Monday, October 10, 2016

Ms. Book Manners Says...

Growing up, my mom read Miss Manners to me. She taught me where the salad, entree, shrimp, and dessert forks go. That knives should be placed with the cutting edge toward the plate. Cover your sneezes. Hold doors open for older people. Wrestle in the backyard. All kinds of manners.

Sadly so many people are lacking in basic manners because they are not taught them (unless you're from a royal or noble house it seems). There are some manners that authors in particular should learn and follow. I've learned these- some the hard way- and some I've added. If you think of any more, kindly let me know and I'll add them to the list.

  1. When you send out a book for review, include a 'thank you' to the person for taking the time to do a review. Thank the blogger for featuring an interview, guest post, or giveaway. They are doing you a favor and deserve the simple courtesy.
  2. If the review is bad, remember that they did not guarantee a good one. Don't comment. Yes, you're hurt, this is your baby. Run a marathon, eat a whole cake, yell at the couch. Commenting will only make the blogger defensive and give you a bad rep. Agents, editors, and any published writer will tell you: Don't do it.
  3. With a giveaway, send a nice note to the winner. Just a simple 'thank you for your interest in my book, congratulations, and I hope you enjoy.' That's it. Don't pressure them to look at other books (but include a bookmark or other promotional items). This is good PR because you're thanking them without knowing their opinion (and don't ask them to get back to you; if they don't like your book, it will create awkwardness). By being pleasant beforehand, it may make them more predisposed to look favorably on your work.
  4. Social media can be a booby trap. Keep it friendly but impersonal. (Hard lesson learned here: people will believe the best of themselves and the worst of everyone else.). Keep mentions to your book, fluffy llamas, wishing people happy birthday, and pictures of clouds that look like your favorite rock star. Even if you have a separate author and personal Facebook page, people hunting simply by your name will come upon both. It's doubtful you'll meet your next best friend or a significant other or agent (although it must have happened, but the odds are against it), so don't feel pressured to engage in politics or issues where people who are looking for an argument can force one.
  5. Politely listen to the professionals: your agent, editor, publicist, illustrator or published mentor whether you have a contract with them, met them at a conference or simply asked their opinion. They got where they are because their opinion and knowledge is respected in the business. You don't have to like or agree with it. Arguing, getting defensive or refusing to consider advice (and yes, I struggle with this- I'm very emotional and strong-minded about my books), won't get you anything but dismissed. The editor for Sirenz (Flux), loved the concept! But only the first five chapters. We were advised to toss the last fifteen. Yup, three fourths of the book went into the garbage. And it was a good thing. We got published. I've made so many changes to my NA sci fi, some which I hated making, but I did them on the advice of my agent and editors- even though I never got offered a contract. It's sitting in a file on my hard drive... But not making the changes would have guaranteed it went nowhere, would have earned me the label of being 'difficult' and really, was rude to the editors and agent who spent so much time reading the book and thinking how to make it better. Take a break from it for a week, a month while you ponder.... Then suck it up.
  6. Don't bash anyone- editor, agent, other author. Complain about how frustrated you are, sure, because the cat or dog will keep your secret. Never say anything about a person in public because while it seems the publishing world is big- word gets around. I know people who are 'blacklisted.' Editors and agents refuse to work with them. You do not want to be this person. Karma, baby, karma. And as Ms. Manners and your mother might have said: Keep your thoughts to yourself.
  7. Distance yourself from other authors' fights/drama. It's different if you show support for someone who's being targeted, shamed, going through an illness, etc. If they're fighting with an agent, editor, publishing house, blogger etc., step away. You don't know all the details and how it will affect you. The same is true for their politics. What's popular today may not be tomorrow, and by taking sides, you alienate some readers.
  8. Please support each other. You don't have to buy every book, or go to every event, but share their good news, tell others about it, and be happy for others' successes. Your turn will come and what goes around, comes around...
  9. Share information. When you help a colleague or a debut author/illustrator, you help the book community, you build good relationships, and become known as a team player. Maybe you'll increase sales or get a school visit. Even if you don't, the good will is priceless.
  10. Be respectful at conferences. Don't shove your manuscript at editors and agents or well-known authors and demand they read it. (I've heard tales of newbie authors shoving their novels under bathroom stall doors or under hotel room doors. Don't.) There should be a process to get a chance to talk to these people and get some feedback or the chance to submit your work via their guidelines, which it behooves you to read up on and follow. 
  11. Always look professional at events. Your Kim K holey jeans, stained shirts, and ratty looking hair are turn offs. Editors and agents might be thinking that if you don't care about looking professional, will you care about how you represent the publishing house? Author events are not for you to show in-your-face style. Colored hair, character clothing, fun things are okay, but know where to draw the line. 
  12. Please know when to. Shut. Up. I've been to events where authors drone on and on and nauseam. Not only do you bore your audience, but you alienate the other authors (really, it's annoying), you risk the moderator telling you to wrap it up in front of everyone embarrassing you, and possibly kill any return invites. Practice your presentation so you know if it needs to be cut. If you're on a panel, keep your answers short. People who are really interested in what you have to say can ask questions afterwards. People not making eye contact, checking their phone (or like me, writing this blog post as I sat bored beyond tears) are clearly not listening anymore. Take the hint and be polite enough to wrap it up.
  13.  No one likes rejections. It feels like being told 'go away, you're not a good writer.' But that's not it at all; it's only a 'sorry, but I'm not interested.' Things will be okay; maybe not today or even this year, so don't do something stupid like criticize the editor (see Rule #6 again). I don't know of any author who didn't get rejected. You don't have to like rejections, but you have to accept them. Move on.
  14. When waiting for a reply from an editor or agent about your manuscript, or trying to book an event, send no more than two followups. If they haven't answered after that, truly they aren't interested. Agents generally send a definitive yes or no, editors only if they're interested. I once got a reply from an editor that he wasn't interested in my manuscript two years after the initial query. Yeah, I got that feeling after 3 months. I submitted it elsewhere and it was published by someone else in the meantime. When sending a follow up, don't issue ultimatums: if you don't answer, I'll send it to Ms. Other Editor.' Be polite, not 'why haven't you responded, it's been a year!'  Send a brief email which references your book by title, a 1-2 sentence synopsis, when you sent the query/chapters/ms, and circumstances where they asked for it, like at the NJ SCBWI annual conference in June, 201X. Wait at least two months for the first follow up, two months for the second. And if you decide to send it out to other editors/agents after the first 30 days, there is no need to throw that at the editor. Don't spend your life waiting for someone to respond.
  15. If you spam your friends and everyone you know with every little tidbit about your writing life, you're going to annoy them. You may even lose followers. Yes, announce when a new contract is signed, when a book will debut, about giveaways. That's sufficient.
  16. If you're in the industry, use the industry standards. Never use a fancy font for the entire manuscript (I've used a different font to make text look like it was handwritten because in the story, the character found a note; that's acceptable).  Use Times New Roman or Courier, 12 pt., double-spaced, new chapters begin halfway down a clean page. Page numbers on the top right corner, title/author on top left corner. The first page should have author's name and info, genre, word count, title.
Treat your writing life as you would if you were working for a business. You may not be in this for money, but you should always act professional because for editors, agents, publicists, other authors, it is their business.

Talk soon,


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