You’re a WHAT?

I am proud to call myself a self-published author.

To me, it rings of all the other “self” words I’ve been raised since childhood by independently minded parents to admire: self-determined, self-aware, self-starter, self-employed, self-made, self-centered, self-abusive…wait. Not that last two as much.

So why did this recent situation cause me to cringe? I’m at lunch with a colleague, a totally darling woman, and one of her friends joins us. Colleague introduces me to her friend as a “self-published” author. Seriously, I can hear the air quotes in her voice.

Wow. Suddenly I felt about six inches high.

Friend of colleague starts with the typical questions about what I write, and I mumble through some answers, afraid that because of my new reduced stature, she won’t hear me.

Colleague really is a darling woman, so I don’t blame her a bit. But maybe because I work part-time at a college, “self-published” has a more diminished meaning than it does in the real world. That because a governing body—much like the bodies that define the curricula of the English department—has not given me their seal of literary authenticity, I am relegated to the world of the air quote and the patronizing gaze.

You need quite the rigid spine in this business. From bookstore owners who decline to shelve you, to hearing crickets when you open your sales reports, to always having to explain yourself at parties, it’s far too easy to give in to these attitudes.

And speaking of those parties, the holidays are upon us, where, unless you seal yourself in your home (seriously, I’m thinking of doing this—can anyone find me a deal on a whole mess of caulk?), you may be at a gathering, either with people who don’t know you or those who might mean well but don’t understand you. You may be asked a variety of rude or just plain stupid questions about what you do with your time.

So over the holidays, when you get these questions, here are a few creative ways to answer. Please note that this works best if you never intend to see these people again or ever want them to buy your books.

Q: Self-published, huh? Have you written anything I might have read?
I don’t know. But you might want to see a doctor about that memory problem. And that mole on your neck, while you’re at it.

Q: I guess with self-publishing, anyone with half a brain can write a book these days, right?
A: That’s true. So when’s yours coming out?

Q: Are you in the bookstore?
A: Um…no. I’m in the living room. Have you skipped a dose of your medication?

Q: I heard that most people self-publish because they’re too lazy to search for a real publisher.
A: No, lots of people self-publish so they can keep control of their rights and make more than six cents a book. [Okay, they’re not all funny…]

Q: Won’t self-publishing hurt your chances of being picked up by a big publisher?
A: Yes, that’s exactly my evil plan. And now that you’ve stumbled onto it, I’ll have to kill you. Pay no attention while I slip these tablets into your drink.

Q: So you’re really banking on this as a career?
A: Well, I was hoping to make it as a pole dancer, but all those jobs were taken. By the way, your [teenage daughter] [wife] [mother] is awesome at it.

Q: E-book? Is that like a real book?
A: No, it’s really not. It’s imaginary. In fact, you’re imagining all this right now. And you really want to give me a hundred bucks and the keys to your car.

Q: I’ve heard self-published books are all crap nobody else wanted.
A: Funny, your four ex-wives told me the same thing. Except it wasn’t about books.

Q: So am I in this book?
A: Not this one, but you bear a striking resemblance to the first character I’m going to kill off in the next book. By the way, do you like jellyfish?

What questions do you dread being asked?

Author: Laurie Boris

Laurie Boris is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer. She has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of four novels. She lives in New York’s lovely Hudson Valley. Learn more about Laurie at her website and her Amazon author page.

49 thoughts on “You’re a WHAT?”

  1. What a wonderful thing to wake up to. I’m going to have this whole thing tattooed onto my chest so when someone says something stupid to me, I can just rip open my shirt and give them all a real education. By the way, I think you would make a fabulous pole dancer, Laurie.

      1. Yes, been writing and publishing since 1995 and the same people have asked me that several times over the years when they see me. Wonder when they’ll figure out that I’m not going to stop? LOL

  2. Thanks, Laurie, lovely set of Q & As which I’m going to carry around on a little card inside my wallet to remember, if anyone asks me, which people don’t anymore, because, after 2 years as self-publisher, getting nowhere, most real-world people who know have stopped asking, which is actually rather agreeable 🙂

    1. LOL, Chris. Yeah, some people have stopped asking. Perhaps they think I will try to sell them one of the twenty copies I keep in the trunk of my car.

