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Historically Successful: An Interview with Novelist Anne Perry

anne_colourI have been a fan of author Anne Perry for about 20 years now. I have read nearly all of her novels and novellas and would have a hard time choosing a favorite.

About a year and a half ago I reached out to Anne via email to ask her for some resource recommendations for a Victorian-era book I’m working on. I thought there was a decent chance that either I wouldn’t hear back from her at all or she would tell me in a polite way that she had no time for a lowly aspiring author. Imagine my surprise, when not only did I hear back from her (and right away), but she also responded most graciously with some great tips and encouragement.

Fast forward to about a month ago when I reached out to Anne again to tell her how helpful her advice had been. I also asked her if she would grant me the privilege of interviewing her for this blog. I was amazed and thrilled when she said yes, not just because of her status as a writer, but also because she is a very busy woman. At 76 years old she shows no signs of slowing down. Read on to learn more about Anne’s success as a writer and the advice she has for aspiring authors.

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Anne Perry is the international bestselling author of over fifty novels, which have sold over 25 million copies worldwide and have never been out of print. The Times selected her as one of the 20th Century’s “100 Masters of Crime.” In 2015 she was awarded the Premio de Honor Aragón Negro.

Her first series of Victorian crime novels, featuring Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, began with The Cater Street Hangman. The latest of these, The Angel Court Affair, is her most recent of many appearances on the New York Times bestseller list.

In 1990, Anne started a second series of detective novels with The Face of a Stranger. These are set about 35 years before the Pitt series, and feature the private detective William Monk and volatile nurse Hester Latterly. The most recent of these (21st in the series) is Corridors of the Night (April 2015).

Anne won an Edgar award in 2000 with her short story “Heroes.” The main character in the story features in an ambitious five-book series set during the First World War. Her other stand-alone novels include her French Revolution novel The One Thing More, and The Sheen on the Silk, which is set in the dangerous and exotic city of Byzantium.

Moving into a different area, Anne has responded to requests for workshops and teaching by producing her first ‘how to write’ instructional DVD Put Your Heart On The Page,” which is now available to buy direct from her website. It is also available to US customers on (click HERE) or in audiobook format (click HERE).

Here is a little preview of the DVD:

1) How did your writing career get started? My career began when I wrote my first mystery, instead of just a straight historical adventure, and then I got an agent.

2) What did you do for a living before you became a writer? How did you balance working and writing? Before I got anything published I did a large number of things, some secretarial, some in shops, airline stewardess, ship and shore assistant purser, etc. You write when you can. Weekends, holidays, evenings.

3) Your first book wasn’t published until you were in your late 30s. Was there a time you thought it might never happen? Did it matter? Certainly I feared that I would never be published, and it mattered very much.

4) About how many times did your first manuscript get rejected before it was published? How did you persevere through the rejection? My first manuscript was never published. As soon as you send it off, you start on something else. If you wait for a reply, which may never come, you will waste half your life. The most helpful thing, which you rarely get, is to be told what is wrong with it.

5) You are a prolific writer. I read somewhere that you now work on three novels per year. Is that true? How do you sustain such output? Tell us about your process. I write two novels and one novella, only 150 pages, a year. I outline in considerable detail, probably 15 to 20 pages, single spaced, scene by scene, and then several more pages of character outline and back-story. That way there is never a ‘writer’s block.’ And I keep going, never go back and edit until I am finished, then I do several rewrites as needed to make it the best I can.

6) What is the most helpful piece of career advice you have ever received? Write the sort of thing you like reading. If it bores you, it will probably bore other people, too.

7) What makes a good agent? What should an aspiring writer look for in an agent? What makes a good agent is very hard to define. What makes a bad one is anybody who asks for payment other than the regular percentage (usually about 15) of whatever they sell the book for. Nothing, if they don’t sell it, which is why they cannot afford to take on one they don’t think they can sell.

Useful suggestions about rewrite are gold. However, ones that change what you are trying to say, for example, [add] more violence, more overt sex etc., — get a different agent. It should be your work, your style, just better.

8) What has been one of the biggest career challenges you have faced? That’s hard to say, because there is a need to keep fresh all the time. Each book needs to be different from the last, and a little better, at least in some way.

9) What would you do differently if you could do it all over? I would have read more books about writing much sooner in my career. Good ones are priceless.

10) What three pieces of advice would you give to someone who wants to become a traditionally-published author?

1. Get a good agent and listen to their advice.
2. Never write something you don’t believe. People will sense it and turn off.
3. Be prepared to rewrite, several times if necessary.

11) How do you define success? To what do you most attribute your enormous success? Real success? When strangers write to you and say that your book had meaning for them, and better still, they read it more than once.

12) You travel a lot these days giving talks about your books and the writing process. Apart from the publicity aspect, have you benefitted from these “teaching” experiences in other ways? Have they informed your writing in any way? I benefit enormously from travelling and meeting people. I think nothing teaches you more than trying to teach other people. How much great advice do we give and not always take ourselves?

13) Tell us about what you are working on now. Right now I am finishing up the Christmas novella for 2016. Almost there. I think!

14) If you were conducting this interview, what is one question you would ask? Is there anything else you would rather have done than write? Nothing at all.

You can read more about Anne by visiting her website: You can also find her on Twitter: @AnnePerryWriter.

Artfully Successful: An Interview with Writer Mark Cantrell

Mark Cantrell, Writer

Recently I interviewed freelance writer Mark Cantrell. Mark has over 15 years’ experience as a full-time writer, coming to the profession after an unsatisfying stint in the IT field. Mark is also vice president of Triangle Area Freelancers (TAF), a North Carolina-based networking organization comprised of freelance writers. I met Mark through my membership with TAF, a wonderfully supportive group of professionals. Not only is Mark a super-nice guy, he is sharp and witty and holds an impressively vast knowledge of space and weather-related trivia.

Read on to learn more about Mark, his definition of success, and what it’s like being his own boss. Be sure to check out Mark’s bio at the end of this interview.

