That's how Jeffrey Yamaguchi felt in 1997, trapped in a dead-end career. Millions of people hate their jobs and almost all of them complain about it, but only Yamaguchi created a print 'zine to collect bitter, embarassing and funny stories about work. The self-published magazine took off, and soon became a popular book, Working for the Man. After that, Yamaguchi toured the publishing world with his Bookmouth.com site, interviewing writers and doling out publishing hints for his readers.
Now, he's promoting his second book, 52 Projects, creating a flourishing web community in the process. For all these reasons, I picked Yamaguchi for my deceptively simple feature: Five Easy Questions. In the spirit of Jack Nicholson’s mad piano player, I run a weekly set of quality interviews with writing pioneers—delivering some practical, unexpected advice about web publishing.
In addition to your extensive resume of publications, you have taught at various writing and publishing workshops. As a writing teacher, what is the most important piece of advice that you give to your students?
I should say that I have not taught too many classes. I'm still learning and looking for advice myself. So I think it's better to share some advice that I've read or heard that I myself am still trying to truly incorporate into my own writing efforts: to write as much as possible, to listen to criticism but to go with your gut, to read everything, to not let fear and insecurity or rejection deter you from your goal of becoming a better writer...
To do the hard research yourself – don't just think you can ask or email a question and someone will give you the answer. Read submission guidelines carefully – make sure you actually qualify or it truly makes sense to submit your work, and perhaps first and foremost, that submissions are currently being accepted.
Do not necessarily pay attention to the "no simultaneous submissions" guideline, especially if you are just starting out and have never been published before (some of these places will either take over 6 months to get back to you, or you will never even get a rejection notice).
And most importantly, to sit your ass down in that chair and not get up and just keep writing, no matter how long the day at work and the fact that it's well past midnight and that damn faucet is leaking and the neighbors are playing that awful music and your back hurts and you're not just thinking but truly believing that the story probably sucks anyway... Just keep on writing.
A lot of your energy is devoted to promoting your second book. What did you learn from the first book promotion experience? What are some mistakes that first-time authors can avoid while promoting their work?
I think the most important things I've learned in terms of promoting a book is:
1) You need to be actively involved – you know your book the best, and you know the audience. Promoting a book is a creative exercise – it takes just as much ingenuity as it did to write your book as it does to get the word out about it. It takes research and unique ideas and time.
2) Have your promotional plan – who to send review copies, where you’d like to do readings, where you want to throw your launch party, bookmarks and postcards, etc., etc. – set well before your book actually comes out.
3) Your effort to promote your book needs to be built upon a foundation of a network in which you are an active participant, and needs to involve relationships that have been built over time.
You will need to ask people to help you out, and it's a lot easier to ask someone for something if you've helped them out in the past. That doesn't mean you should always be angling – doing things for others just so you can get something for yourself. It's about being involved and engaged and willing to help out others, and having those connections happen naturally over a long period of time.
Your Bookmouth site features advice, interviews, and links to some amazing writers. For a fledgling writer checking out that site for the first time, which interviews do you recommend they read first? Why?
I think the interview with Amy Schroeder is wonderful example of how a simple 'zine project can turn into a decade long career-making venture. She took her love of music and her feminism and really just made something big happen. Very inspiring. There's also the interview with David Barringer. I like the way he discusses the art of writing. Just made me want to sit down and write.
Again, I found it very inspiring. Those are the two I'd start with, and then you know what – no more reading of interviews, no more clicking on links in the blogrolls, no more reading of this interview or other posts at thepublishingspot.com. Time to get to work! Time to sit down and get some writing done!