Wednesday, August 6, 2014

More Things You Should Never Say to An Author

Back when my blog was still getting its sea legs I wrote a post titled Things You Should Never Say To An Author. In my naivete I thought that the seven issues I'd experienced at that point were the major players when it came to awkward conversations authors shared with people outside their professional circles.

I was wrong. So very, very wrong.

And I made Jesus cry.
I was so wrong in fact that this week I've decided to create a follow-up public service announcement for those who want to try and reach out to authors as a whole. Whether you're at a cocktail party, a signing event, or wandering the halls at a convention remember that when opening a conversation there are certain things you should avoid saying so as not to get stabbed in the neck with a half-used Bic.

You Should Write A Book About Me

The only notable thing about your life will be its end if you don't stop talking.
I have personally heard this one a dozen times now, one of which came from a total stranger who was cutting my hair (hence why I didn't say anything at the time). Apparently there is such a strong desire in people to believe that their lives have been so unique, and so special, that there are gads of folks who feel a professional storyteller should dedicate 60,000+ words of text to sharing their stories with the world.

I hate to break it to you, but your life really is not all that interesting.

Every time I've heard this statement it's proceeded by some variation of the phrase, "I've seen some shit." After that they blur together. Abusive relationships, drugs and drinking, unexpected children, a string of horrible jobs, assault and possibly manslaughter, all culminating in a normal, boring, pedestrian life. Unfortunately, that is the story of being an adult. It's an unfortunate truth, but unless someone has gone through a truly unique or amazing experience ("I used to run all the guns on the East Coast for a Colombian cartel," or "I flew to Ghana and waged a guerrilla war against an occupying force of mercenaries to free the local tribes people") we don't care. We might copy an irritating verbal tic you have, or make a reference to someone who shares way too much information just because they wanted to dominate the conversation, but no, we are not going to make you a bestselling star.

That's Really Cool... Here's a Copy of My Book

I'll cherish it always.
We all know that one person who, no matter what you're talking about, tries to make the conversation about themselves. Not only do they refocus attention on themselves, but they do it in a way that Kanye West would have thought was classless and rude. There's a version of those people out there in the form of the writer who ambushes professional authors and shoves their own "work" into that professional's hands.

This happened to me once, and I was confused for the rest of the day. My short story "Relic of the Red Planet" had been selected to appear in the Alliteration Ink anthology Sidekicks (still available right here if you want to take a look), and I'd arranged a signing event at my local library. As any unknown author can tell you book signings, even in small towns, don't really draw huge crowds if no one knows who you are. So I waited in a quiet room to see who would show up, and I got two visitors. The first was a guy who was just curious, and the second was an older woman. She introduced herself, said hello, bought a copy of my book, and then promptly took out another book and shoved it into my hands. Then she scuttled off.

I tried to read the book. It was awful, bordering on the nonsensical. Assembled at Create Space it was very clear the author had no grasp of story, cohesion, character development, or possibly a Euclidian reality. I thought this was a really unique experience, but it apparently happens all the time. As soon as people find out you're an author they immediately want to send you their Lord of the Rings slash fic, or pawn off a copy of a self-published book that's sold two copies to their best friends in Japan but which no one else has ever heard of. You could be self-published, the latest addition to an indie house, or the star at Tor; people will still grab your lapels and talk about their projects as if you somehow owed them your time and give-a-shit.

What's happening here is easy to explain; these individuals want validation from someone they view as "making it," and in some cases they're hoping for that lucky break where we demand that they talk to our agents post-haste. That isn't going to happen. We love to talk books and stories; what we do not like is total strangers coming up to us and insisting that we'll love their stories. If we did that to you it would piss you off royally. All we ask is the same courtesy.

