14 Ways to Tick off a Writer

angry man“I love throwing rocks at tigers in the zoo,” you say, “but now that the weather’s cold, I need an indoor activity.” Look no further. Writers are fun and easy to annoy. Minimum effort, maximum rage. Try these 14 simple tricks, and you might never need to pay for the Large Cat House again.

1) Go on Amazon and give the book one star because “the plastic wrapping was slightly ripped when it arrived from the seller.”

2) Ask what the new book’s about. After the writer answers, say, “Oh, that sounds exactly like that T. C. Boyle book that came out last year. Have you read that? You have to read it! Yours sounds exactly like it!”

3) When interviewing an author on the radio, make sure to give the wrong title for her book. Just wrong enough to show you care. Is her book called Please Call Home? You might call it Please Come Home or The Homecoming or Home is Calling. Sit back and watch while the author figures out how to correct you on air. Good times!

4) Email saying you want to be a writer too, and you notice the writer lives in the same city, and you wonder if he could spare two hours sometime soon to have coffee and fill you in on how this whole writing thing works. Do not give any indication that you have ever read the writer’s work or care about it in any way. Do not address the author by name. Just cut and paste.

5) “So you’re a writer. What do you write about?”
“I write literary fiction.”
“Yeah, but, like, mysteries, or…?”
“Um, sort of realistic stuff. Novels and short stories.”
“Thrillers?”
“No.”
“Romances?”
“No, just…”
(whispering) “Like Fifty Shades kind of stuff?”
“Sure. Yes. Why the hell not.”

800px-Angry_girl

6) Approach her at a book festival with no introduction, wearing a backpack large enough to be full of explosives. Explain that you’re trying to find an agent, and no one here has been any help at all. Ask if you might give her your manuscript so she can pass it on to her agent. Then just stand there staring. Be sure your pupils are dilated.

7) Read ten pages of the author’s book. Realize that it’s absolutely not for you: you thought it was a zombie story, and it’s actually historical fiction about Alexander Graham Bell. Go on Goodreads anyway, and give it one star for not being a zombie story.

8) If you are related to the writer, be sure to ask, repeatedly, when his novel will make it on the New York Times bestseller list. Alternate this with questions about film rights, for maximum effect.

9) Email the author saying you admire her work. Once again, give no indication that this is true. Attach five of your most recent short stories, and ask if she’d mind taking a quick minute to give them all a read and respond to you at her earliest convenience with detailed comments.

10) If the author is a close friend, and especially if you’re well off, borrow her book from the library instead of buying it. Make sure she knows you spent money to go see the sequel to Snakes on a Plane. Wonder aloud, in front of her, what you’re going to get all your relatives for Christmas. Bonus points for asking if she’s making royalties yet.

11) Say in as patronizing a tone as possible, “It’s such an accomplishment just to finish a novel! You should be proud of yourself just for that!”

Annoyed_Lioness_(3869878597)12) Show up at a reading. Raise your hand to ask a question. Launch into a ten-minute description of your novel-in-progress. But in a whiny voice, with a question mark at the end. That totally makes it a question.

13) Ask what’s up “with all the ebook stuff and the self-publishing and nobody reading anymore. Does that worry you, that no one reads anymore?” Try to bring this up before nine a.m.

14) And remember: If all else fails, ask about her writing routine.

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About Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai is the author of the novel THE BORROWER (Viking, 2011) and numerous short stories, four of which have been anthologized in THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES series. Her second novel, THE HUNDRED-YEAR HOUSE, will be out in the summer of 2014. She teaches at Lake Forest College, Sierra Nevada College, and StoryStudio Chicago, and is the recipient of a 2014 Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her website is http://www.rebeccamakkai.com, and she tweets at @rebeccamakkai.
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289 Responses to 14 Ways to Tick off a Writer

  1. I love this–especially number 3! I went to a reading at my graduate school once to see one of my very favorite authors read from her work. The man introducing her–a decorated author himself–mistitled not one but TWO of her books, and she graciously corrected him. It still infuriates me!

    • I *knew* when I named my first novel that it would get called The Borrowers instead of The Borrower, but I didn’t imagine this would happen in reviews and in bookstore intros. I’m always checking with people before intros that they can pronounce my last name correctly, but I never think to check on the friggin book title.

  2. Thom Tammaro says:

    Good one! Nice to start off the week with a few early morning chuckles. Just wondering—would it be okay if I send you a few of my stories to look at? I see that you have published a few short stories of your own.

  3. “If you are related to the writer, be sure to ask, repeatedly, when his novel will make it on the New York Times bestseller list.”

    My extended family, if they were aware of the NYT bestseller list, would absolutely do this. Otherwise they’d just ask me how much money I’d made so far. “What? Why wouldn’t you want to tell us? We’re family!”

    • Ha. I once heard David Sedaris say once at a show that his father was never impressed with his NYT standings because he wasn’t as high on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list.

    • Sam Cheever says:

      Don’t forget that they’re waiting for you to gift them a copy of your latest book while asking if you’re making any money yet! #:0)

    • Dave Krentz says:

      Ha! That sounds just like my extended family … and I’m not even a writer. I simply had the audacity to quit my “lunchpail” job and work from home.

    • Terra Little says:

      It’s not just making The New York Times list, but also the ‘why is your book not as popular as (insert NYT best-selling, well-seasoned author’s name here)’ question. And the sage advice that you ‘should get with his/her people so your book can get out there, too’. Because it MUST be something you’re not doing that explains why you’re not as instantly successful after your first couple of books as, you know, one of the big name authors that everybody’s reading. It’s so easy to become a famous author, you know. Can’t you afford a good publicist? What about J.K. Rowling’s publicist? Call them.

      OR: “I have a great idea for a story you can write.” Stay right here for the next four hours so I can tell you all about it, in painstaking detail, and then we can discuss when you’ll be done writing it and how utterly successfull it’ll be, because NO ONE has ever thought of it before. I’ll stare at you, unblinking, while you think about the story idea, too.

      OR: “I’ve had a very interesting life and I’ve always wanted to write a memoir. What do you think about this idea?” I don’t care if your food is getting cold; your car is currently running, you’re in the hood, folks have started loitering near it, and it’s really late; the line has moved ahead and you’re now holding it up; you’re clearly trying to enjoy your date/family gathering that, as a friend of so-and-so, I was invited to; I’m only 35 and deep down I must know that, since I grew up in the suburbs and was a Girl Scout until I turned 30, dodged no enemy fire, and have never really publicly stood up for any of my beliefs or in support of anything/one else, my life really isn’t THAT interesting.

      OR: “Isn’t writing a book easy? I want to try it. How do I get started?”

      • Story goes, Margaret Atwood (famous Cdn author) was at a social event in her honor and a brain surgeon told her, “I’ve always wanted to try my hand at writing a novel…” She replied, “Really? I’ve always wanted to try my hand at
        brain surgery.”

        • Celia Lewis says:

          Isn’t she a sharp cookie?! Such a perfect answer in her slightly monotone nasal voice, delivered with no smile at all!
          This post is simply hilarious – I’m saving it!! And yes, I’ll buy your book. Really. I will. After Christmas when it’s on sale – it will be on sale, won’t it? :)

  4. Wow, this article is perfect. A version of every one of these things has happened to me at one time or another!

    By the way, Rebecca, I’m going out to borrow “The Borrowed” at the library, as soon as I pay to see “Gravity” for the third time! I’m looking forward to reading “The Hundred Year Old Mouse” next year, too. Is it a picture book?

  5. Jo Carroll says:

    What a great post – and a reminder that if we didn’t laugh about this stuff from time to time we might end up wanting to smack some ‘innocent’ asking a question!

  6. Liz Bradbury says:

    Thanks for writing this, it made me laugh out loud. I posted #10 on my FB page when I shared it. I like to use this mantra: Those who can’t write, write one star reviews.

