Claire King


10 Things People Say to Published Authors

Posted on: March 8th, 2013 by Claire - 35 Comments

Two years ago I wrote the post – 10 Things Children Don’t Say to Writers – where I talked about confidence, and other people’s reactions when you say you’re a writer. It proved to be one of the most popular blog posts on this site.

Mummy is Writing

We can only see the back of your head.

At that time, March 2011, I was newly signed up to Bloomsbury, but The Night Rainbow‘s publication was still two years away.

This last month I have, at last, been enjoying celebrating publication, including launch parties, signings and a lot of chatting to a lot of people, mostly about being a writer. And things have changed. People say different things to me now that I have an actual book available to buy and read.

Broadly, they seem to fall into three categories:


Things people say that make me feel proud and happy. E.g.

1) I’m so impressed.

2) What a great achievement.

3) You’ve inspired me to get back into my own writing.

Hearing this is like the clouds clearing and the sun shining right onto my little patch of Earth. When you’re an unpublished writer, you don’t get enough of this food for the soul. The struggle is the thing, and it can be a lonely one.


Things people say that make me want to run away and hide. E.g. 

4) When is the film coming out?

5) When is the next book coming out?

6) Have you stopped work altogether now?

There’s nothing really wrong with the questions in this category. They are well-meant and show enthusiasm and a high expectation of success. So I tried to work out why I feel agitated with them rather than flattered. I think it’s that I worry I feel the bar marked ‘Success’ is being set too high and that in the end I am going to disappoint people after all.

Signing a book

Chatting at a book signing

And most notably, a *lot* more questions about my writing. E.g.

7) Have you always wanted to write?

8) Who are your favourite authors? (Note – if you ever put me on the spot with this question, be warned that I’ll expect you to reciprocate with your own list!)

9) What inspired your novel?

10) What else are you writing?

They are the kind of questions that often don’t get asked to unpublished writers. Which interests me because it’s not the same for other artistic pursuits. If someone says they are a painter or a sculptor, even on an amateur level, people seem interested and feel free to ask about it. Why is that?

It’s as if, for some, I have passed through a kind of fine, mysterious membrane that separates writers who are interesting (or approachable?) from writers who are not. But I think that membrane only exists if you believe it does. So I suggest next time you meet someone who says they are a writer, why not take the time and ask them about themselves and their writing? You could be surprised what you find out.


Meanwhile, for those who read the 2011 post, what are my children now saying about my writing?

– My mummy wrote that book!

– You’re in a book shop / newspaper / magazine! That’s so cool!

– I’m so proud of you, Mummy. 

…And, after they have spotted the book in the umpteenth bookshop I take them into ‘just to check’…

– Please can we choose a book now?


Child's drawing

A child’s eye view of a book launch party

35 Responses

  1. Love this!

    I spent a decade fielding questions like ‘who’s your publisher?’

    Answer ‘My last three novels have been turned down by everyone.’

    Pitying look from questioner who adds, ‘Well JK Rowling was turned down by everyone.’

    *Tears hair out*

    So good to finally be published, isn’t it…

    • claire says:

      It is wonderful, and I plan to be very interested in all unpublished writers and not ask them questions like that!

    • It’s SO encouraging *sighs with some relief* to remember that all unpublished authors have those questions. My favourite one is ‘Are you STILL writing that book, will it get published?’ And of course the rejection discussion is, as you say, always followed by the JKR quote, delivered with awkward and non comprehending sympathy!!

  2. Cornflower says:

    You’ve gone through ‘the gate’, Claire, and crucially ‘gatekeepers’ (i.e. an agent and a publisher) have invited you to do so. You’re on the other side, and that’s not to say that others still on this side, as it were, are not interesting, but you’ve been chosen and ushered through and thus set apart.
    I think your point about painters and sculptors is a good one, and I’d suggest the difference is because the ‘gate’ for them is perhaps much less clearly defined – their work can be exhibited and even bought through various channels, even if they do still see themselves as amateurs, whereas for writers (self-publishing apart) that unpublished/published distinction is a big one.

    • Claire says:

      That’s a really interesting point. It really is quite a strange feeling to be the same person but in a new ‘place’ where things are different. I’d be interested to know from people who self-published how people’s reactions to them have changed.

