Etiquette for Authors

Authors who want their books to be noticed will collect more fans and support by remembering their manners than by expecting people to fall over them as authors because they have a false sense of entitlement. A simple “please” and “thank you” and some common courtesy goes a long way in making authors and their books popular.

Authors care very deeply about their books. Often those books are like children to them. They spend months or years writing their books so of course they want the world to take notice and appreciate their work. However, just as an overly aggressive parent can ruin a child’s chance for success, authors can do the same for their books if they fail to have common courtesy or to remember the human side of those who will make their book successful—the editors, cover designers, and other book production people; the book reviewers; and their readers. Here are some simple pointers for authors about proper etiquette required for getting their books noticed. Ultimately, it boils down to remembering your manners.

Follow Guidelines

As the manager of a book review company, I get numerous requests for reviews each week, including requests for free book reviews. Because we have to make money somehow, we have to charge for the book reviews, and that in turn means paying the reviewers, as well as the many staff members who maintain the website, interview the authors, and do a host of other activities to help promote the authors’ books.

I can’t tell you how many requests we get from authors who think somehow their book deserves special attention or is so special they should not have to pay for the same service every other author does, or authors who simply do not bother to read our guidelines, to take the time to be courteous enough to find out what we do and how best to work with us.

Most reviewers, publishers, or other companies associated with the book publishing world are very reasonable. They have submission guidelines for a reason—to answer the author’s questions and to let the author know what is needed to save the author time and trouble. In turn, it also saves the reviewer or publisher time, not having to chase after the author for information or having to answer multiple emails or phone calls.

Bottom line, if you’re an author and you want your book considered for publication, for review, or for any other service, take a few minutes to read the guidelines and understand how the company or reviewer functions. Those guidelines were put there to make your life easier. If you were invited to a dinner party that started at 6 o’clock, you wouldn’t show up at 5 o’clock, so why would you fail to follow directions for something far more important—getting attention from the people who can help to make your book a success?

Have Reasonable Expectations

In this fast-paced world we live in, people expect things immediately, but being demanding or unreasonable will only turn people off from you as an author.

I have independent editor friends who experience this sense of demand from authors all the time. It can take a long time to edit or proofread a book. It certainly isn’t something that should be rushed, yet my editor friends tell me all the time that authors submit books to them on Friday and want to know, “Can I have it back on Monday?” or “Tomorrow.” Even if editors choose to work weekends, they find few authors thank them for their extra effort spending what should be their free time to finish editing a book.

Perhaps some of these unreasonable expectations are the result of authors not understanding how time-consuming editing can be or that proofreading requires slow diligent reading (although they should considering how long it took them to write the book). The bottom line is “Do you want it done now, or do you want it done right?” An editor is doing you a huge favor, even if you are paying him, in making your book as good as possible. He’s the last person you want to hound since you don’t want him to miss anything in editing or proofreading your book that could hurt it down the road.

The same is true with cover designers, website designers, or book reviewers. While you should receive a reasonable turn-around, such as fourteen days for a book review, simply asking for a timeframe up front and planning ahead so you will give the person providing the service sufficient time is the best policy. Be polite and be conscientious about other people’s time.

Thank People for Their Work

At Reader Views, only about 30% of the reviews we provide result in a thank you from the author or publisher. Perhaps it’s because authors and publishers expect free reviews, but what deserves more thanks than a free review?

Consider how many hours a reviewer has to spend reading the book, not to mention writing the review, and then the time spent posting the review to the website and usually other websites, or even in a print publication. Many reviewers, by the time they get paid, average far less than minimum wage when you factor in the hours they spend to review a book.

A small email or note of thanks is not too much to ask. Furthermore, being courteous to a reviewer leaves the door open for future communication and the likelihood the reviewer will read and give positive reviews to your future books. Even if you receive a bad review, a thank you note is useful and shows not only your maturity but your professionalism.

“Thank you” also makes an author stay in other people’s memories. Let’s face it—book reviewers, and even editors and cover designers will read or work on hundreds of books. They can’t remember them all. Your book may be special to you, but it’s one of many and working on it is part of their job. The author who says “Thank you” will be remembered and receive better service. And I can’t tell you how much editors appreciate authors who later send them published copies of the books, or authors who later send reviewers small thank you gifts—even a thank you card is much appreciated.

Be Courteous to Your Readers

Authors want people to appreciate their books, and they have to remember that most readers will think of them as celebrities. To meet or talk to the author of a book is a big thrill for many readers. Most readers will not expect authors to give them attention, yet readers still stand in line at book signings and they still write fan letters. As an author myself, I can tell you how much it means to me to get letters from people telling me they enjoyed my book or that it helped them. I am always thrilled and touched by people who take the time out of their busy lives to write to me. And because I know how much it means to an author to get a letter about his or her book, I occasionally write to an author whose book I’ve enjoyed. That said, I am always disappointed when I do not get a response, especially from authors who are not well-known and probably don’t receive much fan mail.

While I understand Stephen King probably doesn’t have time to write back to each of his fans, authors who are not yet at that level of celebrity should take every opportunity possible to be friendly and gracious with their readers. If you’re an author doing a book signing, show up on time. Don’t make people wait. Take a minute to write something special when you sign a book. If you get a fan letter or email, write back and thank the reader. If you really get so many fan letters you can’t keep up with them, you’re probably selling enough books that you can hire someone to help you respond, or at the very least, you can put a nice message on your website’s contact page letting people know that while you appreciate and do read all their comments, you trust they want you to have time to write more books so you apologize that you can’t respond to every letter.

In the end, it comes down to having basic manners, to treating others the way you want to be treated. As an author, a lot of people are necessary to your success, from editors and proofreaders, to book reviewers, and readers. Don’t forget them. Be grateful to them. Ultimately, it’s often the book and not the author that is remembered. It’s often said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. If you fail to treat people right, they aren’t going to reciprocate by telling people about the great book you wrote, no matter how great it is.

Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.