Whenever I tell someone I’m a writer, it’s often met with a string of what seem to be standard questions. Of course I appreciate the interest from family and friends or even new acquaintances, but there are some questions that are asked either all too often or in a way that’s not meant as an insult but can come across as one.
Most people don’t realize these questions are ones we are often asked or maybe even annoy us in some capacity. When posed, I just go along with them, but it leaves me feeling like I’m just going through the motions and wishing the conversation could be more engaging.
As I imagine this is a common problem, I’ve made a list of questions that are apt to grind my writerly gears and assembled something of an FAQ page.
In my honest opinion and in no particular order, here are some of the things I wish people would stop asking me about my writing.
So You’re A Writer, Huh?
The short answer is, yes. I am a writer.
This usually pops up if someone sees me writing.
One particular occasion that comes to mind happened on my break at work where I was jotting down some WIP-related notes in the composition book I’d brought with me (because you have to squeeze it in wherever you can) and a coworker noticed.
“Oh, so you writing a book or something?”
And I answered with a simple, “Yes, actually.”
The main reason this one irritates me is the tone it’s asked with.
Even if it’s out of a genuine interest, it often sounds as though it’s meant as a joke, like they’re poking fun at my being a writer or even judgemental because of the phrasing.
Oh, you’re a writer, huh? can sometimes sound like Oh, you’re really going to spend fifty dollars on a can of soda? depending on the person’s tone. This was sometimes also the case when I spoke of my intentions to attend a liberal arts college and earn a degree in English, specifically with a concentration in creative writing.
Alternatively, consider asking something like What are you working on? or How is it going? Engage with us. Let us know you’re genuinely curious about what we’re up to.
How Much Money Do You Make Writing?
There are a few ways I’ve encountered this question, and it’s usually tied to asking if I’m published yet.
How much money do you make through writing?
Okay, but what about a “paying” job?
Or there might be something about how I’m supposed to remember someone when I get famous.
Simply put, not every author is in it for the money. A lot of us start out as hobbyists just writing for fun and our own enjoyment, or out of a compelling need to tell a particular story that will not be sated until we put it on paper. Writing is a labor of love.
To touch on the second point, I do have a part-time retail job but aspire to be a full-time writer.
Even once I have made the big shift career-wise, that doesn’t mean I’ll be living the lifestyle of the rich and famous.
Regardless of the path the author takes, whether they decide to go with the traditional route or self-publish, the process has its expenses.
Traditionally published authors are first paid with an advance, which is a preliminary payment ahead of derived from the publisher’s expectations for your book and how well they think it will do on the market. It’s a rough estimate and, as far as I can discern, a debut author isn’t necessarily going to be raking in the dough.
Following the release of the book, these authors are paid through royalties. To give a basic explanation, the advance covers the first however-many books sold.
Keeping the numbers simple, let’s assume you receive an advance of $50,000 and your book’s retail price is $10.
In this scenario, you would need to sell 5,000 copies of your book to earn out, which means you have sold enough to generate enough to recuperate your advance, and then you will begin receiving further royalty payments.
The schedule for this varies from one publisher to the next, but it’s typical to be paid quarterly.
It takes a while to see a profit.
Bear in mind that these payments depend on the publisher’s contract.
In the above example, if the author is receiving royalties for a $10 book, that doesn’t mean they will be making $10 for every copy sold.
Instead, they might make closer to $3.
Many publishers, especially the big ones, will not accept unsolicited manuscripts, meaning that the writer requires the aid of a literary agent; this literary agent also gets a commission from the advance and royalties.
Authors might choose to self-publish after hearing this, and because it gives them the opportunity to make more decisions about their book moving forth.
However, this does not eliminate the costs of production and distribution.
Between editing, formatting, cover art, advertising, printing, and a bunch of things I’m not thinking because they either escape me as I’m writing this post of are things I don’t even know about, publishing through either method is not cheap, especially if an author wants to deliver a quality product.
The difference is that self-publishing authors are the ones fronting the bill.
