Friday, November 5, 2010

The wrong way to rub writers

Last night, Pythagoras and I were invited to dinner at the home of a family he knows through work.

Because my mother drilled good manners into me under the threat of death I am fabulously well-mannered by nature, I went to the store to purchase flowers and a nice bottle of wine for the hostess.

As the cashier was ringing up my purchase, he smiled at me. "Shouldn't it be the guy buying flowers and wine for you?"

Um, thanks, dude.

OK, I wasn't really offended. I even laughed and mostly meant it. But how does he know I'm not a recent widow or a lonely woman planning to go home and guzzle the wine while composing a love note to myself to "discover" on the doorstep with the flowers in the morning?

I figure this inquiry belongs on the list of things you probably shouldn't say to most women. You know the list. It includes gems like "you're looking a little tired," and "when is the baby due?"

There's a similar list for writers. I've already shared my feelings on the "are you published?" question (go here if you missed it). Beyond that, there are several other comments I've learned to tune out, that nevertheless have the high potential to rub a writer wrong.

Any question that ends with yet. Have you finished the book yet? Have you gotten an agent yet? Have you heard from that editor yet? Has your book come out yet? Maybe it's just me, but there's something about the word yet that implies the person asking believes you will be selecting your nursing home before the task is accomplished.

I've thought about writing a book, but I just don't have time. Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't we all have 24 hours in a day? I know we all have varying degrees of responsibility in our lives, from family to work to cataloging our belly button lint. But every successful writer I know becomes successful by making time – often late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. I takes a helluva lot more than free time to complete a manuscript. To imply that what separates those who've finished a book from those who haven't is the possession of two idle hands seems like an invitation to demonstrate the bitch-slap capabilities of said hands.

Will you read my...? I added this one to the list hesitantly, because I often do judge contests and offer critiques to newer writers. But the key word is offer. Authors get hit up over and over again to give feedback on other people's work. While it's flattering, there's just no way most of us can say yes and keep up with deadlines and commitments to existing critique partners. There are fabulous resources online for finding critique partners and beta readers. Go here if you want to hear about some of them.

Do you think you'll ever write a real book? Ah, this is a favorite among romance writers. Don't worry, I won't get on my romance soapbox again (go here if you want to see that). There's an assumption among people who don't read the romance genre that authors who write it are only doing so until they muster the skill to write a real work of literary fiction. Do other genres get this? I don't know, but I do know that according to Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2010, romance fiction generated $1.36 billion in sales in 2009 and was the largest share of the consumer market at 13.2%. It was the second top-performing category on the the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly best-seller lists (outpaced only by the movie tie-in category). That sounds pretty "real" to me.

Whoops. Where did this box come from, and why am I standing on it?

So that wraps up my list of things that rub writers the wrong way. Did I miss any? Have you heard any gems that make you feel especially stabby? Please share.

And don't forget to visit The Debutante Ball today where I'm blogging about my fellow Debutante Kim's new release, All I Can Handle; I’m No Mother Teresa: A Life Raising Three Daughters With Autism. I had a surprising reaction to this book, so stop by and see what it was.

47 comments :

Elizabeth Flora Ross said...

That is a very good list. One that bugs me, since I am currently a SAHM to a young one is, "But what will you do when she goes back to school?" Because apparently writing does not count.

Valerie Geary said...

Have you made millions yet?

Patty Blount said...

I LOVE this post.

Everything on here rubs me the wrong way but the worst is that I'm not "a real writer".

My husband and I got into a HUGE argument one day when he said I'm not a 'real' writer because I haven't been paid for my work.

(The fact that I get a paycheck twice a month for writing words - albeit technical ones - escaped his attention; don't worry, I set him straight.)

I looked at him and said does this mean you're not a real auto mechanic? He works as an aircraft mechanic, so I thought the analogy between our 'real' jobs and our interests was a good one.

His response: "I could make money at fixing cars if I chose to."

I'll spare you the play-by-play and jump to the ending; he slept downstairs that night.

Dakota Pratt said...

I love you for this entire post. Particularly for variants on "I've always wanted to write a book" which drive me insane and strike me as inherently rude, for the reasons you've outlined, and "yet" which I had to scold my mother on the phone for the other day. (Yes, I have completed a first draft. Yes, it's good. Yes, I've written a query letter to complement it. No, I haven't finished revising the draft YET. No, I have not yet submitted it to my bestselling-friend's agent YET. Ugh, mother!)

