How To Write 60 Books in 20 Years: The Book Doctors Interview Terry Whalin–Writer, Editor and Publisher Extraordinaire
1) You’ve written over 60–SIX ZERO!!!–books. How in the world did you accomplish such a feat? And what can other writers who have trouble writing learn from your ability to keep writing?
I often say writing a book is like eating an elephant. You do it one bite at a time. It’s the same with books. They are tackled one page at a time, one chapter at a time, one section at a time, one book at a time. One of the best ways to write a full length adult book (something with 40,000 words or more) is to set a daily word count then consistently day after day write 500 or 1,000 words or whatever makes sense for the type of writing that you do. In nonfiction (and all of my books have been nonfiction), I look at each chapter as a lengthy magazine article. In magazine writing, you need to have a beginning, middle and end plus you need to lead the reader to a particular point (call to action or takeaway it is often called). If you can write a successful magazine article and get that into print, then you can string 15 or 20 of those articles together into a single book.
While many writers want to produce a book, I always encourage writers to learn the craft of writing in the magazine world. I have written for more than 50 magazines and I’ve been a magazine editor. It is much better to learn this skill on a short magazine article than a long book. Also you can reach many more people with a magazine article than most books. I wrote many magazine articles before I ever tackled my first book, which was published in 1992. The same principles apply to writing books from my perspective.
I also love many different types of writing and books. Too many writers make a decision that they are only going to write nonfiction or fiction or children’s books or young adult books. It is almost like they are hitched to a plow trying to get through a muddy field and are constantly plodding forward. I’ve discovered great joy in the variety of the writing world. One day I was writing children’s material and another focused on a magazine article then a third day writing a chapter in a nonfiction book. The decision to write a certain type of material is to be made consciously—just like you can decide to write many different types of material.
2) Your books have been published by publishers big and small, general and niche. How did these experiences differ? What were the biggest pluses and minuses of each?
Each book and each publisher has a unique way of working. I’ve learned to ask a lot of questions before I turn in my manuscript to make sure I’ve met their expectations and I encourage them to voice as many of those expectations as possible so I deliver what they want. Some publishers expect you to be a mind-reader and I’ve learned that often I’m off base if I make assumptions and don’t ask expectations questions. This reality is true whether you are working with a large or small publisher.
The key from my perspective is building a relationship with the editor and also as many different people within the publisher as you can access such as marketing and sales and publicity. Position yourself as a proactive author who wants to come alongside and help each person in the house exceed expectations for the performance of your book. There is a fine line each time between proactive and high-maintenance (not where you want to be as an author).
Finally I advise authors to be open to many different ways of working with a publisher. Writers often have a pre-conceived way of working with a publisher. For example, many writers only want a royalty contract with a publisher and are turned off with the offer of a work-made-for-hire, all-rights contract. With that attitude, they walk away from a WMFH offer rather than take it. My literary attorney (notice I have one) says that I’ve signed more WMFH agreements than anyone she knows. I like to have book contracts and work as a writer. Many nonfiction writers don’t understand that about 90% of nonfiction books never earn back their advance. This figure isn’t my statistic but I learned it in a writing book (unfortunately I can’t remember the source). The statistic bears out in my own writing. I would rather be paid well WMFH for a short term book than not have my book earn out a royalty advance. For example, I wrote two devotion books on a very short-term deadline and each book sold 60,000 copies. My name is in the tiny print on the copyright page of those books since devotional books are topical and not author driven. It’s OK with me because I was paid a flat fee and gained a great writing credit that I can use to get other books. Many writers lose sight of such possibilities because they are focused on one way to publish when in fact there are many ways of working. Do not limit yourself.
3) We’ve entered a new age of publishing where the barriers have been ripped down and anyone can publish. Do you see this as a positive or negative for all of those out there that not only want to get published, but get published successfully? Please elaborate as much as possible!
The fact that everyone can get published online with a blog is great (a positive) but writers need to learn to tell good stories and not just write from a stream of consciousness (a negative). Every single book I know has a good target audience and delivers well-crafted stories and how-to information for that reader.
Whether publishing an ebook or manuscript, the successful authors know how to tell a good story and work on their visibility in the marketplace (platform) through speaking, an online presence or other aspects. I encourage writers to attend conferences and build relationships with other writers as well as with magazine and book editors. You never know when one of those relationships is going to lead you into a new publishing opportunity. The old saying is true, “Often it is not what you know but who you know.” What editor is thinking about you and going to pick up the phone or email you when they have a need that they believe you can fill for their publishing house? Much of writing is isolated and writers need to make the effort to get to conferences and continually build personal relationships.
