The Writing Life by Terry Whalin | Non Fiction Book Writer
Terry has written more than 60 nonfiction books plus been published in
more than 50 magazines. For five years, he was an acquisitions editor at two book publishers and he's a former literary agent. Now Terry is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing, a NY based traditional publisher. Terry encourages writers of any level (from beginners to professionals) at Right-Writing dot com.
Last week I lost 15,000 Twitter followers in 24 hours. For many
people that loss would have been devistating and possibly wiped out their
following. I went from
220,000 to 205,000 followers. I've been on Twitter since 2008 and actively
working every day to increase my following.
What happened? An article in the New York Times explained Twitter is
battling fake accounts and has slashed millions of these accounts. As the
article explains, “Twitter’s decision will have an immediate impact: Beginning
on Thursday, many users, including those who have bought fake followers and any
others who are followed by suspicious accounts, will see their follower numbers
I applaud Twitter's actions in this area but it has had impact
on many users. At one point years ago as an experiment, I did buy some followers
and my followers increased over a 24-hour period. Now those followers were fake
accounts and I would not expect them to engage with me or be interested in any
of my tweets.
Last year one of my writer friends launched a book with a New
York publisher (in fact one of the big five). She had a modest Twitter following
but in a short amount of time her followers increased to over 100,000–-which
looks suspiciously like she purchased those followers rather than growing the
following (as I have done). I just checked her followers and now she has 14,500
followers for a dramatic drop.
I want to make several key points from this experience to help
1. While Twitter continues to be an important social network,
do not try and game the system with buying fake followers. I
have written about the five
actions I take every day on Twitter. There are good reasons I have
a large Twitter following.
2. Don't forget Twitter is “rented” space. I
don't own or have any connection to the Twitter company. They could cancel or
block my account at any time eliminating my presence. I don't expect this
elimination to happen and to my knowledge have been obeying their rules (key for
If you don't understand this concept of rented media, I
encourage you to study Mastering the New Media Landscape by Barbara
Cave Henricks and Rusty Shelton. I regularly speak with authors who have built
their entire platform on
Facebook or Instagram or LinkedIn or Twitter. Yet these authors have never
considered the risk of such efforts.
3. Diversification is important as you plan
your presence in the marketplace. Henricks and Shelton talk about this in the
final chapter of their book giving six ways to “futureproof” your media
presence. The advise is wise and worth your following it. Make sure you have
media that you own: your websites, your blog and your email list. If you
haven't read my free ebook, Platform Building Ideas for Every Author,
I encourage you to get it
There is one safe prediction I can make about the social media
landscape: it will continue to shift and change.
What steps are you taking to master the new media landscape?
Let me know in the comments below. Tweetable:
Every writer should have the need to keep growing and looking for
new avenues and ways to market. As an acquisitions
editor at Morgan
James Publishing, we receive many submissions—over 5,000 a year for only 150
books that are published. Yes that is high volume but as editors, we are always
looking for the right authors and right material.
About a month ago, I received an author contact from one of my
colleagues. That day, I sent an email to this author letting her know exactly
what I needed and how to submit her material. A few days ago, I got a text from
my colleague asking about this author. I said she had never responded to my
email. Something many people forget is email sometimes does not get
through. I reached out to this author again on email and picked up the phone to
call her (rare for an editor or agent to call).
Later that day I began to receive her submission in hard copy on
my phone—which I could not read. It was pages of a manuscript texted to my
phone. I asked her to email it to me. The email came one page at a time with the
hard copy attached—-many emails. I went back to this author and explained I
needed a single file in an electronic form as an attachment.
In conversation, I
learned this author had an electronic file for her manuscript and then her
computer crashed. She lost the electronic files with her computer crash. She
only had a hard copy of her manuscript. With this explanation, I understood why
she was trying to get me the hard copy.
I told this author how for years, every publisher requires the
author to send an electronic version of their manuscript or proposal. It is the
only way to get your material into the consideration process with an editor or
agent. Your computer crash and the fact you don't have the file is a barrier to
getting your submission considered. If you have this problem, you
1. Retype your manuscript into a Microsoft Word file.
2. Hire a student or transcription service to type your
submission into Word.
