Saralyn Richard’s latest book is A Murder of Principal. She is the author of the Detective Parrott series and children’s book Naughty Nana. You can find out more about her here, see her books here, and read her last post here.
An interviewer once asked me who my ideal reader was. I answered, “Someone who is open-minded, is willing to engage with me in an intellectual and emotional puzzle, loves a good story, and has a good sense of humor.” Fortunately, almost every reader I’ve interacted with has fit that description.
Still, there are a few who don’t.
By far, the most rewarding part of being an author is meeting lots of people—readers, bookstore owners, publishers, and more. Oh, the places you’ll go, the people you’ll meet, the conversations you’ll have (thank you, Dr. Seuss)! People love to talk to authors at book events, at book clubs, in airports—you get the picture.
And it’s fun to hear what opinions and questions people have, whether they’ve read your books or not. Once in a while, though, someone will stun you with a comment that leaves your mouth hanging open, wordless.
I’ve put together a list of five things not to say to an author (unless you’re trying to be hurtful).
#5 – Let me tell you about the plot you should write next. Chances are excellent that the author you are speaking to already has her next plot in mind. If you have a story to write, you should write it.
#4 – You’re so lucky not to have to work at a serious job. Writing a book is not exactly fun and games. Writers spend a lot of time and energy doing research, organizing, writing, editing, rewriting, publishing, marketing, and the list goes on. Often, we work long hours with no days off and no office parties to lighten the load.
#3 – How much money did you make/How many books did you sell? My guess is you wouldn’t ask people in other professions how much money they make. Yet, for some reason, some people think it’s not impolite to ask this of an author. Maybe because said people think #4, that writing is not a serious job.
#2 – I’d be interested in your book, but I don’t read. Really? Even if that were true, why would you announce your illiteracy to someone who values literacy so much that she produces literature for a living?
#1 – Do you have any spare copies of your book to give me one for free? It may surprise you to learn that authors don’t get their books for free. You probably wouldn’t ask an artist for a free portrait, and this is the same thing. It de-values the work that an author has put into her book when you expect her to give it away.
Of course, the vast majority of people I’ve met have been supportive and encouraging. They’ve said things like, “I read each of your books three times,” or “I couldn’t put that book down.” If they’ve had constructive criticism, I’ve welcomed that, too. What most authors want is to have their work understood. A reader who has thought about my book enough to offer comments or suggestions is a treasured friend. I am constantly learning and growing from the feedback of readers.
The relationship between an author and reader is symbiotic. Writing is to reading like teaching is to learning—you can’t have one without the other. I’m grateful for the people who read what I write, this article included. And when the tables are turned, and I’m on the other side of the author-reader relationship, I take my own advice.
What kinds of author-reader interactions have you had?