“…it’s important to build resilience as well as excellence.”
This Q & A was originally a feature of our Binders Book List bi-weekly email newsletter, in which editor Julia Phillips interviews members of the Binders community who are releasing new books. These treasured Q & A sessions are just too good to relegate to the archives, so we are now sharing them on our blog. We’re featuring Esmé Weijun Wang.
My ideal reader adores the sound of words and sentences; is not afraid to spend time with characters who may or may not resemble them in any way; is more likely to love rather than hate the “whiteness” chapter in Moby Dick; is intrigued by the promise of having complex psychological states depicted in prose. Really, though, I’m happy to have any readers at all. Come one, come all, please.
You discuss mental health in your nonfiction writing and your regular advocacy. Does your approach to the topic shift when you incorporate it into fiction?
I write about mental health issues, and in particular schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, with a great deal of specificity in my nonfiction because nonfiction seems to demand that kind of specificity. When pitching an editor, for example, using something nameable plays in my favor.
When I write about mental illness in fiction, on the other hand, I’m more likely to use descriptions of symptoms that don’t match a simple DSM diagnosis; I’m less likely to use or name a DSM diagnosis at all. In my experience, fiction seems to have more room for the gray areas of disordered thinking and behavior, which I’m thankful for because that tends to allow for a broader canvas upon which to depict the true experience of being, for lack of a better word, crazy. (“True experience,” by the by, being based on my own lived experience, as well as years of working in research psychology.) The Border of Paradise stays away from stating what, precisely, is wrong with David Nowak.
Beyond promoting your own writing, your website focuses on supporting other writers – through free courses, guided meditations, notes of encouragement and more. What motivates you to offer this kind of active support?
Being a writer, or any kind of creative, is hard – it’s important to build resilience as well as excellence – and my hope is that my offerings provide that kind of support for the community. The things I offer range from free, encouraging notes in your inbox – to workbooks about using obsessions and themes to provide creative fuel – to more high-level things, such as Rawness of Remembering, my signature program about restorative journaling. There’s something for everyone there.
Esmé Weijun Wang is an award-winning author and advocate. At esmewang.com, she provides resources that assist aspiring and working writers in developing resilience on the path to building a creative legacy. Wang’s emphasis on resilience originates from her own experiences as a writer, having learned the importance of adapting to difficult times from living with schizoaffective disorder and late-stage Lyme disease. She studied creative writing and psychology at Yale and Stanford, and received her MFA from the top-tier Creative Writing program at the University of Michigan. The author of The Border of Paradise (Unnamed Press, 2016), Wang has written for Catapult, Hazlitt, Lit Hub, Salon, and Lenny, and been written about in the New Yorker Online, Fusion, and the New York Times. She is currently, having won the 2016 Graywolf Nonfiction Prize, working on a collection of essays about schizophrenia. Find her e-letter, as well as the complimentary Creative Legacy Check-In, at esmewang.com/e-letter.
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WRITER INTERVIEW: JULIA PHILLIPS, POST EDITORS: ALICIA A. WALLACE, ANDREA GUEVARA, LEIGH STEIN
Women and gender non-conforming writers all over the world are attracted to BinderCon, drawn in by the community, the professional development, and the craft workshops. Thanks to the Harnisch Foundation, even those who are unable to travel to New York City or Los Angeles to attend the bicoastal conference in person can access keynotes and select panels via the free livestream. This is one of the ways BinderCon boasts of helping writers like Charli Mills from Idaho to build writing communities around and beyond the conference through shared remote access.
Charli attended the 2015 BinderCon LA conference with a scholarship. “I was thrilled, especially as a rural writer. Nothing ever happens for writers in my area.” She was excited about the emphasis on professional development rather than craft-only sessions.
“BinderCon really takes seriously the woman who wants to be a career writer.” As we all know, the path does not seem to be getting easier, but more complicated, so BinderCon is becoming increasingly valuable.
It could be unnerving, being at conference with so many writers, and feeling like your own work doesn’t matter. Charli remembers being shy about telling people she writes and loves flash fiction. By the end of the conference, she found herself standing around with a group of women, long after the last session had ended. She felt fortunate to share the space with other people so much like her, but so different from her.
“We stayed because we were talking, connecting, bonding, and there was a woman with us who was in a wheelchair and most of the women standing in our group were women of color. It wasn’t that we were all different, but that we were connected by the passion that drives us to write. I walked away feeling so much more a writer than I had arrived.”
The sessions are BinderCon are enriching, motivating, and practical. There is something for everyone to take away, even from panels around themes that don’t necessarily fit your specific beat. Charli recalls sitting in a session with panelists who write for television, and taking away tips for pitching. “Who better to learn from than people who have to do it everyday?”
“To have guides along the way who are women in the industry who have more experience and exposure, and to learn from those women, is invaluable.”