  7. DRG says:

    I suppose this is meant to be funny, but it sounds selfish and as though each syllable is absolutely drowning in hubris.

    • And there it is, folks! Number 15! (Just kidding, just kidding. I know when I’m being nice and when I’m being selfish and bitchy — and yes, this is absolutely the selfish and bitchy side of me. Willfully guilty as charged. But thanks for reading the post!)

      • Jan Priddy says:

        I found it hysterical. And classic. And I wish I could say I’d suffered every one, but I have only experience several since only have published stories and no book. But I completely get it and I am with you and it’s not hubris, it’s the absolute failure of others to get you—and writers do work so very hard to “get” the rest of us. Sigh… so can I send you my manuscript? (Kidding.)

      • Christy Hill says:

        I’m not a published writer, but enjoyed reading all of these. I saw the humor and the release. The writing how you approached this was enjoyable. I love the one about the one star comment. As a browser to determine if I want to buy a book, I find those one star comments that have no substance really annoying. They waste everyone’s time. I was directed to this page from a forward on Facebook and wow, I feel I just discovered a great writer! Now I want to read your books because of learning your writing style!

    • Heidi says:

      I loved this list. Can totally relate, which is what makes it funny. Published writers deserve to have some hubris. Preferably with wine and good company.

      The phrase “each syllable is absolutely drowning in hubris” is also hysterical for its ironic effect.

  8. Leila says:

    This made my day!

  9. Richard says:

    In Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” in the ‘Man of Law’s’ tale, Chaucer writes:
    “In hire is heigh beautee, withoute pride,
    Yowthe, withoute grenehede or folye;
    To alle hire werkes vertu is hir gyde;
    Humblesse hath slayn in hire al tirannye.”

    Since you’re an author too, can you explicate this for me and give me insight into Chaucer’s intent? I have an assignment due.

    ;-)

    • I actually have a disclaimer on the “contact” page of my website saying that I will not help college students do their homework. (I used to get “I have a paper due on this story you wrote, and I’m wondering if you agree with my thesis statement.”)

      • Amelia says:

        When I first moved into in a college dorm in Thailand, there were students coming to my dorm room EVERY DAY to ask me to help them with their English grammar homework. I considered posting a sign on my door that I would no longer assist with homework, but it didn’t take long for everyone to realize that I knew less about the technicalities of college-level English grammar than they did.

      • Oh my goodness, really? It just keeps getting funnier. But you know, I can imagine similar lists from doctors being asked at social events to diagnose people’s “funny pain in my ankle” or computer techs being asked “you know, my computer does this funny thing…”
        Professional hazards. Still, I loved reading it! Thanks.

  10. Kathryn says:

    I would only add two more (although these are a little dated, maybe their equivalent will pop up again).
    1. “Have you thought about writing something like that woman, what’shername, oh yeah, J.K. Rowling.” and
    2. “I have a book that I think is perfect for Oprah / Ellen / Literary Host de Jour.”

  11. Rebecca this is hilarious. Is there a place to give it five stars? :) Well-played

  12. Brian Fawcett says:

    The question that makes me apoplectic: “What kinds of books do your write?”

    Since there’s at least 17 unanswerable-without-hour subquestions in that, I normally just purple up and answer “good ones.”

  13. I recently got an email from a former student (eight years or so ago…) and he attached a story that he wrote for a workshop then. He said, “‘I’d appreciate if you could read it and give me any comments you have on it and where it could go. Also, I want to start writing other stories, so what do you suggest to get inspired? Anyway, get back to me when you can and I look forward to hearing from you.” My eye still twitches when I think about it.

  14. I love this, especially the bit about the amazon and goodreads trolls.

  15. Joanne Levy says:

    Yes, all of this.
    (Can I add one? People asking, “How’s the book?” Huh? What kind of question is that and how do I answer? “The book has hemorrhoids, but says that if you buy another copy, it can afford some cream to help clear them up.”)

  16. Jane Doe says:

    * It’s always fun to be present, or cc’d, when someone says THEY should “crank out” what you’re writing (romance, chick lit, mystery, whatever genre they can condescend to) to make some “quick money.” Before, you know, getting back to their IMPORTANT stuff.

    * I also adore being asked – usually by acquaintances or distant family members – if they can give my number to someone they know who is trying to write a book and needs tips on getting published. Extra pleasure points if the book in question is wildly different from your own genre (say, a picture book when you write gritty detective fiction).

    • I get asked about picture books all the time! I seriously wish I knew those answers, although I guess I save myself a lot of time by having nothing to say.

    • Molly says:

      Yes! I’ve had friends (who, as far as I know, have never written a single story, let alone a book) muse aloud that they should write a book, just for the money. I laugh long and heartily and advise them to find a job that actually pays. Or sell their blood or their body or something. Much better hourly rate on those.

  17. Becca says:

    Omg- YES

    this really spoke to me. It’s going all over my facebook now. Thank you for writing this hilarious and complete true article!

  18. Becca Hall says:

    How about the question, “Is your novel fiction?”

  19. Jack Getze says:

    Very funny. You should skip the literary stuff and write something people read, say a funny mystery.

  20. Annie Fitt says:

    “How much money did you make on your book? Oh, that’s all? I thought writers made big bucks, like Stephen King. Why bother writing if you would make more money working at McDonalds? Maybe you should try writing a thriller/horror/vampire/zombie book.”

    And from friends and family members (and for artists as well as writers):
    “Would you babysit my kids, volunteer for this committee, donate something for charity, run an errand for me, ad infinitum, because after all, you have so much time because you don’t work?”

  21. Thaisa Frank says:

    I got asked so many questions about picture books I bothered to find out that they have to be even pages. (This the only question I ever enjoyed answering.)

  22. Cheri Taylor says:

    HA!
    I once got an email from a young writer that contained no less than a 150 page attachment containing his poetry. All of it. And a request that I “just take a look at it” and let him know what I think.

    This after two emails in which I explained to him that I am an editor and a writing coach and get paid to work with people and assist with their writing.

    I also love it when people say things like, “Why don’t you get your book sold in (fill in Major Book Store Chain here), then lots of people could buy it?” Well, now, why didn’t I think of that?

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  24. David Kirby says:

    Don’t forget the one you get when you tell someone you’re a poet: “Oh . . . published?” I usually sigh and say, “Oh, no. I just put in a drawer and then go outside and, you know. Skip a little.”

  25. Valerie Parv says:

    Thanks for nailing so many common experiences in such an entertaining post, Rebecca Makkai. I’m tweeting the link, having experienced all these at different times. Notable moments include having a poet stand beside me at a literary function because she wanted to be “close to the money.” Everybody knows romance writers are squillionaires, right? And the radio presenter interviewing me when I mentioned my current non fiction book. He hadn’t heard of it and asked what it was about. My response, “You mean the book right there in your hand?” A well known comedian was on air with us, and we riffed off that blooper for the rest of the show. At least some good came of it.

    • Amelia Elias says:

      Oh yes, Valerie reminds me of that ever-present question, “How much do you make off your books?” I have no idea why people think that’s an acceptable question to ask. Usually I can put them off by explaining it’s a percentage of books sold that can be based off gross or net, and if it’s net these are the things that are subtracted first, etc… by which I mean being SO BORING that they give up. But I had one lady be absolutely persistent, past the boring lecture, past the “it varies per book and month and publisher” bit, past everything even remotely related to manners, until finally I asked her, “How much do you and your husband make, then? You go first.” Naturally, she got angry and offended, and never once got the point. ARGH! SOME PEOPLE! *bangs head on wall*

      • Jackalope says:

        I actually think the longer explanation would be more interesting, but that’s perhaps because I would not care how much your individual income was (because that’s nosy and why should it matter to me anyway?) and be more interested in how the publishing industry works.

  26. Sarah Long says:

    Great piece! Number 11 is a little worrisome, though. I tell myself that all the time.

