Joselin Linder is an author who has written books and articles on a wide variety of subjects, from relationships to gamification. She got a ton of attention after a TEDx talk a few years ago where she discussed a deadly genetic disease that runs in her (and only her) family. That talk led to her upcoming memoir about the topic, The Family Gene. We called her up to find out how she made it, and to get her advice for writers.
Joselin Linder’s Advice For Writers
Ploymint: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your writing career?
Joselin Linder: I’ve been writing professionally for about ten years. I have a bunch of books that I wrote for hire to start my career, which is a weird experience, but also was helpful in getting to where I am now. I write for the New York Post. I contribute to their book section regularly. I am writing my first book that’s my baby for Harper Collins that’s coming out in February called The Family Gene.
P: How did your very first book happen?
JL: I helped organize an event for a friend, and I met a literary agent. I was telling her this funny story about how I didn’t date – I just lived with guys. We would just move in immediately. She said, “Would you ever think about writing a book?”
It turns out the way she functioned as a literary agent is she would go to editors and find out book concepts that they were kicking around, where they had titles but they didn’t have writers. So she found one that was called The Good Girl’s Guide to Living in Sin. It was going to be a book about cohabitation. They had the title and they had the concept, but that was it.
She’s like, if I send you some book pitches, would you write one? I found one that was an astrology dating guide. I thought, I can model a pitch on this. I didn’t copy it, but I really used the structure in every way. The agent said, “You don’t have any background to be a writer, but I like your pitch. Can we bring in another writer who’s in the industry?” So she paired me with a woman who was an editor at Bridal Guide. The two of us came in as co-writers. But because I had led the charge, the co-writer thought of herself as the co-writer and that I was the main writer, because she didn’t know that I was just a girl who had met a literary agent at a party! That was really how the whole thing started.
P: What are some of the ups and downs of writing a book with someone else?
JL: I’ve written four books with two different co-writers. I like that process because I’m really social, and writing is really lonely. I liken it to when I used to work in theater. I like that group building of a project, putting up a show. Co-writing was great in that way.
I’ve had a lot of people say, I have this great idea to write a book about locusts or whatever. I’m like, oh, that’s awesome. Why you? That’s going to be the publisher’s first question: Why should you write that book? It’s a good idea, but who are you that you should write that book? It’s either you have a big audience, or people trust your knowledge of locusts, or whatever your thing is.
When I was first starting, there was no reason to trust me as a writer – I had never written anything. I have said to people, find a co-writer. If that’s your passion project, find somebody who’s a scientist, or who’s a writer, or somebody who’s in that world.
P: Any other advice for writers?
JL: I have this pocket full of advice that I’ve given to a lot of people. I have three things. The third thing that everybody who wants to be a writer should do is read. You should be reading all the time, and you should be reading the things you are interested in writing. Sometimes when you really want something, it’s hard to bring yourself to read other people who are doing it, because of the jealousy. You have to get rid of that, because there’s plenty of room for everybody. There really isn’t a competition. It makes you a better writer to be read good writing that’s in the style of things you want to write.
The second thing I tell everybody is, you always have to write. I get e-mails constantly that are like, “I have a great idea for a story. It’s okay, you can have it.” And I just want to be like, “Do you realize how many ideas I have that I’m not writing?” People get confused like it’s an issue of ideas. Everybody has ideas for things to write. The issue is just doing it, and making it a part of your life.
Having content is a big deal. It can be so beneficial, especially if you live in a place like New York where you’re surrounded by people who write. If you run into somebody at a party and they’re like, “Do you want to write a book about cohabitation?”, if you’re ready to either write that thing or share something that’s similar so they have a sense of your writing immediately, you have such a better shot at getting that book than if you’re like, “Oh, I’ll think about that for a little while.” Have writing, and be writing all the time. Have it not be a big deal if somebody says, “Go home and write me a forty-page pitch.” Be ready.
My last thing is, you have to live. You have to be engaged in the world and in life, and I think sometimes it’s really easy to not do that. There’s so much to do, and it’s imperative that we do it and we realize that actually is a part of any art. We forget that there are so many other ways to be inspired than Netflix and nothing [laughs]. In that order – read, write, and live your life. That’s my advice for writers.