In 2015, Charli decided to bring BinderCon to the women and gender non-conforming writers who could not get to New York City. Her area in Idaho only had satellite internet, so she hunted for venues that had better service and had no luck. After troubleshooting with Leigh, she decided to show DVDs of two panels – Owning a Complex Beat and Writers Who Mom and Moms Who Write. In January 2016, she hosted a repeat event for the “closet writers” as they are known by the local library. Both events were small, and Charli felt there was potential to get more people out. Leigh worked her magic again, reaching out to other writers in the area, connecting them with Charli.
“What’s going on in Montana is amazing, and that’s why we’re having this event in Missoula.” Teaming up with New York Times bestselling author Laura Munson from Whitefish, Stephanie Land, Rachel Mindell, Chelsia Rice, and Molly Priddy, Charli has organized a livestream of BinderCon at Shakespeare and Company, a local independent bookstore. Student writers from University of Montana are expected to attend, and writers will drive from three hours away in every direction this weekend to meet in Missoula and share the experience.
BinderCon LA will be streaming all day on Saturday and Sunday, starting at 10am PST and ending at 5pm PST. On Saturday, Charli will lead the group in a flash fiction exercise. During a break between panels on Sunday, Laura Munson will talk to writers.
“Her passion is to help other writers, and help other people connect with their own voice. She’ll talk about the myth of failure and success, and there’ll be a book signing.”
At the end of the day, all writers are welcome to attend an optional dinner at The Iron House where there will be readings.
The planning has been almost as much fun as Charli expects to have on BinderCon LA weekend. The group of women have been communicating for weeks, often multiple times in one day. The growth of the livestream idea from the small group in rural Idaho has grown beyond initial plans. Charli credits Leigh with giving phenomenal support and making coonnections with others in the area.
“Throw a couple of Binders in the mix, and you’ve got something dynamic. It gives me great hope for building something in Northern Idaho, and how well it’s working in Montana, and what a robust, diverse writing community looks like.”
Charli’s dream is to build a network of rural writers, all owning their voices. “I want them to know that they don’t have to sit at home. Even if there is not a writers community where you are, look for the closest community to you. Come on, and be a writer out loud.”
We write because we love it, but we pitch because we must. Our masterpieces deserve attention. They exist to be read by the audiences we imagine for them, but first we have to convince the gatekeepers. What do we say? How can we get editors to read and publish our work?
We’ve put together a few tips from the writers in our upcoming LA BinderCon session Women Who Pitch: Freelancing in the Digital Age
Report Before You Pitch
Erika Hayasaki, former national correspondent at the Los Angeles Times, recommends getting out there to find answers to the questions your pitch needs to satisfy. “Make some calls, visit some people in person, hang out to get some scenes.” Erika says, “You can even open your pitch with a scene.” She says you need to know who your characters will be, and answers “Why should I care?”
Go All the Way
Liana Aghajanian encourages writes to apply for grants and fellowships on sites like ICFJ to support your reporting. She also recommends moving away from big cities, and even go international. She says the perspective this kind of change brings can give you an advantage. “You’ll find the living expenses and rent are cheaper, while your perspective and the stories you find will be more unique, and therefore more attractive to editors.” She warns that wanting to write about a subject isn’t enough. Liana says, “Make sure you’re pitching a story, not just an idea – a story contains characters and tension and it has to go somewhere.”
Do your Research
A little extra effort can go a long way. Melissa Chadburn says, “Address your pitch directly to the editor of the column you’re submitting to. You can usually find their names in the masthead.” Since publications want to know you’re familiar with their work, she says, “Reference a previously published piece of the venue that shares your tone or aesthetic.”
Pay Attention to the Details
There’s one mistake Mona Gable doesn’t want you to make. When you’re pitching, depending on someone to put your work out there, check and double check to ensure you have the right name and spelling. “Spell the editor’s name correctly. Seriously.”
Keep the Subject Simple
Senior Features Editor at Bustle Rachel Krantz reads over 100 pitches every day, and she doesn’t want to see PR-like subject lines. “You want to be sure your subject line makes it clear you’re not a PR rep. The main way to do this is not to get too fancy, vague, or cheesy.” She says your subject line could be a potential headline for your article.
How do you craft the perfect pitch? How do you get paid to write the stories you care about? How can you travel around the world to cover a story? Inspired by the Los Angeles-based group “Women Who Submit,” which encourages women writers to gather together and submit their work to magazines, and to celebrate the often intimidating process of sending work out into the world, this award-winning group of panelists will reveal their secrets to becoming successful freelance writers. The will discuss how to tackle a difficult story, how to master the craft of nonfiction storytelling, when a story is a right for longform pitch, which digital outlets pay for travel, expenses and which pay $1 a word vs. $50 for an entire story? Which ones offer the best editing experiences? They will also offer tips on networking with editors, tackling big, ambitious stories, and balancing home, family, and the writing life while trying to pay the bills and follow your passions.
