Twenty Things... : Through the Darkness

Twenty Things...

by Cypher Lx on 07/09/12

09 July 2012

I came across a good list of things that you probably shouldn't say to a writer on Laura Resnick's website. I haven't read any of her stuff yet, but she writes fantasy, so I will definitely be checking her novels out.

Twenty Things NOT To Say To A Writer
A Handy Safety Guide


1. "Have I read anything you've written?"

People ask me this all the time.

Come on, dude, how would I (or any other writer) have the faintest idea 

what you have read? I'm a novelist, not a psychic.

Recommended instead: "What's your latest (or next) release?" Or: "Can 

you name some of your titles? I read a lot, so maybe I know your work."

2. "Have you ever had anything published?"

Actually, this is a fair question, given that some aspiring writers call themselves 

"writers" when asked what they "do." But anyone who writes professionally is 

so tired of being asked that, they may remove your tongue if they hear that 

question even one more time.

So I recommend that you instead ask, "What's your latest release?" A 

professional novelist will answer this question. (And an aspiring writer who 

has not had anything published will presumably clarify the situation.)


3. "How much money do you make?"

Yes, people ask us this. Surprisingly often.

Try instead: "What sort of money do writers make?" Which is probably

 a lot closer to what most people are wondering when they ask

 invasive questions about my personal earnings.

There's a lot to say about money in this industry; writers discuss it

 often with each other and are probably willing to tell you a bit about

 how money works in publishing. But if your mother didn't teach you

 this, then I'll say it now: Asking someone whom you scarcely

 know how much money she makes is rude.


4. "Where do you get your ideas?"

Probably the single most-asked question.

Pardon me while I yawn.

Getting story ideas is simply the way writers think. Some people can play 

the piano by ear, some people have perfect pitch, and some are natural 

athletes. Writers get story ideas; if we didn't, we wouldn't be writers.

But, okay, for some specific examples and anecdotes from me and from 

some other writers, see the "Where Do You Get Those Crazy Ideas?

page of this website.


5. "Will you write my great story idea and then split the income 

with me?"

To clear up a couple of common misconceptions: (a) Ideas are not the 

crucial aspect of successful fiction; execution is. (b) Ideas are not the 

hard part of writing a novel; writing is the hard part.

In using her skills to write your idea for you, a writer has nothing to gain, 

and a great deal to lose—such as time, energy, career momentum, and 



6. "If you help me write my life story, I'll split the income with you 

after we sell the book."

Unless publishers are already interested in publishing your life story 

(probably because your life is already being splashed all over the media, 

but possibly because you are a well-known expert at something unusual 

or important), the chances that anyone will pay you (or, more importantly, 

pay me) for your life story are remote.


7. "I'm going to write a book someday when I have time."

We hear this one all the time, everywhere we go. Statistically, there are 

more people in America who say they "want to write a book someday" 

than there are people who read books.

Realistically, if you're not already writing, the chances that you're ever 

going to start writing are marginal. Most people never get past just talking 

about writing.

Additionally, most people who start writing a book never finish it. (And most 

people who finish writing one whole book... never sell it and never write 


The only people who write, who stick with it, and who have a serious chance 

of becoming professionals are the ones who can't stand not writing. And you 

already know who you are. (Hi, there!)


8. "Will you read my manuscript?"

Aaaagh! Back—back, foul beast! Back, I say! Stay in your lair!

Now and for all time, if a writer is willing to read your manuscript,

 she'lloffer. Because, believe me, she gets asked this so often

 (sooooooo often) than she knows you want her to offer.

But do not put a writer on the spot by asking. The list of reasons is

 very long (see some of them here and here), and includes, for

 example, this being a much bigger imposition than you realize

 (much), the probability of injured feelings (yours), and legal risks for

 the writer (yes, really).


9. "Will you read the manuscript of my 


Remember what I just said about how awkwardly it puts the writer on 

the spot if you ask her to read your manuscript? Well, take that and 

multiply it by thirty if you're not even asking her for yourself, but 

rather for someone whom you love.


10. "Will you introduce me to your agent?"

