Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I Am Not My Books, by Kell Andrews

Sometimes both writers and readers forget that they and their books are not one and the same.

I put a lot of myself into the books I write. The characters come out of my head -- the protagonists, antagonists, comic relief, parents good and bad, the passerby on the street who only has one line. But they are not me.

The dialogue comes from my head -- philosophizing, wisecracking, both sides of an argument. But it's not what I would say.

The writing, rewriting, querying, submission, editing, and marketing of a book takes a lot of time, emotion, and thought. There is a lot of my life and myself in my books. I have a creative vision, and it comes out in my books. But they are not me.

So when agent and editors reject my queries and submissions, they are rejecting my book, not me. When readers decide not to buy, librarians and bookstores pass, or reviewers take apart my work, they are judging my book, not me.

It's easy to feel as if the publishing and reading world hates me personally, but sometimes, they are just indifferent to my writing. More likely, they've never even heard of it. But maybe if we met at a cocktail party or the elementary school pick-up line, they'd find me delightful and we'd end up best friends. Or not. I don't know, because all they have is my book.
Proof that I am not my books:
We are frequently seen in the same place at the same time.

Overidentification goes two ways.

It's not just writers that forget we're not our books. Sometimes readers do as well.

If a character says something awful, it doesn't mean I agree with it. If I write a sexist or racist character, it doesn't mean I'm one too -- even if I write in first person. If a reader thinks a character is passive or whiny or unlikable, that might be my intention, not my personality. Sometimes the point I'm trying to make is the opposite of what characters say. Portraying an action does not mean endorsing it. It's craft, not confession.

So I remind myself -- and other writers and readers -- that we are not our books. And if an editor, agent, reader, or reviewer doesn't like one, it's a reflection of our work product, not ourselves. Even when it feels as if I've pour my heart and mind onto the page, I haven't. The page is not my heart or mind, which are both still encased safely in my body, thank goodness. I need them.

Because I have more life to live, and many other books to write. 

(I could also mention that my books are not my babies, but that's another post.)


  1. Great post! When my awesome dad read my novel, he asked if we had unresolved issues because some of the story did not portray the parents in a flattering light. I had to remind him that it is FICTION. We use our own experience, along with observation and imagination -- not every book is an autobiography. That being said, there's a lot of "me" in my mc. : )

  2. This is great. I especially love your photographic proof. :-) My mom has been convinced since the first play I wrote that every mother I portray is her. They (almost) never are. ;-)

  3. Overattribution of fictional scenarios to author behaviors, beliefs, and inclinations is definitely a challenge for writers who write edgier material, but it also crops up for us kidlit writers, as Sarah and Joy attest.

  4. This post made me laugh, because I seem to bump into people who think I'm my main characters a lot--or at least that they are inspired by myself when I was that age. That is so not the case! In fact, sometimes my main characters are more the middle-grader I would have liked to have been, and are quite a bit braver, more assertive, more adventurous than shy little me ever was at that age. If they are me at all, they're definitely more a reinventing of myself than the actual person, lol.

  5. Yes! But what I'm finding, the belief that I somehow knew the author from reading her words, well, now that I have many author friends, I'm starting to really think it's true. I hear my friends in the topics they choose, in their style. I can see the characters' flaws aren't theirs.

    Of course, am I comfortable thinking someone can know me from reading my books? No.

  6. Wonderful, wonderful post! Yes, we are not our books!!!! Our characters' flaws do not reflect our own personality disorders, and we frequently do not see the world the way our characters see them.

    (But our characters are our real friends, right?)

  7. I would have thought this was obvious, but the more I become involved in publishing the more surprised I am to discover people who don't get this.

    Great post, Kell!


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