Fear in Writing: Author Do's and Don't's

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Author Do's and Don't's

1. Do comment politely. When your name is mentioned on a blog, whether the topic is positive or negative, comment politely and with encouragement.  On Wednesday, I posted about the potential benefits of online personal libraries to authors.  I mentioned my disappointment in a recent read by Christopher Fowler as well as my enjoyment of a book by Timothy Hallinan.  Both authors took the time to comment politely on my blog.  Timothy's just furthered my opinion of him as an author and fellow blogger.  Christopher's made me realize I have to read another one of his books.  How could I not after he so politely commented and encouraged me to do so?  (You can read my post and their comments here.)  Negative comments can have the opposite affect.

2.  Do include a succinct, flattering bio. I like to know who wrote the book I'm reading.  Maybe it stems from my training as a journalist, but I think it informs the reader and enriches the experience of the read.  However, a bio that is too long or includes too many accolades turns me off.  I don't want to read an author who praises his or herself too much, includes their pet goldfish's name (unless that is their only "child"), and lists every city in which they've lived over the past three decades.  Too much information is a turnoff.  Keep it tight.  Keep it interesting.  Keep it informative.

3.  Don't respond to negative reviews in kind. Putting your art out there means putting a piece of yourself out there.  One must be prepared for both positive and negative response.  I have not done this yet in full-length novel form, so I can't say how it truly feels, but I can imagine it really hurts to read a bad review.  In a reader's opinion, the worst thing an author can do is respond to a negative review with a negative comment.  You immediately paint yourself with the controversial brush and lose readership.  If I hear of an author doing this, I will put them on my avoid list.  Suck it up, and see #1.

4.  Don't treat your audience like kindergarteners.  If you are writing children's books, obviously this one is not for you!  Otherwise, defining every word and phrase in a book and spelling out every scenario is not necessary.  Leave some things for your reader to guess or even imagine for themself.  This follows the long-encouraged "show don't tell" logic of writing, but takes it even further.  If you refer to a city by a nickname, let the reader either figure it out or look it up.  So they have to do a little work...it's good for a them!  (Caviat: don't take this too far.  I used a literary dictionary to read Umberto Eco--that's probably a bit too much, but I was an English major, so I enjoyed it.)

Anyone else have Do's or Don't's to add?  I'm sure I'll think of more after I hit post!


  1. Thanks for the tips. It's helpful to be reminded of these points of civility... especially the one about replying in kind to negatives.

  2. I like this! In particular, the one that says not to undervalue the intelligence of your readers. That makes me burn.

  3. Good checklist.
    I'd add - do remain humble.

  4. It's really important to take readers in mind when making small decisions. Small things can become big!

    Glad you all like the list. Good addition, Alex!

  5. THis is great advice. I think nothing is worse than having to read awkward interchanges. Always be polite. I like it.


  6. Great post Michele,

    I just wrote a short review this morning and your article reminded me that I neglected to write a short bio for the author and book reviewed. Sure wish I would have read this first.

  7. Great list, Michelle! And I agree with everything you said. Recently my CP had an author argue with her on her review on Goodreads. Bad form, though my CP handled it nicely (and the review wasn't mean anyway).

  8. Being polite is the way to go. Good tips.

    Thoughts in Progress

  9. I like #2, but Bio's are usually just "From here, now lives here, attended this school, and has written these." A little dull, but better than nothing. I guess that's what websites are for, eh? Good add, Alex!

  10. Thanks for the encouragement. I had a moment a few weeks back when something big fell through in terms of PR for my novel. I read the e-mail and had a moment or two of quiet, deflating disappointment. After I allowed myself some time, I then wrote back with my understanding and closed by adding that perhaps some time in the future we might be able to do something mutally beneficial. I received an apology back, followed a few weeks later by a stunning development: my novel had been given a second chance (seems the folks were having trouble embracing the whole E-book concept and that was what had been road-blocking the project). Suddenly I was being informed that the person loved my novel and definitely wanted to do a feature. This is not the only time that this has occurred. It is not always easy, but, as you rightly posted, putting art out there for the masses to critique is not always going to be positive, and every author needs to be prepared to handle both the positive and the negative.
    Thanks again.

  11. Good points. It's always impressive when authors comment politely. I liked your points about author's bios. I personally don't like it when they come across as too cheesy or are packed with forced jokes, but then they are not the easiest things in the world to write. I think your advice of keeping them tight and to the point is a key one.

  12. Lovely post...always a good reminder to check our ego's at the door.

  13. Great list. And the commenting even when reviews are negative is a really important one that I will keep in mind if I ever get the chance to be an author of a published book :)

  14. Good list, Michele! Acting with class is always important! :)

  15. Clarissa- Very true. I was thinking specifically of the involved parties, but you are right: others read the exchanges as well!

    JL- I love knowing a little something about the author. It kicks things off.

    Jackee- I really do understand that books are so personal they feel they should defend them. But arguing is worse than the review in the first place!

    Will- I'm sure there are those who like more flamboyant bios, but I'm not one of them. Yes, websites should have flair.

    James- Fantastic story! And bravo for showing restraint. I am glad it worked out for you in the positive. This speaks well of you.

    Debbie- Cheesy is definitely the word. There are some that make me think twice about the novel b/c the bio is so cheesy. I know that's insane, but do I really care how many times they painted their house? Ah, artists.

    Ann- Definitely.

    Tabitha- We can all dream, right?

    Jemi- Thanks! You are so right. :)

  16. I'd been considering starting flame wars as a publicity stunt, but since I don't have a novel published yet, didn't think the time was quite right. Now perhaps I'll reconsider that strategy....

    Very good points, good lady. Well said!

  17. Hi Michele,

    Very true, especially with the last point! Often it's difficult to avoid this in writing, but I'm glad you offered that simple chant we can use from now on - show don't tell. I think this is what I struggle with the most. Great post!