How to Get Published: Interview with Lou Schuler
Today I have something really cool to share.
1. I get a lot of emails from other trainers and coaches on how to go about getting published. In a perfect world we’d have no wars, everyone would have a million dollars in their bank account, cars would run on hugs, and every one would get their first article published on the first try.
Of course, neither of those things are going to happen. Although if you’re one of the few who DID happen to get their first article published on the first try, I officially hate you.
Anyways, when I originally started writing, I kind of flew by the seat of my pants and just hoped that things would work out. I had my fair share of disappointments – rejection is never easy – but thankfully, I was VERY lucky in that my writing style fit very well with the likes of places like T-Nation and Wannabebig.com.
Even still, I pretty much learned as I went and had no real sense of guidance. Writing never was – and still isn’t – easy for me. Which is why I’m STOKED to tell everyone about How to Get Published: Writing Domination in the Fitness Industry.
Three big wigs in the industry – Sean Hyson, John Romaniello, and Lou Schuler – have just released what I believe to be to GO TO source for anyone looking to get published.
Any and all questions/concerns/insights as it relates to writing for fitness publications – the writing process, how to pitch to magazines, how to build a successful blog, etc – is addressed here.
2. FREAKIN LOU SCHULER was kind enough to do an interview for my blog today. Even if you’re not someone looking to get published, and are just someone who likes to toss around heavy things, Lou is an encyclopedia of information – not to mention a Jedi when it comes to writing – and I hope you stick around and read it nonetheless.
Other than that, there’s no real sales pitch from me. I think it’s a solid product, and it will help A LOT of aspiring writers out there.
If I had access to this manual five years ago, I’d probably be running my own country by now
Tony Gentilcore: Lou, first off I have to say THANK YOU for taking the time to make a small cameo appearance on my blog. As someone whom I’ve looked up to for most of my career, it’s a huge honor. It’s kind of like having He-Man or Captain Planet stop by.
Lou Schuler: Except in this case, He-Man is half the size and twice the age of the guy whose blog he’s visiting.
TG: Secondly, and this is completely off-topic, THANK YOU (again) for writing the New Rules (of Lifting) series. I can’t begin to tell you how much time those books have saved me from having those awkward conversations with friends, family, and complete strangers when they inevitably ask “so, uh, you’re a trainer right? What do I have to do to get into shape?”
Those books are such an invaluable resource, and well, I just want to give you some respect knuckles for writing them.
TG: Okay, with that out of the way, lets get to the nitty gritty. What’s you’re biggest pet peeve as an editor: run-on sentences or using their instead of they’re? Or, feel free to rant away on anything here.
*Pulls up chair, grabs a vat of popcorn* This is going to be good.
LS: Those things are easy. An editor can fix them in seconds. The real problems are structural and logical.
The hardest thing for a less experienced writer to understand is how difficult it is to make a good argument. It’s easy to go on your blog and write something like, “What do nutritionists know? Have you ever seen a room full of nutritionists? Half of ’em are fat!”
That works in a conversation with a bunch of people who already agree with whatever you’re going to say. But it’s not going to convince a broader audience.
First off, what’s the proof that nutritionists, on average, are overweight? Second, is someone automatically wrong if she’s not a certain shape? Only people with a BMI below 25 or a body-fat percentage below 15 are capable of understanding complex information about human biology?
A few years back you’d hear low-carb advocates say things like, “The government promoted low-fat diets, and what happened? Everyone got fat!” But for that argument to work, you have to show that people actually followed the government’s advice and cut fat below 30 percent of total calories, or whatever level would prove the point.
Then you’d have to show that the people who cut their fat intake below that threshold were the same ones who gained excess weight during the time the government advocated that kind of diet.
As I said, most arguments only work with people who already agree with you. If you want to write for a bigger audience, you have to work harder to make your points. You have to be a step ahead of the “yes, but …” response.
TG: You hit the nail on the head right there! This is something I had to learn first-hand once I started writing for places like Livestrong.com, and Men’s Health. T-Nation is one thing where I can use a certain language (shit, poop, just lift something heavy for the love of god), but when writing to a broader audience – as you noted – it gets a bit trickier.
