Top five reactions when people discover I’M AN AUTHOR.

Recently I’ve made a lot of new friends (in-the-flesh, for a change, and not just online!) and the way they react, on discovering my profession, usually falls into one of five categories, some of which  make me a bit wary of wearing my “I’m a writer” T-shirt.

1  They become starry-eyed. In awe. I blame JK Rowling for this 🙂 People imagine red carpet events and sales in the millions. They start inserting complex words into their conversation (that I don’t understand) and talk of the high-falutin’ literary works they read, as if intimidated. So I thank them, but if pressed further, make it clear I’m nothing special. I’m not curing cancer nor have I discovered a new planet. I’m simply lucky enough to be getting paid for an activity I adore.

2  Almost without exception, they declare that they have always thought of writing a novel. This irritates some authors, but not me – as I’ve said above, I’m not exceptional. If I can do it, why not anyone else? I’m a grafter – had to keep my nose to the grindstone during my four years at university, unlike some friends who could socialise as much as they pleased and just cram at the last minute. It’s been the same with writing – I wrote novel after novel at home, for eight years filled with tears and rejection, before landing my publishing deal. So when people react like this I say go for it! You might surprise yourself. Or, you  might discover it is a lot harder than you imagined.

me writer tshirt

3  Quite often, when people discover my genre – romantic comedy – their awe turns to disdain. And I annoy myself by going on the defensive. I laud Mills & Boon authors who earn more than your average writer could dream of. I explain what a diverse, popular genre it is. I did this recently and received the sneery reply “I’m sure it is”. I imagine, in some circles, actors find this if they tell people they perform in a soap and not on the Shakespearean stage. I’m working on not letting these people press my buttons. Huge skill is required in making prose sound chatty and light. The same prejudice is sometimes shown towards children’s authors. I just have to accept that his is just one small downside to a career I thoroughly enjoy.

4  People say what a difficult job it must be – don’t I ever run out of ideas? I explain my belief that the brain, like any muscle, performs better the more you use it. Before you know it, you automatically take on board inspiration. I used to particularly find this when selling short stories. At the beginning I struggled to write even one. But before my novel deal, I sold 50 in one year. My brain just seemed to adapt to searching out suitable material. What’s more, there are a lot more challenging jobs out there, like nursing or serving burgers and fries all day. So yes, you do require determination and stamina but your passion makes it an easy career to follow.

5  The final reaction – it must be the only job in the world where people feel they have a perfect right to ask how much you earn! Not that this bothers me too much. In fact (just between us) I take a certain pleasure in telling them that most writers never earn enough for it to be their only source of income, and watching their jaws drop! Again, I blame JK Rowling (sorry!) for their misconception that being an author automatically means riches beyond your heart’s desire. If you are lucky, with a decent back catalogue out there, then yes, one day you might earn enough to support a mortgage and family. But don’t count on it. It’s not a profession you enter to become a millionaire.

17 comments

  1. Barbara Lorna Hudson says:

    If it is another author they invariably ask ‘Who publishes you?’
    And I am afraid that is often code for ‘Are you any good at it?’
    I then praise my small independent publisher.
    They then ask who is my agent. I admit that I have no agent.
    ‘Oh, I manage perfectly well without one.’ I reply. untruthfully.

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Yes, there can be a lot of snobism about small independents and self-published authors, these days, both of which are credible. Big and small publishers both have their pros and cons.

  2. Cee Arr says:

    Ugh, genre snobs are the worst. I’m not that into Mills & Boon – but if people can make money that way, then hell, good for them! They’re bringing enjoyment and entertainment to people, after all.

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Exactly. There is a need, out there, for feel-good Happy Ever Afters. I remember one story about a miner who used to read his wife’s M&B because his job was so tough, the books gave him a welcome break 🙂

    • Tracy Burton says:

      I enjoy all kinds of genres and certainly don’t think it’s easier to write something popular (probably the opposite). I feel exactly the same way about scriptwriters who write for the soaps. I’ve been a Corrie fan for nearly 50 years and think their writers are a wonderful, talented bunch who bring pleasure and enjoyment to millions.

  3. carol warham says:

    Great post. I find I’m reluctant to tell people I write. Some are very interested and do ask questions but others seem to look down their nose as though it’s not a proper job or even a proper hobby.

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Funny, isn’t it? If only they knew how hard it really is! I don’t have any hobbies that have ever reduced me to tears! I find it comes in useful as an ice-breaker when meeting new people. Most are lovely and supportive x

  4. Rae says:

    Fun post, Sam. I went to a few events at Aberdeen’s crime fiction festival this weekend and one author on a panel admitted that when someone says ‘I’ve an idea for a story you should write’ it really rubs her up the wrong way. The other three authors on the panel also agreed with her!

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Lol, I can understand why 🙂 I sometimes get “you should write the story of my life”. I think everyone has a story to tell. My first ever novel (firmly under the bed) was so autobiographical. I thank God it never got published! x

  5. Cassie Ryan says:

    OMG! Great blog! I write erotic romance so this TOTALLY resonated with me! You can imagine the reactions I get to telling people THAT! Their eyes either light up or go completely dead with the added judging sneer. Although there have been plenty of people who have surprised me. I’ve had 80 and 90ish year olds with walkers come by and buy every book I have at a signing telling me that as they get older it’s important to “keep the imagination fresh”!!! 🙂 And I’ve had young twenty-somethings turn up their noses and tell me they prefer “inspirationals.” I REALLY ticked one off when I told her mine were very inspirational, just in a different way than she might be used to. 🙂

    Oh well, here’s to all of us who like to talk to invisible people and write our HEA’s!

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Here’s to us, indeed, Cassie and glad it resonated and I am not alone! Yes, I can imagine people’s reactions are a bit challenging for you, sometimes, but love those pensioners wanting to keep their inspiration fresh! Hope I’m like that!

  6. Karin Baine says:

    I’ve just been talking about this very subject with my husband! I worked for years to get my Mills & Boon contract and the snobbish response from some people has come as a bit of a shock. So far I’ve been asked why I don’t write sci fi, serial killers, children’s books etc etc My answer, through gritted teeth, is always ‘Because I enjoy romance. Both reading and writing it.’ I think I’ll get some badges made up to save me repeating it all the time 🙂

    • Sam Tonge says:

      It is a bit of a shock, isn’t it Karin? And yet what a rewarding job we have, creating feel-good stories so that people can escape their challenging lives for a few hours. Sing loud and proud about the Happy Ever Afters! And well done on your deal. A lot of M&B authors are laughing all the way to the bank 🙂

Leave a Reply