Stephen Templin: From Hell Week To The Top Of The Bestseller Lists With SEAL Team Six

Stephen TemplinStephen Templin is a New York Times and international bestselling author of the popular SEAL Team Six series and his newest book, Trident’s First Gleaming.

His books have been translated into thirteen languages, including German, French, Spanish, Hungarian, and Japanese.

Before becoming a full-time author, he completed Hell Week, qualified as a pistol and rifle expert, and blew up things during Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training.

After the Navy, he became a missionary, then tenured professor at Meio University in Japan for 14 years, where he practiced the martial art aikido.

Stephen Templin Interview

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Books by Stephen Templin


Stephen Templin Transcript

Tim Knox: Stephen, welcome to the program.

Stephen Templin: Good to be here.

Tim Knox: Great having you here. I know we were talking on the pre-call; you’re a busy fellow and that’s one of the things we want to talk about. Before we dive in though, if you will, just give the audience a little background on you.

Stephen Templin: Well I’m a New York Times and international bestselling author. My books have been translated into 13 languages. Before becoming an author I completed Hell Week, qualified as a pistol and rifle expert and blew up stuff during basic underwater demolition SEAL training.

Tim Knox: Wow so you actually went through SEAL team Hell Week.

Stephen Templin: Yeah I finished SEAL team Hell Week.

Tim Knox: What possessed you to do that?

Stephen Templin: Good question. I’ve always been interested in the military and CIA and when I was in high school I looked up the different services, what they had to offer and how they went about fighting. The SEALs and the way they operated in Vietnam seemed to match me the best and so that’s the route I took and in order to stay on that route you have to do Hell Week.

Tim Knox: Wow, that’s quite an accomplishment. I want to talk a little bit more about that and I also want to talk about your books because SEAL Team Six is one of your favorite topics but if you don’t mind let’s kind of go back in time a little bit. Have you always been a writer, even before you were a bestselling author? Did you write?

Stephen Templin: Yeah since elementary school, about the 4th or 5th grade. I was writing before that a little bit, some poetry and stuff. About 4th or 5th grade I started writing short stories and I wanted to become a novelist since that age.

Tim Knox: Do you remember the very first story that you wrote when you were in the 4th or 5th grade?

Stephen Templin: It was about a dog that saved people from fires or something like that.

Tim Knox: That’s funny. I always like to ask. One of my favorite answers came from an author; she wrote a story about a horse named Pearl. I keep telling her, you need to revisit Pearl. You need to bring her into your novels.

Did you share your work with anyone at that young age?

Stephen Templin: Well I think it was for a class so I turned it into the teacher and I had various assignments after that and opportunities. I mostly shared with teachers but occasionally showed some friends what I was writing and that’s kind of how it all started.

Tim Knox: I assume you continued writing throughout high school. You were in the NAVY for a while. Did you go straight in the military or did you go to college or what was your career path?

Stephen Templin: Straight into the NAVY. I had no interest in school, not at all. Yeah, straight into the NAVY.

Tim Knox: You spent a number of years in Japan.

Stephen Templin: Right after the NAVY I got out and was a missionary for two years in Japan and I went to college, went back to Japan, became a professor and stayed in Japan for about… I was a tenured University professor for about 14 years.

Tim Knox: Were you writing during this time?

Stephen Templin: Yes.

Tim Knox: Do you remember the first thing you wrote that you thought might be something you could actually sell?

Stephen Templin: Probably the first serious attempt at trying to sell something was post high school during the NAVY – or I can’t remember during the NAVY, after the NAVY – I was submitting short stories. I submitted a number of short stories and I had rejections, not quite enough to wallpaper the bathroom but I was accumulating them.

Tim Knox: You were submitting short stories directly to magazines. What kind of stories?

Stephen Templin: I think horror and fantasy, probably mostly fantasy with some horror here and there. That’s where I was at.

Tim Knox: At what point did you really, I don’t want to say get serious but I guess at what point did you get serious and really started focusing on becoming a published novelist?

Stephen Templin: As a professor… there’s different kinds of professors. There’s professors who only teach and there’s professors that do only research and there are those who do a combination of teaching and research, and I was the latter. I did both teaching and research so writing was a serious thing for me. It got me a tenured position because I had to have about three articles and then after that to get promoted and just for doing the job correctly I had to publish more. I was quite serious publishing then.

