Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hey, I Hear You Wrote a Book

by Mike Knowles

There are downsides about writing a book. Now I know that when I say this I’m going to get the same kind of looks I would get if I told you that to a teacher there were downsides to getting the summer off. Doesn’t matter if it sounds like I’m whining about my Ferrari being a gas guzzler, there are downsides to writing a book.

The first thing, and this may be only me, is it sounds incredibly lame to explain a crime novel to your friends and peers.

"Hey, I hear you wrote a book."


"What’s it about?"

"A career criminal who suffers a double cross and then has to murder several people to stay alive."

"Oh, like that Schwartzenegger movie."

"Yep, just like that. I saw that one too and thought the concept needed flushing out on the page."

"I like that Stallone movie. The one in the jungle. You ever seen that?"

"I have. In fact, that’s my next book."

I’ve yet to find a way to explain what I’ve written in a short amount of time and make it sound cool. Every time I try it just sounds like I'm explaining the rules of Dungeons and Dragons to the hottest girl in school.

The second thing is the book sales itself. For both books, most people somehow get it into their head that I work for Avon.

"Hey, I hear you wrote a book."


"Neat, I’ll take one."


There is a long awkward pause here. The pause lasts for as long as it takes me to understand that the blank stare on the face of whomever I am talking to is the face of someone who is waiting for their order. It is the same look a person has on their face while they are waiting to pick up a pizza.

"I don’t have any books."

"You don’t? Where can I get one?"


"So it’s like a real book then?"


"What’s it about?"

And we’re back to the beginning. About four out of ten believe that I self publish the books and sell them out of my trunk. This is completely rational because a lot of people know others who have done this. This leads to my next downside.

There are a bunch of people out there who know other people who have written a book or have written something themselves that ended up in print.

"Hey, I hear you wrote a book."


"I have a cousin who wrote a book about plant life in the greater Niagara region. Joe Francisco, do you know him?"

"Yep, I saw him on the weekend at the writer’s meeting. It’s like the Freemasons. I’m new to writing so it was your cousin who presided over my initiation. My butt is still sore."

The answer doesn’t usually faze anyone; they’re too psyched to tell me about their cousin the author. "My cousin is a great guy, he couldn’t find anyone to publish his book so he invested in a laser printer and made his own. Do you have a laser printer?"


"What’s your book about?"

And we’re back to the beginning. This conversation could have gone a couple of other ways too too. I’ve met people who have had recipes printed in work cookbooks, poems in class yearbooks, and opinions in the newspaper that can't wait to spend an hour or two talking about how hard it is to get published.

The last downside I can think of is the readings. I’m from a relatively small city and I write in a relatively underappreciated genre. So when the local author is reading from his new hardboiled crime novel the turn outs are embarrassing. At one event there were two people in a room that seated thirty waiting to hear me read and one of them got up and left after the first three sentences. I have decided to believe that the lady who got up and left thought a hardboiled story was about eggs and figured out she was in the wrong place after I dropped my first F word.

"Hey, I hear you wrote a book."


"What is this reading thing I saw in the paper?"

"I'm going to read my book at the library."

"How much does it cost?"

"It's free. You should come."

"What do you do there?"

"I'm going to read my book and answer some questions."

"You're just going to sit there an read, hunh?"


"How long will it take."

"Half hour."

"Half and hour of you reading a book? I don't know. I might be bored, I already saw that Schwarzenegger movie on cable. I'll come if I can."

They don't, but the next day they will pretend they did because they don't know there were only two people there (I count the lady who left because she showed up and that should still count).

I love writing. I practically do it for free. The downsides are just things I have found I have had to deal with every time my name ends up on a cover. It will happen next year when my third book comes out and I will still be at the empty readings, explaining why I don’t have any books to sell, and trying to explain what my book is about without sounding douchey. I'll do it all and I won't really mind any of the downsides because being a writer is totally worth it.


Jay Stringer said...

I know what you mean, but for me its from the unpublished-as-yet side of things.

People get all excited at the prospect that they have someone who's written a book, but then i totally fail at explaining to them the complex cold war level political machinations of having an agent who submits the book to publishers.

The other thing is that they all then regard me with a strange look, like i'm clearly some kind of high level boffin and quite likely to build computers in my spare time. If i try and tell them that it doesn't take a super genius to write a book, just lots of time and hard work, they just assume i'm being modest. And hell, i'm happy enough with that.

There is occasionally the other kind of responce, the one Dave has written about on here before, where people feel the need to explain at great length how their unwritten masterpiece is probably a better book than the one you've completed.

That's all me just picking fun bits though. Where i REALLY SUCK is in explaining my work to people, just as you've said.

At work, at parties, amongst friends, on the bus, doesn't matter.

"You've written a book?"


"Wow! Whats it about, like?"

"Um, crime, really."

"Like true crime? I like those."

"No, i make stuff up. I do put some real stuff in too."

And they shuffle away, totally unengaged and not likely to rush out and buy it.

I suck at the sell. I'm not a salesman, i'm a writer.

Evil Ray said...

I just read a lot, so I get this:

"Good book?"

"Mmm-hmm." <turn page>

"What's it about?"

"It's a trenchant exploration of the human condition." <turn page>

And then I can read uninterrupted...

Mike Dennis said...

Mike, I'm shocked! You mean to say that no one asks you, "Where do you get your ideas?"

Dave White said...

I'm amazed that it's the same everywhere. I meant, I get this all the time too. Also, I always get "Do you need any ideas for books?"

"Nope, I have lots of ideas."

Person walks away silently.

Jay Stringer said...

Actually had one of your conversations today.

"You wrote a book, right?"
"So, have you, you know, designed the covers and stuff?"