3. Forget about this book and start another one. This last point
is not what I would recommend since the author has invested hours into creating
I have no idea what this author is writing and whether it has
any merit or not—since I did not receive it in a form where I could read it.
I've reviewed thousands of submissions during my years in publishing and never
seen this particular situation. I point out several lessons from it:
1. Get your manuscript to the editor or agentin a format they
can read. I've met authors who do not type. If you don't type, then take a
typing course or get a book or figure out your way around this
2. Before you complain to the company or editor, make
sure the format of your submission is not the issue. The reality is every editor
and agent receives many submissions. Sometimes things do get missed and we are
not perfect in this process. Just make sure it is not your issue before
you reach out to someone else.
3. Follow the editor's or agent's guidelines. If you don't follow directions, then you
can't get considered.
4. Follow-up to make sure you are giving the editor what they
need. We receive volumes of material and want to help but have limitations on
our own time and resources.
As a writer, you are searching for the right fit for your
submission. It will take effort on your part to find this fit. Good
communication is important every step of the way. It took some digging on my
part to figure out why I was not connecting with this author and her manuscript.
I'm encouraging her to retype her lost manuscript and get it into the market for
Have you been skipping a publishing basic as an explanation why
your submission is not hitting the mark? Let me know in the comments
If you want to reach readers with your writing, one of the most
effective methods is to write magazine articles. As your articles are published, you
will reach thousands (if not millions) of readers. Through my years in
publishing, I've written many different types of articles on all sorts of people
and topics. The variety is endless in the print magazine world.
In the beginning of my magazine writing, I would be inspired to
write a personal experience article or a how-to article. I would sit down and
write the article with no magazine or market in mind. After I wrote this article
to the best of my ability, I opened up my writers' market guide and searched for
some place to send the article or write a query. The process took a lot of
searching and energy—and often involved getting rejected because I didn't send
it to the right editor or right publication.
This type of writing is known as inspirational writing. You are
inspired to write something so you sit down, put your fingers on the keyboard
and write the complete article. It is one way that many people write and
eventually with enough persistence, find the right publication or editor and get
There is a second way to write a magazine article: write for a
particular publication and what the editor wants or needs. As a writer, you learn about these needs as you read and
study the submission guidelines. Almost every magazine has a set of editorial
guidelines on their website. Some of these guidelines are more detailed than
others. Sometimes the guidelines will say the percentage of freelance work they
publish. The higher this percentage, the stronger the need of the publication
for freelance writing (as opposed to something they write with their staff).
In addition to their guidelines, some
publications include a “theme list.” These publications have planned specific
themes they want to publish and they are solid indicator of what the editor
believes their readers want to know. To get published, you can either write a
query letter or write the entire article and send it to the editor (follow their
guidelines). The second way to write a magazine article is a more targeted yet
also involves meeting the needs of the editor and reader. Because it is
targeted, it has a higher probability of publication and less time for the
writer to search for a market and then get rejected and search for another
Inspirational writing is fun and
something I still encourage you to do—particularly with personal experience
articles. Each of us have unusual personal experiences in life but the successful
published writers will take these personal experiences and use them as grist for
their writing and craft their article. Almost every magazine uses personal
experience stories (large circulation and small circulation).
My purpose in writing this article was to
show you a more targeted (and potentially successful) method to get your writing
into print publications. Writing for magazines is a solid way to build your
platform or presence in the market, reach readers and build your reputation as a
writer. After many years in publishing, I continue to write for
What tips do you have for writing for
magazines? Let me know in the comments below.
Last week I learned one of my regular writing assignments was
disappearing. For every issue of the publication, I've been writing a column for
the last six years. It was sad to receive such news but in some ways it was not
unexpected. One of my key relationships at the magazine was
leaving. With this change, the staff took the opportunity to revamp their
publication through this revision my column was no longer needed. I responded to
the editor with a gracious and understanding way with the hopes I can write
articles in future issues. My response was well-received and possibly I will be
able to write more in the future.
