Sunday morning after our home church service, Shaun approached me and asked if I could help the person he was evidently talking to. He was talking to a middle-aged woman along with a young woman I presumed to be her daughter or a close relative of some kind. It was quickly explained to me that this woman, a neighbour of ours I’m not sure I had ever seen come to any of our meetings before, had a son who needed help with his English homework.
I wasn’t sure if this meant “Since you speak English, could you help me every day for free since you’ve got nothing better to do?” or if it meant “My son has one assignment and would like help with it?”
I was wrong with both guesses. It meant “can you drop what you’re doing right now and help my son for fifteen minutes?” I agreed and asked them to bring their son over with his homework, since I was not interested in leaving the house since I was not in our meeting today due to it being my turn to help with the Sunday school on the first floor of the building I live in. There were a lot of newcomers I wanted to at least make sure to meet, and didn’t know if they’d still be around when I came back from wherever I went with this woman and her daughter to help their son. That and I never find there to be much wisdom going somewhere with people I don’t know, to who knows where for who knows what purpose, but I didn’t think I’d be kidnapped or anything. I’ve just had too many experiences where people tell me they only need a “ratito” of my time and then learn that’s not entirely true.
For a quick Spanish lesson, ratito literally means “a short while”, but I’ve learned people use it when they want me to think something is not going to take two hours, but in reality it will. But I digress.
After a few moments, they returned and I immediately recognized their son as I’ve seen him in the street many times and passed by and maybe he has attended one of our sunday morning meetings recently. The assignment was a cover letter for a job application, and he wanted me to go over it and make sure it was OK. I fixed all of the mistakes (to give him credit, there were not many) and reworded a few things to reflect what we’d actually say.
When I was done making small corrections to it, his mom asked me what kind of English I speak, to which I replied “correct English”.
She laughed, and asked me if I was from England, to which I said no.
So she asked the next logical question and asked if I was American. Then I laughed, and said no.
I didn’t wait for her to guess any other countries and told her I was Canadian. And she asked what form of English I speak, so I repeated, “correct English”. She didn’t quite get my
She explained to me that her son was learning British English and that was the standard with which any of his homework would be graded. I told her to not worry, and that if he made the changes to his paper that I just suggested, he’d ace it.
We shook hands, parted ways, and I thought she left. About 90 seconds later, I turned to see her talking to Mark Burgess, our leader and a Brit, as she was now asking him to look over her son’s paper. I butted in and told her the paper was fine, since I know everybody wants a piece of Mark’s time on Sunday mornings since they view him as the “pastor” of this (it is his house after all).
That’s when he said something that surprised me:
“If Steve corrected it, it’s perfect you don’t need my help.”
I liked hearing that not because he was blowing smoke up my gluteus maximus to make me feel special, but because what followed those words was “he’s an author”.
As soon as he said that the woman totally changed their attitude toward me and asked me what my name was. I told her I was John Hemmingway.
Just kidding, I told her my real name.
Then she politely said she had never heard of me. Then she asked me to name something I’ve written, to which I said 6 Mentiras Que Las Personas Creen Sobre La Sanidad Divina which is the Spanish translation of 6 Lies People Believe About Divine Healing.
She never heard of that either.
Then the words that came out of my mouth were how it’s only available (at the moment) digitally. I gave a 25 second explanation as to what ebooks and Kindles were. I am not sure she really got the jist of it, but at that point she asked me where she could go to see any of my writing, and allowed me to write my full name and website on the back of her son’s homework.
Why This Conversation Has Been On Replay In My Brain Ever Since
I’ve been pondering the conversation ever since because I don’t introduce myself as an author to complete strangers upon meeting them. Something entered my head recently that if I say “author”, I need to preface it with “self-published author.” Then I had to ask myself why?
There’s this idea that if you’re self published, that means it’s because you suck and no publisher has wanted to touch your material to date. This is true of some, and I’ve deleted some books like that from my Kindle without finishing them. It’s not because self-pubs are generally bad — I’ve read many that aren’t! — but because these ones didn’t get edited by someone before publishing them. I don’t want to be your beta audience.
But, I’m one of those people who’s excited that Kindle publishing and ebooks in general has helped level the playing field so some of us who are gifted writers can get our messages out there and reach more people than if it was only up to publishers to decide who can read certain books. There was a time when every author who wrote some kind of printed book was by necessity a self-published author.
I read in Guy Kawasaki’s book, APE (Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur) something that I didn’t seem to highlight and now can’t find for exact reference, but that it was fairly recently in history that publishers came into being. Prior to that, very few authors had widespread distribution of their works. It was typical of them to print as many copies of their own book in a printing press as they could afford and then sell them themselves. Maybe they had speaking engagements to sell them in like an itinerant preacher might have done. There are tremendously historical works that, in their time, only sold around 80 copies and it was decades later someone else came across and helped give it a larger publication. I’m simplifying and the exact details might be off, but you get the jist.
So, for all intents and purposes, self-publishing is not something new. It used to be the way books were published, period.
At any rate, if you’re called to write and you burn with the gift of writing inside of you, go for it! You’re joining many other authors and writers throughout history. It doesn’t matter how many copies of your work you’ve sold yet. It doesn’t matter if you’re blogging or self publishing in some form. You are an author.
In closing, I’ll leave you with a quote from Stephen King, one of the most successful authors of our generation, albeit known mostly for horror novels, but still:
“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.”
So, you don’t yet live off of money from your books, but can pay your light bill with one of your Kindle checks? You’re a writer!