3 min read

Writing #6 : How to put down a writer with a smug smile on your face

Simon Cowell, the master of smug

It starts really simply. At some point, everyone asks what I do.

"So what do you do?"

"I'm an author," I said. "I write fiction."

Because I tend to be honest by nature, I usually tell them.

About 70% of the time the following happens:

  1. They are waiting until I'm done talking so they can tell me about their life. I actually find people fascinating, so I'm glad to listen and learn.

  2. Sometimes we chat a bit about writing. They may know someone who's writing books or had one published. They are excited to share what they know. If they're readers, they want to know about the books and stories. I share free eBooks or paperbacks, if I have them with me.

Most of the time, these interactions are pleasant and friendly.

And sometimes, they suck.

"So what do you do?"

"I'm an author," I said. "I write fiction."

Enter subtle put downs from the passive agressive:

  • "What have you published?" or "Do you  have any published works?" This implies that unless you've actually published something your work means nothing. No other artform is held to this standard. None. This is like saying to a painter, "what have you sold?" or asking a sculpture how many installations they've done. Only writing is held to the standard that the only thing that counts is what you've published (ie, sold). My response: "Lots." <--feel free to steal this even if you haven't published lots of books.

  • "So you self-publish?"  or "Which New York publisher carries your work?" This is a relatively new put down stemming from the naive idea that corporate publishing is inherently better than anything else. People who ask this question, or think it's any kind of a put down, don't have a clue what's going on in publishing. I don't feel like I need to educate this hyper-competitive person on the ins and outs of high frequency trading and corporate publishing so I usually ignore the question or say: "I have a publisher."

  • "How many books have you sold?" First off, how the fuck would I know? Seriously. I mean, sure, I could keep track of every book and eBook sale day in and day out. I could post it on my wall like a Girl Scout fundraising thermometer. I could keep track, but I don't. Why? Because it focuses on the wrong thing. Tracking daily book sales focuses on something that's relatively out my control. Instead, I prefer to learn more about writing, hone my skills, research the next book, or even write.

    Anyway, this smug question is designed to assess legitmacy. The questioner is saying: "If you've sold enough books, I might waste my time reading your work." Whatever. I usually say "Enough to write full time for the last eight years." That usually shuts them up.

  • "Well I haven't heard of you." (smug smile) I remember this story. When "Rambo" was in the movie theaters, David Morrell, the author of First Blood (the book Rambo is based on) had one of these conversations with a woman. I don't know if you remember this time, but Rambo was everywhere. There were posters, television interviews, magazine articles, television pieces on MIAs, and on and on. Back to Morrell and this woman.

    "What have you written?" she asked. "Anything I'd know?"
    "I wrote First Blood," he said. "It's the book they made Rambo from." He gestures to the movie poster near where they are standing.
    "Never heard of it," she said, sniffed, and walked away.

    When people smuggly tell me they've never heard of me, I smile, remember David Morrell, and move on. You should do the same.

I'm sure there are more subtle put downs stated by the passive agressive. These are just the ones I've heard in the last week or so.

The bottomline is that no one can determine your legitimacy. That's an inside job.

You have a legitmate write to tell your story in whatever way you'd like to tell your story. Period.

Don't let the smug and stupid get in the way. Just smile and get back to writing.