Advice for Aspiring Authors
Over the past 12 years, I have had the opportunity to write a number of different books for students and adults in the area of apologetics and relationships. As a result, aspiring authors have often asked my advice for how to become an established author. Here’s a few tips I have learned along the way.
1. Don’t Be in A Rush to Publish. Because we live in such an “instant” culture, it is easy to feel the need to publish something immediately. But this is often a mistake, for at least two reasons. First, once something is published, it is there forever to be found whenever someone Googles your name. Second, people will often judge you by your first book, so make sure it’s good! There is much wisdom in taking longer to write a great book than rushing out an average one.
2. Write from Your Passion and Expertise. My first book was Ethix: Being Bold in A Whatever World (2006). When I initially considered writing a book, I asked myself a few questions: “What am I an expert in? What unique contribution can I make? Where is there a hole that needs filling?” My graduate training was in philosophy and I was teaching high school students in worldview and apologetics. I personally had a need for a student ethics book that offered careful philosophical and biblical thinking on “hot” issues of the day such as abortion, war, and homosexuality. And so I wrote it! You can do the same.
3. Develop your unique voice. When I first started writing, I found myself mimicking the voice of other authors. I tried to write with the authority of J.P. Moreland or the clarity and persuasiveness of Philip Yancey. But this question was lurking in the back of my mind: “How has God wired me to communicate? What experiences has God given me that shapes how I uniquely communicate?” Personally, it felt like my writing “voice” started to emerge in my early 30s and is probably best seen in A New Kind of Apologist as well as the unique contributions I made to the updated Evidence that Demands a Verdict. If you are an aspiring author, prayerfully focus on developing the unique voice God has given you.
4. Develop a platform. Unless you have an utterly fresh idea or experience, blogging regularly is critical (as well as using other kinds of social media). First, it will help you become a better writer. There is no shortcut to becoming a good writer: write, write, write. Second, blogging helps develop your platform. One of the first questions publishers ask when they see a proposal is: Does the person have a platform? If not, few will take the risk on a new author. Third, you will be able to gauge if people value your writing. Do people read your blogs? Do they repost them? A successful blog is a good sign you will write a successful book.
5. Find Your Identity in Christ. Although mentioned last, this is the most important tip. You will inevitably face criticism if you write a book. Some people may be harsh. If your identity comes from the praise of others, or how many books you sell, you could be in for a difficult ride. But if your identity is grounded in Christ, then you will be free to do your best and leave the results to God. Grounding your identity in Christ begins long before you write a book. Consider asking yourself a few questions: “Why do I really want to write a book? Can I bring glory to God through both the process and the end product?” You don’t have to have perfect motives but be sure you can truly love God and other people through the process. If so, go for it.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.