Friday, February 19, 2010

An Interview With Freelance Writer And Author Thomas Hollowell

Hello, today's post is a special one. I had the privilege of interviewing my good friend and fellow writer, Thomas Hollowell. You may remember me mentioning him in past posts as one of the main reasons that I am a freelance writer today. He helped me get my start. Thomas is the author of the Amazon Morocco bestseller, Allah's Garden. He has graciously accepted my invitation for this interview.

Shaun: Thomas, first I want to thank you for doing this interview. It is my first here at

Thomas: I am glad to be here. And, I checked out your Website. You are offering some very nice content for freelance writers.

Shaun: Let's begin with this question: How did you get started in freelance writing?

Thomas: I got started back in 2004 with freelance writing. I started working on Allah's Garden before that, but I did not get into magazine writing until then. I actually began with Internet freelance writing.

Shaun: What prompted you to take on freelance? 

Thomas: Well, I was living in Korea on an expired visa in my passport. My girlfriend was working there full time and I wanted to try something, anything, but teaching. So, I thought about writing and seeing if I could make a living doing it. One thing led to another and I started an online travel magazine. I then started querying magazines for jobs. I got my first gig with a cooking magazine. It was like my second query I sent out. It paid US $1 per word! I had no idea what to do. I put together the best article I could and it was accepted; it was about Kimchi and Korean BBQ. They changed almost every word when the mag was published, but I got my foot in the door, so to speak. That same editor moved to an American Cooking Magazine. I got a gig that paid US $250 and didn't do so well on it. I got paid, but it didn't get published. Oops.

Shaun: What sort of advice would you give new writers who may be considering freelance writing as their next job?

Thomas: I would say give yourself years to learn the business and to get your name out there. I attended one book conference and a travel writer said that writing was 75% business and 25% (or less) actually writing. We make modest salaries (with per word rates), the best one might do is $25-30,000. I would also suggest taking classes, reading books about writing, and learning to shoot photos. Purchase a high-resolution DSLR camera if you can afford it. Even the basic DSLRs will do the job. If you can offer photos with writings, it will take you further. If, however, you are a photographer and attempting to get published just for your photos, that is a much harder game.

Also, learn to write. Don't worry about being Shakespeare; just learn how to come about something with an enticing voice and angle. Be different and not dry. That takes some skill and creativity. I am no artist by any means, but I think one can definitely learn to be a writer. It is not genetic in all cases!

Shaun: What is the most difficult part of freelance writing and what is the most enjoyable?

Thomas: The most enjoyable is the lifestyle -- you can live and work at home! You create your own schedule. This is also one of the most difficult things. I am not that much of an early riser. But, I have to plan my days carefully -- a skill I am still learning. If you can keep organized, be professional in all correspondences, be willing to take tons of risks, be willing to accept tons of rejection, and be willing to find yourself a couple of niche topics that are in demand, you can do well.

Shaun: What sorts of assignments have you had and what magazines have you appeared in?

Thomas: Well, actually not as many as I would like. But, enough to get my name out there, have a decent portfolio, and then prove myself to other editors (and publishers!). I have worked with NHA Magazine a few times (a Vietnam / American mag in West-Coast Airlines), Cooking Smart, Hustler, ComputorEdge (now out of print), Coffee House Digest, Go World Travel,,, African Prestige, rise!, and most recently Outside Magazine (which I am excited about).

Shaun: Okay, let's change gears now. You are the author of two books. The first one, Allah's Garden, has been out for just about a year. I know that you've put a lot of work into the promotion of this book. Can you tell me a bit about your experiences and what you've learned about writing and publishing since then?

Thomas: Well, Allah's Garden has taught me a lot about writing and marketing. A small house, Tales Press, published the book. They did some initial marketing, but pretty much left it open to me. I have done tons to try to get the word out there. I have sold a good portion of copies, but I had to learn about press releases, social marketing (where your friends get really annoyed at you for repeatedly tweeting about your book), and on forums. I think the forums (those dealing with Morocco and human rights issues) have been a great place to promote a bit (in the signature of my name). Last month, I worked three hours per day on promotion and sold a lot of books. But, not a lot for a big house--a lot for a small one. I am having to move on to another project now and will be both relieved and still miss pushing this book.

Shaun: Many people don't know how much effort it takes to push a book, especially, when so many of the bigger houses reserve their advertising dollars for "sure things" or established authors.

Thomas: Very True. You have to be very innovative and still spend some money. I got my name out there and was invited by Yale University to speak about my book. That was great--a free ticket to the U.S. (I live abroad.) But, with larger houses, they have better distribution and sales reps, so that helps too.

Shaun: So I know you have another book that is about to come out. What are you plans for promoting this new one?

Thomas: Yes, The Everything Travel Guide to Ireland (Adams Media) co-written with Katie Kelly Bell. I am going to push this book like Allah's Garden, but can leave a bit more to the publishing house. I am going to chat on forums, write some articles, press releases, and get some good reviews. Other than that, they have a great distribution outlet and can get the book into stores.

Shaun: Any new projects on the horizon?

Thomas: Well, I have just got my third book deal! I AM SO EXCITED! I work with a wonderful agent who gives me more time than I deserve. He sold a book to Penguin this time and it deals with running. It is co-written with a doctor in Australia. It is a superb project that will be lots of fun. I think that is all I can say for now : )

It is not written yet, we sold it with a stellar (I think it is!) proposal and a heightened amount of coverage in the media.

Shaun: That's great. I know you put a lot of work into your proposal. Well, Thomas, it looks like we are at the end of our time. I know you have an appointment to keep. Thanks for stopping by and doing this interview.

Thomas: I really appreciate the opportunity Shaun and I look forward to getting a copy of Echoes from the Past and your own future releases in the book world!

Shaun: Thanks, I appreciate that.

And here we are folks. I want to thank my guest Thomas Hollowell for stopping by to chat about the worlds of freelance writing and publishing. If you would like to know more about Thomas and his books, you can visit and If you are interested in his Morocco travel tours, you can find out more by visiting

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