Also, while my boss knows I'm a writer, there was a discussion floating around the blogosphere a while back - possible on Kristin Nelson's blog - about using pennames to separate your writing from your professional life. This falls less under a "things not to say to writers" but still in the camp of "this makes writers' lives difficult". My boss is supportive of what I do, but in other organizations or if I were ever interviewing, I feel like there are a lot of assumptions about writers that I don't want people making about me, which is why I keep my names separate.

Namely:

1. We are just coasting along until we make enough money to quit our jobs. (Okay, this may be true, but still.)

2. If we're published, we have enough money to quit already, so why are you even interviewing?

3. You must be using time at your "real job" to get writing done because if you were doing your job right, you wouldn't have time to do that pretentious writing thing on the side.

Tangentially related, but I felt these were worth adding. :D

Sarah W said...

I've had the "real writers get paid" thing thrown at me, and the "yet" thing, too.

The one that also gets me is the pseudo-encouraging phrase, "Just don't give up! You'll be published someday!" delivered by non-writers, one or two of whom have slipped me ads for AuthorHouse, because "they were so helpful with the church cookbook."

Danica Avet said...

My favorite is: "maybe you should write something else" when I mention I'm unpublished. It makes my blood pressure soar. Then I realize they don't know any better, so no, I can't use the staple gun as a weapon.

Oh, and today is Fantasy Man Friday ;)

Laina said...

I love this post so much. :D

Linda G. said...

Oh, great post! I also love people who offer up their ideas for me to write about, like getting the idea is the hard part.

And I know it was just a slip of your flying fingers, but I'm pretty sure romance fiction generated more than $1.36 in sales in 2009. ;)

Linda G. said...

P.S. And let's not forget people who point out tiny slip-ups on blog posts. Boy, THAT really rubs me the wrong way... ;)

Matthew AT Banning said...

Oh yeah, I can completely agree with this.

You mention that you're writing a book to anyone now of days and they suddenly drill you with the 500 and 4 questions (don't ask, it's the first thing that came to mind and I still don't know why ...) Very irritating!

And pfft to those who say they don't have time to write! I have one full draft finished of book one, halfway through book two. I'm 10,538 words into my NaNoWriMo Novel, I have several chapters from roughly 15 other books completed and I still have ideas flying around for over 20 other books! This is all in the wee hours of the night.

... Sorry, I'm ranting. Just to let you know, that's the one that annoys me the most ...

Anne R. Allen said...

These are all so true. And SO annoying.

Even more annoying is the one who "has an idea for a book" and wants to tell you all about it--for "50% of the profits: because you'd just write down the words, but it's my idea" Arrgghh.

midnightblooms said...

Oh, it's not just romance books that aren't considered "real." Whenever I tell people I write fantasy novels, I get one of two reactions:

1) "That's cool!" followed by a discussion of recent reads, favorite authors, etc.

or something like this (actual conversation with co-worker)

2) a look of wide-eyed, jaw-dropping shock followed by me explaining further. "Modern fairy tales and stories with heroes, dragons, witches, wizards, . . . " "OH! Oh, like that British woman--Rowing, Rawling?"

Then my head exploded.

The best part (and by best I mean most insulting) was the look on his face that clearly said fantasy and erotic fiction were equally valueless in his estimation. Since I love both fantasy and romance novels, I was doubly offended by this conversation.

Karla Nellenbach said...

I get the "real book" question a lot...like A LOT. which peeves me more than a little. Just because a peep writes YA does not mean that it's because that peep doesn't have what it takes to write an "adult" book. It just means that that's what I write. And, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't a "real" book one that's published and out there for all the world to see, regardless of genre? whew! that was a rant if I ever saw one...see what happens when you get off your soapbox, Tawna? Someone else will inevitably come along and take your spot :)

Marisa Birns said...

Many times get asked by people to: walk their dog, mail something at post office, wait for a delivery for them, etc.

Because, after all, I'm home and have the time while they're busy with work.

Stormy said...

You know I've been stalking you because I'd like to know how you find the time to write unreal books that still aren't published, yet. I wonder if you'd have the time, in your spare time, to read my.....

(giggles)

Sorry. Couldn't resist. I must admit, truthfully, that when I'm having a bad day or just need a pick me up, I come here. I can read anything you've written and am filled with the blind faith that it will always make me smile.

Trisha Leigh said...

Agree with these. Also, "how much money do you think you'll get?" and "This is taking longer than I thought it would." are comments that burn my britches.

Michelle Wolfson said...

"To imply that what separates those who've finished a book from those who haven't is the possession of two idle hands seems like an invitation to demonstrate the bitch-slap capabilities of said hands."

Nice sentence.

Sean Ferrell said...

