Monday, May 6, 2013

An Open Letter to Authors

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000,000 books are published each year in the U.S. alone. That's more than 83,000 a month.  2,700 a day.

114 books a minute. Every minute. In the time it takes you to read and comment on this post, more than 1,000 books are likely to have been released.

Is it any wonder that it's difficult for new authors to get noticed?

The internet, which has given us wonderful things like Google and Amazon has also given us social networking opportunities like Facebook and Goodreads. There's Twitter and Pinterest and LinkedIn and new things popping up almost every day. As authors, we're are using these things like crazy to try and get the word out about our books.

There's nothing wrong with marketing ourselves. We all have to do a certain amount of promotion regardless of whether we're traditionally published or independently published. Doing nothing pretty much guarantees that your books will languish at the bottom of the pile. And the pile just keeps getting bigger.

Most of us are learning that a constant blast of "notice me" in any form is sure to backfire. But there's more than just the one-dimensional person who is only about Blatant Self Promotion, there are those who are so desperate to get attention they'll do almost anything, including buying followers on Twitter.

Are you kidding me?

There are so many Don't Go There possibilities we've all heard about. From writing fake reviews (positive for you and negative for an author you consider competition) to spreading rumors to calling yourself a "bestselling author" because your book hit the top 10 when it was free.

Here are some of my personal requests to all of my fellow authors:

1. DON'T ask me to vote for your book if I haven't read it. I'm constantly asked to vote for a book or a short story in one competition or another and I'm pretty darned sure the author knows I've never read anything they've ever written. They're desperate and I understand that, but don't ask me to sacrifice my honor for your fake moment of pride. Because it would be fake, wouldn't it?

2. DON'T offer to trade reviews with me. What if I don't like your book? Are you going to dis mine? And don't give me a great review, then send me your book expecting the same in return. That just feels sleazy. And once again, you could be asking me to basically lie.

3. DON'T ask me to "like" a review for a book I haven't read. I hereby announce that I will no longer trade my self-respect for one stupid "like" just because someone I truly do like asked me. And by the same token, don't ask me to say a bad review wasn't helpful for a book I haven't read. Between you and me, those bad reviews can be goldmines for sales. Something to think about.

4. DON'T ask me to "like" every Facebook page your mind can dream up. Some of you caught me unaware and it took me five or six pages before I finally realized you were in serious need of an intervention.

5. DON'T ask me to read your manuscript with the idea you can save money on an edit. I'm not an editor. You need to hire one. Sorry, but you do. And don't go cheap.

These are mostly Facebook and Amazon things, but I'm sure there are plenty of Twitter issues along the same lines.

As a new author, I appreciated the support of those who had gone before me, and I want to do the same. But desperate to the point of total crap doesn't cut it with me.

Authors—what have I missed? What requests or other things make you cringe?

Readers—have you come to be able to see through a lot of these ploys? Is there anything you trust any more?

It's all better with friends.


  1. The additions I would make are:

    - Don't have your friends and relations give you 5-star reviews on Amazon (or anywhere) unless they've read your book and it really deserves 5 stars based on the quality. Do you really think other readers can't see through that?

    - Don't dis another author's book on Amazon (or anywhere) simply to lower their rating average. It's RUDE and it's karma that will come back to you.

    Just write the best book you possibly can. It may not make you rich and famous, but you'll sleep well and night and have satisfied your need to write. And isn't that really what it's all about?

  2. Thanks, L.J.

    Yep. That 5-star expectation from friends and family is really hard and almost impossible to avoid. I've been fortunate in having positive reviews from real readers who don't happen to be family so I've never felt (well, hardly) a moment of desparation.

    I love the karma concept. Can I just say I wish karma could get a fast-forward feature?

    Thanks for the good advice. I have enough trouble sleeping through the night.

  3. Nice article. Although i know that many authors feel differently, your words make me feel a tiny bit less old fashioned. I agree with you.

    It's a fine line. I'd never ask a friend to write a nice review of one of my books they hadn't read. On the other hand, when they email me and say they loved my book, I gently suggest they might consider posting that comment on Amazon or BN. Often they say, oh yeah, good idea, never thought of that. And it seems sporting to let them know when one of my books is free on Kindle-- why should my buddies pay for something strangers get for free?

    But I confess, I'm a guy who just likes to promote stuff and I probably get carried away sometimes. Sorry to all my friends. I completely agree with the basic premise of honesty in reviews and "likes." In a self regulating marketplace, it's our best shot of letting quality rise to the surface.

  4. Thank you, Peg. Someone needed to set everyone straight. :)

    Another thing to add to the list--and this is Facebook's fault because it determines visibility of posts based partly on frequency--posting status updates so often that you flood people's timelines with nonsense until they hide all posts from you. (Not you personally, but the people who do that.) Gosh, that bugs me.

  5. Kenn, thanks for your comment. We all promote and are learning how to be more effective. I hope so, anyway.

    Susan, I have a family member who updates Facebook what feels like a gazillion times a day. But not with anything personal… always a shared photo that is often either political or religious in content. I've quit looking at them.

  6. Peg, Good post! I agree with your comments and LJ's.

  7. Great list! It bugs me SO much when people tell me to promote a work they know I haven't read. I've had authors ask me to read and review their books. One even gave me a free copy of their book. Then asked me to refrain from posting a negative review. Okay, cool. Free book? Want a review? That's fine.

    I never finished it. And I won't say who it is or why since they were VERY kind, helped me out with MY writing, and politely asked me to review their book ONLY if I liked it. THAT is how to "beg" for reviews. Don't tell a reader/writer to BUY the book, then demand a great review.

    And you review MY book, give it high praise, then give me a free copy of YOUR book (royal YOU), I'll accept that as a gracious gift and possibly put it on the "to read" pile. Chances are, I'll only review it if it's a genre in which I write. Simply because that's where my "expertise" lies.

  8. Paty, thanks for your comment. I appreciate it.

    Giles, I know of a lot of authors who have simply decided to not review books. The hard thing about that would be reading a book I really loved and not being able to say much about it.

  9. I agree with everything you've written. I'm not sure how best to market, but in all cases of social media, I try to first be a good and useful citizen. And when there's something newsworthy, I'll post it once and only once.

    Oh, how I hate it when authors friend me on facebook, then flood my newsfeed with various renditions of "Buy my book!" And then, "I liked your page; now you need to like mine."

    When my first book came out, I did ask facebook friends to leave an honest review. I made it clear that I cared not a whit how many stars they gave it. But they only left 5* reviews, and I have no way of knowing whether it was out of friendship, or hope of a quid pro quo, or if they genuinely liked the book that much.

    And I'm constantly being asked to leave a review in exchange for a free e-book. I have so little time to read--I want to use that time reading authors whose work challenges me to do better.

    Maybe I'm just selfish.

  10. Excellent points, Nancy. I don't think you're selfish at all. We can only do what we can do. Life is too short. We can't possibly make everyone happy.