1) How did your writing career get started? How long have you been at it?
I worked at a hospital in south Florida for 25 years until it went bankrupt and closed. I briefly worked at an alcohol and drug rehab place after that, which was by far the worst job I ever had. In 1999, I got married and moved to North Carolina, immediately beginning a search for another IT job. Meanwhile, Don Vaughan kept trying to talk me into writing, but I had no experience and was reticent. My wife told me if I wanted to try it she’d support me, so with a great deal of trepidation, I walked off the cliff. It’s been more than 15 years now, and although it doesn’t pay nearly what my computer job did, it’s been very rewarding experientially and educationally.

2) What is your favorite aspect of being a freelance writer? What do you find challenging?
I like working from home. Many people have told me there’s no way they could do it, because they need that human companionship. I grew up as an only child, and for me, having others around has never been so much a need as an option I could avail myself of. (Good thing we can now end sentences in prepositions.) That’s a plus, but I think my favorite thing has been travelling for stories, meeting people I otherwise would never have been able to talk to, and finding that, to a person, the higher someone has risen in life, the nicer and more helpful they are.

For me, the challenge comes built-in, with the transcription process. If I could afford it, I’d hire someone to do all that so I could concentrate on research and writing. Another frustration is when sources don’t return messages or phone calls. In my experience, scientists and researchers are the best at getting back to you; doctors the worst.

3) You also have a background in art. Tell us about that. Have you ever had an opportunity to combine your talents as writer and artist?
My aunt was an artist and started teaching me to paint when I was about five. In high school, Florida wildlife artist Robert Butler took me under his wing and tutored me for a while, but I was a teenager and other things beckoned, like girls and cars. I next started cartooning, and sold several single-panel gag cartoons to various magazines, but it didn’t pay very well. I’ve never written and illustrated anything – yet.

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4) How do you generate new writing ideas?
I constantly comb the web, more because of a mild case of OCD than anything else, and make a note of anything that might make a good story. But ideas can come from anywhere; an overheard conversation, a chance encounter with an old friend, or from friends and relatives. It’s a matter of keeping your feelers out.

5) What three pieces of advice would you give to someone who wants to become a freelance writer?
Don’t. Do. It.
Kidding! First thing: Don’t quit your day job. I was lucky in that I had a mentor (Don Vaughan) who showed me exactly what to do, and a wife that was willing to wait a while for the money to come in. Trying to go it alone from a standing start will probably not end well.

Second, become a rejection collector. Since rejection is inevitable, try to get as many as you can, because each one brings you closer to a sale, and you’re also inoculating yourself against the disappointment you feel so acutely when you’re starting out. I was no different, but these days, I see it as just another part of the process.

Third, don’t stop. As soon as you’ve penned a proposal, send it off and start on the next one. If you’re a fiction writer, start on the next book as soon as you finish one. There’s no better way to prepare to be a writer than to write, and the more you do it, the sharper your skills get and the more confidence you gain.

Bonus answer: Read. How-to books, lectures and conferences are great, but only reading others’ work will give you a visceral appreciation for how to craft a sentence. I wrote very much like Don when I started, because he was my teacher, but before long I developed my own voice and style.

6) If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
Make money.

Seriously, I probably would have pushed a bit harder in the beginning. I used to send off a proposal and then sit back and wait for a response before starting the next one; hence answer three. I would have also tried to branch out into a wider range of markets. Once I got a few regular clients, I didn’t go out and pound the pavement as much as I might have. Of course, it’s never too late.

7) What have been some of your mistakes and what have you learned from them?
Aside from the above, I learned the hard way to never show your entire article to a source. The one time I did that, the person made a number of corrections and then turned them in…to my editor. That was a very awkward phone call. She was nice about it, but did suggest that I show a source only their own quotes, advice I’ve followed since.

Don was trying to turn me into a writer long before I made the leap. Because I collect old model kits and used to read Toy Shop magazine, he suggested I pitch an article about a Miami ad agency that had a toy museum in their offices. It sold, so he and I went down there and I took a lot of pictures of the collection. At one point I turned the camera sideways to capture a vertical shot, and the flash broke off. I was using 100 ISO film and couldn’t shoot without the flash, but fortunately Don had brought his camera and saved the day. Lesson: Bring two of everything to an in-person interview. I now carry my DSLR and my point-and-shoot, along with two digital recorders, when I travel for a story.

8) Tell me about one particularly satisfying or memorable event in your career.
I’m an aviation and space geek, and sold a story to Military Officer magazine about aerial demonstration teams. As it happened, the Blue Angels were coming to an air show at Cherry Point, and I was able to snag a press pass. The day before the show, they took us out to the airstrip and we watched the formation land, then were able to interview the pilots while standing beside their jets. The next day, we had a special press area with bleachers where we could watch the show. Doesn’t get much better than that.

I also interviewed Eileen Collins, the first female Space Shuttle pilot (and later, commander) for a profile. They gave me a number to call at the Johnson Space Center, but no one answered. She finally called me about ten minutes later, explaining that she’d gone to the wrong conference room. We chatted for a few minutes, and then she had another interview, but asked me if I’d like her to call me back afterward. Well, yeah. Without time constraints, we talked for the better part of an hour about all kinds of things, including the time her shuttle lost an engine on the way to orbit and they nearly had to abort the ascent. I was geeking out big-time.

9) How do you define success? To what do you most attribute your success?
Success is being able to do what you want, when you want to do it, and having the resources to make it happen. One of the best things about freelancing is getting to be your own boss, but it comes with a responsibility to get the job done without constant prompting. I had a problem with that in the beginning because I was so used to an office environment, but at this point I would have a serious problem with going back to a regular job.

I have Don, Maryanne [my wife], and my grandmother to thank for whatever success I’ve experienced. My grandma was a former English teacher, and after high school I went to Alabama and lived with her and my grandfather for a couple of years. She corrected me constantly, and although I was often peeved at the time, it turned out to be good preparation for my eventual writing career.

10) Where do you see yourself, career-wise, five years from now?
Is this a job interview? Crap – I should have practiced more. 🙂

One of the things I’ve had on a back burner for a long time is a kids’ book about the weather. I came up with the idea after writing The Everything Weather Book, which was my first book sale. I finally realized I was procrastinating because it was a completely unfamiliar genre, but hearing David Morrell speak at the [Triangle Area Freelancers] conference (“Writers write; it’s as simple as that.”) lit a fire under me. So five years from now, I hope that I’ve completed “Walter Windchill and the Amazing Weather Machine,” and a couple more books to boot.