A coworker saw me in the hallway and, in front of other people, said, "I haven't seen your name on the New York Times Bestsellers List yet."

Thanks, dude.

Noelle Pierce said...

Ms. Wolfson already pointed out my favorite sentence in this post. LOVE IT!!!

I get all the above-mentioned questions, and then this one from my husband when I inevitably start a new story (damned fickle muse):
"Shouldn't you finish the other one first?"
*steam blowing from ears*

Oh, and when he asks, "Why can't you write when the kids [aged 4 and 2] are home with you [awake]?" Let's just say I don't call them Thing 1 and Thing 2 out of a deep love of all things Dr. Seuss.

Sierra said...

Anyone dismissing a genre book as not worth reading ticks me off, as a reader and a writer.

Someone telling me that they're a better writer because they use incredibly proper grammar and I use contractions in my dialogue...let's just say that I stopped showing that person my work in class. At least my characters were believable and I didn't cop out with an "it was all a dream" tacked-on ending. (I might be a little bitter. Why do you ask?)

LadyGenette said...

Argh...My family does the "yet" thing, but my sister is the worst. I love her to death but "Are you ever going to finish writing that book thing that you started?" gets old after a couple of weeks.

You hit the nail on the head, Tawna. I think the most annoying thing I hear is, "I've always wanted to write a book." Pardon the length of my comment, but I have two anecdotes to share:

My cousin, who spells all variations of "their" thusly, has been trying to one-up me for six years now. So far, she's written half of a Harry Potter fanfiction--but, by golly, if you ask her, that will be her key to fame and fortune.

My teacher, who brags about her single published book (*cough*vanitypress*cough*), is too good to go through the normal channels and is upset that her successful editor cousin won't take a look at her proposal. She refuses to actually work on it until said cousin returns her email.

Anyone with a brain can write a book, I know. I'm reminded on a daily basis. At least I'm doing everything I can to get it off my computer and into a Barnes and Noble.

Sorry for hijacking the comment section. Your post struck a chord. Or twelve.

~Gen

Joyce Tremel said...

I love this post. I once had someone ask me if I was ever going to get a real job again. I had to explain that even though I'm not getting paid for it, this IS my real job.

Mystery writers get about the same amount of respect as romance writers. I've gotten the "real book" question several times.

Plamena said...

I have to say the one that bugs me and I didn't notice mentioned here is when you tell someone that you're writing a book and they say: "Oh, that's nice. Very ambitious."
But it's not what they say, it's that look they give you like you're five and you just told them you want to be an astronaut when you grow up. You know?

Jeannie Moon said...

Hmmm...

There are so many, let me pick a few 'favorites.'

"You write romance? Really? You don't seem like the type." I'm still trying to figure this out.

"Are there pirates in your books?"

"Is there a lot of *whispering now* sex in your books?"

"When you get published will you quit teaching?" (Because I'm obviously going to make millions.)

"Oh, you're a writer? Is it hard?"
(The 'is it hard question' gives me so many opportunities to be bitchy, but I usually refrain.)

These are just a few. I think my head would explode if I wrote any more.

tommiecv said...

I had a great comment lined up, but to avoid snarkiness that might later come back to bite me, let me just say how wonderfully (and sadly close to home) apropos this post is.

Douglas Morrison said...

Great post! My favorite is "You should write one about (insert subject here), they make loooads of money!

My thought after this question never include, "Why didn't I think of that?"

On a side note, which may sound a bit off... If you could ask author Joan Wolf a question, what would it be? I'm doing an interview with her for next month and would love the input.

Mary said...

The one I've gotten recently is, "Why can't you do (whatever)? What? You're writing *again*?"

Um. Yes. I'd much rather write than (whatever). Thanks.

Which, of course, is followed by the "are you published" and all of the above.

Yes, my head explodes each and every time. But I just smile and ignore the best I can. Write on!

Nicole Zoltack said...

Oh I hate all of those! Especially the yet questions. And the 'some day' novelists. "I've always wanted to write a novel. I will... some day." Yeah, unless you actually work at it, a novel won't write itself! Ugh, most people don't realize how much time and energy it takes to write a novel and get it published!

inkgrrl said...

LOL thank you! Yes!!

Before anybody unwisely asks, I'm set for coffee and chocolate and suitably behind on wordcount that I'm all motivated and stuffs. So off to act like a 'real' writer for a change ;-)

inkgrrl said...

LOL thank you! Yes!!

Before anybody unwisely asks, I'm set for coffee and chocolate and suitably behind on wordcount that I'm all motivated and stuffs. So off to act like a 'real' writer for a change ;-)

Piper Bayard said...

