An Interview with Jon Hanson Author of “Good Debt, Bad Debt"
by Christine Katz, Writers on the Rise, E-zine
WOTR: When did it first occur to you to write a book about good and bad debt?
JON HANSON: It was in 1992. I began the book many times. My original title was A Matter of Life and Debt. In fact, I drug out the 28 pages I wrote in 1992 in 2002 and gave them to a waitress who asked to read them. She then passed them all around to her family to read. It made me thinkâ€”perhaps I had something with commercial value.
I wanted a guideline to leave for my family to follow should I prematurely assume room temperature. I also wrote it to cause me discomfort when I stray from its wisdom. Not only is the book a disclosure of many of my mistakes in hopes of others avoiding them, it is the very best of my intensive research regarding debt. I read through about 10,000 pages of Victorian Era books, too. Authors like, Ben Franklin, Samuel Smiles, and Orison Swett Marden influenced me greatly. The human condition hasnâ€™t changed that much in 400 years. With technology it moves quicker, but humans living beyond their means is hardly a new story.
WOTR: How did you go about preparing to write your proposal?
JON HANSON: First, I read every book available on proposal writing and book marketing. I read Jeff Herman, Michael Larsen, and everything available on the Internet. Most of them I have listed on a test site I use: http://www.gdbd.com/proposal/ While reading Jennifer Bayse Sanderâ€™s Idiots Guide to Getting Published, she mentioned Mark Victor Hansenâ€™s Mega Book University, a three-day event to be held in Los Angeles, I was too late to go to the event, but bought the CDâ€™s, listened, and studied them, and resolved to go the next year. This one single event (getting advice from people selling millions of books) probably did more for me than any other to make my proposal as good as it was. The acquisition editor at Penguin said, â€œThis is the best â€˜non-agentedâ€™ proposal we have ever seen. We are impressed with all of the research and work you have put into it. â€
WOTR: What were the key things you learned throughout the actual proposal writing process?
JON HANSON: Only sales can make a best seller! Everything else is hot air. If you have romantic notions about the book business, you are heading for a big let down. It is true publishers say they want beautiful writing, but what they really want is another, Purpose Driven Life (30 million) or Rich Dad Poor Dad (3.5 million) or Good to Great (3 million) or Da Vinci Code (3 million? Maybe more).
WOTR: Why is marketing just as important as content when selling a book?
JON HANSON: With no sales or very low sales, the publisher doesnâ€™t make money, your editor gets fired, your name is mud, and you canâ€™t sell the next book. Remember, you are ultimately paid by the end consumer not the publisher. Donâ€™t forget that. I imagine writers and artsy-types wonâ€™t like that. We all want to be paid for the beauty of the arrangement of the words we peck into our computers. I do think part of the deal with Penguin that sold them was I wrote a very good book. But the reality of it is they have placed a $60,000 bet on my ability to promote and sell it. We are both betting on the subject matter. I donâ€™t know all of Penguinâ€™s soft costs, but I have read it takes $30,000 to $40,000 to bring a 50,000 first printing hardcover book to a national release. They gave me $20,000 upfront. My royalties will be about $3 a book so the first 6,500 will go back to the house.
WOTR: Why did you decide to send your proposal straight to publishers instead of pursuing an agent?
JON HANSON: I got tired of chapping my lips on the wrong butts. It seemed to me it involved climbing two great mountains when I barely had enough strength for one. I had an agent in New York tell me he could get me a deal if I had a syndicated column or a TV show! Amazing. It was his way of saying my platform was not broad enough. I beefed up my section on platform and after about four serious swings at good agents, I decided to go direct. Michael Larsen was looking at it, but I had to withdraw it from him when I sold to Penguin. So, technically, he never turned me down.
Once I decided to go directly to publishers, it took me four proposals to get a deal. I became convinced that a small publisher would be best. I carefully selected and researched the â€œright one. â€ In about three weeks I had the rejection letter. I was crushed for about 23 minutes (that is all I allow for crushing defeat). I then decided to send to another small publisher (Career Press) and a regional (Adams Media) and a big six publisher. I found the emails for everyone at http://www.publishersmarketplace.com
I got a response to my query in twenty minutes from the President of my imprint. It only said, “Sure send the proposal. Be glad to look. " Career called and said they might be interested but wanted me to get a CPA, PhD or CFP to go on the cover with me (presumably to bolster my credentials). My contact at Adams was on vacation. Penguin called me about 5 or 6 days after I sent the proposal. A week later, they called and wanted me to come up with examples of good and bad debt for the marketing department. I worked for hours on that one page of marketing material. I assumed they wouldnâ€™t be asking for marketing ideas if they werenâ€™t going to make me an offer. The following Monday they called and said weâ€™d like to make you an offer. We had three days of negotiation (gut wrenching for me) and made a deal September 23, 2003.
I immediately called and emailed the other publishers to thank them and withdraw. Publishing is a small world, it's wise to be kind to everyone.
Jon Hanson is the author of “Good Debt, Bad Debt" forthcoming from Penguin Portfolio in January 2005. Download a free audio “The 12 Daze of Debtmas" Here: http://gooddebt.com/audio_player.htm Are you letting Christmas Become Debtmas? This ninety second audio is hilarious, free to pass on to your friends in mp3 format. Listen on line or download.
For more information visit http://www.gooddebt.com/ A 23-page excerpt is available at http://www.gooddebt.com/gdbd_excerpt.pdf
ABOUT JON HANSON
A 24-year veteran and student of the real estate business and now a full-time author and speaker on topics of personal finance, Jon Hanson talks from the heart â€” literally; he barely survived his own â€œnear-debt experienceâ€ a few years ago and used the lessons he learned to mine a deeper joy out of the dysfunctional monetary habits and attitudes that nearly cost him his life. Stressed, demoralized, nearly $100,000 in debt to the IRS, and suffering severe chest pains, Hanson imagined his own obituary while hooked to a heart monitor at his local emergency room. Fortunately, there's been no need for the obit. Jon has lived on to write Good Debt, Bad Debt which he hopes will spare others from the trauma he experienced while suffering from extreme “Debtabetes.
Prior to devoting himself to writing and speaking on the dangers of Debtabetes and other scourges of the land, Jon's full-time business was real estate. Jon has worked almost exclusively with distressed property situations since 1981. In the second half of his real estate career, most of Jon's effort was concentrated on more than 120 foreclosure work-outs, judicial foreclosure of liens, judgments, and disposition of bankruptcy claims. jon [at]gooddebt.com