Freelance Writer Tracie Heskett

Tracie Heskett - Freelance Writer

In today’s episode I interviewed a very special guest – Tracie Heskett. Tracie is a freelance writer who used to be a teacher who taught in public and private schools for seven years. Now, she’s a professional freelance writer of teacher and student curriculum materials for educational publishers and a ghostwriter. Over the past 20 years, she has written more than 50 published teacher resource books, including several fiction and nonfiction readers for children. In the past few years, she’s done some ghostwriting and has written adult Bible study lessons for an international Christian publisher. In this episode you’ll learn:

  • How Tracie got started as a professional freelance writer
  • How knowing your market can help you secure freelance writing opportunities
  • How choosing hot topics can help your freelance writing career
  • How Tracie was able to write a new book every five weeks
  • Techniques every writer could use to create books out of existing content

Links mentioned during the episode:

Write Your Book in a Weekend: https://coachcandaceduff.com/bookwritingweekend

Tracie Heskett’s website: www.tracieheskett.com

“13 Ways to Write a Book” (free report): https://coachcandaceduff.com/13-ways-weekend

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Interview Transcript

How did you become a professional freelance writer?

Tracie:

It's a short, simple, sweet story. When I was just starting in teaching, I saw other teacher resource books. I said: “Oh, I'd like to create something like that.” I developed some lessons being a newbie. I sent them off to a publisher and they said” “You match our format. We love it. We'll take it.” That's how I got into freelance writing for educational publishers.

If somebody is thinking about becoming a freelance writer today what would you suggest?

Tracie:

What got me in was knowing the market. I had studied those teacher resource books. I had taught them. I had used those lessons and I felt like what I was doing was very similar. Also using a hot topic. It was new here in our state, which is why I was developing lessons because our teachers didn't have them in that topic area. The editor was facing the same issue. They said: “This is a hot topic. We need it right now. You've got it. You matched our format.” So all those things.

Candace:

Alright, that's really good advice. Knowing your market, using a hot topic, being bold and sending your work out, trying to get it published.

Tracie:

It applies across all sectors of the industry. It's, it's not specific to the educational industry.  That would apply to anything.

Candace Duff

You've written more than 50 books. That’s more than one book a year. How is it that you were able to get these books out so quickly? 

Tracie:

Several of those books were part of a series where I would be writing five or six books in the series. I would have six or seven months to write it. So generally we would set it up, especially the last three or four or five series. We would set it up where I would write a book every five weeks. And that gave me one week off. So essentially I was writing the book in four weeks, but I'd put five weeks on the calendar. And the way that I did that is we would start at the beginning of the project, the editor and I, and go over the table of contents and a scope and sequence for the whole series. You know, what's going to be covered in each book as a series. And again, some of these concepts apply outside of education.

If you've got a series of books and you have one concept per book, how did they relate to each other? Which concepts are going to go into one versus another book?  Which concepts are going to go into a second book? So we would do that type of free organization. Then from that I would start developing outlines. I would generally back up a minute, I also built in a month at the beginning of the project for research. And that's when I would be developing all of these outlines. So during the first four to five weeks, we'd have our scope and sequence the table of contents for each book, outlines for each book, or maybe outlines for the first one or two books. And so I would start the actual writing with those things in place. Then, from that outline, I could develop more detailed outlines and charts for a book and just start writing it through. But yes, it was very fast writing, which I know that your camps and writer courses, I know that they help people write faster. This was very fast writing,

Candace

But you would agree, obviously, that organization – having an outline and knowing where you're going every step of the way during your book project, is the key to writing fast.

Tracie

One of the huge keys is knowing where you're going. And I know that you mentioned that also in your courses for writers.

Candace

So speaking of my courses for writers, when you took the Book Author Bootcamp challenge, did you learn anything in there that was useful to your freelance writing career?

Tracie

Two most useful tips that I took from that course were to move my writing and be willing to write somewhere else, which is very difficult for me to do. I'm very tied to my desk and my resource books, especially with the type of writing that I do. So to take my writing somewhere else for other projects that I wanted to work on for fiction or for my own nonfiction writing that wasn't educational related, that was helpful. And then the writing sprints, I loved the writing sprints because the ways that they were done in the course, we were writing with somebody else. And I liked that accountability and that challenge. And I liked the fact that the sprints were shorter, a 15 minute spread. I can do that without needing a drink of water or walking down the hall. My friends have asked me: “How do you get any writing done when you're never sitting in your chair?” So the sprints were very helpful for focus.

Candace:

So when you talk about sprints, you're talking about those time guided writing sprints we used to do where we wrote for 15 minutes on and then took a five minute break.

Tracie:

Yes, exactly.

