What Not to Say to an Author

On Tuesday I attended a huge meeting of booksellers who work for a well-known national chain. A couple thousand of them convened in Birmingham for their yearly seminar. I love booksellers. All of ’em. But sometimes they make me laugh or shake my head.

Like the guy who approached the table where I was signing FREE books. He picked up one of my books, looked at me and shook his head sadly. “I didn’t think you’d be this old,” he said.

EXCUUUUSE ME??? All three of my chins trembled in righteous indignation.

“Dick,” I said, batting my graying and thinned out eyelashes, “That’s not really something you want to say to a woman author.” (His name wasn’t really Dick, but that’s how I was thinking of him right at that moment.)

“What I mean is, your books read like they were written by someone much younger,” he blurted out.

“Again, Dick,” I said, in my most kindly, school-marmish manner, repressing the urge to kick him in the crotch with my orthopedic black lace-up nun shoes. “Not tactful.”

So that’s how I roll.

Later, another bookseller who was clutching a huge satchel of free books eagerly confided in me that she’d shared all my FREE books that she’d scored last year with her mother, sister, sister-in-law, neighbors and parole officer. In fact, dozens of people had enjoyed the free ride down Mary Kay Andrews Boulevard.

“Heidi,” I said, gnashing my wooden teeth. “If you give free books to everyone, they won’t want to buy my books. In fact, they’ll EXPECT you to supply them with free books for the rest of their lives. And that would not be good for me. Or bookstores that sell books. Or you, since you depend on people buying books so you can earn a paycheck.”

“Oh,” she said. “I never thought of it that way.”

People mean well. They really do. But sometimes they say the most outlandish,inappropriate things to authors. So, in the spirit of public awareness, I’ve prepared this little primer of things NOT to say to an author, should you encounter one at a cocktail party, book signing or arraignment.

1. “I’ve always thought that if I didn’t have this incredibly important career as a a.brain surgeon
b.rocket scientist
c.trial attorney
d.certified public accountant
that I could have been a novelist.”
Ah yes, this statement seems to say. Any boob with a word processor can get a book published. Just look at you, for instance. And by the way, I’ve always thought that if this writing gig doesn’t pan out, I might take up brain surgery in MY spare time.”

2.”I see you write (mystery,romance,erotica,horror,whatever). Have you ever thought of writing a real book?”
“No,” I always want to say. “These fake books I’ve been writing seem to be paying quite nicely and filling up space on those imaginary library shelves behind you.”

3. “So you’re a writer. Have I ever heard of you?”
This is just one of my all-time favorites. “No,” I always say politely. “But don’t feel bad. ‘Cuz I never heard of you either.”

4. “Hey–I’ve got a great idea for book. How about I tell it to you, and you write it down and sell it and we split the multi-million dollar advance between us?”
“Hey,” I always want to say. “How about you step away from the clam dip and go back to boring people with those same old wildly amusing anecdotes about your childhood in Omaha?”

5.”A writer, huh? Can you really make a living doing that?”
Usually I glance meaningfully out the window at my shiny black BMW when somebody asks me that one.

4 thoughts on “What Not to Say to an Author”

  1. You go girl! I’m not a writer by any means. I’m a reader, I’ve always been a reader, and I plan to stay a reader. I’ve heard people be rude like that all of the time and the funny thing is they don’t even realize they’re doing it.

  2. I am in AWE of writers. I love your books and love to read. I can imagine having the smarts and patience to write a book. Books take me away!

  3. Thanks, girls. I really shouldn’t gripe about this kind of stuff. Most of the time I have to pinch myself to realize that I truly am living the dream. And most of the time I laugh off the kind of dumb stuff people say. Most of them mean well. But I thought you guys might enjoy a little day in the life of stuff….

  4. I cannot begin to tell you how much I have enjoyed reading all of your books and blog comments! I thought it appropriate to tell you that I picked up “Hissy Fit” at a yard sale two summers ago. I finished it the NEXT day and then passed it on to my mother! About a month later, I saw where you were coming to Page & Palette in Fairhope. We came to the booksigning and between the two of us purchased all of the books you’d published at the time. You are a fabulous writer with so much talent. We can hardly wait for Deep Dish to come out this spring! Are you planning a book-signing event there in 2008? We’d love to see you again!
    By the way, I love and cherish every book of yours that I have purchased. As much of a yard-sale-a-holic as I am, you will never find a Mary Kay Andrews book for sale in my front yard!

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