10 Things Not to Say to an Author


A tongue in cheek post today, but with a grain of truth. Readers I meet at parties or other events usually have very interesting and perceptive things to say about books and writing. I love having the opportunity to talk with them, which doesn’t happen often living down here in la France profonde. You learn so much from it, and they are an excellent sounding board.

But now and then you come across someone who doesn’t quite engage brain before mouth. I – and other authors I know – have actually heard all the remarks/questions below, or variations on them. These are the ones that either leave me speechless or struggling for a suitable response. This is what I’d really like to say:

1. Would I have heard of you?

Probably not, but you very likely haven’t heard of 99.9% of the zillions of other writers out there. I’ll never win the Man Booker Prize, but don’t make me feel like a failure from the outset.

2. What do you do for a day job?

I wouldn’t pretend to make a living from writing fiction and only a handful of authors do manage to. But my day job is also writing – business writing for clients, and I try to combine the two. I know which gives me more pleasure.

3. How has your book sold?

It’s had its ups and downs. But very few writers out there have written New York Times bestsellers. It’s a competitive business and getting harder. I won’t pretend I don’t wish my book were a bestseller, but when people tell me they have enjoyed it, that’s what really counts.

4. How much money do you make from writing?

I wouldn’t ask you how much you earn, so please don’t ask me. You would be surprised at how low the figure is, anyway, at least for fiction.

5. My cousin’s very first book became a bestseller, and so did all his other books.

That’s nice for him/her but this remark is designed to make me feel like an also-ran. And in my view, we authors should be helping to promote each other. I’ve never understood the need to be competitive about it: good writing deserves exposure and we all benefit in the end.

6. I loved your book. I lent it to all my friends.

I hope your friends enjoy it, too. And if they do, perhaps they will buy it as a present for their friends and family. 

7. I’d love a copy of your book!

I’m so pleased you’d like to read it, so you can buy it in paperback or e-book formats on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, WH Smith and most online stores – as well as in a handful of bookstores.

8. I really liked ‘title’ – (which was actually written by someone else).

Gently point out the correct title of my book, but then expect a blank look, since they have obviously mistaken me for another author. 

9. I’ve just finished a novel. Would you read it for me?

I lead a very busy life. I work, write, have a house and garden to maintain, and plenty of other activities to keep me occupied. So, no, I’m afraid not. And if I criticised it you would be very unhappy. I suggest you find a writing buddy/buddies and share your work with them. 

10. I can’t seem to find your book in the bookshops.

Perhaps you could re-phrase that to, ‘Where can I find your book?’ In that case, the answer is the same as 7 above.

Any non-writing readers must now be thinking we authors are such sensitive little flowers that all conversational topics are taboo. But writers are also readers, so we love talking about books, the writing process and the inspiration behind our work.

We’re also interested in people, since we write about them, so we love gossip, current affairs, quirky stories and all the things you like talking about.

Have fellow authors experienced these, or similar, remarks – and how do you respond?

You might also like:

Ten Things No One Tells You About Book Publishing
Milestones or millstones? Or how to stop beating yourself up when your writing goals elude you
…Authoress Vanessa Couchman shares the genesis of her historical novel, THE HOUSE AT ZARONZA…

Copyright © Vanessa Couchman 2015. All rights reserved.


Published by Vanessa in France

We moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I'm fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs. I also write historical novels and short stories.

18 thoughts on “10 Things Not to Say to an Author

  1. The one question that drives me crazy I hear from my aunt. “How’s your book coming?” She always seems to ask me when I’m either trying to decide which of the four senario’s I’m going to use to get to the next scene in my book, or dealing with writer’s block. I don’t have the heart to say anything to her as she’s 92. We live a long ways from each other and speak on the phone a couple times a week. @v@ ❤


    1. I also find that question difficult to answer (since it’s usually not coming). But given your aunt’s age and distance from you, I guess she is just trying to show an interest. It’s not easy to cope with questions like that, though, I know.


  2. My mother (after I’d sent her the hardback of my new book): ‘Oh, i didn’t think it would be my sort of story so I lent it to the cleaner. She really liked it.”
    She could not understand why I wasn’t very flattered.


    1. Yes, we all dream of being stocked by Waterstones – even if it’s only spine outwards on the shelf. People don’t realise how many hoops you have to jump through – and that’s before they even decide they want to stock it.

      Liked by 1 person

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