A great author is coming to your town to promote their new work / internet meme. They may even sign a copy for you. You loved their previous book, so you go. You want to see what they look like in person, maybe they’re reading something new. They read, you enjoy it and then comes the Q&A. This has the potential to be the worst part of the whole thing, especially when these three questions are asked.
1. “What advice do you have for aspiring writers?”
Actually, that’s the short version. They usually start with something like … “I really like your work, and um, I just…well, I’d love to be a writer to, and um…what advice do you have for aspiring writers, I guess?”
Look, I understand that people want to be writers. Good. Every author also has their own interesting journey, filled with lots of hard work and quite possibly, there own embarrassing author questions. But it boils down to: just write. And now, I’m not even mad at the question asker. I just think every author, especially those on tour who are fairly accomplished, should just answer this one before it’s asked. Just get it out of the way. Just say, “My advice for writers is…” because you know it’s going to be asked. It’s like a tired athlete who gets the same questions every night. Just knock it out before someone has to ask it.
2. “Who are your influences?”
O.M.G. Everyone who is a writer reads a bunch of stuff. And the stuff they read when they were 16 probably impacted them at one point, but probably doesn’t as much now. Most often, it’s not like the author is reading the exact same thing over and over again (ok, some do). The point is, (good) authors are constantly challenging themselves with their reading list. Sure they’ll have favorites, but they’re probably diving into stuff they haven’t read before. Point is, it’s impossible to nail down a stylistic influence (hopefully). Writers are putting their own spin on everything, but in the Internet age, they’re being influenced by everything from Twitter to T.S. Eliot.
3. “What are you working on now?”
This question gets me mad because it’s a lazy question. And it’s usually asked by someone who hasn’t even read the author’s current book. If I was a famous author on book tour (I’m not!), I would turn it back on the questioner. I would say, “I’m not sure, but have you bought this book that is completed and done and that I spent many hours completing?” Yeah, that would make me an unpopular reader, I guess. But come on show some respect for what the author has done instead of constantly wondering what else is out there.
Tomorrow: Better Questions to Ask at a Reading.