A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

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.



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, 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.


77 comments on “What not to say to authors (and what to say instead)

  1. Aki Kalliatakis
    January 16, 2015

    Beautiful! I’ve published seven business books. The publishers and retailers are very, very greedy, and, while self-publishing – for now – seems a little desperate, it works well for allowing me to keep most of the income. In South Africa, my first book was published traditionally, sold for R100, (yes it was a while ago,) and, after selling out the first and only print run of 4000 copies, I received a princely sum of just over R24000. The publisher informed me they would do no more promotion, and retailers forced them to buy back all copies that had been on the shelf for more than 90 days. My 7th book, self-published in 2012, retails at R200, has sold 16000 copies until now, and nets me about R155 per copy after all the costs of printing, (R21 per book,) editing and layout, (once-off fee of R16000,) distribution, (either at my seminars, or through my website where customer pays for P&P,) and taxes, (VAT at 14%, or R28 per book.) When I got to R1.5m income, I stopped counting – and it’s also become the best business card I have ever printed as I distribute them as free gifts to clients. I promote them whenever I feel like it, and all that I needed was some spare space in my garage to store the four print runs of 4000 each. Haven’t even bothered with amazon or Kindle yet.

  2. edireland
    January 16, 2015

    My three favorite questions when someone finds out I write…You mean you write books? No, I write epitaphs for the local tombstone makers…Have you written anything I’ve read? I don’t think any of my work has been placed on the back of cereal boxes…So how come you’re still working here? It’s a disguise, research for my next book, “The Humdrum of Life With Idiot Friends”.

    • Patricia Howell White
      January 23, 2015

      That sounds worse than when my friends used to say, “You’re a SINGER? Sing something.” Right out on the workroom floor of the Post Office, right?

  3. Dale Long
    January 16, 2015

    Here’s one I hate, “You write picture books? Writing for kids must be easy.”
    #1 Not all picture books are kids books some are illustrated books. There is a difference.
    #2 Writing “kids” books or “picture” books is every bit as hard as the novels I write.
    And I’m with you on the JK Rowlings thing. Especially with amount of rejections she got and how they are a badge of honour. Ya, a badge pinned directly over your heart with a six inch rusty pin.

  4. Pingback: What not to say to authors (and what to say instead) | The Passive Voice | A Lawyer's Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing

  5. Pingback: Friday Links (divine figs edition) | Font Folly

  6. obsidianpoet
    January 16, 2015

    Totally spot on….

    I especially love….oh you self published? And you do everything yourself? Even the covers. That’s nice. It is easier to self pub. *turns nose up*

    More like oh you decided to do everything so you could retain complete artistic control? Wow, that is a lot to take on with all the information you must have had to read to learn how to format and design a book for multiple platforms…in addition to constantly having to promote your work…and let’s not forget the accounting and all that a self employed person has to do….on top of actually writing a book.


  7. Lexi Revellian
    January 16, 2015

    “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.”

    Given the information in this post, I’m astonished that writers’ rights and the appalling terms offered by traditional publishers aren’t on Holly’s list of things to complain loudly about. Stockholm Syndrome strikes again, I guess.

  8. Lynne Butler
    January 17, 2015

    One of the things that irritates me no end is the person who says, “Oh, you write books? I’m going to write one too, when I get the time.” In other words, writing a book is EASY and absolutely ANYONE can do it. And in their spare time too! This attitude instantly dismisses the years I spent writing seven books, and diminishes my time, talent, and effort to write the next one.

    • Julie
      January 19, 2015

      Oh so annoying! I once old someone about my excursion with mountain gorillas in Uganda. The conversation immediately turned to the discovery channel and all the shows they had seen. I didn’t get past the Intro. Cause tv is pretty cool I guess. And access to it so challenging. I think everyone looks for the kernel of truth they know about. And sometimes it is no bigger than a flea regardless of the efforts you’ve made. Hard to figure isn’t it?!

  9. skhartleyauthor
    January 17, 2015

    “Wait, you’re write books… like 50 shades, right?”
    *eye roll* NO NO NO!