As writers, we are always looking for ways to market our work. Our blogs and social media platforms call attention to our stories, poems, and essays. Blogs serve as great hubs for our work, and Facebook and Twitter are great for sharing links with enticing snippets, but what about email marketing? What better way to direct the audience you’ve built to your latest piece than a special delivery, right to their inbox?
Many of us find it difficult to do the marketing part of the job, even though we know it’s necessary. People often think of emails as an imposition, but remember people have signed up to receive your newsletter. They appreciate your work, they want to hear from you. It’s up to you to fulfill your promise, and design your newsletter in a way that makes them want to stay on your list. We checked with a few writers from our upcoming BinderCon LA session: If You’re Going to Have a Newsletter, Make it a Good One.
Make it Personal
Liz Galvao says, “People will continue to subscribe if they feel a connection with you. Yes, email is where we get spam,…but it’s also where friends and family send us personal letters about what’s going on in their lives, and it can be an intimate format if you let it.
Don’t be afraid to let your subscribers into your life a little, and mention what’s going on with you that day, even if it seems mundane.”
She says she loves Marc Maron’s WTF podcast newsletter because there’s always a personal note to connect her to him as a person, and not just a podcast personality promoting something. She enjoys reading about his awkward trips to his parents’ house and random new food obsessions. “It’s kept me subscribing for years,” she says.
Sulagna Misra says she uses a comfortable, direct style, similar to the way she engages friends who gchat her about pitching, in her email newsletter. “I don’t write Pitching Shark [her email newsletter] expecting people to go to my professional writing, but I do find they get to know of me as a writer because of it, and that might attract them to my other writing naturally.”
It’s not just a marketing tool!
Ann Friedman, who’s email list is in the tens of thousands, warns, “An email is not a marketing tool, it’s a separate piece of work you’re creating. Treat it as such, and people will actually want to read it.”
Think of it as a new opportunity to draw someone in, and get them to read more of your work. Set the hook with personality and style, and make your readers happy they didn’t wait another second to open your email.
The three big take-aways from our panelists Liz, Sulanga, and Ann are:
Email newsletters can be an intimate format if you let it.
- Use your email newsletter to give a sense of your writing style, personality, and interests.
- Treat your email newsletter like writing not marketing.
Everyone seems to agree that as a writer you need to promote yourself, and that you really should be doing that via a newsletter. But is that the right choice for every writer? What are the real-world results of launching a newsletter? How do you create one that subscribers (aside from your mom) will really want to read? And how do you get subscribers, anyway? What about using a newsletter as a platform for original content, not just as a marketing tool? We talk to writers and editors of popular newsletters to learn how they organize and schedule their content, build their subscriber base, and strategically promote their work.
BinderCon is a little over a month away and you’ve got a ticket, but you still need to raise money for your trip. Crowdfunding is a great way to get help from people in your network who believe in your work. Lindsay Tessier ran a successful crowdfunding campaign last year, so we asked her to share tips with the Binder Community.
Potential funders are interested in the ‘why.’ They need a reason to care about your campaign. Spend some time thinking about why BinderCon is important to you and what you hope to gain by attending.
“If you show people why it matters to you, they’ll want to support you.”
Once you have your story, complete with the why, add visuals. Create a video, or add photos to your campaign page.
Realistic and specific
Set a realistic goal, and outline the use of funds. Funders want to know where their money is going. For BinderCon, you may want to list line items like transportation, accommodations, and food. Be sure to account for any costs associated with the campaign including crowdfunding platform charges.
Offering rewards is a great way to show gratitude to your backers, and make your crowdfunding campaign more fun. Rely more on your skills than on money. You can send a letter, poem, zine, or short story to backers at varying levels. You could even offer to name a character in your next novel after them. Get creative, and offer rewards you can reasonably deliver. Think about the time and effort your rewards require, and play to your strengths.
“I decided to offer personalized book recommendations because I read a lot, and people often ask me for suggestions.”
Social Media Boost
Share your crowdfunding campaign on your social media pages.
“Social media is your friend. The majority of my donations came from Facebook.”
Don’t be afraid to post reminders every few days, because everyone won’t see every post. Monitor the activity, and post where your audience is most responsive. Lindsay noticed that one social media platform yielded better results than another, so she put her time and effort into that one.
Remember that social media works hand-in-hand with in-person contact. Some people prefer to donate cash, so make sure you make that option available. Let people know you’re fundraising to give them the opportunity to donate offline.
Keep your backers in the loop. If you make changes to your rewards, let them know. Invite them to celebrate with you when you hit milestones. After your trip, let them know how it went. A blog post and photos can help them to feel like a part of your experience, and give you the perfect opportunity to thank them again.
For more ideas, check out Lindsay’s Indiegogo campaign. Good luck, and happy fundraising!