Thursday, May 1, 2014

Being a real author

I think I could write a book about my book promotion experiences over the past seven years. In this scintillating piece of literature, I would include some of the more startling and amusing conversations I have had at my book table, such as the following:

‘So what do you have here?

‘These are my six novels and this one, Soul Friend, is non-fiction.’

‘Oh ... what are they about?’

‘Well, I explore different faith themes in my novels such as understanding God’s love, forgiving others, using our gifts to serve God, overcoming rejection, holding onto our faith, and so on. My latest one here, The Inheritance, highlights the importance of dealing with anger and bitterness in our lives and learning to trust God. It has a strong male main character in it as well as a female one this time.’

‘Oh ... so you said they’re novels. Do you mean fiction?  I don’t usually read fiction.’

‘Yes, they’re fiction—but several of them were inspired by real people.’

‘Oh, okay. ... And what about this one here? Did you say it’s non-fiction?’

‘Yes. It’s the story of my own journey with my spiritual mentor Joy.’

‘Oh ... you mean you wrote it yourself? Wow!’

‘Yes. I wrote all these.’

‘You mean ... you mean you wrote all those as well?’

‘That's right.’

‘Wow! I’ve never met a real author before. That’s amazing!’

It’s a little strange how, even when I talk about ‘my’ books or ‘my’ writing in such settings, some people still think I must be selling someone else’s books. After all, their expression says, I couldn’t possibly be an author! Yet I can well understand where they might be coming from. You see, when I was a child, I always thought authors weren’t real people like the rest of us. I think I imagined them as a race apart—some sort of exotic beings from a realm far removed from us whom we could know only via their names on the covers of their books. They must be so clever, I used to think. Only super human beings could weave stories together like that. Imagine writing a whole book!

Now I know differently, of course. Now I myself have joined their ranks. And, as I usually assure those who have such conversations as the above with me, authors are quite normal people—well, sort of! We just happen to love writing, even when that involves many hours of hard work. And some of us also believe that’s how we can best serve God and others.

I never imagined I would be a ‘real author’. I can well remember the day I received the proposed cover of my first novel and how I felt when I saw my name in large letters at the top. My first thought was ‘What have I done?’ Now my work and many of my inner thoughts would be out there for all to see. But in the years since, I have discovered what a privilege it is to be a ‘real author’ and to take hold of every opportunity to honour God and bless others that comes my way as a result.

What are your thoughts about ‘real authors’ or your experiences of being one? Is this a term only published authors can use? Does it differ from the term ‘writer’, which I still prefer to put down as my occupation?


Jo-Anne Berthelsen lives in Sydney but grew up in Brisbane. She holds degrees in Arts and Theology and has worked as a high school teacher, editor and secretary, as well as in local church ministry. Jo-Anne is passionate about touching hearts and lives through both the written and spoken word. She is the author of six published novels and one non-fiction work, Soul Friend: the story of a shared spiritual journey. Jo-Anne is married to a retired minister and has three grown-up children and three grandchildren. For more information, please visit www.jo-anneberthelsen.com or www.soulfriend.com.au.

22 comments:

  1. Hi Jo-Anne,
    What an entertaining post. I too, have faced those very same questions often. I remember thinking the same way whenever we had a 'real author' visit our school or church. However, my kids think of it quite differently. I always remember listening in on a class session when other young people were talking about 'real authors' seeming exotic and clever. My son, Logan, rolled his eyes and said, "I've never thought about them like that at all." He and his siblings have always been used to me writing, and talking about other author friends, since they were babies. It's interesting, what truth a bit of perspective can provide :)

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  2. Thanks for your reassuring comments, Paula. I was beginning to think I might be a little crazy putting such a weird post up on this blog! I'm glad you understand anyway. But you have given me some food for thought re how our own children and grandchildren view authors--I'll have to investigate! I'm sure our two older granddaughters at least will understand a bit more about authors from their experiences, as they have been present at most of my launches and I've also tried to include them in some of them as well, by giving them little jobs to do.

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  3. Hi Jo - Thanks for those thoughts. I think one of the great things about the Christian writers conferences is that we've had the chance to see authors "in their natural habitat" and discover they're just real people like everyone else. That's not at all underestimating the incredible gift God has given them, but it helps to remind me that they are ordinary people God is using in extraordinary ways. Thanks for sharing your story and may those book table conversations continue to provide you with lots of God moments. Sorry I forgot to advertise the blog yesterday. I'll do it now.

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    1. Thanks, Nola. Yes, I'm thankful too for the various writers' conference and festivals I have been able to get to that show writers in their 'natural habitat', as you put it! Just this week though, when visiting a Christian bookstore here in Sydney with a friend, I found a whole section decorated with Aussie flags and a sign, 'Books by Aussie authors'. I commented to my friend about the various authors I knew whose books were featured there. She seemed amazed they were 'real people' and that I actually knew them--which I found interesting!

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  4. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Jo-Anne. Always fascinating to read people's misconceptions!

