Wednesday, January 28, 2015

YA Guy Has... 5 Requests for Non-Writers!

Like most people who write books, the majority of YA Guy's friends and family aren't writers. This is a very cool thing in at least two ways: first, because the non-writers in my life are genuinely thrilled (or even amazed) that I've published books; and second, because they like to read what I've written. (Maybe third, because they keep me sane and remind me there's more to life than writing.) I pity the writer who's surrounded solely by other writers; that would be hell.

But I have to confess, there are some things I wish my non-writer friends and family understood about writing. I'm sure they wish people understood their professions better too; I'm sure doctors are tired of dispensing free medical advice, plumbers of frantic late-night calls, and so forth. It's hard to understand another's profession, especially when it seems so glamorous and unusual as being an AUTHOR.

That being said, here are five things that I'd like to ask my non-writer friends (but that I'm basically too chicken to say to their faces). If you're a writer, maybe you'll sympathize. If you're not, I hope at least you'll understand.

1. Please stop asking me how my book is doing. This is the number-one question friends and family (as well as casual acquaintances) have been asking me ever since SURVIVAL COLONY 9 was published four months ago. I can't answer it. I probably won't see a royalty statement until March, maybe not until June. Until then, the only numbers I have are pretty much worthless: point-of-sales information that's demonstrably flawed, rankings on Amazon, etc. I wish I knew how my book was doing, but I genuinely don't.

And the other problem with asking this question is: what am I going to say if my book is doing really badly? If it's a best-seller, presumably I'll know that, and I'll tell them. But what about if it's tanking? I know that when people ask this question, they're both interested in the response and hopeful that it'll be a positive one. But it puts me (and all writers) in an uncomfortable position; it's like asking anyone to talk about the success of their fledgling business, and that's a tough thing to talk about.

2. Please review my book where other people will see it. A lot of friends and family members have sent me personal notes or emails telling me they liked my book. Of course that's gratifying, and of course I'm thankful to them. But in terms of improving my book's prospects (see #1 above), it's not helpful. A single line on Amazon--"I loved this book!"--would be greatly appreciated, but it's very difficult to ask for. In fact, I have asked for it, on Facebook and via email and face-to-face, and only a tiny percentage of those I've asked have delivered it. I know it's not anyone else's job to promote my book, and I also know it's hard for non-writers to be asked to write. But it's one of the best ways to make sure that people beyond the writer's immediate circle of friends and family know about the book.

3. Please don't ask me when the next book's coming out. As with #1, this is something I simply don't know and over which I have minimal control. Thus, it's a question that's both difficult and a tad painful to answer. Yes, I've written other books since SURVIVAL COLONY 9; one of them is in an editor's hands, and I hope another will be soon. But I received a single-book offer the first time around, and there's no guarantee I'll receive another. Trust me, if/when I do, the entire universe will know; no need to ask.

4. Please understand that writing takes time and intense concentration. Which means that, sometimes, I'll be very busy and/or distracted. Because, for most writers, writing isn't a 9-to-5 job, it looks rather weird to people who are accustomed to shifting into non-work mode after quitting time. Depending on the phase of a project a writer's involved in, s/he might be completely unavailable for an extended period (for example, when her/his editor allows only a month for major revisions). Other times, it'll be more sporadic and unpredictable. But one way or another, the nature of writing as a profession requires very different rhythms and patterns than most people are accustomed to.

5. Please understand that though I'm a writer, I'm not ONLY a writer. Writing might be the most exciting thing happening in my life right now. (Or then again, it might not be.) And yes, I did just say in #4 that writing does to a large extent shape my life. But being a doctor shapes doctors' lives; being a cosmetician shapes cosmeticians' lives; being an anything shapes anyone's life. There will be times when I simply don't feel like talking about writing. Maybe that'll be because I'm struggling, or I've heard bad news, or whatever; maybe it'll be just because. Let me take a break from being a writer sometimes. Ask me about my children. Or my favorite movie. Or my opinion of fracking. (I think it's a really dangerous substitute for conventional fossil fuels that will lock us into a new fossil-fuel economy for another hundred years and thus forestall indefinitely a sustainable-energy future, thanks for asking.) I'm a writer, sure, but I'm also a person. Treat me like one, just as I treat you like one.

I fear that all of the above sounds whiny and ungrateful; it was merely meant to sound genuine. I hope non-writers don't take offense. And I hope that, the next time I see you, I can happily report on the sale of my next book, the movie option on the first, and the permanent defeat of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Hey, it could happen, right?


  1. I think because people who don't write or who don't write geared toward publication don't know anything about the industry, they don't know what to ask. I've had people ask when my book is being published and I don't have a publisher. They don't understand the difference between an agent and publisher (though a Jerry McGuire reference has proved helpful).

    Sometimes, I think it's more a matter of a polite way to ask, but they aren't really interested in the answer. I had one well-meaning friend, who after she asked how my writing was going and I expressed a challenge, responded, "well, at least it's only a hobby." In my head,I know she meant well, but I still told her it stopped being a hobby when I signed a contract with a literary agency. It is now a second job. People just don't know because they don't live in our tiny but wonderful book world :)

    1. A hobby? Ouch, that hurts! But you're right, it's difficult for people who don't write for a living to understand what it means for those of us who do.

  2. Ah yes, "How's the book doing?" is the first thing everyone asks. Everyone. I have given up trying to explain that I don't know. I just say, "Good." And they're satisfied.

    I never knew what to say when people ask me, "What's up?" What IS up? So, at least "How's the book doing?" is something I can answer, even if not honestly.

  3. This post nails exactly how I feel. These are the same things I'm dealing with right now.

    1. It would be so nice if everyone just understood, wouldn't it?