Thursday, March 15, 2012

A helping hand

A few days ago, I received a brief email from a young friend who has written a book based on her experiences working with the Kurds in northern Iraq. It is the story of a brave Kurdish widow who survived Saddam Hussein’s terrible attacks and went on to forge a life for herself and her children.

Now this is her first book, so she turned to me for some advice. I was happy to help and in the end, edited it for her as well. This was a difficult journey, as our writing styles are almost opposite in many ways. In particular, she writes clearly and sparsely, using many short, simple sentences. I, on the other hand, often write long, convoluted ones that are probably quite daunting for some readers! So I tried to preserve her own writing style, but still help her towards preparing her book as best she could before submitting it for publication.

I suggested to her that she submit it first of all via the special ‘Manuscript Mondays’ and ‘Friday Pitches’ run by two large publishing houses here in Australia. But in her email, she told me a little sadly that her book had been unsuccessful in these.

‘So ... what’s the next step?’ she asked me bluntly in her email.

At first, I heaved a big sigh. I was busy editing my own first non-fiction work. I was tired. And I had other things to do. Perhaps I could get away with simply sending her some notes from a workshop I had presented on ‘Getting Published’ and leave it at that. But then I began to feel a little guilty. Some things in these notes would not apply in her case, I knew. She really needed a personal response from me, tailor-made to her situation. But was I prepared to put the time aside to do this?

Then as I sat trying to allow the more gracious side of me to come to the fore, I remembered clearly how I had felt when I was in the same place as my friend now is. I was so new to everything. I read books on publishing and on writing book proposals. I checked out articles on the net. I joined the New South Wales Writers’ Centre and attended various seminars there. I even joined American Christian Fiction Writers! I bought a copy of ‘The Australian Writers’ Marketplace’ and painstakingly went through every publisher listed to see if they would accept unsolicited and ‘unagented’ manuscripts from a first-time author. I engaged the services of a manuscript assessor—and so on and so on. And I remembered the feeling I had had when I had done all this and finally was offered a publishing contract. I decided I did not want another Australian Christian author to waste time unnecessarily as I had often done in seeking out all this information about publishing when I could easily pass my discoveries onto him or her.

I was duly chastened—and I suspect God had a hand in that. Over the next hour or so, I responded to her email, suggesting various steps she might take. And I sought to encourage her yet again not to give up. I believe she has written an important and moving story that deserves to be told and I hope and pray a publisher somewhere soon thinks likewise.

And today I will send her another email, because this morning I read the following in Isaiah 50:7-8:

Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. ...

How privileged we are to have the Almighty, Sovereign Lord on our side, fighting our battles and reaching out to help us! Surely then, as God’s child and in the light of the amazing grace I have received, I can help out another author without grumbling?

I hope I have learnt my lesson well.  

Jo-Anne Berthelsen grew up in Brisbane and holds an Arts degree from Queensland University. She has also studied Education and Theology and has worked as a high school teacher and editor, as well as in local church ministry in Sydney. Jo-Anne loves communicating through both the written and spoken word and currently has four published novels – ‘Heléna’, ‘All the Days of My Life’, ‘Laura’, ‘Jenna’ and ‘Heléna’s Legacy’.  She is married to a retired minister and has three grown-up children and three grandchildren. For more information or to contact Jo-Anne, please visit her website,


  1. You are a truly gracious lady, Jo-Anne. And I also believe we should help where we can, remembering those who have helped us in the past. I do hope your friend gets published.

  2. Thanks, Rita. I hope and pray my friend gets published too, but I suspect she's discovering right now it can be a bit of a long, hard road.

  3. We all need those people to encourage and provide support and clear info particularly in the early days. God bless you Jo-Anne, for your help to her.

  4. You did good job. Keep it on with this type of post.