This experience reminded me that the world of publishing is
always changing. During my years of writing, I've seen publications start and
fold (cease to exist). Publishing companies are sold to other entities and as a
writer I get a letter saying my book is going out of print. These are only a few
of the variety of changes. Sometimes your work is a part of that decision and
other times, the decision has nothing to do with you or the work and everything
rests within that company.
In the ever-changing world of publishing, here's several key
principles to keep in mind:
1. Change is always a part of this business.
Some of the changes you can control but many of them you can't. Your attitude
in the middle of change is critical.
2. Never assume
your writing opportunity will continue. As you submit your material and
it is accepted, each time express gratitude and flexibility. These attitudes
will go a long way with your publishing colleagues.
3. Diversify your writing and your income
streams. Look for other opportunities and be knocking on doors. Your
skills have many different possibilities. If you need to explore other
possibilities I have a free list in the first chapter of Jumpstart Your Publishing
Dreams. You can download this chapter here (follow the link).
4. Persevere with your writing. I've watched
many people give up on their writing over the years. The ones who get a
publisher and continue in this business are the writers who persevere with the
work. Admittedly some days it is hard but each of us need to keep our fingers on
the keyboard and keep writing.
What are your tips for handling and thriving in the
ever-changing world of publishing? Let me know in the comments below and I look
forward to hearing from you.
This weekend I traveled home from Write To Publish, held on
the campus of Wheaton College at the Billy Graham Center. Off and on, I've
been going to this event for many years but had not been for two or three
years. Throughout the event, I spent time with old friends, met many new ones
and spent several intense days talking about publishing and writing and
Often these events are filled with writers attending their first
conference. Others attend each year to give a boost to their writing. These
writers come with their writing and their dreams and plans to speak with editors
and agents during the event. As an editor, I taught a few classes during the
event but also met with numerous writers one-on-one listening to their pitches
and helping from my years of experience.
I heard some remarkable stories and pitches. From others I heard
about their heart-wrenching stories about their struggle to get published and
find the right place for their work. Throughout the event I listened and
spoke with them. Admittedly these events can be overwhelming when you
return. The world of publishing contains many different opportunities and a wide
variety of publications and publishers. When you are overwhelmed, one response
is to spin and do nothing. My encouragement is for you to take action and here
are four steps:
1. Take time for reflection. Which
opportunities did you hear about which you want to do? Make a list of
these publications or publishers, and then reconnect with the editor.
2. Review the editor's guidelines
or theme list. Are you writing something that they want or are seeking?
If so, read through your
book proposal or query and send the editor what they requested. Throughout
the event, I heard about some great book ideas—nonfiction, fiction, Christian,
general market, and children's books. Some people handed me a paper copy. In
each case, I asked them to email the material to begin the process. A few
writers emailed the material during the event (very few). A number of them will
go home, revise and improve their material, then send it to me. Others will
3. Organize your business cards and contact
information. Get it in a form you can access quickly. We work with
people who we know, like and trust. A business card with an email and phone is a great first step,
but add the information into your address book. You might not need it now but
you may need it several months from now and want to be able to easily access
4. Apply what you have learned to your writing
life. Throughout the conference, I taught three different workshops
(social media, book
proposals and Goodreads). It is wonderful to learn about these topics and
listening to the information is the first step. Yet your actions after the
conference are critical to your writing success. In each of these workshops, I
gave specific action steps for the writers to do. The writers who take these
actions steps will move forward with their writing and be closer to achieving
their dreams and plans.
During the conference, I met several editors and learned about
publications that I want to write for in the months ahead. I am taking my own
action steps to move ahead for these dreams to become reality.
5. Bonus action. Reach out to some of the
people you met at the conference and write them right away via email or even
snail mail. It will do a great deal to foster and build your
What steps to you take after attending a conference? Let me know
in the comments below. I look forward to learning your action steps.
Are you learning from others online? Excellent. Are you passing
along this content to others? For me, this process of sending good content to
others is an important part of the writing life. In this article, I want to give
you some ideas how you can pass along what you are learning or reading to
I have been on twitter since 2009 and tweeted thousands of times. If you look
at my twitter feed, you will notice the majority of my posts are pointing to
articles from others. I follow a series of blogs from experienced writers
and receive these blogs in my email box. If you have a blog, it is important to
add this feature to your blog so others can read your content on their email. Over and over email has been
proven as one the most effective ways to reach others.
