Someone you don’t know well says “What do you do?”
And you answer “I’m a writer.”
“Oh? What have you written?”
They do not want to know about the rejection slips. They do not need to hear about all those stories in your drawer or filing cabinet – the ones that have bounced back, oh, sixteen or more times.
They don’t even want to hear about the articles you sold to trade magazines or about the hundreds or thousands of people who read your blog.
(“Blogging? What is that? I’ve never quite understood it.”)
They want to hear that your real name is John Grisham or Danielle Steele. They want to bask in reflected glory. Cheap fame.
They want to go to the bookstore and say “Do you have the new book by…? He/She is one of my closest friends and I know he/she has a new book coming out.”
I asked a few writing friends how they answer the question. Answers ranged from the really pissed off to the technical
“I write in a very specialized field. You probably won’t have read it.”
“I write steampunk. Do you read much of that?”
“Most of my work these days is in HTML, with CSS and PHP.”
“Much of my work is in the pre-publication stage.”
“Novels are so passe, don’t you think? No-one has the time these days.”
I’m exploring e-pub. What’s your opinion about that?”
Answering with a question seems to be the most useful strategy. What do you think? How do you respond?