Balancing writing with a career in publishing
Today I'm delighted to chat with Stephanie Grossman, who hails from the Hudson Valley area of New York and commutes to her publishing job in NYC. Stephanie has a bachelor's degree in English literature and a minor in business (just in case) from Marist College.
1. Stephanie, what do you write?
I primarily write fiction, both short stories and novels (of course, I haven’t finished a novel yet). I’d like to think of my writing as literary, or at least that’s what I try for. Depending on the story, I also have a tendency to include slightly supernatural and/or experimental elements. I do believe in writing honest, character-driven stories that can incorporate any type of plot or style, from realist to fantastical. Maybe the reason I haven’t finished a novel yet is because I spend a lot of time at my ‘other’ job—my day job.
My other commitments include pursuing a social media marketing certificate, helping my dad out with marketing for his local HVAC business, blogging on my blog (which counts as writing)…also eating, sleeping, exercising, being social…too many things that pull me in directions away from sitting down to work on my fiction writing. And yet, I think it’s important to have a life outside my writing, especially one that pays the bills.
2. You have a long, long train commute to your job in NYC. Any tips on using the commute to keep up with your writing?
Yes, that hour and a half to two-hour commute each way, while extremely time-consuming, is actually pretty great for doing writerly things. Writing on the train isn’t exactly the most comfortable environment, but it does give me a pocket of time to be productive.
I of course use it for reading, and I keep a small notebook in my bag for ideas, and even hand writing drafts of stories if I won’t have time (or will be way too tired) to work on at home. While I'm writing on the train, I'm secretly wondering if the person sitting next to me is a big-time editor who will ask me what I’m working on. A writer getting discovered on a train actually happens more than you’d think.
3. What online and other writer groups do you belong to? Where can you be found on the Web?
I’ve got to say, I really love Duotrope.com. It’s an amazing resource for finding literary magazines and contests. Instead of buying the physical Writer’s Market (which needs to be updated every year), Duotrope is a free alternative that helps you find and keep track of places to send writing. I am also a part of the Yahoo group, Creative Writing Opps for weekly updates on writing venues/contests.
As for a true writing group, some friends and I have been trying to revive our writing workshop group from college, the Literary Arts Society. Right now, we have decided to primarily work together online, using a mix of Facebook, Google+, and Google Docs. We go by a nice little morbid title, SRVF, which stands for Stones and Rocks in Virginia’s Frock.
Besides Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter (now that I’ve slowly become open to Twitter), you can find me on my blog, The Anxiety of Authorship. And Goodreads, of course!
4. You're a relatively recent college graduate. Can you talk about that transition a bit--the switch from being in formal college classes and in the company of students to being kind of alone out in the working world.
Although I do miss the college learning environment and being around inspiring friends all of the time, I don't miss all of the homework. That has definitely been a part of the transition from college to working--I can leave my work at work (usually). Which should leave me a lot of time for writing then, right? Well, in theory. Now that I don't have to fill all of my free time with school-work, I have definitely been able to get more writing and literary things done. At the same time, though, working full time often leaves me too tired to use my free time productively. In college, I always had work, but classes only took up about 3 hours a day at the most and I could usually go to sleep and wake up whenever I wanted. In the working world, I wake up early and don't come home until very late. It's been a very tiring transition.
As for being in the company of other students, college was definitely the place for socializing. At school, between my friends, English classes, being in the Literary Arts Society, co-editing my school's academic paper, etc., there was an endless supply of friendship and writerly inspiration. In the working world, I've found it's harder to make friends because everyone has so much to do in a day. And when I'm done, I just want to get on with my long commute and get home already. I have reached out to many colleagues though, whether my age or even older, especially when we connect on a writerly/readerly level (which you are more likely to find in the publishing industry).
5. Do you find a crossover between publishing (your day job) and writing?
There is immense crossover between working in the publishing field and my own writing ambitions. I don't think I go a day at work without thinking about myself as a writer and the ways working in publishing will help me. What I think any writer working in publishing should do is to build contacts. Put yourself out there, latch onto a really nice editor and ask to meet and discuss writing. It doesn't have to mean you are presenting them with finished work and asking what they can do. It's more for information, and for them to be informed that you are serious about your writing. Keep them informed periodically if you get a story published or if you've hit a tough spot in writing your novel. That way, even if you eventually move publishing companies, or into another industry altogether, you still have friends in publishing.
I also have to say that working in publishing makes the whole "getting published" process seem so easy, and yet so hard simultaneously. I've overheard editors’ conversations with their authors, and it just sounds so easy--the author throws out an idea, and BAM!--book deal. At the same time, almost all large publishing houses do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. When my department received unsolicited, or "slush" manuscripts, my boss just throws them out, or sends to an editor with a note reading "slush." So if I can take one thing away from that, it's to find an agent if you plan on going the traditional publishing house route (self-publishing is completely different). Agents know what they are doing--they know how to market your work to publishers/editors in a way that keeps it from entering the slush pile. Some of my friends are editorial assistants, and I just see how ridiculously busy they are. Even if you have a great manuscript, editors simply won't have the time to read it unless an agent has handed it to them.
I've been surprised to find that not many people I know in publishing are actual writers. All are avid readers, of course, but people still seem to get excited if I mention I write. Being a writer is very special.
6. Why have you chosen to hold a day job while also being a writer?
I know that many writers wish to pursue the “starving artist” route. They want their profession to be their art, and that’s it. They want to only make money from that. Isn’t that a dream job? Being able to just write all day and make money? I admire that working-horse breed, and would love to one day do something like that, but the whole living-off-your-art lifestyle just isn’t for me. I’ve also heard from many, many sources that most writers do not make their money solely from writing novels.
I think I’d go a little nuts if I was just at home every day writing for the rest of my life. It feels a bit too isolating. Where would my material come from? Where would my money come from? I think unless I become a superstar writer, I need to have the stability of a regular income. I wouldn’t say I’m being pessimistic—I still dream of my writing taking off and making all of my dreams come true—but I think right now, as a young person just getting started, I need a job. I need to establish a professional career so that writing isn’t the only thing I rely on. It’s too much pressure.
I also like that if things aren’t going right at work, I can turn to my writing and feel okay. And if things aren't going well with writing, I can do the same by turning to work. I think it’s balancing for a writer to have other interests, another source of income, another source of inspiration.
Thank you, Stephanie.
Have you switched day-jobs during your writing career? Is it better to have a day job that's completely divorced from writing, e.g., house painting? Or does it help to at least work within a related industry?