Interview Others to Grow as a Writer
By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin
For many years, I interviewed authors about their books and the craft of writing for magazine articles. Sitting with these bestselling authors and asking them about writing taught me much more than I could pour into a 1500 word or even a 1,000 word magazine article. Interviewing others is a critical skill for any writer.
If you don't interview others for your magazine articles, I recommend you write some query letters and pitch writing personality profiles. These profiles are magazine articles focused on a single person and many publications love these types of stories. After you get the assignment from an editor, you can secure your interview with the person. If they are well-known and you don't know how to reach them, go to someone in the publicity section of their book publisher. These publicity people book interviews for journalists to reach their authors.
These publicity people will track down the author, nail down a time for your interview. I always ask for 45 minutes to an hour for the interview to make sure I get what I need for my profile. Also these publicity people will send you review copies of any books and background that you need. Gather all of this information from the publisher ahead of time. Then read the books and look for unique insights and questions you can ask the personality.
If the person you are interviewing is well-known or has been interviewed often, your preparation and creating unique questions is a critical part of your preparation. If you don't prepare, you will not gather unique stories and information from your interview. Instead the person will tell you their “stock stories” or material that they always tell journalists during their interviews. For your article, you are looking for stories which have not been told or are rarely told.
As a part of your preparation, write down a list of specific questions. Take time to imagine yourself doing the interview and how you are going to ask different questions. As you specifically write them down, it will help your preparation for the interview. Then during the interview, use your questions but also be flexible to ask other questions as they happen. At the end of the interview, ask if there is something else you should have asked. It gives the individual a chance to sell you something they wanted to tell you.
Whether the interview is on the phone or in person, I tell the other person that I'm making a recording of our conversation and get their permission on the tape. As a practice, in general, I do not transcribe this tape (which from experience seems like a waste of time and energy). Instead I write from my notes but use the tape as a back up tool—and for expansion of information. I can't write fast enough to get down everything (at least in a format so I can read it after the interview). I have found this method of recording and using the tape for additional information as the most effective way for me to use the recording.
Also as a part of the interview, I ask the person how I can check the facts of my story with them before I send it to my editor. The editor may edit and change around the story—but I can protect the accuracy and integrity of what I'm sending. Most journalists never take this step in the interview process. Then if you publish something inaccurate, it will potentially ruin your relationship with the individual. If on the other hand, you check the details with the person, then you are taking steps to preserve your relationship with the person—and can easily return to them for something else in the future (even the distant future).
Last week instead of interviewing another person, Patricia Durgin interviewed me on Facebook Live. I loved Patricia's preparation and questions for this hour-long interview. You can follow this link to watch the interview.
Do you interview others? Has it helped you grow as a writer? Let me know your experiences and tips in the comments below.
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Labels: articles, books, celebrities, Facebook recording, interview, magazine, Patricia Durgan, preparation, profiles, publishing, query, questions, writing
What Is Your Publishing Agenda?
By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin
In the early days of my writing life, I wanted to be published
in as many
magazines and other places as I could publish. I met editors, studied their
guidelines and wrote for their readers. I didn't always succeed and get
published but it happened frequently and I grew as a writer (still learning). I
wasn't focused on the financial rewards from publishing back then but I was
focused on writing credits and getting into many different publications.
Through the years, I've seen many magazines begin and
many magazines close their doors. There is still great opportunity for writers
to publish in magazines. It is a stance that I encourage others to do and
something I actively do as well.
At a recent conference, I picked up some of the free magazines
and took them home to study them. As I looked at these magazines, I was thinking
about their audience and focus. Did they use freelance material? What
information was included in the author bio? Did they even mention any details
about the author such as a new book or point to an author's website?
As you ask and answer these specific questions, you will learn
more about the focus of the publication and their agenda. I noticed several of
these publications had material that I “could” be a possible writer. Yet as I
studied the author bio section, I noticed several didn't even have a single line
about the author. Others included some information but nothing about an author's
book or website. I figured out the agenda of the publication (which the editor's
establish) was not a match for my own publishing agenda. My agenda is to reach
new readers and point toward my recent books or a website. Your agenda has to
match the agenda of the publication otherwise you are wasting your limited
writing time and energy.
One local editor has been teasing me about writing for her
publication. At my encouragement, she sent me a few issues of the magazine. I
studied it and noticed this differing agenda (the magazine's agenda and my
goals). Instead of blindly crossing them off my writing possibilities, I wrote
this friend about what I observed. She can correct my misunderstanding or
confirm it. It's the type of communication work we need to do as writers and
something I've not written about in these articles. I hope it helps
In the comments below, let me know if you have a publishing
agenda? What steps to you take to see if your agenda matches a new publication
for your work? I look forward to your thoughts.