If you want to send out good content to others, you need to
develop a method or system for taking consistent action. The regular action is
important to establish your reputation in the market as someone who helps
others—not just once but over and over.
For example, I use Hootsuite to schedule my social media posts then I tweet about
12 to 15 times a day but these posts are spaced throughout the day and each one
is different (with different words and a different image). Each day I have
developed a pattern with my posts. This pattern is something I've created with
different spots on my posts for different types of content and from different
people. For example, I post content from a writer about once a day and not
multiple times. I begin each day of social media posts with an inspirational quotation and image. The fact that I have a
pattern makes my repeat actions easier. I don't have to create something and
instead I am simply filling in the designated positions.
Your social media posts will be different than mine and in a
different pattern. My key point is encouraging you to develop a system that
works for you and your writing
life. After you have such a system, your actions will be routine. Each week
I take about 30 minutes to finalize my social media posts. I say “finalize”
because the grid or slots for my different posts is not finished until I
finalize—but I have much of that grid filled in because I take a few minutes
each day looking for great content and adding it to my posting plans in Hootsuite.
Reading about my actions are a good first step but here's some
action steps for you to take:
1. Decide to send good content to your audience on a regular
2. Create a system (possibly using Hootsuite) to make your
actions regular and consistent.
How are you sending out good content to your audience? Let me
know in the comments below. I look forward to learning from you.
Publishing is an imperfect process with many variables and much
which can go off the rails in the process of making or marketing a book. For
example, one of my authors launched a one-day only giveaway of her book on
Amazon. She had sent emails, Facebook posts and all sorts of other means to
spread the word about this one day event. The author had worked with our team at
Morgan James and
gotten it all set—so she thought. Then Amazon did not reduce the price.
Early in the morning, I got a call from the author about this
potential disaster to her marketing effort. I reached out to a colleague who
reached out to someone else to get Amazon to quickly adjust the price to zero
for the day. In an hour or two, it was resolved and the author was able to
continue to market her one-day special event. Morgan James does not control
Amazon but we work with Amazon to make such campaigns happen and the author
persisted to get it going.
Today I tried to call an author using the app which I use for my
Morgan James work. The app shows my New York phone number and why I consistently
use it for calling authors. In my case, the app did not work or dial the number
and only gave me an error message. This app had been updated overnight and
something was not working. I persisted to get it working, deleted the app on my
phone and reinstalled it. Then it worked again. For this author, I only had her
phone number. I did a quick search and found her website—which had no email
address or phone but did have a contact form. I filled out the form so she would
have my email and know what she needed to do to reach me with her submission. I
persisted rather than giving up when I could not get my phone app to work. These
types of actions are what we have to do as writers and professionals. Normally
there is a way around the challenge—if you persist.
Or another example, I have almost reached the limit on my
Facebook friends and throughout each day I post material related to publishing
and writing. Facebook continually makes changes to their system and recently I
noticed the images on my posts from twitter were not showing up. I figured out
how to edit those posts and add the images so I made that adjustment.Then a day
or so ago, Facebook removed the ability to add images to such posts when you are
editing them. I had to make another adjustment to get it to work. Persistence is
key to this process for every writer.
There are many strange technical things that happen every day in
the process of my work. Do I let it derail me and keep me from working or do I
persist and find a way around it? These challenges often have nothing to do with
me but it takes persistence to accomplish the work.
How are you applying persistence into your writing life? Let me
know in the comments below.
Last night I came home from another terrific writers'
conference. In addition to teaching three hour-long workshops, I met
one-on-one with over 35 writers. Each of my workshops had a good attendance and
after each one, numerous people came forward to get my business
cards and give me their information. Besides these moments of interaction.
we ate three meals together during this event.