Writing is not a lucrative business and until/unless we “make it big,” the only dough we’ll be seeing is the bread we’re stress-baking.
Can I Get A Free Copy Of Your Book?
No. No, you cannot. (But we would love it if you bought one!)
Authors may provide reviewers with a free copy of their book in exchange for a review on their platform, which in turn can be a valuable promotional tool. Some might include a free copy of their book as a prize in a giveaway, but that’s about it as far as the general public goes. Writers might have a few people in mind to whom they intend to give a copy like immediate family, close friends, or a mentor, but casual acquaintances and distant relations are not as likely to receive one.
This is especially true for those who cold-message us on social media.
Expecting a writer to just hand out a free copy of their book simply because you asked them to isn’t all that different than asking an architect to design a house for you without payment or pulling a dine-and-dash stunt at a restaurant.
Writers work hard. Many of us went to school for this and have college degrees (which in turn means plenty of student loans to pay off). Even for those who start off as hobbyists before setting out to make a career out of this, it’s taken a lot to get to where we are now on this never-ending journey.
There is so much happening behind the scenes between writing and editing and everything that goes into the process of publishing. There are costs and, although they vary from one author to the next, publishing isn’t always easy on the wallet if it’s to be done well.
Asking an author for a free copy of their book, regardless of whether it is their debut or their seventeenth bestseller, is like telling them you don’t value everything they’ve put into their writing. You want it, but you don’t feel it is worth anything.
And the fact is, selling books is how authors, especially full-time authors, provide for themselves and their families. It’s what keeps them able to write more books and do what they love.
I will admit some books seem or are overpriced (especially college textbooks). eBooks are often less expensive compared to hardcover books or paperbacks, so readers might opt for those.
Or better yet, support your local library! If they don’t already have a copy of the book you’re interested in, they may be willing to order a copy and add it to their collection.
Side note: Don’t be offended when an author is not willing to distribute free copies of their book. I’ve seen a few instances of someone ranting on Twitter because an author refused to give them one or didn’t even “take the time to respond” to their request and tries to make sure no one else buys a copy because this author is an a**hole who doesn’t care about their readers etc. Don’t be this person.
I’ve Always Wanted To Write A Book But I’ve Never Had The Time
There’s a lot to unpack here.
Though not a question, per se, it is worth bringing up in this post.
Like I mentioned above, writing is a profession for us or at the very least a hobby we’re aiming to make a profession, so this can sometimes come across as saying I’ve always wanted to be a marine biologist but I’ve never had the time.
Many writers either take classes on the subject or pursue academic degrees. Before they are able to make a career out of their craft, they’re often working day jobs and balancing other responsibilities while chasing that dream.
Even before they take the leap and shift to writing on a full-time basis, writers have twenty-four hours in the day just like anybody else.
Much of my writing has happened between homework and extracurricular activities or on my breaks while working in retail. It’s not about finding the time, but making the time. We do it because we have to.
As far as the I’ve always wanted to write a book part goes, even if not intentional, there is a bit of an implication in the tone often used in saying this that writing a book is something that anyone can do more easily, like I’ve always wanted to try making waffles.
This tone isn’t like the one usually accompanying someone saying they’ve always wanted to go on a cruise where it’s more about being at a point in life where they can afford to, or a sense of admiration that comes after hearing someone has run a marathon.
It happens with other creatives, too, and it undervalues the hard work we put into our craft.
This is not with the intention of discouraging any future authors reading this. If you want to write a book, take that leap of faith and do it. Feel free to ask fellow writers for advice, but not in a way that diminishes the effort we devote to our work or undervalues the challenges we face.
I Have A Great Idea For A Book…
There are two ways this one can go.
Option A | I have a great idea for a book, what do you think?
I get the need for validation. That feeling of being told you’re on the right track with a project or that your ideas are solid. It’s something I desire at times, and I think it’s fair to say I’m not alone in that.
However, it’s not up to other writers to tell you if your story ideas are good. You’re only going to figure that out if you try them.
