Being a writer is cool, I am not going to kid you. It pays crap, but it can be emotionally and mentally rewarding. For me, it is a form of therapy. Perhaps some of it is atonement for something I did in a previous life; it’s hard to say. I love it because when I am writing, my life is more in balance. It provides me a way to be more human. I have met some of the most interesting and colorful people being a writer.
There are some downsides to being an author though. People say things to authors that they would never say to people in other professions. They make “requests” (demands) of us that are sometimes unreasonable; and other times, bat-shit crazy. When I think I have heard them all, someone hits me with something new and frustrating.
As a proviso, you have to bear in mind, I write true crime, science fiction, military history, business leadership, humor, and other genres. So I get questions about a wide range of topics.
For my fellow writers out there, I am sure you can appreciate the wry humor here. Feel free to share.
Can you give me a copy of your latest book? (Or the more irritating, “Where can I download a free copy of your book as a PDF?”) By and large this question comes up the most. While it sounds mercenary on my part, I don’t write books to give them away. Even my mom purchases a Kindle copy when a new book comes out. This would be like me walking to your house and saying, “Hey, can I have one of your kitchen chairs?” Asking me where you can steal/bootleg a copy of my book, well, there’s a special kind of douchbag hell for you. I actually had one guy argue with me that he was a fan, but couldn’t afford to purchase a book…as if I was the bad person in that conversation. Don’t ask for freebies. This response also applies to someone asking for a copy of a book that I wrote two decades ago…yes, people send me these kinds of queries as well. If all else fails, go to your local library and do an interlibrary loan if they don’t have my stuff on the shelves.
Eighteen years ago, in book X, you wrote something I disagreed with. Why did you do that? I am tempted to respond to this query with, “I did it for this very moment, when I ruined your reading experience.” In fairness, I write books I would like to read. At the same time, I don’t pander to play off of what readers want. If you didn’t like it, I’m sorry. It wasn’t personal. Whatever I wrote I did so with purpose.
You true crime authors just make money off of other people’s misery. I have heard this one several times, ironically from some people holding a copy of our book asking for an autograph. People that say this are often attempting to impose their uninformed self-determined moral authority on my work, and I don’t take that lightly. Allow me to refute this with the following points. First, the illusion that all authors get rich from books is a speculative fantasy. Given the number of hours at nights, on weekends, on days off, etc., that are expended to write a book, sometimes over the course of years, what little compensation I make is often less than the minimum wage. This is a hobby I have where I get to tell stories – not a get rich quick scheme. Some of those stories I tell are heroic, others are tragic. All take massive amounts of time and effort. Second, I believe I deserve to be paid for the work I put into a book, regardless of the topic. I have to pay for research trips and materials, copying, supplies, postage, legal expenses and a myriad of other out of pocket costs to write any non-fiction book. Just getting a set of court or police documents can run hundreds of dollars. This is all paid out of pocket before I write one single word. What money I make on a true crime book sometimes doesn’t even make a dent in those costs for years. Third, the entire genre of true crime are about crimes and victims. Under your logic, no such books could be written. I do not appreciate your attempt at censorship. Fourth, my books on cold cases generate new and often actionable tips and leads for law enforcement. Before you pass judgment on me, let me ask, what have you done to try and solve a cold case in your community? That’s what I thought. Fifth, I almost always (where possible) offer family members of victims an opportunity to be a part of the writing process so that their stories can be told too. My books are not just about the dead, but about the living. So you would deny such people a voice? Sixth, I write historical biographies as well. So why is it okay to write about events and people in history but not about crimes, which are part of history? Crimes often define us as a people. Look at the Kennedy assassination, or the OJ Simpson trial – these are crimes that often reflect our culture and shatter our beliefs. Finally, and foremost, if you don’t like true crime books and feel that the authors are opportunists feasting on the dead, why are you purchasing and reading them in the first place? Whew! Time for a deep breath.
I have a great idea for a book. Why don’t we do it together? I’ll give you the ideas and you do the writing. Um, this is all about me doing all of the work and you getting half of the credit and royalties. Seriously? If you want to write a book, then write a book. This may shock you but most serious authors are not sitting around waiting for ideas. I have far more ideas than I will ever have time in a lifetime to write.
Can you read my manuscript? Many years ago I got sucked into reading manuscripts. First, it takes a lot of time…time I don’t have. Second, don’t ask if you don’t want honest feedback. I learned that most would-be writers, don’t want that. They desire compliments. Third, I had someone once accuse me of stealing their idea, from a manuscript I never read. Lesson learned – I will NOT read your draft material.
Can I have the name of your agent? No. I don’t use my agent any more but I also don’t refer total strangers to him or anyone else for that matter.
When are you going to be in city X to do a book signing? I think some folks have the illusion that writers travel the country, randomly wandering into bookstores and setting up book signings. Usually I am very selective about where I do events and they are tired to subject matter I wrote about in the book. Also, I tend to do events for the six months or so after the book comes out. It is very hard to get a store to do a signing on a book you wrote a decade ago. If I am coming to your town, I will be posting on this blog – so follow it.
Why don’t you write more X type of books? They are your only really good ones. A compliment and insult at the same time. I write books based on what I feel like writing. Sometimes that is fiction, sometimes that is non-fiction. I don’t do a poll of readers and take their advice. What is life without whimsy? And for the record, I think all of my books are the “really good ones,” at the time they come out. Well, except that one I wrote in 1997…
I want to be a full-time writer – so how hard is it? I have no idea. I am a part-time author. The reason is that it is very hard to make a living being an author. I need a full time job to help pay for my habit/hobby. I admire people who make a living writing, but I’m not the person to ask about that.
