I had been invited to speak to a community group about becoming a published author and had reached the end of my input. Now it was time for questions. What would I be asked today? Perhaps someone might want to know how long it takes me to write a novel. Perhaps someone else might wonder which I enjoy writing most—fiction or non-fiction. Perhaps others might have questions about the book industry as a whole, such as how e-books have affected authors and publishers and bookstores. I waited, hoping I could respond well to whatever queries might surface.
Then I saw him. He was seated towards the back and smiled as he raised his hand. And, before he even opened his mouth, I knew what he was going to ask.
‘So ... have you made much money from your books?
Why is it that it is often a well-dressed, important-looking gentleman up the back who dares to ask such a question? Perhaps it is because he has had a career in business, where the bottom line counts. Perhaps he is simply curious. Or perhaps he hears his wife or others around him whispering this very question and decides to ask it for them! Nowadays, I simply join in the ensuing slightly embarrassed laughter and respond as calmly as I can. But the first time I was confronted with this question, I was a little shocked. After all, I doubt I would ask this gentleman how much he made in his own job—especially in public!
This time, I decided to explain first off how most Australian authors know it is not a good idea to give up one’s day job! Next, I mentioned how even quite well-known authors here in Australia usually need to supplement their income via presenting writing workshops or lecturing in creative writing or such like. I then talked about how smaller publishers in Australia do not have the resources to pay large advances or to fund extensive promotional campaigns and how, in my circles at least, we battle for sales with many books written by well-known overseas authors. Finally, I let this gentleman know that, while I might not have made my millions, I am at least in the ‘black’ and not in the ‘red’! And I am grateful I have always earned enough to buy my next lot of stock, so that I can continue my writing and speaking without any drain on our day-to-day finances.
If I am ever asked this question at a Christian event, I usually add that I regard my speaking and writing as a ministry, which changes the focus for me. I might mention too the many hours that artists of all kinds put into their creative endeavours and how difficult it is to put any monetary value on this. Yet we have the joy of knowing that our loving God sees all the effort that goes into our work and is delighted that we are using our gifts to bless others in this way.
On the other hand ... um ... well ... the worker deserves his (or her) wages, don’t you think (1 Tim 5:18)? Hmm.
So ... over to you. How would you answer my ‘favourite’ question?
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.