“I don’t know if there’s any light at the end of the tunnel for publishers, but I think the future for writers is bright.”
–Maria Schneider, Editor Unleashed
I had the pleasure of working with the Editor Unleashed herself, Maria Schneider, for about 18 months, back when we were both with Writer’s Digest — as Editor (her) and Ad Director (me) — and am happy to still call her a friend despite no longer being corporate colleagues and with more than 600 miles separating us.
Maria is a smart, savvy writer AND editor, who understands the difference between the two, and who fully grasps the integrated world publishing has become, able to speak fluently in print and digital. Her ability to brainstorm new ideas that work from multiple angles without ever compromising her editorial integrity made my job much easier, and her outspoken, engaging personality has always been refreshing.
Her openness to new ideas and engaging personality allowed her to hit the ground running when she left Writer’s Digest last year, immediately launching her own website on October 8, 2008 with a post entitled, “So here’s how I got here…“, adding a forum two weeks later, and never looking back. Since then, she’s been offering near-daily content, featuring inspiring writing prompts and invaluable resources; interviews with successful agents, editors, and authors; and sharing her own hard-won insights with an appreciative and steadily growing community of aspiring and professional writers.
I’m delighted to have her as the first in a new series of interviews with insightful publishing and marketing professionals — 6Qs: Maria Schneider, Editor Unleashed.
It’s been just over six months since you were “unleashed” and went freelance. What’s surprised you, in a positive way, and what hasn’t quite gone according to plan?
Schneider: I started working in the online realm as an editor and realized I had an affinity for it. I had a strong vision of what a writers’ website could be and I realized I just couldn’t swing it in a corporate setting.
What has surprised me is how generous people can be if you share a vision of something you want to create. So many people have just been amazing in helping me get this site off the ground. I don’t have a venture capitalist backing me up, and I consider that a wonderful thing in that I’m free to create the site I’ve envisioned. The only people I answer to are the writers who make up my community.
I’ve tried several different things to generate revenue from the site, although that’s not a primary goal right now. I’ve created an eBook, which is essentially a list of agents. And I’ve offered writing workshops.
The eBook has been a great surprise and continues to sell at a steady clip. The workshops didn’t take off, unfortunately, but I plan to re-launch them as the site traffic grows. I believe if you build a strong community, opportunities will present themselves if you just pay attention. So I’m primarily focused on building and growing my community right now.
What do you consider your best Editor Unleashed moment to-date?
Schneider: We’re getting a great influx of new members on the forum with the launch of the Editor Unleashed / Smashwords Flash Fiction 40 contest. There’s no entry fee and Mark Coker of Smashwords has generously offered cash prizes to 40 winners. Also, forum members get to help rank the stories, and that gets people more invested in the process because they have a say in the outcome. It’s just more fun that way.
There have been lots of great moments but since the forum is buzzing with excitement for the contest right now, I’d have to say this is a one of the best moments for our community so far.
How has your perception of the publishing industry changed over the past six months, for books and magazines? Is the future as bleak as the doomsayers claim, or is there light at the end of the tunnel?
Schneider: Six months may as well be six years for how much things have changed and I don’t think it’s just my perception. I left the magazine industry right before the bottom fell out of the economy and I’m very glad I wasn’t trying to land another publishing job at the time because, as you know, industry layoffs have been relentless.
But I think there’s never been a better time to be a writer. There’s nothing to hold you back now if you have the initiative and talent to succeed. There are no gates to hold back a talented writer any more.
We’re living in a world now where one person with a laptop can do everything a well-funded corporate magazine can do. It’s a world where high-profile bloggers have more readers than the New York Times. It’s an insanely positive moment in time for writers who have the talent and entrepreneurial spirit to do something with it.
So I don’t know if there’s any light at the end of the tunnel for publishers, but I think the future for writers is bright.
What’s the last good book you read, and which are your favorite magazines that you subscribe to?
Schneider: I just read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and enjoyed his real life stories of successful people and what helped get them there. I found it very motivational.
The magazines I subscribe to and always enjoy are Vanity Fair for its narrative journalism and haughty yet endearing attitude. And Saveur, which is just a gorgeous, unpretentious magazine for foodies.
What are the three most important tips you’d offer to aspiring writers of fiction, and of non-fiction?
Schneider: I’ll assume your readers already know that mastering your craft is of primary importance, so instead I’ll offer marketing advice:
1) Don’t worry so much about breaking into traditional publishing. Build a readership online and opportunities will find you.
2) Publishing a book isn’t the be all and end all for a writer any more. It might just be one part of your success as a writer.
3) Don’t shun ePublishing, it’s where the really innovative things in the writing world are happening now. Consider it one more channel to find a readership.
Besides EU, what are your 5 favorite resources for writers, physical or digital?
Schneider: 1) Twitter: If you take the time to really work it, Twitter can be a significant tool for building a readership. Maybe it is just a fad, but so what? The readers who find you there will move with you to whatever the next new thing is.
2) Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Thesaurus: There’s absolutely no need for a physical dictionary/thesaurus any more.
3) Querytracker.net: A searchable database of more than 1,000 literary agents.
4) Poets & Writers: This nonprofit site has a thorough listing of small presses, literary magazines, contests and grant opportunities.
5) Smashwords: An online publishing platform that will format your writing for every device imaginable, including the Kindle.
BIO: Maria Schneider is a freelance writer and editor with a unique take on writing and the publishing industry. As the former editor of Writer’s Digest magazine, she’s interviewed countless authors, agents and editors and edited the work of prominent authors including Alice Hoffman, Jodi Picoult and Ridley Pearson. She’s now dedicating herself to being an independent voice and helping other writers through what she’s learned—and continues to learn—about writing and publishing.