I LOVE this post. The one I'm always getting is from the over-organized parents at my kids' schools. "You don't work, so perhaps you'd be willing to . . . ." All the best.

Susan S said...

I found your "real book" question interesting. I write historical fiction, and to answer your question: no, nobody ever seems to assume it's "not a real book." The reaction I generally see is something like "wow, that must take a lot of work" - as though other forms of fiction just pop out of the proverbial womb fully formed with a snap of the fingers, and only those of us who like reading dusty old tomes actually have to "work at it." Ironically, this sort of puts my knickers in a twist on behalf of all those brethren-in-arms whose blood, sweat and tears results in questions like the one you mentioned. You work just as hard as I do (probably harder, since you're published and I'm not yet there) - and it's definitely declasse to imply anything else.

Harley May said...

This was all great! The only thing I can think of when I tell people I'm a writer, they say, "Where can I read your work?"

Which is a legitimate question. But it makes me all awkward. Miss you, Tawna.

Kristi Helvig said...

I write YA which gets its share of negative comments too, (e.g., it's 'easier' to write YA than a 'real book.')

On the positive side, my 6-yo tells everyone that his mommy is a writer. Never mind that I'm not published and have no agent. I love my son. :)

Raven Corinn Carluk said...

The one that gets me currently is, "Where can I find your book?" I can just tell my co-workers don't care, and once they see the price, they never say anything again.

Bookewyrme said...

I personally hate the "So how many stories have you finished?" question. I'm not quite sure why this one bothers me so much (perhaps shame over all the unfinished ones...) but it always makes me feel a bit awkward.

Also, this has never happened to me, but the "You're published? Do you think I could get a copy of your book?" question with the assumption that because they know you they can have one for free is pretty annoying too, I hear.

Thanks for a wonderful post as always, Tawna!

~Lia

Pageturners said...

Writing is supposed to be the Lotto - you write a novel (easy! just sit down and type - anyone can do it!) and then send it out and the millions roll in.

Since everyone talking to you knows already that it's this easy - if they had the time they'd do it, after all they have a million-selling idea, just no time to 'develop' it - naturally they think you're a no-hoper if you've failed to win the millions.

Claire Dawn said...

I learned about "when are you due?" the hard way. Did that with a high school classmate once. Mortification. Never again.

Oh, and YA/Children's gets the same response. "Oh that's nice, so you're writing kids books until you're good enough to write adult books?" And I want to scream, "What do you know? ALL writing is hard! Twatfur!"

:) Thanks for this.

Btw, will you read my MS? ;)

Christine said...

I am so glad I learned about your blog! I love this post and have incurred the same rude questions as a writer and as a woman.

Thanks for writing this one!

Delia said...

My loving, supportive husband recently called writing my "hobby." There was no blood involved, but it was close.

However, what I hate the most are the 'oh's. You know the 'oh's? As in--Them: "What do you write?" Me: "Mostly fantasy, but some horror and sci-fi." Them: "Oh." Subtext: Oh, so not real books or anything, like you'd find on Oprah.
Or--Them: "Have you finished that book yet?" Me: "No, not yet, still working on it." Them: "Oh." Subtext: It's never going to be finished. She'll be saying 'not yet' while she's gumming pureed carrots and pooping in her granny-diapers.

So, yeah, the ohs.
Great post.

Dr. Goose said...

Let me now make a public apology for all of us who are ignorant non-writers.

Tawna Fenske said...

Elizabeth, LOL, writing never seems to count until you get paid for it! And then when you DO start getting paid for it, everyone assumes you must be rolling in it, so of course you don't have to hold a day job (ha!)

Valerie, LOL, aren't all authors filthy rich?! I can't remember the statistic, but I think it's something like only 10% of published authors actually get to quit the day job.

Patty, he only slept downstairs one night? I'd give him a week for that :)

Dakota, I was laid off last December, which was actually perfect timing since my book deal came through right after that and I was able to take a few months to just write and work on building a platform. Then when I started interviewing for jobs again, it was amazing how many times I got those first two questions on your list!

Sarah, hahaha! Yes, "Betty Sue wrote a book and got it published right away, and now she's selling it out of the trunk of her car!"

Danica, thanks for the heads-up on Fantasy Man Friday! Pythag once "helpfully" suggested I should try writing screenplays instead. Um, right. Because I watch so many movies and TV shows? (I watch almost none...I'd be a horrible screenplay writer).

Laina, thanks!

Linda G, your correction made me laugh so hard I choked on my own spit. Thanks! All fixed now.

