Teresa Rhyne is a #1 NY Times, #1 Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author. Her first book, The Dog Lived (and So Will I) was traditionally published by Sourcebooks, Inc.
In today’s show, Teresa shares her inspiring story of how she went from an unknown author to a #1 NYT bestseller in a very competitive market, as well as her inspiring personal journey that sparked the bestselling book.
Teresa always loved to write. She wrote from the time she was a child through high school and college. She never had anything published but she loved creative writing.
Then she went to law school. Teresa didn’t have any free time for creative writing during her law school years.
Later in life she was going through divorce, and she returned to creative writing because it was something she enjoyed in her past. She began taking a writing extension course through UCLA.
She started writing fiction because that’s what she was reading and that’s what she loved. She only switched over to nonfiction when a life experience happened that needed to be written about.
How Her Memoir Became a Bestseller
Teresa decided to write a memoir when she and her dog both got cancer within three years of each other. Her friends and family all said she needed to write a memoir about it, and so she did. She found that her classes in fiction writing were helpful in composing her memoir.
Teresa started a blog to keep her friends and family up to date about how she was doing through her breast cancer treatment. The blog also began to grow a fan base.
She turned her blog into a memoir. She opted to go the traditional publishing path, because that was the route that she knew and understood. Teresa didn’t consider self-publishing because she didn’t know much about it. Honestly, it didn’t even occur to her.
The traditional process of sending query letters to get an agent, and then having your agent sell the book was what she knew and was used to.
Teresa got very lucky. She had three agents who were interested in her memoir very quickly. She chose an agent and went from there. She created a book proposal, wrote sample chapters, and submitted them to publishers until her memoir was picked up by Sourcebooks.
Sourcebooks is a medium-sized publisher that’s growing. They did a lot to promote Teresa’s book and they were real partners in the marketing process.
Amazon selected Teresa’s memoir as a Kindle daily deal, and that launched her to bestseller status. She was the number one best-selling book on Amazon the day her book became a Kindle daily deal, and her book was on the New York Times bestseller list the following week.
Teresa was divorced from her husband for a year when she found out that her dog Shamus had cancer. The doctors told her that with surgery and chemo Shamus would live about a year.
Shamus was a big part of Teresa’s support system after she divorced her husband. So she was particularly upset that Shamus would only live a year after treatment.
As it turned out, the doctors were wrong, and Shamus lived nine years after his year of cancer treatment.
Three years later Teresa confronted her own breast cancer diagnosis. She used a lot of what she learned from helping Shamus through his cancer treatment, to cope with her own cancer treatment.
Both Shamus and Teresa had relatively young and inexperienced cancer doctors. They even had some of the same cancer treatments. And going through the ordeal with Shamus prepared Teresa to cope with her own situation.
Dealing with Shamus’s cancer treatment was Teresa’s first personal experience with cancer. None of her family or friends ever had cancer.
Having been through these challenges with Shamus, Teresa was much more upbeat and optimistic than she would have been without having that experience with her dog.
The story of going through cancer after nursing her dog through it was inspiring to Teresa herself, so she felt like she should share her story with the world.
The Biggest Life Lesson from Cancer
Going through cancer twice, once with Shamus and once by herself, Teresa learned that you always have to have hope.
Teresa is a lawyer by training and the natural pessimist. But being a pessimist wasn’t going to help her survive her cancer treatment. Only hope and optimism could help her navigate her intense medical treatments.
“They say your attitude counts, and you’re supposed to be upbeat and all this, but that’s hard to do when you’re going through cancer and chemotherapy, but as long as you’ve got some hope and you’re doing it your way, that’s important. And that’s the message I wanted to share with my book.” – Teresa Rhyne
Teresa’s Experience Writing Fiction
Earlier in her life Teresa wrote fiction. She enjoyed writing it because that’s what she enjoyed reading.
She had an almost finished novel sitting in her drawer, and she has high hopes of getting an agent for it someday.
She’s planning to rework the novel, because the novel is so old that modern technology would solve most of her protagonist problems. She wants to do another draft, modernize it and resubmit it to agents and publishers.
How Teresa Marketed Her Memoir
Teresa spent a lot of time on Facebook talking about her memoir. She has a Facebook page for the book. She’s getting better with twitter.
Teresa has the advantage of having a cute dog and that helps her market the books on social media.
After reading about the dog in her book people like to follow the journey of the dog through social media, after they’re done with the book.
Teresa went on a book tour and partnered with dog rescue organizations to help raise money for charity. She did a lot of promotional stops in California. She also went to Las Vegas and some parts of the Midwest.
A big part of Teresa’s marketing success is that she made her marketing fun for her.
Teresa’s new book came from the book tour she did at rescue shelters around the country. The dog she rescued on that tour are the stars of the new book, The Dogs Were Rescued (And So Was I).
The Challenge of Marketing a Memoir
Teresa was an unknown author. It was difficult for her to get an agent and market her first book because memoirs are usually written by famous people or reality TV stars in today’s marketplace.
But there are still good memoirs being written by people who have lived “normal” lives.
