My new perspective
Here I am back again. I want my end of month wrap-ups to be upbeat. This reflection may seem sober but when I think about it, that's not really the case. It's a fact that hit me in the face this last week of October about the Christian book market in Australia. It's something that's been so obvious all along that I wonder it never hit me before. This awareness brought some sadness with it, but on the whole I think it has the potential to be very liberating. In short, Christian books is an industry that's not moving and I'm probably as "successful" in it as I'm ever going to be.
I've been working on my fiction ever since I was in my early twenties. All that time, in the back of mind I've hoped to make a name for myself and earn some money. Last week, the penny dropped that this may not ever be possible. I like to be optimistic, but I also need to be realistic. The set-up has long been bleak for Australian Christian authors of any genre, let alone fiction. Our two main national booksellers (Koorong and Word) seem to assume that local material won't sell very well. Australian produced writing carries a stigma. Sellers assume it will be colloquial and second rate, and therefore they don't bother to promote or highlight it in any way. They purchase a small number to get lost on their shelves collecting dust, and call that "supporting" Aussie authors. Rarely if ever does it get included in their catalogues. Hence, a vicious circle is created. Customers don't find Aussie books on the shelves because they don't know about them; and then sellers feel justified in saying that they don't sell. That's the scenario.
A friend of mine nailed it when she said that the bookstores are not there to create markets. They are there, in fact, to exploit the markets already created by writers. So unless a writer is a celebrity who will do more to support the bookstore than the reverse, the bookstores are not really interested. We assume our Christian bookstore chains exist for the purpose of outreach and evangelism, but sadly, they are first and foremost, businesses! In the past I would have considered this point of view cynical to the extreme. But after years of experiencing this, I now see it's wise and realistic. (Hey, having said this, I'd sure appreciate it if any Aussie readers who enjoyed my books would get onto the website of Koorong books and write reviews for them! We might as well try the best we can).
So here I am, almost through my thirties, and for the first time last week, I sat back and faced the fact that I probably won't ever grow 'successful' as a Christian fiction author. In fact if I keep going this way, I'll keep pouring in resources of money, time and creativity for very little return. It's been the same for over a decade. If I was "wise" in the common sense of the word, I'd choose to give up at this stage and do something else. Finding a full-time or part-time job outside of home would help financially. Several years back, we decided to put money into the publishing of my "Quenarden" series rather than put a deposit on a block of land. So my chosen calling; the occupation I'd hoped to become my "brilliant career" has actually cost us as a family. When I started thinking along these lines last week, my head started to ache and my spirits seemed to sag. I think that as well as being a calling, this has been a road of sacrifice.
Yet I'm going to keep on doing it for as long as I keep getting stories to tell! I have a wonderful, hard-working new publisher, Rochelle. I love writing stories. I really enjoy getting into my characters' heads. There is nothing like the euphoric feeling when people give me feedback that my books have blessed them. I like to think that these books are my contribution to God's goodness in the world; the way He's designed me to fulfil the Great Commission. Yeah, sure fiction can fulfil the Great Commission as well as anything else! The pen truly is mightier than the sword. If I worked in some office every day and had a great income but no chance to pursue my writing, I'd feel as if I'd missed something extremely precious. I'm glad I have a wonderful family who feel the same way.
So overall, my lifestyle is not going to change. The only thing that's going to have a complete turn-around is the way I think about things. God's priorities aren't a well-known name, expensive homes and holidays and money, after all. I'm going to stop thinking of my writing as a business and begin thinking of it as a ministry! That's what will make me happier. It's already begun to make a huge difference.
My parents had their Golden Wedding anniversary on October 24th
I was searching for a lovely card for them and discovered that there are not as many Golden Wedding cards as I expected in the shops. Perhaps its getting more unusual for couples for last 50 years in this day and age when separation and divorces touch more families than ever before. I thought I'd ask them their secret to a long, happy life together. As I expected, they made jokes without even thinking very hard. Mum said, "Keep your mouth shut" and "Agree a lot" and "Master the art of flattery." Dad said, "Figure out that she's the boss and don't forget your place." Yet as I was laughing, it occurred to me that this actually is their secret to going the distance. A sense of humour smooths out many rough patches.
My sister Julie bought them a music CD full of all the hit songs of 1959, the year they were married. She is very creative in getting the best presents. There must be a real gift to that. Not only does she come up with unusual ideas, she also finds places to purchase them. There must be more to it being happening to be in the right place at the right time, because I've tried to rely on that and it doesn't work so well for me.
A bit of interesting trivia; my parents were married on the day when TV first made it's debut in Australia. Our long-running Channel 9 went on air for the first time that night. The story goes that one of my uncles decided not to attend the wedding because of this.
Are you like the letter Q?
The reason I ask is because I've been reading a book in which the letter Q is typed in a font that makes it appear more like a quirky capital Q than the small "q" I'm used to seeing in the middle of words. Having noticed it once, I kept noticing Qs written in this way over and over on at least every second or third page. Words containing them came up all the time; equivalent, quilt, question, cheque, equal, quite, require, inadequacy, consequences, square, quality, and I just noticed that I used the word "quirky" quite unconsciously it in the second sentence of this reflection. There I go again with "quite".
Frankly, I didn't realise the letter Q is such a well-used letter in the English language. If anyone had asked me, I would've called it one of the rarer, more dispensable ones that we need to hold onto for a long time on our Scrabble palettes. I would've thought it just pops up on rare occasions to add a bit of variety. Now, to my surprise, I see that Q is far more versatile, handy and necessary than I would ever have imagined. I'd go so far as to say that if we ever dispensed with it (assuming that vowels, m, t, n and s are more important), we'd soon become unstuck and feel sorry.
In moments of discouragement, I tend to think of myself as a relatively useless person who doesn't do as much "important" stuff as others. Yet like Q, I do add my bit to the world. I look after my family, tell jokes that make people smile, write books that amuse and inspire, and I've been on hand to give people encouragement many times. If I wasn't around to do these things, the world surely would be a poorer place.
I'm surrounded by the sort of people who could be seen as an m or t or a. They are doctors, nurses, social workers, teachers, pastors and missionaries; the vital difference-makers doing tangible good. I've let myself feel guilty and inferior because I don't picture myself as a vital difference maker. But the letter Q has just shown me that we can be important in our own ways. We can provide the sort of uplift that is over in a flash but gifts people a happy lift. My function is to give people a break to have a smile and enjoy something I've said or written. Without the people who do this sort of simple thing, the world would be a far less spicy place. If you stop people like me (and maybe you too) doing what we do, the world would soon notice and demand us back. We're Qs! We're the simple encouragers, story-tellers and creators of beauty. Our quirkiness and quixotic qualities give the world a burst of unique fragrance!
See you next month. I'll be going to Brisbane for the Word Writer's fair in late November and will let you know what happens.