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WFD Interview with Nancy Robinson Masters
by Barbara B. Rollins

After keynoting last fall's Texas-wide gathering of Girl Scouts, Nancy Robinson Masters introduced the next speaker, Governor George W. Bush. "I've told you I grew up dirt-poor on a cotton farm in an awful drought, often looking for a bush to hide behind," she told them. "Well, today I'm proud to say: The Bush is behind me."

In many ways Nancy has moved far from that Texas farm, including travel with the National Science Foundation in Antarctica. Yet the cross between Minnie Pearl and Will Rogers remains rooted in fundamentals. Her multiple printing self-published books include All My Downs Have Been Ups and for children The Horrible Homemade Halloween Costume and The Fabulous Flying Flag Farm. She wrote a four volume set for Capstone on World War II airplanes and two of Grolier's America the Beautiful, Second Series.

A licensed pilot, she resides on a farm in the Elmdale community near Abilene, Texas, adjacent to the airport built by her husband and writing partner, veteran aviator Bill Masters. Her most important work in life, Nancy says, is "teaching children in Sunday School."

I met Nancy the way hundreds of thousands have, from the audience. The dynamo onstage may be fitted out as Uncle Sam or strut around in a drab army green flight suit, seizing instant attention. Her message holds the interest as she instills writers with self-publishing valor, inflames the masses with patriotism, or infects children with hunger to read. She educates writers by showing them what she tells them - how to win.

WFD: Nancy, you've spoken to over 150,000 students across the United States, taught writing seminars, and done programs galore. Do you actually write, too?

Masters: Absolutely. Every day. You have to do that to produce more than 3000 features for magazines, trade journals and newspapers. I've written 12 books and 23 years of a weekly newspaper column. And I sell more than thirty pieces monthly to publications, companies, and individuals.

WFD: How would a beginner build such volume?

Masters: First, you need a visible niche - I hate to use the word gimmick, but you must have something that sets you apart, makes you unique, even if your subject isn't. For example, many doctors write about dieting, but Robert Adkins was a bestseller with a different kind of diet. Stephen Covey became the guru of time management with sevens. Today only six percent of licensed pilots are women. In 1975 I became a pilot and soon began writing about aviation. I still do but within that framework I've written about innumerable subjects. Visibility in one field enabled me to expand to others.

WFD: Such as?

Masters: Well, agriculture, inspirational, motivation, medicine. For example, I wrote about doctors who flew, then medical uses of flying, then doctors as doctors. By this process - I call it osmosis - I've become recognized as a writer in the medical field.

WFD: Those are odd progressions.

Masters: They are, but it happens. Shel Silverstein who died recently wasn't always a children's poet. His viewpoint about pacifist issues built a credibility niche. He appealed to young adults; writing for them led to writing for their children.

WFD: Okay, assume a writer sets a credibility hook. Then they wait for work to come?

Masters: No! Even good writing won't succeed without self-selling.

WFD: How do you do that?

Masters: Editors care about whether it will sell, so you sell yourself with the writing. You can't hide behind a byline.

WFD: You've sold more than 20,000 copies of your self-published ALL MY DOWNS HAVE BEEN UPS. But what about big publishing houses?

Masters: The author sells there, too. I'm writing now for Grolier and Capstone and I'm still out pushing. Publishers once budgeted for marketing, but some don't anymore, and all of them expect you to help sell the product.

WFD: That seems to defeat the idea. A writer builds a niche and starts expanding beyond it then spends major time selling maybe one book.

Masters: It IS the idea. Our society thrives on instant visibility. Exposure makes you known, breeds success, and builds customers.

WFD: So how do you get visibility?

Masters: Give away time and privacy. Aggressively look for opportunities to see and be heard - attend conferences in writing and your niche field – I emcee at air shows. Even letters to the editor count. Build a following of believers, a base of support, and doors begin to open. It's a lot like running for office.

WFD: How do you do all this and write, too?

Masters: One recent week I drove about 1400 miles and spoke seven times, three all day sessions, but I still met article deadlines and planned another book with an editor. But the next week I burrowed in to write.

WFD: Where do you write?

Masters: I'm a full time freelance writer and I write from an office in my home. One of my friends says it's the equivalent of Walden Pond - down a gravel road, beyond a holler's length from neighbors, in a red-roofed a-frame. It's beside a manmade stock-tank pond and the bushes Texans call mesquite trees.

WFD: Fourteen hundred miles and you're still seeking exposure?

Masters: You bet. That visibility developed more opportunities, other offers. Exposure breeds customers. My latest play for exposure is my web page at http://members.xoom.com/NRMasters. Who knows what can osmose – yes it's a word - with that contact?

Nancy Robinson Masters may own a pond, but she's certainly not hiding behind mesquite bushes.

© Copyright 1999, Barbara B. Rollins

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