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Labels: agenda, editor, goal, guidelines, learning, magazines, publishing, writing
Control Your Social Media
By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin
In recent years, I've gained a large social media following with
over 200,000 on
4,900 Facebook friends and over 12,000
connections on LinkedIn. In other articles, I've provided details about what
I am doing and how I am doing it. Today I want to talk about a different aspect
of social media: control.
All of these social posts are something I personally do. I don't
have an assistant or someone else doing it. I realize several things:
--consistency is important
--people are reading this information and at times responding to
--the information will be online FOREVER (yes I understand that
all CAPS is shouting but I want to make sure you see these posts are around for
a very long time)
The words matter. I begin each day with an inspirational
quotation and an image of this person. Today on one of these social networks,
someone added a comment about the person I quoted and flamed this person because
of other actions they have taken. The comment was inappropriate and very
public—and I've watched these types of things escalate on social media to move
in a strange direction. I immediately deleted the comment. Then I took further
action: I blocked this person from this network so they can never again make
such a comment on my posts. I'm in control of my own social media so I took
immediate action. Yes I believe in free speech but I also understand that I can
control my own social media.
When you read something you don't agree with, you can post a
comment or you can move on in silence or you can write the person directly (not
public). Each of us have choices in this area. The person who puts out the
social media post has a choice and the person who responds (or doesn't) also has
Several points in this area:
1. Take control of your social media
2. Monitor the comments so you can respond and engage with it.
Engagement is a huge reason for being active in social media and the more your
audience is engaging, the better in my view.
3. Use tools like Hootsuite and others to help you easily monitor the responses
to your social posts. For example, people try to send me direct messages often
on Twitter and I don't read those on Twitter because of the time involved (mine
is limited for social media because of other things I do throughout the day—a
choice). Instead I read these messages and at times respond through Hootsuite.
Find your own way to handle this aspect of social media.
4. Always look for ways to expand your readership and grow your
social networks. I'm not talking about doing it artificially where you buy
Twitter followers but organically where you connect with more and more people.
As you increase your reach, you will increase your interest from editors and
literary agents and others in the publishing community.
OK, that's my view on the necessity for us to take control of
our social media. Do you agree or not? Let me know in the comments
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Labels: action, consistency, control, Facebook, LinkedIn, monitor, publishing, social media, Twitter, writers
Be a Visible Author
|As authors, we need to be connected to our readers.|
Last week I taught a continuing class at the Colorado Christian Writers
Conference on the topic of platform called You Can Build a
Platform! As a part of teaching this five session class, I pulled
together a 28–page handout. I'm including the link here for every reader. I encourage you to download
this resource and follow the extra links it contains for your own writing
While word “platform” is often used within publishing, it is
insider language. At writers conferences, many people are attending their first
conference. They have no idea what someone is asking about their platform. Most
of these unpublished writers have been focused on getting down their book into a
manuscript. A few of them have learned about one sheets to present their idea. A
few others have learned about book proposals and worked on a proposal. But the
concept of platform is completely foreign to these writers—as I can see it in
their eyes when I mention it. I have a free ebook on this concept called Platform Building Ideas for Every
Author (follow the
link to get it right away).
Book publishers are actively looking for authors with
connections to readers (what they call platforms). Yet from my many years in
publishing. I understand this business is complicated with many twists and
turns. A seemingly “minor” issue can be a costly mistake for the publisher
and the author. If you are a writer, you need to be connected to your
readers. I understand for most writers this process can be a challenge and
outside of your comfort zone. Most writers are introverts and don't want to
interact with anyone. They prefer to sit at their keyboards and
write. Unfortunately this isolated stance does not sell books or reach
As writers, we need to be visible and connected to our readers.
To achieve visibility, we have to consistently build a platform. Your way of
building this connection will be different from my way but each author has to be
aware of this need and be consistently working at expanding their reach. As you
build your reach to readers, be aware that you can do it on “rented
media” (which you don't control like Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn or
some other social network). The risk is if you “violate” their terms, then these
networks can terminate your account and end your reaching these readers.
Our most effective way to reach readers is through our email
list, our website and our blog (all things that we control as writers and are
our personal media sources). The numbers are important to agents and
editors so keep track and be growing it through creating lead magnets and producing valuable
I encourage each of us to continue innovating and looking for
ways to expand your reach as an author. Also keep knocking on doors and take
advantage of new opportunities. Each of us (experienced or brand new) have to
pitch our ideas, our
proposals, our skills to others. From my experience, very little happens
without this pitching process. Each of us would probably like to avoid it so we
are in demand—but for most of us, that isn't our situation so we have to be
working at our own visibility.
How are you expanding your readership and visibility as an
author and writer? Let me know in the comments below.
Are you a visible author? How can you increase your visibility? Get ideas here from a prolific author and editor. (ClickToTweet)
Labels: agents, author, book proposals, Colorado Christian Writers Conference, editors, lead magnet, opportunities, pitching, platform, publishing
Increase Producivity. Get Organized.