  27. I thought that my, hard earned, reputation as an irascible redhead would prevent many of these comments or questions. Sadly, that has not been the case. As an author of science fiction, my all time favorite follow-up to “What do you write?” is : “But you’re a woman!”.

    • Dawn Napier says:

      “Yeah but it’s cool, I write about burping and feeding alien babies and the hazards of changing diapers in zero gravity–you know, all the stuff only a woman would understand.”
      On second thought, never say that. Some people genuinely would not recognize the sarcasm.

  28. Ramona Long says:

    Very amusing! And true.
    Here’s another: “Oh! I have this great book idea! You write it and we’ll split the royalties.”

  29. Paula F. says:

    Magnificent–hysterically funny!
    I liked, “No, I thought you had a REAL publisher. Like Knopf or Hallmark.” Then there is “I liked your novel so much I loaned it to three friends.” Also, “I’ll buy it when the ebook’s available.”

    • Hallmark?!

      Really I’m usually happy if people loan my book out, because I feel like it’s probably getting to people who wouldn’t have encountered it. And I’m a great pusher of books from my own library. But it’s the “I thought I could count on you!” people, the ones who were on your list of “the ten people who will surely buy my book even if no one else in the world does” — and then they’re like, ooh, I just spent twenty bucks on that Miley Cyrus Pay-Per-View concert, so… — those are the ones that kill us.

  30. carol anshaw says:

    I got one star from a woman who said she’d expected my book to be about a bride but then it turned out to be about a slutty lesbian. and I’m thinking, who wouldn’t rather read about a slutty lesbian?

  31. Laura Oliva says:

    Oo! Oo! I have a couple:

    Upon finding out your writer is a romance novelist, ask “So, when are you going to write a REAL book?”

    and,

    If said writer is self-published, say, “Yeah, but have you considered ACTUALLY publishing your work?”

    Also, I love this post. It really does help knowing other people get all this too :-)

  32. Kay Kinghammer says:

    Loved this!!! So funny!!!!

  33. Roger T says:

    Once I get my YA novel in progress finished, if anyone asks me #2 I swear I’m going to say, “Oh, it’s about five by seven inches, and 200 pages.”

    You missed “Where do you get your ideas from?” This is a great list.

  34. You made me laugh coffee out my nose, especially #4. Thanks!

    And how about the “fan” who plants herself in front of your signing table, usually with a line behind her, and launches into a synopsis (in excruciating detail) of this amazing idea she has for a novel that is going to make a million bucks, and, oh, if I’ll simply write the novel, she’ll split the proceeds with me fifty-fifty.

  35. Andrew says:

    As a fledgling writer and college student, these all made me laugh and cringe in anticipation. I’m going to share this with my class in hopes I can help prevent further trauma to actual writers.

    Also, this makes me want to buy your books so I can experience more of your delightful writing.

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  37. Angst says:

    How come you are not replying to every single comment anymore? Your comments were pretty good, and then suddenly nothing.

    I am just wondering, if you will reply to this comment? I’d really like some feedback here. You are a writer, right?

    Can you please get back to me on this? I really need to get going with my day.

  38. Spot on, Rebecca! You made me laugh at the start of an otherwise crappy day!

  39. RPS says:

    I once received an email from someone who lived two hours away from me, telling me that my book looked “interesting” and could I “drop one off” at their house. Seriously.

  40. Diane Awerbuck says:

    Him: I’ve never read a whole book before, but I read yours.
    Me: Gosh.
    Him: Ja. I just wanted to see if you got the Kimberley details right.
    Me: Okay.
    Him: You didn’t, you know.
    Me: Really.
    Him: Yes. You got it all so, so wrong.
    Me: What, exactly? I’m always happy to correct errors in the next edition.
    Him: That hunting scene? You know, where the guy breaks his back?
    Me: Sure.
    Him: We weren’t hunting rock rabbits. They were spring hares. BIG mistake.
    Me: Next time I’ll check with you.
    Him: Don’t bother.

  41. STILL laughing. And so’s my husband. I’ve had all these things happen to me so many times. omg. The best has to be #10. Thank you so much for this.

  42. Oh, oh, I’ve got one! I get it whenever I do booksignings in shops…no, it’s not the one where people ask if I work there and, on hearing, ‘no, I’m signing my books, here ‘ follows up with ‘well, can you tell me where the toilets are?’ No, not that one.

    The one where…oh, I can hardly write this for the gritting of my teeth… they pick up your book, turn it over, give the blurb a cursory glance and say…’Oh, I wrote a book. I’ve put it out on Amazon.’ Dump the book back on the pile and do ‘the smile’. You know, the ‘I pity you for working with a publisher when I take home every penny I make’ smile.

    Now I need a lie down.

  43. #10 is my favorite. I never quite know what to say when someone tells me how much they love my first book and are ninth on the library waiting list for Book 2 and want to know when #3 is coming out …

    • Ha… And to clarify, because I worry this one could be misread, I’m always thrilled when people make use of the library — librarians are rock stars, and I would live in the library if I could. But it’s when people close to you expect the content to be free… I understand this is especially tough for self-published authors, whose friends expect them to open the car trunk and hand them out like candy bars.

      • I’m also delighted that people use the library – I certainly discovered many favorite authors that way (and yes, librarians are rock stars!). But sometimes I wish there were a nice way to tell people – those who could afford to buy books – that the best way to ensure that their favorite author keeps producing books is to, er, buy one once in a while.

        • Rhyan says:

          I love to read but am on a fixed income. I will make a list of books I want to buy its usually only one or two a month. I then make sure I post reviews on Amazon and share the book on Facebook. I borrow a lot of books from the Library and with out the Library (I also review most of these and share them on facebook.) I would not be able to support my habit. I love this list and go to a lot of readings and signing and I have heard people say most of these things. I just cringe and then apologize to the author.

      • Amelia Elias says:

        A few years back my mother–MY MOTHER–proudly told me that she was finally going to read all my books because she’d found a place online where she could download them all in a .zip file for free. And then she was a bit confused when I detonated… in her defense, however, she did then go honestly buy them all and ask me to sign them, which makes her 10,000% better than most people who never do understand why we detonate over that.

        • I’m a writer, and I can fully understand being upset about finding the books in a zip file for free. However, I would definitely give my mother free books in the first place if she wanted them. If anyone deserves free books, that person would, in general, be one’s mother.

      • Ann Z says:

        Oh good! I’m a librarian and was briefly worried about that one. I have a friend who recently published her first novel, and I proudly showed her a screenshot of our catalog with her book in it, because I was so fricken excited that we had her book (but I also bought 2 copies for myself). I was hoping I wasn’t being unintentionally cruel.

        • I can’t imagine any writer who wouldn’t adore seeing her book on the library shelf. (I’ll sometimes sneakily sign my novel in libraries, especially since it’s about a rogue children’s librarian.) It’s more the “but you were one of the twenty people I was counting on buying my book even if no one else in the world did, and you didn’t buy it!” phenomenon that can send writers off the deep end (rightly or not). You know what else is awesome about libraries? They buy hardcover!! Which is hugely helpful to writers. Also, librarians rule the world. So there’s that…

  44. Robin Gianna says:

    SO funny! I laughed out loud at these – thanks for the great post!

    Just got my first publishing contract after eight years of effort, (so I haven’t experienced many of the above yet) and a friend of a friend wanted me to call my agent about her children’s book, which I’ve never seen (and which is not the genre I write). I explained to her why I couldn’t do that, but offered to meet her to share what I’ve learned, introduce her to children’s lit authors I know, etc. She responded that she doesn’t want to be a children’s book author, she just wants to sell this one little book, and doesn’t understand why agents and editors make people ‘jump through so many hoops’. Took a deep breath, and said “well, goodbye and good luck.” :-)

  45. Brilliant – I’m still wiping my eyes.

    And I have another – just say to any writer, repeatedly, in a slightly querulous tone, “Of course, it’s a lovely hobby to have…”

  46. This is great! What amazes me is how many ways my first name can be misspelled. Also, as an editor & publisher, when introduced at a reading or workshop the name of the magazine (Iodine Poetry Journal) has been misread and even mispronounced. As a poet and artist, the list goes on. Love this article! Just in time for the holidays.

