Things Not to Say to an Unpublished Novelist

1. Don’t call yourself that. Say Yet to Be Published Author.

This is euphemism and means the same thing. All writers learn that using more words to say the same thing isn’t necessarily better. Using a different name doesn’t make me feel better. There are no guarantees in publishing. The only guarantee is I Write. After that, it’s all a crap shoot.

2. When can I buy your book?

After it sells. And then about another year or two while it actually turns from a manuscript into a book. Stop asking any version of this! Publishing a book can take years. Seriously. YEARS.

BELIEVE-YOU-ME, when my book is contracted, I will be letting you know. And I do expect you to buy it (do not ask me for a free copy). You will not miss the announcement. Promise.

3. I’ve always wanted to write a book.

Yes, uh uh. Nice. Go ahead. This just strikes me weird. Writing a book is hard. It takes a lot out of you. Getting a book ready for your agent or publishers? Harder. When you say this, it feels minimizing. This would be like me saying “Oh, I’m going to try doing a marathon. Next Saturday.” I hate running. I hate sweating. I have zero training. But, how hard can it be?

Hard. Anyone who makes writing a book look easy is very talented.

4. Well, soon you won’t have to ______ because you’ll be rich and famous.

Fill in the blank with work, clean house, cook, etc First time novelists make extraordinarily little. Especially when you factor in the time it took to write the book, make the book any good, find an agent and then actually get it published (which, don’t forget hasn’t happened yet). The stories you hear? They’re big time news because they are unique. If every first-timer made it rich, you wouldn’t be hearing about it so much.

5.  Why not just self publish?

Self publishing is a viable option, but there is no “just” about it. ANY publishing choice needs to be made thoughtfully with too many considerations to even begin to list. So, thank you, but I’d prefer to take career advice from professionals in the industry.

6. Oh! That’s terrible. Use that in one of your books.

I am inspired by life. And I am always on the lookout for material. HOWEVER, when something horrible is happening in my life, it is not kind, helpful or reasonable to suggest I am glad for it so I now have something to write about.

7. Oh, your books sounds exactly like _______.

This is not a compliment. I am striving for unique. Even if there are similar plot points, I am hoping my book is completely different. Writers tend to be insecure. This statement gives me pretty much two weeks of low self esteem to work through. I do not have the time or money for that kind of therapy.

8. Can I be a character in your book?

Probably not. Maybe. I don’t know. I have to write the story. The people in the story are there. You might make a fit, but I can’t just write you in. Anne Lamott says if people didn’t want to be written about, they should have behaved better.

So, if I do write about you– be forewarned, you may not like it.

9. Well, maybe write something else. Like magazine articles or greeting cards. Maybe novels aren’t your thing.

Here’s a thing: Writing requires a technical expertise with grammar and structure and the like. But, we novelists, also feel like an artist. The story, the characters, the flow. And the artist side of me squirms with the desire to scream “Stella!” at you when you suggest I need to give up and write greeting cards.

10. You’re writing another book? Why, when the first one hasn’t sold?

Ouch. Let me pull this dagger out of my heart and then I’ll be able to answer. There is a difference between writing and publishing. I Write. I write regardless of my chances to publish. So, I will always be writing.  This comment is akin to asking a woman why she had a second child when that first one hasn’t earned his keep yet.


And, yes, some version of every one of these has been said to me. Most, more than once.