How do you become a New York Times bestseller? I appreciate you acknowledge that my daughter and I did write a NYT bestseller. Having said that, we didn’t set out to get on the list – it just happened. If it was easy enough to simply recite, everyone would do it. Luck, fate, and a good subject seem to be the keys.
Can I just buy a book from you? Then can you autograph it and send it to me? (I don’t have time to go to the bookstore or use Amazon.com). This may shock you, but I don’t have boxes of my books here in my bunker/office. Further, I don’t want to get into the book reseller business. I have a process on my web site where you can send me a book and return postage, I will sign it, and send it back to you. I have been stuck paying $7.00 postage on a book that I make $2.38 in royalties far too many times in the past. Lesson learned.
Can you give me a copy of your research files? I had a guy once ask, then demand, that I provide him a case file I paid $300 + to obtain. I initially agreed, but realized that all of my notes were on the pages and it would take far too much time to redact those. Then he got mad as hell that I wouldn’t make him a free copy of 500+ pages and take hours to blacken out my notes. I will try to help others with specific requests, but if you want access to my entire archives on a case – the answer is a resounding “no.” Go file a FOIA on your own to get the material.
How much do you make on a book? I’ll tell you if you tell me your salary annually. First off, it is a rude question, and one I get quite often. For some reason people feel it is okay to ask authors about this. It’s personal and professional. Don’t ask. Simply assume that it is far too little and you’ll be pretty close to reality.
Why don’t you put this book on TV or in a movie? While I appreciate the compliment, I don’t have that kind of influence…not yet anyway. Production companies and the networks decide what goes on the air, not the authors. If I did, TV and film would be far better.
Your characters/books suck. I get this from time to time. Look, it’s simple. If you don’t like my work, don’t read it. Telling me you hate a character is pointless, because I won’t change it in a future edition. Funny side story – I had someone do this once with a non-fiction book’s subject/character. Seriously. It was one of those rare moments were I didn’t have a snarky comment to come back with.
Your book doesn’t fit the canon in the BattleTech universe. This one pops up from time to time. Let me say this, my books DO fit the BattleTech canon. They are checked specifically for that. I wrote a lot of that canon. If they book didn’t past canon, it would have been sent back for a rewrite. Deal with it…Clan Wolverine exists and it went down exactly as I described. You people…grr…
Have you considered donating the profits from you book to cause X? No. It is amazing that some people emerge to ask you to give your money to their cause in such a manner. Per my previous response, there’s not a lot of profit to be found.
Why did you only write two books last year? Some years I write more, some less. I don’t do this full time, so it is a boatload of work to crank through a book. Also, just because I have finished a book, that doesn’t mean it will come out that year. I have a completed trilogy that is ready to rock, we’re just waiting for the right time.
I want you to do me as a character in your next novel. No. Don’t ask. I have a BattleTech novel coming out this year where I pulled down the names of some fans, mostly at random from Facebook groups, and included them in the book as either people, places, or something else. I thought it was a fun gesture, a nod to the fans, a chance for them to be part of the canon of the universe. Then a few bad people ruined it. “I want you to use my MechWarrior’s name, and he pilots an Awesome – make sure you include that. His units is the Whitehall Banshees – make sure you include that. Here’s his hair color and descriptions of his tattoo…” Ugh. Yes, a few fans took a nice gesture and decided to do make it all about them. I did not include them, but I am VERY selective now about such efforts in the future. Don’t ask and certainly don’t demand I do this for you.
Can I call you to talk about a novel you wrote years ago? I will do this, but my schedule is pretty tight. Also, just keep in mind I have written 60 books-ish, so keeping track of every minuscule detail or character is challenging. I recommend you send me your questions via email.
Someone murdered my mother/father/brother/sister. You need to write a book on that. First, I am sorry for your loss. Second, if you have specifics about the case, I’d be happy to glance at them. Third, please keep in mind, that while ever murder is a tragedy, it does not mean that every murder is book-worthy. There are very specific things that I look at when I consider a project for a book. While your loss is staggering, there might not be something there that sparks enough intrigue for a true crime book.
I have a book club. Can you fly in and attend one of our meetings? I appreciate the fact you think I am living a Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark lifestyle and have the money to fly to Pigsknuckle, Arkansas for a book club. I have, however done book clubs on conference calls and via Skype. It is all a matter of scheduling.
I got to the end of the book and you didn’t tell me who did it. What’s with that? When I write about cold cases…you’re right. That’s because an arrest hasn’t been made. My co-author and I are always pretty up-front in the book and say that the case remains unsolved. If we had solved the case, you would have heard about it on the news.
(At a book lecture) Why didn’t you bring a box of books to sell? When I do a lecture on a book, I am there to talk about the subject. I don’t want to cheapen the event by selling stuff. If you want the book, pick it up on Amazon or at a local book store. I don’t drive around with boxes of books in the back of my truck. Also dealing with credit cards and personal checks has proven problematic over the years. Lugging a box of books around just seems cheesy to me.
My father served in (insert war here). You should interview him for a book. I sincerely appreciate his service to our country. Individual soldier memoirs are hard to write or sell because unless they witnessed something extraordinary, they can be dull. I do encourage you to get him to contribute to any number of a veteran memory projects out there, including the Library of Congress, which would be happy to capture his experiences.
I encourage my fellow authors to add in their own experiences in the comments…