Five things you should never say to an author

*This post was first published on May 4, 2016 on the Roane Publishing Blog.

If you’re an author, you’ve heard these platitudes before. More frequently than you want. For those of you who meet and talk to writers, you may have said one of these five things.

Authors aren’t the only ones to suffer from people’s gross inconsideration. How many times did I hear unsolicited advice from strangers when I was pregnant? Yeah, I have better things to do than keep track of that.

Still, if I didn’t ask for your input, could you refrain from offering it?

It’s a tad easier to accept hearing these things from strangers on the street. Unfortunately, friends and family are often just as guilty of being nosy and unkind. People mean well, right? They are clueless about the writing process and ignorant about a published author’s required skills.

That said, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt. But after you read this post, you’ll need to step up and stop belittling the work of writers.

What are these five things you should never say?

Here they are along with an explanation of what an author hears when you say them. AND why you shouldn’t say it – or anything close to it – to them ever again.

  1. “I’m going to write a novel some day.”

What I heard you say: “What you do is easy. Anyone can do it.”

Really? You’ve written 70,000 (or more) words in less than thirty days and then spent three months rewriting, revising, editing and polishing them? During that time, you cried and screamed, laughed and danced. Afterward, you attempt to find a publisher who likes this piece of your heart and soul.

The fact is most sane people would give up on this after their first attempt. Or spend ten years reworking the same story. Authors write, rewrite, revise, edit, polish and ship.

Then they get to work on the next project.

2. “What’s your real job?”

What I heard you say: “Writing books is a hobby. Get a paying job.”

For some people, writing books might be a hobby. For me, however, it’s my full-time career. I head down the hall to my office five days per week. I spend three to five hours working on my current project(s). Most days, it takes another hour to beef up my online presence (called an author brand or platform) and cruise through my email (queries, rejections, connections, and blog comments).

Sounds like a real job to me.

But you’re right, I would make more money slinging burgers at McDonald’s. But my soul would shrivel.

3. “Everyone writes books these days.”

What I heard you say: “There’s nothing special about what you do. Anyone can get published.”

Everyone can publish their own work, sure, but that doesn’t mean anyone reads it. I might have only a handful of people who aren’t related to me reading what I write, but that’s not my dream or goal.

Furthermore, everyone can’t get published through traditional means. In fact, it’s harder to get a publishing contract than it is to get a speeding ticket.

4. “I’ve never heard of you.”

What I heard you say: “You must not be a decent writer because you’re not famous.”

If I listed the authors with the most books on the market today, I bet you wouldn’t recognize even half their names. It’s not all about Stephen King, Nora Roberts and James Patterson.

I’ve heard of many of these authors but haven’t read their books. In fact, I will NEVER read a book by Stephen King because horror gives me nightmares. No thanks. I need my sleep.

Fame isn’t even the goal for most authors. Most of us would like to make enough to pay the bills and take a nice vacation once a year. And, no, we don’t care if someone who’s never read our books knows our name.

5. “What’s your book about?”

What I heard you say: “Explain in one minute what you’ve poured your heart, soul, mind and time into for the past three months.”

My first thought is “Which one?”

For the record, I’m working on two or three projects at the same time. I’m not sure which one of these you want me to talk about. Most likely, you’re asking about the one I most recently published. I’ll have to think a minute (or five) because that story has already been told.

I might give you my elevator pitch. Or maybe I’ll talk about the premise or underlying theme. Asking an author what their book is about is like asking a psychologist what she did at work or a heart surgeon to explain a triple-bypass.

So-now you know what we don’t want to talk about. And this isn’t to say we don’t want to talk about our book, believe me. But with a general question like that last one, we could be here all night without satisfying your curiosity.

On the other hand, authors love when people say:

“Will you sign my copy of your book?”

“Oh my gosh! You write books? I know a real live author.”

“I loved your book more than The Hunger Games.”

So the next time you’re chatting up a perfect stranger, and you find out they’re an author, you’ll know exactly what to say (and what NOT to say).

You’re welcome.

So, author friends, what other things do you hate people to say to you about your writing? Or what do you love to hear?

5 thoughts on “Five things you should never say to an author

  1. What bugs me is when people say ‘You haven’t finished that yet?’ No, I haven’t. It turns out creating an entire world, peopling it with believable characters and balancing all the other requirements for a good book – not to mention the physical process of actually re/writing it – really does take some time. Especially if, as in my case, it’s your first time round and the learning curve is looking like Everest. I’m hoping for a shorter trip next time, and at least by then I’ll have one book to smack people around the head with when they tell me I’m not producing anything.

    1. OR…What about that other book you talked about? Yeah, not everything I write gets picked up by a publisher. OR is good enough for me to invest months of rewrites, revisions and edits on.
      What type of book are you writing, Deborah?
      I will be submitting the young adult fantasy to the publisher who requested it. This week. Tomorrow, I believe. Then I’m going to work on my next Bible study book.

      1. This is a young adult/new adult (protagonist is 17/18) fantasy novel. To answer question #5, it’s about a princess who thinks her life is a fairytale, and finds out it isn’t.

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