Tim Knox: So were those more academic type articles?

Stephen Templin: Right those were academic articles and I really didn’t get… I’d always been writing but I hadn’t really hit on anything that seemed substantial until I did the memoir. My friend, Howard Wasdin, I did his memoir and that was significance.

Tim Knox: That was the book SEAL Team Six?

Stephen Templin: Right that was SEAL Team Six. I knew Howard back from when I was in the NAVY. We both went through SEAL training together and I left and he went on to bigger and better things and years later I was in the Los Angeles airport. I had a bit of time and stopped in the bookstore, a book caught my eye, Blackhawk Down, and I thought this looks interesting. What’s this about?

Then my next thought was do I know anybody who there, any SEALs who were there? So I looked in the index and I saw Howard’s name and I thought cool. So I got the book, I read it and what they wrote about the SEALs involvement in the Blackhawk Dawn, the Battle of Mogadishu, was hardly anything. I thought, gosh, when Howard writes his book that will be awesome; I’ll be one of the first people to buy it.

Years went by and I never saw the book. I met up with Howard on Facebook one day and said, “Hey, why don’t we do your book?” He agreed to it and it started from there.

Tim Knox: That’s really wild. I know that Mike Durant, who was involved in Blackhawk Down actually lives here where I am in Huntsville, Alabama and I met him a couple of times. I love these stories about you see a book in an airport and many years later you end up co-authoring with a guy. It really is a small world.

That book has been optioned for the movies, right?

Stephen Templin: Right. Vin Diesel optioned it. An interesting thing about Mike Durant is he and Howard were teaching some SERE classes – Survival, Escape, Rescue and Evasion classes together.

But yeah our book, SEAL Team Six, was optioned. We had a lot of people interested in it – the producers from House, Catherine Bigelow who just did the Zero Dark Thirty movie; she was interested in it, Brad Pitt, Vin Diesel. We ended up going with Vin Diesel. His way of thinking seemed to match our way of thinking the closest.

Tim Knox: How did the book come to be published? You contacted Howard, you decided to co-author. What was your process in bringing that book to market? Did you get an agent? Did you go directly to a publisher?

Stephen Templin: The process of going to market – well you have to write it first of course.

Tim Knox: That helps.

Stephen Templin: Then I went to Writer’s Market I think and they have a database of agents, so I went through their database and I was looking for certain things. I wanted an agent in New York because that’s where most of the things are happening. I wanted an agent who did memoirs and also military sorts of things. I contacted one agent. He told me to blow up the manuscript and start over again is what would have to happen.

That was my first contact and I felt, “Oh crap, I really thought this thing was going to work well but maybe I’m wrong.” It kind of sucks for yourself to fail but I’ve got my buddy in this with me so I felt worse for him. I said, “I apologize that we’re at this stage right now. I’m going to try and talk to somebody else and get a second opinion on it.” He said, “Dude, this is a great book. Don’t get down on yourself about it. This guy’s full of shit.”

So we went to the next person on my list and that was Scott Miller at Trident Media. He should have been the first person on my list but for some reason I overlooked some things. I contacted Scott. It was just before Easter vacation and he says, “Is anybody else looking at this?” “If you want it, it’s yours.”

It was Easter vacation so he took his three day vacation and he was reading our book over it and he came back off of vacation and said, “Oh man, I don’t mean to be arrogant or anything like that but I think I can get you a deal within a week.” He had the first deal within 24 hours and a bidding war started. I think we made a deal within 48 hours or so, which is very quick.

I think the book was excellent, our agent was excellent and things just happened fast. That’s very unusual.

Tim Knox: Yeah, I love the story about the first agent because I think every writer, including me, has been through that process of attempting to get an agent. I’ve had two agents and they were both really nice people. One of them did a really good job of selling my second book but you’ve got to remember that it’s just a matter of opinion. You’ll have one agent who tells you your book is crap and then the next agent picks it up and sells it within a bidding war.

Stephen Templin: And they have their own agendas too.  My feeling was that the first agent what he wanted to do was cut me out of the project, and this is something an author has to be careful of. My feeling was he wanted to cut me out of the project, put his own author in and get more of the profit.

