Anne Tibbets of Write For Coffee is the author of Carrier and Shut Up. On a regular basis, she gets asked the same questions by would be authors until she probably rips out all her hair, one strand at a time.
For the sake of Ms. Tibbets keeping her hair on her head and not the trash bin, she courteously agreed to answer the most annoying – and most common – things on your mind.
The Top 5 Things Everybody in L.A. Asks a Writer
ACCORDING TO…Anne Tibbets
In the beautiful city of Los Angeles, in a world of pretty people, movie and TV producers, actors and actresses, and entertainment industry camera men and electricians, is a bunch of people just trying to have some sort of normal life. I live among them. Our kids go to school together, have play dates, and when pushed, I will attend social functions where I am forced (I use the word forced because I am a closet introvert) to make small talk.
This is my hell.
I’m not sure if this is common anywhere else, but in L.A., usually in the midst of awkward chit-chat, somebody always asks, “So, what do you do?” And when I say, “Oh, I’m a stay at home mom,” I get a bunch of blank stares and silenced nodding because truthfully, I am not a contact they need to know. To get work in the entertainment industry, it’s an absolute truth that your next job depends on WHO you know. Not what. Who. So, given that I am a stay-at-home mom, I am not going to help them get their next job. But a few years ago, when my kids got older and I took up my writing career again, this changed.
Them: “So, what do you do?”
Me: “I’m a writer.”
Their eyes widen and I can almost hear them thinking, ‘A SCREENwriter! YAY! Maybe she can get me a job on her next movie/TV show/etc. etc.’
Them: “Really? What do you write?”
[disappointed; feigning interest]
“Anything I would know?”
[Subtext: ‘Maybe the film rights sold and I can work on that!’]
Me: [disgruntled] “I doubt it.”
And then, inevitably, next in this horrifying exchange, one or all of these five listed questions gets asked. I am not exaggerating when I state I’ve had this EXACT conversation at almost every social event I have ever attended in Los Angeles. It’s no wonder I drink.
Question #1: “Where do you get your book ideas?”
I always struggle to answer this because it’s different for every book. One book idea I stole directly from my childhood. Another, I played too much World of Warcraft and felt the need to write an epic fantasy. Another idea I got from a newspaper article and a movie trailer, and then I combined the two stories. Another still, I just sat down and tried to scare myself. In other words, the answer is, “Everywhere.” But if I ever answered somebody that, I can already imagine the confused, blank stare I’d receive in return.
So, instead, whenever somebody asks me this, I base my answer on what book is releasing next. For CARRIER, I got the story idea by asking myself, “What is the worst possible future you can imagine?” And the rest was research and imagination.
This answer is usually met with blank stares of bewilderment.
Question #2: “How long does it take you to write a book?”
The real answer is, “It depends on the book,” but nobody ever seems satisfied with that. I typically have to elaborate with, ‘One book took me three years. Another one took me two. One book I wrote in nine months, and another in three. It always depends on what type of book, the research involved, how busy my personal life is (ie. The three year book took place during a move and a house remodeling), and if the story is really resonating in my feeble brain. There is no scheduling a creative process, you just have to go with the flow. That is, UNLESS you’re under contract, in which case, an author has no choice but to deliver the goods on a schedule. For the record, my nine-month book was written on deadline.’
This answer usually results in the other party nodding, and then changing the subject.
Question #3: “Can I buy your book in book stores?”
The general, the non-bookish public, including my own parents, still believe that you are not a legit author unless you have shelf space in a bookstore or at Costco. What most people don’t know is that the books in the stores are only a FRACTION of what’s out there. I know authors who make a living writing romance e-books, and their books never see the inside of a Barnes and Noble. Same goes for some amazing science fiction. And not just self-published titles, but almost every single one of the major publishing houses have e-book imprints that produce professional, edited, quality books, all available on any e-Reader device. So no, I haven’t got a book inside a bookstore – yet. My works are, however, available on e-readers and some by print-on-demand through Amazon, and I am still considered an author.
As you may be able to tell, this particular question tends to rub me the wrong way. But I’m working on it. This is about the time my husband elbows me in the ribs.
Question #4: “I have a book idea, will you help me write and sell it?”
[Insert them rapidly blinking]
This answer is immediately followed by question #5.
Question #5: “Oh. Then can you tell me how to sell it?”
Step #1: Write the book.
You would be amazed how many people have an idea for a book, and don’t actually want to write it. Someone who is baffled by this answer is not usually somebody who loves books, but somebody who thinks that publishing is an easy industry to crack and they want a piece of the pie – like there’s loads of unclaimed money to be made writing books. [Psst – there isn’t!] I mean, if every celebrity you’ve ever seen in a commercial can write a children’s book, then how hard can it be?
Fact: A great many number of celebrity books are ghost written by established authors as a work-for-hire, and then the rights are sold to the celebrity and/or the publisher. They are banking the public will buy a book written by a celebrity based on the name recognition alone – and they’re right. Mind you, there are SOME celebs that can actually write. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say the majority of celebrity books are ghost written. So, no, it’s not actually that easy to write a book. Even celebs have to hire professionals.
Also, you should know that publishers are not in the habit of buying book ideas from people. Just because you have an idea for a book, doesn’t mean Simon & Schuster will pay you for it, unless you have the manuscript actually written, and written extremely well. You have to put in the work, and write a damned good book that stands out and above all the rest, because the competition is fierce.
If you have a great idea and don’t know how to write a book, take a class, or pay a ghost writer. It’s that simple.
Most people who ask me this question never get past the first step, but if they have actually written a polished, professional-grade novel, they then proceed to Step #2.
Step #2: Decide if you want to go “traditional” or “self-publish.”
There are two paths to publication, and each is too complicated to explain in this blog post. I would recommend any writer research each path thoroughly before jumping blindly in one direction. There are certain industry protocols that need to be followed, for example: you shouldn’t be sending query letters to literary agents asking for representation while simultaneously sending letters to publishers. For a multitude of reasons that’s a very bad idea, and I’ve seen one too many people sabotage their careers from lack of knowledge in this area. There are plenty of resources for help anyone make this important decision.
Back at the party, right about the time I get this far gone into the conversation, we are either mercifully interrupted, or the person who did the asking gets a text and leaves, or we are joined by another individual, where inevitably he or she will smile and ask, “So, what do you do?”