Sunday, October 26, 2014

Two Reactions When You Tell Non-Writers You Have a Book Out

The other day, a friend was feeling insecure because of the reaction she got when she told people her book was self-published. It's the same reaction I get when I tell people about my own book, out from a newer medium-sized press. It's the same reaction I've heard directed at Big-Five published authors.

So I realized there are two main reactions anyone gets when they tell non-writers they have a book (or books) out:

Not impressed.
1) They are impressed because I've written and published a book, and the details don't matter.

2) They are not impressed and could never be impressed, because they've never heard of me, my book or my publisher, my genre is wrong, my method of publishing is wrong, my book is published in the wrong format, their cousin got published much younger than I am, there's no movie of my book, their next-door-neighbor has a Pulitzer, National Book Award, Newbery, and Caldecott for a string of New York Times bestsellers, and they are absolutely sure they'd do better if they tried it themselves.

When I get Reaction Number One, my tendency is to downplay what I've done. After all, when you hang out with writers, it seems like everyone writes books! But it's not that way for non-writers, so now I try to just take the compliment. Writing books is hard! I know it. You know it. Everyone I know who writes books knows it. And people who don't write books know it too. It's an accomplishment.

Reaction Number Two is the one that undermines confidence, and no writer is immune because there are always writers who are more successful, or who others perceive as producing books that matter more.

But the reaction that really matters isn't from people at cocktail parties or the line at the post office, but people who actually read my book. If I amuse, touch, provoke, or create a reaction, that's what really matters. I write for readers and myself, not for a conversational starter.

And while I don't know how everyone I meet has a cousin who won a Nobel Prize for Literature at the age of 22, it seems to happen. So I try to take the intent of speaker not as showupmanship, but as a conversational convention, like when you find out somebody is from the same hometown as your college roommate and you are compelled to ask if they know her.

Non-writers are just looking for common ground, same as me -- something to say. And guess what? I'm impressed by their cousin, because it IS an accomplishment, and I love any opening to talk about books, writing, the business of publishing, and people we know in common. Odds are, someone who isn't impressed knows -- or thinks they know -- about books and publishing, and there are a lot of directions that conversation can go. I want interaction, not accolades.

So bring on Reaction Number Two.


  1. Great post! Yesterday I mentioned to my sister-in-law that I had signed with a literary agent. She thought that was great IF I was trying to publish hardcover or paperbacks, but hopes I realize that most readers are into e-books now, which I could just publish on my own. Everyone is an expert!

  2. Great post Kell! Sometime when I tell people that I have a picture book coming out, they say "Oh I have a ton of picture books in my head. One day, I am going to write one down and publish it." If only it were that simple. But I just wish them luck and go on my way.

  3. Haha, so true, Sarah! Everyone who knows a little about publishing thinks they know a lot. It's the people who actually know a lot who don't go around tell you what you "should" do.

  4. Yeah, Reaction #2 sounds like it'd be a hard pill to swallow. But you've a great way of looking at it and spinning it so it's not such a downer! And in regards to Sarah- that stinks! And from family too!

  5. I remember proudly showing a kindergarten teacher a poem I wrote that appeared in High Five magazine. "I could do that, " she said. I thought to myself, yes, you could, and you could join SCBWI and critique groups, and attend workshops at Highlights and write and rewrite and submit, BUT YOU AREN'T DOING THAT, ARE YOU? But I just smiled and said yes, you could!

  6. Interaction, not accolades. Yes! Brilliant!

  7. I love your slant on #2. I do the connect-with-someone-thru-my-shared-experience thing, enough so that I'm trying to cut back! But I've never thought about people's reactions to book announcements like that, and I like it much better than feeling put down. Thanks!

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