Matthew AT Banning, funny thing, every book I've ever written with the exception of the current one I I did while holding down a full time job. Guess which book has gone slowest? (Time's up - current one).

WHOOPS, COMMENT TOO LONG…GOTTA CUT IT OFF HERE.

Tawna Fenske said...

CONTINUED FROM ABOVE…

Anne, oh yes, that's a nice one. I always suggest they go ahead an write it themselves :)

midnightblooms, I'm glad to hear it's not just romance authors who get it!

Karla, reading the comment above yours, it sounds like we need to form a support group with YA authors, romance authors, and fantasy authors!

Marisa, ugh, you have my sympathies for that one!

Stormy, aw, thanks! Now I'm feeling pressure to tend to your state of well-being :)

Trisha, some relatives recently remarked to my mom that I must be "set for life" in light of my recent book deal. Of course. Well, as long as my life only lasts a few more weeks.

Michelle, I live to please you with words. Er, not in that way.

Sean, please tell me you punched him?

Noelle, with kids that age underfoot, I'm surprised you find time to go to the bathroom, let alone write :)

Sierra, you should punch her. It'll make you feel better.

LadyGenette, feel better now? :)

Joyce, no joke? I wouldn't think mystery writers would get that, but I suppose people can always find reasons to sneer at one form of writing or another.

Plamena, I think the astronaut goal might be easier!

Jeannie, funny, people always seem to think I'm exactly "the type" to write romance. Should I be insulted?

tommiecv, snark away if you feel like it. That's what we're here for!

Douglas, can I confess I don't know who Joan Wolf is?

Mary, head explosions get messy, don't they?

Nicole, it's like the old party joke where the brain surgeon says to the author, "I think I'd like to try writing a book," and the author says, "I think I'll try brain surgery."

inkgrrl, you go!

Piper, sounds like you and Marisa (a few comments above) should get together!

Susan, I think any genre is tough, though for different reasons.

Harley May, that question STILL makes me nervous, and mine is 9 months from hitting shelves :)

Kristi, I get the same happy feeling when my husband brags about me being a writer.

Raven, I'll have to go check out the price! Must be high?

Bookewyrme, ooh, good one! I don't mind that question when it's coming from other writers, but non-writers don't understand how many "trunk novels" authors often have.

pageturners, LOL, good point! I think lotto odds are probably better.

Claire Dawn, twatfur? Did you really just write twatfur? Thank you for my new favorite word.

Christine, glad you enjoyed it!

Delia, I get the Oprah question a lot. Clearly that's how we all should judge book quality now.

Dr. Goose, the very fact hat you're reading a writer's blog means you're a whole lot less ignorant than most people about these things :)

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Kim Rossi Stagliano said...

"I have a book idea. Who is your agent." Oy! "My agent is named Nevvah. Nevvah U. Mind!"

KIM

Andy Brokaw said...

Ugh, I hate yet! It implies to me that the speaker feels I really should have done this by now. And, of course, frequently it's about things I'm actively _trying_ to do, so any implication that I'm failing to meet expectations hurts. ("Are you published yet?" "Oh, no. I was going to get published, but I decided to lay around the house watching TV and painting my nails instead. I'll get around to it when I feel like it.")

I get "Are you ever going to write an adult book?" a lot. Oddly enough, no one ever asks if I'm going to switch from YA to MG or PB...

My most frequent issue is the common attitude that whoever I'm talking to is better suited to tell me what I "should" be writing than I am. When I was writing paranormals, people told me to write contemporary. Now that I'm working on contemporaries, I'm told to write paranormals. My son thinks I should cut the romance from my novels. (Well, he is eight... :) My grandmother thinks I should "Write something worth reading," and apparently nothing I've written to date qualifies because it has cursing and "bad stuff" in it. Someone in the grocery store recently told me I should write Christian fiction. It's maddening!

Taymalin said...

Hey Sean, how about an already? As in, I've bought, read and recommended your book to others already :)

My personal pet peeve comes from authors. You know the ones, they claim to be published, and when you ask who their publisher is they name a vanity press. Then they look down on you for not being published, and scoff at your aspirations of finding an agent.

Then they proceed to rant about how agents are unneccesary, greedy, and other such comments that showcase their lack of education regarding the publishing industry.

Elizabeth Ryann said...

This is the sort of post that absolutely strikes a chord.

But if romance only generated $1.36 million dollars in 2009, it's actually a surprise that anyone at all can survive on royalties, let alone multiple people. I would've thought that Nora Roberts alone would generate more than that?