Top Ten MORE Things NOT To Say To A Writer: A Handy Safety Guide

- by Laura Resnick

10. “Do those [insert dismissive adjective here] books that you churn out sell well?”
If someone isn’t deeply invested in her writing, then there are many much easier ways to make a living than writing books, which is insanely competitive, disastrously unstable, and skull-crushingly difficult to do. So try not to slap a writer in the face with this sort of comment, which we hear more often than you would believe.

9. “How long does it take to write a book?”
This is a lot like asking how long it takes to have sex. I mean… it all depends, doesn’t it?

“How long it takes to write a book” varies tremendously, based on the specific writer in question and on the specific book in question. So it can take two weeks or two decades. There is no one-size-fits-all answer.

8. “Do you get to choose your own book covers?”
Pardon my weary sigh of resignation.

Most writers have little or no say in how their books are packaged, and any writer who’s been working for a while has probably had at least one dog of a cover that killed her sales figures and/or embarrassed her.

For more informaton on this subject, see “A Book By Its Cover” on my website.

7. “I’m self-published.”
Self-publishing is a genuinely terrific hobby or personal project (ex. family memoirs). What it is not, however, is a professional sale or professional publication.

More than 99% of aspiring writers who self-publish in the mistaken belief that it’s a career path never have anything more to show for it than an empty bank account and a garage full of books.

So don’t say this to a writer, because it’s hard for us to think of anything positive to say in response

6. “What do you think of electronic publishing?
Mostly, I think the subject makes my head hurt.

E-publishing will become increasingly important in the industry; but not while e-readers are still so costly, there are various non-compatible e-formats, distribution continues to be the Wild West, and publishers offer outrageously low royalty rates for e-rights. (Are you sorry yet that you asked?)

5. “What is ‘the Google Settlement?’”
Aaaaaaaggggggh! You just had to ask, didn’t you?

Writers have all been made part of a controversial class-action legal settlement arising out of Google Books’ extensive program of copyright violation. There are so far about 5,000 pages of migraine-inducing documentation explaining the complicated terms of the settlement in prose whose clarity rivals that of swamp sludge.

4. “I bought your book at the second-hand bookstore.”

Writers only earn income from new/retail sales, not from used-book sales. And not earning income makes it hard for us to eat–and we really like to eat. So we encourage you to buy our books from new/retail venues if you want to read them, not used/second-hand. Personally, I also encourage my readers to check out my books via their local library system.

(However, if a book of mine is no longer available in new/retail venues, and can only be purchased second-hand, then, by all means, buy it used. In addition to eating, I like to be read.)

3. “Will any of your books be made into a movie?”
This is not a decision made by writers, it’s made by movie producers—i.e. the people who brought you Porky’s, Gigli, and Armageddon. So, realistically, the chances are always very remote.

However, if a writer has a movie deal, you won’t need to ask this question—nor will you be able to get a word in edgewise.

2. “You must be rich. I just spent $7.99 on your book!”
Not really.

Writers only get a tiny percentage of the cover price (ex. 8%), and we only get it about two years after you buy the book, and we only get it then if (a) the book has earned-out its advance payment (most books don’t), and (b) the publisher is maintaining accurate accounts (which is not universally the case).

1. “As long as my story’s really good, an editor will be happy to correct my shaky punctuation and grammar, right?”

Reality check: If someone’s going to pay you to write, the very least they expect is that your written language skills will be immaculate.

(Unless, of course, you’re a politician, a politician’s former lover, a rock star, a movie star, a supermodel, a billionaire’s widow, etc., etc. In which case, you don’t even need to be able to scratch your name in the dirt with a stick to get a multi-million dollar book deal. But I digress.)


  1. As always, your articles and blogs are GREAT! If I were an author who was “stunned” with Item 5 (the Google settlement), I would be tempted to tell the offending person “Why don’t you GOOGLE that answer?”

  2. I believe that to Google an answer to “What’s the Google settlement?” you need about 1 GB of RAM or your operating system will collapse under the weight of the legalese.

  3. What a great list. I particularly loved your answer to how long does it take to write a book and your response to *churn out* (sigh)

  4. But, of course, answers like these only come to me as I’m lying in bed at 3AM thinking about what I SHOULD have said.


  5. Just wondering about #4 – if you encourage people reading your books at the library, why do you mind them buying your books at a used book store?