As an author, especially when you’re dealing with memoirs and all that, you could easily get cut out of a process. Your agent could stick in another author or the publisher could cut you out and stick in another author that would be financially more favorable to them and they’d also have more control over the project that way too.

Tim Knox: Right.

Stephen Templin: The nasty, dark side of writing.

Tim Knox: It’s the old Mafia, “It’s not personal; it’s business.” Well, it is personal.

Stephen Templin: Yeah but it is business too.

Tim Knox: It is business, they are right. So that book did very well. Was that the first book you sold? You actually write a series, a SEAL Team Six Outcast series. Were you writing that prior to selling this book or did it come after?

Stephen Templin: That came after. I’d been working on some ideas and they finally all came together. I kind of had some ideas as I was finishing up Howard’s memoir. I kind of had some ideas and I shot them by Howard and he was favorable to those and then later went things calmed down a bit then I got started on the novel. SEAL Team Six Outcast was the first one.

Tim Knox: You and Howard also co-authored that. You and he have done several books together, right?

Stephen Templin: Right. We co-authored that and then we co-authored a sequel, Easy Day for the Dead, and that was that.

Tim Knox: How was that process? I talk to some authors who love the co-authoring process but I talk to others who would just never do it. How’d that work out for you? I know you guys were friends going in. Was it a good working relationship?

Stephen Templin: We’re still friends.

Tim Knox: That says it all.

Stephen Templin: It just varies. For his memoir, we couldn’t have done it without him because… well, somebody could have done it without him but it wouldn’t be nearly the same. It was all his content.

With the fiction it was my content basically and running it by him to look at the tactics and he had some input on some things. But it was a different animal. We did his memoir, the two fiction books. Or contract was only for two fiction books and that was that.

Tim Knox: So the fiction books were with the same publisher as the first book, the memoir.

Stephen Templin: The first book, SEAL Team Six, was with St. Martin’s Press and the second book was with Simon & Schuster. Both SEAL Team Six Outcast and Easy Day for the Dead, those were both with Simon & Schuster.

Tim Knox: Tell me about Trident’s First Gleaming. This one has your name on the cover alone.

Stephen Templin: Right, right. Yeah Howard’s working on another project. His will be coming out in November or December, somewhere around the end of the year, and I went on this project, Trident’s First Gleaming.

I have to write. It’s like a necessity almost. It’s like water or breathing almost but I wanted to do something different and I wanted to do something more substantial. I wanted to better myself, I wanted to up my game as a writer, I wanted a better book and so I really fug into myself and thought what is something deep? I was thinking of the spirit of the warrior and some more spiritual aspects of a character. That’s where I started.

Tim Knox: Are you self-publishing this or do you have a traditional publisher? How are you doing it?

Stephen Templin: I’m publishing this independently. My agent is taking care of a lot of the business matters of putting it into form for the various platforms, like Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble and Kobo. They’re also taking care of a lot of the promotion. So they’re taking care of it and they also sold the audiobook rights to ListenUp. ListenUp did the audio for it.

Yeah, I really when I went to this project I was thinking about what value does the publisher provide me? What value would the publisher provide me on this project? What value would my agent provide me on this project? I decided to stay with the agent but not use a publisher.

Tim Knox: I think a lot of authors are trying to figure that out now. This is no slight against publishers but really basically what they do is they print and distribute the books and unless you are a 1% type author, you’re going to end up doing most of the work anyway so why share in those profits? Is that a discussion you had with your agent to come to that decision?


Stephen Templin: Well I showed him the idea for the project and he said the market is getting tough in this genre. I took that as a code word for, “Hmm, I better take a serious look at this.”

I went ahead and wrote it, wrote the novel and when I went back to him with the completed novel I told him, “I had a contract deal where I had to show it to a publisher but just show them the rough draft because I’m not interested in selling it to the publisher. Just show it to them so we can fulfill the requirements of the contract but what I really want to do is go independently publishing on this one.”

One problem with the publishers is they are… what really bothered me is to see how high they were pricing our eBooks and the author isn’t getting that much money from it and the fans are getting overcharged and it’s tanking sales because – my opinion is – they’re jacking up the eBooks to drop in paper sales.

