Date of Interview: April 12th, 2017
Q: Would you please state your job title, where you currently work, and how long it’s been since you graduated from college?
A: Okay. I’m Meera, I am a freelance illustrator and writer, and I work for myself, and I graduated eight years ago.
Q: Okay, great. So, could you tell me a little bit about your background as a writer and an illustrator, how you’ve come to work for yourself, and what kind of projects you typically do?
A: Sure. I worked as an editor at a technical publishing company straight out of college. I started as the intern, I became an assistant, and then I became an assistant editor, and I worked there for six years. I edited papers written by electrical engineers, so that would go into a journal of [inaudible 0:59], all scientific, research-based, and about two years after I started doing that, I started painting, just as a side thing, as a way for me to feel personally fulfilled because my day job wasn’t doing that. And I slowly continued to freelance while I worked for about four years, and I actually just left my job a month ago and I am full time freelance now. And I have one book out, I’m working on my second, and I also take on editorial illustrations [inaudible 1:39]. I don’t do much freelance writing aside from the books right now.
Q: Okay, great. So some of these questions will feel a little bit clunky because you are not working in a formal position with a hierarchy in a business, but we’ll just sort of work around that. So could you provide me with a sort of brief description of the primary tasks you perform day to day?
A: Okay. So I do a lot of email, I would say that’s probably 70 percent of my day is pitching myself to magazines and publications in order to get editorial work. And I am beginning to pitch article ideas, as I’d like to start freelance writing more aside from the book. And I also pitch myself as an illustrator so I can take on projects with these publications. I do a lot of email, talking with my editors, talking about my agent about book proposals, about current projects, working with the marketing team to get publicity for my writing project, and I would say maybe 10 percent of my time is actually making work, which would be painting or working on my book writing, and I would say another 15 percent would be doing research, which is just to say [inaudible 3:16] other people’s work, reading, looking at illustrations, doing some sort of market research for what I want to work, who are the art directors I can reach out to, who are the editors, so I have connections to any of these places, who can I contact, etc.
Q: Great, that’s excellent. And I am getting just a little bit of wind, if it’s at all possible to turn your body, that would be great.
A: Oh, sure.
Q: Cool, thank you! Sorry.
A: Yeah, I’m sorry! Is that better?
Q: So you sort of anticipated this next question, which was the percentage of your job that requires writing. So it sounds like a really large percentage of your job requires writing?
A: Yeah, it’s mostly writing. That’s what I’m doing day to day, yeah. Just like being an illustrator also.
Q: Yeah, and so you talked about email, are there other forms or types of writing or documents that you complete? I know that you’re working on a book manuscript, so email and the book manuscript, are there other kinds of writing that you do?
A: Yeah, I do a lot of contract work when I have a commision, so I read a ton of contracts, which is excruciating, and I used to just sign anything, really, because it was so daunting to go through it, but I stopped doing that because I don’t have the day job, and I have to make sure I’m not signing away all the rights to my work or that I’m getting paid correctly, or that, you know, I do a lot of financial royalties, checking royalties, and checking agreements and things like that. So a lot of it is contract, and the other thing, as I mentioned, is proposals. So with that is always writing about a budget, about a timeline, a schedule, revisions, how much work I’m going to put into something, and what the client can expect. So there’s a lot of legal writing that goes into it too.
Q: Interesting, that’s really interesting. So when we think about sort of the primary audiences you’re writing to, is clients a sort of overarching category, or would there be other ways to categorize those primary audiences?
A: I would say clients and potential clients is a big part, but also I guess which I haven’t mentioned – so I do a lot of microblogging, I guess I would call it, because that’s the world we’re in now, so I do have a newsletter that I send out arbitrarily whenever I remember to tend to it, and that is, I would say that’s personal writing. I try to really write from the heart and connect with my audience, and along with that comes the writing that I do on Twitter and Instragram, both social media writing, but I try my best to be relatable and to be authentic instead of somebody that is just trying to sell herself. So I would say that is my most important writing, trying to forge a connection with another person just by being who I am, without manicuring myself.
Q: Yeah, absolutely, which is not an easy task in writing!
A: No. And you feel very vulnerable most of the time.
Q: I bet, I bet. And so when you think about what you’re trying to accomplish with those kinds of communications, can you tell me a little bit about the purpose of those kinds of communications?