During one of the meals, I spoke for a while with an author who
works with other authors in editing and copywriting. I enjoyed this conversation
and wanted to reach out to this author. The conference had a bookstore and while
I didn't get a lot of time to look at these books, I noticed this author had
copies of a how-to-write book on a topic I had not seen. I searched Amazon and
saw this author had only three reviews for her book. Since I have written many
reviews for books, I did not purchase this how-to book. Instead I wanted to
reach out to this author. I intend to ask for a “review” copy of her book and
offer to review this book. It is a book that I'm interested in reading. This
exchange of books for my review is a common one in the publishing
This author told me that she had given me her business card. I
dug into my business cards and located her information. It was an
attractive card which included her name, a title or two of her book and her
website. The card was missing an email address or a phone number or an address. One of the hardest elements to proofread and think about is something not on the page (or card). Your email address is one of the critical elements which should be on every business card.
I continued my process to try and reach this author. I looked at
her website. It was a clean and crisp site but included no contact page and no
contact information. Some sites have a form you can fill out and it goes to the
author's email. I've filled out these forms in the past to reach authors but
this one didn't have such a page or form. I searched for her on Facebook and
noticed we are Facebook friends. I have over 4,900 Facebook friends (almost
the maximum of 5,000). I wrote her a little Facebook message.
Finally I thought about LinkedIN where
I have a lot of publishing connections (over 5,200). I signed on to LinkedIN and
searched for her name. Turns out we were connected there so I downloaded her
profile and finally located her email address. I will reach out to her in a bit
with my request to review her book.
I'm writing about this experience because I want you to look at
your own situation as an author. How easy are you to reach? Is your contact
information on your website? If not, are you using a contact form which goes to
your personal email address?
I understand how you may be a private person and don't want
everyone to have your contact information—but you do want people to be able to
reach you when they have a legitimate need or request. This situation of the
unreachable is not unusual and you'd be surprised how often it happens working
with authors and going to conferences. After the editor or agent returns home,
you want them to be able to reach you and follow-up. It can't happen if your
contact information is not easily available. Don't be an unreachable
Are others able to easily reach you? What techniques are you
using? Let me know in the comments below.
For many years, I've been attending and
teaching at conferences. Many of the articles that I've published and the
books that I've written have their beginnings with someone I met at an event. If
you have never been to a writers conference, I encourage you to make plans and attend
one this year. It will boost your writing life to a new level and help you on a
number of different fronts. A number of the people at each conference have never
been to a writers event and it is their first time. If you are holding off going
to a conference because you've never been, do it. It will change your life and
propel your writing forward.
Editors and agents work with people that they know, like and trust. Yes we
get tons of pitches and proposals on email and online and in the mail. But if
you have met an editor or agent at an event, maybe even eaten a meal together or
sat in one of their classes, the relationship goes to a new level of depth. Many
of those relationships begin at
As an editor, I've been preparing for several events, updating
my handouts, critiquing a few manuscripts for people I will meet and
gathering my business cards and other materials for the events. I always bring
plenty of business cards to handout. Numerous times at conferences I've asked
an editor or an agent for a business card. This person forgot their cards and
had two or three and they've already handed them out. I do not want to be one of
those types of editors so I make a point to bring enough.
For the person attending the conference, I want to give you
several ways to prepare for the conference:
1. Study the conference program ahead of time. Make some initial choices about
the classes you will attend. Also notice who is coming from different
publications and publishers. Be aware of their names and positions so when you
run into them in line or in the dining room, you can begin a conversation with
2. Prepare pitches for particular editors and agents. You will
see some of the faculty are more relevant to your writing than others. Create a
small list of people you want to set appointments or sit at their table during a
meal. Because of the weight, editors and agents are some times reluctant to take
a full manuscript but they will often take a “one sheet” (where you summarize
your idea on a single piece of paper with your contact information—including
email and phone). I always like to see as much as someone wants to show me. I
will often take full proposals or manuscripts home with me (if available). Or
some authors bring their material on a flash drive to give to editors and agents.
3. Create and bring business cards. Even if you
have never been to a conference, create a business card with your name, email and phone number.
Also I like to include a mailing address so I can see the time zone where you
live. Also if you have a current photo, include it on the card. Bring plenty of
cards and hand them out generously throughout the event. In my view, it is
always best to trade cards. You give the editor one of your cards and you get
one of their cards.
