Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I'm weary of conversations like this

The other day I was introduced to someone as an author.
The conversation (not the first of its kind) went like this:

Him: Published?
Me: Um yes. I've had two books published.
Him: How many copies sold?

At which point I go into mutter mumble waffle mode about sales being ok but given the state of the publishing industry ... etc etc.
And then you watch the other person's eyes glaze as they turn away, clearly dismissing you as unworthy of further attention.

Of all the questions you could ask when introduced to someone who writes books, why is it that the one that so often comes first is related to sales?

I need to come up with a standard response in situations like this that doesn't leave them feeling justified in writing me off and doesn't leave me feeling like a two-headed twat with an unpleasant dribbling habit.

Any suggestions would be gratefully received.

(On a brighter note, I met someone else yesterday who said how much she'd enjoyed both my books and that she'd passed them on to her sister-in-law who had also loved them and had now loaned them to another friend. Those readers won't have registered as sales, but are the kinds of responses every author craves.)

18 comments:

granny p said...

Just say, airily - 'haven't a clue.' Adding, if you like 'All I care about is that it's a good book. Which it is.' Adding: 'What have you published?'

John Baker said...

I avoid being introduced as an author. When someone asks me what I do I always tell them I sell insurance. This approach seems to avoid all the inane questions (you only mentioned one) which follow being introduced as a writer.
But being seen as an insurance salesman does also produce that same eye glazing and the turning away, which you experience talking about book sales.

Anonymous said...

Don't mumble Debi, if the ignorant person speaks to you like this, make eye contact and be very proud of what you've acheived. To get two very good books published is a mega achivement - don't let anyone take this away from you.

As with the other lady two of my friends and I have read your books and really enjoyed them. Again, it was my copies between the three of us, not because we are mean, but just could'nt locate any other copies.

But on a slightly different note we were talking about best sellers lists and the 'greatest' books of all time and we'd either been forced to read the 'greatest' books at school and left us cold. Plus some of the recent bestsellers we'd had bought for us has left us in a state of near hypothermia!

It's a bit like The King's New Clothes is'nt it? It's sold a lot of copies so it's got to be good. Whether it appeals to all that reads it is something else.

Another problem is I don't think people read as much as they used to and children aren't encouraged to read at school so much. So when people buy books for themselves and others they tend to go for the whats on offer at ASDA etc and the best sellers, but not the best reads.

Kath T said...

Sorry about the last ramble Debi, it's mine. Got a bit mixed up logging in.

gregra&gar said...

It is the same kind of question as an adult asking a child what they want to be when they grow up; it really isn't a test for you. They are looking for a better way of supporting themselves than what they've saddled themselves with.

Next time mention the money to pay for work clothes, commuting to the job site, psychiatrist sessions to calm the angst in the office, rage on the road and unsatisfied sartorial status need not come out of an author's budget.

or better yet, mention that when you truly love your work no compensation is required so that any pay is gravy — the work is over and you are still being rewarded.

Sharon J said...

To be honest, I think asking an author about sales numbers is no better than asking somebody how much they earn. Some questions just aren't good etiquette.

I'd just say something like "enough to keep me happy, thanks", which is the truth, of course :)

Yvonne said...

Say that you'll only tell if they admit how much they earn! I think most people just don't realise how rude they come across - they'd probably never dare ask someone how much they made.

Debi said...

Predictably wonderful responses. Thanks to all of you.

Next time I'm going to make the person stand there and listen to all your suggestions one after the other!

The point is that the wonderful woman I mentioned is a READER who appreciated the creative endeavor, whereas the man was a business man only able to gauge 'success' in financial terms.

He's quite possibly never read a book ... which means I don't have to care what he thinks anyway ...

SueG said...

Amazing what ridiculous things people say...how about answering "More than you could ever imagine!" :-)

leslie said...

"I'll be better able to answer that when they finish re-negotiating my contract."

"I'll have to ask my publishing team"

Pulling your cell phone from your pocket, "One moment please..."

Anonymous said...

hiya,Debi hows this..too question,published,how many.. "How many books are too many " followed by What good is a hammer,in a world without nails...xx homelesschicken

Debi said...

I love these suggestions!

I've had another emailed to me: (*waves at JC*) 'I'm afraid you'd have to ask my accountant. I find the whole subject of money so vulgar. Don't you?'

And when we were working as photographers we did a particularly posh wedding. A pompous guest watched us unload our gear from the ancient car we had at the time (now sadly deceased).
'I'd've thought you could afford a better car than that,' he sneered. 'I can,' G replied and walked away.

Perfect example of word economy!

Shameless said...

Right, Debi, here's the best response, which I know a witer friend has used and it worked a treat. You start with A and work your way through to Z, but you never get that far.

"Well, I'll start with A, A as in Abkhazia, the first on the list of world countries, but don't forget no UN country yet recognises this as an independent country ... sales there were about 17. Then on to Afghnistan, although that's a new market, because books were hard to get in under the Taliban's rule. Check back with me on that one. Then there's Albania: sales there were 56. That takes us on to Algeria, where sales were last recorded at ... etc etc."

This will stop the asker in their tracks and show them that their question is out of place! lol

Shameless said...

Um, ahem, witer was supposed to be writer!

Debi said...

Ha! Brill!

Elizabeth Baines said...

Yes it's sickening. People keep asking me how my book's going and what it turns out they mean nearly every time is How many copies have you sold?

Debi said...

Yes, but that's not so bad cos you can just say something meaningless and general like 'Oh pretty good thanks.' It's the people who ask the specific question that get me.

Happened to me again this morning!!!

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