#ContactForm1 { display: none ! important; }

Sunday, November 9, 2014

How *NOT* To Support An Author

This is an open letter to the non-writers out there. To the spouses, significant others, boyfriends, girlfriends, best friends, just friends, brothers, sisters, children, parents, grand-parents, co-workers, fellow students, and neighbors of writers. Have a seat.

So, someone in your life has told you they want to becoming an ink-slinging pen monkey and you have concerns. It's possible you saw this coming. The writer in your life probably has more books than a quote unquote Normal person. Sometimes they reference an obscure piece of literature like Hamlet, Harry Potter, or 1984. They probably have a better vocabulary than anyone you've met outside the teaching profession. You're concerned because you want them to have a healthy future that doesn't involve starving for their art or dying of hypothermia while penning The Great American novel in the frozen tundra of Alaska.

Let me take this opportunity to quiet your fears.

Writing is a noble profession. People do make a living off writing, although it's more common for someone to write as a side job while maintaining another area of income. Alcoholism, insanity, and addictions of any kind are not a required part of the job. Go ahead and take a deep breath. Sigh with relief. Your loved one is not waltzing down a path of self-destruction.

The most important thing to remember when supporting a writer you know personally is to not give them a negative gift. Sometimes an author needs a realist to throw the brakes on, but 90% of the time that realist will be a fellow writer. Your author will have a critique partner, editor, or agent to tell them when a plot sucks, when they're losing their mind over something silly, or to tell them they've abused the word "just" in their manuscript.

Here's a short list of what NOT to say to the writer in your life...

"How much money did you make?"
One, this is terribly rude. Two, the answer for a new author is going to be "none" to "not a lot". Three, writing is a apprenticeship based business model where, like art and fashion, the work is done and then people decide if they want to pay for your efforts.

"It's not real work."
Writing requires the same level of work as any office-based business. There's planning time, computer work, market research, advertising, expenses, and everything else you would find in a normal office environment. There's even excel sheets.

"Fiction writing is lying for money."
Well, yes, but so is politics, news media writing, acting, and all advertising. Working in a field where lies sell doesn't make an author inherently dishonest.

"Isn't hearing voices in your head a sign of multiple personality disorder?"
Dissociative Identity Disorder is a serious mental illness. It is possible for someone with a mental illness to be an author, but writing is not a symptom of being mentally ill. You should read up in mental illnesses before casually throwing the names around.

"But, how can you write a character who isn't like you? That's weird."
The ability to understand a situation from the point of view of another person is called Empathy. Most people begin developing this skill around age two and have it fully developed by age twelve, even if they don't know how to respond or react appropriately to other people's emotions.

"You'll never get published."
Every single published author has heard this before and we like to laugh about people who say this. Publishing is easy. Like three-clicks-and-done easy. The advent of self-publishing has changed the game. Writing a good book isn't easier, but publishing can be anyone's for a few minutes of work.

"Your book will never sell."
That's possible. Although, as a friend/family member/acquaintance of an author you can make sure at least one copy sells. Your relationship with the author in your life is worth the $10 or less it'll take to buy their work.

"If writing is so hard, quit."
This is probably only a phrase you'll think of if the writer is writing near you. When you see them crying over NaNoWriMo word counts or threatening to set the manuscript on fire because the plot sucks, well, it's easy to suggest they just give up. Trust me, the writer is probably tempted to give up. But quitting writing is like asking a concert pianist to give up playing because they are having trouble playing a certain passage of music. Or suggesting NASA close because a rocket failed to launch. Hard work and failure are part of any successful endeavor. Pat the writer on the back and tell them it'll work out in the end.

"Somebody already wrote a book like that."
True, but unhelpful. There are only twenty-five real plots in the world and they've all been done a few million times. What makes each book unique is the author telling the story. Everyone gives the old plot their own spin.

"I told you the book sucked." 
... especially when the first rejection letter or one-star review arrives. If this is something you would say to the writer in your life, you're a horrible person. The job of telling an author their book sucks belongs to their crit partner, because the crit partner is required to offer suggestions to improve the book. Your job is to be supportive. If you can't, keep your mouth shut and walk away.

Supportive non-writer friends are worth their weight in gold. Possibly they're worth even more than that. Unsupportive friends and family members kill dreams and destroy books. Don't be that person.

*NOTE* This post is not directed at anyone or a result of personal conversations with the author. But authors talk. Some people have horror stories. I've borrowed from those horror stories for this post. 


  1. I have a few lightly supportive non-writer friends now that I have books that are published, even selling, but how I wish I'd had a few when I'd just started. The best I managed then was one or two not actually actively hostile. It was sad.

    1. I didn't bother telling anyone I wrote until my first short story was published. My immediate family (kids and husband) knew I was writing and querying my novellas, but I didn't tell my parents or siblings until after publication. I don't know if any of them have read my work. I think they want to, but none of them are e-reader fans and the print editions don't come out until next year.

      Still, I find my best supporters are the ones already active in the publishing community. Fellow authors, wonderful reviewers, and avid readers make up the bulk of my emotional support team. A good crit partner (or ten) can often be the difference between quitting in despair and publishing a good book.