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Saralyn Richard Suggests What Not to Say to an Author

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.

Book cover of A Murder of Principal by Saralyn Richard

#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?

Saralyn Richard

Saralyn Richard is the author of Naughty Nana, Murder in the One Percent, and A Palette for Love and Murder. You can find out more about her on her website, saralynrichard.com, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

This Post Has 23 Comments

  1. Laurie's Story

    #6: There are so many crummy shows on TV, why can’t you get your book series made into a TV show?
    I know, I know, meant to be a compliment, but leaves an author frustrated. If we could wave a magic wand and make it happen, we WOULD! Thanks for the venting post, Saralyn. I couldn’t help but join in.

    1. Saralyn

      Bring ‘em on, Laurie. That’s a good one!

    2. Sheila Lowe

      Especially when you’ve had several producers take on the project and not sell it.

  2. Laurie Buchanan

    Saralyn — Oh, I love your list!

    I can relate with #4—“You’re so lucky not to have to work at a serious job.”

    Some people think that writers sit at home in their pajamas, eating bonbons and watching television. And it’s not even remotely true (well, maybe I stay in my jammies now and then).

  3. saralynrichard

    Exactly! Many days we work from dawn to midnight without skipping a beat!

  4. Sheila Lowe

    I can relate to all of those. And another one that I really try not to get annoyed by and keep in perspective: “I share your books with all my friends.” I have to bite my tongue on “authors don’t get paid royalties on borrowed books. Please ask them to buy their own copy.” Instead, I remind myself that if the friends like the free books, they may indeed buy the next one.

  5. Valerie Biel

    This made me laugh — I can relate to these! When I do school visits kids always think that you must be rich if you’ve published a book, and yes, they also want to know when it will be a movie. Here are a couple of funny moments with weird interactions with writers from a conference panel discussion I sat on: Budding Writer A asks, “So, what kind of advice to you give someone who is just starting out.” Me: “Read a lot in the genre you plan to write it.” Writer A answer: “Oh, I don’t read.” . . . later same panel . . . Budding Writer B asks, “I had an editor tell me that my writing was choppy and there were sentences without verbs. I don’t know what to do.” . . . . crickets from the other panelists/no one else was picking up the mic . . . so I offered, “The editor is right, you need verbs.”

    1. saralynrichard

      A sense of humor comes in handy, for sure! Let’s hear it for verbs!

  6. Here’s one I hear in different forms, but I hear it nonetheless:

    #7 Have you ever tried writing books for adults? Then, you’d really be doing something!

    Say what? As Madeleine L’Engle said, “If the book will be too difficult for grownups, then you write it for children.” Right on, Madeleine!

    1. saralynrichard

      As the author of a children’s book, I can relate to that one, Sherrill. Someone actually asked me why I would waste my time writing a children’s book. I forgot about that one!

      1. Sherrill Joseph

        Saralyn, the person who made that comment to you has apparently, for whatever reason, forgotten what it’s like to be a child. So sad.

  7. We’re lucky that the majority of our readers get that we work hard at our craft and that writing a book not only takes time and persistence to get the words on the page but also takes countless hours of studying our craft to make sure those words resonate with readers. I once received a #4 comment from someone to the tune of “You don’t really need to work hard to write a book.” After I gasped, I laughed out loud. Then I told her about how many hours I spend on the computer, the physical challenge of repetitive movement (or in some parts lack of movement) on a writer’s body, and the mental challenges of piecing together a plot and a plan for character development, not to mention the additional hours required to pay attention to the business of writing. It turned out to be a good experience for both of us, and I think she gained a better understanding that writing fiction is not all fun and games (like you said)! Thanks for your post today–it’s a fun one!

  8. saralynrichard

    Thanks for your comment, Margaret. Glad the topic resonates with you!

  9. Avanti Centrae

    Thanks for the post, Saralyn. Good behind-the-scenes advice for readers!

  10. Tracey Phillips

    As an author of a thriller where “unusual ways to kill” is involved, sometimes it’s what the readers don’t ask you.

    1. saralynrichard

      Right, Marilyn. Positive or not, we’re always glad when readers connect with us.

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