There’s nothing worse than discovering that someone you know has become a first-time author. While many other life achievements can be dealt with by nodding and smiling, or saying “congratulations”, a friend’s authorship carries with it an implicit burden that you might have to read the work. Worse, this cannot be done passively, the easy out for a friend’s album. A newly minted band’s efforts can be smoothly dealt with by playing their oeuvre a total of three times. Once in the privacy of your own home to ensure that the contained sound does not frighten the horses and will not present any threats to the structural integrity of your home. Once at any party or gathering where your friend is present. Finally, you can reserve an extra special repeat play for the unlikely outcome that your friend becomes famous and you host a party to show how well you supported him/her before anyone knew who they were. But this is perhaps three hours of your life and all that is required is your presence, rather than your focus.
Books are not that easy.
In this inaugural set of “five by five” guides to enduring the 21st Century, Nick Falkner will help you to deal with the unrest and terror that often accompanies an outbreak of amateur literature.
Help! I think I know an author.
This can be a distressing time for any friend. Someone who you have known and trusted for years has, without consultation or apparent consideration, generated a work of fiction. Your lives and relationships are about to change.
- How will I know if one of my friends has become an author?
Believe me, you’ll know. Between the casually dropped links on social media, the entirely new social media identities, and the invitations to launches, discussions or events, it should be hard to miss.
Authors respond to polite social inquiry in curious ways. Almost any question can now be answered with “Oh, I wrote a book”. And will be.
“I see that the Crows managed an upset win in the fourth.”
“I wrote a book!”
“Good lord, that was a terrible accident. Is he breathing?”
“I wrote a book!”
- Should I ask what the book’s about?
The answer to this varies. If the author has set up all of their promotional material or has a publicist then you will receive a smooth and polished answer to this question. If they are self-publishing or haven’t yet written their blurb, prepare for a stream of consciousness that attempts to make the book sound as if it is totally novel while still being comfortably accessible and is written well, but not too well, and it may be enjoyable to a range of people while not being populist. Watch the eyes. If the author’s eyes start to resemble those of a rabbit in headlights, nod sympathetically and offer them wine. The author, not the eyes. Possibly the rabbit.
Some authors may actually tell you what their book is about. Fear these people as they may then expect you to remember whatever the hell they said. Focus on the nouns. “It’s about six decades of the redevelopment of the Soviet Union under the influence of the avant-garde, with mutants, genetically engineered computers and Alan Turing fighting Grace Hopper.” When next you see this author (if you choose to or the stars are unkind), asking “How’s that book about the Soviet Union going?” is a safe out. Following up with “I never thought of Alan Turing in that way” will probably get you a mention in the afterword, useful if the author ever becomes famous.
If you do ask, prepare to receive an answer somewhere between four words and three days in response. Just hold on to the nouns.
- I think they’ve self-published. What do I say?
Much as attitudes to cohabitation and reproduction have been a complicated issue in recent centuries, the question of authorial legitimacy mediated through formal publication is the new way to insult people by looking at something they’ve done and finding reasons for it to be diminished as an achievement. Even if the answer is not sensitive, the question can be loaded.
From a social perspective, how it is published is something that you should wait for the author to offer, much like their preferred gender titling, the expression of their familiar name, or their favourite sexual position. If someone feels comfortable sharing this information, then they will share it with you.
Trust me. If someone has received a $200K advance from Penguin/Random to write Thomas Dolby/Gary Numan teleporter slash then you’ll know about it. (See Point 1). (Sean, if you run with this idea, I want 10%.)
Otherwise, simple congratulations on publication are always welcome.
- Oh God, do I have to buy it?
No-one has to buy any book. Authors understsand this. Much as they would love to sell hundreds of thousands of copies and be name-checked with authors in their area, with great humility and reticence of course, anyone flogging a book knows that the number of sales is going to be smaller than the number of people who show interest.
But if you say you are going to buy it, then you should probably buy it. If you’re not planning to buy it, then there’s no need to make a big deal of it.
“What the hell? Why would I buy that dribble when I could be reading something by a real author!” This level of frankness is unnecessary.
Asking where it is available is probably enough and then you can quietly skim it in a store or download the sample to see if you want to buy it.
eBooks are great because you don’t have to leave them lying around and it’s not as if most authors are insecure enough to go through your tablets and phones to see what you’ve downloaded. (That’s most authors. If you’re promising a leading Hacktivist that you’ll read her book, then you had better download it before the botnet runs a scan over your iBooks manifest.)
Finally, if you do buy it, then let the author know. Don’t hire a plane to run a banner in the sky, perhaps, but do drop it in conversation. Beware. They will probably tell you about their next book.
- Why, oh cruel world, why? Why is there another book?
I’m sorry to say that many authors are serial offenders. If the first book experience was not so horrible that the author has had to flee society to live in a yurt in the Tasmanian forest with a self-composting toilet that has a taste for blood, then she or he will probably try to write another one.
Believe me, you’ll know when this happens, as the channel for “I’ve written a book” will now become filled with “I’m writing a book”.
Botox is very useful for achieving the fixed, caring, but above all immobile expression required to deal with authors in this stage. Encouragement is welcome but take care as you may be asked to be a reader or, if your expertise is useful, to look over something for accuracy.
At that point, there’s only one option.
You’ll have to write your own book, as an act of revenge!
Tune in shortly for the next of Five to Survive guides for friends of authors: Help! How do I pretend that I’ve read my friend’s book?