Sunday, July 5, 2009

Good Manners for Writers

A little over two months ago, I wrote an article for a newsletter and decided to share it here.

Authors are often the best supporters that other authors can have, but sometimes we can overlook a few things that highlight our bad manners with writers, with editors, and with readers. As I looked back over some of my own experiences as an author and as a “fan,” I came up with ideas that might help me and others to be better mannered.

Don’t hog an author’s attention at a signing
. I’ve been guilty of this, I’m afraid. I’ve also had this happen when I had a signing. Of course everyone is thrilled to visit, actually talk to an admired author or maybe one known way back when. However, visitors need to move over or fade into the background so that others can visit and/or get their books autographed. Then, if and when the author is no longer busy, a person might visit some more.

Remember to buy other authors’ books, too. We need to realize when other authors buy our books, we need to return the favor. Of course we can’t buy everyone’s books: Some may not be well written (although, I have a few rather unimpressive books I bought anyway); some may be the genre we won’t buy no matter who the author is; sometimes we don’t have the money to buy anyone’s book. However, we should try to buy at least one book from authors we know have bought a few of ours.

Don’t ask an author to critique your work. A person can inadvertently take an idea from something read months and years previously without realizing from where it came. Authors don’t want to be accused of “stealing” someone else’s story. Therefore, we shouldn’t be offended when an author says she or he can’t read our manuscripts.

Actually, unless we are in a critique group with authors, or know them very well, we shouldn’t ask at all. Just because we think we know authors through their writings does not mean we do “know” them or that they know us.

Unless, an author offers, don’t ask him to review your book, or unless you know the author well or are in a group with him. Also, if an author should agree to review your book, don’t pout if you don’t like the review. I have some books sitting behind my desk that people requested I review, but I cannot recommend anyone read them. Some need extensive professional editing. Therefore I face upsetting authors no matter what I do – either because the review would not be flattering to the book or because I don’t review it.

The Golden Rule is a good rule to follow. We should try putting ourselves in the other author’s position, and then treat her or him as we would like to be treated – truly would like to be treated. For example, I think I’d rather my book not be reviewed than have a reviewer undeservedly destroy it in print.

Insincere praise is worse than saying nothing. Believe it or not, we do not always have to gush over a celebrity, or even a friend. A sincere smile is better than making up something “nice” to say. Well-known authors enjoy hearing we like their books, but we need to mean it. We should also not layer on the flattery, making it worthless.

Working with a professional editor
(whether one who volunteers to help, one paid for services, or one provided by a publisher - should one be fortunate enough to be accepted by a publisher) requires that we as writers cooperate. A good editor is a partner with the author, helping the book be the best it can be. An editor is not the enemy, but he/she is more objective than our friends and/or writing group. I’ve been on the receiving end, and sometimes it hurts to see our “baby” criticized or harmed. However, when I worked with the editor, the result was an improved manuscript. Does that mean we have to make every change suggested, or make changes as suggested? No, but we can use what the editor says to see what we can do to clarify and improve those areas that are noted as requiring improvement.

I hope my few thoughts help us become more mannerly in our dealings as authors, with editors, and for readers.



Dawn Embers said...

This is a very good topic to post. I've read about how authors should be respectful when posting or talking about publishers and such. There is a need for professionalism. However, your post expanded on the topic to areas that people really should pay attention to. Nice.

ChrisChat said...


Great reminders. My problem, when I've met an author or even when emailing, how to walk away or stop without seeming rude.

Another problem--and how to work/fix it--is our voice through email. Specially when submitting critiques or edits or just talking. Some times it is hard to 'read' a person.

I've discovered I want detailed specific crits/edits. Not "would throw it back on the shelf" as that never helps because it doesn't tell me why and reads nasty.

Reviewing is a tough one. Most times I don't see myself reviewing for the author, but for the reader of the book. Yes, I take on a review request from author/publisher/PR; however, the final opinion is towards the future buyer of the book. How to maintain an honest balance? Don't rip an author to shreds, but be fair to the consumer. Guess I'm doing something right since I'm getting repeat requests?

But, this goes to putting ourselves in another's shoes.

Sometimes the internet has made it too easy to forget there's a real person on the other end.

Okay, I've rambled. :-)

ChrisChat said...

Hi, again. Is there any wonder my nickname is chatterbox.

Dawn brought another thought to my mind--approaching publishers you've casually met online.

Between being a reviewer and writing my own fiction, I've worried over contacting the publishers I've become friendly with.

