It’s hard to believe some of the strange questions authors are asked. Since I (Amy Green, Bethany House’s fiction publicist) manage our social media, authors will often come to me with the trickier reader messages that show up in their inboxes. “What should I say?” they’ll wonder, and I try to be as helpful as I can.
Leaving off the super bizarre ones (“Let me tell you about a dream I had that would make the perfect sequel to your novel…will you write it for me?”), there are some questions that many fiction authors would like to avoid. Some might surprise you, so I thought I’d unpack them here so you can learn why authors might uncomfortably change the subject when the person in front of you at a book signing asks them a question.
Don’t worry if you’ve ever asked an author anything vaguely like this—it’s mostly about tone and intention. And, of course, all of these are just generalizations based on what I’ve observed working in publishing. Every author is going to be different, but following these etiquette rules will probably help you out.
RED: Don’t ask. Just don’t.
Why is your book so expensive? OR When will your book be free in ebook?
My go-to response on this is: Well, it’s always free in your local library! (If it’s not there, most libraries allow patrons to request books, and authors love it when you do that.) Authors do get this question fairly often. They totally understand that not everyone can afford to auto-buy an extensive personal library’s worth of books every year, but at the same time, since they make a living at writing, they (and their publishers) need to price books to be worth the months and even years of time they spent creating them. By asking for deals, it might sound like you’re not valuing the work they put their heart and soul into.
How much money do you make?
Some authors (especially ones who teach about writing and publishing) may be fine discussing sales with fellow authors, but most would find this just as weird as anyone asking about the paycheck/salary of a “normal” career. Unless the author is a personal friend or has offered to share information about the finances of publishing, it’s better to avoid this one.
Why did you include [XYZ] in your book? WHAT SORT OF TERRIBLE PERSON ARE YOU?
This is totally different than a review or blog post where you point out an aspect of a book that bothered you or that you felt uncomfortable with. That’s the appropriate place for content warnings or questioning an author’s choices. But going directly to an author (or tagging an author on social media) and venting your complaints about their book is almost never a good thing to do. Put yourself in their place. It would be hard to know how to respond, and you’d probably feel hurt and defensive.
YELLOW: Proceed with caution.
I need moooooore. What happens to all of your characters after the end of the story?
Chances are, you’ll get an answer like “What do you think happens to them?” Unless they’re imitating J. K. Rowling and putting out Twitter updates on past characters that become part of the canon, many authors like to leave any details not in their book up to the reader’s imagination.
You haven’t had a new book out in a while. Why not?
Most authors don’t mind at all if you ask if they have a book coming out in the next year. If they do, they can give you a date so you can mark your calendar. But if they say no, probably leave it at that without pressing for more explanation. They might be between publishers or need to focus on their families or just aren’t sure what’s next in their career, and that sort of stuff is personal and sometimes a bit touchy.
Can I have a free copy of your book?
Again, authors do have to make money, so there are only so many books they can give away. It’s fine to ask if an author has a launch team you can apply for, a group of readers who help promote their book, if you know you’d be able to enthusiastically and effectively promote. That said…be careful about how many launch teams you join. You don’t want to commit to so much that you can’t actually put in the work, or be posting about so many novels that hardly anyone is listening to your recommendations anymore. And most authors have a strict limit on the number of review copies they can give out, so it’s nothing personal if they say no.
I also struggle with [issue or theme contained in the book] just like your main character. Since you did a lot of research into this, do you have advice for me?
First, authors often love hearing that you related to one of their characters or were particularly affected by a theme or issue they chose to explore. That said, whether it’s related to medicine, mental health, social issues, or another complex topic, many authors don’t feel qualified (or aren’t legally able) to give advice to individuals. Their characters might have experiences that they haven’t, or they might not want to recommend a course of action without knowing you and your situation…and really, they probably shouldn’t.
GREEN: Feel free to ask!
I loved this book! How can I tell others about it?
Actually, most authors would just be thrilled to know you enjoyed the fictional world they created. That’s always a good thing to pass along. But I also know it makes their day a little brighter when you review their book on retail sites, share about it on social media, or recommend it to a friend.
You’re one of my favorite authors. Are you interested in answering a few questions for my blog/bookstagram?
Again, authors are busy and might say no, but it can’t hurt to ask if you’d like to include an interview on your platform to promote their books. Keeping questions easy to answer (rather than a 25-page interrogation, ha!) is super helpful here, but whether an author has time in their schedule or not, they’ll be thrilled that you thought of them.
Since I’m a new writer, can you pass on any good advice?
Most authors love to help out a fellow author who’s just getting started, but their time is probably limited. They won’t likely be able to give you feedback on your manuscript or answer a huge list of questions, but many can pass along words of wisdom, especially if you ask for something specific, like any good writing blogs to follow or what conferences they’d recommend to a newbie.
Would you like some chocolate?
If you’re seeing an author in person, the answer to this is pretty much always yes.
Authors, are these questions accurate? (Feel free to disagree with where I placed them!) Any that you’d like to add to any category?