I’ve been a published writer for more than forty years, an author for twenty-seven, and a literary agent for two-and-a-half years (not to mention a freelance book editor and a staff magazine editor at various points over the years, but I just did mention it, didn’t I?).
So, whether via email or in person, I’m occasionally put in a position to offer advice. I’m usually surprised and amazed that few people seem to follow my advice, but I still give it out from time to time—usually on the subject of writing for publication. For some reason, people seem even less interested in my fashion recommendations and investment tips. Come to think of it, I get it.
So, it’s mostly on the subject of writing for publication that I hold forth. And I seem to be stuck in a rut of sorts because I tend to give the same advice over and over. Maybe it’s because the following is what aspiring writers most need to hear, in my opinion. It could also be because I know only a few things for sure. Take your pick. But here is the most common advice I seem to give out in talking to aspiring (sometimes even gifted and accomplished) writers:
- Read this blog.
Yes, I know you’re doing so right now. Good for you. By regularly reading this blog (with new posts appearing every Monday through Friday), you are absorbing, free of charge, some of the best advice available on writing for publication in Christian markets. So good on ya!
- Get to a writers conference.
There’s so much to know about writing for publication—not only how to write but also information about submitting your work; working with agents, editors, and publishers; mistakes to avoid; and more—that those who’ve never attended a writers conference just can’t imagine. The experience will blow your mind and maybe set you on a course toward publication.
- Read a book.
Not just any book. I find myself repeatedly recommending one of two books to people who say they want to write for publication. To writers of nonfiction, I ask if they’ve read William Zinsser’s indispensable On Writing Well. If they haven’t, I say they must—as soon as possible. If they have, I say they should read it again, not because they’re bad writers but because it’s filled with what good and great writers do. For writers of fiction (though On Writing Well would be helpful for them too), I often recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King. Obviously, those aren’t the only books I recommend, but I do it often enough I should get a commission.
- Get critique.
If you want to write for publication—whether for newspapers, magazines, websites, or books—you should get in the habit of submitting your work for critique. Not to your mom or your spouse, but to someone (or several someones, such as a critique group) with an analytical eye. (I’ll explain more about that in my next blog post, so stay tuned.) Having a good critique partner read and comment on your work will make you a better writer, guar-ohn-teed. (Tip: If there’s a chapter of Word Weavers International in your area, that’s a great place to start.)
- Take writing courses.
Okay, so this is a little self-serving, as I am the titular executive editor of The Christian Writers Institute. But did you know there is such a thing as The Christian Writers Institute? There is, and I recommend it all the time because it’s an online resource to help Christians become proficient in the skills, craft, and business of writing by making available a deep and wide variety of audio and video courses taught by some of our industry’s best teachers—as well as books and podcasts that will expand your horizons and shed so much light and open so many doors that you’ll be impressed, amazed, and so grateful that you may want to write me a thank-you note for suggesting it. (Feel free to include a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card; just don’t tell Steve “The Big Kahuna” Laube about it.)
Forgive me if you’ve heard all this before. If you’ve ever talked to me, you probably have. But as I say, this is the advice I give out—ad nauseum—to aspiring and developing writers. Maybe from now on I can just say, “Go to the blog.” Unless you’re also interested in my fashion recommendations and investment tips. That’s going to cost you.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D.
Bob, thanks for the advice. For many years before I got into academia, I read four or five books a week. I still love to read and find it really “primes the pump” of my well of writing. Great blog posting, as always.
Dunkin’ Donuts gift card…got it!
If I could give some free advice
well-learned from hanging out in bars,
I’d tell you that life might be nice
if you’d go out and count the stars
upon some cool and windless night,
in some comfort on your back,
breathing in God’s beacon-lights
which show that wonders never lack
in this world He chose to love,
a place of which you are a part,
and that you can rise above
the fear and trembling of your heart
to know that He created you,
and like the stars, you’re vital, too.
Love your message, Andrew.
Andrew, oh, Andrew. This is beautiful. I see your heart. It’s magnificent. Thank you for sharing. (still praying here) Grace, peace, and love.
Bob, Just asking for a friend…what would be your fashion recommendations for this year?
Ann L Coker
1) Connect with SLA blogs Mon — Fri. 2) Met you at Taylor Univ. Writers Conf. 2018 & followed your advice: got a magazine article published related to my husband’s book on pastoral prayers. 3) Ordered On Writing Well & then, oops, found it on my shelf, unread. Will give the ordered one to a writer friend, and start reading the one I have. 4) I’m a member of Heartland Christian Writers Group and value critiques. 5) CWI courses are a regular practice, including Thomas’s podcasts. So I rate 4 out of 5. Thanks.
Great advice, Bob. Thank you.
“Self-editing for Fiction Writers” was one of the first craft books I learned about when I considered writing a novel, and it became part of the short stack of books that I return to over and over.
I had the good fortune to interview Renni Browne and Dave King for my blog series “The Craft of Writing.” They are a treasury of information on the craft of writing as well as the author’s life. (You can find the interview at
Thank you, Bob. I love that you reference Word Weavers. Three years ago, I started the Central Kansas Christian Writers Critique Group. We were too few at that time for WW to accept us. But we instituted the Word Weavers critique method. It has worked well. For any aspiring writer, I second your recommendation to find or create a critique group. All it takes is finding at least three other writers in your geographical area. Oh, and a lot of personal hours to hold it together.
Now about that investment advice…
Always looking for good writing books–thanks! Should I email the authors a reminder to send you a commission check? 🙂
Great advice, thanks Bob.