11) Tell us about what you are working on now.
I’m just starting an article called Eyes in the Sky, about aerial surveillance, so I’ll be talking to the main service branches about how they conduct their missions. I’m also preparing a presentation for WonderFest, a modeling convention in Louisville that Don and I have been going to for years. I’ll be talking about my book “A Weird-Oh World: The Art of Bill Campbell,” and showing illustrations of his work. In the wings I have a piece called The Art of War, about Vietnam-era soldier/artists and their work for the Army Art Program. I’m making notes for the kids’ book as I think of plot points, and planning a few pitches to markets I haven’t sold to yet. Then there’s laundry, cooking…the usual.

12) If you were conducting this interview, what question would you ask?
Why do you write?

I will even answer it. From what I’ve seen, writing is a vocation that very few retire from. Don has a friend in south Florida from the tabloids who must be pushing 90, but he’s still going like the Energizer bunny. Whatever the impetus is – and I don’t pretend to understand it – it’s a strong one. But the answer seems to be that writers write because they have no other choice. I think David Morrell said something similar last weekend, which only shows I steal from the best.

Mark Cantrell is the author of several books, including The Everything Weather Book for Adams Media, Sixteen Minutes From Home, a study of the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster, for AMI Books, and A Weird-Oh World: The Art of Bill Campbell for Schiffer Books. He has been a full-time professional writer since 1999, has written hundreds of articles for publications as diverse as Air & Space Smithsonian and Mad Magazine, and has received three Communicator Awards for various articles. Cantrell lives with his wife and three cats in rural Wake Forest, North Carolina. His hobbies are building models and chasing varmints out of his garden. You can read more about Mark by visiting his website: You can also follow him on Facebook at:  or on Twitter: @maccanwrite. Connect with him on LinkedIn at:

Journeying Toward Success: Writer, Producer, and Media Consultant, Alison Hill

Alison Hill is an Emmy-nominated current affairs producer, writer, director, and former investigative journalist, with over 16 years’ diverse media experience. She has covered a vast array of political and social issues for US and UK television, from national elections to human trafficking. Originally from Wales, Alison has written and produced hundreds of programs and segments for both commercial and public television, and has directed studio shows and location shoots. She is a regular on-air personality, analyzing US news stories for BBC News, and has hosted several PBS programs including an Emmy-nominated series.

As an investigative journalist for a prime time British television series, she went undercover with a hidden camera. She has interviewed politicians, public officials, celebrities and activists, and has filmed events with such notables as President Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Alison is the author of the workbook for authors: ‘Media Ready, Media Savvy,’ and currently works as a writer for, is a contract producer/director, and video editor. She is also an aspiring horror novelist.

In 2008 she independently produced and directed an award-winning documentary. Alison has also appeared on Welsh TV shows, including a drama, a comedy, current affairs programs, a documentary, and a BBC special from The Newseum Studios in Washington D.C.

Find her on Twitter (@AlisonMHill) or online at Alison Hill Media

1)      You’ve had a very interesting career so far, done and experienced a variety of things. What is the one best descriptor at this stage that describes what you do for a living?

Oh boy. I write fiction and nonfiction, but I also produce and edit as well, so I‘m still in that multimedia [phase]. I do all of that all of the time. And I do stuff for the BBC as well, which is radio. That’s a good question – maybe writer/producer/editor.

So it’s a slash/slash/slash title, then?

I know, I know. That’s how freelance works, though. You’re multifaceted, unless you just want to do one thing. I like to do several things.


2)      How did your media career get started?

I started off as a newspaper reporter in Wales. I had wanted to be a journalist. I married young, right after college, and moved to Columbia, SC with my husband. It was very difficult for me there to find a career job. I did several things – restaurant work, I worked at Dillard’s selling lingerie, and I worked in a library. Obviously, though, that’s not what I wanted to do. So I went back [to Wales]. It took me five or six months to become a full-time, paid journalist.

In the interim I did some acting, I worked with a nonprofit doing its newsletter, and I worked at the newspaper doing some advertising features when people were off sick or on holiday. Less than a year after that I got a job [as an investigative journalist] with one of the most prestigious current affairs programs in Wales, Byd ar Bedwar (The World on Four). We had the same reputation as 60 Minutes.

Is that when you went undercover with the alleged cult? Yes, it is and I did many more stories as well and they were all long-term.


3)      Considering the great variety of media you have worked in, do you have a favorite medium?

I do like television.


It’s just a really good medium to get your message across. With visuals, it’s the best way to tell a story.


4)      Has there been any aspect of your work that you have found particularly challenging?

The undercover work was very challenging all the time because I had to pretend to be someone else.

The most challenging thing as a newspaper journalist was knocking on the doors of people who had just lost their children. I did some research on teen suicide and it was very tough talking to the parents. Several times I had to do that, but I think I handled it very well. In Wales it’s a little different [compared] to America. When family members pass, local people come to see you. That’s the tradition, so it’s not unusual for people to call out of the blue. In fact, it’s the norm. That’s how people show their respect. Some bring food and you make tea for them. It helps the people who are mourning, too, because it gets them through those horrible first few weeks. Your time is filled, people are coming to see you, you have to talk and be sociable.  I remember cold-calling on one family who had just lost their son to suicide. It was heartbreaking. It was Christmastime and his presents were all there. It was very sad, but they accepted me and I sat there and talked to them. I was a really good listener and I think that helped me with being an investigative journalist.

I remember listening to five refugees from Kosovo talking about their experiences, which were harrowing and horrific. Also, I was doing a program on domestic violence and it’s very hard not to cry when you’re interviewing someone, but you don’t of course. Some of the stories were just heartbreaking, but that’s part of why you do it—to get these stories out there.  It’s important for the public to know.

And I guess it must be difficult to know how to broach certain subjects and how far to push with your questioning.

Well, we were trained in interviewing. We would sit down and do hour-long one-on-one interviews with people if they were the central figure in the story. They were very in-depth.


5)      Tell me more about your training. Are you happy with the training you received?