  47. Janey says:

    Oh…you really have hit the nails soundly on their heads. I am editing at the moment and already I have requests for gifted first editions coming out of my ears, oh and they must be signed copies too, of course…

  48. Great article. Many of these also apply to publishers. Thank you.

  49. CJ Black says:

    Loved this! I’ve gotten 1, 2, 5 and 7. But this just made me feel better about them. As another commenter said, sometimes you just have to laugh at things like this. I’ve shared this on FB. Thanks for taking the time to give us all a chuckle. ;)

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  51. Jacques F. says:

    I was at an event last week, an author reading from her new book. First Q&A question was from a woman who had sat flipping through the New York Times. Had nothing to do with this book. She also left halfway thru the Q&A. Later, a guy in the back asked, “You TEACH writing? How is THAT done?” He seemed exasperated and maybe annoyed.

    The author, who has the word “Pulitzer” on her CV (though not “winner”), was unfailingly gracious. Thru gritted teeth, maybe. But I was grateful for her forbearance. If 10 questions were asked, 5 were, objectively, poor. But, 5 were somewhere between thoughtful and worshipful. Hopefully, she can find a way to focus on those.

    Rebecca is a talented writer, so I’m guessing she has many fans. Personally, I wouldn’t have minded, instead of this bitter rant, a post about some of the nice people out there that she has met or corresponded with.

    Maybe she could have zinged a few yahoos at the end, but wouldn’t it have been neat to recognize the largely thoughtful and invested reading community out there – rather than devoting a column to the insensitive jerks. Just my 2 cents.

    • Well, there’s a time for thanks (99% of life, at least) and there’s a time for catharsis… Hard to get them into the same small blog post. But my next post is a love letter, so maybe my karma will be in balance after all.

    • John Shoemocker says:

      I can think of an “insenstive jerk”, Mr. Jacques F. This comment reminds me of the “fan” who is constantly upset that you didn’t follow his advice and write exactly catered to him.

      This is one of the best articles I’ve read, thanks Rebecca.

  52. The man who cuts my lawn told me he has a ‘great’ idea for a book and knows it would be a ‘best seller.’ He will tell me his idea, and I can write it, and we can split the money. Sadly, I declined.

  53. nemo paradise says:

    “Listen, I have lots of great ideas for stories. How about if we write a book together? I tell you my ideas and you write the stories?”

  54. This is FANTASTIC! You forgot about the non-reading non-writing friend who self-publishes a small book riddled with errors and now considers her/him self a professional author, JUST LIKE YOU!

    I totally had the backpackwearing-staring-at-me-to-solve-her-life-and-share-her-manuscript-freakshow- experience! lol…

  55. How’s this one? I write about dozens of subjects, but last month a coworker told me when he found out I had written a biography on a person I had known, “People don’t write about a person unless they’re obsessed about them.”.

  56. Nancy says:

    Oh, oh, here’s another one. After telling you how much she loved your book, and how much she learned from it, a reader says she plans to lend it to everyone in her large book group.

    And this is a true one. When she learned we were in town, a well-off friend called to say she wanted us to see her new apartment. It was gorgeous. Full of fabulous art. And we genuinely gushed over all of it. At the point where she mentioned her book club, my husband said, “Maybe you’ll tell them about our book.” To which she replied, “Oh, they only read serious books.” You don’t want to know what he said as we were leaving.

  57. Hey, Robin, I know “that person” too! lol…Is that also the one where they write one little book in order to PAY OFF SOME BILLS!? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  58. Rachael says:

    #5 was my absolute favorite. I actually write romance, and when people whisper, “Like Fifty Shades?” I just smile and whisper back, “No, mine has waaaaaay more sex.” That usually shuts them up. :)

  59. K. Robert Campbell says:

    One of my favorites is “Oh, you should write about my/our family. They do the most hilarious things and people would get a hoot reading about it.” Mind you, I write suspense.

  60. Those were amazing, as were many of the surpises in the commentaries. I just wanted you to know this supposed ‘visual artist’ has shared similar torments. One of the truly ‘unanswerables’ came after someone looked over an exhibition of drawings turned to me and said, absently, “Yes, my aunt paints.”

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  62. Rebecca, these are wonderful…and so sad, since they happen to every writer I know all the time.
    The one that happened to me that left me speechless was when my son’s mother-in-law said to me, “I read PART of your book.” And then just looked at me.
    Hard to think of anything to say after that!

    • Molly says:

      Wow, mother-in-law venom in action. :D Similarly, I sometimes have people tell me they *started* my book, and keep *meaning* to finish it, it’s just… Okay, yes, life gets in the way. I know. Why tell me this? I’m not going to quiz you on whether you finished it.

  63. Lori says:

    I’ve also had: “You really should make this into a movie.”

    Um, oh…kay. Maybe I should.

  64. A. H. Jessup says:

    #15, perhaps: Ask her “Where do you get your ideas?”

  65. Molly says:

    EERILY accurate! Like so many others, I suspect you’ve been stalking me and taking notes on my life.

    “If the author is a close friend, and especially if you’re well off, borrow her book from the library instead of buying it. Make sure she knows you spent money to go see the sequel to Snakes on a Plane.” – LOL. That is, I laugh because otherwise I’ll cry.

  66. Joanne says:

    Great article – I’ve had number 3 and 4 happen to me. Interviewers and introducers frequently get my day job wrong, even though I send them the details and it’s correct on my website etc. A radio interviewer once got my job wrong, asked me who’d want to read a book about that (my topic) anyway and then announced that I was writing a trilogy. OK, then, thanks for letting me know.

    Like other writers above, I get notes from young readers asking me to write their assignments, and from people who’ve had a great idea, and won’t I quickly just write the book and then we can happily share the proceeds.

    But my worst really is ask a question (what do you write? Where do you get ideas? How come you aren’t a millionaire? Aren’t books dead?) and then don’t listen to the answer.

  67. Amelia Elias says:

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned, “Don’t you wish you’d written ___?” (as a romance author, it’s always 50 Shades…) Or, “You should write a book like ____ only with, like, different names and stuff!”

    To the first question–No. No, I don’t wish I’d written it. I wish you’d get over it, though. There ARE other sexy books out there besides 50 Shades, you know. Maybe go find some of them?

    To the second–my friend, that is called fanfiction, and it’s a completely different animal. Explore that dark closet at your own risk!

  68. This list is brilliant! So utterly true as well. It’s hard to know how to go about getting published in the first place but don’t step all over people who’ve already put the work in and managed it!

  69. Rob Britt says:

    I have had people say that they just started reading my new book, yet when asked which book they don’t know a title, nor anything about plot or a single character. Wait, maybe they started reading someone else’s book… hope they are enjoying whatever they are reading…

    My favorite on the list is people asking you to read their stuff and give feedback. Join a support group or something…

  70. A hilarious post, Rebecca. Loved it and the responses it provoked.

  71. Shannon says:

    I’m not a writer unless you count college papers. I still loved this list and the comments made my day.

  72. Arthur Salm says:

    Three that drive me ’round the bend and back again: “Why do let an agent take fifteen percent? I self-publish and keep all the money”; “You’re so lucky — you get to stay home and write all day”; and, “Novels for KIDS? I thought you wrote real books.”

  73. Aislinn says:

    I write fan fiction. Have no wish to ever go pro but people are constantly asking me if I have A: ever been published. And B: if I am ever going to write “real” stories?

    head/desk… lather, rinse, repeat.