What was the impetus behind writing the How to Get Published e-book? Was it out of frustration in dealing with today’s writers (especially with the advent of social media making it easier to get one’s name out there)? Was it because more and more fitness professionals are looking at the possibility of writing to help build their career? I’m sure there’s no one specific answer, but I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.
LS: I’ve been thinking about it for years. As you know, I’ve always offered advice to anyone who asked. But I worried that if I pulled all my best advice together and charged for it, there was a risk of selling false hope to people who would do everything right but still wouldn’t get what they wanted.
I can explain how to put together a good article or book proposal, but I can’t guarantee anyone that they’ll get published at T-nation or see their name in Men’s Health or end up with a published book. It’s still a tough, competitive, and unpredictable business.
Nate Green came up with the idea of working with Sean Hyson, who’s in charge of the fitness coverage at Men’s Fitness and Muscle & Fitness. He thought Sean and I could create a truly useful and valuable product for all the fitness and nutrition pros who want to write for magazines. If the goal is to get their names and their work through the gatekeepers of the fitness media, why not have the gatekeepers show them how to do it?
Nate also put us together with Pat Rigsby to help us on the business side.
A few months later we teamed up with John Romaniello. Sean and I know our own business, but for the most part we depend on the existing distribution system to make sure people see it. Roman knows how to create his own distribution system. He’s had far more success online than either of us.
That’s when we knew we had a product that would address everything our audience wants to learn how to do. I can explain the basics of writing. Sean can describe the mechanics of putting together an article — from pitch to publication — in more molecular detail than I’d ever attempt. And Roman can show how to get attention from your work, and eventually make money off it.
There’s still the warranty problem. I know my advice works because I’ve seen enough people use it successfully. But that doesn’t mean the next trainer to come along can take the same advice, use it in exactly the same way, and get the same result. It’s like a line I once heard in a country song: “Life ain’t nothin’ but a poker game. No two hands ever play the same.”
TG: One memorable quote I remember I heard you say once – when offering advice to upcoming fitness professionals looking to get published – was that “when the fitness industry is ready for you, it will let you know.”
That quote really resonated with me, and it’s something I’ve gone onto use with other’s in the industry when they ask me advice on how to go about getting published in places like T-Nation, Men’s Health, and other reputable health and fitness resources.
Can you expound on that a bit?
LS: When you’re on the outside you can’t hear the conversations people have on the inside. You just want to get through the gatekeepers. But over time, as you build a body of work and a solid reputation, you realize those gatekeepers you thought were ignoring you are actually paying attention. When they need you, they find you.
The key is to have what they need when they need it. That takes time, effort, practice, coaching — all the steps to success in any field.
There’s also an element of luck. But that’s true of everything in life. Nobody achieves any level of success and prominence in any field without a mix of talent, hard work, patience, and the pure luck of being in the right place at the right time. All of us have stories of being in the right place at the wrong time, or being unprepared for an opportunity that came along.
Failure is just pre-success. And success, when it happens, is never as orgasmic as you thought it would be. A fitness pro may be thrilled the first time he gets that call from Men’s Health, but it doesn’t last. The process is always more rigorous than you thought it would be.
TG: OMGYOUHAVENOIDEA!!! Well, you do, but I couldn’t agree more. When I first started writing I was always under the impression that you submit something, it gets published, you kiss a few babies here and there, and everyone increases their level of awesome.
It’s not quite that easy, to say the least.
I can’t even begin to imagine how many query letters, proposals, and articles you’ve received in your lifetime from people looking to crack publication. What are some of the more common mistakes people consistently make?
LS: Most trainers who approach magazines fail the “square peg, round hole” test. You specialize in kettlebells, or sandbags, or bands, and you don’t stop to think of your specialty through the eyes of the editors. Do the editors assume their readers have access to that equipment? If they do, do they think their readers want an entire program based on it?
Forget what you need. What does the magazine or website need? If you can provide it consistently, over time, the publication will eventually worry about your needs. At that point, their needs include your contributions, and it’s in their best interest to make you happy.
It won’t happen fast, smoothly, or predictably. And it won’t happen at all for most people. But it does happen.
TG: The writing process for me is not easy. I fret over every word and sentence, and it takes a lot of mental energy for me to make my work have some semblance of pacing and “flowiness” to it. And even then I’m still never 100% happy with what I end up with.
