Friday, September 08, 2006

Tim Bete Interview

This is a compilation of highlights from our interview with Tim Bete, author of, "In The Beginning There Were No Diapers", director of the University of Dayton's Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop and Writers' Conference.

Review Comments for In The Beginning..."As a bachelor without children I didn't connect with the subject matter in Tim's book, and I still laughed out loud. I can only imagine how hysterical it'll be if he ever writes anything I relate to."-- Brad Dickson, columnist and former monologue writer for Jay Leno
"This book will be a 'must get' for couple's showers, Father's Day, or any occasion when a gift is needed for a dad of any age. Witty and wry, Tim's style will keep dads -- and moms -- laughing for long time."-- Marybeth Hicks, columnist for the Washington Times
READ AN EXCERPT OF TIM'S BOOK "Dad's service center and other miracles of the night" can be found at

Tim is the director of the University of Dayton's Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop. Details at:
Comments from 2006 workshop attendees: “The conference was a double thumbs-up!”, “It's the best-run conference I've ever attended.”, “The presenters, organizers and attendees formed what was without a doubt the most supportive and inspiring group I've ever been a part off.”, “A world-class writers’ event.”, “This workshop ran like a Swiss watch -- with class, beauty and right on time.”

Here's our chat with humor writer Tim Bete

mod: Could you tell us a little about your book, "In The Beginning There Were No Diapers"?

Tim: It's a collection of essays about raising young children. It's based on my newspaper column. I wasn't thinking about writing a book but a publisher appraoched me about it. What luck!

mod: What process do you use to write? Are you a plotter, or do you write by the seat of your pants?

Tim: I usually write in my mind. That's the best way for me to flesh out a humorous concept. When it comes to sitting at the PC, the process is usually pretty quick

mod: Are there plans for the "next" Tim Bete book?

Tim: A publisher is reviewing the proposal for my second book right now. It's parenting humor but more of a parody of a parenting self-help book. I hope to hear from the publisher in a few weeks.

mod: Extra nice! I'll be looking for the announcement!
I understand these things are often hard to track, but... What do you feel has been the best marketing method for your book sales?

Tim: My Web site. Virtually all of my publishing success has comes to me through my Web site. The five newspapers I used to write my column for came to me. My first and second book publishers came to me. I did a lot of promotion to blogs and Web site for my first book.

mod: Along those same lines... What, if anything, was a waste of time in your opinion?

Tim: Interesting question. My biggest promotion successes came from unlikely places. It's impossible to predict what will work and what won't. When my book broke the top-10 in Amazon's parenting humor category, it was because of a promotion in an email newsletter with 30000 subscibers. I got more sales from that then from having many newswire stories about my book. Go figure!

mod: WOW...30000 is a lot of people to see that promo

Tim: Not really. I was interviewed on a radio program with 1 million listeners and I didn't see many sales from it.

mod: I can't fathom those type of numbers Tim....that's just amazing to me. just goes to show that marketing is an odd bird. Huge numbers aren't always as good as fewer.

Tim: You're right. That's why you have to write the book YOU want to write. Whether the sales are good or not, you'll be happy.

mod: What was your very first published piece?

Tim: I got a job as a magazine editor even though I wasn't a writer or an editor. I had a marketing background and the company wanted someone to turn the magazine around. Because I was the editor, I could write whatever I wanted. So my first piece was in Early Childhood News magazine.

maruxa: Did you find your humor voice immediately when you started writing or did you develope it along the way? That is, were you born humorous?

Tim: I've always been one to make people laugh. I discovered if I could make my parents laugh, I could get out of a lot of difficult situations. So, when I began writing, I wrote in the same voice that I speak with. It wasn't that difficult to do. every writer has a voice. You have to find it and be true to it.

mod: Are there essays/columns that you are especially proud of, or do they all simply add to the body of your work as soon as they are published? you have so many...

Tim: Many times, the essays I like the most and think are the funniest don't resonate with readers. Humor is very subjective. I have a few favorites but they're favorites because of what my kids did and the memories I have, not because I like the essay the best.

mod: How did you come to be director of the Erma Bombeck Writer's Workshops and responsible for the conventions?

