Category Archives: Interviews

Interview with Dr. Bob Rich: Writer, Mudsmith, Psychologist, and Editor

“Interview with Dr. Bob Rich: Writer, Mudsmith, Psychologist, and Editor” by Joan Y. Edwards

Today I’m honored to have Dr. Bob Rich as a guest on my blog. He is a writer, mudsmith, psychologist, and has an editing service. He lives in Australia. After reading my blog post, “Errors That Might Escape Spell Check,” he told me he has collected thousands of English words that writers confuse. His website is

Doesn’t that get your curiosity up? Here we go. I’m going to ask 13 questions.

1. You write books about many subjects. Which three books have sold the most copies? What was your challenge when you wrote them?

My first published book, The Earth Garden Building Book: Design and build your own house has sold hundreds of thousands of copies through 4 editions. It is still considered “The Australian owner-builder’s bible.”

How I wrote it: I started in 1972 as the most impractical fellow on earth. By 1980, when I started to build my house, I had lots of practical skills, but knew very little about building. So, I got a succession of laboring jobs in the building trades. After a few weeks at, say, being a bricklayer’s laborer, I wrote some how-to articles about it in Earth Garden, a marvelous magazine. Then I applied the skill in my house, and changed a job to teach me the next lot of skills I needed. After awhile, I thought to suggest to the publisher of the magazine that we write a building book together. He had copyright of lots of suitable articles, and had already published 8 books. After I posted the letter, I checked my post office box. There was a letter from him — making the same suggestion! So we did it, and the book has turned out really well.


My second book published, and the second highest seller, is Woodworking for Idiots Like Me. It sold maybe 60,000 books between 1994 and 1999. I have reissued it as an e-book, and it won the nonfiction category of the EPIC contest in 2007. It is a collection of short stories that makes most people laugh, but each story leads to an instructional section on some aspect of woodcraft.

Third highest seller is Anger and Anxiety: Be in charge of your emotions and control phobias. This little book has led a great many people out of despair and self-hate.

However, I much prefer writing fiction to nonfiction. Eight of my 14 books are fiction, the latest being Bizarre Bipeds: What IS humanity’s role in the Universe?

2. What triggered a desire to make a collection of words that writers confuse?

My fingers often have trouble keeping up with my brain, and so I can make finger stumbles. Being obsessive (a good characteristic for an editor), I instantly notice them… well, most of the time. Actually, I notice other people’s typos a lot more readily than my own.

Computers have a spell checker, but those things don’t pick up confusions like their-there or quiet-quite. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to team up with some programming genius and produce an automatic tool that does so?

Also, I have a twisted sense of humor. I just LOVE it when a serious publication states, “The value of early identification, diagnosis and intervention… cannot be underestimated.” I do have this theory that the writer meant “overestimated,” but then maybe SHE has the twisted sense of humor. So, I was collecting such malapropisms in the way others collect jokes.

3. Are you considering publishing your lists of commonly misused English words in a book? I think it would be helpful, if you published a book that listed sentences with the words used correctly and incorrectly. You mentioned that you had thousands of words for the letter “S.” Perhaps each letter could have 10 samples.

Well, I am still waiting for the programming genius to come along. Trouble is, the program would need to have a human-like understanding of syntax, grammar, all the fine points of language. I don’t think endless lists are fun to read (unless perhaps if you are a computer that has a human-like understanding of language).

Here are commonly misused words from my list. Most of these are homophones like “salary” and “celery.” Finger stumbles like “sash” and “smash.” Meaning-related ones like “saved” and “freed.” Anagrams like “said” and “dais.” People often confuse different grammatical forms, for example “sarcasm” and “sarcastic.”

1. said/dais.

2. salary/celery.

3. sash/smash.

4. saved/freed. Or raising/upbringing; ravish/devastate; tenuous/tentative.

5. sarcasm/sarcastic. Other examples are things like California/Californian; teacher/teaches.

6. cause/’cause. illustrate another source, like its/it’s.

7. bill/Bill. I am sure William wouldn’t mind being paid, but… And Ken may be smart, but the word is different from ken.

8. a bout/about; recur/re occur; preconception/pre conception. A space can make all the difference.

