NA: You are a senior content editor at F + W Media. Could you talk a little bit about your editing position? What it entails?
RB: My main job is handling the Writer’s Digest Market Books. I specifically edit Writer’s Market, Writer’s Market Deluxe Edition, Poet’s Market, and Guide to Self-Publishing. In addition, I’m the resident expert on managing the database for all the Market Books, including Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, Guide to Literary Agents , Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, Photographer’s Market, Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market, and any other Market Book-related projects.
I’m the online editor of WritersMarket.com, which means I scour the Internet daily for publishing news and create a free weekly WritersMarket.com newsletter. I write a poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine that shares a poetic form and poetry prompt each issue—that column ties into my Poetic Asides blog.
My job also includes judging contests, blogging, social media, customer service, online education, speaking at live events, and more. In other words, my job keeps me busy, but it’s mostly stuff that I love doing.
NA: Wow! That’s a lot! How did you get this job? And really, how do you do all that in a day?
RB: I started working for F+W Media, which owns Writer’s Digest, as an unpaid intern. Of course, they were called F&W Publishing back then. I was referred to them by my creative writing fiction professor, Erin McGraw, and interned at the same time as Cate Marvin, who was a grad student at the University of Cincinnati . Anyway, I loved the work and just made it impossible for my bosses to get rid of me, I guess.
I love what I do, so I guess it makes all the “work” feel less like work. Plus, I’ve figured out a system of list-making that helps me with my time management. It’s old school—pen and paper in a composition notebook—but it’s the most effective method for me.
NA: When I was just beginning to publish poems, Poet’s Market was my Bible. But now a lot of publishing information is online. Does that hurt sales?
RB: There’s no doubt the variety of media that has cropped up over the past 10-15 years have hurt book sales in general. But Poet’s Market is still a very healthy and vital resource for poets looking to get published for a few reasons. First, it is filled with listings for poetry publishing opportunities. Second, the book has more articles than ever before on how to get published and how to reach an audience after publication. Plus, there are resources related to craft, poetic forms, organizations, and more—all in one book
NA: It’s changed under your editorship. I think it’s become more interesting to read.
RB: Thank you, but it’s really a team effort. I’ve worked with a lot of great editors over the years, editors who are good at keying in on what our readers want. That’s the main thing I try to do with everything I touch—figure out a better way of completing a task or delivering content, whether it’s in a book, a blog, or newsletter issue.
Every year, my goal with the book is to make the “best one ever.”
NA: Could you talk a little bit about WritersDigest.com?
RB: Speaking of great resources, WritersDigest.com is loaded down with information on everything from writing novels to navigating book fairs and festivals. It’s the main hub of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and is managed by Brian Klems, author of Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl.
In fact, the entire Writer’s Digest team is comprised of people who write. Some of us blog, some have authored books, some freelance in other ways, but all of us write. Our team is not only focused on helping our audience—we are the audience! So we really care about helping other writers find success.
NA: It’s a big website. Where should I click first? Second? Third? Could you give me just a little guided tour? With links?
RB: It really depends on your goals as a writer, but you can’t go wrong by starting with the editor blogs. Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents blog is probably the best agent blog by someone who isn’t an agent—and may still be the best even if you throw in blogs by actual literary agents. Brian Klems has a great Writer’s Dig blog that covers topics as varied as tools for self-published authors to the use of alright versus all right.
For all the poets, there’s the Poetic Asides blog. We have poem-a-day challenges in April and November, weekly prompts every Wednesday, poet interviews, poetic form explanations and challenges, and more.
Beyond the blogs, the site has articles about writing, searchable by genre, writing goal, and writing level. It also hosts writing contests throughout the year, links to free downloads , writing tutorials, workshops, the annual WD conference, the online bookstore, and so much more.
RB: I actually started blogging at the Poetic Asides blog, and I’ll be hosting the seventh annual April PAD (Poem-A-Day) Challenge this year. I’m always excited about the challenge, but this year is going to be special for a few reasons: First, it’s going to include guest judges, but beyond that, the top poem from each day will appear in a special anthology published by Words Dance Publishing .
That April challenge means a lot to me personally, because I’ve received so many success stories from poets who participate in it. Many poets go on to publish individual poems and even whole collections from poems they write in response to the challenge. But what really excites me is when teachers (high school and college) and writing groups contact me about their classes participating, not to mention poets letting me know that they either started poeming or rekindled their interest in writing poetry as a direct result of the challenge.
But you mentioned My Name Is Not Bob, and it has a special challenge of a different sort related to my recent book release: the Remixing the World’s Problems challenge. For this challenge, I task readers with remixing the poems in my book Solving the World’s Problems . Of the entries I’ve received so far, the more inventive have included a haiku poet writing a series of 60 tankas and a poet composing a poem with the final word from each poem in the collection.
The author of my favorite remix will receive $500 (from my own pocket). Technically, there’s no entry fee, but exposure to the book is necessary. The deadline for entries is May 15, 2014.
NA: You are a social media wizard. You really know how to navigate that realm. What do you love most about social media? Least?
RB: The thing I love the most about social media is that it’s a wonderful tool for connecting with other people, whether it’s friends and family who don’t live close to me or other writers and editors. If I meet someone at a conference or book festival, I can search for them on Facebook and send a friend request. If I read a great poem or story in a magazine or online, I can find the author of the piece and do the same thing.
That helps me as an editor if I need an expert on a topic. Also, it helps me learn about new publications, events, and other opportunities. Connecting is a good and human thing to do.
That said, social media can at times feel overwhelming and become a great time suck—and there are times when social media can feel the completely opposite of connecting with people. I’m constantly working on how to balance my social media use with everything else I do.
NA: If you had to pick two social media outlets and only two, which would you pick? Which are most useful for you personally?
