While there are no definitive rules about how writers should present themselves, there are some things we’ve learned along the way about what works – and what doesn’t. My collaborator, Tamara Thorne, and I have seen and heard a lot of things in our combined 40 years of experience in the writing industry that have caused many a writer unnecessary and avoidable problems.
Given the vast amount of advice floating around out there, our first recommendation is to be careful whose advice you take. That said, here are our top 10 observations about proper writer’s etiquette.
“Be Now What You Wish to Become”
This was the motto we both lived by from the very beginning of our careers. Being newly-published – or not-yet published – makes no difference. If you want to be treated like a professional, if you want your work to be taken seriously, one of the most important things you can do is believe in yourself. If you treat your work like a hobby, so will everyone else.
Do Not Argue With Reviewers
Nothing screams, “I’m an amateur!” like getting online and arguing with readers and reviewers who dislike your work. As a writer, you’re going to receive bad reviews – it’s just part of the gig. Not everyone will enjoy your work, and not everyone has to. If you feel you must read your reviews at all, we think it’s imperative that you refrain from fighting with negative reviewers lest you be perceived as childish and petty.
Allow readers their opinions, even if you don’t like them. And never take one-star reviews seriously.
Never Pay for Reviews
We all raise a brow when a book we’ve never heard of has 12,700 five star reviews – we all know it’s bogus. In short, paying for reviews (or otherwise dishonestly earning them) shows. Professionals avoid these things.
Please Don’t Whine
Are you having marital problems? Can’t make your mortgage payment this month? Caught your husband in bed with the babysitter? Have hayfever? These things happen, but when an author spends too much time bemoaning various trials on Facebook and Twitter, the personal life tends to overshadow the work.
People forget you’re an author at all and begin tuning in for the sole purpose of seeing what new drama has befallen you. Authors are human, and they should be allowed to behave as such, but they should keep in mind that not all attention is good attention. Your reading audience does not need to know about your polyps.
Don’t Argue About Your Books
For good or ill, readers will read all sorts of things into your work that you didn’t intend. Some things will delight you, others will horrify you, and a few will make your eyes roll. Once you release your book, it belongs to the readers. Let them think whatever they want. It’s their right. Sure, you can explain your meanings in blogs or interviews, but again, don’t argue with a reader. It’s not professional.
Don’t Denigrate Your Work
False modesty or showing your insecurities by telling people you think your work wasn’t the best is no way to inspire readers to pick up your book. If you don’t think your novel is any good, why would anyone else want to read it? Conversely, don’t brag about your book too much. Say you’re happy with your work, say you enjoyed writing it. But don’t compare yourself to Stephen King. That’s just obnoxious.
Don’t Be Owned
If you haven’t yet picked up a crazed “fan,” don’t worry – you will. Crazed “fans” come in all shapes and sizes and degrees of crazy.
Keep writing, and Annie Wilkes-like readers will crop up … and while most of them won’t necessarily hobble you and force you to write your masterpiece under their watchful evil eye, they all have one thing in common: They think it’s the writer’s job to write for them. To please them.
These folks feel entitled to you. They expect special treatment – treatment you don’t have time for because you’re writing. Some of them think they’re entitled to your time. Others believe they have the right to be given free books or other fringe benefits. Entitlement comes in many, many forms, but it all comes down to ownership. And authors are not pets – they should never allow themselves to be owned.
Let No One Confuse You With Your Books
It can get very ugly. Loving your work is very different from loving you. Tamara once had a fan follow her home from a book signing and knock on her door. He thought they were meant-to-be because they lived in the same neighborhood. But that was stalking. And this leads to our next tip.
Don’t Reveal Too Much Personal Information on Social Media or to People You Don’t Know
Giving away too much personal information on social media has backfired on many a writer. You don’t need to tell people where you live, who your relatives are, and where you’ll be hanging out Saturday night. No one is entitled to any information you aren’t comfortable giving out. We recommend exercising a good amount of caution when doling out personal information online.
A book we live by and recommend to all, authors or not, is The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker. Buy it, study it, reread it now and then. It’s gospel and will help you understand why and how your intuition works. But also know that ninety-eight percent of your fans are awesome. They’re buying your books and spreading the word. Treat them right.
Write a Good Book
Make sure your book is the best it can be by producing a well-researched, well-edited, and well-written novel. Your real fans and readers deserve nothing less. Respect them by giving them your best. Anything less simply isn’t professional.