Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Who Are "Famous Authors?"

I had a few extra minutes between flights the other day and spotted one of my favorite fast food places. It didn’t take but a moment to hear the girl call out my name (“Arlene” in this instance. I’ve been called everything from Eileen to Earlene, so I’m used to it…). Salivating at my chicken nuggets and sweet lemonade, I collapsed onto a chair to scarf them up in a timely fashion.

Glancing across the crowded terminal, my eyes rested on a huge bookstore that I have passed dozens of times. Since these dinosaurs are near extinction, my eyes savored the lovely rows of multi-colored paperbacks. For the first time, I noticed a large sign over one bookcase. It declared proudly that it contained the works of “Famous Authors.”

Huh, I mused. Exactly who are the famous authors?

Wiping my sticky fingers on a napkin, I sauntered closer so I could see for myself who was deemed with such an honor.

Most of the authors’ names I recognized: Tom Clancy, Ted Dekker, Nora Roberts, John Grisham. Then there were several I had never heard of such as Sandra Brown and Nelson DeMille (any relation to Cecil B.?).

Of course there was the famous “Woman-Who-Writes-The-Twilight-Saga.” I had to look up her name (Stephenie Meyer). Since I’m a nurse, I sometimes think that writers of vampire novels might perhaps suffer from anemia…but I digress.

Here was this huge bookcase of the well-knowns and the well-purchased. So, what exactly is the definition of “famous authors?” I put out the question to my Facebook friends and here were a few comments.

Writer/friend Sharon Cook Leaf likes to smile at the term “Famous Author.” “I always introduce myself as ‘the almost-famous’ author…always brings a chuckle and a smile.”

My friend Justin’s view of “famous” means you recognize their name immediately and, based on that, purchase their books without necessarily reading the back cover. I happen to know that Justin is a prolific reader!

Cindy, another good friend, says that book sales that bring media attention can designate an author as “famous.” Author/friend Susan Baganz says name recognition and hitting the New York Times Best Sellers List fit the description. Good friend Maureen thinks that longevity, book sales and large numbers of published books make an author famous.

All three of these friends have hit on a few of the key elements of “Famous Authors.” If you look up any of these writers on Amazon, their sheer volume of books are impressive, as well as their rankings. And the numbers of reviews these authors glean are mindboggling, with some books sporting thousands of reviewers’ input.

By these standards, Christian authors Jerry Jenkins and Francine Rivers (among others) could fit this category, but I didn’t notice their books in that particular bookcase…

My writer/friend Ashley also mentioned media attention. Author Joan Hochstetler agreed. “I definitely think you need media attention. There are authors who have a very large and loyal fan base, and sell a lot, but they don’t have their name in the news all the time so I wouldn’t call them famous.”

Joan makes an excellent point here. I know of multi-published, award-winning Christian authors that I rarely if ever see their work covered in the news. Karen Kingsbury is a prolific, best selling author. Is she famous by the world’s standards? And does it matter?

Writer Shelly Jarrett thinks the world’s idea of famous may not gel with God’s idea of what is valued. “Famous writers in the world’s eyes do not have to have morals or even say something kind.” She mentions the prolific sales of a series of books known for their shades of immorality. “This is what today’s worldview of a famous author is.”

So should a writer who professes to be a servant of Christ, whose pen is committed to pleasing Him, even be concerned about the world’s view of “Famous Writer?” Shelly doesn’t think so.

“When we follow the path He has for us…this, in my book, is a ‘Famous Author,’ submitting our lives according to what God wants to accomplish through us.”

Bookstore manager Carolyn says that long term contributers to literature are famous authors. “A one or two-book wonder can make the New York Times Best Seller List for several months and be famous all over the media, but unless there are more books and they make a real contribution to literature, it is short lived.” She thinks it is the longevity of writers like Jane Austen, L. M. Montgomery, Hemingway and C.S. Lewis that truly earns the designation, “Famous Author.”

Author/friend Michelle Medlock Adams has an interesting perspective—a more personal approach. “I think a famous author to someone is a writer who has impacted that person.” She cites author Darlene Bishop, who penned “Your Life Follows Your Words,” a book that greatly affected her life. “To me, she’s a famous author and I would LOVE to meet her!”

So what are your thoughts? Is it a priority for you to become a “Famous Author?” If not, why not? And can an author with a Christian worldview gain attention from the mainstream media? I’d love to hear your musings.

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