I was tooling down I-285 yesterday and passed a car with a license plate that read: NOVLIST. Of course, I looked to see who was driving. He was a 40-something guy with a receding hairline. I don’t know whether I should have recognized him or not.
But it got me to thinking. Do you tell people you’re a writer? I’ve found that people always seem to perk up and act all interested until you get to one of two questions:
1. What do you write?
2. Have you been published?
The first question, in my case, always leads to having to explain what I write. I classify it as urban fantasy, but I think most Jane Q. Publics that I run into don’t know this term. Hell, some writers don’t know this term. So I have to give them tv examples: Supernatural, Heroes, True Blood. If I still get blank stares I resort to the old stand-by: Buffy. For older folks, I’ve found I can use I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched and My Favorite Martian.
Once I’ve clarified what urban fantasy is, I usually get one of two responses.
“Oh, I love that!” or
“Oh.” <— this usually translates to “I only read real liter-ah-chur.” I shrug and move on.
The answer to the second question always drains the interest right out of their eyes. When I say I’m not yet published (never mind that I edit for a living), it’s as if they just realized the pedestal they’d just hiked me up onto only has two legs. And that’s usually the end of the conversation.
So, in general, I’m somewhat circumspect in sharing. I’ve heard from popular novelists who also don’t share that they’re writers. They have the opposite problem, I think. They get all sorts of questions about it.
I suppose once I’m published, I’ll probably go through a frenzy of wanting everyone to know I’m published. But then, will I prefer to keep it quiet, unless actually publicizing? I don’t know.
Are you a writer? If so, do you share that with people who ask what you do?
Betsy WhittOctober 29, 2009 at 8:35 am
I find both your "stopping point" answers to be true for myself–though I even have to define "fantasy" for a lot of people, and many people shut down at the idea of either "kids fairy stories" (which clearly indicates that they’ve never read one) or "evil magic stories" (less common these days, but still around). So I’ve found that I’m careful about who I tell and why. I spend a ton of time in the local coffee shop, so all the employees know I’m working on a novel to send out. But many other places I’m hesitant to volunteer much about what I "do"–though lately it’s been harder, since I don’t have a day job any more.
I’m not sure where I’ll fall once I’m published. I suppose we’ll see!
Scott A. JohnsonOctober 29, 2009 at 8:45 am
I tell people I’m a writer. I usually don’t admit to my "day job," which is a computer technician at a university library. When they ask me what I write, I tell them horror and true ghost stories. Having been published for years now, I occasionally find people that have heard of me, but most of the time, I’m just that weird guy. However, when they ask me what I’ve published, I hand them a business card and tell them to have a look. I usually state it like "nine novels, 175 articles, a dozen short stories…You know…I’ve got a few things out."
Sherry Stanfa-StanleyOctober 29, 2009 at 8:51 am
I do, but you’re right–their interest soon sputters out. I’ve taken to telling them my name’s Nora Roberts.
Kaye DacusOctober 29, 2009 at 10:30 am
I think I would tell people I was a writer about the time I started grad school (in 2004). Of course, by then I’d been a member of a national writers’ association for several years and had just been elected to an officer position in that organization. And I was about to spend tens of thousands of dollars to go to school for it. Why not own up to it at that point, I figured. Of course, back then, if someone asked me what I "did," my standard answer was that I worked at the newspaper or at the book publishing house I went to in 2006. Because when I did mention I the fact I was a writer, the question of what I write invariably came up.
At least you have mainstream examples to give when you’re trying to explain what you write. Try explaining "inspirational romance"—even to someone who’s a church-goer. In non-religious groups, if I say I write romance, I get the wink-wink, nudge-nudge; and with religious people, I get looks of horror. If I say "inspirational" romance, all I get is the raised brows of wonder, because most people have never heard that category.
The only thing that’s easier about being able to say "I’m an author" after publication is that I can at least hand someone a bookmark or post card that they can look at when I don’t feel like answering their questions or trying to explain what I write.
Cindy RavinskiOctober 29, 2009 at 6:11 pm
Around work, which is sadly the only people I tend to talk to who are not other writers, I am rather free with the fact that I write fantasy. Now I’ll say I work in the IT department of a largish company. 99% of those people know of and mostly like, but at least don’t dislike, fantasy. However, when I do speak with someone there who doesn’t know I’m a writer, I always start with that. "I’m a writer." Sometimes they lose interest there, but when they don’t I like to watch for the flicker in their eyes when I say fantasy. It’s always there.
Everyone at work is also really supportive and [quote]want a copy when I’m published.[/quote] That has started to get old and limit my openness about what I do. They don’t care about my hard work. Only that they might know someone famous one day. I am hoping they will all buy my book when it is published though…
As for that day when I am published, I think I’ll be selectively open with it on a personal level.
Anne HarrisNovember 2, 2009 at 8:05 pm
Unless I’m at convention or other author event, I avoid bringing it up with people I’ve just met or who I only know on a casual basis. I find that unless the person knows me a little bit, the information that I’m a published author doesn’t really illuminate anything, but only leads to the same questions, most of which don’t have the answers they’re hoping to hear. I tend to feel a bit awkward under that kind of scrutiny.
Georgia WoodsDecember 6, 2009 at 11:32 pm
Nope, I don’t tell, either that I’m an author or an editor. Those who know me well know already, and those who don’t usually respond with either "romantic suspense? Yuck – I don’t like those sex books." *shaking head and rolling eyes* Or wow, can you read my book for me and tell me what you think? Either isn’t something I want to respond to, so no, not usually.