Six impossible things

A few things not to do

In the last couple of months, I’ve had the opportunity to observe a number of new writers doing things that…well, to say they don’t work is a serious understatement. I’m not talking about the writing itself, at the moment. I’m talking about the business end.

There are oodles of lists of what not to do in the submission process, and I’m not going to repeat them here – besides, you folks know all that stuff already, right? Unfortunately, a bunch of just-published-for-the-first-time writers have come up with a whole lot of brand new ways to sabotage themselves – and not just with industry professionals, like editors and agents, but with reviewers, publicity people, booksellers, readers…people who either are their ultimate audience, or who have a whole lot to say about how and when and whether readers can look at the book.

A lot of it comes out of the facts that a) publicity for a newly-published title is more and more being pushed off onto the authors, and b) authors are not publicists and often really, really don’t know what they’re doing. Even so, some of this should be common sense.

Take the matter of getting reviews. Usually the publisher prints up a couple of hundred ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies) and sends them to big review magazines like Kirkus and the New York Times book review section, and then sends the author ten or twenty with instructions to “send them out to places we won’t think of.” By this, they mean specialty bloggers, local papers that have book review sections that might be particularly interested in a local writer, local radio stations that do book stuff, library newsletters, already-published authors who might give a blurb or a mention on their blog, etc. – anywhere that the author thinks might have a shot at getting some attention for the book, but that isn’t the sort of national-level, distributor-level publicity that the publisher is sending the ARCs to.

In other words, most of the people the author will be approaching are professionals, working in a professional capacity, from whom the writer is asking for free publicity. It is therefore not a good idea to tell them how to do their job – yet I have seen more than one letter explaining to a prospective reviewer just how important reviews are (they know), or saying that the reviewer’s response will be considered inadequate if all the writer gets is a good review on their blog. No, the reviewer are supposed to go to, B&N, Goodreads, and various other review web sites and rate the book five stars in each and every venue. (Yes, more than one person did this. I didn’t believe it, either, until I went and tracked down where I’d seen it before.)

When you’re asking for a review, you’re not doing the reviewer a favor by offering them a free ARC. They’re doing you a favor. Don’t demand extra work (which is what “don’t forget to review this favorably on six review websites” is doing). If you’ve read their column/blog/whatever and you don’t think they do a good job, don’t waste your breath/paper/electrons telling them how you think they should do it right. Just don’t send them the ARC. There are always more places you could send the things than you have copies.

Don’t explain to the reviewer or publicity person that reviews are really really really important and you’re trying to generate buzz, so could they post/print their review on the first Monday in August so that the publicity will all hit at the same time. Not even if you say “please.” It’s their column/blog and they presumably know what they’re doing; saying “The book will be released in the first week in August.” is the most you need (and that’s probably printed in the ARC, so you probably don’t need it in the cover letter.)

And speaking of Amazon reviews and other online reactions, arguing with reviews and reviewers is a really, really bad idea. Arguing with people in comments is worse, if that’s possible. Some people will hate what you wrote. Deal with it. Telling them that they’re wrong makes you look like an idiot – they know better than you do whether they like the book or not. It doesn’t really matter that they’re having a knee-jerk reaction to something that reminded them of that horrible thing that happened in second grade that has nothing to do with what you wrote. The author yelling at a reader or getting defensive about her/his writing always looks bad, no matter how much of an idiot the reader is being. Yell in the privacy of your home, not in public…and remember, everything online is public to some degree.

Printing up your own bookplates and bookmarks as giveaways is fairly common these days, but if you’re going to do it, consult someone who actually knows something about graphic design. Once you have them, do not, not, not go into bookstores and demand that they put your giveaways up by the cash register. That is premium space that large corporations pay actual money – lots of it – to get their items into; the store is not going to put your stuff there for free, and it is ridiculous to get mad at the overworked clerk who tries to politely tell you this (or who accepts your freebies without comment because they don’t want to argue, and then doesn’t put them out, which you discover a week later when you pop around to check whether the store needs more).

Basically, don’t act as if you’re entitled to free space, free publicity, free comments, free reviews, free anything. And if you have no idea what professional behavior looks like, don’t jump into the publicity game, because under those circumstances it will only end badly.

  1. This reminds me of an article I read yesterday:

    So, it’s not just authors who are blundering in this review capacity, but publishers as well. You would think that people would learn to not underestimate the Internet…

  2. Do authors really do these^ things? Yucky phooey.
    This sounds like bullish behavior, not ignorance. Making demands of anyone who didn’t ask to be contacted is just bad boorish behavior.

  3. Thank you so very, very much for this. Can I also add, don’t include your book in e-pub formats in your inquiry letter to a possible reviewer? I posted this on my Facebook page a while back when I was really frustrated with having my email clogged with someone’s book.

  4. This is such a concise and helpful compilation of sensible reminders that I couldn’t resist linking to it from

    Thanks for sharing bits and pieces of your life with us, and thanks for all your priceless words of wisdom — but thanks most of all for becoming an author instead of an accountant, or publicist, or lawyer, or… (insert here any one of those dozen-or-so other professions that authors must be to make it in the publishing world).

    Merry Christmas!

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