Thursday, June 27, 2013

Things You Shouldn't Say To An Author

Being a professional author is a pretty sweet gig and I won't claim otherwise.  Since the publication of my premiere novel, The Last Battleship, I seem to have entered into a hitherto unknown social paradigm wherein poeple, both those I know well and total strangers, fell free to hit me with some of the following statements/questions.  They range from the innocent-but-no-less-insulting to the truly bizarre.  While there are any number of things one can say to an author, they aren't on this list.  If your intent is to insult or anger the author, however, here's where you start.
1)  "I'd like to write a novel but I don't have the time."  This might be the most common statement I hear and it's a double-whammy insult.  First, it implies that anyone can write a novel; second, it also implies the author has nothing better do do with his/her time.  Both statements are equally untrue.  If I sound harsh or condescending, well, I don't mean it that way. 
The fact is writing a full-length novel is not easy.  If it was, everyone would do it.  To paraphrase another author, "You look at a blank computer screen and take the same twenty-six letters of the alphabet and combine them and recombine them tens of thousands of times until they make a coherent and publishable story that people actually want to read."  If that sounds easy you clearly have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. 
The second part of that statement is just as bad.  It makes the author sound like someone who leads a life empty of anything meaningful.  After all, if you check off the hours of the day doing nothing but writing, you must not have anything better to do.  I suppose if I didn't write novels I could work on that cure for cancer but I guess I'm just too lazy.  Hence the writing.
2)  "I have a great idea for a novel.  If I give it to you, can you write it and we'll share the byline?"  No.  The idea itself is no big deal.  It's the easiest part of writing a novel.  And it changes constantly during the writing process.  Of the three novels I've written, only the latest, Dark Annie, kept its original idea intact from start to finish.  Both The Last Battleship and Moon Dust experienced major plot changes during the writing process.  So the idea itself is less important than most people think.  Giving me the idea and then expecting me to do all the work so you can share a byline is not going to happen.  Ever.  With any author.  So don't ask.
3)  "I've written a novel.  Can you read it and critique it for me?"  Again, no.  It's sad to admit but the fact is people today are way too litigious.  Let's say you hand your manuscript to an author and they read it and the plot happens to be close to something they're working on.  When their work is published you think they stole your idea and you go apeshit.  There's a lawsuit, there are cries of plagiarism and outright thievery, the author's name is dragged through the mud in a very public way.  Sure, which author wouldn't want to subject themselves to all that?  Critique your own work or hire somebody to do it for you.  No author in their right mind would agree to do this.
4)  "My life story would make a great book." No, it wouldn't.  Why, because you suffered through some adversity?  Newsflash:  Everyone has gone through adversity in their life.  What makes yours so special?  Unless you lived through some major disaster and came through it in some extraordinary way, no one cares.  If you're a celebrity, someone will publish your memoirs, I suppose.  Professional athletes, war heroes, political leaders, someone will greenlight their books.  Yours?  Not likely.  This probably sounds a bit harsh but it's a fact.  If you don't believe me try to get an agent or publisher interested in your life story and see what happens.
5)  "Can I be a character in your novel?"  Sure.  I stick mostly to the horror genre and I'm always looking for names for the people who get bumped off.  Once you put this forward you'd better be prepared to accept how the author uses your character.  You can be the victim of a serial killer, or a very minor character that gets clipped to show the readers just how dangerous the situation is for the other, more important characters.  You can be painted in a very unfavorable light.  Or you can be the hero of the whole piece and save the day.  This is a very clear cut example of caveat emptor.  Keep that in mind if you ask this question of an author.

There are more, I'm sure, but these are the ones that get thrown my way the most often.  I never make it a point to call anyone on their bullshit when they say these things to me.  I know they're not being insulting intentionally.  Or maybe they are and I'm just too dense to realize it.  My usual response to this is to nod politely and smile and resist the urge to strangle them and hide the body. 

Or to write them into the next novel with a brutal death scene. 

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