Miss Manners for Authors

Being as we authors do a lot of promoting online and not face-to-face, some social graces can be ignored. For example, if you don’t want to take a shower or brush your teeth, don’t. That’s totally cool.

However, manners should not simply vanish when you step into the eWorld. You are still representing yourself, if not with your appearance, then with your attitude and your words. With that in mind, here are some rules for the sometimes-socially-inept- because-we-spend- so-much-time- in-a-dark- room-staring-at- a-monitor author:

Everything you say can and will be used against you. Maybe not in a court of law, but somewhere. You think you can leave a snarky comment on someone’s blog and have it not traced back to you? Try again. In fact, go Google your name right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Did you find some surprising things? That newspaper editorial you wrote in college? The comment about your grandma’s stinky feet you left on your husband’s blog? A complaint about your publisher in a Yahoo Group you didn’t know was public? Perhaps even a book review you wrote on Amazon panning a fellow author? Scary, huh? Just keep in mind that everything you write on the internet can (and probably will) be attributed to you.

Now, I’m not saying that you have to lie about really liking someone’s book when you didn’t, or that you have to refrain from being snarky at all times. Hey, I’m a snarky b-witch sometimes, but I do it with the full understanding that anyone can (and probably will) read it and add it to their mental list of Things About Sonja Foust. So if you don’t want what you say linked to you, it’s simple: Don’t say it! I say it’s simple, but really, I’ve seen so many authors say so many things that I wouldn’t be caught dead saying, that I don’t think people really get it.

Some things you should think long and hard about before you say them:

“This book was crap.”
Ok, maybe it was crap. Maybe you hated it. Maybe the hero was a sheik with fangs who was switched at birth and now has a mistress with a secret baby. Oh, and he’s a cowboy too. But really. Someone liked that book. I promise. Someone probably loved it. More likely than not, some high-profile author is friends with the author who penned The Cowboy Sheik Who Bit My Baby. The publishing world is small, and I guarantee that you will offend someone. Do you really need to vent that bad? Is it your duty to save the world from a vampire-cowboy-sheik? Think about that.

“All [insert author here]’s stuff sucks.”
This is the same issue. Think about how we’re all connected, and then think about how word spreads. I will say it again: the publishing world is small!

“[Insert high-profile organization name here] is [insert derogatory adjective here].”
We all know that there are a few very prominent author and reader organizations in the writing world. We all also know that no organization is perfect. But what we all don’t know is which authors belong to which organizations and which ones are rabid defenders of those organizations. If you’re going to call out an organization as a whole, be prepared to have the members of that organization descend upon you like a plague of locusts. Ok, not really, but I liked the imagery. Seriously though, remember who you might be offending.

“My book is better than that book because…”
In fact, I’d pretty much stay completely away from comparing your book to someone else’s book. For one thing, that someone may not appreciate the comparison. For another, your book is totally awesome and can stand on its own without a comparison, even if you’re going for a favorable comparison. Instead of, “My book is sort of like Meg Cabot’s Size 12 Is Not Fat except with less song lyrics,” try, “I’ve written a mystery with a cute and sassy heroine that I think you’ll really love.” See? Doesn’t that sound better? And now you’re not offending anyone, including Meg Cabot. The world is a better place.

“My publisher pissed me off.”
If your publisher pissed you off, and especially if you are still with the publisher in question, you need to go directly to your editor or contact person and voice your complaint with them, not with your eloops or chat rooms or (god forbid) on your blog. It’s unprofessional, and I’m sure your publisher would much rather hear it directly from you than through the internet grapevine.

The common theme for all of this? Be careful what you say! I’m meaning for this mostly to apply to what you say online, but it also applies to what you say in person, yes, even if you are an eBook author. It applies when you are speaking at writing group meetings, doing book-signings, or even talking to your friends and contacts who are all potential readers.

Sometimes playing around on the internet doesn’t really feel professional, but if you are out there marketing your book, you are a professional, and you need to act like one. So put on your big girl panties and do the right thing.


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