Jonathan Franzen’s Career Advice for Fiction Writers: ‘Make yourself an expert at some arcane thing’

By Jason Boog Comment


Scratch Magazine has opened online, running  a long interview with Jonathan Franzen in its first issue.

Franzen spoke frankly about his early career as a writer and explained how the publishing world has changed since his first book deal. Editors Jane Friedman and Manjula Martin founded the brand new literary journal, a quarterly focused on “the intersection of writing and money.”

I had to get a job, and I found one in the seismology lab at Harvard through one of my good college friends who was a student there. It was one of those great research positions, which I continue to recommend to all fiction writers: make yourself an expert at some arcane thing, because then you become very hard to fire.

Franzen also spoke about his first book advance:

Nowadays I think The Twenty-Seventh City would have gotten a six-figure advance just because, whatever its merits are in hindsight, it was considered an impressive first novel. But when you’re spending half a million dollars on a hot first novel, well, that’s twenty-four $20,000 advances you’re not giving to twenty-four other people.

Here’s more about Scratch’s mission:

Scratch Magazine publishes smart, useful stories about the intersection of writing and money. Scratch is for writers of all genres and trades—and for anyone who wants to know where the publishing and journalism industries go from here. Each quarterly issue features in-depth interviews, reportage, resources, and personal stories about the work of being a writer.

(Via Sarah Weinman)