Candace:

I know when I first learned that I learned, over my years doing National Novel Writing Month, we used to do timed writing sprints in a Panera Bread located in Kendall, Florida. It’s a neighborhood in South Florida, and it was really useful for me to get my books done that way too. Because you're right. We could do anything for 15 minutes. Right. And when you talk about writing in different places, you're talking about a change in scenery. Is that right?

Tracie:

I'm talking about not being so tied to the desk and a computer and taking a pad of paper to the couch, which I used to do 25 years ago. And somehow I got away from that. And so it was refreshing to go back to that idea and sit out there in the evening and brainstorm. And so now doing that technique of changing the scenery, disconnecting from being so tied to the computer and social media, I have been taking notes now for the last couple of years for a nonfiction books that I'd like to do just on my own. I don't know yet if it will be traditionally published or self-published, but I've got several notes where I would just be out there doing some hand work or something. And then as I think of something about the books I just send myself a little email or jot a note on that pad of paper, something like that. So it's been helpful for working on a couple of those books.

Candace

Ah, so it helps you like spark creativity, right? Just not being tied to your desk. Yes. I know the feeling because I mean, when you work at your computer all the time and it's always work as opposed to, you know, allowing yourself to dream up a fiction plot or, you know, to get some poetry ideas into your head or whatever the case may be, it can be hard if you're doing it in the same place. 

Tracie

Even for nonfiction, I'm using that lately for nonfiction. Just to break away from, like you said, that the computer mentality and the technology. I think it kills a few brain cells every day.

Candace

That's a funny thing for a writer to say. No, I agree. I agree. So it says here that you've done some ghostwriting.  What should people look for in a good ghost writer?

Tracie

If I knew the answer to that, I could get some more ghostwriting assignments. I really enjoyed ghostwriting. I think the ghostwriting that I did, what helped me do it, and a couple of them were really a wonderful fit and I loved the projects, but again, my tools for organization, because I would be given a sketchy outline that someone had created from the transcripts. And then I had to take that outline and create the content from there. And so just being able to go through that process, you start with a sketchy outline. You move to an annotated outline that has a little bit more detail. You get some headings going, some subheadings going, and you start organizing your material based on those subheadings. And then we also had audio clips where we could to the author's voice to get a deal for that author and then try to write in their voice. So they had it set up really well, a wonderful process. But, during the pandemic, for the company to be able to stay open, they pulled everything in-house and just had their staff do it all. So that's why I'm not doing that right now.

Candace

But even with the ghostwriting project, it was still important to be organized is what I'm hearing. And it was also important for you to capture the person's voice in writing the book.

Tracie

Yes. And hearing the audio clip. So it's helpful for doing that and just kind of pretending I was having that conversation with that person. And it, you know, as I would listen to those audio clips, okay, this, this is what the person is saying. So then I would just try to from their notes, write it as if they were talking.

Candace

Amazing. So what would these audio clips be?  Like sermons or speeches or audio versions of the book?

Tracie

Some of them were sermons. Some of them were talks that the author had given in other group settings. I think one book was a series of talks. One book was, was sermons. And I know that one of the books was talks were given to teenagers, so it was a different audience.

Candace

In these cases, people had taken existing content that they had, they had taken sermons, they had given speeches, they had given things of that nature and they were creating a book out of existing content. Is that right?

Tracie:

Yes.

Candace:

I have a freebie that I give to my audience called “13 Ways to Write a Book.” And in there I have different types of ways that you could write a book. And one of them, of course, is creating a book out of existing content. Other ones include dictating it, creating an anthology, interviewing an expert, or whatever the case may be. There are like different ways you could get the material to write a book. And so  I found that interesting that you had actually done that.

Tracie

Well, yes. It wasn't my content or my book to sell, but I think the learning process will be good because currently I am writing blog posts all on the same topic. And I do envision a year down the road of being able to compile those blog posts into a book. So it would be a book based on existing content.

Candace

Yes. I mean, we think about, and this is a totally different genre of course, but like “Sex in the City,” for example.  That used to be a series of blogs or articles written by that author. And then she put together that stuff to write the book, which later on became a movie. So it’s kind of interesting how that works. Alright. So where can we find you? We're looking for Tracie Heskett and we want her to become a ghost writer for us or write some instructional content because we're teachers, where can we find her?

Tracie

I have a website www.tracieheskett.com. Okay. And as far as social media, I'm on Facebook and Twitter. I need to clean up my handle a little bit, but I think I can be found under Tracie Heskett.

Candace

All right. So in the show notes, I'm going to, I'm going to put Tracie Heskett’s link so people can find her site. Now, I want to have you back on the show after you've finally published one of your own works. I would love to see you put out your own fiction book because I know you're a wonderful writer. So take care of yourself. Thank you.

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