Robert McGraw

"My only children's book published so far is The Rogue and the Horse, published by Imagination Press (San Diego,CA). The publisher went out of business a couple of years later and the book is now out of print. My two other published books are both business books published by SkillPath Publications (Mission, KS). They are: The Business and Technical Writer's Guide and -- Learning to Laugh at Work: The Power of Humor in the Workplace "


What drove/inspired you to get started?

I wrote a couple of things in high school that got published locally, but I went into music as a career, and for a quite a few years the only writing I did was material for music educators.

Later, when I was playing in a professional symphony orchestra overseas, I often had "down time" during rehearsals, in other words times when I wasn't required on stage, but I couldn't go home. At times like that, a lot musicians sit around playing cards or shooting the breeze. To me that's a waste of time, so I thought, "why not write a few music articles for the newspaper."

That led to writing movie reviews and then later to writing feature articles on a variety of subjects. When I realized that magazines pay better than newspapers, I branched out into that area too. By this time, I had moved to San Francisco for a while as a free lance musician, and then I moved to Sacramento to perform with the Sacramento Symphony Orchestra. Eventually, someone approached me about writing scripts and producing segments for an arts program on KVIE, the PBS TV station. I also started writing and producing for a company that produced training tapes and video brochures. By that time I was spending perhaps half my time writing and half performing with the orchestra.

My wife was a radio newsperson and also had a weekly TV program that I wrote the scripts for and helped to produce. So for eleven years, I wrote a lot of scripts.

In the middle of that period, my wife was offered a job as News Director in San Diego, so we moved there. I knew people in the San Diego Symphony and my intention was to perform with that orchestra, but shortly after we moved, the San Diego Symphony went bankrupt for a couple of years. So I had to find some other form of gainful employment.

Well, that seemed like an appropriate time to switch to writing full-time, and I never went back to performing. In addition to writing articles, I also taught business writing seminars for almost ten years all over the U.S. (and occasionally in Canada). That was what led me to writing business books.

Do you have any specialized training?

Lots, but not as a writer of children's books. (laughs)

Has this been something you've always wanted to do?

Yes, I think so. But there are always things I want to do. Some of them I've done, most I have not. Wanting to do something is very, very important, but wanting isn't enough. You have to actually push on it and get it done.

Have there been any obstacles along the way?

Only the time that it took to convince a publisher that it was time for rip-roaring, heart-pounding, edge of your seat Life is full of obstacles. You can't write away a leak in the roof, or a baby that's sick, or a car that won't start, or a bill you overlooked.

You can't write problems away, you have to get up and go take care of them (...unless you're fortunate enough to have someone else with nothing better to do than take care of your problems for you).

John Lennon said, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

That's certainly been true in my life. Life keeps getting in the way. You just have to keep going.

Before you got the all important contract, how did your friends and family react to your goals? Were they supportive?

My family have always been 100% supportive of each other's goals. As for friends, they're wonderful to have, but you have to do what you believe in, regardless. If your friends support you, that's great; but if not -- well, you still have to go forward with your goals.

Now that you have a book/books in print, do you get different reactions from friends and family?

RM: Nope, they're still very supportive.

How did you land that very first book deal?

I suppose it was a coincidence. I met a woman in San Diego who published business materials, and I pitched a couple of ideas to her. Somehow the subject came up that I had written a children's book for my own children. She asked me to let her read the manuscript to her children, and I said sure, why not.

She came back a few days later and told me her children loved the book and that she wanted to publish it.  It turns out that she had been toying with the idea of moving into publishing children's materials as well as business books.

Did you have any misconceptions in the beginning about the whole book process?

I had nothing *but* misconceptions. I think I still do, because the industry seems to be always in flux. Just when I think I have something figured out, publishers seem to change things.

How would you describe your work? What's the most important thing you'd like others to get out of it?

Oh, that's a tough question. I think of myself as a story teller (even in my business books), so naturally I want to entertain people. But I'm a teacher at heart, too, so I also want them to learn something. Finally, I'm a somewhat thoughful person, so no matter what I write, I seem to have an inner urge to uplift and inspire my readers in some way.

Entertain, inform, and inspire. That sounds pretty pretensious, I know. But there you are.

Do you have an agent? If yes, please explain how you acquired your agent and how do you think having one has helped you? If you don't have an agent, would you consider getting one?

No, and I need one desperately. An author friend referred me to his agent, but his agent is already overworked with clients. So I'm still looking. Do you have anyone in mind you can refer me to? :O)

Describe your relationship with your editor (s) (art director if applicable).

Maybe I've just been lucky, but I've had nothing except good relations with the two editors and three art directors I've worked with. (Although art directors always seem to be overworked, and are often slow about getting things done.)

How do you most often communicate with your publisher––e-mail, phone, or snail mail?

E-mail and phone, mostly. Only occasionally do I need to snail mail something.

What books do you have in the works now?

In children's books, I have two manuscripts for easy reader books, but I haven't submitted them to anyone yet. Before I do the final polish, I like to let a book sit for a long time to allow me to forget it.

I tend to fall in love with my own writing and start thinking every phrase is magnificent and that the whole world will adore it instantly and throw large sums of money at me. Sorry folks, but it doesn't work that way.

So I leave it alone for a while. Then I come back, usually when I'm tired and irritable, and I say, "That's awful. That's stupid. I can't believe I wrote that!"

There's an old saying: "Proofread when you're fresh, edit when you're tired."

For me, it works.

In adult books, I've been working on a mystery novel for several months. I also have the skeleton of a non-fiction book about how to organize your home office.

Is there anything you'd do differently with your new projects?

Gosh, I certainly hope so! In my opinion, when someone says, "Why, I wouldn't do anything a bit differently," they are admiting they haven't learned any lessons from life.

What's the best thing about publishing a book?

Um, getting the royalty checks every three months?

No, I’m kidding. Seriously, it's hard to put into words what the best thing is. It's the feeling of accomplishment, the feeling that maybe, just maybe, I've managed to create something that might be of value to other people.

Any last words of encouragement for beginners?

Yes. If anything can keep you from being a writer, let it!

Now I say that with tongue in cheek, but I do think there's a lot of truth in it. When I was playing professionally, sometimes young musicians (or their parents) would ask me about a career as a performer. I always told them the same thing.

You can't become a writer because you think it's "cool." You can't be a writer just for the "fame and riches."  (Forget that!) And you can't be a writer because it allows you flexible work hours.

The world is full of people who want to say they are writers, but they don’t really have the inner need to do it.

You should write for the same reason that you sing: You just can't help yourself. If you try other things, and somehow you find that you keep coming back to writing, in spite of yourself – then maybe you have a fighting chance.

I have heaven-knows how many things in file cabinets and in the computer – poems, stories, novels, cartoons, drawings – some of it finished, some not. I know the majority of those works will never be seen by anyone but me. Well, too bad, but that's life. I write because I have something I want to say. I hope to see more of my work published in the future, but I'll keep writing things regardless.

There's only one good reason to write, and that's because you have something that you believe is worth saying and will benefit the reader in some way. If you don't honestly believe that, you should spend your time doing something with more of a future. But if you do believe it, then you write. You can't help it.

It doesn't matter what anyone else may think. In the final analysis, you aren't writing for someone else, you are writing because you need to do it.