As a few answered my worries--keep it friendly and sure remind them of where we've 'met' but remember in which hat I'm contacting them in...keep the professionalism even when being friends.

Thanks for that point, Dawn.

Donna M. McDine said...


Great reminders post. Ones worth mentioning over and over again. Thanks for sharing what is not always obvious.

Best wishes,
Donna McDine
Children's Author
Write What Inspires You Blog
Donna M. McDine’s Website

unwriter said...

I've reviewed several books and been fortunate that all but one were worth the read. The one that I did not like and would not recommend I sent the author a note stating that I could not review the book fairly.


Karen and Robyn - Writing for Children said...

I recently became a reviewer for and my very first review was on a book that desperately needed professional editing. I declined to review it and emailed the author with what I hope are some helpful words.

Thanks for the reminders, Vivian,

Karen Cioffi

Rena said...

Great advice. Thanks, Vivian.

Katie Hines said...

Great article, Vivian. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Splendid advice! I think it holds true both for the emerging and established writer. When I read for critique/review, I read the first time for my pleasure and jot notes only where something really jumps out (like typos, very passive, i.e.) then go back and read for critique as a writer. I see a review as a conversation between reviewer/editor and writer, with the writer after consideration of the editor/reviewer's comments, having the final word ^_^

I like the tips on signings - I attended one live a few months ago, very few attendees, so I had a chance to talk with the writer, who was proud to explain the foundation of his book (non-fiction) and, when I told him I had a couple poems published and hoped one day to be sitting in his place, he wished me luck verbally and in his inscription (yes, I bought his book, and no, I didn't ask him to read my work, I figured this was his moment, not mine).

Thanks for your continued guidance ^_^


Janet Ann Collins said...

What a helpful article! It's about time somebody posted that advice.

Rena said...

I forgot to add -- I think it's great when authors buy each other's books to support them, as well as do reviews on other's author's books on their blogs and such.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Oh I certainly agree with the first couple points! I've done enough appearances where someone pumped me for info for fifteen minutes and then walked away without buying a book. Took me the longest time to learn how to deter those kinds of people.

L. Diane Wolfe

Helen Ginger said...

Not only is your post full of good advice, it can be a reminder to all of us, no matter how long we've been writing. Thanks!

Straight From Hel

Vivian Zabel said...

Thanks for all the comments. From what I read and number of visitors since I posted this, the topic must be one people are interested in.

Thank you for stopping by and leaving your thoughts.

Liana said...

Thanks for the advice Vivian. You are right!

Joy Nesen said...

Thanks for the good advice, Viv.
You are so right in many ways.
I had a reverse experience where the author wouldn't let me go and he wanted to talk forever. Granted no one else came to his desk at Borders. I stayed until my husband rescued me.


Dianne G. Sagan said...

This is a great reminder for authors and fans. Your point concerning reading other writer's work is one I hadn't thought of before. I'll file that away and remember the next time someone wants me to read their manuscript.

Thanks, Vivian.

Cheryl said...

Excellent article Vivian. It's good have one of these articles now and again so that we are reminded of the level of professionalism we should maintain.

I thought your point about reviewing books was interesting because I've reviewed books for authors I've known, though most of the books I review are for authors on virtual book tours.

The one comment that stuck out at me was this, "For example, I think I’d rather my book not be reviewed than have a reviewer undeservedly destroy it in print.". If a reviewer shares her opinions of the book, how is that "undeservedly" destroying it in print? As long as the reviewer makes the points of where the book did not meet her expectations in a professional manner, her opinion is just as valid as a positive review.

When reviewers decide not to post reviews because they will be less than flattering, who is truly being helped? The author has no idea where her book fell short for the reader and other potential readers don't have that information to make a purchasing decision. Karen's decision to email the author and provide the author with a few helpful hints, could be a good one, but not always depending upon how the author reacts.

One thing I make a point not to do is post my reviews at other sites if they are less than favorable. I'm a member of Goodreads and a few other sites, but I won't post my review anywhere other than my blog if I can't give a decent review on a book.

Thanks for such a helpful article. I hope to see more like these too.


Vivian Zabel said...

Ah, Cheryl, the example you give is not undeservedly critical, but is deservedly so. Believe me, if you ever have someone maliciously destroy a book you've written, you'll know exactly what I mean, or if you ever see a review that is hateful and mean, you will.

However, there are authors who refuse to see a deserved black mark against their books, and those I will not review. I'll be fair, but I'll be nicely honest (and that is possible).