As I get older, I'm more aware each of us have the
same amount of time in every day. We have a lot of information and opportunity
coming our direction. How do we harness these opportunities and increase our
effectiveness? One important aspect is to get organized and keep organized.
If I take an honest look at myself, I tend to be a bit of a pack
rat. I save magazines, articles I might write some day, books people have sent
to read and review, manuscripts and proposals I've been handed at conferences,
and the list goes on. This material can easily flood my office and pile up.
During the last few weeks, I have been vigilant about sorting, filing and
throwing most of this accumulation. At the moment, I'm much more organized than
I have been during other periods.
Take Time to Eliminate & Organize Clutter
For me, it is a matter of taking a hard look at what has
accumulated and asking if I will ever need this again. Most of the time that
answer is “no” and I can throw it. Or can I quickly store some needed
information such as an email address or phone on my computer where I can search
and easily access it in the future? You can increase your effectiveness and
productivity if you have less right in front of you to handle.
Use Your Smartphone Effectively
Often I meet writers who have a smartphone but only use it as a
phone—and little else. Whether you are aware of it or not, you have a powerful
communication device that you carry. Take the time to use various features. For
example, I use the calendar to remind me of meetings and phone calls. I use the
reminders section to call to my attention critical deadlines.
I also use my smartphone to post on social media. For example, I
use Hootsuite to time out
my posts for several social platforms. For Facebook at the moment, I post them
myself using my phone. It is not the most efficient way to do it (as I know) but
it does get done.
Also I use my smartphone to quickly answer some important emails
when I'm away from my office. Just a brief answer shows the other person you got
it and responded. Use your phone as an effective communication tool.
If you don't know how to use these aspects of your smartphone,
then take the time to learn. You can even take free classes at the Apple Store
(which I have done).
Be Aware of the Time Zappers
I regularly hear from writers who spend hours scrolling through
Facebook then wonder where they lost part of their day. Or they binge watch a television program or spend time at a bookstore browsing. None of these things
are wrong or bad in themselves but increase your awareness of how you are using
your time can help you be more effective.
Create a System to Achieve Over and
If there is something you need to accomplish over and over, I
recommend you create a habit to accomplish it. Just writing 20 to 30 minutes a
day on a project can continue to move it forward toward completion. Or set a
word count for your writing then do it repeatedly. People wonder how I keep up
with my social media. It's pretty simple. I've created a system where I do the
functions over and over (with many different purposes and reasons).
I still have things slip through the cracks and doesn't get
done. For example, several days ago I got an email reminder the judging sheets
for a contest are due right away. Yes I knew I was judging this contest and had
the material for it but wasn't aware of the exact due date. I handled it and
met the deadline. Each of us have these types of things which slip into our day
and need to get done.
What steps are you taking to get organized and increase your
productivity? Let me know in the comments below.
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Labels: . Hootsuite, clutter, deadlines, Facebook, habits, organization, organize, reminders, smartphone, system, writing
The Discipline of Reading
Almost every day someone approaches me about reading their book and then they want me to write a review. I get these approaches from publishers, from
publicists and from authors. Many of them I respond and appreciate the offer but
turn them down and point to a free resource such as this one. The truth is each of us
have limited time to read. Yet for writers reading is (and should be) a
consitent part of your daily life. Is it?
In this article, I'm going to give several ideas how to use the
discipline of reading. Most of us don't like the word “discipline” yet from my
experience, reading has to be in your daily plans or it simply does not happen.
I repeatedly read about how the volume of reading for many adults continues to
drop—like one book a year for men after they graduate from high school. On the
other end of the success scale (millionaires), I read these people are
continually reading for their own personal development and growth.
While my reading varies throughout the day, I do have a number
of routine times when I consitently read. the first period is in the morning. I
am an early riser and will breeze through my email then I begin to read my
Bible. Each year I select a different version and this year I'm reading The Daily Message by Eugene
Peterson. Each day includes a Bible passage along with a short reading from the
Psalms or Proverbs. After completing my Bible reading, I read the newspaper
cover to cover. As a journalist, it is a long-term habit to read a real
newspaper. Because I live in Colorado, I read the Denver Post cover to
I have a comfortable chair in my office where I read in the
evenings. Often late at night I spend an hour or more reading various books. As
I read or listen to a book, I track my progress on Goodreads (one of the tools
they provide). Because I have 5,000 friends on Goodreads, even my reading
progress gets reaction from others (and I can see their reaction and comments).
Besides reading physical books, throughout the day, I am also
reading blogs and other information which comes into my email box. Many of these
blogs are focused on publishing or books. If they have relevant information for
my social media, then I will put them into my Hootsuite feed for future social
media posting. I learn a great deal from others reading these articles as I
curate the content for my social media followers.
