Interview with Moira Allen, M.Ed.

Interview with Moira Allen, M.Ed.

Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book is the third edition of “Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer.”  As suggested by the words “third edition,” this is a revision of a book I originally wrote quite a few years ago.  My original goal when I first wrote the first edition was to create a book that answered the types of questions new freelance writers most commonly ask – and to create a book that would enable a would-be writer to start basically from scratch and, following the steps in the book, build a successful writing career.  As the freelance world (and in particular the online world) evolves, this book has been evolving as well, and I believe it still fulfils the goals that I originally set for it.  This book guides you step-by-step through the process of becoming a professional freelance writer, from market research to handling your business taxes.  It will help you brainstorm article ideas from areas of your life that you might never have considered “mining” for freelance materials.  It explains how to craft a query that will get an editor’s attention; how to draft and polish an article; and how to handle the submissions process.  It also looks at ways writers can make the most of social media and their online presence (including why a traditional website is still a vital tool for freelancers); how to become a copy-writer; how to handle the business side of freelancing (including negotiating contracts and understanding your rights); and how to move from writing articles to writing books.  Finally, it addresses the question of when and whether to “take the plunge” from part-time writer to full-time freelancer.

Interview with Moira Allen, M.Ed.
How was this book published? (traditional, small press, self pub, etcc...)  Why did you choose that particular publishing route?
The book is commercially published through Allworth Press/Skyhorse Books.  While I have self-published, a commercial publisher is still the only way to get your book into bookstores across the country.  The book is also available on Kindle. I presume it will eventually be available as a Nook Book as well, since the previous edition is. So you can get the book on Amazon, B&N, etc., as well as in quite a few bookstores.

Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad or good ones?
Yes, I do.  I don’t really “deal” at all.  I accept either as the opinion of the reviewer.  Of course I’m thrilled by good reviews, but I don’t let negative reviews get me fussed.  It’s not worth the time. 

What's your favourite quote about writing/for writers?
Oh, gosh, I have so many.  I have a huge list, because I create a writer’s planner for my website (you can download it there for free) and I put in a quote for writers on just about every other page.  Here are a few of my favourites:

 “There is no way of writing well and also of writing easily.” – Anthony Trollope

 “Please don't entertain for a moment the utterly mistaken idea that there is no drudgery in writing. There is a great deal of drudgery in even the most inspired, the most noble, the most distinguished writing... Believe me... if you wait for inspiration in our set-up, you'll wait for ever.” - Ngaio Marsh
 “If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” - Stephen King
“Doing things, and not dreaming about them, is the secret of success.  Thinking out plans will never come to anything unless the thought be followed by a determined will to execute.” – Anonymous quote from a Victorian women’s magazine
“When I consider what some books have done for the world, and what they are doing, how they keep up our hope, awaken new courage and faith, soothe pain, give an ideal life to those whose hours are cold and hard, bind together distant ages and foreign lands, create new worlds of beauty, bring down truth from heaven; I give eternal blessings for this gift, and thank God for books.”  – James Freeman Clarke
What's the best thing about being a writer?
That’s sort of a trick question.  If you are a writer, the best thing about being a writer is being a writer.  You should only be doing this if you love writing.  You will only ever do it well if you love writing.  If you don’t love writing, there’s no “best thing” about being a writer – it’s  just never going to be “your thing.”  If you do love writing, there is no other “best thing” – it’s not about fame, or money, or even that elusive quality of “independence” that we associate with the idea of working for ourselves or freelancing.  The best thing about being a writer is the only thing about being a writer: writing.

Where can people find out more about you and your writing?
Since this particular book is for writers who wish to improve their chances of success in the writing business, the best place to learn more is my website for writers, (  This site has hundreds of articles for writers of every type and level of expertise; its purpose, like that of the book, is to guide you in the steps necessary to achieve your writing goals and dreams.  I have a host of editorials on the site (look under “Editor’s Corner”) – and that will certainly give you a chance to get to “know” me a bit better!  But let me also take a moment to plug my Victoriana website,, which is an archive of articles from Victorian periodicals and the site of my monthly Victoriana e-magazine, “Victorian Times.” 

How long did it take you to write your book?
Since this was a revision, I gleefully expected that it wouldn’t take me long at all.  The first time I wrote the book, it took nearly a year.  Well, so much has changed in the writing world between then and now that it took about six months to complete this edition.  I kept finding more things that needed to be added or changed, and the result is that this is the longest edition ever (I was amazed at how fat the book was when it arrived a few weeks ago!).  So I guess the moral is – whenever you’re planning a project, assume it’s going to take quite a bit longer than you expected.  I don’t think a book can ever be written “quickly.”

Do you believe in writers block?
Yes, I do.  I’ve known too many people who have developed writer’s block for one reason or another to dismiss it as nonexistent, or just something that you should be able to “get over” if you were just more disciplined or something. 

That being said, when I develop writer’s block, my belief is that my subconscious is trying to tell me something.  When I’m writing fiction and I  run into a block, it’s usually because I’ve made a mistake, written myself into a corner, or created a contradiction or an impossible situation.  My inner editor is telling me to stop writing and figure out what I’ve done wrong and fix it.  Otherwise, I could go on writing and writing – and have to back up and throw most of it out because I was going in the wrong direction. 

In nonfiction, if I run into a block, it’s usually because I have absolutely no interest in what I’m writing about.  I might have an article assignment and I just don’t care about the topic.  Then it’s very difficult to drag myself through the process.  I can usually do it, but I always feel that the result is of poorer quality than when I am enthusiastic about the material.  I think there, my inner editor is asking, “Why are you wasting precious writing brain power on something that means nothing to you?  Is the money really worth it?”  

