Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Those interesting writing questions

To mark the release of my latest novel, The Inheritance, a few weeks ago, our senior pastor was gracious enough to interview me in our morning service, after which I offered my new book for sale—kind of like a ‘mini-launch’ just for the folk at our church. In the interview, I even managed to sneak in a little plea for people to look for books by Aussie (and NZ!) Christian authors at their local Christian bookstore!

I enjoyed chatting to people as I sold my books, but just as I was packing up, a rather intimidating lady approached me.
‘When you have a moment, I’d like to ask you something.’

I hurried to finish what I was doing, wondering what her question would be. Had she objected to something I had said in my interview? Did she not like the idea of Christians writing novels? I was ready for just about anything.
Eventually, she drew me to one side.

‘I’d like to ask you—how do you write a book?’
Just a simple little question! I tried not to look too shocked and hoped my mouth wasn’t hanging open. I have been asked this question before, especially during bookstore appearances, but this time I couldn’t think how to respond. You see, this lady seemed well educated and very articulate. Was she really expecting me to give her a comprehensive response then and there?

In the end, I decided to ask a question of my own—several, in fact. Was she interested in writing a book herself? If so, what sort? Would it be for her family or for a wider audience? Had she begun to write already? Did she enjoy writing?
As we talked, I discovered she wanted to write her own life story. I offered to give her some notes I have available on topics such as getting started in writing and getting published. I recommended a couple of books on the subject. I suggested she write letters, journal entries, brief articles—anything to stretch her creative writing abilities. I told her about a Christian writers’ group nearby, but she did not seem interested. On top of that, she does not use a computer and was not keen to learn.

Then came another abrupt question.
‘Well, I actually wondered if you’d write it for me.’

Hmm. Was this her real question all along? Was she hoping I would jump at the opportunity? Perhaps you have received similar requests and, like me, have had to turn them down. I have too many books of my own waiting to be written at present—and, apart from that, I am in the middle of a very busy period of promoting my new novel. I could see this lady did not appreciate all this, however, and I felt mean disappointing her.
How would you have responded to this lady’s first question? Had I been less busy, I could perhaps have offered to meet with her and talk more about it. After all, many authors have answered my inept questions about writing over the years. Is there a better or more gracious way to help such people? What do you think?

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.

19 comments:

  1. Hi Jo-Anne. I've had a few people ask, or hint, at this with me. Usually I pretend I didn't get the hint, or laugh them off telling them to have a go themselves. But recently a friend of mine told me a great story idea she had with lots of complexity to the plot, and I am intrigued enough to think about it. She would like to work on it together, but I think she wants a screen play - of which I know nothing. For now, I'm putting this project into the 'wait and see' file. :)

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    1. I reckon you could manage a screen play, Amanda--nothing like a new challenge! But I know I need to stick to the ideas already there in my head, particularly as I don't think I have QUITE as many years ahead of me as you do!

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  2. Hard situation to be in Jo-Anne. Not having faced that I have no idea how I would respond. I have a review of The Inheritance on my Write and Read with Dale blog
    http://www.livejournal.com/users/orangedale

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    1. Thanks for your very thoughtful review, Dale, which I have just found and read. We have been away for three weeks, so I couldn't get to it before now. I have had one other person so far say they felt things might have been wrapped up a bit too quickly at the end too, but they also said they didn't want it to end, so there you go!

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  3. A twist on your story Jo-Anne... I was sharing a contemporary story idea (jumped into my head last week without invitation) with a neighbour while on our morning walk. I had fun with the premise and she grabbed my arm and pleaded with me to write it. When I told her I couldn't, as I write historical, she begged me to write it 'just for her.' Sweet and encouraging, but not feasible, given how little time we all have to whittle down our lists. Still, nice to know a reader is eager. Nicer still, to know what we're really supposed to be doing and working at that to the best of our ability.

    If she'd been a writer, or keen to know more about writing, I would have steered her in the direction of the many writers' groups out there. Even for those who don't like the computer, there are community writing groups which meet face to face to talk about their work. I started with one in 2009. A great place to share our words with likeminded authors in the making.

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    1. Yes, I did try to steer this lady in the direction of a writers' group where she would have been very much at home. I'll try again when I see her next. And just a thought, Dorothy, but maybe you could write historical AND contemporary novels??? I never thought I would write a work of non-fiction, but then my book 'Soul Friend' was released last year. And I find it's actually good to have a mixture of fiction and non-fiction on my book table now wherever I speak, so maybe two different fiction genres would work as well.

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  4. We have to see the funny side of it, Jo. I had a man send me his life story before I even wrote books. I guess because I wrote a lot of my own songs he thought I was fair game. I regularly have people telling me which publisher I should try. They can hardly believe it when I tell them most publishers today will not accept unsolicited manuscripts. "Then get an agent" they say, trying to be helpful. Oh, don't we all wish it was as easy as that to land one who really takes an interest!