Also writers need to join with other writers and take an active role in a writer’s organization like the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). They will grow as writers and learn a great deal from the experience. Like going to conferences, an active role in an organization will help any writer grow in their craft and abilities.
My final point is to encourage writers to establish their own independent publishing business. While building and working within the publishing structure, there is something refreshing and freeing about having your own ability to generate income and reach people through your own initiative. This step teaches you that writing is a business and you need to run it like a business but also this action removes the gatekeepers so you can interact directly with your target market. Establish your own free newsletter like my Right-Writing News. Give away part of your work to build your audience. As you sell products, you can collect the money directly from your reader rather than waiting for a magazine to pay or your book publisher. It will help you have an independent income stream as a writer and is vital for your on-going work in this market.
4) You’ve been both a writer and an editor/publisher. What did you learn about becoming a successful author from being an editor/publisher?
I’ve learned there are many options to get published. There are several keys: the right book for the right audience which is created right and has the right distribution to the bookstores and the right marketing behind it. I understand there are many “rights” in that last sentence. No one cares whether Doubleday or Podunk Press published your book if your book is edited, designed properly and has distribution and marketing. At Intermedia Publishing Group where I’m a Vice President and Publisher, we offer these services at an affordable price. I’ve signed several authors who have sold millions of books (no exaggeration) in the traditional market.
5) You established a strong niche for yourself by writing many of your books for a Christian audience. Do you think this helped your career? Did you ever felt you were the equivalent of type-cast?
A common saying to writers is to “write what you know.” I didn’t necessarily select the Christian audience but I was writing what I knew. The relationships I built were primarily with Christian editors and they gave me the opportunity to write for their magazines and book publishers (in many cases over and over).
There are merits to specialization but my writing is also diverse in the types of writing that I’ve done such as children’s books, young adult, biographies, how-to books, co-authored books, etc. Even within a particular category such as religious inspirational books, there is room for wide diversity. In my years in publishing, I’ve worked in many aspects such as a magazine editor, a book author, a literary agent, an acquisitions editor and now a book publisher. Each aspect has taught me something new and helped me grow as a writer. I’ve built many of the lessons from my diverse experience into my latest how-to book, Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams, Insider Secrets to Skyrocket Your Success.
Some great additional links from Terry:
1) The list of Terry’s published books online. Notice the diversity in his writing and the different categories he straddles.
4) Here’s a link to a free hour-long teleseminar that Terry did with editor, Diane Eble, talking about the changes in publishing and the differences between traditional publishing, independent publishing and self-publishing.
5) A free sample of Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams
6) The book trailer to Jumpstart on YouTube.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Do You Need Permission?
I work with a number of first-time authors who ask me about whether they need to gather permissions for their work. While I am not a lawyer (the first thing that I remind them), in most cases they do not need to get permission. Now if it is a poem or a song, then it is likely they do need permission because of how those forms are treated in the marketplace. If they are quoting a few sentences from a full-length book and refer to the source, it is unlikely that they need to get permission from the publisher.
Recently I read Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry’s new book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It…Successfully! This book is loaded with sound advice on many areas of the publishing process–including permissions. As they write on page 212, “Don’t start getting permissions too soon, because you don’t want to waste your time or money. However, since it often takes a while to track down a pesky permission–and all permissions should be handed in with your finished manuscript–we suggest the following process:
“1. Break your permissions into three piles. Definites, Maybes, Unlikelies. Track down all sourcing and contact information for the Definites as early as possible. Get prices and any necessary forms. This will help you guesstimate total costs and figure out how much you’ll have left over for the Maybes and Unlikelies.”
“2. Don’t pay for a thing until you’re sure what’s going in your book. This way, you won’t wind up spending money on a Definite that turns out to be an Unlikely.”
Then Eckstut and Sterry include a length section about what needs permission. This discussion is tied to the over 30 pages from The Chicago Manual of Style on the topic of fair use (a legal term related to the amount of material you can use from a source without asking permission. Here’s the critical sentences on page 213, “It’s okay for us to quote 122 words from The Chicago Manual because that’s a tiny percentage of its total word count (the book could double as a doorstop). However, if you took 122 words out of a 200-word poem, you must get permission to reprint it–unless, of course, it’s in the public domain. And don’t forget, composers’ and poets’ estates are notorious for going after people who abuse copyright law.”
Also Eckstut and Sterry include a fascinating story called The Pangs of Permissions: Acquiring permissions requires the patience of Job and the persistence of a pit bull. When she began writing A Thousand years over a Hot Stove, a book with more than 100 photographs and illustrations, Laura Schenone was ill-prepared for the amount of work permissions required. Not to mention the pounding her pocketbook took in the process.”