Then when I think of companies like Kodak, companies like Blockbuster Video and Tower Records. In the face of this digital age and digital change, what were their attitudes and compare that with the attitudes of the publishing companies right now. It just seemed like I had to go independently publishing.

At some time in the near future… we’re already seeing the publishers, the big six have gone from six to five. We’ve seen the close of Waldenbooks, sales continue to struggle in a lot of the paper book areas and as a writer you have to be the leader, the entrepreneur of your business, and that isn’t the direction I wanted to go.

Independent publishing seemed the way. It’s risky but it seemed the only way to go for this project.

Tim Knox: It does give you a lot more control over things.

Stephen Templin: Yeah and then your eBook rights, if you look at J.K. Rowling, she never gave up her eBook rights. I don’t think she even uses Amazon. They just order it straight from her website. They’re taking rights to eBooks that are going to last for years and years and years. I’m starting a new series in this time in the digital age and it seems like, gosh, I really don’t want to sign this away to a publisher.

Another problem too is the publishers are cutting down on what they do for authors. They outsource the editing. They outsource the cover art. It seems like they’re outsourcing more and more, using less staff and dropping authors. It just didn’t seem like a future for me for this project.

Tim Knox: You and I talked on the pre-call about the fact that now if you are going to be a self-published or even a hybrid author you’ve got to do more than just write. I think the days are over when you can just write and hand off everything else.

Talk a little about that because you’ve got to be the entrepreneur, you’ve got to run the business, you’ve got to write, you’ve got to create the products, market, sell. How do you manage your time between the actual writing and doing everything else that’s going to be required of you now?

Stephen Templin: Even the traditional author though, they really need to be doing all of these things too. Like you said, the 1% of the authors like Stephen King, yeah they’re going to do advertising and PR and stuff for them but for everyone else, there’s not going to be an ad campaign. There’s not going to be a book tour. The author needs to be taking care of business. So the author needs to be three things – a writer, needs to do marketing and he’s got to wear the hat of entrepreneur or leader, whatever you want to call it.

For writing, there’s all the parts of the writing. When I write I’m trying to write 1,000 words a day. That’s about four and a half pages a day, 9-5 or if I get up earlier I’m writing earlier. I cut my breakfast short, my lunch short and just kind of write until dinner. That’s a weekday, Monday through Friday. That’s kind of my writing schedule.

Tim Knox: So you actually do it on a schedule. You’ve got set times and you try to get in a minimum number of pages every day.

Stephen Templin: Right and I think without that you really put yourself at risk for making excuses and not getting things done. I think it’s important to have a goal and be working towards that goal.

Tim Knox: Do you typically have one project going on at a time?

Stephen Templin: For writing projects I can only handle one in my head at a time. Even reading other books from other authors, it’s hard for me to read another author’s book at the same time that I’m writing because my head is my writing world and then to get into their writing world and to go back and forth, it’s too hard for me. I just have to focus on one project.

Tim Knox: Talk a little about the amount of research that you do because I’ve read… you have been compared to Tom Clancy, which is a very big compliment; I’m a big Clancy fan. Talk about the amount of research that you do or you did for your Outcast books or really any project that you’re working on.

Stephen Templin: The most recent would be The Trident’s First Gleaming. The character has to be really good with weapons, especially small arms rifle and pistol in particular. He really needs to be an expert with that. My expert days are many years ago and the times have changed. The basics are basically the same but there’s been some things that have been approved on and all of that. I really need to update my skills, update my knowledge, and remember what it feels like, smells like and all that.

I took a class from Larry Vickers, who is a former Delta Force operator which is the Army’s sort of equivalent to SEAL Team Six. He had been in the Panama rescue of the CIA agent, Kurt Muse. Anyway, he trained me on rifle, assault rifle or a carbine or whatever you want to call it and pistol. We worked on that for four days I think, just straight morning to the end of the day. So that was an important part – to get back into it, to feel it, to know where I needed to update myself.

Some of the research just comes from my experience with the basic underwater demolition SEAL training. I can draw on that so that’s helpful.

Then going into the story itself, just any time I come upon something that I don’t know or I’m not sure about, I research it. If it’s a certain plane that’s coming in and doing something or a helicopter, I’m checking out how many people can go on the helicopter, what is its range in kilometers, how far can it go and come back, the refueling, the speed, how many people can fit onboard, its capabilities, weaknesses – trying to just kind of get the world real.

