Recently, I’ve heard quite a bit about authors behaving badly, both online and at a recent literary event I attended. Those who have witnessed this find it distressing, a black mark on the literary community.
There’s no such thing as an Author Code of Conduct, but if there were, these would be my suggestions:
1) Be dignified. Sure, we all want to sell books, but there’s a way to do it without looking desperate. If you’re traditionally published, consider following the example of many traditionally published authors as they inform readers that first-week book sales, just like opening weekend receipts for a movie, are crucial, and that they hope readers who are planning to read the book anyway will either place a preorder or get it within a week after publication. Doesn’t that sound gracious? On the other hand, saying something like, “Please buy my book, or my publisher is going to kick me to the curb,” or even (for indie authors who don’t have that first-week pressure to contend with but want sales nevertheless) “Please buy my book,” sounds too much like…begging.2) I have not witnessed this behavior myself, but I’ve heard it said that authors have been known to publicly accuse other authors of getting all their friends to write favorable reviews of their books. Well, so what if they do? Is that really any of our business? Does this affect us directly? So why bother with it? The best thing a writer can do is concentrate on their own career, not somebody else’s. Positive reviews are definitely a good thing, but the number that counts more than anything else is the number of net units sold, not the number of "likes," not the number of reviews, or any other number.
3) If you have encounters with other authors who act like they don’t want to be bothered or are otherwise less than pleasant, just get away from them pronto. I remember my own encounters with a writing colleague, who never failed to make a catty remark within 30 seconds of “hello” to remind me that they were miles ahead of me…with all the subtlety of the lights of the Las Vegas Strip. It happened with never-failing predictability, and I found it quite amusing, because I never considered myself to be in competition with that writer or any other. But their behavior gave me an idea for a book about people who felt they had to own bigger, better, and more expensive belongings than anyone else and who really had to scramble when wealthy people moved into the neighborhood. That result, my first novel of women’s fiction called The People Next Door (and its sequel, Trouble Down The Road), made me a nice amount of change and attracted attention from film producers (even if it went nowhere, as these things often do), and many readers wrote to comment on it, saying they had neighbors just like that. Too bad I can’t thank the source for the part they played in that success. Just remember, you’re a writer. Everyone is material for a book…the good, the bad, and especially the unpleasant and the tripsters like my colleague…who often make the best characters.On social networking sites:
1) Promoting your books is fine, but constant (as in daily or even several times a day) tweets about your book will likely be considered nuisances by those following you.2) If you befriend someone and they accept you, don’t go to their wall and post promo about your book. That’s just rude. It’s much better to send them a private message. If you feel you absolutely have to post on people’s walls, ask for permission first, but don’t be surprised (and don’t get into a snit and shoot off a nasty message) if you’re turned down.
3) Likewise, don’t start sending chat messages to your friends about your book. Annoying with a capital A. Let them do their networking in peace.4) If you join a group, be sure to see what type of group it is. Some groups are nothing more than a place to post book promo. Others have stringent rules about times to when this can be done to keep from becoming little more than places to post book promo. If the group is active, plan to participate at least minimally. Simply popping in to advertise your book, even on days when it is allowed, and never joining in conversations is like saying, “I could care less about this group; I just want all of you to buy my book.” Sometimes members ask questions specifically targeted at authors. As for posting about your book on a daily or several-times-a-week basis, this is definitely on the wrong side of the “pest” line, and that is why some groups have instituted strict guidelines about which days people can post promo in the first place. Make sure you look at them before you start posting.
5) If a group contains both authors and readers and books are openly discussed, don’t go off the deep end if someone says they weren’t crazy about your book. (This is presuming the statement is made diplomatically, i.e., “It wasn’t my cup of tea,” vs. something insulting like, “That book was a piece of crap.”) I personally believe that most readers will take the high road and be honest without being offensive. If you want to respond, it’s best to limit your remarks to acknowledging their feelings and perhaps your own disappointment that they didn’t like it. No need to be apologetic about your work (remember your dignity!); the simple truth is that every book is not for every reader. And please refrain from defending or trying to explain your work; that isn’t going to make them change their mind and doesn’t reflect particularly well on you. Most groups enjoy having authors participate, but bad behavior will get us banned.For book retail sites:
1) If you’re reissuing a backlist title, be sure to disclose this to readers. Avid readers who devour several books a week won’t always recognize a book with a new cover as one they’ve read before. Others will recognize it and will want to put the electronic version on their eReader, but if they don’t, why risk antagonizing them? Be upfront with readers and let them decide whether they want to order the electronic version or not. These days angry readers will slam you with 1-star reviews for what they perceive as your trying to pull a fast one…and there’s nothing you can do to justify it.
2) Learn this mantra: “Everyone is not going to like my book…Everyone is not going to like my book…” Repeat ten times. In that vein, let me say this: All reviews you receive will not be glowing. Refrain from responding to negative reviews; if you absolutely must, limit your remarks to acknowledgments and expressions of disappointment only, as stated above in the social media section. It’s never a bad thing for readers to think of you as a gracious, even if they didn’t care for your book.
3) Sometimes reviews simply aren’t fair. It burns me when I see an author slammed unfairly, i.e., they clearly state in the product description that it is a short story or a novelette/novella and readers give them low ratings “because it was short,” or when they make it clear this is a backlist title being re-published and readers slam them because they’ve already read the book (but we’re talking about authors behaving badly today, not readers, so let’s move along). This hasn’t happened to me as of this date, but I would strongly advise to simply take the high road, at least in public. In private, by all means let loose with a string of expletives, but please hold back on issuing a public response. Consider contacting the retailer to consider removing the review, pointing out that the review is invalid because the information they claim was missing was there but somehow not seen. Don’t get a friend to respond to the reviewer on your behalf. And do I even have to say that asking your readers to attack the reviewer is the behavior of a third-grader, not of a responsible adult?
In conclusion, always remember that writing is supposed to be a professional occupation. Please give it (and yourself) the respect it deserves.