Interview with Julie Fast
Interview by Christina Katz
Julie A. Fast is author of Take Charge of Your Bipolar Disorder: A Four Step Plan For You and Your Loved Ones to Manage the Illness and Create Lasting Stability (Time/Warner, 2006) and the best-selling Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner (New Harbinger Publications, 2004). She is a critically acclaimed author, speaker, and sought-after expert in the field of bipolar disorder. Her work has helped thousands of people find ways to successfully manage bipolar disorder and reclaim their lives. More information on Julie's work is available at www.bipolarhappens.com and her author site, www.juliefast.com.
Although many suffer from bipolar disorder, Julie, not everyone chooses to write about it. What prompted your decision to become an author and expert on the subject?
I feel my bipolar disorder work is a calling. I think I was put on this planet to have this illness and talk to others about it. Do I want this calling? No. Did I struggle for years and wish I could just write chick lit and not have to deal with so much illness? Definitely! But I've come to terms with it now. If I have to talk about bipolar disorder wherever I go, then that is okay with me.
I understand you have been a successful author not only in traditional publishing, but also in publishing e-books. What doorways have e-books opened up for you?
I have an interesting publishing history. I created my treatment plan, the health cards for bipolar disorder, in 1999. By 2000, I was able to get back into the real world after many years of catatonic, psychotic depression with periodic and very expensive manic episodes thrown in. I started writing and finished my first e-book, Bipolar Happens! Tips and Tricks for Managing Bipolar Disorder, in 2001. I knew it was a much-needed book.
A friend of mine had a big agent in L.A. I sent this agent the book and to make a long story short, she liked the book, but couldn't get her act together. Lost manuscripts and weeks waiting for e-mails were the norm. All of it was ridiculous. At this time I received a newsletter that talked about something called an e-book. This was 2002, the dark ages in the e-book business! I thought, "I could do an e-book, create my own web page, and sell the books myself!"
Three months after I started bipolarhappens.com, I got a call from New Harbinger Publishing. They asked me to do a book for couples wherein one person has bipolar disorder. My editor partnered me with Dr. John Preston and we have now worked on three books together. I write the books and he helps with technical information, especially medications. I wrote Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner in 2002. It came out in 2003 and became a best-seller.
In 2003, I was called by an agent on the east coast and asked if I wanted to write a book for Penguin in a new series called the Health Smart Series, which was a spin off of the Idiot's Guide. I wrote this book while editing the Loving book. It was way too much work and I got sick. Typical bipolar mood swings. Then the Health Smart series was cancelled and they were not sure what to do with my book.
This is a reality of the publishing industry. All writers really need to know that books are a business. They are not an art. Penguin kept saying they wanted to publish my book as an individual title, but marketing could not get its act together. Unfortunately, they held the book for one year. My agent finally sent a certified letter and basically demanded that they give it back. We sold the manuscript to Warner Wellness in one week. I rewrote the book and it came out in September of 2006.
Do you still recommend that nonfiction writers try e-books before traditionally published books, as you did?
I definitely recommend e-books to start out if a writer has a topic that people need and want, such as tips on dealing with an illness, buying real estate, or raising healthy kids, but the competition is fierce now. Unless you have a built in audience, advertising on the web is expensive. But success with e-books is still possible.
A lot of work went into the creation of the website and e-book. I was motivated by the fact that I was living in France, going through a break up and I had to make money. Within the first month, I sold $3,000 worth of books. I used to average more than $12,000 in sales per month off my web page from my e-book The Health Cards Treatment Plan for Bipolar Disorder. Things have changed greatly over the years due to competition and the cost of online advertising. I now sell about $8,000 in e-books per month. I miss the good ol' days!
What advice would you give emerging nonfiction writers when it comes to building a professional platform on personal experience?
Write what the reader wants and needs, not only what you want to say or think that people want to hear. I work with a lot of writers here in Portland, Oregon. The successful ones are those who find a niche and work it.
If you're a good nonfiction writer, you have a very good chance of being published. I can call my agent today and say, "What books are you looking for?" and she will give me a list. Publishers call her and ask her to find writers. That is how she found me. If you haven't been published yet, then look at your focus and what others who are getting published are doing.
Another important question: Who do you know in the publishing industry? This really matters. It's all about networking. This may feel icky, but it's a fact. I go to writers' groups and events to network in order to learn what to do with my writing.
Hang out with successful writers. This rubs off on you. Your personal experience is your platform for sure. It's what you will write about, but unless you package this knowledge in a way that people want to read it, it may be a hard sell.
I also recommend that writers get to know people who are published and have a good working relationship with agents and editors. This is how you get your proposals read for sure. When you are recommended by an agent's current client, your manuscript goes to the top of the slush pile (a huge stack of books next to an editor's desk) instead of the bottom.
Finally, don't think that professional publishing is some club you can't get into. You can! You definitely can. It is really up to you to find the career you want and do what it takes to create that career. If I can do it, anyone can. I'm no different than you are. I had an idea and I went for it. I learned about the industry and finally created a group of published writing friends that could help me along the way.
Thanks, Julie. This is great advice for writers!
A version of this interview originally appeared in Writers on the Rise.
© Christina Katz 2005-2006
Christina Katz is the author of Writer Mama, How To Raise A Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (February, 2007, Writer's Digest Books). She has been doing just that for the past five years and has published over 200 articles in magazines, newspapers, and online publications. She teaches eight nonfiction-writing classes a year and is publisher and editor of the online monthly zine, Writers On The Rise, voted by Writer's Digest as one of the "101 Top Web Sites" for writers. Christina is a graduate of Dartmouth College and has an MFA in Fiction from Columbia College, Chicago. Visit www.writersontherise.com or www.christinakatz.com or www.thewritermama.com for the latest about Christina.
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