Yes. In the UK, you do on-the-job training. You don’t need to go to journalism school to become a journalist. Most people there don’t. People in the industry prefer to train you their own way. You can’t learn everything in the classroom. You can’t learn in the classroom how to keep a deadline and juggle five different stories at once.

So you were thrown into it, basically. Are you glad it happened that way?

I think I am. You can get molly-coddled too much. You can’t learn a particular newspaper’s style in the classroom. And they can’t teach you how to write, really. You learn from other people. You ask questions of others in the industry. That’s what they’re there for. You see what they do and emulate that.


6)      What’s a typical day like for you? Do you have a typical day?

Right now it’s been erratic—for many years actually. I’ve been in the Raleigh-Durham area for a couple of years and I was in Asheville before that. Prior to that I was in Denver and had a full-time job with PBS as a current affairs producer.

When I first moved to Asheville, NC, I wrote two books–one novel, a sort of memoir. Actually, I wrote three books. One was awful—first ones usually are. Another one needs to be rewritten as well, so I tend to writing for a long time, but I also still do video work.

There’s no typical day, really, because I look for work all the time. I’m involved with Triangle Area Freelancers and did a talk for them. I wrote a nonfiction book, Media Ready, Media Savvy and have developed [related] workshops. I do marketing strategy consulting and media consulting. It’s slow and sporadic. I work on projects–editing and producing–with my friend and colleague, AlishaTV ( I do a lot of stuff with her. Yesterday evening I was filming. I’ll probably be doing a lot of political commentary stuff soon with the BBC. There’s no typical day.

Do you have your own production crew?

No, I don’t. I do a lot of filming myself. I know how to film and edit. I learned how to shoot video when I was an investigative journalist. I learned the principles of editing over a period of five to six years. We were involved in the whole process from pre-production to post-production. I also studio directed and technical directed. When you work on television you do tend to learn a lot of things. It’s good to know, because if you know editing it makes you a better producer and director because you know how many shots you need.


7)      You’ve done a lot of human interest and political commentary work. Is there one genre you prefer over all the others or do you thrive on variety?

I like the variety, but I do love the human rights issues. I did a program in Colorado with the real-life hero from Hotel Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina. It was fascinating for me.

I also got to interview Michael Moore during the premier for Bowling for Columbine in Denver, CO, which was interesting and a great opportunity, and going many years back I interviewed Jason Alexander [regarding young voters].

Alison’s story continues on the next page. Click here.

Speaking of Success: Jenn Mercer, Professional Translator

The field of translation is not one you read or hear about very often–or at least I don’t. It requires great communication skills in more than one language and can lead you down interesting life paths. So I was intrigued when I recently met fellow freelancer and professional French to English translator, Jenn Mercer.  Jenn happily agreed to be interviewed for Vox Laurus and shares her career experience below.

1. What prompted you to start working as a professional French-to-English translator? How did you know you were ready?

There were so many signs that translation would be a good career for me that I cannot believe it took me so long to realize. I enjoy writing in English – which is critical, and I love learning languages.  In addition, I need a job where I can control the time, place, and manner in which I work due to both practical and personality reasons. Don’t get me wrong. I work well with other people and have a broad tolerance for coworker eccentricities. By the same token, I have very little tolerance for arbitrary restrictions.

The immediate impetus was that I was no longer able to pursue my college degree(s) [while working] a full-time job. I tried, I really did, but due to a number of reasons the 24/7 call center I was working with developed a lack of flexibility. At the same time, I was hitting the courses I had put off because they were harder to schedule.  I had only a semester left at the time, so I started my freelance writing and translation career and have been working for myself ever since. While I do still enjoy pure writing (as opposed to the restricted form of writing I do as a translator), this is no longer a major component of my income.

As for how I knew I was ready… I just had to give it a shot. I had taken a translation course in college and then did an Independent Study in which I translated French poetry. My translation professor referred me to one of my first clients, which was a great vote of confidence. However, my real feeling of “readiness” did not come until I had completed a half-dozen projects, dealt with some midnight demons, met my deadlines, and received good feedback. I think you will never really know if you are ready to be a translator without actually doing the work. Taking French classes – and even living in France – do not give you the vocabulary you need to translate complex business documents.

2. What were the major challenges you faced when you first started translating?

I think my main challenge was the same one that most freelancers encounter – getting those first few clients. I was also surprised to learn how much IT work was involved. I have had to deal with corrupted files, backing out software upgrades, converting files, etc. It is much more stressful to deal with computer problems when you have a deadline than when you know you will go home at a certain hour regardless of whether the work is done.

3. Have technological advancements affected your work as a translator at all? If so, how?

Technology has had a strong influence on the entire field of translation. It offers competition in the form of globalization and machine translation, but also helps translators perform their jobs better. It has had a net positive effect. I can work anywhere in the world and I do not have to worry about manipulating and shipping physical documents. I can run errands and respond to client emails on my smartphone. CAT tools (Computer Aided Translation) ensure that I never have to translate the same sentence twice and relieve me of most of the formatting work. Note: CAT tools are not the same as MT (Machine Translation) in which the computer (tries) to translate for you. CAT tools are more of a memory aid than anything else.

I do not know where I would be without being able to research terminology on the Internet. I can verify usage, consult online dictionaries, ask colleagues for help, etc. I have a lovely collection of physical dictionaries, but it is impossible to have enough.

4. What kinds of material do you love translating? What do you dislike?

I enjoy translating documents that hit that sweet spot between being challenging enough to be interesting, but not so challenging that I have to research every word and cannot be sure that I have made the right word choices. I specialize in business, legal, and financial translations so many of the projects are in those fields. However, I am also a curious person with an eclectic range of interests (like many translators) and I love projects that let me learn something new or involve one of my many hobbies.

I also prefer projects which emphasize the translation portion of the work rather than formatting and administration. Sometimes the translation work itself is fairly simple, but the project is composed of dozens of tiny files and I spend more time renaming and saving into the correct folders than I do on the translation itself.  [Further to] the previous question about technology, I have purchased much of the software I use because it relieves me of parts of the work I do not like to do. In this way, I stay happy while meeting the needs of my clients.

