Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hard Questions - Impossible Answers

Once you've had a book published, a strange thing happens; people assume you know the secret handshake/password/12-step program to getting a book published and further assume that you can explain it in 50 words or less. Now, asking an author "how do I get a book published" is pretty much like asking a pastor "how was Christianity invented." I mean, sure, there's the short answer:

Christianity comes from Christ. Yeah, well, there's sorta a lot missing in that explanation, so I'm kinda thinking it would work as well as:

Write a book worth publishing.

But then what is the answer? And the problem with that is what is the real question? Sometimes what you think people want to know is not really what they want to know. Take this story for instance:

When I was working at my previous job, I was out-of-town for a week doing a software conversion at one of my properties. After work one evening, I walked over to the restuarant next to the hotel and sat down for some supper and some editing on a friend's manuscript that was due to her editor soon. I was a few pages in when a waitress stopped and asked if I was a teacher. I told her I was a writer and this is how the conversation went from there:

Waitress: Is that your book?
Me: No, it's a friend’s.
Waitress: So how do you get a book published?

Well, hell, we could stop right there. The restaurant didn't have enough food (and definitely not enough drinks) for me to stay and answer that one. But I'm always one to encourage people if they want to try something, so I give it a whirl:

Me: Well, what are you writing?
Waitress: It's a story about a family.
Me: Romance, Women's fiction, Family Saga - what genre?
Waitress: What's genre?
Me: The kind of book.
Waitress: It's a story about a family.

(okay, time for a different line of questioning)

Me: You need to find a local writer's group. That's the best way to learn about the industry.
Waitress: Okay. Do I look in the Yellow Pages?
Me: No, you need to look online.
Waitress: On what line?
Me: On the internet. Do you know someone with a computer?

So we proceed to struggle through five more minutes of completely unenlightening conversation before the waitress finally hits me with the one question that had apparently been burning this entire time:

Waitress: "What I really want to know is how many pages she has, because I only have fifteen?"


So anyone got a good answer for this? I mean how do I condense years of mentoring, reading, studying and gossiping into a ten-minute answer for these people. I'd love to help, but I simply don't know where to start.

Deadly DeLeon


Terri Osburn said...

Since I'm not published, I only get the question, "Have you published a book yet?" I'm learning to hate that question.

I'd recommend to answer the "How?" question with, "It's really hard." I realize that might across as discouraging but for me, honesty is always the best policy. :)

Jana DeLeon said...

terrio - you may have a point. I'm just afraid people will take that as you don't want the competition, b/c you know people who don't know anything about technique/industry always think they've written the latest J.K. Rowling hit. :)

I still get the have you published yet and most people look surprised when I say yes. Your day is coming - and it's really nice to see that look on their face. :)

Keri Ford said...

I got this once. It was from a good friend of the family and she really wanted the help--had already written a full book. I got her email and passed her several links to get her started. She knew her genre, so that helped.

Every now and then, I'll get asked "where are you with your writing? Any news lately?" There's almost this tone of, "it'll never happen".

I always want to scream back: I've only been after this for freaking 3years! Do you take that same tone with a college student going after a 4year degree??

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad I sort of already knew people who wrote and knew it wasn't easy when I first started writing myself. I also had more sense than to ask a lot of stupid questions. I cleverly found an online writing group and did a lot of reading before I asked questions. :)

Gemma Halliday said...

The one I get all the time is, “I have a really great story for a book. I’ll give you the idea for free, then split the profit with you when it’s published.”

Yeah, because coming up with ideas is the hard part.


Jana DeLeon said...

Keri - tell them that the average time from seriously pursuing publication to sale is 8 years. That should put them off for at least another five. :)

Jana DeLeon said...

Tori - and that is exactly what people who are serious about the business do. I mean, c'mon, Google knows everything! If you can't find information on the internet, then you really don't need to write a book, you need to get a clue. :)

Jana DeLeon said...

Oh, God, Gemma - you too!!!!! I am always saying "I have an entire file cabinet of ideas - what I don't have is time. Tell you what, if you clean my house, cook for me and do my laundry, then maybe we could work on your idea."

Christie Craig said...


As a writer, we do get those questions. Years ago when I first started writing, lived in California, I was also waitressing--remember I'm short and back then I was thin--people would ask me, "So what do you do beside waitress?"
"I'm a writer," I would say.

I can't tell you how many people would come back with, "Oh really, so have you ever won a race?"

For some reason they just thought I was a rider of horses.

Probably my southern accent didn't help.


catslady said...

I guess you need to ask how many pages they've written first lol I'm glad I never wanted to actually write a book - I'm quite happy reading them after you guys have done all the hard work :)

Jana DeLeon said...

LOL Christie - When I was a kid, I wanted to be a jockey. Of course, I'm 5'8", so that kinda went out the window. But too funny that they thought of Rider and not Writer.

Jana DeLeon said...

catslady - very smart of you. You know no idea how many days I think about all the books I used to have time to read before I started writing them. I am very jealous!