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From manuscript to mini-series: The 7½ steps that turned Terry Fallis into a best-selling phenomenon

Seven years ago, Terry Fallis was a well-respected public relations consultant, writing in his spare time in his attic. Today, he's the author of a 100,000-copy blockbuster, The Best Laid Plans, which was also turned into a miniseries on CBC Television.

So how'd he do it? We thought we’d retrace the steps that made The Best Laid Plans the cultural phenomenon it is today…

1. Terry recorded and broadcast his story online
After exhausting the traditional route of agents and publishers, Terry took a page from an article he read in The New York Times and decided to find his own audience for the book. “I was going crazy with the deafening silence, and I didn’t feel like I had anything to lose.” Instead of publishing the book online, Terry opted to record each of the 19 chapters as a podcast and upload them, once a week, to his website. The prologue went up on January 14, 2007, and by mid-May the entire recording was online. 

2. Terry found a community
Terry created customized audio promos and sent them out to other podcasters to play on their shows. These were the early days of podcasting and Terry found a community of enthusiastic people willing to help. It started slowly, but soon his listener base grew and he began to receive emails, audio messages, and comments on his blog. “I always gave my email address and the blog address, because that’s what social media is all about. I responded to everything I got.”

3. Terry self-published The Best Laid Plans
The positive, objective, feedback he received from the public was what led Terry to decide to make his book a print-on-demand title. Before then he had no idea if his work was funny, believable, or something people wanted to read. In September 2007, Terry printed up a bunch of copies and marched them into independent booksellers to sell on consignment. In all, he was able to sell about 750 copies of the book. 

4. Terry entered his book for a prize
The Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour is one of the only Canadian book awards to recognize self-published work. In order to submit, Terry would need to send in 10 copies of his book. Thankfully, there were 10 copies in a sealed box in his office. Terry says that had the box been open, or had less than the required amount in it, he would not have entered. There was even a point, thirty minutes after he left the package at office's front desk, where he changed his mind. He tried to retrieve it, but by then it was gone. 

In April 2008, Terry found out his book had made the shortlist for the prize.

5. Terry found a publisher
Terry had met with literary agents before, but this time it was different—his book was one of five titles up for a $15,000 prize. “You’re never going to win the Leacock,” Terry remembers agent Beverley Slopen telling him over lunch. “But let’s try to use your nomination to find you a publisher.” After selling an additional 750 copies post nomination, Terry went to the Leacock luncheon on Wednesday, April 30. He thought he misheard when they called his name as winner. Two weeks later Terry signed with McClelland & Stewart.

6. The Best Laid Plans wins Canada Reads
Terry isn’t the kind of person to toot his own horn, but several years later, in late 2010, he encouraged his Facebook followers to participate in the Canada Reads public vote and nominate the titles they’d like to see in the CBC’s annual battle of the books. When the longlist was finally revealed, he was surprised to see his book in the Top 40. He was further surprised when it made the Top 10. And he was simply shocked when his publisher, Doug Pepper, called him to tell him that The Best Laid Plans would be one of the five finalists. “I always say: The Leacock made me a writer, and Canada Reads made me a best-seller.” 

After winning Canada Reads in 2011, The Best Laid Plans went on to sell 100,000 copies.

7. The Best Laid Plans comes to television
Production companies had pitched Terry before, expressing an interest to bring the book to the screen, but no one had the vision that Peter Moss did. There were long periods of working on scripts together, with no green light or offer from a network. But suddenly there it was—an email from CBC giving them the go ahead. “It was surreal. It was only once I starting seeing advertisements on TV that I really began to believe it.” 

The Best Laid Plans airs on CBC this January, starting Sunday, January 5.

7 ½. What’s next? A Best Laid Plans Musical? 
Actually, yes. It’s too soon to say much right now, but playwright Vern Thiessen is writing the book for a musical version of The Best Laid Plans. Terry isn’t sure what stage it’s in yet, but he has met with Touchstone Theatre’s Katrina Dunn and is very excited about her vision.

Terry Fallis is indeed a lucky man, but he has also worked very hard to get to where he is today (a quick look at his public appearance schedule shows how willing he is to connect with his audience).

If there is any advice he can give to someone with a manuscript in their desk drawer, it would be to spend as much time on it as possible. With the ease of self-publishing these days, he worries that people will rush to publish a work before it's ready. 

But when it is ready—find a way to get it published, and then get out there and promote it!!

Photo credit: Tim Fallis

Terry Fallis is the author of four national bestsellers. His debut novel,The Best Laid Plans, won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and was crowned the 2011 winner of CBC Canada Reads as the “essential Canadian novel of the decade.“ In January 2014, CBC aired a six-part television miniseries based on The Best Laid Plans earning very positive reviews. It is also in development as a stage musical by Touchstone Theatre in Vancouver. The High Road was published in September 2010 and was a finalist for the 2011 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. Terry’s third novel, Up and Down, was released in September 2012. It debuted on the Globe and Mail bestsellers list, was a finalist for the 2013 Leacock Medal, and won the 2013 Ontario Library Association Evergreen Award. Terry’s fourth novel, No Relation, hit bookstores in May 2014, and opened on the Globe and Mail bestsellers list. Terry lives in Toronto. Follow Terry Fallis on Twitter @TerryFallis.

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