I saw an awesome hashtag recently that was along the lines of ‘Do Not Ask the Author’ or ‘Insensitive Questions to the New Author’, and I had many to add. Of course, this is all in good fun – I’m not writing this in the white-hot rage of someone recently insulted. There are insensitive questions that apply to many situations, and the old list for the pregnant woman pops up a lot. Here are some of my favourites from across my writing career, and I’ll add in any good ones my author buddies come up with if they respond to my Facebook post about it. This might be a good resource for would-be interviewers, or loved ones of writers.
- Why aren’t you appearing at (Certain Writers Festival)?
Because writers festivals are as difficult to get into as the popular girls’ slumber parties in early high school. I’m not a popular girl. I’m a writer – that should be evidence enough.
- Is your book coming out in hardback?
No. I’m not Harper Lee.
- So are you going to do a book tour?
See response to question one. I actually had the extraordinary experience of having sixty or more people turn up for a book talk I did in Tamworth for my first novel, but in most cases, if you’re not a best-seller, no one will know who the hell you are during the release of your first, second and third books. They might turn up because they have nothing else to do, or they’re old and they want a night out with easy parking that’ll end in time for an inappropriately early dinner. But that’s about it.
- Where can I get your book?
In a goddamn bookstore, you twat.
- Oh, so it’s a real book?
Now you’re being insensitive to eBook writers.
- Will you write my memoir?
No. I’m a crime fiction author. You’d know that, if you weren’t too busy thinking about how amazing you are to ask what kind of author I actually am. Also, your life is not the next Eat, Pray, Love. There was one Eat, Pray, Love and that’s quite enough of that to last a lifetime.
- Why aren’t your books on posters on the backs of buses?
Because publishers pay for those adverts, and they’ll only do that for their big-fish authors. Posters on buses need to be brief and recognisable – they’re not designed to draw in first-time readers of an author but to show all-time readers of an author that their new book is out. Jodi Picoult and Lee Child are on the backs of buses, because people don’t see their names and say ‘Who?’
- So you’re gonna be the next J. K. Rowling, right?
No. J. K. Rowling’s story is a one-in-a-billion Cinderella-style fantasy that happens to absolutely no one. But good on you for knowing another author’s name.
- Can you come over my house and fix my washing machine? You’re not working today, right?
No, Mum. I’m not a washing machine technician. And writing is work.
- While you’re here, will you replace the light bulb above the stairs? It’s too high for me.
You really are getting old, aren’t you.
- I’ve written a manuscript. Will you read it for me and tell me if it’s any good?
No. There are many reasons why I will not. Because I’m a word-lover, I won’t be able to read your manuscript without marking it up. And because your manuscript is unpublished, it’ll likely need a lot of marking up. This basically constitutes an editing job, which takes forever, and should never be free.
Also, in all likelihood, I have no idea whether your book will be viable for publication or not. I can tell you it’s well written, an awesome concept, or that it’s very rich in good characters and plot (or all of those things!). But books with all of these features go absolutely nowhere in their attempts at getting published ALL THE TIME. The publishing industry is very, very complex, and I would hate for you to hang your chances on me liking your work, because in reality, me liking your work means zip.
- You’re still working here? I would have thought you’d have quit to be a writer by now?
Almost no writers live off writing. It’s not very lucrative, for the most part. Writers teach, mostly, or if they don’t have part-time employment, it’s because a very loving and giving partner is sponsoring them while they write.
- Why don’t you write (other genre perceived as being ‘where the money is’, usually chick lit or erotica)?
Why don’t you go and do (other job perceived as being ‘where the money is’, usually training as a doctor or lawyer, or playing the stock market).
- When’s your next book out?
In fucking December! Jesus Christ I must have said this eight million times. Look at my blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts, where it’s mentioned. Look at my publishing page. Look at any article that has mentioned me over the last year. If someone asks me when my next book is out again I’m going to kill everyone in this room. SIT DOWN. NO ONE LEAVES. PUT YOUR HANDS WHERE I CAN SEE THEM.