“Laura was presented with an unexpected challenge. Many of the people she was dealing with would sell her rights only for the first printing of her book. ‘My editor told me this would be 7,500 copies,’ she says. ‘When I bought the permissions, I wanted to up this number to 10,000 to 15,000 copies to be sure I was covered. But sometimes the fees as much as doubled.'”
“Laura’s story illustrates the importance of understanding permission costs before signing a deal or developing a project. That said, Laura couldn’t be happier that she wrote her book permissions and all. A Thousand Years over a Hot Stove went on to win a James Beard Award, the Pulitzer Prize of food writing.”
Eckstut and Sterry include a sample permission form in an appendices (page 448). I’ve only shown one little area this book covers many other topics with great depth and valuable insight. I recommend this book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published–and in the process of writing this entry, hopefully I’ve shown you a little bit about the permission process.
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
The Essential Guide Tour Pitchapalooza Phoenix #15: Irving Berlin, Women Who Run With Wolves and a Random Act of Kindness
Do yourself a favor and go to the Arizona Biltmore. Our now ecstatically beloved travel agent slotted us there for our Phoenix/Tempe stop, and it was SPEC-TACULAR! A protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright designed this spectacle. Adobe, tile and fountains set like Emerald City jewels into the 24 karat ring of monumental mountains and delirious desert. It’s been a playground for the rich and famous since the 1920s, and if you listen carefully you can hear the ghost of Irving Berlin singing White Christmas, which he famously composed there. Plus, there are not one but TWO golf courses. Sleep deprived as he was, David practically skipped like a schoolgirl to a Justin Bieber concert out to the links and with some high-end Ping rentals birdied three of the 12 holes he played. While David got his golf on, Arielle luxuriated in a tub with designer bath products that smelled like the Garden of Eden.
Arielle had flown the night before from Seattle to Newark, then the next morning, dropped the ridiculously exhausted three-year-old Olive off with her beloved babysitter, turned around and did Newark to Phoenix, having a severe case of simultaneous déjà vu and road burn.
David stayed in Seattle and hit up two great bookstores, Elliott Bay and Queen Anne. Even having been away from her for a mere matter of hours, David and Arielle missed Olive like a couple of stone cold junkies used to mainlining China White. Lucky for us, we got put in the Ocatilla executive suite wing where they do everything for you accept put on a private floor show while you poop. (Something, by the way, that Olive absolutely insists upon). They have an executive lounge where a continuous supply of high-end goodies are whisked out from behind closed doors, as if the caterer were Willy Wonka. We do believe in a classless society, where all are treated equally, and everyone gives according to ability and gets according to need. But there’s no way to deny that you just feel happy and pampered when you breathe in that rarified air.
Then we were whisked away to Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, where we were greeted and fêted like royalty. It’s a grand bookstore that makes you overjoyed to be in the ridiculous book business. Due to confusion beyond our control, the bookstore had not been alerted to the fact that we were doing a Patchapalooza, but there were still 30 able-minded writers waiting for us. When we asked them if they would like to pitch their books, giddy ecstasy swept through the room. Sure enough we heard a dozen most excellent pitches. Historical fiction, a suicide novel, a Crash-like Vietnam-based story, a warm and honest memoir/how-to from an ADD sufferer, and a money management tome. The winner gave a great pitch for her book about ordinary women telling extraordinary stories. Sort of The Artists Way meets Women Who Run with Wolves.
We sold books to almost everyone there, and Arielle was in rare form, cracking wise about the difficulty of communication when married to a clueless doofus.
We also had the great pleasure of having our friend Terry Whalin show up. Terry is the author of over 60 books (that’s not a typo, we meant 60)! He also has been an editor, publisher and agent, so knows every side of the publishing biz. We had just finished interviewing Terry over email the week before (check back soon for the post of this interview). So it was particularly nice to see him in person. Check out Terry’s website for lots of amazing tips on how to be a working and published writer.
After the PItchaplooza was over, the lovely folks at Changing Hands offered us each a free T-shirt. David, appropriately, chose one that said, “Fictional Character” on its chest. Then Shelly Segal, an employee at Changing Hands who also pitched a very cool kids book, gave us a ride back to Shangri-La even though she lived around the corner from the bookstore. Yet another random act of kindness from a stranger who became a friend! We dined late and high on the hog then collapsed back in the silky luxury of our beautiful cocoon.
As we left the next morning, our only regret was that we couldn’t move into the Arizona Biltmore and hold an event every night at Changing Hands.