If it’s a place I haven’t been to, like Syria and the southern end of Syria right now isn’t a place that I recommend traveling to. So I have to research that. If there’s something I don’t know, I’ll talk to somebody. Yeah, so it’s quite a bit of research because I want the reader to feel like they’re really there and they’re really experiencing it.

Tim Knox: I had one author tell me that every author should thank God for Google. It’s so much easier now than it used to be.

Stephen Templin: Google’s marvelous and the Google Maps. It used to be like if you’re working for the agency, for the CIA, you would have to get special permission to get a map of something and you’d get your satellite map and that took a little bit of time. Now you don’t have to go through the chain of command for that; you just go on Google.

Tim Knox: It’s amazing.

Stephen Templin: It’s wonderful.

Tim Knox: In the few minutes we have left, you’ve given us a lot of good information, but I wanted to just get your advice to new authors. The audience for this show primarily are authors who want to do what you’ve done, they want to sell books, want a bestseller, and certainly want to make more money. Any other advice for them as far as how to accomplish those goals?

Stephen Templin: I think the first thing is they have to believe that they can complete the work. So if it’s a short story you’ve got to believe you’re going to complete the short story. If it’s a novel you’ve got to believe you can complete the novel. The problem is if you don’t believe then you don’t put forth the effort, there’s lots of distractions, your regular job, a new movie is out or something. There’s so many distractions and you lose focus and all that. It all starts with believing you can do it.

Once you believe you can do it you make goals and you break those goals down to manageable objectives and then you develop strategies for achieving those objectives. I think that’s really key.

Then as you try to get it published, the same thing. You have to believe you can get it published. Then after you do that, you still have to market and for marketing I think the biggest marketing is to write your next book. As you’re thinking about writing your book, think about who your audience is, who are the people reading it and pull them along with you from the first book to the second book.

A series seems most ideal for this. Even we’re seeing with like Breaking Bad, that’s a long series. So if you want to bring your readers along with you, a series would be nice or at least keep it in the same genre because if you jump from like science-fiction to horror, you’re going to have to start your audience all over again. It’s really key to have your next book and your next book, maybe three or four books, before you get a good sized audience developed.

In order to boost that audience, I think it’s helpful to be accessible, be visible on social media like Twitter and Facebook. I think it’s also important that your primary purpose on social media isn’t to sell your books; your primary purpose is to meet people and schmooze and have fun with them. When it comes time to launch your book let them know, hey, here’s my book.

Yeah so I think those are really key, and I have some other things on my website.

Tim Knox: I was going to ask about your website but one of the things I wanted to talk about that you touched on – great advice, keep writing. I think what you said is the best marketing is to keep writing the next book.

Stephen Templin: That will be the number one major marketing thing I think.

Tim Knox: Social media, we talk a lot about on this show. Social media is really making authors accessible to readers and fans and you think that’s important to build those relationships. You’re not in their face selling but you are building those relationships so when the time comes if they want to buy your book it’s certainly there for them.

Stephen Templin: Right. They know you exist on the planet Earth and when the book comes out… and when you’re meeting people you’re not going to the bar to meet the fine churchgoing girl and you’re not going to the churchgoing girl who likes whiskey all the time. You’ve got to go to where you think your audience is. You hang out in those places and you meet people and you have friends with them and have fun and stuff.

Like you said, I think it’s shifting now. You see it with Hollywood too. There’s more of a communication between the actor and the fans, and I think people are expecting that more. I think there needs to be communication between the fans and the author. These great authors in the past will probably be able to continue on the momentum of their past work but I think up and coming authors will need, to some extent, they’ll need to communicate with their fans and friends.

Tim Knox: Great advice. Stephen Templin, author of Trident’s First Gleaming, Seal Team Six and a lot of other good books still to come. How can folks find out more about you and your work?

Stephen Templin: You can check me out on my website, and I’m also on Twitter and Facebook.

Tim Knox: Very good. Stephen, this has been a pleasure. What are you working on now?

Stephen Templin: I’m working on a sequel to Trident’s First Gleaming. The title is From Russia without Love.

Tim Knox: I love that. You’ve got to come back and talk to us when that book comes out.

Stephen Templin: Alright, will do. Thank you so much, Tim.



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