A: Sure. On the surface level, it’s essential to me building a brand and becoming a successful freelance artist, I need to have an audience, I need to have followers who hopefully respect me and want to support my work. It is about building loyalty in a sense. And I would say on the deeper human sense, the reason why I even want to be an artist, and why I am doing what I do despite the instability and financial hardships is just the desire to connect with other people. I think my ultimate goal is always to help somebody feel less alone, and I think that you could say that comes from my own desire to feel less alone.
Q: Beautiful. Okay. When you think about the kinds of writing that you do now, everything from professional emails to those proposals and contracts, were you familiar with those genres of writing when you were a student?
A: Absolutely not. I went to school for literature and journalism, and I really wanted to become a hard news journalist. I don’t know why, I think it just seemed very glamorous to me, and by senior year I had done internships at like five publishing houses and I really got a taste for it and I didn’t want it at all. It wasn’t exciting, I felt like journalism had become really compromised and inauthentic, and it lacked appeal for me. So that’s just to say that I didn’t go to art school and I didn’t go to business school, so I don’t know anything about marketing or publicity or legalities or anything like that, and it’s just been completely learning as I go and making tons of mistakes, the same mistakes over and over again. And that’s really what it’s been like, and I’m still learning of course, and I think that that artist part of me that just wants to write books and make drawings has a very casual approach to a lot of the legal writing, especially when I talk to my editor and my agent, I’m not always capitalizing or using punctuation or formal methods of writing, and I think that as an artist you get away with more. I think people let you be casual because that’s you, and you make the work that you make, and they’re not going to nitpick if you don’t capitalize or things like that. But I think that’s been also something to learn when I’m catching myself, because there’s a certain professionalism and etiquette that you need to maintain, and I think that’s been difficult for me to grow into since I’m not used to doing it.
Q: Oh, that’s interesting, yeah. So when you think about a typical writing project, maybe let’s think of one of the proposals seems like a useful example – when you think about that, you take the initiative, you’re not usually responding to a call for proposals, right? You sort of have talked to someone, an artistic director or something, and you make that proposal on your own, is that a fair assessment?
A: For my first book I made the proposal entirely on my own, and it was a wild shot in the dark, and I managed to submit it to an editor, and it was risky because, you know, it was as professional and as detailed and in depth as something that I had ever made. But now, my second time around I have an agent, and I work with her to perfect a proposal, and just to give you an idea, my first book the proposal was I think 10 pages, and with my second book, it was about 40. So yeah. It was a lot more well developed the second time around.
Q: That’s really interesting. How did you, for the second proposal, could you tell me a little bit about how you prepared to write, and the steps you took from start to completion of that proposal?
A: Sure. So first, I pitched a bunch of ideas to my agent, I probably took 20 ideas and she liked one of them, which is the one we ended up going with. And after that, I basically did writing. I did sample writing for what the actual manuscript would represent. And then after that was finished, I created the illustrations that would go along with the manuscript. You basically want to submit 20 pages of what the final book will look like, that is part of the sample material for the proposal. So I did that, and then after that you do the marketing/publicity side of the proposal, which is talking about yourself, talking about what you have accomplished so far, you basically want to convince the publisher that you have an audience that will buy the book. If they give you the money to write a book, you’ll be able to sell it. And so you have to determine your target audience, and other books that are already like it on the market that won’t be competitors, but to show them that there is an audience for the work, and you do a complete marketing plan, who you would pitch the book to, possible publications that would feature it, possible influencers that will write about it, the whole thing. So you basically give them your book and the marketing plan and hope that they like it.
Q: Gotcha, and then when you’re drafting that, does that go through multiple drafts? What is your approach to revision in a document like that?
A: It took us probably five months start to finish to have the complete proposal. And I did I believe four revisions on the manuscript, three or four revisions on the artwork, and I think the same amount for the actual marketing and publicity plan. So that was between me and my agent, the back and forth.
Q: Okay, so you’re writing and then getting feedback from the agent and incorporating that feedback?
Q: And so if we think about, this varies wildly I’m sure, but how long do you typically have to complete a writing project, if it’s something short, say a pitch to an editor for a smaller project, or something like that? What’s the turnaround time for a sort of maybe average writing project?
