Thursday, March 12, 2009

Christine: Oprah's Not on Speed-Dial (and Other Corrected Misconceptions About Writers)

My teenage daughter, Julianne, recently had a fender-bender in the high school parking lot.

By the time she and the other driver had gotten out of their cars to murmur apologies and survey the damage, a backpack-clad crowd had gathered to check out the excitement. Amid the hubbub, my daughter overheard a conversation about how much this was going to cost.

“Julianne doesn’t need to worry,” one classmate said to another. “Her mom is the one who writes books. They’re rich.”

Once my near-hysterical laughter had subsided upon hearing this anecdote from my daughter, I started reflecting on some of the assumptions people have about writers … things that never occurred to me before I published my first book and subsequently, of course, became “rich.”

With the voices of the nuns from my childhood ringing dutifully in my head that I should stop whining and count my blessings, I’ll chance fate and correct a few improbable-to-the-point-of-absurd misconceptions about writers, starting with the one I’ve already referenced:

* I’m not rich. I don’t know why people think otherwise. I have a decidedly unglamorous day job. I brown-bag my lunch. I clip coupons and buy store-brand groceries. When I have to unexpectedly factor some kid’s busted tail light into my budget (thanks, Julianne), I postpone the haircut I was planning. So if being an author is supposed to guarantee me riches, someone forgot to send my publisher the memo.

* I’m not an ATM for free books. I’m thrilled about my postman’s niece’s best friend’s upcoming bat mitzvah, but I don’t have stacks of books at the ready for the gift-giving needs of every acquaintance of acquaintances.

* Speaking of those acquaintances of acquaintances: I don’t have time to read their manuscripts. Here’s the thing: I barely have time to write my manuscript. I wish them best of luck with their literary aspirations (really, I do), and I’ll happily refer them to my website for tips on getting published (, but I’m too swamped to serve as their unofficial editor. May I suggest their mothers? Mine has been a Godsend.

* That goes double for their kids’ George Orwell essays.

* Oprah’s not on speed-dial. It never fails: Any time my friends note that I’m not exactly cracking the New York Times bestseller list, their eyes widen and they say, “You know what you should do? You should go on Oprah!” I’ve learned to simply smile gamely and nod, rather than point out that booking a gig on Oprah isn’t like making an appointment with the dentist. If I give birth to eleven babies simultaneously or successfully crash-land a plane on the Hudson, then I’ll pencil Oprah into my schedule. Otherwise, her producers aren’t exactly sitting around waiting for my call.

* I don’t pal around with other authors. Whichever author you’re about to ask if I’ve met, assume the answer is no. It’s that whole I’m-really-busy deal, plus the fact that my hometown isn’t exactly the literary capital of the world. Who do I pal around with? People who give me estimates on busted tail lights.

* Whatever story idea you have for my next novel is probably a no-go. Sorry. No matter how quirky your Aunt Trixie is, or how frisky your Yorkshire terrier, I can’t translate your passions into prose. And really, haven’t I put my agent through enough already?

Hope I don’t sound too cranky, or too unappreciative for the exquisite honor of getting paid to write. I love my friends, relatives, acquaintances and acquaintances of acquaintances, but a reality check is a bit overdue, no? And now I’ve laid the gauntlet for them to give me my comeuppance and dispel all my assumptions about their jobs. Bring it on. That, I’ll be happy to read.


  1. HA! An photographer friend of mine recently wanted to include me in a project she was doing about "artists' in their workspaces." Her face fell when she saw me in my pajamas at my kitchen table. "Decidedly unglamorous" indeed!

  2. In case it helps, I have a section on my website:
    where I list professional writing coaches and book doctors. At the very least, it gets across the point that that's a paying gig.

  3. Well! Now we know why writers are such a sour, antisocial bunch!

  4. Hilarious post! And yet serious, too. ;-D Maybe sobering is a better word? Hmm. Solemn?

    Super Christine! You describe my life perfectly.

  5. I love this post, too -- and if anyone has graceful answers for all the people who start telling you the plot of their story or reciting their rhyming couplet poem, please share them! Also how to say no to people who want you to forward said works to your editor (I'm lucky if my editor reads MY work, let alone ____ by people I don't even know!).

    Worst author experience: being at the dentist, with my mouth full of cotton wads, while the dentist RECITED ALOUD his entire masterpiece - a (very long) series of rhyming couplets. Then, he beamed at me and said,
    "What do you think?" apparently not noticing that since my mouth was full of cotton I couldn't talk. That was probably lucky for both of us.

  6. Loved your blog today! It reads like my life :-) People are always asking me for free books (authors generally get only 10 copies upon publication); people are always asking me to read their manuscripts, not realizing I am a writer, not a publisher!; and yes--people are eager to suggest the storyline of "my" next book! Oh, and at school visits, kids always ask "Do you know Cynthia Rylant? "Uh, no." "Do you know J.K. Rowling?" "Uh, no." And I usually only bat 1 or 10 as they continue...