Q & R: More advice for writers …

A question on writing and a reply after the jump …

You can tell from this email that this writer has a lot to offer …

Dear Mr. McLaren,
I don’t think “fan” is the right word, but I can’t think of another at the moment. I have been a “fan” of your writing and teaching for a couple of years, now. I have read both A Generous Orthodoxy and A New Kind of Christian. Both works have greatly inspired me and helped me to iron out my own belief system/worldview. I went through a sort of transition period during college and immediately after that was sort of a “crisis” of faith, so to speak. I knew something was desperately wrong with my religion (as I had been taught to practice it and live it out). And then I discovered the Emergent Church movement. The first book I read on the subject was Velvet Elvis, by Rob Bell, and my life was never the same. For the first time, I encountered someone who wrote on the very things I had been wrestling with in my own heart and soul. I thought something was wrong with me, or that I was alone in my disillusionment of the modern American Church!
Over the past few years, I have been writing and nailing down just why I believe what I believe. Part of my motivation for writing has stemmed from an ongoing conflict with my parents. They think that I have “gone off the deep end” and I have been labeled a “hippie” and a “heretic”. At first I was very cynical about it, and that cynicism came out in my writing. But God was still working on my heart, and I began writing from a fresh perspective. I really, really want to convey my heart and my worldview in a loving, down-to-earth tone. I want my family and others like them to understand where my generation is coming from, and why we think the way we do about God, faith, church, etc. Long story short, I finished my writing a few months ago, and am working on self publishing….
I know you are an extremely busy person, and have probably more than you can handle on your plate. But you know what they say, you never know until you ask, right? So what I was wondering is if you would be interested in taking a look at my book draft. I have no idea how to get this thing off the ground…. I would love to get an endorsement, and I would covet that endorsement from no one more than yourself. (Plus any advice or ideas as to how to get publicity for my book would be warmly welcomed, as well!)
You probably get silly requests like this all the time, so if I don’t get a response, I would never hold that against you. You will still remain one of my greatest inspirations, right up there with C. S. Lewis! Thanks for your ministry and everything you do for the cause of Christ, even though you endure persecution with the words and accusations of less merciful Christians. May the peace of the Lord go with you!

R: Thanks so much for your note, and your encouraging words. As you can imagine, it means a lot to me to know my books have been of help to an articulate and intelligent person like yourself. Your request isn’t silly at all – but you’re right, I can’t respond to all the requests I receive to read manuscripts, as much as I wish I could. I’m so sorry! I especially wish I could say yes to all the requests like yours, and I hate having to say no, but if I’m not careful about my own limits, soon I won’t be able to devote concentrated time to my own work. So, thanks for understanding … and let me offer a few brief responses to your inquiry.
1. I linked to some great advice to writers in an earlier blog post
2. Like the rest of the economy, the traditional book publishing industry is in a recession, and they’re experiencing some anxiety about being replaced in large part by digital media, so this is a tough time to get published – especially for first-time authors. That’s why you’re probably smart to consider self-publishing. I know there’s a lot of easily google-able information about self-publishing available on the web.
3. The first question an agent or publisher will ask a prospective writer is, “What’s your platform?” By that, they mean, “How many people read your blog per month, or how many people do you speak to per month?” They’re counting on the author to bring an audience …
4. So … I think one of the best things you could do is launch a good blog where you begin to share some of your thoughts. There’s a whole science to getting blog traffic – not that I’m an expert in this! – but it’s easy to investigate online. As well, take advantage of any speaking opportunities you can … All of this will build an audience who might be interested in buying your book when it’s available. And then comes word of mouth – which is what really matters most.
5. In my experience, getting a publishing contract is a lot like getting a loan: the people who need a loan most have the hardest time getting one, and the ones who need it least can get it the easiest. Published books create interest in blogs and speakers, but without a popular blog or speaking schedule, it’s getting harder and harder to get published. That’s why self-publishing might be ideal in your situation. You’ll get your message out, and if the book takes on a life of its own, that will help you create a platform which will make it easier to get published in the future, if you wish to do so.
6. In the meantime, I always recommend people buy and digest one of the “How to Get Published for Dummies” books. It’s good to learn how the publishing world works … especially regarding the initial “resume” for writers, which is a book proposal.
I hope that helps a bit … I hope we’ll get to meet in person sometime and talk more then.