5. You’re not just a translator, but also a writer. Have you found that being one has proven beneficial to you with the other? Have you done any creative writing in French?

While the ability to speak a foreign language, French in my case, is seen as the obvious prerequisite to becoming a translator, the ability to express yourself in your native language is much more important. A translated document should be the same as the original, except for the language. Although I do a lot of terminology research, much of the real brain sweat comes from trying to form and rearrange the best English sentences. This last twist is nearly indistinguishable from trying to express an idea in your head into words.

The only creative writing I did in French was in school. It was a helpful exercise to develop my French skills, but not one that is a real creative outlet for me. I may feel differently in another twenty years as the language seeps deeper into my bones.

6. What advice and educational preparation would you recommend for someone who wants to enter and then advance in the field?

Well, my translation professor advised me to learn “everything” and it is hard to argue with that advice. You need to have excellent writing skills in your native language, which will be your target language,  and excellent comprehension skills in your source language. It is useful to develop writing skills in your source language as well, both as a way to aid your language skills and to communicate with clients. However, in addition to all of these essential language skills, you also need to be familiar with the fields in which you translate.

The best preparation for a specialized translator is to actually work in an industry for a number of years and then switch over to translation. This is somewhat impractical, especially as many translators have advanced translation degrees as well. How do you plan for such a chaotic career path? Many translators don’t. Instead it is common to fall into translation midway through another career entirely. Like being a good writer, sometimes you need to live a bit before you can really be a good translator.

Oh, and don’t forget you also need to know enough accounting and marketing to run a business…

7. Does translation work typically involve any lifestyle changes, such as frequent travel?

Yes and no. I travel less on a daily basis since I work at home, but as a business owner I attend translation conferences and travel to French-speaking countries to keep up my skills. The main lifestyle change is that I get to work at home, which has been wonderful.

8. Do you think it’s necessary to be immersed in French culture to do the type of translation work you do?

Legal translation can be learned through research and education to a large extent; however every bit of immersion helps. For this reason, I went to Paris last summer to attend a conference located in the Palais de Justice:

Seriously, just look at this.
(Photo credit: Tristan Nitot, Wikimedia Commons)

The experience of sitting in a French courtroom for three days, listening to French legal experts, and talking with other translators and interpreters – for the most part in French, was invaluable. I returned home feeling more comfortable with legal French and more confident in my abilities.

9. How do you find new clients? Do you do a lot of one-term assignments?

I find new clients passively by maintaining a web presence on the ATA and CATI websites, translation portals such as ProZ, and my own website. I also market my services actively by sending out résumés and responding to job opportunities. In addition, I network with colleagues at translation conferences and online.

I strive to keep clients happy enough that assignments are not one-term, but this is often more a function of the type of client and the nature of the work than anything else. An individual who needs a birth certificate translated for immigration is unlikely to need future documents, while a translation agency specializing in legal documents will have a lot of work for me.

10.  What do you need to feel successful in your career? What would you still like to accomplish?

I have income goals, which I assess and update every year. Part of this goal is to make my work-flow more even.  As I gain experience and establish a good reputation, I have had more clients finding me rather than having to seek them out. This is preferable for a number of reasons, not least of which is that this means I spend more time translating and less time prospecting.

In addition to my income goals, I would like to obtain ATA certification. This requires passing a rather difficult certification exam with an 80% failure rate. I have taken it once, and unfortunately I was one of the 80%. At this time, the exam is pen and paper with no online resources allowed. This adds to the difficulty and has no resemblance to how translators have been working for some time. A keyboarded exam is currently being tested and I plan to take this exam again once it is ready.

11. Is there anything else you would like to add or think that people should know about you or a career in translation?

The most important thing to understand about a career in translation is that it requires constant learning. If you get bored easily, you are in the right place. You should also know that translation is a rather solitary career with most translators working at home. Depending on your personality, this will either make you very happy or very sad.

As for me, you should know that I am ridiculously happy to have found translation as a career. Back in the dark days when I worked at an insurance company, we would joke about “going to our happy place” when the latest crazy edict came down from management. This is my happy place.

Jenn is also a poet and writer. She delights in knowing that anything she learns, no matter how esoteric, may somehow come in handy some day. Jenn lives in Raleigh, NC with her husband, daughter, cats, fish, and as many dictionaries as she can fit on her shelves. You can read more about Jenn by visiting her website (link highlighted in red): or follow her on Twitter: @jennmercerFE

Positively Successful: Lisa Hagan, Literary Agent

I first learned of nonfiction literary agent Lisa Hagan through fellow members of a freelance writing organization I belong to, Triangle Area Freelancers. Her name came up at one of our meetings. Everyone there who had met Lisa or had worked with her had nothing but positive things to say. Words and phrases like wonderful, fantastic, amazing, friend to writers, gets results, sweet, and professional were used to describe her. I took note, went home, and searched for her name online and found similar adjectives attributed to her in every search result. So then I started following her on Twitter, where her affirming and positive tweets began to show up in my feed every day. That’s when I knew for sure I wanted to interview her for Vox Laurus.  We chatted back and forth via email and I was very happy when she granted my request. And what do you know — all of those descriptors that I had heard from others were confirmed.

LISA HAGAN LITERARY has a history of anticipating future book trends and creating appropriate projects with its clients — scientists, writers, and innovators from around the world. Lisa Hagan began her literary career with PARAVIEW LITERARY AGENCY in 1993 and purchased it 1999.  The PARAVIEW LITERARY AGENCY was among the first to successfully develop literary properties for a rapidly growing worldwide audience known as cultural creatives. Lisa will continue to follow this path and is excited to announce the new name change to LISA HAGAN LITERARY. The agency handles only nonfiction properties at this time.

Lisa discusses with me how she got her start as a literary agent, how she views the future of the publishing industry, and how she defines success.

1) How and why did you become an agent?

I was working in the documentary film division of Paraview and while we were in between projects I picked up a manuscript from the slush pile and have never looked back. I was hooked by the process of turning a dream into a book.