    Answers: A: Actually yes, posting in a fanfic archive is self publishing.
    B: And what? you think my 75k+ novel is a “fake” story simply because it’s fan fiction??? What the heck do they think all the Star Trek and Star Wars novels out there are???? That’s right folks. Fan Fiction! Only difference is they have the official nod to make money at it.

  74. K says:

    Thanks for this!

    And…
    #16: “Why are you so busy–don’t you just work from home?”
    #17: “Well, I’m sure you’ll get published because being a minority is really trendy right now in the book world.”

    • Oh my god, I would punch someone for the minority comment. There’s a corollary one where someone complains that he can’t get published because he’s NOT a minority. Yeah, that must be the issue…

  75. Mallory says:

    I just hate having to explain what exactly it is I’m writing… so i almost always say yes…yes it is a naughty book about unresolved tensions.. featuring bridges.

  76. Diane Farr says:

    Here’s my favorite:

    “I have a great idea for a book. Will you write it and split the profits with me?”

  77. Debbie says:

    Loved this. I’m not a writer but I like to make random stuff. My favourite response was from my sister after I told her I wanted to make a clock that told the time in colours. She said; “Why don’t you just buy a clock?”. 0.o

  78. Thank you. I needed this. What a gas, you nailed it. Got a really thoughtful one star review for an otherwise well reviewed story the other day on Amazon. I quote it here in full, verbatim: “Not good.” That’s it. The whole thing. Not good? Oh, well, then. Not good. Not good. Not good.

  79. John Ringo says:

    How to get over (most) of this:

    1. Don’t bother reading Amazon reviews. They’re the slush of reviews. Or if you prefer, just gouge your eyes out with a gardening tool. Your call.
    2. Tell the exclaimer that you and TC Boyles wrote exactly the same story on a bet to see which would sell more. You won.
    3. Don’t choose a book name so close to the name of an extremely popular series. Seriously. When I read the bio my first thought was ‘She’s way too young to have written Borrowers!’
    4. Hit ‘Delete’ then go on to the next email. Such emails do not deserve reply.
    5. Always answer ‘Gay Porn’. Especially if the person is clearly not a reader. Bonus points if they’re carrying a Bible, wearing a cross or a nun.
    6. Just smile and take the manuscript. That’s what trash cans are for.
    7. Two ways around this: A. Write zombie stories. B. Don’t read Goodreads. Again, the slush of reviews. Why beat yourself up over the opinions of people who don’t really affect your sales significantly and clearly don’t have a clue?
    8. Answer: ‘The New York Times List is designed so silly, the ‘top’ is probably huge, the rest you’ve got no clue. I prefer booklist. And I really would prefer Hollywood not utterly screw up my novel. I have too many tax problems as it is. Thanks.’
    9. Delete.
    10. You’ve mis-identified the meaning of the word ‘Friend’. Also rich people get that way by being cheap. Why sweat one book? If they’re really a ‘friend’ (doesn’t honestly sound like it), next time a book comes out, give them a freebie. ‘Here. Now you can start a bookshelf.’
    11. Reply: ‘Forty novels published in hardcover in less than twelve years’ and watch their eyes go wide.
    12. Get better fans. Lotsa signings, never this issue. Some people bracing me personally, but that happens.
    13. ‘I publish in every format available and alot of it is free in eBook. In fact, I’m personna non grata at S&S for publicly stating if they didn’t figure out eBooks they were going to go the way of the dodo. As to nobody reading anymore, two words: Harry Potter.’
    14. ‘I sleep alot, sit in the dark smoking alot of cigars and drinking coffee. Then when it gets cold tend to crank out about 15,000 words a day. You?’

    General suggestions for all newbie authors: (Which I’ve given to every ‘protege’ I’ve ever had.) Don’t read reviews especially stuff like Amazon and Goodreads. If you do, ignore all one star reviews as they’re basically internet trolls. (‘This person is a fascist and his characters are one dimensional’ reads to me as ‘I’m in my mother’s basement ‘excited’ about being able to piss off a public personality because I’m an emotional seven year old!’ To which I reply ‘Harlan, I didn’t realize you knew how to use a computer! Good job! Good boy! Have a biscuit!’)

    Just keep writing the damned books and stories and ignore the opinion of anyone who doesn’t affect your paycheck. But mostly, just ignore people, period, and write, write, write. You’re either a writer, who can’t stop if they tried, or a wannabe author. If you’re just a wannabe, find something else. Writers are miserable people who spend so much time in other worlds they can rarely relate to most of humanity, tend to have really poor relationships and also tend to die early. This is not for the weak.

    • Lauren Sleigh says:

      Wow, it must be nice to have all the answers… Here we all were, just floundering around, until you came along!

      And I can’t believe Rebecca Makkai forgot to check with you before she titled her novel…

      Good god. White men…

        • John Ringo says:

          Rebecca’s first novel was, according to the bio, published in 2004 and she’s had some stories and such since with another coming out next year. (Congratulations by the way.)

          I published my first in 2000 and the one coming out in January will be 40. Two totally different fields and totally different styles (‘There are nine and twenty ways, to write a tribal lay…’) However, what it does mean is I’ve been around a while longer, guarantee I have more readers, interact with them online and in person (cons mostly) extensively. So…

          I really do have many of the answers. I’ve been doing it longer and ‘more’ than Rebecca. It. Is. My. Only. Job.

          I, too, got wrapped up in every Amazon review when each book came out, writhed in agony over one star reviews and even tried to placate various reviewers in various ways. I’d try to read manuscripts that were handed or emailed to me. I’d get upset about typoes people found in my books. (An issue I’m sure Rebecca probably has to a much lesser degree due to her care and attentiveness to each book and story.)

          I was… WRONG.

          Rebecca’s job is to WRITE. Not put herself through what is clearly an emotional wringer over internet trolls and people she only half knows. Her primary duty to her ‘fans’ is to CREATE MORE STORIES. Not read their mss. She’s a WRITER not an EDITOR. Writers create stories to enthrall. Editors read slush. As WEB Griffin pointed out to me when I was a newbie author: ‘If an editor could write a best-selling novel, they would. Let them handle the rest of the stuff, your job is to write.’

          There are far too many other stressors in life that are going to interfere with her writing. These are ones that are easy to ignore.

          (Try having your mother cut you out of the will over a series. :-) Yes, I have in fact done ‘fifty shades of gray’ (but with more guns and explosions) and won a ‘Best Romance of the Year Award’ for it.)

          The book title comes down to what I termed, when I did it in an early novel, ‘stupid new author tricks’. Looks good at the time, trips you up for the rest of your writing career. Fortunately, my editor and coauthor both talked me out of it. When I counsel the few authors I’ll counsel it’s one of my main suggestions. ‘Don’t try something gimmicky.’ Rebecca may not have thought of it as ‘gimmicky’ but the fact that her editor didn’t talk her into another title is case in point of editors who don’t know what they are doing.

          This is like me complaining that people make Tombstone references and Beatles jokes. Which I do, don’t get me wrong. But I wasn’t the one who chose my name.

          eBooks are just another way for people to enjoy your world. Complaining about eBooks is like complaining we don’t still illuminate our manuscripts.

          eBooks are a wave. You can fight a wave, you can let it go by or you can try to ride it. In the first case it will crush you, in the second case it leaves you adrift and valueless, in the third case it MAY crush you or it may carry you to a far green shore.

          Most of my novels have been released as an eBook BEFORE the hardcover. Many of them are available for free. In multiple, non-DRM, formats.

          My biggest financial issue: How much I owe the IRS.

          Positive benefit (for values of benefit) to eBooks: As electronic becomes dominant, ‘big box’ will be less and less profitable. Which will reopen the niche for small book stores that only stock deadtree. May not even, then, make them profitable. But it will reopen the niche. And it will, eventually, be a niche, albeit a small one.

