What not to say to authors (and what to say instead)
NOTE: I LOVE being an author. I feel like the luckiest THING ever. This post is not a sign of my unhumbleness.
…However, since the wonder of being published, I’ve got one niggle. Whenever I talk to anyone about my books, people say the same things to me. Over and over. There are obviously a lot of myths out there about authors, so I’d thought I’d answer the main ones here, all in one go.
Myth one: Authors are all filthy rich…like JK Rowling
What not to say: “Wow, you’re an author? So, where’s your castle then, JK Rowling?”
The reality: Honestly, I’d make more money if I was paid a pound for every time someone brings up JK Rowling when talking to me about my career, then I’d ever make from selling books.
Here is the basic maths…
An average book costs, say, £7.99.
An average royalty rate for an author is around 7-9% of the cover price.
So, if a book sells at full price, an author can make around 60p.
Oh, yes, and around 15% of that 60p goes to your agent.
And don’t forget Mr Taxman, he’ll be wanting another 20%
So, even if a book sells over 50k copies, an author would only take home around ten grand.
…And most books don’t sell over 50k copies. Most books sell less than two thousand copies.
Authors don’t do it for the money. And not just because WE’D BE FRICKIN’ MAD TO. We do it because we love it and we’re so very lucky to do something we love…but it’s usually not a living. It’s more like a ‘hobby with benefits’. And no castles.
What to say instead: “You’re an author? Golly, do you want me to get this round in then? And, yikes, you look cold. Here’s my jacket.” *covers shivering author with jacket*
Myth two: Authors have more time than you
What not to say: “You’ve written a book? I’ve got a really good idea for a book. If only I had the time to write it…”
The reality: Writers don’t live in this special utopian time zone where hours last longer. We still have 24 hours in each day, just like everyone else. Writers make the time to write because the story is burning so deep in them it’s like some kind of literary cystitis, and the only antibiotic is GETTING THE STORY OUT. Writers write through raising children, through full-time jobs, through mental-health relapses, through the new season of Orange Is The New Black (and, usually, through all four of these things).
What to say instead: “Do you want me to babysit for an hour?”
Myth three: We have control over our book’s film rights
What not to say: “You know what you should do, right? Sell the film rights.”
The reality: AUTHORS ARE VERY AWARE THAT SELLING FILM RIGHTS IS A GOOD THING. They also have absolutely NO control over whether this happens or not. It’s a job for our agents. And, it’s not like our agents aren’t working their brilliants butts off trying for us.
Also, selling film rights doesn’t guarantee a film will be made. Selling your rights will usually get you a few hundred extra quid in your pocket and that’s about it.
What to say instead: “Don’t you find that the movie version of books are never as good?”
Myth four: Author know how well their books are selling
What not to say: “So, how’s your book selling?”
Reality: You would think we would know, wouldn’t you? Considering we wrote the darn thing an all. But you need access to some expensive book-sales software we can’t afford (see myth one). And your publishers, generally, don’t tell you very often.
You get occasional ‘clues’. E.g. If you go into a bookstore and there is even one copy in there THIS IS A VERY GOOD SIGN. Or refreshing the Amazon sales ranking page using one hand, and clutching some runes with the other. But, to most authors it’s a genuine mystery half the time.
What to say instead: “I saw your book in a shop. Here, look, I took a photo for you.”
Myth five: Authors have unlimited copies of their book to give away
What not to say: “Where’s my free signed copy then?”
The reality: In most author/publisher contracts, it states how many ‘free’ copies of your own book you’re entitled to. This number is usually less than ten. Then we have to pay for copies just like everyone else (though we do get a discount). Once close family members and friends-who-read-your-awful-first-drafts have been gifted their thank-you copies, you’re lucky if you’re left with even one copy to yourself.
So, please, if you want to read our book, go just buy a copy. It’s the cost of a couple of coffees for two years of our lives. And, we really need that 60p (before agent’s commission and tax) and for it to go through the tills to be counted in the sales figure (which we never find out).
What to say instead: “I bought a copy of your book. Can you sign it for me?”
What about you? What common questions do you always get asked as an author? Or are there any author myths you think are actually pretty true? Let me know, in the comments below.
ABOUT HOLLY BOURNE
Holly spends her days helping young people with their problems. She spends her nights writing YA novels about young people with problems. She’s a journalist and relationship expert for TheSite.org, a charity-run advice and information website for 16-25 year-olds, and gets her feminist rant on for The Vagenda too. Her first two books, Soulmates and The Manifesto on How To Be Interesting, have been translated into six languages.
Her favourite things to complain loudly about are: the stigma of mental health, women’s rights, and the under-appreciation of Keanu Reeve’s acting ability. She also has a famous Grandpa, cartoonist Larz Bourne, who created the Deputy Dawg series.