Besides reading in the morning and evening, I also listen to
audiobooks if I am in my car (even for a few minutes) or exercising. I've mentioned in the past that I use Overdrive for these
audiobooks (free from the public library). There is a wide selection of books
on Overdrive but I tend to gravitate toward history, self-help, how-to, personal
development, and memoir. The majority of these books are nonfiction. I do read
some fiction but my fiction reading is limited to a few titles a year. It is not
surprising that I've written many nonfiction books and continually read in the
nonfiction area. It's what I recommend to you as a writer. If you write fiction,
then you should be reading your particular genre of fiction. If you write
nonfiction, you should be reading in this area and aware of the trends,
bestselling authors and other such activity.
You can see how reading permeates my day. What happens after I
have finished reading a book? As I read the book, I will mark a couple of
passages which capture the essence of the book or I deemed significant. Shortly
after I finish the book, I will write a review in a Word file. This Word file
is where I write my rough draft of the book. In general I quote something from
the book in my review (shows I actually read the book) and my review is
typically 150 to 250 words (not just a sentence but more substantial). Over the
years, I've written hundreds of print magazine reviews. In recent years I've
written over 900 reviews on Amazon (see my profile) and over 550 reviews on Goodreads (see my profile). This volume of
reviews did not happen overnight but is something I've been doing consistently
for years. It's one of the reasons people frequently ask me to review their
books (and if I have the time and interest, I may do it).
Writers are readers. What does your reading schedule look like?
How are you practicing the discipline of reading and incorporating it into your
day? Let me know in the comments below.
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Labels: Amazon, audiobooks, books, consistency, discipline, fiction, Goodreads, nonfiction, Overdrive, reading, reviews
How to Show Up in Different Places
As writers, we need to show up in different places. If you are
reaching the same people over and over with your message, you will not expand
your reach and audience. I believe each of us need to consistently work at
reaching new and different audiences with our message. In this article, I want
to give several specific ideas about how to reach new areas of the
Before I give you the specific ideas, there are some basic steps
that every author needs to take first. The first step is to create a giveaway or
a lead magnet. It can be a free ebook or audio file but something which has
value to your target audience (something they will want). You need to set up
this giveaway on a website where you capture their first name and email address
(which adds them to your email list).
The next step after setting up this giveaway is to learn how
some simple HTML which gives a clickable link when you show up in these places.
(If you have no idea what I'm talking about, then click this link and
get a single page about creating clickable HTML that I've written). Otherwise
you put the effort into showing up—but don't gain any help for your bigger goal
(finding new subscribers to your email list). I'm encouraging you to work smart
with this larger goal in focus as you show up in these various
Make Relevant Comments on Blogs
Most blogs allow you to make comments. I have the comments
turned on to monitor on my own blog because often the comments are simply not
related to my post and SPAM. When you comment, add to the article with some
additional content. As you write a relevant comment with some additional aspects
to the post, you will add value to the blog. In addition to your relevant
comment, add the HTML link to your free Ebook or some other valuable tool. Make
this link clickable and it will be kept (not marked as SPAM) and you will have
created another link on a different location where you can get sign ups for your
newsletter list. The key word is “relevant” with your comment. Do not SPAM or
that impression will also be made.
Actively Participate in Email
I'm on some writer email lists where I contribute. If I do, as
with commenting on blogs, I do add to the content of the discussion (otherwise
you are writing spam). At the end of my post, I make a point to include a link
to my website. You can be strategic about where you send people with this single
Write an article for a Guest Blog
You can also write an article for another blog. This week I
exchanged emails with the editor of a well-known writer blog and in her
response, she encouraged me to write another article for them. I seized the
opportunity and did it. Other blogs include guidelines in their blog about how
to become a guest blogger. Look for those guidelines, follow them and send in
your article. In the article include some clickable links to your free giveways
and you will add more people to your email list. A related way is to become a
regular contributor to a blog or website. For the last several years, I've been
writing an article once a month for Writers on the Move and here is the link to one of my recent posts as an
Become a regular contributor to a
I have a couple of newsletters where I am a
regular contributor. They use my complete articles in their newsletter and are
grateful to get the content. I am not paid for this work and I don't write
original material for them. Often I will lightly rework an old article from my blog. It could be something I wrote several years ago. I give it a new opening
sentence and title, then I skim the article to make sure there is nothing that
is dated in it (and if I find something I rewrite it). I have set reminders on
my phone to send this material every month to these newsletters. They are not a
huge time commitment and I make sure each one includes links to valuable content
for that reader (yet clickable links for the reader to get on my newsletter
What are the ways you show up in different places? Are you using
clickable links in these places which lead people to your free resources (and
signing up on your email list)? Let me know in the comments below.
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Labels: clickable link, comment on blog, email list, guest blogging, HTML, lead magnet, newsletter lists, publishing, writer