There are plenty of ideas I’ve had over the years that have undergone significant changes, set aside for future consideration, or have even been scrapped altogether because as I work with them, I start to see they’re not at their best. Writing is often a process of trial and error. Experimentation and failure. Learning and growing.
Success doesn’t come overnight. It can take years to figure out who you are as a writer, and that’s not something other writers can tell you or decide for you.
If you think you have a great idea for a book, give it a shot. You never know where it will lead.
Option B | I have a great idea for a book, can you write it for me?
This one’s popped up in my own life on occasion, usually someone “suggesting” a character for my project. It could be vague or a detailed description like, “He’s tall, blond, has a tattoo of a wolf on his right arm and you should totally write a character like him.”
I have enough going on with my own writing projects as it is.
Throwing someone else’s ideas into the mix will not go well.
When this question comes up, it can sometimes be linked to the above question of do you think this story idea is good?.
If you give ten writers the same prompt, you’re going to get ten very different stories back.
Expecting an author to write your story idea the way you want will likely result in a letdown, especially when you have very specific details in mind. If you have a story idea that you want written in a specific way, it’s better to write it yourself.
There’s also the question of ownership that can get messy and since I’m not a legal expert, I’m not going to dive down that rabbit hole right now.
Can You Put Me In Your Book?
I could go into detail on this but, suffice it to say, I write fiction. I don’t write characters based on any particular, real-life individual.
My characters are amalgamations of different versions of myself, fictional characters I’ve loved or loved to hate, and the occasional trait borrowed from someone I’ve known be it physical or personality-wise, but never just dropping a complete someone into the story.
As is the case with the previous point, asking an author to put you into their book will probably not yield the desired result. If you do end up as a character in their story, that rendering of you may not live up to your expectations. You may think you’re going to be the protagonist being sent out on a quest, but you’re really just the drunkard at the tavern slouching in the corner and muttering about gold in that there yonder stream.
I talk about this in my opinion piece on why I typically don’t use historical figures as characters in my fiction, but it boils down to portrayal. Overall, I would worry about not doing this person justice because the fact is, they were a living, breathing person, and it almost feels like an invasion of privacy to be putting them into the pages of my fiction. In some cases, where information is not abundant and educated guesses need to be made to fill in the gaps, I would be afraid of getting something wrong and dishonoring them; it would feel like I were twisting them to fit a mould, so to speak, for the sake of entertainment rather than staying true to the course of that individual’s life.
The same goes for people who are still alive and well. The only difference is that the person can be offended if they find my fictional version to be either too much like them or so different than how they would act in real life (or think they would).
So in conclusion, no, I won’t put you in my novel. Not you. Not your cousin. Not your annoying co-worker. Not your dog.
If you feel a connection to one of my characters, that’s one thing, and actually something I aim for since so much of reading is finding yourself or seeing things in a different light and I want my readers to have that experience.
But know that it is never deliberate on my part.
When Can I Read It?
This one is often out of enthusiasm or excitement to finally see what I’ve spent years working on, but it can also have me feeling rushed or like I’m not writing fast enough (something I face often while balancing multiple projects including this blog and non-writing responsibilities).
While I can work under pressure when I have to, it’s not my favorite situation to be in, especially when I’m working on something I genuinely enjoy like one of my books.
I also have perfectionist tendencies, so it can take a long while for me to reach a point where I feel like I’m ready to share my work.
So even if it’s said out of excitement, it gives me the feeling of being rushed. I can only work so quickly, especially to achieve the quality I’m striving for.
I appreciate the enthusiasm towards my goals and those around me genuinely interested in seeing them come to fruition, and I’m aware I am especially fortunate because not everyone has a support system when pursuing creative endeavors, but having people clamoring to get their hands on my books, particularly ones that aren’t ready to be published (so, all of them for the moment), tacks on an additional pressure.
I not only have to get this right for myself and my characters, but for my loved ones.
Not to mention my eventual readers.
This may leave you wondering what you should be asking writers? What questions excite us? What do we enjoy answering or talking about?
Check back next week for that!