An interview with freelance writer Joe Henley

As part of some tips for successful travel and freelance writing, I decided to interview Joe Henley. He is a Canadian freelance writer and death metal singer for Taiwanese band Revilement who has spent the past few years living in Taiwan, and will released his debut novel, “Sons of the Republic”, on American imprint Library Tales Publishing on September 12th 2014.

He’s an example of someone who set out to live in a foreign country and worked hard to realize the “writer’s dream”. I asked him a few questions to bring his experience as a useful example for other budding wannabe Vagabonding writers. read on… and as Joe says, keep writing.

How did you become a writer in Taiwan? Is being a white English native speaker an asset to break into a foreign country’s journalistic and media scene?

I started off working in academic publishing. I worked a somewhat dreadful desk job for years, actually, churning out articles and test materials for ESL publications. For that particular job, being a native English speaker was definitely part of what got me hired. There are labor laws here preventing companies from hiring anyone for jobs related to the ESL field who don’t come from certain countries wherein English is the official language. Then I started off getting freelance gigs on the side, and gradually built up my stable of regular jobs to the point where I was able to quit that job almost two years ago. It was fucking glorious.

Joe Henley (11 of 33) copyIs writing your main source of income, or is it still some sort of a part time job?

Now it’s my main source of income, though I do still supplement with other work. I’ve got a bit of a radio voice so I can get gigs doing voice overs for various things here and there. But mainly it’s writing and editing now.

Is travel writing a viable market in Taiwan, or do you have to write across different topics/platforms to make ends meet?

I think you definitely have to write across different topics and platforms to make a living. I do some travel writing for various publications, but it’s such a niche thing when you’re only dealing with one country, and a relatively small one at that. One of my regular jobs besides travel writing is covering the local music scene, but I also write about politics, sports, the arts—anything, really. You have to hustle to make ends meet, and that means being as diverse as possible.

You just published your debut novel, “Sons of the Republic“. How long did it take you to get it published? What can you suggest to other budding writers to ease this process?

Writing the book, all eighty-something-thousand words of it, only took a couple of months. I quit my job and that was the first thing I did. I had just turned 30 and had always talked about writing a book but had never actually done it. I feared becoming one of those insufferable assholes who always talks about being a writer but doesn’t actually accomplish anything, so I threw myself into it. The editing process took another few months, in between traveling to Canada, then going to Finland for a month on tour with my band, and also going to Indonesia, getting married there, and traveling for three weeks. That took me up to the summer of last year. After that, I sent it off to a few places and was either rejected or received no response at all. That led to the book sitting on a hard drive for a few months before I finally summoned the courage to try again. A few months back, I got the go ahead from Library Tales Publishing, so all in all, from start to finish, it was a journey of about a year and a half.

As for suggestions, I guess I would suggest that they not do what I did, which was get discouraged and do nothing with their work for several months. Keep shopping it around and see what happens. Maybe it will get published, and maybe some kindly editor out there will point out to you why it’s not getting published. You never know. Stranger things have happened.

What are the three most important things that you would suggest to newbie writers looking to get themselves started in the business?

1)It doesn’t matter how you get the words down. Just get the words down. I started out doing a music blog called Taipei Metal that I’m pretty sure was read by about three people, myself included. From an exposure standpoint it was probably awful, but in terms of practice it was irreplaceable. Later on, it did serve as a platform for getting me into paid music writing work, and that in turn led to other opportunities. Everyone starts at the bottom, and anything can serve as a springboard to bigger and better things so long as you’re willing to bust your ass.

2) Don’t expect the mythical meteoric rise. Be prepared to put in the time—a lot of it. It can take years to get established as a writer, especially if you’re trying to go the freelance route. I was 30 years old before I could safely make the jump into full-time freelancing. Others have been able to do it much sooner, but I don’t know any writers who had anything of significance in terms of their career happen overnight. Developing a voice takes time. Getting editors to trust the quality of your words takes time. So put in the time.

3) Listen to other writers. And don’t listen to other writers. In other words, choose your writers circle carefully. These days it seems like the goal is to connect with everyone. All that does is lead to overload. Overload of influence. Too many voices. Too much crap, in other words. The landscape is littered with those who represent themselves as writers to the outside world but are more in love with the image of being a writer than with the reality of it. The reality is hour upon hour of neglecting family, friends, and any semblance of a social life in favor of getting those “lucky words,” as Bukowski would call them, to dance on the page. If you can, seek out those in your particular community whom you can relate to, and who actually take the time to hone their craft. Avoid the ones propped up at the end of the bar boasting about the hours they’re putting into their next magnum opus like the plague—or cliches. And stay away from writing workshops. The bulk of them, anyway. Some are all right, I guess. But by and large they’re a breeding ground for people looking for a pat on the head. But what do I know? I’m awful at networking.

MARCO FERRARESE is a metalpunk guitarist who travelled extensively and lived in Italy, the United States, China, Australia and Malaysia. Since 2009 he’s been based in Southeast Asia as a writer, hardcore punk musician and researcher. He travelled from Mongolia to Australia in 2009, and hitchhiked from Singapore to Milano through Silk Road routes and the Middle East in 2012. He blogs at Marco’s first Asian pulp novel Nazi Goreng  was published in November 2013 on Monsoon Books. Follow him @monkeyrockworld

Posted by | Comments (1)  | August 24, 2014
Category: Asia, Expat Life, Lifestyle Design, Travel Writing, Vagabonding Life

One Response to “An interview with freelance writer Joe Henley”

  1. Janette Lemme' Says:

    Although I come from a very different world and am more than twice your age, I appreciate the clarity and wisdom of your message, thank you. Also, thirty is quite young to be supporting yourselves by freelancing. Congratulations to both Joe Henley and Marco Ferrarese on teaming up for this good article. Best wishes for the future.