I went to a reading recently and enjoyed what the author had to say for the most part. She was eloquent and her new book sounded interesting.
But then the Q&A started. And it was horrible.
All of the wrong questions were asked.
I, being a very mature male, covered up my ears and put my head between my legs, leaning down as far in my seat as I could. The whole event had turned into a cringe-worthy farcical charade. I felt bad for the author who had to answer these questions genuinely and sincerely. She was more mature than me, that’s for sure.
Yesterday, I covered those bad, horrible questions. Instead of ruining a reading with those, the authors would appreciate if you asked something like these instead.
Bad Question: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Better Questions: What’s your writing process like?
Do you experience writer’s block, and if so, how do you overcome it? What was the hardest part in writing this book?
Okay, you see what happened? The questioner is still getting advice, without directly asking for advice. This makes it about the author rather than the reader. Because all authors have egos. And you’re here for them at this moment (yes, not the most noble thing, sure). But they’ll interpret your question correctly, answer how they handle it and then probably reflect on what some of their author/writer friends do as well. You’re getting advice without making it all self-serving.
Bad Question: Who are your influences?
Better Questions: What book are you reading now? What’s your favorite book from the last year? What other authors do you think are underappreciated?
It’s really hard for writers to pinpoint their influences. It’s an amalgamate of required reading, old favorites, and perhaps books they haven’t touched on in years. And if they do list their “classic” influences, it’s probably a list of books you already know about. It’s a lot easier for them to talk about what they’re reading now. It’s fresh and front of mind. This is kind of a gateway question to maybe what they studied in college, etc., but it’s also a really great tool to hear about some authors that you are unfamiliar with. One of the ways that people discover new books especially is by word of the mouth, so hearing from another author what their favorite current books are will point you down the right path for better reading.
Bad Question: What are you working on now?
Better Questions: How do you plan out your books? What’s really interesting to you for possible future novels?
The “what are you working on now?” question is an anxiety-filled one. Literary authors like to keep this close to the vest because it may not always work out. And with genre authors, you already know what they’re working on–another book in the series, or another murder mystery what have you. There’s just no good direction to go here. Instead, ask about the planning process. This is similar to the outline question, but let’s you know about research, interviews, or news articles the author has caught up on. If you ask what’s interesting to them, you’ll get a better glimpse into their personality and what they’re thinking about. Remember, (the best) authors are people, not robots to manufacture a world in exactly the way you want it.
The Best Question of All to Ask at A Reading.
Ask about the book. The actual book they’re promoting. It shows that you’re engaged, that you’re excited about the author’s work, and that you bought/read a copy. Amazing, but true. Then if you do that, you may even be able to slip in a question about a past novel.