Five questions authors get asked which they can’t answer

410px-Question_in_a_question_in_a_question_in_a_question1. What are you writing now?

Personally I don’t like to talk much about what I am writing. I don’t think I am alone in that among authors. I need ideas to percolate inside my head, and then to work them through carefully on paper before I inflict them on the world.
Writing is first a very private business and then a very public one. While you are writing you don’t want anyone to know what you are up to and then, when you have finished it, you want everyone to read it!
One reason it’s not a great idea to discuss your ideas is that it allows in outside opinion too early. What if you have what you think is a viable idea, you invest time in preliminary work on it, then excitedly tell a pal. They say ‘oh, that sounds a bit dull’ and bang, there’s your confidence in the idea dented.
Opinions are like a-holes, everybody’s got one. It’s better to finish your book then hear what people think about it – good or bad.

2. How many copies has your book sold?
A couple of reasons why this one is problematic. Firstly – we often don’t know how many copies our book has sold. Publishers tell us only every few months at best and there’s no accurate way of finding out other then through them. The second reason is this – think of a number – no, it’s actually a lot lower than that! Unless you are JK Rowling the number of books you sell is likely to be so low you’d rather not tell everyone about it. Authors signed to small publishers, like me, don’t sell thousands of books – if we are lucky we sell hundreds, and not all of us get even that fortunate.

3. Where do you get your ideas from?
Honestly – I don’t know. Will that do as an answer? Nope, thought not. Sometimes you can trace an idea back through your thought processes to its genesis, other times they seem to pop out of thin air. Often they emerge from other ideas. The magic and the wonder of creativity is that none of us is really sure exactly how it works.

4. Who is your favourite author?
So many to choose from and, if I pick just one, it will sound like I have modelled my work around theirs and that won’t be fair on me or them. Also, I love books and I have read too many to count. I adore the work of authors in the same way other people idolise movie stars. I can’t pick just one.

5. Will you give me a free copy of your book?
This one’s hard to answer because a refusal often offends. Funnily enough it’s not close friends or family who ask you this. They know the amount of work and effort which you put into writing a book and they want to support you by buying one. It tends to be acquaintances who expect a free book and I guess they believe they are doing you a favour by offering to read it. They perhaps don’t realise that you have to pay for books you get from the publisher or appreciate that they cost money to produce – it’s not just the author’s work but the editor’s, the cover designer’s the printer’s and so on. The main reason I don’t like giving my books away free is because it suggests that my work is worthless – and it is not.

Any tough to answer questions that I’ve missed? Comments below!

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12 thoughts on “Five questions authors get asked which they can’t answer”

  1. We all know these questions, Chris, and I think your answers are exactly what I would say…now. I’ve had enough experience to be less idealistic than I used to be as regards ideas, sales and numbers. As for giving my books away, I just don’t do it anymore, nor would I expect a writer to give me theirs. Knowing how much work and effort goes into it is enough to answer that question!

    1. I think you’re right Val that being involved in the process for some time does make you more realistic, though I don’t suppose it’s made either of us at all cynical. There are great rewards to be had from writing and having books published, though they are for the most part not financial!

  2. A very good article — anyone who interviews authors should read it and take it to heart.

    Are there interview questions that you are particularly pleased to be ask?

    1. Thank you Denise – that’s an interesting question! I do quite a lot of interviews and I like pretty much all the questions I’m asked – anything specific about my books, about the writing process and so on. The ones above are tough to answer for the reasons I gave but I always do my best to answer them anyway as I appreciate people giving me a platform to talk about my work.

  3. There is one question I am getting fed up with hearing, it’s ‘Aren’t you worried you won’t get to finish the book, at your age?’
    The answer is that I don’t worry, if I do, I do…

    1. Well that’s very rude of them! I read that George R R Martin is getting sick of hearing that exact same question as he works on finishing Game of Thrones. He’s annoyed with it as he’s in perfectly good health.

  4. Great blog! I don’t like answering any of the five questions you mentioned. If someone asks me what I’m working on now, I’ll usually give them a genre. And that’s about it. Certainly not a title and no description whatsoever.

    Yes, love the people who ask you where you get your ideas from, but even less, I like the people who say things like, “I’ve got a great story for you. My crazy family would make a best-selling book.” Great. Really? Then write it yourself. I hate having to explain to people that the ideas writers prefer to use ideas they’re passionate about.

    As for how many books I’ve sold: don’t ask. Answer: I actually don’t know.

    1. That’s a good one about people offering you their ideas Lisette, as you say I’m never sure why they don’t go ahead and write that book themselves 🙂

  5. Another question I always get and don’t usually have an answer to is when is your new book coming out. Since I am self-pub I try to give them a timeline, but it never works out lol!

    1. Thanks Lisa, yeah that’s a good one. It’s even harder to answer if you do use publishers of course since as well as writing the damn thing you have to factor in the time it takes to secure a suitable publisher which can be ‘how long’s a piece of string?’

  6. I’m currently working on a play but the questions are similar. I really struggle when people ask me what it’s about as I can’t sum it up in a few words. I’m guessing I’ll get asked for free tickets when (if) it’s performed.

    1. It does sound similar Jan. With a book you kind of have to have a summary of the plot in mind because that’s one of the things publishers ask you before they will consider it. I’m sure you will have a queue for those free tickets!

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