A: That’s entirely up to me, there’s no deadline, it’s just me who loses if I don’t get it done. So I would say probably one to three days.
Q: Okay, great. And this is sort of a broader question – what would you say is at stake in your writing?
A: I’m sorry can you repeat that?
Q: Sure, what would you say is at stake in your writing?
A: Oh. I would say authenticity. It’s always a constant battle between writing honestly and authentically and writing something you know will go viral or that people want to read, and in my experience, the things that go viral and that people want to read are things that they’ve already read a zillion times before. So it’s the battle between being yourself and being somebody else.
Q: That’s so interesting. Could you tell me a little bit more about what you mean when you say the things that go viral, the things people want to read, are thing they’ve already read?
A: I think that a lot of things that people respond to are the things that they know, but aren’t able to articulate themselves, which makes sense, I mean that’s why artists and writers exist, because hopefully they’re able to say things in a way that people can understand. But I guess today, in today’s world, I find that the things that go viral can be very trite, and easily digestible, don’t require too much thought or effort, and so I think it’s, I mean I guess it’s a form of selling out sometimes, do you want to do what everybody else is doing because there’s proven success in it? Or do you want to do what you want to do, even though nobody might like it?
Q: That is a big question. Okay, yeah [laughter].
A: It is a big question [laughter].
Q: That’s really interesting, that’s really interesting. Okay, thanks. In what ways do you think your academic background prepared to write in this role?
A: I’m going to say that it hasn’t. I will say, I think my academic writing has helped me in general, to be an okay writer, to be able to articulate, to have the alright vocabulary, to understand how to put a sentence together, and to be clear and concise, and that’s all really important things. The rest of it though, for the types of writing I’m doing, has just been practice. I think my academic background at least put me in a position of being a good writer, and then all the practice has helped me manage all the different forms of writing that I’ve had to do.
Q: Okay, great. In what ways were you unprepared as a writer in this role? So you mentioned earlier, like most people, you’ve made a lot of mistakes – could you talk a little bit about the ways in which, as a writer, you were unprepared?
A: The whole proposal process was absolutely new to me and I didn’t know how to convince other people. So as far as writing, I had only ever learned how to use persuasion in literary and academic essays basically, always trying to convince the reader of my argument and how it tied to a book and a theme, but I had never learned how to use it in order to talk about myself and my capabilities. So although I had some sort of background on how to be a convincing writer, I didn’t feel prepared to apply it the way that I’ve had to.
Q: Could you tell me a little bit about the practical steps that you took to overcome some of those early challenges? I know you mentioned that you do a lot of looking at your peers and thinking about work that might be compared to yours in some way, but sort of practically, what else have you done as a writer to improve or to arm yourself with stronger skills?
A: A lot of it has just been practice, just doing it despite not wanting to do it, or not feeling like I’m doing it well, just doing it anyway. That’s probably the largest. And the second is that I read a lot, I read other people’s pitches, I read contracts, I read advice online on how to write a better pitch, how to write a better proposal, I look at examples, and then I try to apply those. So it’s a lot of just teaching and educating myself from the books and the internet, the sources that I have around me.
Q: Yeah, absolutely. Have you had any writing training or education since you graduated from college?
A: No. Not at all.
Q: Okay. Would you say that you’re a successful writer?
A: [Laughter] good question. I would say I guess it depends on how you measure success. I’m successful because I’m making a living doing it, so there’s that. Successful in terms of quality – I would say I’m not where I want to be, but I’m not sure that anybody ever is. So I’m constantly looking to improve.
Q: Fair enough. Okay. And our last question, actually – what skills would you say are most central to writing in the kind of role that you’ve built for yourself here?
A: I think that it would have helped me, it would still help me a lot to have more of a business writing background, I think that is essential to any freelancer, anybody that’s just self-employed and looking to make a living as a writer. And I think that I would have enjoyed and probably benefitted from some creative writing courses, from learning how to develop my voice better and I think, I’m not sure if this is writing-specific, but having some sort of education or courses that made me feel more confident as a writer and less afraid to have a voice, even.
Q: That’s so interesting. Okay, alright, thank you so much!
A: Of course.
Tags: art, artist, arts, books, creative, illustration, illustrator