10 Things you should NEVER say to a novelist.
Updated: Feb 13, 2021
I'm being serious.
Okay, here goes:
1. "I'd write too, but I can't stand the thought of all the trees I'd be killing." Yes, I've heard this one. My response back then was, "Don't worry. You won't sell enough books to raze a sapling, because your pub house won't proote your book that hard, to begin with."
Today, I'd add, "And besides, most books are digital, so you can't use the tree-killer bullshit as an excuse not to write anymore." 2. "I'd write, too, but I just can't make the time." Good. Stay busy. The world doesn't need another author. Here's a hint: It's not a hobby. It's a profession. 3. "Why don't you kill off your series' villain?" Because then I wouldn't have a series. And if I don't have a series, I don't have the rent money. I'll make you a promise: when and if he quits paying the rent, I'll quit writing about him. 4. "Honestly, what do you really do to pay the bills?"
I write novels and I'm proof that not all writers live a life of poverty.
Then again, I'm not JK Rowling, either. If a writer is persistent and lucky, he or she will find that their income is somewhere in between minimum wage and unimagined wealth. I'm not saying it's an easy way to make a living. It took years to crawl my way up beyond the government-set poverty line. To make the rent, I wrote other things: boardgame questions, greeting cards. magazine articles, even horoscopes. (No, I was not a licensed astrologist, just a mom with two growing kids who could go through money like the Pentagon). 5. "The best authors—like JD Salinger, or, say Margaret Mitchell—only wrote one, or maybe a just few, books in their lifetime." Oh, really? I guess that leaves out Dickens, Twain, Wharton, LeCarre, Dreiser, Trollope, James, Chandler, Christie, and Doyle, to name a few--all of whom are on my favorite authors list—along with Salinger and Mitchell. And by the way, some of the worst writers only wrote one book as well.
I'd say the odds to stay in the game come to those who keep writing. Don't forget, Babe Ruth broke records for hitting home runs and for striking out. Not to mention, a writer's skill level rises each time up to bat. 6. "When am I going to see you on the New York Times Bestsellers list?" Maybe never--and that's okay with me.
A Times review won't necessarily pay the bills. For that matter, a Times review won't necessarily be a good one. Just ask any author who has been scorched, panned, or ridiculed by one. 7. "When will I see your book reviewed in the New York Times?" Again, maybe never--and that too is okay with me. I write commercial literature--romantic suspense, funny mysteries, contemporary women's fiction—and those books usually don't get an NYT review unless they're deemed such a cultural phenomenon that even the Times can't ignore them.
As for those authors who are waiting for some news outlet to review their books, all I can say is "Good luck!" Even the best New York publishing house publicist rarely scores a major newspaper review for a mid-list or debut author, let alone a segment on the Today Show. Now, if you're a celebrity (ghostwritten) or a royal (ditto), you may actually get that review, or some air time.
It's just the way of the world: a ghosted celebrity can garner more air time for a mediocre book than a gifted author will receive for a notable work.
So suck it up.
Better yet, don't reach for the stars when that is not the lasting definition of success. You're better off working the crowd instead of waiting for the crowd to come to you. In fact, I know many authors whose books have gotten better kudos—and substantially more reviews--than those I see in the Time—
Rude awakening: many major newspapers have done away with book reviews—and book reviewers—altogether. That being said, the voices that are ever more important to authors are avid readers, especially those readers who are willing to write a review on the websites of the bookstores (both online, and brick-and-mortar) where they buy their books. Even better is when they chat up your books to friends.
In today's book market, four-plus star reviews by hundreds of readers on an online bookseller's site can generate more sales than a few kind words in a Times review on any given Sunday.
Bottom line: word of mouth means everything. 8. "You can write more than one book a year? Hmmm. You're not an artist. You're not even a craftsman. You're... a hack!" Here's the scoop. Even painters have to produce more than one painting in a lifetime—let alone a year—in order to eat, pay rent, and pay for their kids' braces.
The same goes for musicians. They have to play more than one gig. And songwriters have to write more than one song.
No one wants to be a one-hit wonder. In fact, even one hit is akin to winning the lottery.
As for being a craftsperson: the proof is in the satisfaction of the buyer.
I'm very proud of my body of work. Every book has received an average of four or more stars. And every day, I get letters from readers who were kind enough to take the time to tell me how much fun they had with my books, or how much they love my characters. I love to hear that it kept them up at night (it certainly did for me when I was writing any one of them!) or that they laughed so loud that it woke their spouses.
That, my dear friends, is satisfaction. 9. "It must be nice to be able to set your own hours." I write at least ten hours a day. Believe it or not, some chapters are written in my sleep. When I'm not writing, I'm plotting. Or researching.
The creative process is the most important aspect of my profession. But the marketing of my books is just as important. That being said, when I'm not writing, plotting or researching, I'm concepting covers, going over edits from my proofers and editors—
And promoting, promoting, promoting.
In any regard, I'm thinking about my books twenty-four/seven.
None of it is easy. But it can certainly be rewarding. I guess that's what makes it a "job," and not a hobby. 10. "It must be great to have such a fun job." I wouldn't be doing anything else. And I'll do it, as long as I please my readers—and myself.
But like any job, it's not always fun. Sometimes it's frustrating. Sometimes I disappoint myself with how slow I am at it. It takes time to craft a sentence, let alone a paragraph, a scene or a chapter. Then you have to do it time and again, until you have a cohesive story. Creating a work that even you enjoy, despite having read it so many times, you want to scream.
I remember the reaction my sister had when I told her I'd sold my very first novel. "In fact, the contract is for two books," I proclaimed proudly.
This was met with a look of horror. "You mean, they can make you write another?"
"God, I hope so," I declared.
Fourteen years and thirty-six novels later, I still feel that way.
And, now a bonus comment...
11. "I've got a great idea for a book! Why don't I give it to you, and we can split what you make, 50/50?" Ha ha! I get this one a lot! I've even gotten it from my sister.
Thank you, but I respectfully decline your offer. You see, I have so many book plots already, that I wonder if I'll have the lifespan in which to write them all into books.
And besides, at best, a concept is a one-liner (at the most ten words). Even if it's the best book concept in the world, but then you're leaving me with the heavy lifting--that is, coming up with the other eighty thousand words that make it a book.
You see, a book may start out as a high concept, but it needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. That's a lot of sweat equity--especially if the concept doesn't resonate enough with you to (a) spend the time to research the era or topic, or (b) create characters who go through the motions to bring it to life--and make readers laugh, cry, or write you to tell you how much your words meant to them.
That being said, go ahead and write it, as only you could do.
And let me know when it's published. I look forward to reading it and supporting you—
Just like you read and support me.