  3. Great questions and answers, Lois. Tempting to use them.
    When people ask me what I do I generally say I’m a writer. The obvious next question, of course, is “Who’s your publisher?” When I say I’m self-published the tone changes from interest to just being polite. It’s maddening.

    1. Try saying you’re in business for yourself, like most sensible authors these days, and your books are on Amazon, B&N or whatever. “Here. Have a bookmark, it has by website on it.”

    2. I noticed a bit of a shift on marketing the second one (self-published) versus the first (small-press published.) For the first one, the librarian let me have the upstairs room. For the second, she put me in the basement. Curious… 😉

  4. I found that the truth will sometimes set you free. When asked about being an author I simply start off with: “I’m an award winning, best selling, self-published author of 8 novels and numerous short stories.” That usually leaves them silent for a few moments while I formulate my attack plan. Considering where I live (in the boondocks) this is receives almost the same amount of awe as the guy who shot the record-breaking 58 point buck last year. Unfortunately, it never equates to sales no matter how wonderful I sound. ARGH!

      1. See, and also, I won a couple of awards back in my journalism days. I was a writer then, too. So maybe I can fudge it? “Award-winning writer and author of five fantasy novels….” Hmm.

      2. As was explained to me- if you won an award- any award for writing, then you are an award winning writer. My first novel won a runner up in a very tough competition. It still won something. And my contemporary romance was #1 on Smashwords for a WHOLE day (before they got super massive). Granted, I consider both of those rather weak, but nonetheless, they are true. And once in a while, I think folks WANT to hear the merits of a writer–maybe it’s like a seal of approval that you have attained some status in the writing world. Not sure if it’s helped my sales one iota, but I’ll do what I can. In this game, I think we all need every possible leg up we can get.

    1. I should try that one, Kathy. I almost sort of won an award. I’ve “best-selled” a couple of times. Unfortunately, at the family gatherings, all that seems to go out the window when the adorable grandchildren show up.

  5. Great comments, Laurie. When asked who my publisher is I tell them Galactic Publishers. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it. What I don’t tell them is that my editor, my wife, and I comprise Galactic Publishers.

  6. Great answers. So far, I’ve had some very nice people (known as family) ask about my writing and they are always excited (or fake it well) when a new book is coming out.

  7. My favorite so far: “How are you going to make any money if you keep giving your books away?” I didn’t think fast enough to explain that free books sometimes net you reviews, which will push up your visibility, and it’s all about branding at this stage, etc. But the person didn’t really want an answer anyhow.

  8. I find that if I answer with sufficient excitement and enthusiasm about independent publishing that I carry the audience with me. If I were to hang my head and confess ‘oh, I’m just self-published’ they would pat my head sympathetically and turn away, but if I say ‘I’m publishing independently on Amazon and Smashwords and my books are selling worldwide – it’s really cool!’ they tend to be impressed. Fortunately they are never rude enough to ask how MANY are selling…

  9. I know your friend is a darling, so this isn’t intended in any way to insult. Let’s say four people do lunch, one is an author and introduced as such. I wonder if someone would say, “Meet so and so, a traditionally published author.” We carry stigma and must keep a sense of humor(I hope). When I say I write YA fantasy it is assumed I have a multitude of vampires running about.

  10. I’m not even self published yet as my books aren’t done, but I get the “so when are you going to do something important with your time and give up on that book idea?” I have to fight the urge to go “Oh I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware that at some point following your dreams ceased to be important.”

  11. To the question, “Have you written anything I might have read?” I usually answer, “Have you heard of the Internet? I wrote a good-sized chunk of that.”

  12. Laurie, what I get more than anything from co-workers who have just discovered that I write is: “Why are you still working HERE?” They all think being a published writer equals megabucks. I wish. But re: being self-pubbed, I have an advantage in that my first 5 books were traditionally published and now I CHOOSE to self-publish. I tell people the best part is having total control. Since my first 2 trad-pubbed books were Love’s Savage Destiny and Love’s Savage Embrace, they get the point. (I always swore I’d write a book someday and call it Love’s Savage Armpit!)

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