25 May 2024

Three Things You Should Never Ask an Author

Moving beyond the ubiquitous and somewhat innocent, "Where do you get your ideas"- (you really don't want to peek into the dismal tangle that is my brain...)

Allow me to present three loaded questions you should definitely NOT ask an author!

1.  How much money do you make?"

I understand that people are curious about how much you can make writing a book.  I also understand that some are wondering if they can give up their day job for the dream of becoming an author.  But truly, it is rude to ask such a question of a complete stranger.  Would you ask your lawyer?  Your accountant?  Hairdresser?  

Still, I get asked this regularly.  Usually, I describe the standard royalty arrangement:  "Most authors earn around 10% of cover price."  With a $20 book, that's 2 bucks per sale.  A bestseller in Canada is usually considered to be 5000 copies (about 7000 in the States, I hear.)  That means, if my book is a bestseller, it would earn $10,000 at least.  Keep in mind that 96% of books published these days do not sell 1000 copies.

That usually shuts them up.

2.  "Do you use a pen name?"

Usually, this comes with the line, "I've never heard of you before.  Do you use a pen name?"

The first time I heard this, I laughed out loud, and responded, "You mean like James Patterson?"

Talk about an unintentional insult. You couldn't be that famous because they haven't heard about you.  Or is it intentional?  I'll always give the benefit of the doubt.  And in fact, I have used a pen name.  But only for my erotica.

Luckily, most people who come to see me at events these days already know about me. 

3.  "I'll give you my unpublished manuscript to read for free, if you'll recommend me to your publisher."

It's true.  I get this at book signing events every year from complete strangers who obviously know nothing about how this biz works.  

I must have been a naive little writer, when I first started having success.  For instance, it came as a shock to me, that people would befriend me on Facebook and in person, pretend to enjoy my company, and then ask me to recommend their manuscript to my agent or publisher.

In fact, they would beg me, and then get angry when I tell them my publisher and agent do not welcome this.  Talk about feeling used.

Here's the scoop with that:

First, it takes time to read any manuscript.  The stranger is asking me to give up my precious leisure time, for free.  To read a book I wouldn't have chosen.

Next, and more important:  The stranger is asking me to put my reputation on the line - which is in fact, my bread and butter in this writing biz- for a complete stranger.  They are asking me to badger my already overworked agent and/or publisher to look at a work that may or may not have any relevance for what they publish. Why would I do that?  

Who in their right mind would risk their hard-earned relationship with their agent and publisher, for a stranger or mere acquaintance?

In every case where I have relented and done this - that is, taken a chance on someone I know who has a manuscript with some merit - my agent and publisher have not taken them on.  And the aspiring writer has been disappointed in me.

The sad fact is, agents and publishers don't appreciate authors in their stable creating more work for them, by making them feel obligated to read a manuscript they didn't ask for.

So What Should You Ask an Author?

That's easy!  "When is your next book coming out?"

About Melodie...(from a recent article.)  See the whole article on her website, 



  1. Well said!

  2. AMEN!!!! I literally had someone (whose name I have erased from my memory banks) come up to me at Bouchercon in Santa Monica and asked if I could give them Linda Landrigan's email and phone number... WTF?

  3. Thanks Janice!
    Eve, that happens to us so often you could phone it in (sic) I fault an article in a writing maga zine I read about twenty years ago that said, "Get to know other published writers in your genre and see if they will introduce you to their agents/publishers." If only they had asked an established author, agent or publisher about that, sigh.

  4. Good points, Melodie. Indeed, no one should ask anyone number one! (Although apparently that is a question commonly asked before a first date.)

    The variation of number 3 I'm most familiar with is, "I've got a great idea for a book if you help me publish it. I've already done all the hard work."

    My suggestion for free reads is to invoke a notion from my technical past: Advise these writers they shouldn't let anyone read it without a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). Works every time.

    1. Good idea, re your NDA! smile- I will remember that, Leigh. Melodie

  5. I have trouble with "I'll look for your books in the library," "...the used bookstore," "...I looked in the airport bookstore," and "I liked it so I passed it on to my friend who likes mysteries," especially since my last print novel was published in 2015 and the last that appeared in brick and mortar bookstores in 2012. (And no, I don't self-publish.) Besides readers who use Kindle, the folks who have probably read more of my work than anyone else, especially in the past ten years, are subscribers to EQMM, AHMM, and a couple of other magazines. I like your line about James Patterson, which I could adapt to, "You must like James Patterson" or "You must think I'm James Patterson."

    1. I like your adaptations, Liz! may steal that last - smile. Melodie


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>