You Don’t Say


There are certain utterances that cause writers to roll their eyes back, grab the nearest weapon-like object and start swinging. (Okay, maybe not actually swinging, but in our heads, boy are we creating mayhem!) We understand that people whose only connection to the writing business don’t really “get” what we do, and may only be trying to say something that sounds like writing talk. (That’s why we don’t really hit anyone. We’re usually kind people.) We’re smiling on the outside, but on the inside, we’re screaming. So the next time you’re meeting a professional writer, avoid saying the following things:

1. I buy all my books at the flea market, because spending more than fifty cents for a book is highway robbery.
Yep, a perfectly reasonable grownup said this to me not long ago, during a conversation about when my next book would be coming out in stores. I agree that books have become more expensive since I was a kid, as has milk, gasoline, clothing and houses. And if you want to buy only used books from the flea market, by all means do so. It’s a very green thing to do! But calling the price of my new book highway robbery is essentially telling me you refuse to buy it. Let me dream that I’ll make a few sales, ‘kay?

2. When you finish writing that book, just send it to me by email.
No. When I finish writing it, I’ll send it to my agent by email. I don’t care if you’re my sister, my best friend or my boss, you have to wait and read it when it’s edited.

3. Why don’t you write a bestseller, like that Harry Potter guy?
Gee, I wish I had thought of that. Selling millions of copies would be a good idea, wouldn’t it? This tends to be more of a family-uttered comment than strangers, but I do hear it from time to time from coworkers. Trust me, I’m trying to write a bestseller, and you’ll know when it finally happens.

4. Will you put me in one of your books?
You really don’t want this. You think you do, but what you’re hoping for is for me to write a physically gorgeous, dashing hero who saves the day. In reality, if I did this at all, I’d either make you a walk-on who has no part in the plot, or else I’d kill you. Better that you read the book and imagine yourself in the role of the hero. We’ll all be happier.

5. I have a friend/relative/coworker who wants to be a writer, so I sent her your personal email address.
Most writers enjoy answering questions from earnest neophytes. It reminds us of when we were young and innocent of the wicked ways of the publishing world. That’s why I have a website with an email address specifically for my professional side. The personal address is for family and friends. So now you’ve given out the email address I use to keep my sanity to a complete stranger. Thanks.

6. Why can’t you write at work? You’re in a library, after all.
Ah yes, the library. Where all is calm, all is peaceful. Except when the 8th graders show up on the wrong day to check out books and end up overlapping with the 7th graders. Or when the chess club comes in to play at lunch time. Or when all the guidance counselors in the district show up for a meeting. Yes, it’s a library, but people use it. People who need help, which is what I’m here for. It’s very hard to get into a groove when you have a job to do already. Next time you’re in a library, watch the circulation desk, and then you’ll know why I can’t get a lot of writing done at work.

These are just six I’ve heard in the last week. Share yours, if you like. πŸ˜€


19 comments to You Don’t Say

  • Sadly, I’m not a professional writer yet, however I have had one man ask me if I would put him in one of my books. This was a great post Misty! It made me laugh and realize that even though I’m eventually hoping to get out of the book store biz, that the people will still follow (if I’m lucky!) and say wonderfully ridiculous things just like they always do.

    I can’t believe that you’ve had all of those things said to you in one week! It’s just too funny.

    Happy writing

  • Heck, I feel bad getting a book from the library that I want to try because I know it doesn’t support the writer at all, except for when I tell other people how I enjoyed it. However, I also can’t afford to buy books on a whim like I used to either. A long time ago in an age group/pay scale far, far away, I used to be able to just pull a book off the shelf because it sounded good and buy it and if it didn’t end up being a good book it could sit up on my shelf forever and never get touched again. Nowadays I use the library as a trial run. If the first book I pick up from an author is what I was looking for I’ll go and slowly buy the series. I guess I could call it a protection clause. I got a book from the library recently that I honestly would have been irked over if I’d bought it. I was pointed toward the author and I really didn’t enjoy the book at all. It was slow, dull, and generally just nothing like what I was looking for (no one here, so you don’t have to wonder). Needless to say I won’t be getting the rest of the books in the series. However, I also just picked up a bunch of short stories from another author from the library – I really enjoyed every single one, which is rare – and now am going to try the first of his novel series. And I’m only getting that from the library because he admitted that his novels are a little harder sci-fi than his short stories are. If it’s as good as the shorts, I’ll be buying the novel series for sure because it’ll be exactly what I’m looking for in a sci-fi. Oh, and he was very gracious when I sent him praise over email, which is always a plus in my book. πŸ™‚

    I prefer to tell an author that I bought their book and it was awesome, but the sad truth is that I can’t always buy anymore. I do what I can at least, by telling others how I enjoyed it, but I try not to tell the author I read a library copy. It just makes me feel bad that I loved their work, but wasn’t able to support them by buying.

