Taking on a second gig doesn’t have to undermine your first
A few months ago, Jenny Milchman (noted writer, odometer enthusiast, and director/VP of Author Programs for the International Thriller Writers) asked me to revamp and run the Thrill Begins, ITW’s online resource for aspiring or debut writers.
I was flattered by the offer and, as I do whenever anyone presents me with hard work, was about to decline…but changed my mind. As I wrote in this space after the 2014 ThrillerFest, ITW’s annual conference, I really like the organization. It’s been hugely supportive of my writing and I’ve made treasured friends. They do good things.
So I told Jenny I’d take the gig, provided I could be the MANAGING EDITOR. I wasn’t sure what that title means, and I still don’t exactly know, but it sounds cool. Very professional, looks good on the CV (not sure what that means, either).
But I was a bit worried. Not about the amount of work; after all, I wouldn’t be producing content. My job, as I saw it, was to redesign the site, set up schedules, and upload columns. My worry was about losing sight of my own writing. I didn’t want people to think of me as a managing editor, regardless of how awesome that title sounds. I wanted to be a writer first.
I didn’t know if anyone else who both wrote and worked in some sort of capacity in publishing felt that way. I thought about reaching out to writers I know who also run mags or writing sites…and then I realized, “Wait: I know writers who run mags and writing sites.” And they write beautifully. There’s the Independent's own Tara Laskowski (Smokelong Quarterly) and Holly Smith, and also Steve Weddle (Needle Magazine), J. David Osborne (Broken River Books), and Austin Camacho (Intrigue Publishing).
The list goes on.
Ultimately, I decided to take on this job because I’ve come to know a lot of good writers and I want to do what I can to support them. Yo, publishing is tough. I was at Bouchercon a couple of weeks ago, and others writers and I traded horror stories about the bizness.
We talked about friends of ours who had been offered obscenely large contracts, failed to find an audience with their first book, and the second was subsequently canceled. Those writers were, in effect, done, and had to write under a pen name for their next books. And they were also forced by their enraged publisher to carry a backpack filled with dead puppies for a month. All of this is true.
Writers need each other. We can’t afford to sit in isolation. We need to beta-read each other’s stories and novels, celebrate our successes, spread word when someone writes or stumbles upon beautiful writing.
I just started my second month with the Thrill Begins. I’ve had the chance to work with writers I greatly admire, like Chris Holm and Owen Laukkanen; recruit an absolute murderers’ row of regular contributors; feature fascinating publishers like Jason Pinter from Polis Books; and explore topics that will, hopefully, be of service to writers who’ve just finished their first novel and are wondering what to do next. Ideally, these deserved contributors will get an even wider audience through ITW’s extensive resources and reach, especially because I can only pay them in compliments.
In retrospect, my worry about this gig defining me was unfounded.
We define ourselves by our writing, as long as we keep writing. It’s up to others to make sure our writing is read. And it’s up to all of us to form a community, a tribe, to write and publish and help others, to become an active part of this wonderful, but trying, tradition.
It’s up to us to do good things.
Speaking of Jenny Milchman, her never-ending book tour is coming to our area this weekend. Come see her, Anthony Franze, Steve Piacente, and myself at One More Page Books in Arlington, VA, at noon this Sunday, Oct. 25th. We're going to discuss different publishing paths — self, small, and big five. There will be cupcakes, and you'll be home in time to watch the Skins miserably fail. Click here for details (about the reading, not the Skins.)