Friday, 8 February 2008

Ten Things Not to Say to an Author

Last night I gave a talk to a local group entitled Ten Things Not to Say to an Author. I reckoned that just spouting about me and Testament for 40 minutes might not be utterly riveting to a captive audience who basically get together primarily in order to get together but, in order to do this, have to suffer speakers of various stripe… and I also thought I could probably slide in enough about the book to pique the interest of anybody who was up for being piqued.

So what were my ten things?

I think I’ve mentioned before my aversion to the question ‘where do you get all your ideas from?’ but that isn’t the worst of it by any means. No, I think the most teeth grindingly irritating thing people say to an author is ‘I’ve always thought I could write a book.’ Now, I’m pretty sure I mentioned this somewhere, or maybe it was David Isaak over on his blog but anyway, I remember his answer to whatever comment I made. It went something like ‘I always want to ask them what they do and then say ‘Oh, yes, I’ve always thought I’d like to do a bit of neurosurgery. If I could be bothered.’ I’m heavily paraphrasing because my memory’s rubbish, but that was the gist.

So that was one of the things I said to my captive audience who looked slightly sheepish, most of them presumably, at some point, having said this. The other eight (I'm excluding 'where do you get your ideas' above) were, in no particular order:

What is your book about?
Aaargh!! Buy the book if you want to know the plot! Don’t ask me to summarise it, I don’t do short fiction. If you want to know what it’s really about (themes etc) I say again, BUY THE BOOK!

Listen to this (event which happened to them, their great-aunt Mabel, their neighbour, their dog, their dental plaque…) it’d make a great book.
No, it wouldn’t. It might make a tolerable short story. But a book…? I mean, have they read any books?

Are you going to write another one?
Aaargh! As if any publisher is going to take on a one-book wonder. As if I would put myself through all the agony, heartache, rejection and pain that writing novels entails if I felt I had any other raison d’etre whatsoever. Yes - I have already written four – while I have breath in my body I WILL ALWAYS BE WRITING ANOTHER ONE!

Do you base your characters on your friends?
No. I don’t know my friends well enough. I know my characters from the inside out, I live inside their heads. Do you know your friends that well?

Is it going to be made into a film?
Why do people assume that you would want your book made into a film (I mean, have you ever seen a film worthy of the book it’s based on?) Even if film rights are bought, they are seldom exercised. And anyway (see below) authors know startlingly little about the fate of their book once it belongs to a publisher.

How many copies have you sold?
People universally appear to think that you will know this. They obviously feel that there must be some clicky-counter somewhere which tells you, down to the last second and the latest copy, how your book is doing. I don’t even know how many copies of Testament there are, never mind how many of them have induced people to part with their cash!

Going to be the next JK Rowling are you?
Aaargh! I think I am on record, though probably not on blog, as saying that nobody is going to be the next JKR. Harry Potter is a phenomenon the like of which we are extraordinarily unlikely to see again in our lifetime. He is unique, a work of imaginative genius. No, I am not, sadly, going to be the new JK Rowling.

That’s your money worries sorted then!
I don’t even know whether people are being funny when they say this. When I tell them how little authors make, how I would seriously be better off if I worked on the till at Sainsbury’s, how anybody who goes into writing to make money is a fool, initially people are disbelieving and then they flip to outraged (hopefully on your poverty-stricken behalf). Then they look at me as if I’m a bit deranged and ask me why I bother then.




Funnily enough, a colleague at work today said 'how's the masterpiece coming along?' I must have had a certain look on my face, because she added 'I bet you hate people asking, don't you?'

In a word...yes! I wish I'd never mentioned I was writing a book in the first place, but hey I was naive and overexcited at the time! I don't talk about it at all now, but maybe I'll open up a bit when/if I'm ever published.

I used to tell myself that if someone told me they were an actor, for instance, I'd probably say 'Ooh, have you been on the telly?' or something equally crass, but I definitely wouldn't these days :o)

Alis said...

it's just those things which leave your mouth before you've engaged your brain, isn't it? happens to me all the time...

Akasha Savage said...

Excellent blog Alis...I absolutely agree with every word you said. One of my pet hates is when people ask of work in progress: "So? When do you think it will be finished then?"
Mmmm...I'm thinking I'll finish it on 10th October at 11.19am precisely! ;)

Alis said...

How's it coming along Akasha? I've been missing Aspirations from the Working Mum recently!

David Isaak said...

"Do you base your characters on your friends?"

"No, but I've been known to base them on people who annoy me, so watch your step."

What a great idea for a talk, Alis. (Though I do have to admit that people have some right to be baffled by the way books are sold--what a weird way of doing business.)

Lane said...

This made me laugh, especially the 'clicky counter'! Does it re-set if somebody returns a book?