    • Pete says:

      I’d agree with that.
      In most art forms, certainly in photography, there is a distinction between being a full time professional and anything else in terms of being perceived by the public as a ‘photographer’ (often irrespective of quality of work or earnings!).
      In writing, publication of a full length novel seems to equated with being a ‘writer’ to the extent that lots of people who earn a living with words e.g. journalists, copywriters still feel the urge to write a novel in order to be ‘recognised’. It is a real quirk.
      From a personal point of view, I feel far more comfortable saying I am a photographer than a writer (even ignoring my relative competency) as I can show people work online and they can judge it vs other work they’ve seen in seconds. There are lots of outlets for my writing and photography but I feel that photography is less binary in its definition of being judged as successful.

      • claire says:

        Great point, yes writing feels binary, particularly when compared to other pursuits. It’s a great pity, as writing/storytelling is one of the things that defines us as human beings, and it’s quite discouraging to pour energy and effort into something that can be dismissed so easily when it should be a source of fascination.

  3. Greetings from Ireland – a lovely end of day on my first working day here.

    My favourite questions:

    From a friend, at a supper party, with lots of friends listening: “So which of us are your characters based on, and if the answer is “none” is that because we are boring?”

    How much did you get for your book? (No one would ask anyone else how much they earn, so why is it OK to ask us?)

    but the best…

    Is your brain like everyone else’s?


    • claire says:

      Oh Vanessa you do get about!

      I love the supper party question. When people ask me that I tell them that they made it into short stories that are ‘somewhere on the web, I can’t remember where I submitted them now…’

      We all know your brain is nothing like everyone else’s, it’s what makes you special 🙂

  4. Gerri (aka Tigs) says:

    I’m really proud of you. Who would have thought all those years ago when I first met you and Charlie that you’d be a published writer, and by a big name too! I think it’s utterly brilliant and that you are too 🙂

  5. Interesting. As a mostly-unpublished writer, what-do-you-do? conversations always stress me out. It’s only relatively recently that I’ve started answering with “I’m a writer” instead of “I’m a teaching assistant”. It’s interesting to hear how the questions change once you’re published – it reminds me of numerous friends tales of “When are getting married?” changing to “So when are you are going to have children?” almost as soon as the wedding’s over. You’ve reached level 2 questioning! What comes next, I wonder?!

  6. claire says:

    Yes, most conversations when you’re unpublished are quite cringeworthy. One of the reasons I loved going to the Bristol Prize ceremony was the chance to talk to other unpublished writers about writing. It’s so much easier.
    I like the wedding analogy – as Matt Haig said in his piece this week, you have to rise to stay level.

  7. Marcus Speh says:

    Wonderful reflection that merges all the best things to be had from a launch (I presume, being a launch virgin myself) and adds amazing drawings. Inspiring as your entire journey! Onward and upward! (Imperatives istead of adding to the pressing questions.)

  8. Me ( to my teenage son): “Oh look! Daria diGiovanni wrote the best review of “Distant Shore” ever! Did you read it?”
    Son ( not even looking up from his video game: “Mom? Tell me when something else is new, please.”

    Sigh. Signing my first book deal wasn’t really exciting for him. But the third? I beg your pardon, are you even talking to me?
    Don’t despair, Claire. They do boast at school with their author mommies. I know so. His teachers told me. 😉

  9. Melissa says:

    THANK YOU for writing this – I love it. I was an unpublished writer and finally got published – launch date next month and I have more anxiety now than before!!! Ahhh the artist syndrome!

    • claire says:

      Thank you, Melissa! Good luck with your launch, and with bringing the anxiety under control. I found writing short stories helped focus away from the launch razzmatazz and back to being a writer when I couldn’t get the space I needed for the new novel.

      • Melissa says:

        Brilliant. You’re so right Claire. Rather than focus on the launch, etc. it’s best to just get back to what I love: writing. I’ve been writing articles lately and it has helped tremendously. What a blessing it is to have stumbled up your wisdom – thank you!

