Friday, 11 March 2016

On being a published author

I can still remember the day in 2006 when I saw the proposed cover of my first novel for the first time. I can even remember the time of day and what I was doing. I was part-way through cooking our dinner, but also checking my emails on my laptop, which sat on the end of our kitchen table.  And just as those veggies were almost cooked, I found an email from the publisher that said simply, ‘What do you think of this?’

With shaking fingers, I clicked on the attached photo—and the front and back covers of my first novel filled my entire screen. I loved the photo the graphic designer had chosen—it typified the story so well and seemed to draw me in. But it was my name, printed in capital letters across the top of the front cover, that shocked me into asking myself a question I should have thought about much earlier: ‘What have I done?'

In an instant, it dawned on me that, by agreeing to be published, I had put myself in a vulnerable position. People could see what I had written. They could love it—or hate it. They might think I was a talented author—or they might laugh at my efforts. Or perhaps they might be kind and decide my writing showed potential, but that I still had much to learn. I stood there for some time, cringing at the thought of the various unpleasant scenarios that might unfold. But my heart sang with joy too. That dream I had had for years had at last eventuated. I would be a published author.

Since then, I have had six more books come into being and each time, I have felt a jolt in the pit of my stomach when I have seen my name on the cover again. It is something I often mention when sharing with groups about my writing journey because it is something many people seem to be curious about. What inspired you to start writing, they often ask. Where do your ideas come from? Do you write under your real name? How does it feel to see it on the cover of a new book?

I often respond to this last question by explaining that, while seeing my name there gives me a great sense of achievement, it still fills me with considerable dismay that, once again, I have laid myself open to the judgement of others. But it also causes me to think about what I have written and ask myself the following questions. Is it the best book I could create at this point? Do I believe my book honours God? Do I stand by all I have written in it?

I want to write books that are enjoyable to read but that also make a difference in this world, that share God’s light and love in some way. And I want to do this with integrity, so that what I write reflects my true heart. So I will continue to seek to have my books published because, while it might be a risk, it is also an honour and privilege to share what God has given me.

How about you? What are your thoughts on being a published author, whether you are one as yet or not?

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 four grandchildren. For more information, please visit www.jo-anneberthelsen.com.  

16 comments:

  1. I definitely relate. I remember sitting in the car, opening my emails on the commute to work (I wasn't the driver!) and seeing the email from my editor that contained 32 ideas for book covers. I froze at the first one and got all teary at seeing my name on the cover!

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    1. Oh Kara, I am picturing you sitting there in your car, with those tears welling up! But I am also trying to imagine you trawling through 32 ideas for that cover--all a bit overwhelming on your way to work, for sure. Hmm--I wonder if you got much work done that day??!!

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  2. Thanks for sharing so honestly, Jo-Anne. I can identify in so many ways, from wondering whether I've got anything worthwhile to say, to what people might think, to wanting to shine God's light, hope and love in what I write. I even work in a high school! I'm looking forward to the cover art email from the publisher :) God bless you.

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    1. Carolyn, I can well imagine how you would easily identify with some of the thoughts I wrote, in the light of your recent exciting news about your own manuscript being accepted by a US publishing house. What a wonderful--but slightly heart in mouth--journey lies ahead for you, including receiving that cover art email! Congratulations again.

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  3. Hi Jo-Anne, great post. I remember one of my first reviewers saying Angelguard was terrible. They only read 40 pages but golly gosh it hurt. I moped about for the day until the Lord challenged me on it as I put my head on the pillow. "Is it really that important to you? Let it go." So I did.

    Thanks for sharing your heart with us, today.

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    1. I feel your pain, Ian, with that first negative review--ouch! Not long after my first novel was published, I can remember a lady announcing loudly to me, in front of a whole lot of people at a church, how she 'was sorry, but she couldn't get past Chapter 2' of my novel! But while I was still picking myself up from the floor and trying to mumble something like 'That's okay', her own daughter responded, 'Oh I absolutely LOVED it! When's your next book coming out?' I really believe God allowed that to happen early on in my writing journey--it stood me in good stead for people's varying responses later on and taught me for sure (in a dramatic way!) that you sure can't please everyone! I love the way God spoke to you though, Ian, and how you responded--so good.

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  4. Excellent post, Jo-Anne. I have a question: you've published fiction and memoir. Memoir is sharing a piece of yourself - does that make it harder than with fiction?

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    1. Such a good question, Iola! I guess I would say that in some ways memoir is harder because readers could well judge not only my writing style but also my own thoughts, the choices I made in my life, my beliefs etc. I do remember feeling I had put myself out there on a plate, so to speak, with 'Soul Friend'. But it was also a great privilege to be able to share from my heart, to be transparent and to encourage others in this way.

      With my novels, many of my friends felt there was part of me in most of my characters, particularly the heroines (!), so in that sense I was open to being judged on a personal level as well. But mostly with novels, I think it is the thought of whether others will like my characters, whether they feel they are believable, whether the storyline causes them to keep turning those pages, whether the plot holds together etc that is a bit daunting. So I think my answer to your question would be that the challenges involved in publishing novels and memoir are pretty much equal.

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  5. Yes, I identify. It's like standing naked in a spotlight. When I cam depressed about a negative review (have had some 3 star ones lately), I check some really wonderful books like "Narnia" "Screwtape Letters" ...and the comments about those from 'worst book I've ever read" to 'best' and it makes me laugh.

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    1. Hmmm--now that's a powerful and apt analogy you've used to begin your comment, Christine! And that's a nice, down-to-earth approach re seeing the vast range of reviews online for other books out there and realising you're in good company if you score a few negative ones! As I said, we sure can't please everyone.

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  6. I get nervous just thinking about being published. I'm going to be a real mess if it actually happens!

    What I'm writing isn't a memoir rather non-fiction with some personal accounts of events. It isn't easy being vulnerable.

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    1. I agree it isn't easy to be vulnerable, Susan, but, at the risk of using a cliché, anything that is worthwhile is rarely easy. Also, whenever I feel vulnerable about what I have written in my books, I ask myself whether it really matters what people think of me, when all is said and done!

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    2. Yes, I remind myself if they don't like what I've written they are only disagreeing with my opinion. They aren't disagreeing with me as a person.

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    3. That's so good, Susan. I remember trying to put this into practice when I was a high school teacher and a class would misbehave. Back then, I took it all so personally! But it wasn't about me as a person--it was about my wanting some discipline and cooperation in my classes. We all keep on learning these things, don't we?

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    4. Yes indeed we do. Thanks for your post, Jo-Anne

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  7. Jo-Anne wrote: "Is it the best book I could create at this point? Do I believe my book honours God? Do I stand by all I have written in it?"

    Hi Jo-Anne, excellent post! I also ask these questions when it's time to publish a new book. We strive to write the best possible book that honours God and contains truth that reflects our worldview.

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