9. pin/p=in; artichoke/art[choke. Sometimes a symbol gets in through a finger stumble, and divides a word into two legal ones.

10. knots under/knot sunder. This is a different space problem from 8. “The knots under the parcel became undone” makes sense. Move the s from one word to the other, and you have a problem.

4. When “editing for content,” you look closely at plot, characterization, description, language, readability, organization, and dialogue. Can you usually tell with the first 1,000 words which of these will probably need the most help in the whole novel?

I get a very good feel for the technical competence of a writer within a couple of paragraphs. This includes characterization, the use of point of view (POV), the use of elements of writing like description, dialogue and action. However, the more subtle aspects like plot, continuity and the maintenance of tension sometimes seem all right at first, but prove to be poorly done further in the book. To counter this, for many beginning writers, the first few chapters are the worst, then the book improves.

It is actually a good idea to start writing in the middle, and introduce it later!

5. When editing a manuscript and you get to a point where the writer starts repeating certain errors, do you keep noting it for them?

That depends what I am being paid for. I often suggest to my client that we stop, I get paid for the work I’ve done, and the client applies the lessons to the whole manuscript, then sends me a new sample for a probably lower quote. But then, I am the world’s worst businessman.

6. What does an editor do when they do a “line edit?”

No, it is nothing like line dancing.

This means focusing entirely on picking up mechanical mistakes: spelling, punctuation, syntax, incorrect word usage, repetitious or awkward language. Trouble is, because I am obsessive, I can’t stop myself from also commenting on other stuff, even if I don’t actually get paid for it. Told you I am a terrible businessman.

7. I found that even I confuse certain homonyms. I put it’s when it should have been its. I know the right ones. However, when I was reading my manuscript, I missed it. Other people who critiqued my manuscript didn’t catch the error, either. Do you have any hints that might help writers catch these and similar errors?

It’s always easy to miss your own mistakes. Edit swaps or a professional editor help.

In the 1930s, a big publisher intended to produce the error-free book. They went over and over and over it… and the publisher’s name was misspelled on the title page!

It helps to put a document away and allow it to get cold. It also helps to read without meaning, just focusing on language. One way of doing this is to read from the end forward. I actually did that for galley proofs for my first few books. Now I don’t need to.

8. Who has been the most influential in encouraging you in your writing?

Oh, it didn’t happen like that. I’ve described how I started writing nonfiction. I started writing fiction because I didn’t want to cheat on my wife.

I was out of money, and out of a job. A friend suggested I should train as a nurse. But I live far from the relevant places, so that meant staying in a nurse’s home attached to a teaching hospital, and that was full of gorgeous 18-year-old girls. I had a choice: make a fool of myself running after them, or doing something creative and challenging with my free time. So, I started writing short stories.

I now have my own style, but early on, I enjoyed studying the writings of Asimov, Heinlein, Tolkien, Dick Francis, Hemingway, Conrad…

9. What are three things that help increase your creativity?

For me personally, I need to rein it in (funny how many people write “reign”). I tend to get TOO creative for my own good.

Everybody has oodles of creativity. You don’t need to increase it, but to unshackle it. The trouble is that modern society suppresses it. Creative children are more trouble to keep in line. Creative students ask questions, do things differently. Creative citizens go against herd actions, protest, see things differently, refuse to be brainwashed into being good little consumers and wage slaves.

The best way to unshackle your creativity is to throw your TV away.

10. How has living in beautiful Moora Moora, Australia inspired and helped you in your writing and your other jobs?

It has been wonderful to live in a place of beauty and power, but I like to think that wherever I am, I can draw inspiration from my experiences. I gained as much as a writer from being a nurse as from living at Moora Moora. Every experience is potential fodder to a writer.

11. What has been your proudest moment as a writer? As a psychologist? As a mudsmith?

For a long time now, I haven’t done much of being proud. I’m not bashful about achievements, but put them in their proper context, which is, “So what.” We are not on this planet to make money, gain honors, win power, status or fame. Those are all tokens in a Monopoly game. The aim of the game is to give us opportunities to grow, to become better people.

