Friday, February 17, 2012

Writer Profile: Michael Thomsett

Gotham Ghostwriters knows a lot of writers. In our Writer Profile series, we share some of them with you.

The incredibly prolific Michael Thomsett has been writing professionally since 1978, and is the author of more than eighty books and fifteen ghostwriting projects. He's published twenty books with John Wiley & Sons, and also writes for FT Press, Amacom Books, and a few other trade houses. His main focus is business trade, but he has also written four specialized dictionaries, five books of quotations, and three history books for McFarland. In 2011 he published five academic articles in double-blind peer review journals, he was one of the speakers at the American Association of Individual Investors annual conference in Las Vegas, and he taught five classes at the New York Institute of Finance on options and candlestick charting.

How do you spend a typical day?
A “typical” day begins at about 6 a.m., when I take care of non-writing business and have a leisurely cup of coffee. I start to work at about 7:30. I try to write for at least three hours per day, and my goal is usually around 10 pages. That might not sound like a lot, but if you write 10 pages for 250 days, that’s 2,500 pages, or around 625,000 words—about eight typical books. I always end my day by planning what I am going to do the next day; I believe that sleeping with this knowledge floating around gets me in the right frame of mind for tomorrow.

How did you get your start as a writer?
In 1978, I was working as an accountant in a big San Francisco–based company. I enjoyed the work, but I was getting tired of accounting and its inflexibility. I wanted to be self-employed. After resigning, I got a job at a public relations firm. That was a disaster. The owner fired me after eight weeks, telling me I had no future as a writer. Undeterred, I planned out a strategy for selling magazine articles. I figured if I sent out five query letters each day, I’d eventually start getting an average of one assignment per day. It worked.

Another attitude I had was that I could approach any market. In those pre-Internet days, I relied on Writer’s Market to get leads. Their listing for American Way (the in-flight magazine for American Airlines) said, “We are a tough market for freelancers. On average we hire only one new writer per year.” As daunting as this was, I wrote a query that began, “Allow me to introduce myself. I am the one new freelancer you are going to hire this year.” They loved it, and soon they were publishing my articles every other month.

What are some writing projects you're most proud of?
My bestselling book is Getting Started in Options. Back in 1989, when this was published, options were fairly new, and few people knew anything about them. The editor I worked with told me that he couldn’t offer much of an advance because they didn’t expect to sell many copies. This year I’m working on the 9th edition, and the book has grown so much that it's being split into two. It has been translated into Russian and Chinese, and has sold over 250,000 copies.

More recently I have become very interested in technical analysis. This month Wiley is publishing my newest book, Bloomberg Visual Guide to Candlestick Charting. This is also my first full-color book and contains dozens of illustrations. Currently, my agent is marketing two options book ideas for me, as well as a specialized business/history project concerning risk management and disaster preparedness. The market is tough, but I think all of these eventually will be placed.

As a financial writer, are there some topics you find yourself explaining again and again?
In the trading and investment books I write, there is a constant need to remind readers to be aware of risk. It's so easy to focus on the profit potential, and many traders overlook the risks they might be undertaking to pursue a favorite strategy. Besides that, I often find myself explaining taxation in my investment books. This is a relatively dry topic, but it's easy to overlook and very important, for taxes and inflation eat up profits, and tax rules can take you by surprise. I would enjoy writing a book about taxes on investments, but that would be a tough sell.

What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
More than anything else, know your market and send your ideas to the appropriate place. Don’t submit poetry to a business book publisher, and don’t pitch an idea for your life story to a fishing magazine. Also, always send your materials in the format the company specifies. If publishers have a proposal form they want filled out, use it. Amazingly, many writers ignore the forms as well as writers’ guidelines, which is not a good start to a relationship.

If you succeed, be generous with your success. Always be willing to advise new writers. The field of authorship is not difficult to break into as long as you view it as a business and take a realistic marketing approach. Even so, it makes a big difference to have help from someone who has been where you are. When you are established, don’t forget what it was like to start out.

Where can readers find out more about you?
I have one site for my trade publications and one for my reference books. I also have several blogs, at CBOESeekingAlphaGlobal Risk CommunityMinyanvilleMint, Benzinga, and FT Press. And of coure you can find me on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

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