When Teresa’s agent was submitting the book to different publishers they kept getting the same feedback. The publisher really liked the book but it was too much about dogs or cancer. The challenge was persevering to find a publisher who saw the book as more than just a dog memoir or cancer memoir.
A sizable chunk of Teresa’s memoir talks about the love story between her and her current boyfriend. He wasn’t a dog person when they met, and he had to become a dog person because he was dating her. He stayed with her through both cancer diagnoses, and they’re still together today 10 years after they met.
“It’s really important to find the right partners. Just because a publishing company offers you a deal doesn’t mean it’s a good deal if they don’t understand you, your book, and who you are.” – Tom Corson Knowles
Teresa’s memoir has sold foreign-language rights in six countries. It’s been a bestseller in:
And it will be coming out in South Korea and the Czech Republic soon.
How Teresa Found Her Agent
Teresa cowrote a gift book with a friend and they went to the San Francisco Writers Conference and pitched a bunch of agents, and an agent signed the book. That book never got published which surprised Teresa. She thought once you had an agent you would eventually be published. It turns out that getting an agent is only the first hurdle.
When Teresa began work on her memoir, she just started writing the book. Then she went to a nonfiction writers conference to learn more about writing and publishing nonfiction.
The selling process for a nonfiction book is slightly different than the selling process for a fiction book. Fiction books are sold based on a completed manuscript. Nonfiction books are sold based on a book proposal, which is not a completed manuscript.
A book proposal should contain:
- A summary of the book.
- A table of contents.
- An author bio that includes the extent of your author platform.
- Some ideas about how you can market the book to an audience.
- A proposal is a business plan for the book and most of it doesn’t get published.
Picking the Right Book Title
Teresa was very insistent about the title of the book being The Dog Lived (And So Will I), because she’s one of those people that can’t read a book if she thinks a dog is going to get hurt or die. She wanted people to know that the story has a happy ending before they even opened up the book.
Teresa did a lot of work on her proposal and her query letter. Then she used the tools on querytracker.com to help narrow down her search and find an agent who represented her type of memoir. At querytracker.com it’s very easy to submit your query letter right on the website.
Two thirds of the agents that she queried on the website were interested in seeing her proposal. That’s when Teresa knew that she was on to something with her book.
Teresa accepted the offer from Sarah Jane Fryman of the Sarah Jane Fryman literary agency. Sarah worked with Teresa to make her proposal the best it could be before she submitted it to publishers.
Sarah told Teresa, “If you can make ’em laugh, you can sell this. If you can make ’em cry you can sell this. If you can make them laugh and cry, you might have a bestseller. You need to make me cry.”
That’s when Teresa understood that she’d gone too far to make sure people saw this as a light funny story. While it’s true that there were plenty of light moments in the story, going through cancer always has some difficult times. Sarah helped Teresa to balance out the book so that it conveyed the full range of emotional experiences going through cancer can bring.
Sarah also suggested to Teresa that she needed to emphasize the love story between Teresa and her new boyfriend. Sarah understood that people would relate to this unconventional love story. It also made Teresa more of an underdog character. And people always want to root for the underdog.
The real lesson in Teresa’s publishing journey is that she decided to publish a book. She took every positive step she could to making her published book a reality.
It’s not enough to have dreams of publishing your book someday. You have to take positive action and move towards the thing you want to see happen.
You may make mistakes along the way, but mistakes are there for you to learn from. Nobody’s perfect when they try to do something for the first time. Perseverance is the universal key to all success stories.
The Power of Writer’s Conferences
The first writers conference Teresa ever attended took place in Maui. That first writer’s conference got her hooked on writer’s conferences. Not only was she in Maui, but she was surrounded by other writers, published and unpublished, actively pursuing their dreams.
She really enjoyed being around writers, because it exposed her to a different sort of people. Teresa is a lawyer in her day job, and writers are very different people than lawyers. It was incredibly fulfilling for Teresa to be surrounded by writers. She finally felt like she had found “her people.”
Teresa met a group of friends at that Maui writers conference that she continues to have annual writer’s retreats with.
Writers conferences are a great place to have fun and learn the business side of writing. You can also network with writers, publishers and agents at writer’s conferences.
You can check out our list of writers conferences to find a great conference near you.
Teresa’s Advice for Writers
“Being humble and vulnerable are two of the best ways to help others and help yourself in the process. Nothing happens if you’re not willing to write your book and share it with others.” – Teresa Rhyne
It’s important to surround yourself with the right people when you’re trying to publish a book.
Publishing a book is a process that takes a lot of time and effort. You need to have a supportive knowledgeable team around you to give your book the best chance for success.
Links and Resources Mentioned in This Interview
The Dog Lived (and So Will I) – Teresa’s memoir about going through cancer treatment and surviving.
https://querytracker.net/ – a place where you can find agents to submit query letters to.
Sourcebooks – Teresa’s publisher
The Dogs Were Rescued (And So Was I) – the sequel to Teresa’s first memoir.
http://teresarhyne.com/ – Teresa’s website.
https://twitter.com/TeresaRhyne – follow Teresa on Twitter.