It wasn’t until I started reading more books on “writing” that I learned I wasn’t alone, and that there are many writers who are similar to me.
I know what’s made me a better writer is, well, writing. And I also read a lot (fiction, non-fiction, the Kama Sutra, etc). What are some other tips or insights you can offer that may help people hone their craft? I always LOVE hearing other writers talk about their “process.”
LS: If it’s easy, you’re not doing it right. You’re just typing. Expressing ideas, sharing information, providing detailed instruction — those things are hard, and they’re supposed to be hard.
My process would probably scare people away. Just to answer your questions, I’ve cut so much that I started a file called “interview leftovers.” It’s already over 500 words, which may be more than the actual interview so far.
If you see an article with my name on it in Men’s Health, I can guarantee it’s the third or fourth draft. Nobody but me sees the first draft. I write what I want to say, I sit on it for a couple of days, and then I focus on what the magazine needs. I tune out the writer in my head and listen to the editor.
That’s the easy part. Then I go back and look at the emails I exchanged with the editor, and see that the “finished” article is 50 percent too long. At that point it may actually be pretty good, and cutting it is like giving myself surgery without anesthesia. Sometimes I show it to the editor, knowing it’s too long, just to see if it’s on the right track. If it is, I pull out the bone saw and go Gettysburg on my own work. If it isn’t, I start over. Either way, that bone saw comes out eventually.
An entry-level writer doesn’t have to worry about these things the way I do. No editor expects a clean draft from someone who doesn’t know what it’s supposed to look like. But from the editor’s point of view, there’s no reason to work with someone like me, at a premium price, if I can’t get pretty close on the first try. I’m only worth what I’m worth if I’m worth it.
The applicable lesson is this: You only play with your A game. Whatever your best effort is, that’s what your editors expect. Anything less and you’re cheating them, which means you’re cheating yourself, because editors talk.
TG: Do you feel it’s necessary for someone to have “x” number of years experience before seeking out publication?
LS: No. It’s when you have X amount of knowledge and skill that you’re valuable. Look at your business partner. If there were rules, Eric would just be breaking in now, instead of being one of the most sought-after guys.
Note from TG: Excellent point! Eric (Cressey) got his first article published at the age of 23. But he’s a robot, and a freak of nature.
TG: Rapid Fire:– Most OVERrated fitness topic to write about?
LS: How to lose the last 10 pounds? I mean, we all know what it takes. You have to make yourself so miserable you’re ready to shoot heroin into your eyeballs to make the pain go away, knowing the fat is going to come back anyway because no one can sustain a starvation diet and a death-march training program.
But you can’t put that into an article. So everyone tries to find variations on the theme of cutting carbs and doing more intervals, which is how you lose the 10 pounds before you get to the last 10 pounds.
TG: – Who are some of your favorite writers (they don’t have to be fitness related).
LS: Don’t worry, they aren’t!
Michael Lewis is a guy with expertise in one field — finance — who went on to become one of the best journalists of our era. Not only does he write about finance in a way that makes sense to math-challenged people like me, he’s written groundbreaking books about baseball and football. He knows how to tell stories that make us care about people we’d never meet and issues we’d never confront.
Bill Bryson is another amazing storyteller. Chad Waterbury sent me a copy of At Home: A Short History of Private Life, one of the best nonfiction books I’ve ever read. While Lewis tells us the stories of our times — why the economy nearly collapsed, why the games we watch aren’t decided by what we think we see — Bryson tells us how we got here, how “our times” came to be.
Then there’s Steven Pressfield, who’s at yet another level of storytelling. I’ve had Gates of Fire sitting on my shelf for years. It’s a novel about the battle of Thermopylae — the real battle, not the quasi-fascist cartoon from the movie 300. But it didn’t occur to me to read it until Mike Nelson sent me a copy of another Pressfield book, called Do the Work. Do the Work is nonfiction, a guide to just getting shit done. I was so impressed that I wanted to check out Pressfield’s fiction, and remembered Gates of Fire.
Like all good writing, it starts out by challenging you. It takes a while to settle into the world of Greece in 480 B.C. All those damned Spartan names sound alike at first. But it rewards you for sticking with it. The story has a depth and resonance you don’t get very often from fiction or nonfiction.
TG: Awesome, thanks so much Lou.
WHEW – now THAT was an interview.