Have you always worked in publishing?
My initial training was a law degree, from which I developed a strong sense of the importance of language and the precise use of words. I have also worked in an academic setting, teaching English classes at a university while working on research. And teaching is a great way to learn, particularly focusing on what makes stories and communication work.
What have you published?
I have six books, including the novel Nemesis Train, plus six other collections that I have edited or co-edited. The most recent of these—Do Justice: Our Call to Faithful Living—is now in production and will be released in September. I have also had somewhere more than 800 articles published in magazines around the world (but stopped counting a while ago).
What was your first publishing experience like?
My first publication was a “Teen Opinion” piece in the March, 1992, issue of Signs of the Times magazine in Australia. As the name suggests, this was a regular feature designed to give young writers an opportunity for first publication. Remarkably, there where at least three other young people published in that column in the same year that I have worked with in various writing capacities since that time, kind of the Signs “Class of 92.” This was a positive initiative by the magazine editors and was a “safe place” for beginning writers—and once someone has given you the privilege of a couple of pages in their magazine, it is less daunting to try it again (although my second article, sent as a follow up to the first, was never published—and justifiably so).
How did you manage to get published in the beginning of your career?
After that first publication, it was not until the late 1990s that I started to write regularly. There were two features to initial publication opportunities. One was writing a lot, recognising that not everything would be published but also being prepared to write a variety of material—including taking on “boring” and unpaid writing assignments—and being prepared to work hard at writing well. Second, I entered writing competitions in various genres. These were a good way to have my writing read and noticed, and a few competition wins opened up new writing opportunities and invitations in some quite big ways.
What’s the first piece of advice you’d give to aspiring authors?
Write lots. Writing is about practice. It is something we can become better at by doing it and experimenting with it. In time, writing becomes a way of thinking, as well as a way of engaging with life, with others and with the wider world. And nothing written is wasted, even if there is no obvious avenue for publication. It might just be practice but everything that we have taken the time to put down also becomes resource material, which is uniquely ours and we can drawn on for a starting point, an idea, a story or a turn of phrase that we can use in some later piece of writing. Having said that, we should keep in mind that there is often a difference between writing for ourselves and writing for publication, so don’t just write, try to write with the expectation that it will eventually be read in a public place.
What advice would you give to someone who’s written magazine articles and blog posts and now wants to get a book published?
For most of us, I would suggest that a first book should be considered a 10-year process, not necessarily that long working on the specific project but taking the time to develop our abilities and experience as a writer, to have pieces published, read and reacted to, and to mature in the understanding of writing as a way of connecting with readers. Too often, I have people who have little writing experience talking to me about their “book.” But to take the time to develop as a writer and develop a catalogue of published work over a period of time will make the process of writing the book easier, will mean the book will be a better finished product and will increase the likelihood of the book eventually being published and reaching readers. Writing a book is a step-by-step process—no-one writes a book all at once—and while it does require focus, it should not become a tunnel vision to the exclusion of other writing or even other living. The book should be better for any other writing you do along the way.
How can someone decide what they should write about?
Write what you are passionate about. Why spend time writing about what you don’t care about? And one of the factors that I think connects with readers in what I write is that I enjoy writing and enjoy the process of wrestling with ideas or telling stories as well as possible. I think the smile that I write with comes through in what I write when I am writing well and enjoying the process.
Any other words of wisdom for aspiring/seasoned writers?
Write as much as you can. But don’t assume that your writing deserves publication—or to be read—merely by being written. This is a respect that must be earned by work, practice, intentionality and selectiveness. So write often and write better.