How to Converse with a Writer

Writers are tough people, we are used to rejection and stonewalling from editors, agents and the like. We do not take criticism personally because we know it is only a particular submission that is not up to scratch or does not fit the publication, not the writer herself.

But when it comes to conversing one-to-one with strangers outside of the writing industry we become defensive and touchy about our work. This is especially true of the many thousands of us yet to hit the big time. So, non-writers, when you are introduced to Fred, a writer, at a party, please observe the following rules otherwise he may run away screaming:

  1. Do not say to Fred, ‘Have you written anything I will have heard of?’ Unless you are speaking to J.K. Rowling or E.L. James, the answer will be no. If you are speaking to J.K. Rowling or E.L. James, they will have been introduced as such. It’s far better to ask Fred, ‘What type of thing do you write?’
  2.  If Fred says, ‘I write short stories’, do not dismiss that as ‘not proper writing’. The craft of bringing life to character and plot in a very short word count is difficult. Even more so when writing to the guidelines and themes of specific publications or competitions. Show admiration for the fact that Fred knows how to make every word earn its place.
  3. Do not ask Fred how many books he has sold or why you’ve never seen his books on the display tables in Waterstones. Most writers are not big sellers. Think about the millions of books available on Amazon – it’s impossible for us all to be in the top ten. It’s impossible for every book shop to stock us all. Low sales do not equate to a bad book. Low sales may just be symptomatic of a low marketing budget.
  4. If Fred says he is self-published, do not lose interest. In the past, self-publishing may have been tainted by amateurish books, now this has mostly changed for the better. Self-published authors are power houses of industry. They write, they seek constructive criticism of their manuscript, they use professional editors and proof readers, they learn to format a book, they take on the task of publicity and marketing AND they get on with the task of writing the next book. If Fred says he is self-published ask for his card and make a point of ‘looking inside’ his book on Amazon. It might tempt you to buy.
  5. Don’t tell Fred you’ve written a great a book and ask him to read the manuscript and give an opinion on it. Most writers won’t have time. They will either have a ‘day’ job or several writing-related irons in the fire in order to make a living. Writing on its own rarely pays a living wage. Instead say, ‘Fred, I value your opinion. How much would you charge to read my manuscript?’
  6. DO say, ‘Wow! A real life writer. Let me jot down the title of your book. I’ll give it a try. If I like it I’ll write a review and tell my friends.’ Then keep your word – you’ll make a hardworking writer very happy.
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  1. #1 by lynnforthauthor on November 12, 2018 - 10:50 am

    Sooooo true, Sally. And so pithily put (as befits an excellent short …and long… story writer)

    • #2 by Sally Jenkins on November 12, 2018 - 4:10 pm

      Thank you, Lynn – glad you can empathise with it!

  2. #3 by Alyson Faye on November 12, 2018 - 3:33 pm

    funny and so true Sally- have been there in those conversations which are cul de sacs- made me smile albeit ruefully

    • #4 by Sally Jenkins on November 12, 2018 - 4:12 pm

      Glad it made you smile, Alyson and thanks for the reblog.

  3. #5 by Alyson Faye on November 12, 2018 - 3:34 pm

    Reblogged this on alysonfayewordpress and commented:
    A funny but truthful blog post from writer Sally Jenkins on the inside track of what it’s like when you tell people you’re a writer and how it goes down thereafter-

  4. #6 by juliathorley on November 14, 2018 - 9:03 am

    You should see the look you get when you tell people you write non-fiction. I had one person tilt his head to one side and say ‘Oh, well.’

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