Note: For 25 years, Jim Casada has been an outdoor writer. In 2001,
he was the president of the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA),
which has approximately 2,400 members. Casada has edited, written and/or
compiled over 30 books besides writing numerous magazine and newspaper
Question: What do you tell young people who want
to become writers?
Answer: Well, honestly I tell them to keep their real job. Beyond
that, they need to try and find somebody who will mentor them and give
them some guidance and advice. You'll find that most of the people in
the industry who are writers are genuinely good people. On the other hand,
you can't expect anybody to spend endless hours with you. But I know personally
that a world of people has helped me over the years, and I always try
to offer encouragement to others. Study the markets. Look at style. Observe
the successful writers. Find out what makes them successful. You can't
just say, "Well I killed a big deer, so automatically I'm going to
be a great writer." It doesn't work that way.
Question: What are the biggest mistakes young
writers make in your opinion?
Answer: Some young writers think that being a writer is a piece
of cake. They think it just happens over night or believe they'll go from
rags to riches. In addition to that, not having the proper kind of work
ethic can become a big problem. For someone who's established, there's
work out there. But work is the operative word. Work just doesn't fall
into your lap, particularly in the early years while trying to establish
yourself. You have to make every effort in every direction. If you can't
accept being discouraged, you need to find another line of aspiration
because you'll face a lot of discouragement. That still happens to me
today. Even after 25 years and after being reasonably well-established,
Question: What is the secret to getting a book
Answer: Having a good topic probably is the key. Your topic can
be anything from something unusual or really hard to find to something
perhaps you as the person writing articles have established a niche in
a personal basis. I happen to have a background in history, and a fair
number of the books I have done have relied heavily on the information
I knew how to gather, thanks to my training as a historian. You have to
find a niche that fits. Obviously you have to have something that the
publisher wants to buy. And no publisher is going to buy unless he thinks
the book will sell.
Question: How do you negotiate a book contract?
Answer: Well, most people, particularly on their first book, make
a terrible mistake. They think, 'I'm going to be a big-time book author,"
and they sign any contract they're offered. That is a guaranteed road
to ruination. Book contracts totally and irrevocably are written in favor
of the publisher. There is nothing there for you. Even if you are a first-time
book author, a contract is nothing in the world but a starting point for
negotiation, in my opinion.
Question: What are some things to watch out for
in book contracts?
Answer: How long is the publisher going to keep the book in print?
If the publisher doesn't have a stipulation there, you need a stipulation
to be able to buy all of the remainders. They are going to want you to
produce a copy in X number of months and in turn they ought to guarantee
that if the copy is acceptable, they'll have the book out in a reasonable
amount of time. What is fair for the goose is fair for the gander. You
need to look very carefully at the royalty scale and how they are paid.
Is it on gross or net? How often are the royalties paid? Are they paid
once every three months or once a year? You need to study the advance.
My basic advice on any book is never undertake a book or sign a contract
if you don't think it will have sufficient sales to repay you for your
time or if the advance isn't big enough to justify the total amount of
work you have to put in. If I thought it was a book that would not pay
off in the long run, I would want an advance that was worth my total time.
Question: What is a fair advance? And what is
a fair royalty scale?
Answer: A normal advance, not fair, just normal, will be somewhere
between $2,000 and $5,000. Taking a $4,000 advance, which is an advance
against royalties, that it will sell and resale enough copies to earn
a minimum of $12,000, isn't a big problem. I don't think I would consider
even a short book if I didn't think it would make at least that much.
On the royalty issue, an established author is in the position to get
high royalties, but personally I would consider 10 percent an absolute
minimum. Even for a beginner writer there ought to be a clause, which
increases that royalty scale, say 5,000 copies sold, to 12 percent or
12 1/2-percent. In reality, if sales reach above 10,000 copies that royalty
ought to go up another percent or so because if the publisher is prospering,
you need to share in that prosperity.
Question: Any other tips or advice for writers?
Answer: I think you have to have some talent. There's no question
about that. But a willingness to work is incredibly important. I guess
the other advice I would say, is keep your real job. However, once you
are established, there is enough work in this business for everyone. You
can't think that you are going to make a living by hunting and fishing
on somebody else's dollar all of the time and writing the occasional article.
It doesn't work that way. It is a great lifestyle. But it is a pretty
demanding livelihood as well.