          And to Warren Sleigh, I repeat:

          ‘Writers are miserable people who spend so much time in other worlds they can rarely relate to most of humanity, tend to have really poor relationships and also tend to die early. This is not for the weak.’

          Which is more or less a quote from Lois Bujold who is anything BUT a white man. (Okay, white, but definitely not a man.)

          Repeat: This is not for the weak.

          I actually have an opposite problem of one of Rebeccca’s: It may seem troubling to have someone who is well-to-do get your book from the library. Try having a friend you know barely has food money tell you they just spent $26 on a hardcover. My answer: ‘Please don’t. I’ll send you the rough by email.’

          Yeah. Us white guys. We’re such jerks.

        • John Ringo says:

          Sorry. One more.

          My all time silliest review:

          ‘I enjoyed the story but all the physics kept getting in the way of the action.’

          IT’S A SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL! SCIENCE! FICTION!

          Good God, people.

          That’s when I firmly stopped reading Amazon reviews.

      • James says:

        Before you sneer at him too much, you might want to look at how many times he’s hit the New York Times bestseller list… Blunt? Yes. Uninformed on the subject? Not at all.

        • Yikes, I’m not going to get involved in this one, but I’ll just pop in to say that my novel came out in 2011, not 2004.

          • (And perhaps also to add that no, I don’t read Amazon and Goodreads reviews–I did it for about one unhealthy week–but we all know people who do that and get upset by it. And we all know people whose book titles get butchered, or their names get butchered, etc. People don’t tend to get my title wrong, which is lovely. The post was meant as group catharsis, not personal complaints.) What was it Rodney King said, now? Something about “Can’t we all just be nice on the Ploughshares blog”…?

    • Gerd Duerner says:

      Psst, Mr. Writer Guy: It’s “a lot” two words, not one (‘cept you mistyped “allot”, that is). ;)

  80. Great article! I would like to add, if the author writes children’s books, mention J K Rowling. No need for a context, just bring up her fabulous success.

    But my personal kryptonite is, “Can I get your book at [Christian bookshop that shall remain nameless]?” No, you can’t get my book that was shortlisted for a prize, because it’s self published so if doesn’t count. You can, of course, get the book that won and was ‘properly’ published. *grinds teeth*

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  82. You forgot the one where a friend or family member asks you for a copy, you given them a signed one, and then they tell you they never got around to reading it, but they will one day…

    I am thinking of having a set of blank copies produced with just the cover art.

  83. “You’re publishing a book? Cool! I expect an autographed copy! I’ve moved since we were in Algebra 2 together. Do you need my address?”

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  85. bkahn says:

    George Sand, writing about her first success, the novel Indiana, in 1832: “One man asked for six copies to be sent to St. Petersburg, of all places. He got angry when I asked for 60 francs to cover the cost. Another man asked for a copy to be sent to a lunatic asylum. I thought that someday I might have need of their services, so I sent them a copy.”

  86. Andi Loveall says:

    Dying laughing at this.

  87. JD Mader says:

    That was very funny and, sadly, very spot on.

  88. John Ringo says:

    Writers, actors, and prostitutes all face the same fundamental economic problem: they are competing with amateurs who are pretty good and will work for nothing.
    Moss Hart

  89. I heard a story that Canadian literary legend Margaret Atwood was at a party once, and got into a conversation with a neurosurgeon.

    “I’m thinking of writing a novel over the summer,” the doc told her. “I’m a smart guy, and I’m sure it’s not that hard.”

    “Really!” Margaret replied. “That’s funny, because I was just thinking of doing a little neurosurgery over the summer. I’m a smart gal and I’m sure it’s not that hard.”

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  91. I could add another couple:

    if the writer hasn’t been published yet, say: ‘Never mind, J.K. Rowling was rejected by dozens of publishers before she got a deal.’

    if the writer has been published, ask her about sales, then say: ‘Never mind. F. Scott Fitzgerald only sold three copies of Gatsby in the year he died.’

  92. …or how about asking the author to give you a signed copy of her book, and then look aghast when she says she only gets 12 author copies from her publisher and you’ll have to buy your own copy.

  93. Nora Nix says:

    Oh, Goodreads. I had a Goodreads *librarian* one-star one of my books, but decline to leave a text review stating why. Hey, if you don’t like my book, you don’t like my book. But perhaps you could explain your one-star, which is basically the rating you give to something that is the *worst thing you’ve ever read,* so that improvements could be made and readers don’t immediately turn their noses up at the book just because it might not be “your thing?” *Especially* as a Goodreads librarian!

  94. Marg McAlister says:

    Here is the comment that accompanied a 2-star review for one of my Kindle books: “I wish this book came in a printed form, Its just the sort of thing I would get. The teaser shower that the author knows her stuff and it would have been a book I would have enjoyed. I understand why corp. america uses the electronic format its just not ont that I choose to support.”
    *shakes head, rolls eyes* :-/

  95. CD Mitchell says:

    Number 15.
    Go up to the writer, and in your most concerned and worried voice ask, “Have you totally given up on seeing Heaven, then, after writing this book?”

    Or mention that someone from the church must have really hurt you for you to blaspheme gawda in such a way with your book.

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  97. The Sanity Inspector says:

    Be sure to flame the author in a long, excessively capitalized email over a comment made in an ancient interview that you just read. Or a comment that one of his characters made in a work of fiction.

  98. For the mom writers says:

    Hilarious! These are great.

    One more: “So, do write stories for kids?” (This after I’ve said that I write fiction, normal fiction, stories, you know?) It’s as if people think a woman with kids could only possibly be interested in kids. I wonder if dads get this question. I’m guessing not.

  99. Kat says:

    Hahahaha! Oh my… It’s good to know that other professions have things like this. Admitting my profession (mathematician) in public simply seems to be an excellent way to kill any social conversation. I have gotten two responses: silence, or “Oh, I always hated math in school.” Guess I’m grateful that a third option hasn’t occurred to people: “Oh, wow! Little Johnny is having such a hard time with his fractions, perhaps you wouldn’t mind popping ’round one of these days to help him out?”

    Keep up the good work, everyone. I enjoy purchasing and reading your books!

    • I’ll admit, I’d be terrified to converse about math. Because if I say “Oh, what kind of math?”… I’m totally not going to understand your answer. But I’d still be terribly impressed!

  100. joanna-missouri says:

    I get the movie one as well (have you thought of it??? as if that’s all it takes, realizing the possibility) and also this:

    if the work is fiction, ask which aspects of the protagonist are parts of the writer’s self, and if the writer points out that it is actually fiction, suggest that the writer must be scared of admitting how much of herself she has actually revealed; suggest that the writer is calling it a novel out of cowardice rather than reasons that are imaginative, artistic, aesthetic, and formal.

  101. Eric Wiggin says:

    #15: How much did you pay to get your book printed?

    Eric Wiggin

  102. Bob Mayer says:

    Ah a literary writer. Good luck.

    You’ll need it.

  103. Oh dear, my number one (missing from the list) is:
    “You’re a writer? I have this amazing idea for a book, but I’m too busy. Maybe you could write it for me?”

  104. I’ve never written a book, but I’ve been interviewing authors since 1985. Thankfully I’ve only nearly-committed #3 once, with a book called “Fat to Fit,” which, for some reason, my tongue preferred to call “Fit to Fat,” which could aptly have been the title of my autobiography.

    The great R. L. Stine once told me that he used to get annoyed when his young readers would, invariably, pepper him with the “Where do you get your ideas?” But his attitude was transformed, he said, once he realized that that question was a child’s way of asking, “Do you think I could ever write a book that’s as good as yours?”

    I get ignorant, insensitive, inappropriate, and just inane questions about my business (radi0), too. But if you take an R.L. Stine attitude, and try to understand what they may really be asking, it makes the questions easier to take.

    Of course, some people are just horses arses, too ….

