The Definitive Guide to (Some) Newbie Author Questions

newbie author question-mark-2546103_960_720Recently, I was invited to join a Facebook group whose membership includes a lot of new authors. I’d forgotten about some of these newbie concerns. I’d also forgotten how everybody asks the same questions over and over, to the point where those of us who have been at this for a while get kind of tired of answering them. So I thought I’d pull together some of these typical questions and answer them here. Feel free to bookmark this post and refer to it as needed.

Q: I have my plot, but I need interesting characters. / I have my characters, but I need a great plot. Can you help me?

A: Sorry, no. I have my own stories to write. (You may want to check Indies Unlimited for articles on developing characters and/or stories!)

Q: Do I really need an editor? Isn’t using Grammarly enough?

A: No. Just no. And running Word’s spellcheck and grammar check aren’t enough, either. Get yourself an editor. If you can’t afford one, line up some beta readers.

Q: What kind of music do you listen to when you write?

A: This is one of those time-waster questions. I mean, some writers use music to block out other sounds so they can concentrate on their writing; others find music too distracting and need to write in silence, or as close to it as they can get. My question to you is this: Why is that relevant to you? Instead of polling other writers about their musical tastes and habits, wouldn’t your time be better spent trying to write with and without music, to figure out which way works best for you?

newbie author questions why-1352167_960_720Q: What’s your book about? What genre do you write in?

A: Another time-waster. I write in the genre of putting my butt in the chair and cranking out some words instead of trying to start conversations with other writers on Facebook.

Q: I don’t read books. Can I still write one?

A: Sure. But reading teaches you a lot about writing. Most writers learn about characterization, pacing, story arc, and so on by reading other people’s books. Plus you learn grammar and punctuation rules along the way. These are all important tools in your writing arsenal. Why would you forgo an opportunity to improve your toolbox?

Q: I can’t tell anyone what my book is about. I’m afraid someone will steal my idea.

A: Relax. Somebody once claimed there are only seven stories in the world. That’s probably an exaggeration – but guaranteed, somebody somewhere has thought of your terrific idea already, and there are likely multiple books, movies, TV shows, and so on that explore it. Mind you, that doesn’t make your story derivative and it doesn’t make you a failure. It means you need to tell your story in your own way. Besides, we all have our own ideas – nobody’s interested in stealing yours. And if someone does actually plagiarize your work, you can take them to court.

Q: Is it ever okay for your characters to go to the bathroom?

A: Depends. (Old joke, sorry.) Does the scene advance the plot? Does it explain something about your character that you can’t show another way?

Q: How about cursing? How about graphic sex?

A: I happen to curse like a sailor, and as for sex…oh. You’re asking about your story, aren’t you? Again, it depends. There are niche genres for just about everything. As a matter of fact, erotica sells really well. But on the flip side, if you don’t like reading about it, no one can force you to write about it.

Q: Are independent authors real writers? Don’t you need to have a contract with a traditional publisher to be a real writer?

A: Bless your heart.

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

24 thoughts on “The Definitive Guide to (Some) Newbie Author Questions”

    1. I tend to get “Where do you get your ideas from?” from non-writers. But I totally forgot about your other one. I think there’s a whole category of time-waster questions. We should start a list. 😀

      Thanks, John!

  1. That last one, Lynne, that last one. Oh, yes …

    I hate being asked ‘what genre do you write?’ because I simply don’t know.

    I’ve been asked questions that seem to be more about the process of writing. Such as, do I like writing in the morning or the afternoon, do I meditate, do I walk by the sea, do I … do I …

    None of that. I like to tell the story of getting the inspiration for my first published book in the middle of trying to sort out a Microsoft Access problem when I was on a course ‘to improve your employability, Paul’.

    People – even other writers – can get highly bemused that a writer can launch into a story not knowing where it was going or how it would end.

    – Paul Corrigan

  2. I want to take you up on your answer to the”genre” question. Genre is a very valuable marketing tool, and if you don’t know what genre you’re writing (and I speak from bitter experience, here) you’re at a great disadvantage as far as your sales program is concerned.
    I think everyone should have a one- or two-sentence answer to that question(just like your elevator pitch) before you go on to tell them the important question for newbies; “Do you know the genre you want to write in? Because if you don’t…” (go to the top of this comment).

    1. True, Gordon. Genres were invented by publishers (some say) to help readers find books they would enjoy. It definitely helps sell books if you know where in the publishing ecosystem to put yours.

  3. You curse like a sailor? Amateur! I curse like Charlie Sheen running out of ecstasy. Or is that Kim Kardashian? I also have plenty of sex scenes to be inserted (pun intended) into my stories. I just need to find the right partner for the characters. That’s where a bit of my personal reality gets interjected.

    It’s a shame how writers (and other artists) have to fight for respectability. Some 30+ years ago I told my parents my true ambition was to be a professional fiction writer, and they reacted like I’d said I wanted to be a professional poker player. “But don’t you want a real job?” my father asked. So I continued pursuing a legitimate career. It was a mixed blessing, as I acquired a boat load of story and character ideas. My only regret is that – outside of my blog – I never got anything published before my father’s death.

    Still, I don’t view writing so much as a career goal with a set number of working years before retirement. It’s much more of a passion and simply part of my persona. Without the ability to read and write I couldn’t exist.

    1. Everything you just said, Alejandro. My parents were big on me having a career to fall back on — so I was a journalist for a couple of decades. Like you, I got a ton of material for fiction. Unfortunately, a lot of it is the sort of stuff nobody would believe if you put it in a novel.

      As for the swearing, all I can say is I was married to a sailor at one time, and I swore more than he did. 😉

  4. Nice article, I enjoyed it. I am forever bombarded by the wrong question, “How to create interesting characters?” I explain that my characters only seem interesting because they are human like the people around you. Every one is different and each is flawed and not omnipotent. All characters have different personal beliefs and attitudes and the freedom to excel or just plain mess up under different conditions and situations.

  5. I don’t so much mind all these questions. The ones I’d rather not get are the ones I don’t have good answers for. “How do you do your research?” is an unwelcome question for me, because I’m a rotten researcher. (Thankfully, my wife is not.) I’m doing a blog tour right now and was asked, “What have you learned from your characters?” Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I have to research to get THEM to learn things. Which is a bad thing for them. 😉

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