Well-Meaning, But Annoying

Throughout your life people say things that are well meaning. When you're dating it's: when are you two getting married?; once you're married it's: when are you going to start a family? There's not a woman on earth who hasn't had to field one of these well-meaning, but annoying questions that seem designed to pressure you through every major life event. 

Once you get past that early phase of life it quiets down a bit, unless you're an author. For the author, there is an endless supply of irritating questions, seemingly designed to set your teeth on edge. Think of all those times you're asked: When is your next book coming out? or Are you writing another book? 

Why do they ask these frustrating questions? Are they trying to drive us crazy? 

Sometimes. But sometimes its how they show interest, and caring. Unfortunately, these questions are about as welcome as nails on a blackboard, because unless the answer is: Yes, my next book is coming out tomorrow, it puts the burden of success right, squarely on our shoulders. 

The general public doesn't understand the enormous and time consuming amount of work involved in taking the written word and turning it into a polished and proofed book. The pressure the author feels to make this happen as quickly as possible is intense. And questions like, "when IS your next book coming out?" can feel more like "Is there really a next book coming out?" Okay, maybe that has more to do with my own paranoia than the true intention - but who hasn't fielded this question without a boatload of mixed emotions? 

I know people feel as though they have to say something. But couldn't they try: I enjoyed your first book so much, I just can't wait for the next one? Actually, on occasion I do hear that - and it always makes my day! 

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  • I'm glad when people ask me about my writing!  It shows interest -- even if they're just being polite.  For me, the "difficult" question is "When is your book going to be published?"  I now answer honestly:  "I'm close to finishing it, but it's been an emotional book to write and has taken me far longer than I ever anticipated.  It's about --" and I move the conversation onto my topic, not the writing process, which is a more interesting conversation!

    Kelly Hayes-Raitt

    Mosey on over to my web site and sign in for your free gift -- an mp3 of me reading my book's first chapter about a beggar in Iraq! ...And a pre-publication discount!
    Columnist, The Argonaut
  • Jan M. Flynn

    Robin, I like your approach, and will cheerfully steal it :-)

  • I feel in good company now! Before my first book I didn't have the opportunity to meet many authors. Maybe I would have been the biggest dolt then. Now that I have experienced the landmines first hand, my approach to any writer is almost always "tell me about what you write." They can tell me if they've been published or are dreaming of being published. They can tell me about their passion. I'm interested. I think what we all want is their interest - and that's like hanging artwork on the wall. I am not hurt if they don't appreciate my genre - genres are a personal thing. And if I find the person who is enthralled by my art/style/humor, etc. - score! It doesn't have to be so hard. I have inadvertently mentored a few aspiring writers - and I always ask them "tell about what you write." They know I care and that's a thrill for me. I guess it all boils down to respect - and if you're a writer - I respect you whether or not you've been published - as long as you have passion.

  • Jan M. Flynn

    I feel ya, but it's important to remember that what we do as writers demands a big investment of time, energy, and emotion from our audience. Wouldn't it be nice if we could just hang our novel on a wall for people to take in and admire in the space of a few minutes, or drape our handmade memoir across our sofa? Alas, our art demands precious hours from our readers. Besides the well-meaning ignorance behind questions such as "Have you been published?" (ouch!), I suspect there may be a bit of unconscious self-protection going on. Personally, I'm continually frustrated by the "so many books, so little time" dynamic, and I'm a writer. So, I kinda understand where these folks are coming from. Unless they immediately start talking about a MUCH better book they just read; then they can go pound sand.

  • RYCJ Revising

    "But couldn't they try: I enjoyed your first book so much..." ---great one! It's so great that it gave me an idea the next time I get asked one of the 'other' questions. I'm now curious to see the expression, or more like hear the answer to, "So, how did you like my other books I wrote? Did you even read one, yet?" ---Oh, I'm crying laughing now... and not to worry, I wouldn't ask with a chip on my shoulder. My voice is kind of soft anyway, but the point would be no less made. Thanks for this post! Good one!

  • Mardith Louisell

    There are many other questions that are difficult, even annoying.  "Have you been published?" takes the cake as the worst. It's horrible if you haven't been published, slightly less if you have been in a small lit. journal, and it goes on. And what if you self-published? Then there's this situation (see Patricia's comment below): a few nights ago, a couple visited and saw index cards laid out on a card table in my living room. "What's this?" I explained what it was with my most gracious charming smile. They didn't ask anything more - not "Can I read something of yours?" or "Where can I read something?" or "What's your book about?" or . . . .  Another difficult one as  you're trying to find a publisher or an agent for your book: "When's your book coming out?" Oh, there are so many pitfalls.

  • Patricia Robertson

    I'm just happy that they are interested enough to ask. :)