Interview with Expat author - Andrew Hallam
My wife and I have no fixed address. She’s American. I’m Canadian. I lived in Singapore from 2003-2014. That’s where we met. Now we travel around the world like a couple of nomads:
- October and November in Mexico
- January to March in Thailand
- April to May in Malaysia.
The year after that? Maybe Argentina, Europe or Fiji.
1. Why did you move abroad?
I had bought a piece of oceanfront property on Vancouver Island. Before long, I realized that the costs of paying off the mortgage and building a house were recipes for mini, nightly aneurisms. So I took a teaching job at Singapore American School. Salaries were higher than what I was being paid in Canada. And the school covered accommodation. I thought I would spend just two years in Singapore. But from the first month, I knew I was going to stay a lot longer. I loved the city, the jungle, the travel and the people.
2. How do you make a living? Are you a fulltime writer?
I taught personal finance and English at Singapore American School until June 2014. But currently, writing pays the bills. I write a personal finance column for Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail. I also write for a financial services company in the U.S., called AssetBuilder. With the newspaper, I write about money. But AssetBuilder gives me a lot more freedom. I can write, for example, about adventure, living overseas, our quirky perceptions of time (and how it speeds up as we age). Anything. I love it!
I’ve also published two books: Millionaire Teacher and The Global Expatriate’s Guide To Investing.
3. How did you start the process of writing a book and get it published? Did you go to a publisher? Self-publish?
I remember lying in my bed after sending a book proposal to John Wiley & Sons earlier that evening. It was for my first book, Millionaire Teacher. “Silly fool,” I thought to myself. “You wasted four hours writing (then sending) an unsolicited book proposal to the world’s largest business/finance publisher. And you don’t even have an agent. They’ll never even read it.”
It had seemed like a hopeless pipe dream….until I checked my email. Wiley emailed me back within hours. The book wasn’t even completed at that point. I had written an outline and a couple of chapters.
I finished the book about six months later. A year later, it became an international bestseller. My big claim to fame? For one beautiful week, on Amazon.com, the book was closing in on Fifty Shades of Gray. Of course, biology came to its senses and my book fell far behind everyone’s favorite erotica.
4. What was the hardest part of taking your writing to a book format? Did you blog before writing your book?
I had been writing magazine articles for a long time. So my first book (and my second) were natural progressions. Honestly, I think writing a great blog post or a great magazine article is harder than writing a book, in some ways. It has to be “punchier” so it grabs people right away. And you can’t waste a single word when writing a 600-800 word piece. It has to be crafted like a fine, small sculpture. With a book, writers have a bit more leeway.
5. What is your perception of the expat book market? Or is there a niche you consider your book to be part of?
When I was writing The Global Expatriate’s Guide To Investing, I thought, “Finally, I’m writing for my people!” I wanted something simple, entertaining yet really instructive. Expats get ripped off royally by investment firms overseas. And few expats realize how much they should strive to save, and why. I wanted to do something to rectify that.
As for other expat books, I love them! They’re easy to relate to. You find yourself saying, “I’ve been there,” or “I’ve also unknowingly eaten dog in Vietnam….oh my god!”
6. What is your favorite part of the book?
I love how generous people were when I wrote The Global Expatriate’s Guide To Investing. I was able to profile people’s real stories: a chef in Vietnam; a tech specialist in Singapore; an engineer in the United Arab Emirates; a teacher in Luxembourg. Dozens of people allowed me tell their financial stories. Profiling their successes and failures made the book much more entertaining and readable. I peppered the entire book with these snippets.
7. What was the most difficult part to write?
Most finance writers have a tough time making their material fun. This part is always challenging. But I love it! I think a tenth grader could understand my message—while enjoying my juvenile sense of humor. Getting the manuscript to that point wasn’t easy. But it was worth it! When I wrote Millionaire Teacher, I had an editor who worked with The Wall Street Journal. When I wrote something goofy in the book, she would say, “You can’t do that in a finance book.” Fortunately, she was wrong. Reviewers enjoyed its goofiness. I followed the same formula with The Global Expatriate’s Guide To Investing.
8. Besides your book, what book should everyone read?
I love reading books that inspire people. Julie Angus’ book, Rowboat in a Hurricane is amazing! She was the first woman to row (yes, row!) across the Atlantic from mainland to mainland. She and her husband have written many books about their adventures. He (Colin Angus) was the first person to circumnavigate the globe on his own power….by bicycle, foot and rowboat. Amazing!
9. What advice would you give to other expats that want to write a book?
Never, ever, ever give up! When getting a rejection letter from a publisher or agent, don’t think, “My stuff isn’t good.” In many cases, the publisher or agents send those letters without even reading your manuscript. They miss out on a bunch of amazing authors.
How do I know? Let me tell you a story. My publisher sent me a contract for my second book. Before signing it, I wanted to “shop around” so I sent an email to an agent. At the time, I didn’t have an agent. But I figured it was time to find one. I told the prospective literary agency I already had a book contact. I told them my first book was an international bestseller. And I told them I wanted representation to help me either negotiate a stronger contact from Wiley, or help me find another publisher. I was literally offering free money because I already had a contract. At the very least, any agency that took me on would earn 15% of my proceeds from that first contract….at least! I attached the initial contract (the one I hadn’t signed). It already offered an advance. But the first agency emailed me back with this: “After carefully reading your manuscript, we have decided that….we don’t want your book” OK, I didn’t even send them a manuscript! So they were lying. They hadn’t properly read my email.
So writers, when getting rejection letters, keep this in mind. Your work could be awesome. So ignore letters of rejection and keep going. Somebody, somewhere, will take notice of your work.
10. What are you working on now? Do you have plans to publish another book?
Currently, I’m promoting The Global Expatriates Guide To Investing, while trying to keep my head above water with my columns. Both challenges are fun! My wife and I are supposed to be taking a “mini-retirement” to travel the world. We are traveling. But I’m also writing nearly every day.