Author meltdowns and the FAQ page: How to handle dumb questions with grace

A certain indie author – someone whom I’d personally never heard of before a member of one of the indie groups I belong to on Facebook posted about her – has apparently been having a very public meltdown this week. This author, who shall remain nameless to prevent further bad behavior on her part, apparently posted to her Facebook page something to the effect that she was sick of getting incredibly dumb questions from her readers, and that people ought to look to Google before shooting her any more ridiculous emails about Amazon products or her own book series.

NUCLEAR MELTDOWN!

NUCLEAR MELTDOWN!

As someone who regularly receives some really odd (and even flat out dumb) questions in my inbox, I thought I’d give this angry author a bit of helpful advice.

  1. You don’t have to reply. There’s this amazing receptacle included in all email programs called “the trash.” You just select the offending message and drag it to the virtual wastebasket and voila, problem solved! For repeat offenders, there’s another invention that comes in handy: automatically redirecting all further messages straight to the trash, totally bypassing your inbox. In Gmail, it’s super easy to filter messages by email address, so you never even have to see the offender’s name again. Works wonders for your blood pressure.
  2. If you do reply, you can use a form letter. If you seem to be getting a lot of the same questions over and over, from different people, write a response once and then save it. You can cut and paste it (or just call up the saved draft) and send it off to anyone who asks you that question in the future. Saves tons of time and typing.
  3. You don’t have to write a(nother) book. Hey, you’re an author – you already wrote a book, congrats! And now people are curious about it. Great! But there’s no reason you have to write a second tome just to reply to an email. Keep it short and sweet, maybe send the person to one of your blog posts? Sure, we authors are busy, but that doesn’t mean we need to be rude.
  4. Pre-empt obvious questions with an FAQ. This particular author was apparently most bent out of shape by the fact that readers were asking in what order her book series was meant to be read. This calls for the handy dandy section of any website known as the FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions. For instance, if someone wanted to know in what order they should read Naked Montreal, I would tell them that part one is called Naked Montreal: Sex and the Underground City, while part two is titled Naked Montreal: Porn Stars and Peccadillos. I’d load this info in my FAQ, along with some other questions I get a lot (“How do I reach you for an interview?” maybe, or “Will you review my book?”), and answer them politely. In fact, I’m writing up my FAQ this afternoon, because seriously, why don’t I have one already?
  5. If you’re really that upset, seek help. Guess what? As an indie author you ARE in customer service. Your customers are your readers, and you need to be nice to them and help them out – even if it’s Amazon’s screw-up, not yours. Shit happens; roll with the punches. Maybe look into hiring a virtual assistant to help answer your emails, or even a real-life personal assistant that’s eager to interact with your fans. If you can’t handle the pressures of the celebrity author lifestyle, you should probably seek out a refuge in the woods with no internet access – a place where you’re totally unreachable except to the most intrepid of fans or trespassers, and where you can shout “Get off my lawn!” while shaking your shotgun in the air. Or, you know, maybe look into getting some therapy for those anger issues? Fans ask questions because they LIKE YOU. Don’t make them regret their decision by acting like a douchecanoe.

Hey, I get it. I’ve been asked “What’s a PDF?” and wondered whether I was being punked. I’ve been asked if I would personally tutor someone in the bedroom (for free, no less), just because I write sexy books. There will always be dumb questions, and there will always be dumb ways to handle them. Let’s just try to remember that behind even the dumbest of questions lies a human being who’s trying to understand life, the universe and everything – and if all else fails there’s Hey Let Me Google That For You.

How do YOU handle dumb questions? (And please, don’t say “There are no dumb questions.”)

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