4. Bring an attitude of learning and listening and
taking action. Throughout the conference, you will learn new things,
write them down in a little notebook. Ideas and requests should go on a separate
page that you can cross off as you handle them when you return home. As a
writer, you have invested a lot of time and money to attend these events. One of
the best ways to get your value from the event is to follow-up and send the
requested materials. If you take these actions, you will make a positive
impression on the agents and editors that you meet at conferences.
Some people wonder how my writing has been published in more
than 50 magazines and I've written more than 60 books. There are many reasons
but one of the main ones is my follow-through. If someone asks me for an article or
a proposal, I send
it to them after I return home. You'd be surprised at the lack of follow through
from others at the event.
Are there other keys to prepare for a conference? Tell me in the
For years I have supported other writers through reading their
books and writing reviews. Writers are readers and I am always reading at least one or
two books. As a practice, when I complete a book (or even hearing an audiobook),
I write a review of that book on Amazon and Goodreads. In addition, often I will tell others about my
review on my various social media connections. If the book is tied to writing
(as some of them are), I will also repurpose some of my review on a blog article
about the Writing
In this article, I want to show you how to promote your latest
book on the bottom of your review. There are several details involved in
successfully doing this type of review and promotion. If your review is short (only a sentence or two—as many people
write), then this technique will likely not work and you could even be banned
from writing reviews on Amazon. Please pay attention to the details of your
1. The review has to be of substance or at least 100 words. In
your review, you show that you have read the book because of the summary you
give about the book—but also I normally include a short sentence or two
quotation from the book and I list the specific page for the quotation. It shows
the reader that I didn't just flip through the book one night but read it cover
2. Normally I write my review in a Word file where I can easily
count the words and see the length of my review. I craft a headline for my
review. Then I cut and paste it into the customer review place on Amazon. Note
you do not have to have purchased the book on Amazon to write a review of that
book. You do have to have purchased something on Amazon to be able to write
reviews. This detail about purchasing something is not normally an issue but it
is one of the basic requirements from Amazon to write customer reviews. I've
written almost 900 customer reviews on Amazon. Yes that is a lot of reviews and
didn't happen overnight but little by little.
3. At the end of my review, I write a separate little paragraph
that says, “Terry Whalin is an editor and the author of more than 60 books
including his latest Billy Graham, A Biography of America's Greatest Evangelist.”
(Notice this link is a live link that takes people directly to the page for my
book on Amazon). As a rule, Amazon does not allow you to add working website
links on your review. But, they do allow you to add product links within your
review. A few times (maybe half a dozen with almost 900 reviews) this technique
does not work and my review is rejected. In those few cases, I have my review in
a Word file, so I resend it without my little one sentence bio line. Then the
review is still posted on Amazon and still helps the other writer.
Here's the review as I'm putting it together. Notice the arrows for the extra product feature I added.
This is how the review looks in the preview mode. Notice my book is in blue--which means the link is active and works.
As an author I know how hard it is to get people to write reviews. Serving and helping other writers
is one of the reasons I have consistently reviewed books. I've written so many
reviews and my email is easy to find, that several times a day I get requests
from authors to review their books. I do not review ebook only books. I look at
the book and normally I answer their email but I politely decline the offer to
review their book. In my decline, I also send them to my free teleseminar about
reviewing books to give them this resource. If they take me up on my offer,
they join my email list in this process.
4. After I write my review on Amazon and Goodreads, I normally tout my review on social media. If that author has a twitter
account, I include their twitter account in my social media post. Some of these
authors re high profile people who thank me via social media for my review.
Before my review I had no connection to these authors and it has been fun to see
their gratitude and responses on social media. If I originally got the book
directly from the author or from a publisher or publicist, I make sure I email
this person with the links and results of my review. This final step of
follow-up is important because it shows your professionalism and puts you on
their radar for future books. As I've written in other places,this follow-up
step is necessary.
I've included the details about this process because I have not
seen other authors using this process to promote their latest release. It does
take work to read a book then craft a thoughtful review but it is worth it in my
Are you using such a process? If so, let me know in the comments