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
It would be “start sooner!”  I always knew I “wanted” to be a writer.  But I was the world’s worst procrastinator.  If I had known then what I know now, I would have chased my younger self around, kicking it in the behind to actually start doing something about writing. 

In my book, I reference Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset.”  Dweck conducted a study that indicated that when you tell someone (i.e., a kid), “you’re really good at X,” you’re actually doing them a disservice.  When you tell a child, for example, “you’re really good at writing; you’re a natural at it; you have a gift,” etc., the child tends to develop the notion that skill at something like writing is something that comes naturally and easily.  If you’re “good” at something, it means you don’t have to “work” at it.  I was always “good” at writing in school.  I didn’t mind essays and ten-page reports.  Conversely, I was never “good” at math; I had to work at that.  So obviously I was “meant” to become a writer, not a mathematician, right?

Only, when you start writing in the real world, you find out that it’s a lot harder than it looks.  What worked in high school doesn’t work in the real world.  (One of the first things I had to learn was that writing a newspaper article was completely different from writing a college paper!)  Writing is work.  When it no longer comes easily and you’re no longer being told (by teachers who are comparing your essay to a host of others from the same class) that you’re wonderful, you get discouraged.  I hadn’t learned how to push myself outside of my comfort zone as a young writer.

Probably the best thing that ever happened to me was getting a job as a magazine editor.  One of the first things I was told to do was to take a pile of information and sit down and write an article on flea control for dogs.  What, just like that?  I was used to waiting for inspiration to strike; I’d never imagined that you could just take a pile of clippings, start going through them, sit down at the typewriter and crank out an article in an afternoon.  But in the “real world” of working for a magazine, that was exactly what you had to do, and what I learned to do.  That’s when I learned how to put the behind in the chair and get the job done, even if it wasn’t easy or fun. 

I’ve written quite a lot in the last few decades, but I do wonder how much more I might have written if I could have gone back in time and given myself that advice??

Interview with Moira Allen, M.Ed.
What are your thoughts on self-publishing versus traditional publishing?
Very mixed!  I’ve done both.  When I wrote my first nonfiction book, “Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet,” I had just come across a book on self-publishing, and it intrigued me.  I did send out some proposals to commercial publishers for the book, but I think I was already half-convinced to try self-publishing even when I did that.

Now, keep in mind that this was 1987.  The Internet did not exist.  The Macintosh had just come out, and was making it possible for the first time for a self-publisher to set their own type. (Otherwise, you’d pay $10 or more per page, which was obviously out of the question.)  I designed and formatted my book on one of those old Macs that look like an overgrown shoebox – remember five-inch floppies?  We didn’t have a laser printer so we took the files in to my husband’s office to print.  I still had to do the paste-up the old fashioned way, by hand, with blueline sheets and rubber cement.  But I got it done, and then settled into the endless process of trying to promote the book.  I didn’t make my money back on that edition, but that book has remained in print – through self-publishing – to this very day, and I’ve sold something like 17,000 copies total.  It hasn’t made me rich but it has more than repaid my initial investment and keeps on selling.

That’s my success story.  I’ve self-published a number of books since then that have gone nowhere.  Part of the problem today is that I no longer have the time or energy to devote to the nonstop marketing that I gave that first book.  So I do see self-publishing, and various forms of DIY publishing such as POD through avenues like Lulu or CreateSpace, as viable for certain types of nonfiction projects.  If you have a strong platform in a narrow market niche, self-publishing can be the way to get a book out there that a larger commercial publisher wouldn’t consider economically viable.

I do not see self-publishing as a viable option for most fiction.  There is so much fiction out there that the reader doesn’t have to browse through pages and pages of independently published author websites trying to find something to read.  While there are occasional dramatic author success stories in the fiction self-publishing field, you have to recognize how occasional those really are.  If you want your book to be in bookstores, airport shops, Walmart, grocery store shelves, and all those other cool places where people grab books on impulse, the only way to get there is through a commercial publisher.  If you want your book to be available around the world, you need a commercial publisher.  And if you want your book to be read by thousands of people, not tens or hundreds, you need a commercial publisher. 

What disturbs me today is that so many writers are choosing self-publishing not because they can’t get a commercial publisher, but because they are impatient and don’t want to bother going through the painful process of trying.  The DIY marketplace has sung a siren song of how you can be in “control” of your book, how you can “own” it, how you don’t have to be subject to the whims of a marketplace that is just driven by money, yadda yadda yadda. 

I’ll give just one downside to this – if you have a book that is almost good enough for commercial publishing, and you submit it to a publisher or agent, there’s a chance that you might get some valuable feedback on how to make your book better, more publishable, and more marketable.  You might not like that feedback.  But if you’re aiming for commercial publication, and you find that you need to keep polishing and editing and reworking your book until it’s “good enough,” that’s what you’re going to do.  And along the way, you’re going to end up not only with a publishable book, but with better skills as a writer to bring to your next book.

But if you bypass that process – if you dismiss commercial publishing as just a bunch of bean-counters who don’t care about good writing but only about the bottom line – and you just dump your novel on Kindle and move on to the next, you’re not doing anything to improve your writing.  You’re not facing the challenge of what it takes to be “good enough” to “get published.”  You want to get your book into the marketplace today, right now, forget the two-year wait involved in finding a “real” publisher.  And so you settle for 50 readers, or 100 readers, instead of the thousands that you might have had.  I see all sorts of rationales for writers who say they just love being able to “connect” with their 50 readers... Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I’d rather have 50,000 readers that I maybe don’t chat with every day, but who love my books and can’t wait for the next one to come out.


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