines than I should, and I always feel like an ass and am disappointed with myself when I do.
  • If you find an editor you like, let them know they are amazing and that you love working with them! Good editors are rare gems and it’s the best feeling in the world when one of them is receptive and prompt in replying whenever you pitch—or, better yet, when they reach out to you.
  • Be honest about what you don’t know. The editor may very well help you along if you’ve never reported a story at all, or never reported a story like this, or have legal concerns, or whatever else. If they’ve already signed off on the piece and you didn’t misrepresent your qualifications, I would be very surprised if they yanked the whole thing because you had one question about interview protocol.
  • Your ability to stand by your work is, in the end, the most important consideration. There are much, much better ways to make money than writing, so don’t convince yourself that it’s worth writing something you’re not proud of to get $250. Your byline is on it even if an editor rewrote half of it, and it may follow you forever. Make sure you feel right about your writing before it’s public and permanent, because there’s little to be done once it is.
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