You Should Really Write Young Adult Books

What we picture doing to you when you open this conversation.
I've had this conversation with dozens of people, and while you can switch out the variables the irritation remains the same. Whatever genre it is you're working in people will always suggest you work in a different one. If you write horror they'll suggest you tone it back to write young adult fiction. If you write YA fiction they'll suggest you get in on that smut revolution and write erotica. If you write science fiction they'll tell you to try writing some of that dystopia stuff that's selling so well.

It's not that we're so stubborn we will only ever write one kind of story (in most cases). If you were an industry insider who had numbers to back up which genres were making more money then as authors we might nod and consider your words. What average people who think they have the inside track to fiction don't know is that we have put a lot of time into building a brand. We're catering to a particular fan base, and a total shift in our stories will lead to a cut in our sales. Many times we've spent years working to fit into a given area, and that's what people know us for writing. What well-meaning advice providers are doing is telling us to abandon that effort to try something totally different, based on nothing more than their own opinions. Sometimes it's also based on a short program they caught on the news, but most of the time even that is lacking.

If you wonder why we're not ever-so-grateful for your insight, imagine us coming to where you work and saying, "I know being a manager is rough, but have you considered becoming a secretary? I hear there's a lot of potential in that field."

I've Always Wanted to Write a Book

Sure you have, Buttercup.
This statement gets its own separate category because it's different from the writers who try to give authors their half-finished work. People who make this statement tend to be folks who have never taken a real stab at writing since they were in high school. Some very few of the people who make this statement might have once thought about doing NaNoWriMo, but never did.

Many times people who make this statement are just expressing a day dream; sort of like people who say "I've always wanted to own a Ferrari." It's harmless in and of itself, unless you're saying it to someone who slaved away every waking moment for years and did everything short of committing murder to get said Ferrari in his or her garage. While the owner might nod and smile, the urge to reach out and slap the shit out of the dreamer is going to be a strong one.

Alternatively, people might express this desire as a way to try and show that they admire the author. These people understand at some level that writing a book, editing it, publishing it, and then marketing it is a difficult task. However, it's a much better idea to just say that. Don't confide your secret creativity fetish to us; we do this for a living.

Have You Tried Twitter?

They burn Kingston charcoal in the part of hell reserved for you.
Every author has heard this both from well-meaning friends and know-nothing strangers. All you have to do is speak the magic phrase, "I wish I could sell more books," and the mystical advice-genie comes shooting out of the bottle to grant you the secrets of instant wealth.

Wait... sorry, that's a typo. Either that or I'm rubbing the wrong genies. Or however that works.

Anyway, the point is that everyone seems to think they have the one method you haven't tried when it comes to getting big bucks on book sales. Maybe it's phoning the local newspaper, or posting on Facebook pages, or just starting a Twitter account. Whatever it is the idea is obviously so brilliant they're amazed you haven't thought of it.

Here's a hint folks; we have. Any author worth a roller ball signing pen will have carefully researched different marketing methods. We know which conventions have a good reputation (in our areas at least), and we know which forums allow self promotion. We have checked to see how much banner ads cost, and we've probably laid the ground work for starting an author blog (if we didn't already have one). No matter what idea it is you've had chances are good any author who's been in the game more than a year has already heard it, tried it, and possibly discarded it.

It's not that we aren't open to help; authors love to be given helpful suggestions and opportunities by people. Telling someone you have a friend in the entertainment section of the Times, or offering to hook us up with a cousin of yours who writes a popular book review blog is great. We would gladly accept that kind of help all the live-long day. When someone says "just get on social media site X" like that will turn us into an overnight sensation though it is not in the least helpful.

Before you speak ask the author what they've done to push the book so far. That way you're not going to make a suggestion the author has already grabbed hold of and is milking for all it's worth.

As always thanks for stopping in for this week's edition of The Literary Mercenary. If you'd like to get all of my updates then toss your name into the box on your top right, or follow me on Facebook and Tumblr. If you'd like to support me and my blog then leave a tip by clicking the "Shakespeare Gotta Get Paid" donation button on the upper right, or stop by my Patreon page to become a patron today!

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