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    1. Yes it is, Susan--although I was probably a bit naughty making fun of others as I did! And come to think of it, I've probably made similar silly comments in other settings at times too. Besides, probably God is well aware that some of us authors need to cultivate a bit more patience with and understanding of others. We do tend to get lost in our own little worlds at times.

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  5. Book promotions, hey! I sometimes think people accidentally get caught in the conversation and are looking for the appropriate spot to excuse themselves. It's an interesting pass-time.

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    1. You're probably right, Meredith, that sometimes people are thinking of what they really came to that bookstore to find rather than putting their whole mind to what some weird author is saying! Oh well--one can but try.

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  6. Hi Jo-Anne. I must admit that I've never yet met an 'unreal' author yet though I have been scolded for referring to myself as an author on my FB page as my three completed manuscripts are unpublished. Apparently real authors (according to the ASA) have published through traditional publishers (not self-published) at least 2 books. Well I put "author" there more as something to grow into but I'm just as happy with "writer".

    I loved your anecdote and agree that authors are ordinary people like everyone else. Yet writing a book - or several books - and getting them published - as you have done - and being able to touch people's lives with messages of faith and hope - is still a pretty neat achievement. An friend I meet one or twice a year asked what I was doing & when I explained about the writing course and writing I've been doing he looked at me seriously and said, "I think everyone should write a book." I thought of a few replies but in the end I said, "So, if you wrote a book what would it be about." He ummed and ahhed for a few minutes and then suggested a memoir and soon he was talking about Albert Facey and A Fortunate Life and how the elderly have fascinating stories to tell (which is true). I'm sure his life would be interesting yet maybe writing books is not so easy that everyone and anyone could sit down and do it, if only they had the time.

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  7. Thanks for these heartfelt and honest comments, Jeanette. I had no idea that was how the ASA defined authors--hmmm! Not sure I agree, but maybe the uncertainty on this topic is what has pulled me towards simply calling myself a writer. I think the term 'writer' seems to say more about who I am deep down rather than just focus on the books I produce. But maybe I just like the softer sound of the word rather than the harder sounding vowels of 'author'! Now THAT sure shows my weird writer brain in action!

    Thanks too for pointing out that, while authors are ordinary people (although occasionally a little weird!), we have achieved something in producing those books of ours that hopefully have made a difference fore the Kingdom. I'll take that encouragement on board today, as I try to persevere with my current work in progress.

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  8. Hi Jo-Anne yes, I always seem to meet people who don't read fiction as if its a lower literary form. I normally think well I'm just writing what I think God wants me too, I can't do anything more or less.

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    1. It's funny though, Jennifer Ann, that, in my experience of writing six novels and one non-fiction work, my novels have been much harder to write than my non-fiction book! That said, I'm in the middle of my second non-fiction one right now and it's proving quite a challenge. Sounds like you have come up against those people who somehow feel that fiction is a form of 'lying' because it's not 'real'. I wonder what they make of the parables Jesus told then? Hmmm.

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  9. That was a great post Jo-Anne. Loved it. Loved those 'conversations' you highlighted. I must say it always warms me inside when people look twice at me when I say I am an Author or Writer. I have to add too that the best part of being a Writer (and Author) is feeling deep down that I am doing what God called me to do - and revelling it and sharing His love through the written word. As a child I always wanted to be a writer but I didn't think what that would mean. Now that I have 'arrived' or rather started... I am realising the joys of being a co-creator with our Father God - and oh Jo-Anne - aren't we blessed? Aren't we blessed? :)

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  10. Yes, Anusha, we are very blessed indeed! It surely is a privilege to be 'co-creating' something with our Father God and to know God's Spirit is resonating with our own spirit in the process, encouraging and inspiring us. And when we have days when our writing becomes a bit frustrating, this is the thought we really need to hold onto and remember. God bless!

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  11. I look forward to reading 'Book Launch Tales', Jo-Anne! Sounds like you have many entertaining stories to tell. I giggled at your 'what have I done' statement. Understand what you mean! As for you being a real author, I was never in doubt. :) Love meeting extraordinarily ordinary people who love to write. It's in those everyday settings I think I'm most inspired by what each author has achieved in seeing their work in print.

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  12. Thanks, Adele--that's lovely affirmation! And yes, I could tell a tale or two, not just about my book table experiences but also about speaking in all sorts of places, from 'interesting' meetings in RSL Clubs and the like to ones at church groups where nobody laughed when I made any sort of joking comment! Maybe I WILL try writing that book someday!

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  13. Had a chuckle at some of the comments, Jo-Anne. Thanks for a giggle although I can imagine it is frustrating at the time.

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  14. Glad I provided some light relief for you, Dale--although I do feel a little mean, paying out as it were on lovely folk who often go on to buy one of my books anyway! At times, I think this whole writing, speaking and promoting journey is God's neat way of developing much more patience and humility in me, so who can say no to that?

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  15. I'm writing children's books, according to some I'll only be a 'real' author when I publish novels for adults!!

    So far I've only had short stories published, but according to my kids I'm a real author - they love telling all their friends :)

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  16. That's so great your kids are so proud of you, Melissa--and so they should be! I'm sure I could never write a children's book, so I admire anyone who does that.

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