Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Questions I Get As An Author

I am an author, historian, and novelist.  I write stuff.  I don’t do it for a living.  I work at one of the Big Four accounting firms as an Associate Director in IT.  My writing is something that I do on the side.  Some of it is therapeutic, writing helps me cope with some of the stresses of the day.  Another portion of it is because I don’t want to be defined by my day-job.  When I die I don’t want people to say, “He was a hell of an IT manager.”  Who wants that on their tombstone?  The final, biggest reason I write is that I love to write.  I like entertaining people with my work.  I don’t get that kind of satisfaction in my day job – few people get excited and giddy to see an IT manager coming into a room.  The only autographs I do at work are to order office supplies. 

People ask me questions as a writer, mostly out of innocent curiosity.  I thought I would share a few of these and my thoughts about the questions – hopefully addressing a few of these up-front and giving you a chuckle in the process. 

Where do you get your ideas?   This is a great question.  Where do any of us get our ideas?  I don’t have an answer to this short of saying that I don’t steal my ideas.  They just come to me.  I usually get a scene or even a line in my mind.  I mull that over – how would I create the circumstances where that scene could take place?  Who are the people there – and why?  I then explore the characters – what would make them interesting?  Why would a reader care about any of this?  The next thing you know a kernel of an idea becomes something more. 

How long does it take you to write a book?  That depends on a few factors.  Non-fiction book require research, detailed endnotes, and are slower to write than fiction.  Also, I do have a day-job, so a lot depends on how many hours I am working?  As a general rule, the research for a book can take years but the actual writing can take 3-5 months if non-fiction.  Fiction books go much faster for me – 2-3 months. 

How much do you get paid to write a book?  I find this one a tad personal and insulting.  I feel like countering, “How much do you make annually in your job?”  My writing isn’t about the money…and if it was I certainly wouldn’t tell people how much I make.  Suffice it to say I am not quitting my day job (yet) but my books pay me well enough to make me happy.  Other than that, it’s none of your business.  What I can tell you is that there are a lot of authors that make more money than me, and a lot that make less. 

Do you get input on the covers of your books?  This depends on the publisher.  Truth be told, I can’t draw stick people well.  My artistic tastes are limited to comic books – a much unappreciated art form I might add.  The last two years I’ve noticed publishers actually asking me for input.  The most recent of these was Virginia Creeper.  I was totally impressed how they took my rambling idea and made it real and tangible.  What I worry about the most is the spine of the book – is it easily readable on a shelf in a bookstore. 

Why don’t you quit your job and write full-time?  My-my we are getting personal aren’t we?  That is private folks.  Suffice it to say writers get paid irregularly (most publishers are twice a year) and it’s feast and famine in-between.  Also, I feel some control of my writing now.  If I were doing it full time I’d be under a lot of pressure to get books done out of fear of not paying bills.  For now, where I am at is just fine.  Know this though, I have an Evil Plan... 

What genres do you wish you could write in that you haven’t?  I got this one this week, seriously.  Great question too.  There are a few genres I have coming up, Steampunk, my return to business management/leadership, etc., that I’m excited about as a change of pace.  I have my first techno-thriller coming next fall.  There are few that I have not written in that I want to at some point.  The American Civil War for example, is one that excites me.  I’ve written articles about it, but have never penned a book.  Back in college (Central Michigan University) I wrote editorial columns for the CM Life.  I miss that from time-to-time. 
It is easier to say what I won’t write.  Romance.

For your non-fiction books, why does research take so long?  I like making sure I’ve been done my job and dug up all of the little facts.  I’m a research junkie. Also, sometimes you have to let a project sit for a while and simmer, then jump back into it and try to do your research from a different angle.  On top of all of this, I deal with archives, museums, and libraries around the world and it can take them time to respond. 

How can you write books and work full time?  I get this one at work and it’s a bit insulting.  Are you implying that I am somehow short-changing my career to do writing – or that I’m writing when I should be working?  I work for a living – I don’t live to work.  I don’t cheat my job to pursue my writing. If I seem harsh here, I really resent this question.

Can I have a copy of one of your books?  Unless you’re my parents, you sure can – just go up on and buy it.  Only mom and dad get a free one (and a handful of people that help me with my research on a given project.)   I get compensated for the sale of books, not giving them away.  While writing is my passion, I don’t believe in giving it away. 

I’m trying to be a writer, can you help me?  I rarely turn this down.  My rule of thumb is, however, that you buy and write a review on one of my latest books.  That’s the price for assistance.  No one helped me in learning this profession, I had to find out the hard way.  I’m willing to help authors (short of actually reading their material) with questions and information. All I ask is that you post up a review of one of my books. 

So there you have it.  What are your questions?   


  1. Great list! AAs a writer who has moreb famine than feast I can relate. And Yeah I find some of those questions somefolks ask just nosey as hell. Love your stuff.

  2. Glad you enjoyed it. It's a little surprising what people will ask a writer, that they would never ask of someone with another profession.

  3. I have trouble with stick figures too.