Friday, April 26, 2013

Update on Publishing Today: Interview with Nonfiction Authors Linda and Allen Anderson

Linda and Allen Anderson have an illustrious career as co-authors of fifteen nonfiction books, most recently the ASJA-award-winning memoir, A Dog Named Leaf. They both teach writing classes and work (Linda, full-time; Allen, part-time) on their current and future books--writing, editing, and marketing. 

With positive reviews from Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal, Country Living, Cat Fancy, Best Friends, plus dozens of other national publication, the Andersons' books have been listed in Hot 100 and Barnes & Noble Top 10, What America Is Reading.

Celebrities Tippi Hendren, Valerie Harper, Brian McRay, Dr. Bernie Siegel, Betty White, Dr. Larry  Dossey, Penelope Smith, and Richard Simmons are a few who have endorsed or contributed stories to the books.

The Andersons' work has been featured twice on NBC's The Today Show and on ABC's Peter Jennings Nightly News, and they have been the subject of numerous national magazine and wire service articles, including interviews for London newspapers and the BBC.

Allen and Linda are close to the pulse of the current publishing industry.  In our chat, they shared some great tips for first-time authors today.

 How did you get started in publishing?  What was the process for your first book?

Allen:  We would take walks with our dog, Taylor, around one of the lakes near our home.  One day, we had the idea to ask people if they'd had a spiritual experience with animals or nature, something that was very important to us both.  I put notices on bulletin boards in grocery stores, coffee shops, and got back a lot of stories.  Stories about what people learned from an animal that made them a better human being.  So we started a newsletter.  In the back of our minds, we thought maybe one day it might be a book. 

Linda:  Our newsletter had 1000 paid subscribers from all over the world, and we saw there was really an interest in the topic.  At the time, nobody was writing about the spiritual aspect of animals.  It was a unique concept, to show animals as spiritual partners with people.  Through networking we managed to meet our first agent, a publicist who was just starting to be an agent.  Our first book, Angel Animals, was published by Plume, an imprint of Penguin-Putnam.  It was later reissued by New World Library as Angel Animals: Divine Messengers of Miracles.
We went  gangbusters with it.  That was 1999, and at that time Penguin was very influential in the industry; a new book would automatically be in all the bookstores.  We went on a book tour--which could be a book in itself! Allen got a new job right as the tour begin, so I did it by myself.  Then right in the middle of the tour, our daughter had surgery, so I flew to Atlanta to be with her, even though it meant taking four flights to get back to Denver the next morning for the book tour.  

What happened after the book came out?  Did you immediately start working on the next book?

Allen:  After Angel Animals came out, we lost some steam.  We weren't sure if we wanted to do another book.   The editor who loved our book had left.   We wanted to work with someone who really believed in what we were doing, in the spiritual connection with animals. 

Linda:  We found another agent, an editor who'd just left Bantam and was building her client list.  She was an animal lover who connected with the first book and loved what we were doing.

I read Publisher Marketplace-Publisher's Lunch--a free publication that comes out every day and has a regular section on book sales that agents have made to publishers.  It also lists agents who have left a big agency to form their own-which typically means that there's room for new clients.  I also read Publishers Weekly.

I saw one name twice--a new agent who'd just sold a spiritual book.  So we emailed her a query letter about our next book, she called us and set up a call. 

Allen:  New writers can do this too--just look for those who are starting out and trying to build their author list.   

What was your best experience with publishing so far?

Allen:  Our second book was with New World Library.  We flew to their offices in Novato, California, at our own expense to meet with the editor, publisher, and publicist, and we formed a team created out of appreciation for animals and what we were doing as authors.  This meant everything to us.  

Any new writer who is thinking about establishing a relationship with a publisher or editor, I recommend spending time with them.  Get to know them, have lunch with them.  Let them get to know you. 

We didn't do that with the first book.  Because of this, there was less of a team consciousness getting the book out there.  Think of your first book as one of many to come and realize that by building relationships with a publisher, you are building a career for yourself as an author.