My love of books started at a young age. We went to the library every Saturday morning. I was allowed 4 books each week from the public library plus the books from the school library. As my best friend since school says, “Lisa is never without something to read.” Which is true. I wasn’t taught that you could do something that you loved to earn a living, but I was in the right place at the right time, it fell into my lap and it was meant to be. Being an agent and helping writers become authors is the best and most rewarding career that I could ever imagine for me.


2) Is there a particular reason you handle only nonfiction properties?

The first manuscript that I picked up was a novel. I did not sell that novel; the author and I are still friends though. I represented fiction for a few years in the beginning because I love a good story. I found that the editing process was not one that I enjoyed as much as discovering a new author and the thrill of the sale.

Paraview was famous for non-fiction works in the genre of mind, body, spirit. Sandra Martin, the founder of Paraview, was the first agent to really become successful in this genre back in the ’80s.

I realized that I preferred to sell books that I felt would make a difference in someone’s life, to help them be a better person, to share a story that would empower them. I slowly stopped representing fiction until my focus solely became non-fiction.


3) What exactly does an agent’s job entail?

Reading. I read an incredible amount of queries, proposals and manuscripts. Once I find an idea that takes my breath away, I contact the writer to discuss our options and decide whether we would make a great team or not. Then it is on to perfecting the proposal with the author before pitching the editors and then on to negotiating contracts after I make the sale. I assist with navigating the publishing process and PR. Then we start all over with a new book idea.


4) My research tells me it’s virtually impossible for someone to become an agent straight out of college or on a whim. What preparation does it take for someone who wants to enter and then advance in the field?

No, I don’t think you have to be with an agency, but I would definitely recommend that you have a mentor to become an agent. It is not an easy business. In fact, it is quite cliquish, just like high school. You have to be willing to pick up the phone and introduce yourself, go to NYC, and make appointments to meet with editors.

You have to have a love of books but you also have to be an aggressive salesperson. I have been told on more than a few occasions that if the proposal was only as good as my pitch…. Becoming an agent requires cold calling, networking and putting yourself out there. The editors need agents to send them material, they rely on us. It is my job to know who the editors are and what they are looking for. I am in constant contact with editors. I know what they want and they know what I represent. Editors come to me with ideas looking for a writer. I call those easy sales. I am known for my authors and I am ecstatic about that.

You have to be able to handle rejection in this business. It takes a lot of no’s to be successful. My motto is, “NEXT!”


5) How have e-publishing and self-publishing changed the agent’s current role in the industry? How are they affecting an agent’s future career potential?

At first we were all concerned about e-books, but as we are now seeing, it doesn’t make any difference. People are reading and that is all that matters. As long as writers can write and we can sell and the publishers can publish good works, it’s all good.

I did feel a disruption in the business starting in 2008, but we all weathered the economy storm and publishing is getting back to a better place.  I am still selling terrific proposals and people are still buying books.Whether they are an electronic book or a hard copy, it is still a sale.

Self-publishing has been around longer than I have been an agent. We would not touch a self-published book with a ten foot pole back in the day. Now, it is common place. I’ve represented quite a few self-published works and have sold them to one of the big six. Publishing is not as stuffy as it used to be.


6) You have a reputation for being a very positive, affirming professional in a tough industry. What does it take to be a happy literary agent?

I was told early on by an editor that I was too nice to be an agent. Yes, you do have to be tough, demanding and sometimes I do have to yell, but for the most part, I get what I want by being me. I am tenacious and I think that, and knowledge of the business, is all it takes. I don’t give up and I am always thinking about my authors and what will help them to be successful. When I was a kid I used to say, “If I am not reading, I am not breathing.” I love what I do and everything in life can be in a book or pertains to a book. My research for my authors is constant.


7) How do you define success? To what do you most attribute your success?

For me, if a book that I have agented helps at least one person, then I am happy. Changing people’s lives through words is my mantra. I just want to leave a positive mark in the world to make a difference. This is the way that I have found I can do that and I am good at it and I am grateful for that.


8) What is the most helpful piece of career advice you have ever received?

I’ve said this in every interview. I thank literary agent Jeff Herman. I read an interview with him early on in my career and he said, “If you dread a client’s phone call then let that client go.” Wow. That was some of the best advice I have ever received still to this day. There are a lot of writers out there; I only want to work with the best — writers with integrity and writers that share my goal of changing the world one book at a time. Leave your ego at the door and let’s do this.


9) Is there anything else that you think is important for readers to know?

Agents are not scary. We need writers. Editors need discerning agents with excellent writers. If you love to write and have something that you think is worth sharing with the world then keep writing. Don’t give up.

If you would like to learn more about Lisa, click on the following links highlighted in red:

Publishers Marketplace – Here you will find Lisa’s contact information, as well as a listing of her leading clients and best-known projects.

LinkedIn – Lisa’s profile

Shelfari and Goodreads – See what Lisa is reading and which books she has sold.

You can also follow her on Twitter by clicking here (@LisaHagan123).

On Success in Writing and Editing: A Q&A with Chuck Sambuchino

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing editor and writer, Chuck Sambuchino. Chuck knows a thing or two about working hard to make his way through a competitive industry. He works for Writer’s Digest Books and edits two annual resource guides — the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS as well as the CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog — all about agents, submissions and platform — is one of the biggest blogs in publishing. He was recently included in a FORBES Top 10 list of “Social Media Influencers: Book Publishing.”

His first humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK (, was released in Sept. 2010 and has been featured by Reader’s Digest, USA Today, the New York Times and AOL News. The film rights were recently optioned by Sony and director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future). His second humor book, RED DOG / BLUE DOG: WHEN POOCHES GET POLITICAL (July 2012,, is a collection of funny dog photos merged with political humor.


In addition, Chuck has also written two other writing-related titles: the third edition of FORMATTING & SUBMITTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT (2009), and CREATE A WRITER PLATFORM (fall 2012).

Besides that, he is a freelance editor, husband, cover band guitarist, piano lover, chocolate chip cookie fiend, and owner of a flabby-yet-lovable dog named Graham. Find him on Twitter (@chucksambuchino) or online (

Read on to see what Chuck has to say about success and how to achieve it in freelance editing and writing.

1) You’ve worn many hats throughout your career. What is the one best descriptor, at this stage, that describes what you do for a living?