This, too, really puts the writer on the spot. For a long list of possible 

reasons. Your excellent work may not be suitable for her agent. Or 

your work may be unprofessional and unpublishable, and the writer 

is too polite to tell you so. Or the writer may have had a catastrophic 

experience with the last person whom she referred to her agent and 

been warned (by the agent) not to do it again. Or the writer may be 

having problems with her current her agent, and she neither wants 

to discuss those with you nor refer potential clients to an agent whom 

she's finding problematic. And so on and so forth. So just don't ask. 

If the writer thinks it's a good idea, she'll bring it up. (Yes, really.)


11. "Do those [insert dismissive adjective here] books that you 

churn out sell well?"

If someone isn't deeply invested in her writing, then there are many much 

(much) easier ways to make a living than writing books, which is insanely 

competitive, disastrously unstable, and skull-crushingly difficult to do. 

So try not to slap a writer in the face with this sort of comment, which we 

hear more often than you would believe.


12. "How long does it take to write a book?"

This is a lot like asking how long it takes to have sex. I mean... it all 

depends, doesn't it?

"How long it takes to write a book" varies tremendously, based on the 

specific writer in question and on the specific book in question. So it 

can take two weeks or two decades. There is no one-size-fits-all answer.


13. "Do you get to choose your own book covers?"

Pardon my weary sigh of resignation.

Most writers have little or no say in how their books are packaged**, 

and any writer who's been working for a while has probably had at 

least one dog of a cover that killed her sales figures and/or 

embarrassed her. For more information on this subject, see 

A Book By Its Cover elsewhere on this website. (**However, when 

it comes to the new and expanding practice of writers self-publishing 

their own ebooks, we do often have control over our covers, since we 

are, in effect, the publisher. On the other hand, writers also usually 

have more modest fiscal resources than major publishers do for creating 

the covers.)


14. "I bought your book at the second-hand bookstore."


Writers only earn income from new/retail sales, not from used-book 

sales. And not earning income makes it hard for us to eat—and we 

really like to eat. So we encourage you to buy our books from new/retail 

venues if you want to read them, not used/second-hand. Personally, 

I also encourage my readers to check out my books via their local library 

system. (However, if a book of mine is no longer available in new/retail 

venues, and can only be purchased second-hand, then, by all means, buy 

it used. In addition to eating, I like to be read.)


15. "I'd like to try one of your books, but I'm waiting to see if any of 

them become available as free ebooks." [Or some variation thereof.]

If you're unwilling to pay for a writer's book, you're well within your rights (as 

long as you don't download or share a pirated copy). But perhaps you could 

omit telling the writer that you don't think his work is worth paying for.


16. "You should write [insert recommendation here]."

If you're a doctor, do I tell you what ailments you should treat? If you're a 

contractor, do I tell you what you should build? If you're truck driver, do I 

tell you what kind of merchandise you should transport?


17. "Here's what I didn't really like about your book..."

It's the editor's job to point out to a writer where a manuscript has problems, 

so the writer can fix them. And once a book is published, readers have lots 

of opportunity to post on websites and blogs what they think of a book 

(including what they didn't like about it), as well as to share their opinions in 

person with friends, family, and co-workers.

But you might want to seriously consider how you expect anyone, including a 

writer, to react when you say directly to him, without being asked or invited, 

"Let me tell you what I don't like about the way you do your job."


18. "Will any of your books be made into a movie?"

This is not a decision made by writers, it's made by movie producers—

i.e. the people who brought you Porky'sGigli, and Armageddon. So, 

realistically, the chances are always very remote.

However, if a writer has a movie deal, you won't need to ask this question—

nor will you be able to get a word in edgewise.


19. "You must be rich. I just spent $7.99 on your book!"

Not really.

Writers only get a tiny percentage of the cover price (ex. 8%), and we 

only get it about two years after you buy the book, and we only get it then 

if (a) the book has earned-out its advance payment (most books don't), 

and (b) the publisher is maintaining accurate accounts (which is not 

universally the case).


20. "As long as my story's really good, an editor will be happy to 

correct my shaky punctuation and grammar, right?"

Reality check: If someone's going to pay you to write, then the very least 

they expect is that your written language skills will be immaculate.

(Unless, of course, you're a politician, a politician's former lover, a rock star, 

a movie star, a supermodel, a billionaire's widow, etc., etc. In which case, 

you don't even need to be able to scratch your name in the dirt with a stick 

to get a multi-million dollar book deal. But I digress.)

To check out more of Laura Resnick go to .


Comments (0)

Leave a comment