Questions to Never Ask an Author


My critter Susan over at Wastepaper Prose is starting a cool new series of author Q&As soon. Stay tuned for more info.

In the meantime, from my own limited experience, here are questions never to ask an author:

What’s Your Book About? We want to answer that question–we really do. It’s just that if we have a complex novel that we’ve slaved over the better part of a year or more, it’s hard to sum it up in a sentence, which is really all anyone wants to hear. Plus, if the author’s writing in a non-traditional genre (in my case, urban fantasy), it’s even tougher. “It’s an urban fantasy novel set in post-Katrina New Orleans” I say, eliciting polite, blank stares. “Think Harry Potter meets Stephen King during Hurricane Katrina,” I expound. Polite, blank stares morph into “Well, isn’t that nice” looks. End of convo.

You’re going to give me a copy, aren’t you? No, probably not. I’ll be happy to sell you a copy, preferably from a full-priced retailer, thus ensuring that I sell through my advance and start earning royalties. According to the terms of my contract, I get 25 copies of my book when it’s published. Most of those will be used on publicity, so unless you have a blog read by thousands of urban fantasy readers, chances are, no, you won’t get a freebie.

Where did you come up with your idea? The real answer (“Uh, it just came to me”) isn’t very sexy, so we’re forced to come up with erudite, thoughtful things like, “I thought the story could expound on the human condition, showing how, when events have stripped one’s life bare, only love and friendship matter in the end.” And that might be true, but authors don’t realize that till the book is done and there has been time to look for those big, thoughtful themes. Really, the answer is, “Uh, it just came to me.”

When’s it coming out? We live in a produce-on-demand world, and the real answers, which range from “I have no idea” to “sometime in the next 18-to-24 months,” really confuses people. I’m learning as I go through the publishing process that it moves at the speed of a glacier before we destroyed the ozone.

I’ve been working on a book myself. Would you read it? Critique it? Recommend me to your agent? There are some exceptions, but unless you are a serious writer yourself and we’ve reached some kind of mutual critiquing arrangement, the answer will most likely be “no” to all of the above.

What do you hate to be asked? Conversely, if you could ask one question of your favorite author, what would it be?

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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban and paranormal fantasy and romantic suspense, currently living in Auburn, Alabama. Author of the Sentinels of New Orleans series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, and Belle Chasse (Nov 2016). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the upcoming Wilds of the Bayou series (Book 1, Wild Man's Curse) releases April 2016).

3 thoughts on “Questions to Never Ask an Author

  1. I hate being asked about how my stories relate to my actual life experience. Apparently its a fair question for erotica writers. I wonder if people who do serial killer stories get the same problem?

  2. As someone who has been around quite a bit longer than you have, I can tell you that the worst question is no question.

    Friends and family often lose interest after the first book or two, and you haven’t gotten a movie deal or are as wealthy as JK Rowling– most laymen’s unrealistic idea of what making it as an author is.

    The media loses interest when you no longer have the first novel hook where they may be discovering the next big thing, or the local author done good angle is gone.

    Some questions are inevitable in every last interview you give. Save your interviews in a big file and cut and paste the answer, if it’s a good one, into each new interview questionnaire.

    And have a good answer for people who ask what your book is about! This is your chance to hand sell your book so don’t blow it.

    The most important thing is to be enthusiastic and excited when people ask you face to face, and your enthusiasm and belief will also be a shield for the inevitable putdowns because your book is A, but not B which is a real book in their opinion.

    To find out how to describe your novel, Google “elevator pitch for novel,” or go to my site, marilynnbyerly.com, click the articles link and read “How to write a book blurb.”