Inquiries Authors of Nonfiction Deal With

Craig Chalquist

I wrote this to save some of the time I spend answering email questions about writing and becoming an author. Most of the questions I receive are well-intentioned; others seem to be repeats of questions the inquirer heard being asked elsewhere. Either way, I hope the following are useful.

“Why do you write?”

Because I have something to say in writing. The first time I did and saw it published, I realized I had become an author. In other words, inner necessity.

“When did you take to writing?”

Third grade. I had a crush on a teacher who encouraged me to write things down. Bless you, Ms. Addison! After that, life kept giving me mentors: Mr. Hagberg (4th grade), a classroom trickster (picture Random from Zelazny’s Amber Chronicles) who also sold my family a set of encyclopedias; Mr. Davis (6th grade), who taught me to read difficult books and not take myself so seriously; Dr. Sigmar Schwarz (college), who edited, challenged, and cheered me on… Where would we be without good teachers?

“Do you edit as you draft?”

Sometimes, when I’m in a hurry, but I don’t recommend doing that. Drafting and editing involve different psychologies, and editing while you draft is apt to invite in the inner critic and choke off the stream. In my case I’ve written a lot, and my agreement with my inner critic is to notify him when I need editing done. Over the years I’ve taught him not to mind taking vacations.

“How come you still work full time after being published?”

Because getting 8% of the cover price won’t pay the bills, although it keeps me in postage stamps. Besides, I enjoy teaching.

“How come you’re using your own book for the course you are teaching?”

Because I wrote it to use for the course.

“How seriously do you take word limits imposed by publishers and conferences and edited volumes?”

Very. I always keep to them and to all other submission guidelines but one: I break the “simultaneous submissions” rule at will and send work to several publishers at a time unless I’ve been invited already to write just for one. Academic presses in particular, which take forever to peer-review anything, have no business expecting you to wait solely on them.

“Where do you get ideas or topics to write about?”

Same place you do: imagination. I write mine down and circulate them. I write what’s up for me.

“Can I have a free copy of your book?”

Sure. –Wait, you’re an electrician? Will you come over and rewire my house for free? Actually, not even counting the decades of training and education, I spend more time writing one book than it would take you to rewire a house.

“Do authors get free copies of their own book?”

Not unless you self-publish. Usually we get four or five free copies and have to pay for the rest, usually at a modest discount. The wonders of unchecked capitalism.

“Do you ever get serious writer’s block?”

No. When I get stuck I headbutt my monitor, and that fixes things.

“What advice would you give a writer trying to get published?”

Practice your craft and find expert criticism. You can’t improve without lots of critical feedback. Also, learn to detach your self-worth from what you produce.

“What’s an odd experience you had with a publisher?”

Some years back I submitted a paper to a Jungian journal. For the paper I invented Colonization Disorder as a joke to make my point about our dysfunctional relations with the natural world. The peer reviewers took me literally and kept asking for research data confirming the validity of the diagnostic categories involved. After trying four or five times to explain the joke, I withdrew the paper and published it elsewhere.

“Can anyone become an author?”

Sure. Donald Trump did, and it wasn’t even of his own work. The real question is whether you’re willing to work hard enough long enough to write your very best. I like Steinbeck’s distinction between an author and a writer. The second requires earnest apprenticeship, and the education never ends.

“How do you find a publisher that will promote your work?”

None of them do unless you are Neil Gaiman or Deepak Chopra. You have to promote it yourself.

“How do I get past feeling uncomfortable promoting myself as an author?”

By realizing that you should not be promoting yourself. You should be promoting your work, which you believe in. You are merely one doorway through which it walks into the world.

“Would you be willing to read some of my writing and offer an opinion?”

Yes, time permitting. My consulting fee is $165/hour.

“Can I read some of what you’re working on?”

Yes, as soon as I publish it.

“Do you ever worry that reading other authors will change your style?”

No. I would be delighted if some of the magic of Ursula K. Le Guin, Hermann Hesse, or Alice Walker rubbed off on me. The more the better.

“Would you introduce me to your publisher/agent?”

No, because if I did that, they would stop answering my emails. It isn’t just you asking. You’ll need to queue up and go through the steps like everyone else.

“What writing tools do you keep close to you?”

Manuals on English usage and a good dictionary. I also try to read good writing every day. I wish I had a keyboard that lights up, laughs, barks, or wails whenever the writing is especially intense. Aside from that, I have everything I need.

“I like your book.”

Thanks. I’ve published thirteen books. Which one do you mean?

“How’s the latest book doing?”

I don’t know. Ask the publisher.

“I wish I had time to write.”

Me too. I’m very busy teaching more than full time, consulting, being the only family caregiver for an elderly relative, maintaining four websites, trying to keep up on reading and research in my fields, attending and presenting at conferences, chairing dissertation committees, corresponding with students and colleagues and the public, doing administrative paperwork, providing support for researchers using Terrapsychological Inquiry, teaching mini-classes online, pumping iron, boxing in VR, and too many other things to mention.

“Which book of yours is your favorite?”

Always the next one.

“Have you written anything I’ve heard of?”

How should I know? I’ve never understood why authors are asked this. Maybe it’s a variant of this question:

“How does it feel to be famous?”

I’ll let you know if it ever befalls me. Fortunately, it hasn’t so far.

“Will you explain x, y, and z to me?”

I wrote an entire book to explain x, y, and z. Feel free to buy it. I’ll use the resulting $2.40 in income to buy more stamps. A win-win.

“What part of the day do you spend writing?”

All of it, including sleep time. Keyboard time is usually 5-9 am with intervals throughout the day until late afternoon. It varies. But the wheels continue to turn.

“What do you wish you had known before trying to get published?”

Very little, because the journey has been so educational. Maybe that I can actually negotiate when line editors try to micromanage my style. My first book didn’t read like me once the publisher finished with it. I’m glad it’s out of print. I accept corrections and suggestions that improve my style, but not mass rewording.

“How have you managed doubts about whether you could become a writer?”

I never worried about becoming a writer. I was always too busy trying to write. I’m still learning. Writing seriously is humbling because the apprenticing never ends and you always make mistakes that other people see before you do. The joy is in participating in the miracle of creativity, and that is humbling too. Sometimes when I reread what I wrote I dislike it, but at other times I feel awe at what came forth. Writing with depth is channeling with your hands.

“Are you available for interviews?”

You bet.

Craig Chalquist, PhD is a professor, writer, and presenter at the intersection of story, self, place, and inspiration. Visit his professional site Worldrede.