Here is another way of explaining what I mean. In New York, there is a school for gifted children. Three days a week, they go to an ordinary school, three days to the special school. At the latter, they deal with the same syllabus, but at a much deeper level, and using wonderful resources not available to others. Why do they spend half their time in an ordinary school? So they can learn to fit in with people not blessed by stellar IQs. They are taught that their high intelligence is luck, and doesn’t entitle them to arrogance. They learn to be tolerant of others, and are encouraged to make friends, fit in, be kind without even seeming to be.

12. Do you find yourself using your psychology knowledge in building your characters?

Well, there is only one of me. I do all of what I do, and they all reflect me. My writing has enhanced psychology, and my psychology has enhanced my writing. The main requirement for both creative writing and psychotherapy is empathy, so yes, they feed off each other.

13. If there was a question you wish I’d asked you, what would it be? Please answer this question, too.

Question 13? OK, I am not surreptitious (that’s one of my confusions!)


First, I am a professional grandfather. Four young people are genetically related to me, but I have hundreds of “grandkids,” all over the planet. The picture I sent you shows Ella with me. She is no genetic relation. I exchange regular emails with an 18-year-old in Saudi Arabia, a 17-year-old in Canada and a 19-year-old mother of two in Britain. There are many others. It gives me great pleasure that contact with me helps them to improve their lives that had been full of misery.

Second, at least since 1972, I’ve been a strong environmentalist. This planet only has two kinds of people: Greenies and Suicides. For many generations, humans have stolen from their descendants. We are those descendants, and ALL the trouble you see — irrational wars of hate, resource wars, climate change, resource depletion, the pollution that’s killing us, and many other problems — are the consequence of a culture based on greed. If we want to survive, we need to change to a culture based on compassion and simplicity. Above all, do no harm. Live simply, so you may simply live.

Thank you for joining me today, Dr. Bob Rich. This interview was fun and inspiring for me. I know it will be for my readers, too.

Thank you for reading my interview with Dr. Bob Rich.

Here are three of Dr. Bob’s more recent books.

Bizarre Bipeds: What IS humanity’s role in the Universe? Is a novella and three short stories. We are definitely NOT the crown of creation. The novella, Liberator, stars the perfect mammals, whose planet has been invaded by monsters from space. Guess who the monsters are?

Sleeper, Awake is an award-winning report from my visit to the future. Of course, no one would believe I can do that, so I presented it as fiction.

Cancer: A personal challenge is for everyone, because we are living on cancer planet. It is for those who want to reduce their chances of getting cancer, for those who love someone with cancer, and for those battling with this monster.

Celebrate you
Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards

Copyright © 2012 Joan Y. Edwards

My Interview of Jeff Herman

Interview of Jeff Herman, Author of Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents 2011.

About Jeff Herman’s Agency:

Welcome, Jeff Herman.  Thank you for participating in an interview for my blog. I am honored because I am impressed with your book and by the active steps you take every day to help writers achieve their publication dreams.

Welcome, Readers. Thank you for visiting my blog and reading my interview with Jeff Herman.

Below you will find my ten questions I asked and Jeff’s answers to them. I hope by reading them you will become further convinced that his book, “Jeff Herman’s Guide to Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents” contains useful information that could get you published. I hope that you will be encouraged so much that you will never give up. I hope that we inspire you to take the next step toward your goal.

