Writers are a funny breed. We’re highly imaginative and often extroverted but spend vast amounts of time alone. We freely share huge pieces of our lives without reservation or filters, but we’re also oddly reserved, preferring to spend our time connecting with people on paper rather than in real life.
We’re fiercely private about our writing until it’s “ready,” then we pray that someone, anyone, will want to read it when we’re done. We write early in the morning, before our “real job.” We write after work, when we’re tired and just want to watch a movie and have a glass (or a bottle) of wine. We write on weekends, with spouses and kids knocking on our locked doors, wanting to know if we’re coming out or should they just leave our dinner on a tray in the hallway. We write in the shower, or waiting at the doctor’s office, or when we’re driving.
There are over 1,000,000 books published in the U.S. every year. On average, they’ll sell less than 250 copies each. Studies repeatedly remind us we have less than a 1% chance of being stocked in the average bookstore.
So, knowing that there’s a near-zero chance of being “successful” or getting that call from Oprah that will catapult us to instant fame and fortune, what would compel a sane person to keep doing it??
If you’re truly a writer, writing is not a choice. Writers have to write. Our brains are permanently set to “How can I write about this?” all. the. time. We view the world in terms of words. Words that bounce around in our heads, compelling us to write it down, whether it’s on a blog, an email to friends or family, or on the back of a napkin at the local cantina.
Most writers, regardless of their previous success, are inherently insecure about their work. We live in constant fear that the world will suddenly discover we’re quasi-talented hacks, and our time would be better spent learning to yodel for our future, more appropriate career in goat herding. If you know a writer, we ask that you take pity on our weirdness and try to avoid certain comments or questions in our casual conversations. We’ll love you for it, and promise not to put you in our next book.
1. “I loved your book. I’ve loaned it to everyone I know.“ I love that you loved it (truly, I do), but I can’t pay my bills from the sale of one book.
2. “When are you going to write another one?” Writing and publishing a book is like Mr. Toady’s Wild Ride, and takes a staggering commitment of time, energy, and often, money. At this point, we’re lying in an exhausted, broke heap on the side of the road, unsure if we’ve got it in us to ever do it again. But we’ll let you know.
3. “I heard only 1% of new authors are ever successful.” That’s true. And thank you for reminding me.
4. “I’m going to wait and buy one when the price goes down.” Swell. I’ll let you know when it hits Powell’s Online Bargain Basement. I’m sure it won’t be long.
5. “We’ve been friends forever. Don’t I get a free copy?” I don’t even get them for free. And you’re a doctor. Is my next pap smear free?
6. “My group is having a raffle next week. Would you like to donate some copies?” Yeah, sure. I just spent the last two years writing the book and several thousand dollars getting it published, but I welcome opportunities to give away free copies.
7. “I’d love to write a book. I just don’t have time.” Neither did we. Waiting to “have the time” to write a book is like waiting to have the money to raise a child. It won’t happen. If you want to write a book, write one.
8. “I’d buy a copy, but I don’t read.” Despite Kanye’s baffling insistence that this is cool, unwillingness to read suggests an inability to do so. You don’t need to read my book, but please tell me you occasionally read something.
9. “Has Oprah called you yet?” This is a not-so-subtle hint that we haven’t really “arrived” if Oprah hasn’t tapped us for next week’s show. An almost impossible standard that can suck the joy out of what we have accomplished.
10. “I’d love to stay home all day and write.” So would I.
11. “You’re self-published, aren’t you?” Yes, because I’m a loser who couldn’t get a publishing house to do it.
12. “Have you written anything I might have read?” Since I don’t know you and I don’t know what you like to read, how could I possibly know that? Oh, you want to know if I’ve written any best sellers. No, but thank you for asking.
13. “Will you read my manuscript?” You’re really asking if I’ll critique it or edit it. Those people are called “editors,” and they charge a hefty fee. I’m a writer, not an editor.
14. “Can you make a living writing?” Absolutely. If you live in a yurt and eat berries out of forest. And if you don’t need a car. Or running water. Otherwise, as they say, don’t quit your day job.
15. “I haven’t bought your book yet, but I can’t wait to read it.” We have no response to this one.
16. “I found a typo.” You read the entire book, and that’s what you took away? Awesome.
17. “I thought your book was kinda funny.” That’s like saying, “Our sex life is fine.” We want to hear, “It’s the funniest book I’ve read, ever. It changed my life.” Or something like that.
So if we meet on the street and you’re looking for something to say, a simple “Loved your book” will cover almost every contingency. And if you really want to make us smile, “Would you sign it for me?” Or you can make our dreams come true with, “I bought one for all my friends,” which will result in an immediate happy dance and lifetime access to our secret stash of wine and chocolate.