How to Talk to a Writer 101


A few weeks back, there was a Twitter meme going around called #thingsnottosaytoawriter. Based on the tweets it produced, I came to two conclusions:

  1. Writers are a cranky, sensitive bunch
  2. Readers, while awesome and well-meaning, sometimes say not-so-awesome things

Since it’s back-to-school season, I thought now would be the perfect time for a little lesson on what you should and definitely should not say to an author. So get out your No. 2 pencils, kids. Class is in session.

DO send an author an email or tweet if you enjoyed one of their books. Don’t worry about bothering us. Don’t worry that the tell-tale ping of our email inbox will interrupt our writing process. (Trust me, we welcome the distraction.) Also, we love getting emails from readers. It’s the nicest feeling in the world. We authors are sad, isolated, sun-deprived people who, like plants, thrive in the warm glow of attention. So feel free to tell a writer you liked their book. It’s really that simple. Tell them you read it, you liked it, what you liked about it, etc. Some writers enjoy hearing how a reader discovered their book. “My librarian recommended it to me,” for instance. Or “I spotted it at the bookstore while on vacation in Colorado and was immediately drawn to it.” I once got, “My 5-year-old grandson liked the colors on the cover so he handed it to me.” Whatever works. Just be honest and sincere. We’ll be the same.

DON’T tell a writer that their latest book is “almost as good as [INSERT ANOTHER AUTHOR’S NAME HERE].” You shouldn’t do this for two reasons. First, the author you’re using as a comparison might be one the author you’re speaking to despises. Maybe it’s personal. More likely it’s because that author thinks the comparison author’s work is dreck. Either way, comparing one writer to another runs the risk of turning a well-meaning compliment into an insult. And adding “almost” does no one any favors. It gives the connotation that the author you’re communicating with isn’t quite up to par. That may be true, but it’s bad form to mention it.

DO feel free to ask questions. How did you get the idea for this book? How long did it take to write? What do you like to read? These are all valid questions, albeit ones that writers get asked repeatedly. Who cares? It’s natural to be curious about the writing process. So ask away.

DON’T tell an author that they need write faster. Yes, you think it’s a compliment. In truth, it makes the author feel antsy and overwhelmed. Most of us are writing as fast as we can. And in some cases, the author might have been recently dropped by their publisher and, at the moment, have no idea when their next book is coming out. It’s best not to add to their stress.

DO follow an author on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. If we like what you have to say, we’ll follow you back. (In case you’re wondering, here are my Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr links.)

DON’T say that the writer’s book would make a great movie. We already know that. We dream about it. In fact, most of us would kill and/or maim to have one of our books turned into a hit movie. Yet we have no control over that. Zero. Zilch. Nada. So it’s wise not to bring it up. Likewise, it’s best not to tell an author you’re friends with that “You have to bring me to the premiere!” or “I want to be an extra in the movie!” I’ve heard this many, many times from friends and family, and each time I hear it, a tiny rage ball forms in my gut. I know they’re just trying to be nice. I know they think they’re being funny and complimentary. Yet all it does is make me realize, for the millionth time, that my book is not being made into a movie. So, please, just don’t go there.

DO ask for advice on how to break into what’s a cold, cruel, cutthroat industry. We’ve been there. We can offer guidance and share our personal journeys to publication. But on the flip side …

DON’T ask for anything more than advice. Especially if you’re a stranger. This means no asking a writer if they’ll read your manuscript. No asking if they can put in a good word to their agent or editor. It’s not that they’re selfish, nasty people who want you to fail. It’s mostly because they’re busy. Their agents are busy. Their editors are busy. They can’t take the time to read something without knowing how much time, effort and revision work was put into it.

DO tell an author that you gave their book a nice review on Amazon, Goodreads, Netgalley, what have you. Seeing positive reader reviews makes a writer feel good. So feel free to let them know you’ve helped spread the word. They’ll thank you for it. Trust me.

And that’s about it. But before I end this lesson, I must reiterate that writers love hearing from readers. And more often than not, what readers have to say is wonderful. You guys are the best. Truly, honestly and sincerely. This whole post is just a modest attempt to make the reader/writer relationship more pleasant. So please, please don’t hesitate to write to your favorite author. They’ll appreciate it. Honest.

Any questions? Feel free to ask them in the comments sections. Until then, class is dismissed!