This week I decided to write a blog about how to be nice authors. Because, lets face it, we tend to be emotionally fragile and slightly messed up people in constant need of validation and approval. Look, I love being a writer, I’m not going to kid you. It pays crap, but it can be emotionally and mentally rewarding. I love it because when I am writing, my life is more in balance. It provides me a way to be more human. However, there are some downsides to being an author. People say things to authors that they would never say to people in other professions. They make “requests” (demands) of us that are sometimes unreasonable; and other times, just plain crazy. Since becoming a published author, I have noticed the same questions coming up again and again. There are some lovely questions such as how does it feel to be published? And how do you come up with your ideas? But, there are also some absolute howlers. So, as a public service for your safety and the sanity of the writer, here is what not ask or say to an author:
Will You Read My Novel?
This is an honest outreach by an author who desperately needs someone to read his/her novel. It’s not meant to be malicious. Writers are addle-headed, desperate creatures and we want to find community and understanding and acceptance and some sense of if this thing we spent a lot of time writing is worth the ink cartridge we used to print it. (Hint: probably not. Ink cartridges cost more than most novel advances, I think.) Just the same: yeah, no, sorry, not today. Actually, not any day…chances are I’m busy. Which leads me to my next obnoxious question…
Will You Review My Book?
Look, I understand authors want and need reviews. But, please do not come straight out and beg for one. What if an author reads your book and doesn’t like it? Will you be angry with an honest review? As writers, we spend a great deal of time marketing ourselves and our product with the hope that honest readers will write honest reviews. It’s best to generate reviews organically through marketing and promotion, that way, no one’s feelings get hurt and no one feels obligated to write positive reviews. As a writer, I barely have time to write a grocery list let alone drop everything I am working on to write a detailed review. If I like your book, I promise I’ll write a review on my own…but if you ask me, chances are, I’m going to ignore you.
I Don’t Read.
Never, ever, ever tell a writer this. Just don’t do it. Don’t tell an architect you don’t enter buildings. Don’t tell an arborist, “I totally hate trees. And nature in general. When I see trees, I cut them down just so I don’t have to look at their dumb tree faces and their stupid branches anymore.” I mean, really, you don’t read? It’s just — whhh — what is wrong with you?
You Must Be Rich
Ha ha ha ha. Ha. Hahaha. … aaaahh hahaha. That’s a good one!
Can I Have a Copy?
By and large this question comes up the most and the answer is yes. You’ll find it on Amazon and in online bookshops. I’m amazed by the number of people who think I have a stash of books to freely give away. How the heck do you think I earn a living? While it sounds mercenary on my part, I don’t write books to give them away. This would be like me walking into your house and saying, “Hey, can I have one of your kitchen chairs?” Asking me where you can steal/bootleg a copy of my book, well, there’s a special kind of douchbag hell for you. Authors are sent a small box of books prior to publication. I ran a giveaway, donated a few during the holidays, donated one to a raffle, and will only give copies to people I am extremely close to.
I have a great idea for a book. Why don’t we do it together? I’ll give you the ideas and you do the writing.
Um, this is all about me doing all of the work and you getting half of the credit and royalties. Seriously? If you want to write a book, then write a book. This may shock you but most serious authors are not sitting around waiting for ideas. I have far more ideas than I will ever have time in a lifetime to write. In a nutshell, I’ll get right on that Stephen King Jr.
How much do you make on a book?
I’ll tell you if you tell me your salary annually. First off, it is a rude question, and one I am unfortunately beginning to get quite often. For some reason people feel it is okay to ask authors about this. It’s personal and professional. Don’t ask. Simply assume that it is far too little and you’ll be pretty close to reality.
"What do you write about?"
What do I write about... creatively? (“Creepy children.”) What do I write about professionally? (“Corn farmer insurance.”) What do I write about pretentiously? (“The intersection between the female body and fire hydrants.”) I don't know what you want from me.
"But, like, what's your full-time job?"
Neurosurgery. Next question.
"What do you do all day?"
Iron my writer’s pants. What do you think?
Are you going to be the next J K Rowling?
Please, please, for your health and mine, stop with the J K Rowling references. It’s incredibly dispiriting to be the butt of a ‘hilarious’ comparison to a multi-millionaire, global phenomenon. There are plenty of other successful authors around, if you feel you must reference one, but really – why?
Bonus: Will you buy my book, retweet me, like me, promote me etc…
No. If I feel like doing so, I will. But, to harass me endlessly about it…no. Just no.
So, at this point you might be asking yourself what you CAN ask a writer. Well, we love talking about books we’ve enjoyed, as well as anything else that inspires us. And as writers we tend to watch the world pretty closely, since you never know when a story worth writing about may pop up, so current affairs are just as interesting to us as to anyone else. I also might think YOU’RE pretty interesting. You might not want to answer questions about, say, how much you make for a living, and I wouldn’t dream of asking you, but I’d be fascinated to learn, for example, what you believe and how you came to believe it. I’d like to know how you met your spouse, and what you think about the death penalty, and why; and what you think about censorship, and that story about fly-fishing, and the one about the rescue dog, and what you think it means to be a good person… oh, there’s a world of things out there to talk about, isn’t there? So, the next time you’re chatting with a writer, think about what you’re about to ask. If it appears on my list of what not to ask an author then for the love of God don’t say it!