    • I love that interpretation — and I think that particular question is almost always well-intended. (As are all of these, really — anyone who takes the time to express interest in what you’re writing is a good person — but that doesn’t guarantee that we writers will react well…)

  105. Dawn Napier says:

    There have been many suggestions for a #15, but here’s one more.

    Ask them what they think of bestselling crap like Fifty Shades, and when they pan the book tell them that they’re just jealous. “The books might be bad, but they’ve sold a million copies so she must have done SOMETHING right.” Then act oblivious when the writer stares at you as though fantasizing about putting a meat fork through your eardrum.

  106. samantha says:

    Great Post. Here’s one – the wife of the owner of Maxim’s Paris told a famous author that she loved his book and would pass it around to all her friends. He said thank you madam and when I go to Maxim’s I’ll pack a lunch.

  107. You forgot to include #15!
    #15: Tell them about a story idea you have that is SURE to be a best seller and that they can write it. You’re more than willing to share the sales from it since it was your idea. Then repeatedly follow up with them to see if they have begun writing your story idea yet.

    I have learned to nicely say, it’s your idea, I think you should write it. I have enough ideas of my own! lol

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  109. Sarah Sundin says:

    My favorite (closely related to#4, #6, and #9) was when my daughter’s seventh-grade English teacher sent home his entire ms with my daughter – unsolicited – and asked for my comments. Holy moley. This man held my daughter’s grade in his hands! And I didn’t know him personally – how well would he take critique? In this case, I was thrilled that it wasn’t my genre. I praised a few elements, mentioned 2-3 that needed a bit of work, reinforced the praise – and then said, “But what do I know? I don’t write YA coming-of-age stories.” Yes, my daughter passed English that year :)

  110. Stephanie says:

    Absolutely HYSTERICAL!!

    Here’s one I heard…

    “You’ll know you made it when you find your book in a garage sale bin!”

    • Victoria Trout says:

      Or when you find it for sale at an obscure used book seller online? Asking for more than it was sold for, plus shipping and handling? If that counts as success, than Thank God! I made it. LOL

  111. This is soooo funny–and sadly so true. Awesome!

  112. Don’t forget the, “I have this great idea. I’ll tell it to you and you write it and we’ll split the royalties.” Like I don’t have too many ideas to ever write them all.

    Then there’s the, “You should write for children.” Not entirely sure why I get this so much, but I do. I write paranormal romance and romantic suspense. How do I say I love children, but my muse has other idea?

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  114. Mary Bargteil says:

    Student: I’m interested in joining a critique group. What do you suggest?
    Me: Great idea. Several of the students are interested. We can discuss it in class.
    Student: Oh, but I don’t want to be in a group with them. They aren’t very good writers.
    Me:
    Student: Can I join your critique group?

  115. Walter Rhein says:

    People who mention ghost grammatical errors on Amazon are also winners–things they think are errors but really it’s just because they don’t know the rules. Or critical reviews filled with “it’s/its,” “their/there/they’re,” etc., errors.

  116. Shane DeMorais says:

    Love it!

    I too am amazed when, after spending a sum of money to get self-published, people were always asking for a free copy. I have a hard time wrapping my head around that one.

    Also, while in England, a relative made the comment that self-publishing is considered “Vanity publishing”. Well ok then!

    • Victoria Trout says:

      I guess self-publishing is still considered “Vanity Publishing.” The difference is the attitude about it. The success self-publishers have is a tribute to absolute determination.

      Tom Clancy didn’t get his first book, The Hunt For Red October, published by a “real” publisher when he first started, and he tried every last one of them. His “first” publisher was the Navy Academy Press. AFTER he sold a “boat load” of them (sorry, I couldn’t resist) traditional publishers came knocking.

      I appreciate all of the responses and the article itself, it doesn’t really matter what form your publishing takes, or if you haven’t been published yet, you have to let the frustration out or the next “innocent” question will be resulted in mass destruction of all within reach.

      I tell myself, stupid is catchy, step back and nod. Now, RUN!

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  118. Mary R Snyder says:

    Love this!!
    Let me add my favorite ‘what the heck’ moment to this party.

    Casual friend: “hey, Mary can you bring me a copy of your book to look at?”
    Me: “uh…to look at?”
    Casual friend: “I just want to look at it and see if I like it before I spend money on it.”

    And yes, this really happened. I’m still stunned when I think about . And pretty much everything on the list has happened at one time or another.

    • Mary, I was once at an artists’ residency once (according to tradition) authors who stayed there contributed books to the library. One of my fellow residents, a photographer, read about half of my novel, put it back on the shelf (ostensibly for others to read), and asked me at lunch if I could tell her how it ended so she wouldn’t have to buy it when she got home.

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  120. Here’s one to add to the list. During a recent event someone picked up my book, flipped to the middle, read for a page or two and then announced a major spoiler to the entire crowd.

    I was STUNNED, especially since this person claimed to be an author too so she should have known better.

    Christi Corbett

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  123. Anita says:

    All these people with offers to split 50/50 if you only write the book based on someone else’s idea! That’s a good deal. A cousin of mine came to me with a great idea for a book. If I would write it, he’d graciously give me “a percentage.”

  124. Number seven has happened to me…twice! Lol! I just have to shake my head and move on

  125. Jennifer says:

    I am a non-fiction collaborative writer (which means I am a ghost writer who gets cover credit). I am often asked if I use a pseudonym. Dumbfounded as to why I keep getting that question I finally started answering, “Yes, and I’ll tell you if you promise not to tell anyone.”

    After they promise I say, “J.K. Rowling.”

  126. CindaChima says:

    Recent email: Do you think you could send me the third book in your Seven Realms series?
    Me:

  127. Martin Rowe says:

    Wonderful piece—and very true. I’m a publisher as well as a writer, and I wanted to say that many of these excellent comments work just as well with publishers.

  128. Haley says:

    Yeah, I write post-apocalyptic dieselpunk (think Mad Max), and all the time I get, “Why don’t you write steampunk instead? That’s popular! And they’re almost the same thing, right?”

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  130. Staci says:

    Here’s one…

    Write a review critical of the book and get every single name in it wrong. Hero’s name is Timothy, call him Tom. Heroine’s name is Gwen, call her Jen.

    That works every time!

  131. Sadly most of those come by at one time or another. Not kidding.
    Two questions I get most: When will I publish anything? Never, it’s all on my website. And to my mom: Sorry, it’s all in English. (I never want her to read anything of mine)
    And the second: Is that anything like 50 shades? My basic answer to that: I’d jump down a cliff if it was anything like that.

  132. Misty Harvey says:

    Okay, this definitely brought me a huge giggle. I’ve experienced so many of these that it’s now entertaining. It took my sister three years to purchase my first book. Her reasoning has and will always be, I didn’t dedicate the book to her so it isn’t worth the money. She has never purchased my second book, though my other sister who does not read has purchased every book I’ve written.

    My absolute favorite thing for them to do is say. Hey, you write books how about you come over and teach me how. If I don’t rush right over there they shanghai me at family parties to ‘pick my brain’. I’ve even had a few of them with the audacity to want to write a book together. Which always turns into you write the book, and I will put my name on it also. They get so angry when I refuse to do it too.

  133. Alex Lukeman says:

    Great post. I especially like #7, which has happened to me few times. It’s the one star reviews from readers who didn’t read the book (one did read the description and didn’t like it) that get me. Or the reader who said Robert Ludlum could have told the same story with twice as many pages.

    Thanks!

  134. Valerie Rind says:

    I’m writing a book (seriously). You all have show me how many wonderful experiences I have to look forward to with readers, non-readers, family, and reviewers! :)

    It will surely beat my current experiences with questions such as “”What is your book about?” [blank stare when I explain] “When will you be done?” and “When will it be published?”

  135. Nancy Richard says:

    Or this, from a seat mate on a plane: “So you’re a poet? Have you written anything I’ve heard of?” Poet: “I don’t know. What have you heard of?” True story, told by a brilliant novelist/essayist/poet/story writer/translator of Euripides. Or this, from another mother in the playdate park, to Anne Tyler: “So, do you have a real job, or are you still just writing?” Sigh.