Tim: My boss founded the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop as a one-time event to commemorate the Bombeck's donation of Erma's papers to the University of Dayton. I helped promote the 2002 workshop and my writing was beginning to take off. The workshop was so popular that we continued to run it every other year. My boss was busy with other projects and allowed me to take over running the workshop. It's been a lot of fun and a great platform for my writing.

mod:You have done an amazing job!

Audrey: Is there any chance of the workshop becoming an every year event? By the time I got around to checking on registration, there were no spots left. lol

Tim: We'd love to run it every year but we don't have the staff or budget to do so. In 2007, there will be a Will Rogers Writers' Workshop that is similar to ours.

Audrey: Thank you!

mod: Cool! Who is running that one, Tim?

Tim: Bob Haught, who use to be on the NSNC board, is running it.

mod: Thanks :)

Patty: What authors do you enjoy reading?

Tim: I don't read as much as I'd like. It's difficult with four young kids. I don't read many humorists but I love Kurt Vonnegut. I've enjoyed Dave Barry's Peter and the Star catcher books, too.

mod: Could you tell us a little more about the workshops?

Tim: The workshop is two days, three nights, and is always held in tropical Dayton, Ohio. There are 6-7 keynote speakers and 18 concurrent sessions to pick from. Most sessions are on humor writing, human interest writing, marketing, etc. We're working on speakers for the 2008 workshop already. You can read more at

mod: What do you aim for, when lining up speakers for the conventions? Is there a particular mix you like to achieve, or do you have something else in mind?

Tim: We try to have sessions for both beginning and professional writers. We try to provide information that will help writers sell more of their work. We had a session on writing greeting cards at the last workshop. It was presented by American Greetings and was a huge hit.

thatdanguy: Having attended this past session, that was a highlight. the rest was exceptional as well.

Tim: I'm trying to break into that market because the pay is so good.

Patty: You're trying to break into the greeting card market?

Tim: Yes, I've submitted some concepts to American Greetings and am waiting to hear back.

Patty: That's cool. Maybe you should start your own line!

Tim: I want to write, not publish.

nightwriter60: Why only write and not publish?

Tim: I've worked in publishing management and as a writer. One's a business position and one's a creative position. At this point in my career, I want to write rather than manage a business. I might be able to make more as a publisher but I wouldn't have as much time to write. You have to be honest with yourself about what you really what out of your career. I often find writers aren't honest about their real goals. For example, some writers are in it for the money. Writing is a lousy way to make money. Some are in it for fame. Writing is a lousy way to become famous. You have to do it because you love to write, period.

kz7: Is there a market for writing monologues for standup comedians?

Tim: Jay Leno and David Letterman have staff writers. They use some freelancers but it's tough to break in. I get approached every now and then from comics looking for material but they usually can't pay much for it.

thatdanguy: Tim, did you do "serious" writing before you started humor writing?

Tim: Yes. When I was a magazine editor, it was almost ALL serious writing. I could never be a journalist though. Humor (or at least entertaining creativity) always finds a way of creeping into my writing. I can do serious writing if I'm passionate about the topic though.

mod: What is the most important thing a writer can hope to get by attending a writers' conferences?

Tim: Free drinks. At least if you run the workshop, people buy you free drinks. Other than that, the most important thing is the networking. I've made incredible contacts that have helped me in every part of my writing career. If you meet Danny Gallagher at a workshop, that's a huge plus, too.

mod: LOL...gotta love Danny ( www.dannygallagher. net )

Tim: You can do a lot of great networking online.

Michael_D.: What advice can you give us who are dealing with the day job and trying to get published?

Tim: That's me. I have a day job and I'm trying to get published. Write whenever you can. If you have other priorities and can't write, don't sweat it. Pick the projects you're most passionate about. Those will keep you writing at 2 a.m. and get you up early, too. I think it's good to have a day job. It makes you appreciate the writing time more. I couldn't write for 8 hours per day.

Michael_D.: Thanks, Tim. Finding really gave me a boost back into writing.

nightwriter60: How do you make a living through codemic writing, or any writing?

Tim: I don't, although more and more of my income is through writing. It's VERY difficult to be a full-time humor writer without getting a staff job at a newspaper or writing for television. Both are difficult to break into. But humor writing can provide a great supplemental income. And you don't have to interview anyone -- you can make everything up!

