Wednesday, December 7, 2011

6 Questions NOT to Ask a Writer

Originally posted on December 8, 2010 and the author's most commented-upon post to date!

People mean well. They do. But I believe there are certain questions you should never ask a writer - or never ask many of us.

1. Are you still writing that novel?
A 'no' answer will elicit more questions - like "When is it being published?" or even worse, "Why?". A 'yes' answer will usually result in the questioner giving you a puzzled look while they respond (with astonishment) "Really? Still?"

Of course, you could be marvelously successful and have no problem answering this question. If this is true, you need to go soak your head.

2. Are you famous?
Obviously, since you've just been asked this question, the answer is no. How on earth could anyone answer yes?

3. How much money do you make?
This question never ceases to astound me. I thought it was impolite to ask about someone else's earnings. What kind of answer would satisfy the questioner? My usual response is to smile and say, "the yacht is still on hold."

4. What's your book about?
Here's a loaded question. Some writers will take this as an invitation to go on for hours while others will say "I'm not sure yet." Some will give the genre as an answer: "It's a murder mystery" or "It's about looking for love". I've never found the right answer to this.

5. Am I in it?
The obvious answer is "no". Are you going to tell someone you've based a character on them? Unless this character is flawless and enjoys superpowers, they're going to be disappointed. I try to explain that I invent my characters - they're not based on anyone I know.

And (in my opinion) the worst question:

6. But what do you really do?
The best answer I've ever given to this question is, "I kill people (and then add softly) fictionally, of course." It's best given at a dinner table, as you're putting down a plate full of food. It does give the questioner pause. Of course, remember, I write mysteries. You have to find joy somewhere.

Do you get questions that make you squirm?

Elspeth Antonelli is an author and playwright. Her twelve murder mystery games and two plays are available through She has also contributed articles to the European writers' magazine Elias. Her blog, It's A Mystery, explores the writing process with a touch of humor. She is on Twitter as @elspethwrites.
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  1. This is hilarious. I might also add - So, do you know Stephen King/J.K Rowling?


  2. The answer to #4 is probably the same as your "elevator pitch" to an agent or publisher, so answering that question shouldn't be a problem.

    Then you say, "How many copies do you think you'll be buying when the book is published?" and hand the person your business card.

  3. I always get, "Have I heard of you?"

    Second most asked: "Have I read any of your books?"

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  4. I'm thrilled if anyone asks me anything, so, I'll pretend you did and here's my answers:
    1. At the moment? No.
    2. Depends on who is asking.
    3. Zero ... I think it's against the law to make money.
    4. 400 pages
    5. As little as possible

  5. Bonnie; Because WE ALL DO.

    Becky; What a marvelous retort! I shall file that away...

    Terry; LOL! It's like a hug.

    term papers; Thank you.

    Christopher; Good for you having answers ready!

  6. "Have I heard of you?" seems particularly stupid. I would have a hard time not responding, "I don't know, have you?" You don't even know if you've heard of someone and they're talking to you?

    The only question I don't think is a problem is #4; if you're writing abook you should be prepared for how to tell someone what it's about. One line pitch and a longer version.

  7. Some people have learnt not to ask me question number 6 (or variations). I say I torture people for a living.

  8. Those questions sound awfully familiar!

    Morgan Mandel

  9. Not much makes me squirm to much anymore. I prefer to make the questioner squirm with uncanny, off-the-wall, abstract answers. If their brave enough to ask a second question, it only gets better!

  10. About two months after I told my mother I was going to write a novel she asked if it was done, and when she would see it on the shelves at the book store. She quickly gave up asking--she may even think I'm only an editor now!

  11. Love this post! Some questions I get often are:

    --So, are you, like, published? (published or not, still don't have an appropriately snarky answer to this)
    --Have I read anything you've written ("um, I dunno, have you?")

    And my favorite...
    --Where do you get your ideas? (to which I respond: "if I told you, I'd have to kill you")

  12. I hate when I give a friend something of mine to read (sometimes a published piece) and the first question is, "How long did it take you to write this?"

    So, do they want to know how much time I WASTED because it's that bad? Or do they hate it so much that's all they can think of to say?

  13. The one I hate is: "Can I have a copy of your book?" I always feel tempted to say, "But you won't get it. It's too complicated for you."

  14. Terry's reply echoes mine: "Have I read anything you've written." Grrr. How would *I* know? Or care.

    People don't realize how rude these questions are. Much better to ask, What's the name of your book and where can I buy it?" ;-)

  15. P.S. I should have said, "My comment echoes Terry's!"

  16. Yep, all irritating questions to have to deal with as an author. It's funny how anyone in a creative art gets nothing but flak from the people they know up until they finally are famous. Then, when you're famous, the flak continues, but the questions are, "Can I have some money? Can I get a free copy early? etc"

  17. My answer to everything is, I'm a stay at home housewife and let them bash on that. Then my writing is kept out of it.

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  19. Hello. A decent answer about personal earnings. Question is very personal, but decent. Super)

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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