  10. grant.hayter-menzies
    January 17, 2015

    This is brilliant – and yes, I sometimes am asked all those questions by the same person on the same occasion. Unfortunately, I don’t write blockbusters (though wouldn’t mind if one of my books sold like one), I don’t have stacks of spare copies of any of my six books, and I don’t have time to explain why a writer with book contracts to fulfill on strict deadlines cannot possibly take on your book idea about the time grannie came across the prairies in a covered wagon. And we writers are meant to be the ones living in cloud cuckoo land….

  11. Jo Wake
    January 17, 2015

    I once suffered from those beliefs until I became friends with many authors. I once wanted to write a book, started, didn’t finish, and now I am so glad. Best way I know of to drive yourself into a nervous wreck. But I am so glad you all still try because I loved to read what you wrote.

  12. virginiallorca
    January 18, 2015

    The last person I asked (my brother’s wife), I said, “Have you read any of my books?” She replied, breathlessly, “Did you read Fifty Shades of Grey?” I said, “No” and have not spoken a word to her since. Nor will I. Nor will I ever ask anyone again.

  13. Liz Andrews
    January 18, 2015

    “How about I have a great idea for a book. Let me tell you all about it.” UGH! Just write it yourself then. Or “I’ve written something, would you read it.” No, no, no!

  14. Julie
    January 19, 2015

    Hi there. I really appreciate your blog. Congratulations on all of your hard work! I once met a well known author who I introduced to a coworker as they were aiming to get an international project up and running together. The author asked me to give him my copy of her book at the meeting. So I did. Hard copy version that I cherished and couldn’t afford a new one. In a small way this explains something for me so thank you! I bought it again many years later second hand and now I’ve a story to tell!

  15. Deepam (Susan) Wadds
    January 19, 2015

    Reblogged this on deepamwadds and commented:
    In this post about the realities of being a published author, there are some lovely suggestions for what to say to said author.

  16. Ankit
    January 19, 2015

    This actually caught my attention from the title itself.

  17. Randy Weiser
    January 19, 2015

    I just got my first book, “Magickal Manners: a Guide to Magickal Etiquette”, published last year. One comment that made me want to punch the person who said it was, “So, you think you’re a writer, eh – why can’t you get a REAL job?!?”
    OK, so trying to form a book from the ideas in my brain, write them down, edit them so they make sense and send them out to the world for others to judge ISN’T a job?!? BET ME, BUSTER!!!!

    Another one is “I could do that – it only takes a few months, right?”
    Not in my case – my first book took 10 years to write, and I was passing up all SORTS of things that were going on so I could get it out!
    Get a grip, people!!!!

  18. Pingback: How (Not) to Talk to a Writer #1 | J. Kathleen Cheney

  19. breed7
    January 21, 2015

    My boyfriend is a respected author with more than 20 published books, and, while many of these are true (especially the part about not being rich), authors do NOT need expensive software to track book sales. All they have to do is contact their agent or editor, and accurate information can be gotten quite easily.

    I’m not sure the author of this article is aware of this, either, but no one works for royalties anymore, unless they’re Stephen King. If you’re any good at all, you get a publishing deal for a flat rate, not contingent on sales until the sales climb above a certain number. No one should ever write a book that sells 50,000 copies and only make $10,000; if you do, you’re a fool, not an author.

  20. Pingback: Should you never say these things to an author? | J. Nelson Leith

  21. Y. Correa
    January 25, 2015

    Absolutely LOVE this post! I couldn’t have said it better myself! Totally sharing forward.

    Here is what I get asked and the reply that I give:

    Person: Wow, you’re an authors? You wrote a book? How’d you do that?

    (And yes, it always seems to come in a set of 3 questions.)

    Me: No, I’m King Solomon’s personal scribe. I didn’t actually write a book, I wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. I’d show you how I did it but God banished them for all eternity.

    Lol. I know, I’m a bit mean. 🙂

  22. Sheila Kell
    January 26, 2015

    Reblogged this on Sheila Kell.

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