As Bethany House’s fiction publicist, I hear a lot of horror stories from authors about questions they’re sometimes asked. Below are a few tips for those who might not know what to say when meeting an author or interacting with one online. (All taken from actual examples I’ve seen or heard about. Details changed and names withheld to protect the socially unaware.)
If these sound like you, please feel free to adopt my suggestions for replacement questions. Soon. If you’re not guilty of any of these, then just shake your head in amusement…and have a little extra sympathy for the authors you know.
One: “Oh, it must be so relaxing to have a job you can do on the side while at home.”
Many of our authors work full time at other jobs, but even when they dedicate all of their work hours to writing, it’s just that: hard work. There is actually not that much about deadlines, rewrites, pressure, sales numbers, competition with other titles, marketing blitzes, and writer’s block that could be described as “relaxing.” (Although I’m sure many of them wish the writing life had a little more soaking in bubble baths and eating bon-bons while jotting down a few leisurely lines of prose.)
Try this instead: “That’s really interesting. What made you want to become a writer?”
Two: “So, you write romance novels, like [Insert Famous Author Name Here]?”
Chances are, this author is nothing like the author you’re mentioning. Particularly in number of copies sold…contrary to popular belief, most authors aren’t typing away on their private yacht while their butler brings them copies of the New York Times that feature their novel on the top books list every week.
Try this instead: “Which authors write stories similar to yours?” If you need a style comparison. Otherwise, just don’t bring up other authors at all.
Three: “You mean people still read novels these days?”
Unless you want to hear a forced laugh and “Yep, apparently some of them still do,” this is probably not the best question.
Try this instead: “What’s the hardest thing about what you do? What makes it worth the work?”
Four: “I had this dream once that I just know would make a great story. It involved bandits, an elephant named Noodles, and an umbrella that you could use to time travel. Let me tell you all about it for the next hour!”
Sharing little quirks or news stories with authors as idea-generators can be useful, although many authors like to come up with plots on their own. But if you have a full-fledged outline to present, maybe you should write that book yourself! (Well, in the example above…probably not.)
Try this instead: Actually, for this one, not saying anything might be good. Or you can follow my First Law of Dream/Plot Etiquette: if you can’t summarize it in three sentences…don’t even start.
Five: “An author, huh? Are your books any good?”
There is literally no good way to answer this question.
Try this instead: “What is your book about?” (Though realize that this can be difficult for some authors to summarize) or “What genre are your books?”
Six: “I know you’re on deadline, but since you’re just sitting at home writing, want to have coffee some morning/edit my blog posts/watch my kid for me?”
Similar to #1, many authors have a specific schedule when they do their writing. Do they want to spend time with their friends? Yes. Some would even love to help you with your writing. But not when they’re working, and especially not when they’re working long hours trying to finish a manuscript on time.
Try this instead: “I’d love to get together for you sometime. What would work best for you? It’s okay if it has to wait a while.” (Or, better, show up with chocolate during deadline week.)
Seven: “Hey, I happen to have a full manuscript right here in my back pocket, want to present it to your agent/publisher on my behalf? Pretty please?”
If you’re a writer—or, you know, a person—it’s a good general practice to avoid creating awkward situations for other people. This is one of them. Many writers are happy to help you in your publication journey…but there’s a limit to what they can (or should be expected to) do.
Try this instead: “What advice would you give to your pre-published self?” or “Tell me about how you first got published—what was the process like for you?”
Eight: “Oh, you write romance novels? [Disdainful sniff] I only read biographies/literary fiction/nonfiction/’real books.’”
That last one especially. Not even funny. It’s totally fine if whatever genre the person writes in just isn’t your go-to. But don’t bring that up, and don’t judge a genre too harshly, particularly if it’s not one you actually read. Not all romances are sighing, wind-blown females staring at shirtless men, for example.
Try this instead: “I’m not very familiar with that genre. Why do you enjoy writing it?”
Nine: “When’s your new book going to be on sale?”
Totally understand this one—I love a good deal too! And it’s great to be on the lookout for sales…but don’t ask the author about them, or it sounds like you don’t really value their book enough to pay full price for it.
Try this instead: “Do you have a website? Or what would be the best way for me to learn more about your books?” Sign up for the newsletter, follow the author on Facebook, and you’ll hear about sales when they happen…and also be able to support the author.
Ten: “Why don’t you hurry up and write that next book? We’ve been waiting for months! How hard can it be?”
Pretty hard. (See #1.) Authors love that fans are excited for the next book. Just remember that while it may take you five or six hours to read a novel, it takes considerably more hours than that to write a novel, especially when adding in deadline pressure and edits for the previous book and a little something called a real life that most of our authors seem to want to have. Go figure.
Try this instead: “When is your next book releasing so I can mark my calendar?”
Writers and readers: anything you’d want to add to this list of Things Not To Say to Writers?