Doing events always results in certain kinds of conversation. So, I thought I’d answer a few standard questions, both to relieve my frustrations, and as an act of public service.
1) I have an idea for a book.
An idea may give you a short story if you are lucky. Write it, because you will learn something. Please do not walk into a room full of published authors who have been doing this for years and assume that ‘I had an idea for a book’ puts you on an equal footing with people who write books. It just makes us grouchy. Also, nine times out of ten you sound like a pompous idiot when you start talking this way in public.
2) I’m working on my first book, should I look for an agent, or a publisher?
No. It is wonderful that you are writing a book, well done for getting that far. However, get it finished, make sure you can finish a book of a good 70,000 words or more before you get carried away. Then leave it alone for a while and come back to it. Most first books are rubbish. This is fine. You wouldn’t expect to sit down and just write a symphony. For the record, it took me three goes to get a book I thought was even worth sharing and that didn’t get published. So unless you come to this as a film writer, with a huge body of short stories, or otherwise prepared and experienced, please reconcile yourself, now, to the fact that you are going to be learning a craft and that the first thing you write probably isn’t publishable. If that’s too off-putting, you are never going to survive the publishing industry anyway, so bail now and spare yourself the pain.
3) Can you read my book/recommend it to your publisher/ help me with it?
No. Authors are often busy people, what with the writing, marketing, research, doing events, and many also have day jobs and families, and need to sleep occasionally. Unless you are a personal friend or we really fancy you, the odds are that we cannot afford the time. Plus, we worry that you will then decide we stole your ideas, even if we didn’t, and most of us prefer not to go there. Offer me a short story and I might be able to read that and comment. If you have a book with a publisher, it’s relevant to stuff I write, and I have time, I might be up for furnishing you with blurb – not all authors have time for this either.
4) What a great job you have, it must be like being on holiday all the time. Or, it’s not a proper job, is it? It’s just a hobby.
There’s a lot of work goes into writing. Research, planning, drafting, redrafting, edits, marketing… there is a lot more to being an author than having an idea, throwing it into a document file and waiting for the cash to roll in. The majority of authors are not well paid and work long hours. Yes, we love what we do, but that doesn’t make it any less difficult. Some of us write because we’d go crazy if we didn’t. Some of us have things we are compelled to share. The reasons are many, and creation, for some, is a tortuous act. Every author is different, it is best to assume you do not know what their life is like. But, unless your holidays reduce you to tears and sometimes make you feel like jumping under a bus, no, it’s not like being on holiday all the time.
5) My six year old child writes stories/ wants to be an author.
That’s lovely. We will make every kind of warm encouraging noises to you and your child. Just so long as you do not want us to herald your small offspring as a literary genius, or take them as seriously as we would the author at the next table. No, really.
6) I’ve written seventeen books so far but they are too difficult for most people.
Either reconcile yourself to not getting the same sales as Fifty Shades then, or change what you do, because you can’t have it both ways and there’s not much point bemoaning the uselessness of readers. Hey I’m a reader. I read stuff. No, actually after that sales pitch I am not desperate to get my hands on a copy of your seventeen masterpieces, all lovingly self-published because they were too difficult for the publishers as well, with cover art by your six year old child…
Most people at events are a delight to talk to. But there’s always one and if it’s been a long day, I fear breaking down into hysterical giggles/weeping. If that happens, you know you were ‘the one’.