  1. Who and/or what circumstances helped fill you with the most confidence? How do you keep positive-minded? For me, confidence can be a zig-zagging process, though my bottom-line confidence level seems to progressively improve with experience and maturity. I have learned that the lack of confidence is the most common reason for not trying to do something, but that confidence without knowledge and leverage can be useless. I try to avoid reasons why something won’t happen while focusing on strategies to make it happen. Success builds confidence, but that can also be a trap because new situations may require new methods, and it takes discipline to avoid complacency.
  2. What are three of your favorite books? Why? Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, because they helped make me a reader. Bonfire of the Vanities, because I still think about it 20 years after reading it.
  3. What inspired you to write the “Jeff Herman’s Guide to Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents?” I needed to collect the information anyway for my own purposes, so I figured why not package it for sale. When I started out as a young agent it struck me how many aspiring writers were clueless about how to get published, and I personally resented that so many editors wanted to be invisible and inaccessible. I believed, and still do, that opening the gates is what’s best for everyone. Publishing is like a public utility and no one should be prevented from being given a fair shot.
  4. This is the 21st edition of your book. It explains the differences and changes in the mega-publishers, independent publishers, and university presses. The symbols you use for the different genres are very helpful: Romance-heart, Children-school bus, Religious-Cross, etc. In your next edition, are you planning to add symbols to agents pages? Is there any chance you might add a symbol for publishers who accept email submissions or accept unsolicited manuscripts? I like the symbols and think they should be expanded, but I must confess that they were entirely my publisher’s idea.
  5. Why do most mega-publishers and many independent publishers only accept work through an agent? How does an agent help a publisher? What is an agent’s job with a writer? In fairness, editors need to shield themselves from being overwhelmed by unsolicited submissions; there just isn’t enough time or staff to review the vast majority of them. The agent is crucial because she is the screener, and is unlikely to present anything to publishers that’s mis-directed or unworthy. When projects arrive from credible agents, editors figure it’s not a waste of time to take a look. It follows that a writer’s most effective route to getting access to a bona fide editor is to be represented by a bona fide agent.
  6. Your book lists the history of hundreds of literary agents, what they are looking for, and how to contact them. As an agent, you represent clients who write adult non-fiction. What steps can writers take to become your client today? How do you know when a writer is the perfect client for you? How many possible publishers do you have to see flashing across your mind before you sign a new client?  Good questions can be hard to answer. I know it when I see it, and sometimes I don’t know it when I see it. Agents and editors are right and wrong all the time, which is why writers must never throw in the towel. I simply need to intuitively feel that I can sell the project somewhere. Without that feeling, I’m not the right agent, but it still may be a darn good project.
  7. What’s your advice for writers who want to become published? know that no one owes you anything, but that it’s ok to ask for everything, though you shouldn’t expect to get everything. Giving up is failure. Rejection is eventually followed by success a lot of the time. Love the writing and tolerate the publishing.
  8. What mistakes do writers make in their query letters and/or proposals? What can they do to correct them? Poor expression. Boring. Unclear concepts and thoughts. Self-defacing. Resentful and negative. Too many words. Overly derivative and unoriginal. Just avoid these characteristics and you will be above-average.
  9. Self-Publishing has a better reputation than it did six years ago. What are the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing today? Self-publishers don’t get distribution; have to pay for everything themselves, and lack brand credibility that comes with having a bona fide publisher. However, they manifest the product and could potentially sell a lot of copies for a lot of money in a lot of ways that don’t require bookstore support.
  10. The iPad, the Kindle, Sony and similar electronic readers have opened an exciting new way of viewing books, magazines, and newspapers. Children’s picture book applications for iPad and iPhones are animated and fun for both adults and children. Digital magazines are becoming interactive with statistics that updates as you read it on the internet. This is indeed a fascinating medium for distributing and viewing written material. What advantages and disadvantages with electronic publishing do you see emerging for publishers and writers? How would a good contract stipulate electronic rights? Compare the cost/selling price/profit for hardbacks, paperbacks, eBooks, and eBook applications for iPads and iPhones. Digital formatting will dominate market share in the near future, and will further enable self-publishing. The jury is still out for how this will financially affect typical writers, though my hunch is that it will be positive by generating more revenues in general. Borders will soon be a memory. Barnes & Noble will be forced to reengineer what it does by selling a lot of non-book products, while the independents will manage to find sustainable niches same as they do now. Amazon knew 10 years ago that they will have to sell almost everything and be a commissioned broker for third-parties, and their model is working out. Corporate owned publishers missed the boat by failing to invent their own ereaders. They will continue to be exploited and disrespected by their owners, meaning even less diverse and more bland vanilla front lists. Boutique houses will make a come-back and will profitably publish great books.

Thanks again, Jeff for taking the time to answer my questions to keep writers informed and help me and other writers get published.  Do something good for yourself today.

My humble thanks to Beth Pehlke, Jeff Herman’s publicist for inviting me to interview him and review his book on my blog and for donating three free copies of his book for the contests below. I am very honored that she chose me.

Thank you for reading my blog.

The contest is over. Three winners were chosen on January 19, 2011.

I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to share a link to my blog with others. Use email, Facebook, Twitter, or other means to share.

Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards
Copyright 2011 Joan Y. Edwards. All rights reserved.