Top 5 Things Not to Say to a Creative Person

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This past Saturday, I had a booth at a local arts festival. This was not my first event as an author–in fact, it’s more like the sixth or seventh–and each time it gets a little easier to shove my trembling, terrified introverted self deep in my brain, take a deep breath, and start initiating conversation with strangers with a smile on my face.

Now that I’ve practiced coming out of my shell enough times, I can actually say it’s fun! I connected with so many old friends, new acquaintances, and eager future readers. I packed up my booth at the end of the day feeling tired, hungry, and rewarded. But as they always do, this event drew my attention to how creative people–artists, musicians, craftsmen, authors, you name it–are often treated in the public. They’re not treated particularly well, if you’re wondering; not overwhelmingly so, at least.

The more I do in-person events like these, the more I grow used to it. I don’t take comments and looks personally like I might have in the past. But it breaks my heart to know that there is a burgeoning artist out there who has worked up the courage to present their work to the public, perhaps for the first time, only to be met with rudeness and disrespect. A handful of ill-thought comments and remarks made by strangers could be enough to sever whatever glimmering, tenuous thread of hope and enthusiasm they have about their art. And that’s just unacceptable.

So today, here’s my list of what not to say to a creative person. Most of these are book related, since that’s obviously what I know, but I know several of my visual artist friends have had similar experiences.

1. “I can’t buy books from you. I only support local bookstores.”

Rest assured, purchasing a book from an author–especially one who self-publishes–is about as local as it gets. It’s great if you eschew the big chains in favor of independent shops, but don’t lose the spirit of what you’re trying to do by focusing on the letter of the law. A local author is a local business, and does not pose a threat to indie shops.

2. “I’m not interested in talking about your books. I need you to tell me how I can publish mine.”

I often meet budding writers, and that’s always a fantastic experience! It’s great to meet a brother or sister in ink, to paraphrase my friend Lissa Bryan’s expression. But when someone has a booth obviously dedicated to selling their works, it’s very rude to completely ignore their books and ask them for free advice on writing and publishing. They’re in selling mode, and odds are they are not equipped to become your pro bono writing coach at a drop of a hat. Publishing a book is no picnic, no matter which route you take, and you can’t expect someone to give you all the answers in three easy steps. Try to establish a connection instead. Read the back cover of the books, make a few polite comments, and if you think they might be able to help you, ask if it would be all right if you sent them an email later, at a more appropriate time. They will most likely say yes.

3. “I’m a writer, too. I have a fantastic pitch for you.”

Again, please remember that the author you are talking to is just that: an author. They are most likely not also an agent, an editor, the head of a publishing house, or anyone who could help you get a book contract. Even if they weren’t, a signing event specifically for their books is not the time. They are trying to connect with potential readers and don’t have resources on hand to help you at the moment. Ask for their email address and try your questions later.

4. “Is this novel based on your life?”

Maybe this isn’t always a rude question, but when the copy of the book they’re holding is about a girl entering a forbidden affair with her professor, it’s kind of inappropriate.

5. “I’ll buy these on Kindle, as long as they’re not more than two dollars. I never read a book for more than two dollars.”

…Sigh.

I don’t have a problem with eBooks. In fact, due to my busy schedule, I read almost exclusively eBooks these days, because it allows me to read in quick 2-3 minute bursts between classes, on lunch breaks, during unexpected traffic jams, etc. But what I do hate is how they have desensitized the reader when it comes to pricing.

Books don’t pop into existence free of charge. For a decent self-published book, assume that at least $1,000 has gone into cover design, interior formatting, editing, proofreading, and marketing. For a book published through an indie house or one of the Big 5, multiply that number by a lot. And that’s nothing compared to the hours and hours of drafting, revising, editing, polishing, and last minute reading that goes into producing a manuscript worthy of the public.

Now factor in that for a Kindle book costing less than $2.99, royalties are only 30%. That means that a self-published author, who doesn’t have to split royalties with anyone, receive a whopping $0.30 for an eBook that costs $0.99. Authors who have publishers to split the royalties with get even less than that.

I understand money is tight sometimes. I get that eBooks are sometimes way, way overpriced–I’ve seen some that are the same price as the print book, and that’s a little extreme.

But if you want to buy a book and support an author, I really urge you to consider paying more than $2 every once and a while. There are some great free and $0.99 books out there, and it’s always nice to find a bargain, but please don’t expect everyone to be able to afford to give their work away for $0.30–or free.

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