Linda: My best experience was winning the ASJA award for Allen's memoir, A Dog Named Leaf, which was published by Lyon's Press, an imprint of Globe-Pequot.  It's so hard to get people to take an animal book seriously.  Literary reviewers are often dismissive and call animal stories "sentimental," so to get that kind of recognition from ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors), was just fantastic.  It's a breakthrough for all of us writing about animals.     

We also got endorsements from people with excellent credentials, which helped us to get publicity.  

How much marketing do you do for your books--how much time each week?

Allen:  For A Dog Named Leaf, I set up fifteen bookstore events around the country, dozens of radio interviews, trying to make a dent in the noise, trying to get people to look at what we're offering.  We do much of the marketing ourselves, because Lyon's Press doesn't specialize in animal books. 

I put in 6-8 hours of writing and 4-6 hours of marketing per week, usually, but new books demand more marketing so it came to many more hours.  Publishers now expect us to do the bulk of the work to get the book out there--doing the social media, writing the blog, etc. 

Linda:  There's a publicity department, and we work with a publicist on our new books, but we do most of it.  I work on it full time; I do marketing every day.  It's just like breathing to me, and I put in at least an hour a day, except when we're preparing for a new book to come out, when marketing becomes a full-time job:  sending out copies for reviews, contacting freelance journalists who could write about topics in the book.  I have Excel files like you wouldn't believe.

Allen:  She has a step-by-step approach to compiling all this information.  It's very methodical, because it takes that to get through the noise.

Linda:  We use Google alerts a lot.  They tell us when someone's written about animals, for instance, and their name goes on my list with notes about their articles.  We really court writers and reviewers who love animals.  We personalize the marketing, and I mention their past articles and anything else that might help make a connection. 

We're always looking for our next project, also, so we don't have the luxury of just marketing the current book.  I spend 3-4 hours a week researching the next project, and I spend most evenings writing-I'm more of an evening writer.  To reach people, you have to reach them during the day.  

What has been your worst experience in publishing?

Linda:  Publishers Weekly ran a review of A Dog Named Leaf, and it was as if the reviewer didn't even read the book.   I don't get offended when people don't like a book, but when it looks like they didn't read the book and misquote it, it hurts.  Amazon and Barnes & Noble automatically publish Publishers Weekly reviews; you have nothing to say about it.   

Or when you have a book event and nobody comes, that's hard.  It doesn't happen that often.  I've learned that it's not about attendance; it's about getting your book in the front of the store, getting signage for your book-whatever puts attention on your book and attracts people coming into the store. 

Another thing that hurts a lot is all the used book sales-you don't make any royalties on that.  On the other hand, it's great to get the book out there.

Can you live off your publishing?

Linda:  Unless you're a massively best-selling author, it's pretty hard to live on the cash flow from books, even more than one.  First, you only get paid with royalties twice a year.  Allen works full-time as a computer software trainer, and I teach and do book coaching and article writing.  As authors, we do everything we can because we love to write and get our books out there.  It would be lovely to be back in the day when people had rich patrons, when all you had to do is just write.  This would be my idea of heaven.  It's not true now, not for me anyway.

Any advice for new writers, especially in nonfiction?

Linda:  Prior to getting an agent or publisher, get a platform.  Build your presence on social media:  Linked In, Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, Pinterest--anywhere you can get people to know you, connect with you.  This will help you a lot when you're trying to sell your first book.

Two writers can have identical skills and talents, and one of them publishes.  What's the difference?  Whoever can envision themselves as a published writer, will go for it, will succeed.  So much is related to your attitude. 

Allen:  I totally agree.  When we teach writing classes, we do a little exercise to help people view themselves as a writer.  We ask each person to introduce themselves and say, "I am a writer." 

Linda:  People have the hardest time getting up the nerve to say that!  We help them rehearse it in class.  Then we send them off with the assignment to say "I am a writer" to the next three people they meet who ask them what they do.  People are inspired by the experience, and it can change their attitude, what they believe inside. 

Allen: If it's not inside, it's not going to happen. 

See more about Allen and Linda Anderson on their websites:,

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