06 June 2015

Proper Care and Feeding of Authors – in which our writer tries to be serious for a few minutes…


by Melodie Campbell

Here’s part one of the series (reprinted with permission):

What NOT to ask an author… (especially a Crime Writer who knows at least twenty ways to kill you and not get caught)

There is nothing I love better than meeting readers, both those who already know my writing, and those who are new to my books. But recently, I was asked to talk about those things that are touchy for an author.  So here goes…a short list of No-Nos!

1.  Do not ask an author how many books she has sold.

Trust me, don’t ask this.
Really, you don’t want to.  It wouldn’t help you anyway.
Because honestly, I’ll lie.

I’m amazed that complete strangers regularly ask this.  Would you ask a lawyer how much money he makes?

Because here’s the bottom line: most of us with traditional publishers make about a buck for every book sold, whether paperback, trade paperback or ebook.  Sometimes, it’s less than that.  (Yes, we were shocked too, when we found out.)  So by asking how many books we’ve sold, you can pretty well figure out our income.  And frankly, I don’t want you to.  You see, I write comedies, and it would depress both of us.

Also:  our royalty statements are at least six months behind (at least mine are.)  We don’t KNOW how many books we’ve sold to date on new releases.  Which is probably a good thing for our egos, if we want to keep writing.

Dare I say it?  The supreme irony is: the only ones likely to make a living in the writing biz are those on the business end.  The agents, and those editors and others employed by publishers, booksellers and libraries.  Sadly, you can't expect to make a living in the arts if you are a creator.

2.  Do not ask an author to read your manuscript and critique it for free.

So many times, I’ve been asked to do this, in a public place, with people overhearing.  Sometimes, by people who don’t even have the decency to buy a single book of mine first. 

Why this is bad:

First: I am in a place that has been booked for me to sell my books and meet with readers. That’s what I’m there for.  You are taking precious time away from me and my readers.  Believe me, my publisher won’t be happy about this.  Ditto, the bookseller!

Second: Every hour I spend critiquing an aspiring author’s book is an hour I can’t spend working on my own books and marketing them.  Like most novelists, I have a day job.  That means every hour I have to work on my fiction is precious.  Most of us do critique – for a fee.  And many of us teach fiction writing at colleges. 

I’m happy to critique my college students’ work.  I’m getting paid (mind you, meagerly) to do so.  And that’s what I always recommend:  take a college course in writing.  You’ll get great info on how to become a better writer, and also valuable critiquing of your own work.

3.  Do not ask an author to introduce you to her publisher or agent.

Want to see me cringe?

Similar to number 2 above, this puts the author in a very awkward position.  You are in fact asking for an endorsement.  If the author hasn’t read your book, she cannot possibly give it (an honest endorsement.)

Second: You are asking the author to put HER reputation on the line for you.  Do you have the sort of close relationship that makes this worthwhile for her?

4.  Do not ask an author: where do you get your ideas?

Okay, be honest.  You thought I was going to lead with this one.
Actually, you can ask me this.  I’ll probably answer something fun and ridiculous, like:
From Ebay. 
Or: From my magic idea jar.
Or: They come to me on the toilet.  You should spend more time there.

Because the truth is, we don’t know exactly.  After teaching over 1000 fiction writing students at Sheridan College, I have discovered something: some students are bubbling over with ideas.  Others – the ones who won’t make it – have to struggle for plots.  It seems to be a gift and a curse, to have the sort of brain that constantly makes up things.

I’ve been doing it since I was four.  My parents called it lying.  That was so short-sighted of them.



Opening to THE GODDAUGHTER’S REVENGE (Orca Books) winner of the 2014 Derringer (US) and Arthur Ellis (Canada)

    Okay, I admit it. I would rather be the proud possessor of a rare gemstone than a lakefront condo with parking. Yes, I know this makes me weird. Young women today are supposed to crave the security of owning their own home
     But I say this. Real estate, shmeel estate. You can’t hold an address in your hand. It doesn’t flash and sparkle with the intensity of a thousand night stars, or lure you away from the straight and narrow like a siren from some Greek odyssey.
     Let’s face it. Nobody has ever gone to jail for smuggling a one bedroom plus den out of the country.
     However, make that a 10-carat cyan blue topaz with a past as long as your arm, and I’d do almost anything to possess it.
    But don’t tell the police.
 
On Amazon

10 comments:

janice law said...

But remember the only worse thing than too many nosey pushy readers is too few readers!

Eve Fisher said...

Oh, Melodie, I so agree with you! I had someone ask me if I could give me Linda Landrigan's phone number, because they had a GREAT idea and while they hadn't written it yet... My personal response to the "Where do you get your ideas" is "I hear voices in my head." Which is true, so it's scary no matter how you look at it. Keep writing, I love it!

Melodie Campbell said...

So true, Janice!

Melodie Campbell said...

Eve, the other one I get is: "I have this great idea for a novel, and if you want to write it, I'll split the royalties 50/50 with you." (I'm waiting for other authors to chime in here, on that one...)

R.T. Lawton said...

Melodie, several years ago after I did a couple of paid presentations for the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, an older gentleman approached me and asked if I would critique his partially finished novel manuscript. Still in the spirit of helping out novice writers, I agreed. I made a few corrections, gave some suggestions and said if he ever got his novel published, then I would be happy to buy a copy. The next year, I got a telephone call from this same gentleman saying he was inviting me to breakfast where he would pay and then I could buy a copy of his novel. I showed, he paid for breakfast and I bought a copy of his book. At that point I found it was vanity published. I should have eaten more for breakfast.

Melodie Campbell said...

Laff! RT - here is what I have found. When I critique for free, people don't take my advice. When they pay for it, they do. It's a sad fact that people really do feel something is worth what they paid for it.

Leigh Lundin said...

Melodie, I read your article early but replied late. My apologies because it is not just a funny article, but oh-so-true.

Melodie Campbell said...

Thank you, Leigh! Our daughter was getting married yesterday (it was gorgeous!) so I was not at my post most of the day.

Anonymous said...

"I’ve been doing it since I was four. My parents called it lying. That was so short-sighted of them."

This made me laugh out loud. I wonder how many writers can relate to this :) Very good post!

Melodie Campbell said...

Thank you Catherine! I bet a lot of us writers had imaginary friends, too :)