10 Things You Should Never Say to an Author

I’ve been an author for more years that I have admitted to. For a long time no one knew my secret. I was published and still no one knew. Did I say no one? I mean very few. I didn’t mind that. Knowing my work was published was enough for this gal. Life was good; simple and good.

But then the book.

You know the one— Bitter, Sweet. My secret was finally out. There was no going back.
Now, with two novels under my belt I’ve gained a little wisdom. Not only have I spoken to a lot of other authors, but I’ve made a few observations along the way. People often say some far out there things to authors without even being aware of it. Sometimes things come out of their mouths before they can stop themselves. One thing I’ve discovered along the way is there are things that are best not said to an author whether you’re meeting an author for the first time or if they happen to be in your circle of friends. Etiquette, my peeps. Sometimes we all need to show a little etiquette. That said, I wanted to have a little fun with this. A good sense of humour goes a long ways, not only in the publishing business, but with life in general.

So, for fun, I’ve listed some actual things that have been said to authors I’ve met in my journey, a sharing of stories if you will. And since words never come out sounding quite the way they were intended— I know that. You know that. Even the neighbour’s cat knows that—- I’ve also listed what you probably meant to say. We authors are an understanding bunch, always willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes you’re nervous when meeting an author and that clever first line you took a whole five seconds coming up with doesn’t come out sounding so clever. So here goes.

1. I thought you’d be taller. No kidding. I thought I’d be taller, too. But hey, my mum and dad were short, and you know what they say— genetics can be a bitch. Ooops. Did I just say that? Here’s the scoop. It’s difficult to determine how tall someone is by looking at their author photo. In fact, it’s down right impossible unless you’ve got a crystal ball.
What you probably meant to say was:
I’m so glad to meet you. Your books are wonderful!
2. I have to say I liked your other book better. Have to say? You really have to say that? Okay, so authors are keen at reading between the lines. I mean, lines are our specialty. So what you’re really telling me is, what, you didn’t like the book? Not only that, you felt I needed to know this for some reason? But of course you didn’t mean that at all, did you?. We authors can jump to all sorts of conclusions. Our egos are fragile. We often think the worse, and you would never, ever want to shatter an author’s oh- so- fragile-ego. Of course not!
What you probably meant to say was:
I have to say your first/second/third/fourth book was my favourite!
3. Can I get your book from the bookmobile? In author language this translates into I’m too cheap to buy your book.
What you probably meant to say was: I sure hope your book will be available at the libraries and bookmobiles, too! You’ll pick up a lot of readers that way.
4. Can you sign this copy for me? I just got it at a yard sale. It was a real steal for a buck. There’s nothing wrong with getting a deal on a book. I do that myself whenever possible. Not sure I’d announce to the author at a book signing that I just bought his book for a dollar. Sometimes you just have to keep those sweet deals to yourself.
What you probably meant to say was: I’d love to have this book autographed.
5. I just entered a giveaway for your book, but if I win I’m not sure what I’ll do with it. Really? You’re worried that if you actually won a free, probably autographed book, you don’t know anyone you could give it too? I assume that’s because you already have your own copy, right? But really, no one person on planet earth would want my book. Not a friend or family member, your doctor’s secretary, the mailman, some bum on the street?
What you probably meant to say was: Even though I have my own copy, I wanted to show my support so I entered the giveaway. I know someone who would love a signed copy!
6. I tried to think of someone I could buy a copy of your book for, but I didn’t know anyone who would want it, and I was too mean to spend the money on myself. Yeah, kind of sad. You don’t think you’re worth 12 bucks, the price of my book. That really makes me sad.
What you probably meant to say was: My friends and family all have a copy of your book!
7. How many copies has your book sold? Authors don’t like talking about book sales unless they have bragging rights that would knock your socks off a chimpanzee and, believe me, most of us don’t. Everyone wants to believe that you’re making millions on that book because we all know that authors are all filthy rich. Right? Wrong.
What you probably meant to say was: I hope your book sells a million copies!
8. Ive written a novel. Can you take a look at it? Sorry, but darn near everyone has written a novel at one time or other. If we authors read them all, well…what do you think?
What you probably meant to say was: It’s wonderful to meet a fellow writer.
9. No one wants the novel I’ve written. I’m just not famous enough. Why don’t you rewrite the story? You can have all the royalties. I’d just like to see it published. I can’t speak for all authors, but usually we like to come up with our own ideas. It can be a sticky situations with copyright laws, etc. Not to mention the story that you’re passionate about might not hold that same appeal for someone else.
What you probably meant to say was: I’m in awe of someone who can get their novel published. Good for you!
10. They say everyone has one story in them. Yes, that’s what they do say, and that might very well be true. But you’ve got to ask yourself is it a story anyone else would want to read? Be honest. If it’s an epic tale about your first trip to the farmer’s market or the summer you learned to knit, you probably won’t have a very big readership for that one story of yours.
What you probably meant to say was: Congratulations. Getting published is no easy feat. May all good things come your way.