RB: The two that are the absolutely most useful for me are Facebook and Twitter. While I’ve been able to get some sort of benefit from others, those are the two where I make the most meaningful connections. And if I had to pick one, it would be Facebook. I think there are better sites for usability, but Facebook is where the people are.
NA: I am behind the times. I don’t feel as if I can keep up with the online writing world. But I know there is a lot of good advice and information out there. I was wondering if you could name three sites I should visit regularly and/or give three pieces of advice for folks like me who feel overwhelmed.
RB: We’ll pretend like the Poetic Asides and Best American Poetry blogs are already givens as places to visit. We know they rock, right? So three more great places: Ron Silliman’s blog, The Academy of American Poets, and The Poetry Foundation. Plus, a site I’ve been digging lately is Cold Front.
Three pieces of advice for navigating the online world: Start small. Grow gradually. Put the writing first.
NA: You are in the advice business, or rather the business of giving advice and guidance to aspiring writers. I always feel as if I can use advice and new sources of inspiration. Who inspires you? Who do you turn to for advice?
RB: I find inspiration everywhere, in interviews on NPR, bio notes in RATTLE and Best American Poetry, blog posts by writers in (and outside) my social network, notes in the margins of used books, actions of people I meet at the grocery store (and in the news), self-reflection, and so much more. My worldview is one in which everything is connected—so I can learn how to be a better parent and a better writer if I pay attention to the world around me. My chief job as a human being is to listen.
NA: Is there any new inspirational book about writing that you would recommend?
RB: Singing School, by Robert Pinsky, is an interesting book about writing that is part anthology, part instruction, and part investigation. I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s been a good read so far.
My favorites are oldies: Leaping Poetry, by Robert Bly; The Triggering Town , by Richard Hugo; The Poetry Home Repair Manual, by Ted Kooser; The Poet’s Companion, by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux; and any books that cover forms, whether it’s The Book of Forms, by Lewis Turco, or The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms.
NA: You like to challenge writers. Describe some of the challenges you have designed.
RB: I’ve already mentioned the April poem-a-day challenge, which is to write a poem a day, and the remix challenge related to my book. A couple years back, I hosted a platform challenge, in which I gave writers manageable tasks each day over the course of a month that helped get them started in the process of building an online author platform. That was fun—and helpful! I’ve done a few others as well playing with the daily task concept.
I constantly challenge myself to try new things and/or find a better way doing old things. It wasn’t until I started running challenges—and finding great success with them—that I realized how much other people appreciate challenges as well.
When I’m designing challenges, my first goal is to make sure there’s some kind of intrinsic value to the challenge. It shouldn’t be about the grand prize; it should be about crafting poems or learning how to use online tools more effectively or whatever the challenge covers.
NA: In addition to being an editor, you have also recently published a book, Solving the World’s Problems. I was wondering if you could both provide a poem from the book and talk about what you’ve learned about writing and marketing a book of poems
RB: For the poem, I’ll use the title poem for the collection:
“solving the world’s problems”
i began as eyelashes blocking the sun
and my father was a digital clock
in a dark cave my father counted
out the minutes as i kept myself
from myself in this way i learned to kiss
years later when i became a horse
i ran the hot blood out of my body
father turned into a dream filled
with fire and a horrible laugh i
burned into a cloud of smoke
father became a phone call and then
silence i worried what i might
transform into next i worried
what i might already be then
i forgave father
For the writing part of getting a book published, I have to say that my writing process got a nice shove from my editor, Tom Lombardo (http://www.press53.com/editors.html) who saw things I was already doing in my writing and helped me amp them up to the next level. In other words, my writing grew as a result of working with a talented and deeply committed editor.
For the marketing part, I’m always testing things out and learning. One thing I’ll improve next time around is keeping everything more organized for both handling events and online appearances. Plus, I’m constantly reminded of just how important it is to have a list of folks to contact with book news—a great deal of my sales have been generated through personal contacts via e-mail and through live events.
Also, my remix challenge has helped accomplish two things: One, increase sales; and two, get readers more engaged with the material. It turns the reading process into a collaborative creative process.
NA: Your wife, Tammy Foster Brewer, is also a poet. And you have five children? How do you balance all these aspects of your life?
RB: I am only able to balance everything because of Tammy. She’s always very supportive of whatever I’m doing—and she’s a great source of inspiration in how she writes and deals with other people and situations.
We both come from previous marriages with kids—so we have a blended and complicated family structure. Our life is not always easy, and it’s usually chaotic, but we both share a deep faith in each other and in God. That helps me feel like we can weather any storm and accomplish great things.
NA: Any new projects ahead for 2014?
RB: I recently completed a chapbook manuscript that is something completely different—so I’m looking to find the right publisher for that and may even go the self-publishing route, because it really is different
Beyond that, I’m constantly writing and submitting individual poems. And reading!
Please provide a bio and photo to go with the interview.
Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). In his role as an editor, he edits Poet’s Market, writes a poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine, manages the poetry blog Poetic Asides, leads poetry workshops (online and at live events), judges contests, and much more. He’s married to the poet Tammy Foster Brewer, who helps him keep track of their five little poets (four boys and a princess). Learn more at www.robertleebrewer.com.
Nin Andrews received her BA from Hamilton College and her MFA from Vermont College. The recipient of two Ohio Arts Council grants, she is the author of several books including The Book of Orgasms, Spontaneous Breasts, Why They Grow Wings, Midlife Crisis with Dick and Jane, Sleeping with Houdini, and Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum. She also edited Someone Wants to Steal My Name, a book of translations of the French poet, Henri Michaux. Her book, Southern Comfort was published by CavanKerry Press in 2010. Follow Nin's blog here. Follow Nin on Twitter here.