    And I know that when I’m published there will be others out there just like me, so I’ll understand. I’ll just keep my fingers crossed that there’ll be more buyers than library checkers. πŸ™‚

    I also hate having to buy a book used for an out of print title because that doesn’t really help the writer either.

    As far as putting people in a novel I think I’ve got a good response for that. I only put people I don’t like in my novels, and you don’t fit that mold (mentally: yet…). πŸ˜‰

  • Misty, I love this! And yes, it happens *all the time!* Along the lines of giving your email to a writer…?

    Someone from my day job (well, weekend job) called me *this* morning and told me they had given my weekend schedule at the lab to a fan. And then asked if I would loan the woman one of my AKA’s books.

    Now, I *know* this was done in all kindness for the fan and for me. The book is long out of print and won’t be back in print until summer. The fan really wanted to read the book and really wanted to meet me. And I love meeting fans!

    But I am at the lab to do lab tests. To *work*. Not to be the writer Faith Hunter or Gwen Hunter or Gary Hunter. I don’t have my *writer* persona on. I have my works-with-blood-poop-pee-(and-other-body-fluids)-patients-who-are-sick-injured-persona on. I keep a *very* wide margin between the two. Like you, it is for my sanity.

    I had to ask my co-worker to call the woman and ask her to please not come to the lab. And tell her I don’t have a book to loan her, which is true BTW. Even I can’t get that one. And, I don’t loan my own books out anyway. When the book comes out, I will likely *give* this fan a book, and arrange to have meet her. I have disappointed a fan. I want to make it up to her.

    But, like most writers, my life outside of writing is *my life*. I don’t mix the two.

  • You are so funny, Misty. I can’t believe that you heard all of those just last week. How can you stand it?

  • Awesome. I rambled… Most of my post was about number one, sort of. Sheesh! I need to find me some liquid focus to take. Do they make that?

  • Thanks for this, Misty. I have a great respect for libraries and their purpose and don’t begrudge people getting my books there even if I don’t make much off library usage, but I do feel my hackles go up when people tell me my books are too expensive. The book is a product (like, as you say, gas and milk, or for that matter cable TV and beer) and professional writers put years into learning their craft let alone the time and work that went into creating a particular book. That’s not worth eight (or eighteen)bucks to you? Please. I totally get that money is tight right now for lots of people (writers included, incidentally) but that doesn’t mean writers should be treated as hobbyists. If you expect to pay a plumber or mechanic for their work, then you should expect to pay writers too, and the fact that what we make is art/entertainment doesn’t change that. We work hard for the (comparatively little) we make and I won’t apologize for being paid for what I produce. End of rant.

  • Deb S

    Then there’s the, “You wrote a book? You should get it published.”

    “Okay. Thanks.”

  • I’m glad you guys got a laugh out of this! One of the things you learn once you have a book out in the world is that it’s healthier to laugh at the insanity than to cry. πŸ˜€

    Daniel, I’m a big fan of the library (I know, obvious!) because they tend to buy multiple copies of books, and also because people who read a library book and love it then go out and buy it. Libraries also invite me and my ilk to come and talk, which almost guarantees an audience that likes what I’m talking about and will probably go out and buy my book.

    Faith…I’m stunned. I thought it was bad when my friend gave out my email, but for someone to give out your work schedule is boggling my mind! That’s just dangerous! Even if the friend’s friend is straight up, she might have a second cousin who’s a serial killer who just happens to see your schedule on the pad next to her phone. Okay, now I’m scaring myself. πŸ˜€

    And AJ said, We work hard for the (comparatively little) we make and I won’t apologize for being paid for what I produce.
    Woot! Power to the writers! I think we need a flag…

  • Wolf Lahti

    “I’ve got a great idea for a novel, but I can’t write. I’ll tell you the idea, and you write it, and we can share the profits 50-50. Whadaya say?”

    I say an idea is not a story any more than a brick is a mansion.

    I mostly known as an editor, so “writers” who barely know their way around a simple sentence frequently ask me to review their darlings. And of course, they want this work done for free. Sorry–I won’t make my eyes bleed unless you pay me. A lot.

  • Misty, I once had a couple come by my work place, who wanted me to read the man’s book and *get him published*. Like I have that kind of power…
    They refused to go away. I had to call security to chase them off. Dead serious. How would you like it if the person crossmatching your mom’s blood had her mind on writer stuff? Shesh… Like Aj — enough ra– Wait. One more comment.