Nancy: do you ever worry people won't "get" your humour? that something you think is dazzlingly witty will go *WHOOSH* over people's heads?

Tim: Some of my best jokes (in my mind) are often lost on people. Humor is subjective. You have to read your audience and tailor your material to their taste.

mod: How do you consistently come up with such hilarious columns?

Tim: I don't. The key with column writing is to be funny enough to keep people coming back. You can't always hit a home run, especially with a weekly deadline. But funny things are everywhere. You should find 2-3 column ideas every day.

mod: Do you ever suffer from any form of writers block? And if so, how are you so successful at 1] beating it, and 2] hiding it from the public?

Tim: There's no such thing as writers' block. Sit down and write. Professional writers with deadlines don't have writers' block. At least not if they want to eat.

Patty: Tim, I missed the ages of your children, but what does your family think of you writing about them? Or how do you think they'll feel when their old enough to realize it?

Tim: My kids are 10, 9, 5 and 2. My 10 and 9 love to read my writing. My daughter has read my book 12 times, which is way more than I ever want to read it. She laughs at it but sometimes says "That's not funny." When I ask her if what I wrote was true, she says, "Yes, but it's still not funny." We'll see what they think when they're older.

mod: Let us in on your creative process. What is your writing routine? When, where and how do you write?

Tim: I don't write on a regular schedule. I did when I was writing my weekly newspaper column but I found I couldn't write the column and my second book. I picked the book because I can control the process more -- one big deadline but no weekly deadlines. I write in spurts now because it's project work -- book chapters, card concepts, etc.

mod: How do you handle rejection?

Tim: Don't take rejection personally. One editor loves a piece, another hates it. Humor writing is a game of persistence.

Patty: With such a large family, have you ever thought about writing childrnen's books? Tickle their funny bone kind of stories?

Tim: I've thought about writing children's books but I've never seriously attempted it. I have a dark sense of humor, so I think my books would end up like Lemony Snicket's. I'd write a lot of stories about dead kittens.

Nancy: I was wondering the best way to word a submission letter... because humour is such a personal I making sense?

Tim: With most pieces, you query an editor first. With humor, you submit the piece. The reason is that you can't query and say, "I'm going to write the funniest piece you've ever read about airplanes." You have to SHOW the editor that it's funny.

Nancy: so just say...Dear Mr it is...thanks...?

Tim: Pretty much. You want them to read the piece as quickly as possible. The query can say where else you've been published.

Michael_D.: So you're saying just send the humorous piece in to the editor and let them decide whether or not they like it or not?

Tim: Yes. An editor isn't going to publish a peice that he/she doesn't personally find amusing. That's not the case with serious pieces.

mod: What's the best advice you've ever gotten regarding writing? How about the worst?

Tim: Best: Write what you love to write about. Worst: You can write for a market -- for example, if mysteries are hot, you should write mysteries. It's rubish.

mod: What are your thoughts on critique groups, both online and in-person?

Tim: I'm not a fan of critique groups unless you know and turst the opinion of the members. I think you're better to get a mentor of a few close writer friends who will be honest with you about your work.

Audrey: What steps should a writer take if they want to get a newspaper column? Where do we start?

Tim: Contact the editor of your local newspaper. The fact that you're a local writer is a big plus to him/her. Most syndicated columnists started in their local paper.

Michael_D.: Tim, in contacting the editor, do you send a cover letter along with a piece of your writing?

Tim: For a newspaper column, send a cover letter, your background and 6-8 sample columns. Editors want to make sure you can sustain a column. If you want to submit a single piece for publication, you just need a cover letter and the piece.

mod: If you weren't a writer what would be your dream job? And what would be your dream writing job?

Tim: If I wasn't a writer I'd like to be a amusement ride carney. I think I'm living my dream job. I get to write and run a great writers' workshop. It's a wonderful life.

mod: One hundred years from now, what do you want folks to remember about the writer ?

Tim: The one thing I want people to say about me after I'm dead is: "Look, he came back to life!"

mod: Tim, anything you want to say before we close up for the evening?

Tim: I'm enjoyed the time together. Maybe I can come back after book #2 is published. Thanks for having me!

mod: That would be great Tim! Thanks!


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