Interview with The Barber-osopher: Terry L. Sumerlin

My guest today is Terry L. Sumerlin, author of Leadership: It Takes More Than a Great Haircut!Terry is a client, but I didn’t edit his book. You see, the book is a compilation of columns he’s written for the San Antonio Business Journal. The articles were all professionally edited at the time they were published, so Terry just needed me to format the book for print and convert it to ebook formats. Although I was tempted by the intriguing chapter titles, I didn’t actually read the book until after it was published.
I will post a review of Terry’s book next Tuesday, so be sure to come back for that.

Lillie: Welcome to A Writer’s Words, An Editor’s Eye, Terry. You call yourself “The Barber-osopher,” and two of your previous books have “Barber-osophy” in the titles. What is a “barber-osopher” and how did you become one?

Terry:  Thank you, Lillie, for your kind invitation. It’s a pleasure to be with you.  As you would guess, “barber-osopher” is a bit of tongue in cheek. I’m a barber/philosopher, one who owns a 54-year-old barbershop and who travels internationally sharing sometimes humorous life and business lessons that I call barber-osophy. So, I coined the term to fit what I do.

Lillie: And an excellent term it is. What prompted you to start writing books as well as speaking?  

Terry:  I’ve always enjoyed writing and it has always come easily for me. For a long time, as part of my writing, I’ve kept a journal. My first barber-osophy book came almost right out of my journal. Now, though I still try to infuse humor into my writing, I think it has taken on a bit more sophisticated approach. It dovetails into my speaking.    

Lillie: Tell us about your relationship with the San Antonio Business Journal.

Terry:  Actually, the approach to my writing that I just described, I believe, is the result of my relationship with the San Antonio Business Journal. It forced me to focus on business issues. I believe the relationship has helped me as a writer.

This wonderful relationship began by persistence. I contacted the editor by sending him samples of my work. Then I contacted him again—and again.  I thought I was being a pest. He later told me had I not been persistent, I would have been merely one of hundreds of requests they receive regularly.

Lillie: What a great lesson for all writers! It demonstrates that rejection is just one step closer to a yes. Let’s move from rejection to irony. Anyone looking at the cover of your book will notice the irony of the title and your photo. How did you come up with the title?

Terry:  Lillie, for a number of years I worked with an Internet consultant in connection with my website and search engine optimization. One day, as I was on a speaking engagement in Breckenridge, CO, she, her husband, and I were having a hamburger and enjoying the day. I mentioned to them that I was writing a book on leadership. As a result, we began to kick around some titles. The one she liked best was Leadership: It Takes More Than a $400 Haircut! For a long time that was the working title. Then I got additional input from others I respect and decided to change it to Great Haircut.  The head shot for the cover was something I sort of came up with like a blind hog finding an acorn. I obviously don’t have a great haircut!   

Lillie: I like the way you interject humor into what you write. Leadership: It takes More Than a Great Haircut! contains a lot of anecdotes and humorous stories to illustrate your points. Can you give us a few tips on using humor in our writing? Do you think anyone can learn to use humor in their writing (or speaking, for that matter) or is that a talent that you either have or you don’t?

Terry:  While speaking in Las Vegas, I was asked essentially the same question in a Q & A.  I’m not sure I have all the answers to this one, but I think I have some. A good sense of humor comes from keen observation, and that comes from forgetting about self and observing others and life. Life and people are funny. We just don’t always notice.

For both speaking and writing, I’m always trying out humor on friends and family. Unless a groan is what is wanted, discard groaners. Also, unless one is a comedian (which I’m not) a funny story must always have a point—and it should be clearly stated so that the reader or audience is not left asking, “Why did he tell that?”

One other word of warning, something I learned from Art Linkletter: The longer the story, the stronger the punch line had better be. Otherwise, people feel they’ve wasted their time. One liners have the least amount of risk of failure.    

Lillie: Writers like to say that “everyone” should read their book, but we know that the more closely authors define their target audience, the more successful they are. Describe your ideal reader—the person who would benefit the most from reading your book.

Terry:  As a speaker, I’ve had to learn that I’m not for everyone. As a writer, the same is true. That said, I must quote one endorsement: “It’s the kind of book that makes a great gift for any age. People over 50 will enjoy reminiscing and “connecting the dots,” while those under 50 will be helped to create and develop their own character base. I can’t think of anyone that would not benefit from reading it—several times!” Laurie Magers, Executive Assistant to Zig Ziglar, Author and Motivational Teacher

I would have to say that the same person who would not like to hear me speak would not enjoy my book—and for the same reason. He or she is not interested in learning more about how to more effectively deal with people or life.

Lillie: What is the most important thing you want readers to take away from Leadership: It Takes a Great Haircut!?

Terry:  Lillie, one my favorite quotes is from Samuel Johnson: “Men plume themselves on the improvement of society, and no man improves.” I would hope that as individuals we would take away at least one idea or thought that makes each of us better people—in the home, in the workplace, and even in society. The only sure way to improve society is to improve self. 

Lillie: Where can readers learn more about you and your books? 

Terry: First, I would direct people to my website: My books are available on the “publications” page. 

Lillie: Is there anything I’ve failed to ask that you would like to share with my readers?

Terry:  I would add one more thing. Winston Churchill said: “Never, never, never, never give up.” If I had given up, I would not be writing for the Business Journal. If I had given up after my first book did not sell as I had hoped, I would never have written what I think is now my very best book. If the reader loves to write, I would encourage him or her to WRITE. Learn the craft. Fill your mind by being a voracious reader. Grow and mature with everything you read and write. But, don’t give up! 

Lillie: Excellent advice, Terry. Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing a bit of Barber-opsophy with my readers. They will probably have more questions for you. Will you check in during the day to respond to comments and answer questions?

Terry:  Thank YOU, Lillie.  I’ll be checking in throughout the day, and will be happy to respond to comments and questions.

Lillie: If you have questions for Terry, leave a comment below, and be sure to come back Tuesday for the review of Terry’s book.


Terry L. Sumerlin has inspired and entertained CEOs and graduates of The Harvard Business School, as well as athletes, coaches, teachers, salespeople, business owners, and government personnel. He’s addressed men and women from Halifax to Honolulu and from St. Paul to St. Thomas. For nearly a decade he’s written a monthly leadership column for American City Business Journals and is the author of the popular Barber-osophy series as well as the inspirational novella, A Human Becoming. Terry and his wife Sherry live in San Antonio, Texas.

Disclosure: I received compensation from the author for laying out the book, creating the electronic editions,and other publishing services. I have received no compensation for writing about the book or interviewing the author on my blog. I’m sharing with my readers because I love the book and think they will too.

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