  10. Jenny Tavenier says:

    One can instantly see, in most of it’s dimensions, sculpture and art, photography, etc. It’s a physical universe thing, seeable, touchable. But writing, (and music scores) – cross the line into mystery, somewhat. One only sees the inherent suggestion-key. If one is not versed in thinking in tesseract or perceiving ideas in 3d-holographic-wise, (and thank god there are many!) They will see a rectangular object, or sheets of paper. Not really highly tactile ‘all hanging out there’ objects. So it is a bit mysterious! …And there you are, and you have managed to create one of these little black boxes. How did you DO that? lol! Like the Emperor’s new clothes, (or lack of). One beginning writer friend says that when she goes to book signings/Author greets, she always hangs in the back for awhile, because it is almost scary. She needs to get used to the ideas permeating – get comfortable. I often think it may have something hanging on from historical memories, when only the high wizards, scribes, and monks, etc, were mysterious poohbas, when it came to the scribing of ideas, and the ability to decipher and understand them.

    • claire says:

      Oh I love the idea of ideas permeating at author signings! And I am quite taken with cultivating my image as a mysterious poohbah. I may start asking people to use that as my title 🙂

  11. Fiona Ingram says:

    I am a published children’s author (MG), and Q&A’s after a school reading are the funniest times. An often-asked question: “How much money do you make as a writer?” (I lie); “How many people have read your book?” (I lie); “How many books have you sold exactly?” (Again, I lie); “How many words/pages in your book?” (I know the answer to this one!); “If I become a writer will I get rich quickly?” (I start handing out book marks!)

    • claire says:

      Oh dear, that’s a lot of quantitative questions. It’s interesting to know what children are curious about. I bet you get through a lot of bookmarks!

  12. Catherine says:

    I think the worst question is, How many copies have you sold?

    That’s a cruel one when you’re with an independent press!

    • claire says:

      It’s a bit of an odd question really. I wonder how many copies people think is successful? Ten thousand? As I understand it, the vast majority of books published sell under 1000 copies. I think the best responses is ‘Oh I’ve no idea.’

  13. Catherine says:

    Ps: just another thought. I once had a non-reader friend pick up the copy of The View from Here (when you were still printing) with my story (‘Nathalie’ inside) and wisecrack, But how many people are going to read this?

    I was crushed and it killed the friendship.

    • claire says:

      Oh no 🙁 Not exactly encouraging. Sometimes people don’t realise how many stories are rejected for every one that makes it into a literary magazine. I don’t even think I did until I actually did the editor’s job.

  14. t upchurch says:

    You have every right to feel happy and proud; you’ve created a beautiful thing. To produce a good story is one achievement, to wrap it up in a book quite another, and I also think this kind of achievement opens doors for our children, because ‘if Mummy can do it’, so can they.

    As regards a membrane through which one must pass in order to be interesting, it is a perception among writers and reminds me of one Tracy Chevalier who, in early 2010, wrote in her judge’s essay (to hundreds of short story writers on the Mslexia website), ‘You are not as interesting as you think!’. I spoke out at the time and am happy to say again: all writers — all people — are fundamentally really, really interesting. They just are.

    • claire says:

      Yes, you’re right they are. I met a lady in Cumbria a couple of weeks ago, she bought my book in a signing. She was in her sixties and told me she was a writer too, she’d written a story from the point of view of her dog, which she rescued after his owner died. She introduced me to the dog, and I asked her if she had always written and she said she had. But we didn’t have much time to chat because there were other people in the shop wanting books signed. ‘I’ll send you my book,” she said. And she did. It arrived this week. I’ve not read it yet, but I have read her author bio. She was born in Singapore and travelled the world. She had a career in teaching and then worked teaching blind babies. She was an advisor on sensory impairment and terminal illness then a university lecturer and gained a PhD, finally becoming a consultant to universities before she retired. How much do I wish we’d had more time to talk?!
      I still remember the Tracy Chevalier comment, which I think is a lesson to me that when you say something that comes across badly, people remember it, even if it wasn’t intended that way. It would have been better to say that rather than writing about ourselves we should turn our gaze outwards and look at the myriad of other interesting people we can learn from and discover.

  15. t upchurch says:

    Wow, sounds like a lovely lady — who is she? What’s the book — is it published? Strangers can be absolute gems, it’s lovely meeting people.

    On the Chevalier comment, you don’t need a long memory, it’s on her website as advice to new writers. See the last point. Enough said, really.

  16. Richard says:

    I love the picture at the end – lovely new site btw!

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