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?