  136. I get back at people who do these things by making them characters in my next work. Sometimes I kill them off, too… after evisceration.

  137. Raven Kinkaid says:

    How about when a friend of a friend raves about my new romance novel, “I didn’t know you were a novelist!” Then, when it comes up that after a lifetime of writing (okay, ten years) and winning (school) awards, I decided to get serious and start a self-publishing business, “Oh. . . .I thought it was a real book. You know, from New York.”?!?!? Ummm, it is a real book, that you are holding, right there in your hand. Please put it down so you don’t get your elitist tripe all over it. Thank You. I’ll be in my Boudoir. :)

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  139. Lois Geller says:

    I’m laughing reading this piece…because so many of these things have happened to me. The one that continually drives me insane is #4…when the person callls me and sys they live nearby and want to write a book just like some of mine…and want to bring me Starbucks coffee and pick my brain for a couple of hours.
    The visual image of my brain being picked off by this nervy bird…makes me crazy.

  140. Mick says:

    I’m a comic book scriptwriter (yes, really!) and I get most of these, along with the obligatory:

    Why don’t you do “real” writing? (Or, in my sainted father’s case, “Why did you give up writing?” Because scripts write themselves; it’s only novels that actually require living, breathing authors.)

    No, but what do you really do? (Comic book writers only exist on sitcoms. In real life, everyone is a certified professional accountant. No offence intended to CPAs.)

    Nice! I read a lot of comics. I’m going to start writing them, too! (I use a lot of toilets. I’m going to start a plumbing business!)

    Do they actually give you credits in the books, or just the artists? (Just the artists, of course. Comic books don’t actually have plot or dialogue, only random pictures in little boxes.)

  141. Masonian says:

    Thanks for reminding us to laugh at the inanity (rather than throttling people… which my lawyer informs me is BAD)

    I had a conversation with a guy who told me “If I was a writer I’d only bother to write bestsellers. It’s easy, there’s a whole formula.”

    He proceeded to tell me the formula (crap) and expound as to why so many authors never make millions, and how when he ever does decide to write it’ll be to earn money.

    For about ten minutes I thought he had the world’s best dead-pan humor… then I realized he was absolutely dead serious.

  142. Masonian says:

    When asked what my book is about by people who have already asked any of the questions from this list: I give them the elevator pitch of My Neighbor Totoro.*

    *Pitching Thor or Avatar is fun too.

  143. Raven Dane says:

    Read these with a big , rueful smile of recognition… attending fantasy/SF/horror as a guest author does make me a target for numbers 6 and 12. I have a family member who expects free books but never bothers to read them, another one who is convinced I don’t write them myself but must have help. And there is the inevitable question… ‘how much did it cost you to have it published?’ As I have always had a traditional contract with publishers, this causes some irritation….I’ve worked darned hard for that !

    • One of the funniest things I’ve noticed about these replies is how many of them concern traditionally published authors who hate being mistaken for self-published authors, and self-published authors who resent not being taken as seriously as traditionally published authors. (I once had someone ask me, after a bookstore reading, with what seemed like shock and disdain: “So you’re NOT self-published?” This was for my paperback, the spine of which is orange and features a penguin…) I’d say something about the grass always being greener, etc. but I think what it really amounts to is: We can’t ever win. Ever.

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  152. Tanja Cilia says:

    You forgot to ask us when we will get real job; you also forgot to tell us how sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet it is that we write.

  153. Steph L says:

    I had a laugh at the zombie one. Miss 11 asked what was so funny.

  154. Haha, and don’t forget ‘why don’t you write bestselling book like JK Rowling?’

  155. Caleb says:

    For relatives only:

    “I loved your novel, dear.”

    “Why that means SO much to me, mother.”

    “Yes…I hope to read it very very soon.”

  156. Erica says:

    “So, what do you do for a living?”

    “I’m a copywriter.”

    “Oh, so you like copy things other people write and stuff?”

    “Never mind, I’m a zombie.”

    I loved this post and the comments. Thank you for making my day.

  157. Thanks Rebecca, I loved this piece–and the replies. From hilarious to cringeworthy (sic, but oh hell…)

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  159. Ingrid says:

    Wow, I feel kind of horrible. Are we readers really that bad? I’m so sorry, writers. Allow me to apologize on behalf of my sorry race of reading people and reviewing people.

    I do have one question though. Is it really so bad to loan books out? I tend to buy hardcovers a lot, read the book quickly, and then I try to share the love. I was always under the impression that sharing and lending out my books was a good thing, and that it gave the author publicity and more readers who would be more inclined to buy her/his books in the future. Is it better to not loan, but to just tell someone to buy them?

    • Ingrid, I think loaning books is one of the best things in the world, and I’d bet most writers would agree with me. You’re absolutely right that it helps writers. (And I don’t think I had anything in the list about people loaning books — maybe some folks did in the comments.) What rankles is when it’s one of your close friends, one of the few people where you thought, “Well, if no one else in the world buys this book, at least SHE will.” And then the person almost takes a weird pride in not buying your book. That’s weird. (I’m happy that this hasn’t happened very much to me, but it does seem to happen to a lot of writers.)

      And… this is important… no reader is a bad reader. (Now, reviewers, on the other hand…)

  160. Victoria says:

    I’ve got one that hasn’t made it on any of the lists yet.

    Still drunk at 7am relative: “Are you going to put this in one of your books? Or tell my dad?”

    Me (helping her find her lost car): “No. Fiction has to make sense.”

  161. Elizabeth Moon says:

    So, so true. Including the ones added by commenters.

    The young man who stared at me a long time (signing table, my name on it, book cover displayed) and finally said “You don’t look anything like your character.” I agreed; I’m shorter, heavier, older, grayer. “I thought women wrote about themselves.” (He was clearly hoping for the young, tall, athletic heroine and got the over 45 mother-of-autistic kid.)

    The several persons who, knowing I’m a writer, (whose work they don’t read) periodically ask “Are you still writing?” in the tone of those asking if you’re still going to wear that frowzy old thing to the holiday party. I can tell they’re hoping for the day I’ll say “No.” (Now that I’m over 65, they add “You’re over 65.” I know, I know; every joint in my body reminds me and so does the mirror. “So when are you going to retire?”)

    The man who scolded me because my first books had a female protagonist. “Don’t you know men need books too?” (He was not mollified when I pointed out the plethora of books by men for men. I had a duty, he told me, to write more books for men.)

    The person who inquired (after I was a dozen novels into my work) when I was going to write a REAL book. “You know, a book I could take seriously,” he said. “Quit wasting your time with that stuff.”

    The teacher at a convention who sent a student to ask any writer the student could catch “How does your book advance the cause of world peace?” (Say what? The students had not been asked to read any of the books by attending authors, by the way. I asked the student who caught me, “Are these your questions? “No, my teacher’s.” “Fine–ask me whatever YOU want to ask me and I’ll tell you. If your teacher wants answers to her questions, she can ask me. If she gets mad, tell her I was mean.” “I haven’t read your books.” “That’s OK. Have you ever wondered if writers liked writing when they were kids?” “Yes.” “Then ask me. I’m all yours for fifteen minutes.” We had a nice chat, typical but appropriate questions from 13 yo to adult about an occupation. )

    Lots of grist available for this mill. And to those who wonder if they’ve offended–you probably haven’t. Those who have don’t recognize themselves.

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  166. John Shoemocker says:

    There is a book of poetry (Matters) by Dan Brown who happens to have the same name as the author of Da Vinci Code. There are one star reviews on Amazon by people who bought the poetry book thinking it was by the other Dan Brown.

  167. John Shoemocker says:

    Whoops, that’s Matter (no ‘s’). See number 3 above.

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