I read an exceptional blog post by Meg Sorick (Diary of A New Writer – 9 Brace For Impact). In it she discusses the problem of how authors are often misunderstood by their friends and family.

Do you have this issue? You tell a friend that you wrote a book and they give you the “just joined a cult” look. You email a family member a draft of your novel and get the most profound of polite silences in response.

Your face afterwards might resemble this:

Misunderstood
Authors, always.

Why are authors misunderstood?

There is definitely something uncomfortable about the relationship between an author and a non-author. It’s most noticeable when you discuss your writing with a friend or relative. You get the sense that they want to take you by the arm, give you a frank stare and say “You know the people you write about aren’t real… You know that, right?!”

Let’s take a look back in time.

Literature began as oral storytelling. Skalds, bards and orators were the rock superstars of their day. Often, they were old men with grey beards and unimpressive physiques. Always, they would turn every head in the room.

Skald, present-day
Skald, present-day

I’m sure George R R Martin has fans who find him irresistible. But for the majority of his readers he is not a rockstar. They see him as the creator of good books, of which they will buy more (he has less Twitter followers than the series he created). At some point in time, the status of storytellers slipped down the social ladder.

For Odin’s sake, why?

Performers: The skald stood on a table and performed stories to the delight of his audience. PewDiePie is a Youtuber with over 40 million subscribers, a true present-day skald (also Swedish).

Authors: The medieval monk was a stooping wretch who scratched out books by candlelight. There is a barrier between him and his audience. That barrier is the book.

Nobody says “I love the PewDiePie Channel“, they say “I love PewDiePie”.

Whereas “I love A Game of Thrones” is far more common than “I love George R R Martin”.

Fools that we are, we made the mistake of writing down our stories.

People like the novel, not the author. The book steals almost all of the attention away from its author.

That’s because the story is real to the reader. If you’ve done your job right as an author, while your reader is turning the page they believe every word you’ve written. The characters, places and events are all real to them.

That’s why the reader can fall in love with a novel, but not with you (for the most part).

And everyone who isn’t an author is a reader. This explains why your cousin gives you that “just joined a cult look”. You, an author, are standing in the way of all the fictional characters they’ve ever read about being real.

Which are they going to believe: every novel they ever read was a lie, or you’re an oddball who invents fake people? You’re an oddball with imaginary friends, sorry.

That’s why I self-publish as J S Malpas and not Joe S Malpas, the same reason I have only told one of my friends or relatives where to find Vikingr. It’s far better that whoever reads my writing believes that I’m fictional than I somehow remind them that the world between the pages doesn’t exist.

What do you do about it?

There are four possible solutions to being a misunderstood author:

  1. Talk about your writing with other authors. They also have imaginary friends, so they won’t look down on you.
  2. Make yourself fictional. Think about E L James (Fifty Shades of Grey), who has an entire persona built around the theme of her novels. She is performing the part of a character dreamt up by herself. You could also perform your stories on Youtube!
  3. Make your novel non-fictional. Not actually, but talk about your story The Almighty Cupcake Dragon as an “exploration of the nuanced experiences of disadvantaged species during the current obesity epidemic”.
  4. Stage an authors’ uprising. Harangue the general population until they are forced to admit that Harry Potter wasn’t really their childhood friend and that we’re not the weird ones. Warning: if successful this will render the genre of fiction void.

[P.S. Any readers of my novel Vikingr should disregard everything I’ve said. Erikr is 100% real. I rescued him via time travel and he currently lives in rural Pennsylvania with three cats and his 21st century wife, Betsy. He hopes to train as a realtor.]

Do you agree with this, or do you think I’m talking out of alternate orifices? Let me know!

Previously:

My books:

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11 thoughts on “Tip #32: Understanding The Misunderstood Author

  1. I agree! Though, I’m fortunate, my family and some friends support my writing. They have to – the only other explanation for my eccentricities is mental illness. Who wants a nut job for a family member? My characters are real! They take days off, yell at me, go on strike and refuse to cooperate. It doesn’t get more real than that!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh my friend, I thank you so much! It seems to me some of us would have fared better in the days of skalds and bards; when they were revered as holy men and women. I’ve half heartedly joked that if my friends don’t like my writing, I’d just write myself some new ones. But I have found a lovely tribe of writing friends to talk to now. I am most grateful! 💛

    Liked by 3 people

  3. When I mention to folk that I write books they seemed most impressed, but in the same way as if I said was training for a marathon. A sort of ‘good for you’ reaction. It’s nice…..doesn’t sell books though…ah well never mind; it’s the thought that counts.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree, but with a huge caveat. Yes, I recognise that reaction from friends and family, although I think that is sometimes because they’re not sure how they should be reacting. My brother published his book a while ago, and I suddenly realised that I had become ever so wary about mentioning it, because I felt that if I did, then I would find it very difficult telling him about the bits that I felt weren’t perfect. Perhaps most people feel the same.
    My caveat? Well, as for others, my potential readers, I simply hope that they will read my book and enjoy it. I don’t want to be feted or praised or, God forbid, recognised in the street. I’d like them to simply focus on my writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right in your caveat that I haven’t mentioned the beneficial side of authors vs performers. The skald was likely forgotten when he died and another took up the storytelling mantle. Whereas an author such as Tolkein lives on by virtue of having put pen to paper.

      The writing is the focus, the story in its original form as created by the author. When people think of Tolkein they think Lord of the Rings, and books have longer shelf lives than authors.

      Liked by 1 person

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