So there you have it. Ten things not to say to an author, and just in case you find yourself ready to make a faux pas you now know what to say in its place. I hope you had fun reading along.

Have you ever said something to an author you hadn’t intended to? If you’re an author has someone ever said something to you that could have been misunderstood? Perhaps you can think of something you should never say to an author. Please share if you do!

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  1. Gosh, Laura! I hope my foot-in-mouth disease didn’t flare up when I’ve spoken with you or other authors! I can hear myself saying a couple of those things, but in a kind way, not to be mean .. just dumb. ;)
    I’m glad you have a sense of humour. Your view of life is inspiring. Now … if I buy a couple of your books, could I get a discount on a third one? I’m sure I can find someone to give it to. (just kidding)

    • I can’t recall any “foot-in-mouth” flaring up any of the times we spoke, Lynn. I can’t speak or other authors. ;) I’m sure most people who have said these things weren’t being mean, but just wasn’t thinking how it actually sounds. :) It always helps to have a sense of humour. And yes, if you buy a couple of my books, I’d definitely give you a discount on a third. :)

  2. Sue Harrison

     /  June 7, 2014

    Oh Laura, I sat and chuckled all the way through. I had these things said to me and, worse, I’ve said some of them to other authors! Yeesh!! I love your kind meant-to-say comments!! This is probably #11 on your list, but I’ll say it anyway. I AM going to feature Bitter, Sweet on my blog, but not probably for about six months. Anyway! Thank you for a great post!~

    • Glad you had a chuckle, Sue. I may have been guilty of saying a few of these things myself in years past. At any rate, I’m not going to take an oath saying I haven’t. ;)
      Aah, #11 sounds wonderful. Thank you for your generousity. :)

  3. Funny, but true!

    • Thanks, Linda. I’m sure there were plenty ore I could have picked. I’ve heard some pretty funny stories.

  4. Laura, thank goodness I’ve never said that to anyone, and I’d be hard pressed to come up with some of the nifty things you thought “they meant” to say :)

    • The post was fun to write, prompted by some real-life stories. Sometimes we just don’t realize what we’re saying or not saying. One author told me that someone asked him to scratch out the name that was in the book and put hers there instead. She might have been that same “yard sale lady” in #4 who got the sweet deal. Too funny!

  5. Quite a list, Laura. I hope I’ve never insulted anyone unknowingly. I can’t remember asking anyone those questions. Lots of people ask me how my book is doing. I hate to answer that, but I think they expect a positive reply. Marketing is no fun. Writing is fun. Blessings to you, Laura…

    • Carol Ann, I do think people automatically expect to hear authors say that their book is selling thousands of copies simply because it’s been published. Marketing is certainly not all fun and games. It’s hard work that doesn’t always pan out the way we hope. Yet still we keep at it, trying to share our work, and ideas, with as many people as we can.

  6. These are so funny, true, but funny nonetheless. You were kind to provide alternatives. A sense of humour certainly does help when you are an author..

    • Yes, a sense of humour goes a very long way. I love it when authors get together and share stories. There are some really good ones out there. :)

  7. David

     /  June 8, 2014

    String your ten lines, there must be a compliment … somewhere. :)

    • I’m sure I can come up with something complimentary. Honestly, most people don’t realise exactly how their words could be misconstrued. I hope. ;)

  8. Thanks for your thoughts and the “correct” responses. :)

  9. Laura, I love this. A lot of these questions have been asked to me by well-meaning inquirers (“how many books have you sold?” is the one I get the most), and I’m sure I’m guilty of saying these as well. Great post.

    (Also, have you thought of including the Twitter/Facebook sharing buttons at the bottoms of your posts so they’re easier for me to share? I really love this post! :D )


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