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    1. Rita, you've brought up an interesting point that came up in the publisher panel discussion at the CALEB Conference. To be honest, I'm surprised when people/writers can't understand why publishers don't want unsolicited mss. It's time consuming for publishers to wade through all the inappropriate and/or badly written submissions to find the rare diamonds. It makes sense for publishers to use literary agents as 'gate keepers'. Writers in our part of the world are signing with US agents eg. our own Lucy Morgan-Jones and Kara Isaac from NZ are represented by Chip MacGregor. An excellent ms that is marketable in the US can attract the attention of the top agents.

      That said, writers don't need an agent to submit to the Aussie Christian publishers. I wrote a post on the CALEB Conference on my author blog last week with information on the Australian Christian publishing scene.

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  5. That would be wonderful, Jo-Anne. Maybe one day....

    I know industry wisdom from the US (where I wish to publish) encourages writers to brand themselves according to their strengths. I've positioned myself as an historical romance writer since I began blogging. My promise to my reader, is an historical romance, and a US publisher is going to appreciate me sticking with my carefully crafted image. For me, it's not hard to put myself out there as a lover of all things yesteryear, because I really am. And that's what I long to share in my stories. It doesn't stop me brainstorming contemporary stories for fun, but I wouldn't assume a publisher would take me on with a mix of fiction offerings. It would not be good business on their part. I get this, and it's no loss for me to shelve my contemporary ideas in favour of my beloved historical stories.

    During my recent trip to the US, I answered the following question by industry professionals and colleagues at every introduction. "What do you write?" "I write historical romance." I'd ask the same question, and I don't remember meeting anyone who told me they wrote across eras. Even in the romance genre.

    I know it's done by a few, but I think those who find a US publisher for a wider selection of books (genre and era) are the big names who carry the right sway. Francine Rivers etc. And at the end of the day, a publisher will put out what they believe will sell. I believe consistency is something they look for, especially in a debut author. The promise of a series... or three, in the same genre. Something a reader will anticipate, based on what they already know an author will deliver. Makes for good marketing for the publisher AND author.

    Who knows, maybe the contemporary stories in my head will find a way to the page, someday. That would be fun. :) But for now I know what I have to do, and fortunately, I'm hopeful I have enough historical books in me to create the momentum needed by a publisher.

    The contemporaries will have to remain hidden for my amusement. :)

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    1. Dotti you remind me of I think it was Winnie Grigg on a seekerville post coming up with ideas for a how to describe a book in a sentence or for an elevator talk.
      She said Mail Order Bride travels through a time portal to a different time to marry.
      I told her I want to read that book! She actually said she wants to write that book. It has me mail order bride and time travel. It could go either way imagine a 1800 bride in 2013 or a 2013 bride in 1800's.

      Now I dont have an idea for you I can make things up in my imagination but I am no writer and have no inclination to be a writer.

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    2. Dotti, I totally agree with your thoughts on branding. If your future editor asks "Have you written anything else?" it really helps if your other mss are in the same genre :)

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    3. Yes, I totally understand the need to stick to your genre for the American market, Dotti and Narelle--that's very wise indeed. Even wiser to have a whole series ready in that genre, as you say, Dotti. Also, you have your whole writing life ahead of you, so it's good to have that 'brand' going from the beginning. I just know for me in my situation, having a non-fiction in the midst of my fiction works well at the moment. You see, I've discovered some people in places where I speak aren't into fiction at all--and when they discover I've actually written a 'real' book (ie non-fiction!!), their attitude changes somewhat! Then again, others never read non-fiction, so it works both ways. Funny, isn't it, when you consider my novels have such serious themes. Also, each of my novels took longer to write for sure than my non-fiction book 'Soul Friend'. Oh well!

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  6. Isn't it interesting how many people have wrong impressions about writing? And how much writers earn?

    Try this response:

    "The standard fee range for ghostwriting (which is what you're talking about) is between 25 cents and 50 cents per word. Now, as we're both Christians I'd be prepared to work at the lower end of that range, so that's around $20,000 for the first draft of a full-length novel. You'll have to find an editor - all writers need editors, and you can expect to need at least two rounds of editing and another two rounds of proofreading (that's what all professional authors need. Amateurs need more). I'll just need a 50% deposit up front, and obviously we'll split the royalties equally between us."

    Of course, your response might be different if the project is something you're actually interested in ...

    (P.S. Those figures aren't made up. They are the recommended rates of the EFA: http://www.the-efa.org/res/rates.php)

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    1. Ouch, Iola! Love it. That would deflate anyone with more 'ideas' than money. :)

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    2. Iola, that's a response that's sure to silence any further questions!

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    3. I don't know if I'd be brave enough to use it myself!

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    4. Hmmm, Iola ... great response--and thanks for the info--but like you, I probably wouldn't be brave enough to use it! I'll think of it every time I see this lady in future though!

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    5. LOL, Iola. Am keeping a copy of this for the next time I'm asked to write their story. In fact, I think I'll memorise it!

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  7. The time travel genre has a great following, Jenny. I think I'd prefer the modern day bride going back to the 1880s for her groom! Really mess with her contemporary ways. What a great story idea. I hope Winnie writes it soon. I'd love to read it, too. :)

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