Possibly “instructor.” No matter what I’m doing for Writer’s Digest — planning webinars, editing my books, speaking at conferences, sharing through social media — it all goes toward the instruction of other writers.

2) How did your writing/editing career get started? How long have you been at it?

When I got out of college, I decided I didn’t want to use my major of public relations. This was an alarming revelation, because I was starting from zero. I applied for an entry-level editorial position at a local newspaper, and, perhaps due to sheer enthusiasm from me during the interview, I got the job. I proved myself and became a reporter. I began to write stage plays and magazine articles on the side for fun. This helped, because when I applied to Writer’s Digest in 2005, I had some (small) writing credentials under my belt, and had an excitement for writing. I’ve worked for Writer’s Digest for seven years. Since the publishing industry is evolving, my job responsibilities are always evolving, as well, which makes it fun yet challenging.

At night, I work on my own book projects (usually humor books), which are represented by my literary agent. I think starting from scratch as a writer and now finding success has really helped me. When I’m instructing other writers, I can always explain that I’m in the trenches with them. People respect that, and know you’re practicing what you preach.

3) Describe/outline your typical day. How many hours do you work per day, on average?

About 10 hours, between WD work and my own writing books. I work at the publishing house during the day, then go home and hang out with my wife. When she goes to bed and the (lazy) dog is asleep, it’s time to work on my personal books and platform.

4) What is your favorite aspect of being a freelance writer/editor? What do you find challenging?

We must be clear here, because being a “freelance writer” and being a “freelance editor” are completely different things. Freelance writers usually compose articles and/or other types of content for people. Freelance editors do content editing or copyediting on books.

My favorite part about freelance writing is developing relationships with editors. Once you building a trusting relationship, then the editor passes article ideas on to you, and life becomes easier.

My favorite part about freelance editing is hearing the success stories. When I critique someone’s work and they find an agent, I get a chill. That is the ultimate test whether or not your edits are working.

5) Has being a freelance writer/editor impacted your family life in any way? How do you balance your hobbies or personal interests against your need to meet deadlines?

Almost all personal activities outside of writing had to go. I no longer have poker night or play basketball or racquetball.

6) How do you generate new ideas?

New ideas come to us all the time, in the form of conversations with relatives or jokes with friends or whatever. I simply realized long ago that, as a writer, I must 1) write down these ideas immediately, and 2) spends many, many hours brainstorming them to flesh them out. You have to do a lot of research to investigate an idea, be it for a magazine article or for a book.

7) What three pieces of advice would you give to someone who wants to become a freelance writer or editor?

For freelance writers: It’s very difficult early on as you try to break into markets. But once you break in to 1 or 5 different markets, you should be able to develop long-term relationships with those editors and get a dozen or a few dozen assignments. This means you make more money with less work.

For freelance editors: Try to pass on ideas on how to improve the work. I think it’s pretty easy, as an editor, to point to a section and say “This doesn’t work.” It’s much harder — and therefore a much more valuable skill to provide — if you can say “This doesn’t work, so let me throw out an idea on how to improve it and fix the section.”

For freelance editors: Try and get a position with a publishing house. The thing is: Everyone wants to be a freelance editor because they can make their own hours and work from home. But we here at F+W tend only to work with editors who have worked here before and are familiar with our likes and style guide inside and out.

8) If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?

I would have started blogging earlier. In my line of work (nonfiction books), building your platform and visibility in the marketplace is of the utmost importance.

9) What have been some of your mistakes, and what have you learned from them?

I didn’t get on Twitter or Facebook early enough. I wasn’t a huge fan of social media as it started to blossom. But as I started using these tools and seeing their true power, I realized they were perhaps the best means to communicate and market with others.

In terms of learning from my mistakes, I think my strategies on social media are based more on the mistakes of others. I see what some people are doing on Twitter — always asking you to read their book — and realized that kind of aggressive marketing does not fly. I tweet and use Facebook infrequently, and try to make each message count.

10) Tell me about one particularly satisfying or memorable event in your career.

Several moments stand out. But if I had to pick one, it would be when Sony optioned the film rights to my humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK. My wife and I knew immediately that this was a big accomplishment that could go on my resume forever.

11) How do you define success? To what do you most attribute your success?

Within my career, I define “success” as making a decent living doing something I love. I attribute my success thus far to my competitive drive, and I also contribute it to the fact that I enjoy all aspects of the writing business — the craft end and the business end — and that allows me to throw myself into my work and be happy.

12) Where do you see yourself, career-wise, 10 years from now?

Honestly? … No idea. I could be at WD, still doing the same thing. I could be a full-time book writer. I could be a social media consultant for some kind of company. Hard to tell!

13) Tell me about what you are working on now.

As I write this, I am gearing up for the release of RED DOG / BLUE DOG, and getting the website in order. I’m contacting book reviewers and pet bloggers.

14) Is Graham a red dog or a blue dog?

The truth is he does not care one iota about politics. If what you’re discussing doesn’t involve 1) eating or 2) sleeping, he doesn’t care. I’ve personally seen him pee on yard signs of both Democratic and Republican candidates.

15) If you were conducting this interview, what question would you ask?

“What’s the last concert you saw?”

Answer: I was scheduled to see Van Halen in August 2012, but they cancelled their show in town. I’m pretty bummed about it. That would make my last official concert Aerosmith.


Thank you for an informative interview, Chuck, and thank you for being so supportive of your fellow writers, especially those just starting out. Readers, have YOU ever experienced a gnome attack? If not, it could still happen. You should probably buy Chuck’s book, just as a precaution. Or take your chances. Suit yourself.


In the meantime, please share your comments below on freelance writing or freelance editing, your dog’s political persuasion or lack thereof, and/or the last concert you attended (sadly mine was in 1996, a music festival in Philadelphia featuring numerous alternative bands including Green Day).

Getting MAD, Finding Success: An Interview with Writer Don Vaughan

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to conduct a telephone interview with veteran freelance writer, Don Vaughan. Besides having 35 years’ experience as a professional writer, Don is also the founder of Triangle Area Freelancers (TAF), a North Carolina-based networking organization comprised of professional nonfiction writers. I met Don through my membership with TAF (an awesome group, by the way) and greatly respect and value his professional advice and support.

