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Interview with T.J. MacLeslie, Author of Designed for Relationship



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T.J. MacLeslie is a follower of Christ, a husband, a father, a minister, a missionary, and an author. Since his first missions experience in 1990, T.J. has been involved in a variety of ministries: pastoring, church planting, leadership development, and spiritual formation. Through it all, his mission has always been, “To envision and train believers to go deep in their relationship with Christ and each other so that they can be a blessing to each other and the world.” His new book: Designed for Relationship distills the lessons learned along the way to help those longing for more. He currently lives in the UK with his wife and two children where he leads a team focused on prayer and spiritual formation for missionaries serving around the world.
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Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, T.J. MacLeslie.  Can you start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published? 

A: I just had my second book, Designed for Relationship, published.

Q: What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why? 

A: My first book, Pursuit of a Thirsty Fool, was published 2 years ago.

Q: For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it? 

A: Actually, I was kind of hoping that my first book would be rejected, as I did not write it for publication. The first book was kind of an accident. I sat down to write the current book, Designed for Relationship, but Pursuit of a Thirsty Fool is what spilled out of my soul through my fingertips. Pursuit was a no-holds-barred story of God’s pursuit of me and my foolishness, which I hoped would never see the light of day. I wrote it primarily as a spiritual exercise, but a friend showed it to a publisher who was interested and eventually published it.

My experience of rejection in publishing was more about the editing process than the publishing one. I write in community. After every major revision, I invite a variety of people to read and offer feedback. This process is incredibly helpful but also vulnerable. Also, some people’s honest feedback was that they hated the book and wondered why I was wasting my time writing. Ouch! I realized that not every book is for every person, and while some loved it, others hated it. Books are very personal and will not appeal to everyone. This is true with readers, and also for publishers.

My first publisher loved the first book, but didn’t want to publish my second book. It wasn’t that they hated it, but they have their own publishing priorities and my first book fit while my second didn’t.

Q: How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows? 

A: I was really hurt and discouraged by the negative feedback and rejection. That hurt turned quickly to anger and defensiveness. I got stuck there for a little while, and then I turned all of that emotion into prayer. I honestly talked it out with God during long walks alone through the countryside near my house.

He led me to a place of peace by reminding me that He knows what it is like to be despised and rejected. When Jesus walked the earth, He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. That helped me to feel less alone.

Then He reminded me that writing is just another form of communication. And the acceptance or rejection of a message has something to do with the communicator, but is primarily about the person receiving the message. So, I guess what I’m saying is that I have learned that the acceptance or rejection of the book by a reader or a publisher is mostly about the person doing the accepting or rejecting.

Me writing, telling my stories is my part, and other’s reaction to it is their part. I’m only responsible for my part. Designed for Relationship cover

Q: When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them? 

A: Bottomline Media, a division of Pioneers, was my first publisher. As I mentioned, they chose me first. I seriously considered self-publishing instead because of retaining control of the work. But I thought that a small publisher would strike a good balance between creative input and bringing additional resources into the project. As a first time author I found it difficult to relinquish any control, but they were patient with me and we made it work.

Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?

A: Publishing for me is a mixed bag. I am amazed that people believe in my work enough to invest in it and share it with others. It is such an honor to have others value your work and promote it. On the other hand, my first book in particular, was so honest and vulnerable that I felt apprehensive when it was first published for the world to read.

I still remember the day it went live on Amazon. That was the day I felt like a real author. Completing the text, or the publisher accepting the work, didn’t do it for me. Seeing it on the shelf was the day it clicked for me. I celebrated quietly with my wife and kids.

Q: What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?

A: The first official promotion was done by the publisher. Just before the book was available, the publisher reached out through their network and offered free copies of the eBook to bloggers and other potential reviewers. But I think the real promotion began when I started engaging others in the creative process. By the time the book was written, there were people who had invested something in the project and became advocates for the book.

Q: If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?

A: I have thought about this quite a bit. Every relationship has some struggles and the relationship between author and publisher is not an exception. That said, I’m glad I went with a small publisher as I find it strikes the right balance for me between creative control and bringing additional resources into the design, printing, and promotion parts of the project. I’ve gone with another small publisher, Parvaim Press, for my second book, Designed for Relationship.

Q: Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?

A: Yes, my second book, Designed for Relationship, was just published recently. I found that I did not need as many drafts to get to the final text this time; which is nice, because I hate editing! I guess I learned the lessons that my readers flagged in the first book, and many of the bad habits were self-corrected during the creative process. I think I’m also more confident in my own voice. I recognize that my voice is valid, and while others might not say things the same way, I’m okay with that now. With my first book I wrestled more and had a hard time finding the balance between being open and teachable and losing my voice in receiving the feedback of others. I think I did better with this on my second book.

Q: Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up?  What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?

A: Knowing what I know now, I think a big part of the publishing process is expectations. If I expect to be published by a particular publisher or I expect for things to happen according to a particular timeline, I will likely be disappointed and/or frustrated. Particularly early in the publishing process I was really frustrated by missed deadlines, or what I perceived as missed opportunities. But, when I relaxed, did my part, and communicated clearly with my publisher, I found the process much more enjoyable and less stressful. Of course, my faith plays a big role in this too. I believe God is working all things together for good, for my good; that means I can relax a bit. (I’m still working on this!) He is in control so I don’t have to be.

Q: What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?

A: My biggest accomplishment has been to simply keep writing. Even after my first book was published I struggled with discouragement. I write because I believe God has asked me to, but I still want people to buy my book. My first book did okay, but it hasn’t made the New York Times best seller list. I watched the sales figures with interest and found myself taking some of my identity not just from being published but from the sales of the book. When it didn’t go viral I struggled. I felt jealous of the success of others. I found it hard to want to write again, and go through the whole process not knowing what the end result would be. But, God met me again, and reminded me that He has asked me to write. That’s my part. So, just continuing to write is an accomplishment and I still find the struggle a daily challenge. 

Q: If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?

A: Actually, I have another profession. I’m a full-time Christian minister. I get to pray for, meet with, counsel, and encourage wonderful people serving the Lord all over the world. I love my job and the people I serve. My writing is an extension of my work with people.

Q: Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?

A: I don’t think I would want to give up writing or my profession. My writing helps me to crystallize and communicate the things God is teaching me, and my work with people keeps me grounded in the real world. 

Q: How do you see yourself in ten years?

A: I hope I’m still doing exactly what I’m doing now, but with more wisdom and kindness. I would love to continue to serve people, supporting and encouraging them to love and serve others. I would also love to still be writing.

Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?

A: Nearly twenty years ago a mentor of mine, the first one to encourage me to write, told me to write something every day. He encouraged me to be a writer, and a writer is someone who writes. Publishing is a completely different question. A writer writes and a publisher publishes. Don’t worry about the publishing! Work hard at your craft. Write from your soul. Be curious. Investigate. Try new things. Share your work with your friends. Find, or develop, a creative community. Be open to constructive criticism. But above all…write!

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