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: http://terrylinks.com/twowords. 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
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: http://publishing.morgan-james.com/compare/ 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
5. What would you say are the biggest myths in
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
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: http://terrylinks.com/bpn2011
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
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.