You can learn more about Don and see his impressive bibliography on his website or follow him on Twitter. In the meantime, see what he has to say about how he has found success and fulfillment in his career as a full-time freelance writer.

1)      How did you get started as a freelance writer? How long have you been at it?

I majored in journalism in college and worked on my local newspaper back in Florida while I was still in college. It was a very educational experience. I ended up working for the newspaper for six years. This was in the late 70s, early 80s. I started as a columnist and worked my way up to associate editor. However, I realized community journalism was relatively low-paying, so I had an opportunity to take a job as a staff writer with a national medical magazine called Your Health. It was owned by Globe Communications in Boca Raton, which also owned a number of tabloid magazines.

I worked for Your Health for about six years and really enjoyed it a lot, but found myself writing the same kinds of articles over and over again. So then I had an opportunity to take a position with the National Examiner, which was a tabloid newspaper.  I worked there as a staff writer and senior editor for four or five years. I enjoyed that immensely. It was great fun, but then there was an editorial change and a new editor came in who had previously worked for the National Enquirer. He was one of those management-by-terrorism types who thought he would get more out of his employees by screaming at them and treating them poorly. I don’t work well under those kinds of circumstances and my health started to suffer. I had insomnia. I was developing an ulcer. I dreaded going to work. It was just a horrible situation.

My wife, Nan, said, “Maybe now’s the time for you to start freelancing.” She knew it was something I had been thinking about. She was working, the bills would get paid. I put in my notice, but spent another six months at the newspaper getting my ducks in a row so that I had some freelance assignments in the pipeline when I finally left.  I continued to freelance for the Examiner and Your Health and for other tabloids in the organization, which was very helpful.

That was in September 1991 and I’ve been a full-time freelancer ever since. In fact, it’s all I’ve done in those 21 years aside from working just a few months at Borders, following 9/11. I took a little bit of a hit as far as market after that and it took a few months for things to build back up again.


2)      Describe/outline your typical day. How many hours do you work a day on average?

I’m actually working harder now than I was when I worked in an office, as far as the number of hours. I’ve come to realize this is essentially a 24/7 occupation.

I get up at 8:00 a.m., feed the cat and grab some breakfast. I spend a few minutes checking my morning email, work on either research or writing until noon, take an hour for lunch, and then I work until around 5:00 or 5:30. I take a break for dinner and typically I’ll work at least another hour after that, usually until 7:00 or 8:00, sometimes longer if I’m on a deadline for something and I have to get it out of the way. I try to keep it Monday through Friday, but it’s not uncommon for me to work on Saturdays and Sundays, as the job dictates.

Sometimes I will divide my day by doing research in the morning and actual writing in the afternoon and evening. It really depends on my priorities on any given day. It’s not a particularly exciting job.

I do most of my work via telephone. Only occasionally do I go out and do some research or an interview in person, but I do like those opportunities. The nature of what I’ve been writing lately hasn’t really facilitated that.


3)      Do you find it challenging in any way to be your own boss or to work from home?

It has its challenges, but I’ll tell you right off the bat that freelancing is my dream job. I love it. It would take a tremendous amount of money to get me back into an office environment.  The one thing I miss more than anything, I think, is the socialization that comes with working in an office, just being with other people.

I do work comfortably by myself. I love working at home.  My commute is 15 steps. I can dress in T-shirts and shorts. I’m my own boss. I write for whomever I want to.


4)      What is your favorite aspect of being a freelance writer?

The one thing about freelancing that I like more than anything is the variety it offers. As a general freelancer I write for an eclectic array of publications. So I might be writing a medical article one week and then a historical article another and then after that I might be doing something about popular culture. It’s a constant change and everything is new. I’m not writing the same things over and over again.

I also really love interviewing. I hate the transcription part, but I really love talking to people.


5)      You mentioned earlier that you try to limit your working hours to Monday through Friday, but that you are working a lot more hours than you were in an office environment. Has being a freelance writer impacted your family life in any way?

My wife, Nan, is very understanding. She knows I’m very motivated in my job and I’m constantly trying to get more work. I’d say if I divided my time up on a daily or weekly basis, it’s about 60% getting work and 40% doing work. There’s a lot of trying to get work and sending out proposals.

Also, by working more I mean when I’m not physically working, I’m thinking about things. After a while you develop what I call “the writer’s eye,” where everything that comes into your life you very quickly wonder, “Is this something I can write about?” When Nan and I go on vacation other people are having fun and I’m looking at stuff thinking, “That would make a great article.” So that’s the kind of place where I am right now and as a writer it’s a good thing. I’m never at a loss for ideas to pitch. There’s always something on my desk for me to do.


6)      Would you say that’s where you generate most of your ideas, just from your day-to-day interactions with other people?

 The thing I tell my students is that the ideas are there. Most people don’t recognize them. Ideas come before us with the people we meet, the things we do, the places we go.

I’ll tell you I get a tremendous number of article ideas from the daily newspaper. I’ll see a national story that I might be able to turn into something local, but more typically there will be something going on locally that I’ll realize is newsworthy for a national audience.

I do a lot of work for Military Officer Magazine and many of the ideas I pitch to them I get from the News and Observer. I take the idea, expand upon it, find my own sources, conduct my own interviews, and do my own research. The idea was triggered, but the article is mine.


7)      How do you stay current with changes in the field of freelance writing and publishing?

That’s one area where I’m lacking a little bit. Only recently have I started to ramp up my social media presence. I have a Facebook page, but it’s mostly personal. I don’t really do much with it.

I do have a website, which I keep current, but that’s mostly for when I approach new editors and want them to see samples of my work.  I have gotten a tremendous amount of work because of my website. People will Google freelance writer + Raleigh and my name is one of the first to come up, so the website has been very beneficial work-wise.

Very recently, I expanded my LinkedIn page. I haven’t seen much benefit from that, but there might be something down the road. I also recently joined Twitter, for whatever that’s worth. I’m not tweeting every day and there are a few people that I’m following. Mostly I’m just keeping my nose to the grindstone and trying to stay aware of new markets and new trends in freelance writing.


(See the rest of Don’s interview on the next page.)

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