Friday, May 18, 2007

This Dog Lover is no Dummie

Today, I interview Susan McCullough, author of several dog titles in the "Dummie" series. She tells us how another writers book helped her and how she met her editor at a specialized conference for pet writers.

Tell us about yourself.
I live in Vienna, Virginia, just outside Washington DC. My husband works for the federal government. We have an 18-year-old daughter who will be starting college this fall.
I've been a working writer all my adult life, but have specialized in pets (especially dogs) for only the past 10 years or so. At the time, I was a work-at-home editorial consultant to agricultural trade associations based in Washington DC. One day, as I was receiving a fax on one of those old, loud, paper-cutting fax machines, my overzealous Sheltie puppy apparently decided that he had to protect me from it. He began to bark at the machine, and he grabbed the fax and proceeded to shred it. I literally had to call my client and ask them to please re-send the fax "because my dog ate what you just sent." (Even better than "my dog ate my homework," don't you think? ) I started wondering how other people share their home offices with their dogs and voila! an article idea was born. I borrowed Lisa Collier Cool's wonderful "How to Write Irresistible Queries and Cover Letters" from the local library, and used her sample letters as templates to fashion my own query, which I then sent to a national pet magazine that has since, alas, folded. I heard from the editor the very next day, and got the assignment. From that point on, I did more and more articles on pets, and less and less consulting.

Tell us about your books.
I've written four books: Housetraining For Dummies, Senior Dogs For Dummies and Beagles For Dummies (all, Wiley) and Your New Dog: An Expert Answers Your Every Question (Capital Books). They all deal with dog care.

How did you get involved in the "Dummies" series?
At a pet writers' conference I became acquainted with an editor from IDG Books, which owned the Dummies brand at the time, as well as many other pet care imprints. I expressed an interest in writing books for them. A few months later, when I saw the same editor at the Westminster Dog Show, I brought her a proposal. She passed on it, but in the meantime she had seen some rather unorthodox articles on doggie bathroom issues that I'd written for (now, regrettably, also no more). Apparently those articles (e.g., how to teach a dog to potty on command -- and what to do if your dog simply won't do that) at convinced her and the publisher to offer me Housetraining For Dummies. I wrote that book, and it has sold very well. A few years later, another editor at the company asked me to write Senior Dogs For Dummies, and a few years after that someone else asked me to do Beagles For Dummies.

Why dogs/do you have a background in training?
Because I adore them!!!! I am not a professional trainer -- I'm a writer who happens to specialize in dogs and other companion animals. I have, however, trained my own dogs -- including my current canine companion: a larger-than-life Golden Retriever named Allie, who has taught me more about the canine species than any other dog.

How did you develop your platform?
I haven't done that consciously. I've just kept writing about the subject I love most. The platform has kind of developed itself!

One of the books is on Beagles, tell us about your history with these dogs.
I cannot tell a lie: I have no personal history with this breed. Wiley asked me to write the book. But I do know how to research (obviously) -- and that's how I put the book together.

What is the most often-asked question to you by dog owners?
1. Do I have to use a crate when I housetrain a dog? 2. How do I know when it's time to put my dog to sleep?

Senior dogs are special, they have special needs and all the while, as a dog owner, you know that whatever you do, the outcome will always be the same. What is one piece of advice in your seniors dog book that helps people cope?
On the very last page of Senior Dogs For Dummies, I wrote that an owner should do as much as possible to help a senior dog feel loved and cherished. By doing all you can to brighten your dog's seniorhood, you'll be giving him gifts that brighten the rest of his life, and you'll create memories that brighten the rest of yours.

Do you have anymore books planned and if so, how did you come up with the topic?
I almost always have ideas percolating around, but I haven't developed any of them yet ;-)


Blogger Kay Richardson said...

I was worried what dog loving might entail. I was pleased that it wasn't what i feared. Thanks.

6:29 AM CDT  

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