    Yea, AJ!!! The last time I saw numbers on this, the cost to produce a MM book was $28,000. Not counting writer advance and actual production costs of printing. Yes book are expensive. No I don’t mind if my books are available in used book stores or libraries. I get fans that way. But please. No one (except the top 300 writers in the country) makes a fortunte on books. The cost of a book is less than the cost of a good meal. Unless you dumpster dive.
    Ok — rant now done.

  • #4 made me laugh out loud. So true. And variations on the theme of #3: “You should get them to make your book into a movie.” What a stunning idea! A movie, you say. That’s brilliant! Thanks for this, Misty. Needed it today….

  • Absolutely agree with AJ, Faith and all, and as a writer who wants to be published soon I feel the same way. If you’re creating a product to sell you should get paid for it. Bare minimum you should be able to make enough to pay back your advance, but hopefully more. Which is why I’ll buy any series/author that I like if I find they’re up my proverbial alley after checking them out first. I seem to be one of the folk on the publisher side in the E-book noise. Never hear me saying that books are overpriced, even if they have gone up some from 10 or 20 years ago (no more than 50 cents? Were they high on mind altering substances?). Get me a windfall and I’m buying just about every book from every author here. I need new material on my shelves. There’s only so many times I can read the same books, no matter how good they are.

    The cost of a book is less than the cost of a good meal.

    It is indeed. I can also see it from this perspective (because I’ve frequently been there). Do I buy that book and not have quite enough to pay my electric bill this month or get it from the library instead? Do I buy gas to get to work and back and milk and cereal for breakfast or buy a new novel? Just saying there’s not getting a book because you like fast food too much and not getting a book because you’d like to have light to see and write by. There’s tight budgets and there’s tight budgets. πŸ˜‰

    Sometimes, no matter how much you want it to be otherwise, budgets just don’t wanna cooperate.

  • Kim

    I overheard someone disparagingly say that authors write books to make money. (They were upset at the price of books) Uh. If that’s why you’re writing, it’s the wrong reason. I can think of ten different easier ways to make money than spending ten years working for free in the hopes of someday making a sale.

  • That’s a good one too. Heck, I’ll just be happy if I make enough to go out more or maybe take a vacation every once in a while. Maybe enough to get a second car… Help pay for a house instead of renting this one…horrid, horrid fuel oil…or at least buy fuel oil… etc.

  • heteromeles

    You know, treating authors right is sort of like teaching someone to use a microscope. Most people who have taught biology think that it takes about 30 minutes to teach kids to use a microscope, after which they know perfectly, and anyone who can’t learn that fast is stoopid or something. However, if you actually do microscopy, you learn that it takes weeks to teach most people how to do it, so that they get crisp resolution, and the scope is properly situated so that they don’t get backaches or migraines from using it.

    Same thing with authors and readers. Readers need to be trained about the realities of writing. When I’m poor, I get books from the library or buy them as cheaply as I can. When I’ve got a good job, I buy the hardcovers if they exist. But until recently, I didn’t realize that <10,000 sales=no sequel, and possibly end of career.

    I'd suggest that you guys really need to train us readers on what you need us to do to get a sequel from you (buy books, spread the word, etc). The recent flurry of posts on various blogs about the finances of writing have been great, but readers need be told, on a regular basis, that if they want more new books, they need to pay for the ones they enjoy.

  • Heteromeles, absolutely. Writers go under if people don’t buy their books: sounds obvious but you’re right, people don’t realize it. And it’s not just about authors getting smaller advances or making less off a book. A poor seller can make it impossible for that author to find a home for his/her next book, more so if big things were expected of the previous book. It’s brutal because the sucess of a book involves so much more than its content, so issues of cover art, marketing, timing of release, which stores opt to take it and whether the publisher pays to make it prominent can all doom a career. This probably merits an entire post but for now let me just agree: buy the books by authors you like, and do so as soon as they come out because publishers decide whether a book has been successful or not within a few weeks of its release.

  • Awesome post, Misty. You like to think that some of the stuff that happens to writers on TV is just fiction, but in reality, it happens a lot. (Maybe not murder, but… you know what I meant)

    Every time I hear someone complain about book prices, I have to wonder.

    David, on your example: I understand tight budgets. But, does anyone ever ask themselves: “Should I buy a TV or food for the kids?” The obvious answer is you get food and do without the TV, but people seem to think they can have their cake and read it to when it comes to books. Same with music and videos. You get what you pay for and you should pay for what you get.

  • On #4 – Will you put me in your book? My hubby’s comment “Sure, put your head here”. Great post. Much respect to all writers.

  • Robin

    “When your book is published, are you going to give all of us free copies?”

    So sad that the very people you depend on to boost your sales in the critical first weeks are the people who expect to get one for free!

    I’m actually excited for someone to offer to let me write their story for them (for a split of the profits, of course). That’s when I’ll know I’ve arrived! πŸ™‚