Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Interview with Terry Whalin

Terry Whalin understands both sides of the editorial desk--as an editor and a writer. He worked as a magazine editor and his magazine work has appeared in more than 50 publications. A former literary agent, Terry is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. He has written more than 60 books through traditional publishers in a wide range of topics from children’s books to biographies to co-authored books. Several of Terry’s books have sold over 100,000 copies.

1.     As an acquisitions editor, what do you look for in manuscripts? How important is  a unique sense of voice?

Great question. For any manuscript, I'm looking for solid writing. From my years in this business, in a short time, I can tell if something is pulling me into their work or not--whether nonfiction, fiction or even children's books. The next factor that I'm looking for is passion about their topic and a connection to their reading audience.

Every writer has a unique way of telling their story and that "should" show up in their writing.

2.     Could you tell us a little about the progression of your publishing career and your current role?
I was trained as a newspaper journalist at one of the top j schools in the country, Indiana University. I planned to work for a newspaper but I made a personal commitment to Jesus halfway through my sophomore year. You can read the story of that life change at: When I graduated from college, I made a left hand turn out of college into linguistics. I'm certain my journalism colleagues thought I was nuts to leave writing. I spent 17 years with Wycliffe Bible Translators and 10 years in linguistics.

Over 20 years ago, I returned to my writing in the magazine area and began writing for magazines. I still write for magazines and have written for over 50 publications. My first book was published in 1992 and I've written more than 60 books for traditional publishers--children's books, youth books, biographies, how-to, co-authored books, Bible studies, devotionals, etc.

About 10 years ago I had the opportunity to work inside a publisher as the acquisitions editor at David C. Cook. then I spent three years acquiring fiction at Howard Books and now I work as an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing.

Since 2003, Morgan James has published over 1500 books. 30% of our books are Christian and about 30% of our authors have literary agents. Our books have been on the New York Times list 19 times (which means we sell many books inside the brick and mortar bookstores).  As an acquisitions editor, I'm charged to find nonfiction, fiction and children's books to present to our publication board. We receive about 5,000 submissions a year and only publish about 150 books--so it is a major deal if you receive a contract from our pub board.

3.     What would you say the greatest need is right now at Morgan James?

The continual search at Morgan James is for high quality nonfiction, fiction and children's books. We are known as the entrepreneurial publisher and our stance in the marketplace is considerably different from any other publisher. One of the best ways to understand our distinctions is to study the comparison chart on our website at: This chart clearly shows the difference between Morgan James, traditional publishing and self-publishing in a variety of basic categories.

4.     What is the biggest mistake you see writers make in their submissions today?

The biggest mistake that I see on a consistent basis is where authors have submitted something which is incomplete. By incomplete, it does not include their mailing address, email or best phone number. We need all of that information in the submission for two reasons:
1) we acknowledge every submission with a letter that we send to the author in the mail. Yes, it is old fashion but it shows that we cared enough to respond and 2) we need your mailing address if our publication board ultimately decides that your book idea is one of the 150 books a year (out of 5,000 submission) where they want to issue an acceptance letter and a book contract. You can't issue a contract without a mailing address.

The old saying is true: the devil is in the details and unfortunately many authors leave out some critical details in their submission.

5.     What would you say are the biggest myths in publishing?

There are many myths in publishing but here's a couple which come to mind:

1. Every author needs a literary agent. Not true since only 30% of our authors have literary agents and it is very hard for beginning writers to get a literary agent to represent them. Also I know a number of bestselling authors (you would instantly recognize their names) who do not have literary agents. It's a myth that you have to have an agent. In fact, for many authors, they aren't ready for a literary agent.

2. Writers only write. Most beginning writers dream of writing day in and day out. Yet the business of publishing demands that writers spend part of their time on other areas such as building their own presence with their target audience or marketing or social media or public speaking or ????. The work of being a writer is much more than simply excellent storytelling (which is a critical part of the process).

6.      E-books, POD and e-readers have altered the publishing landscape. How do you envision the publishing realm continuing to change over the next 5-10 years?

Yes, Ebooks have changed the landscape but not as radically as many people believe. People consume books in many different ways and you want to be in as many of those different formats as possible. Ebooks are still only 25 to 30% of the overall market. That leaves 70% to 75% of the market to printed books. There is all this fear that the printed book is going to disappear but that is a myth. 

Authors have an exciting number of choices and ways to get their words into print. The challenge is for them to make good decisions and not get sucked into some scam. By scam I mean fall prey for these ads that say "Get your book published for $500." Yes that is possible but how are they defining "publish?" Don't tell me your book will be on 19,000 online bookstores. Look at the production numbers of self-published books for 2011: Also understand that "Author Solutions" which published over 47,000 titles appears with names like CrossBooks or WestBow or Voices of Guideposts or ???. Authors need to be educated about what they are doing before they jump into such waters.

Also at the end of the day, good writing is going to rise to the top and be what will excel and be published. Writers need to work at their craft and learn to tell good stories. That will be true five or ten years from now as much as it is true today.

7.     What’s been the most rewarding experience in your publishing career?

It's how God uses my writing and my teaching in ways that I never know. Occasionally I get a glimpse at the results. For example, recently I heard that a first time author used the contents of my Book Proposals That Sell, to write a book proposal and a publisher gave them a $50,000 book advance.

Or someone will contact me years after I've taught a conference or a workshop about the profound way my teaching changed their life. That is the most rewarding of experiences. Rare but rewarding.

1 comment:

  1. Just to let you know, Kirk, that I have added this blog to Love for Beginners blog that has just been launched.

    I enjoyed reading Terry's insights, esp about the search for children's books. Also, liked your interview with the Authoress of Miss Snark's First Victim blog fame.

    With Warmest Wishes from London, Great Britain,