Seven things you can do to help the reader

Back in April I wrote about seven things readers can do to help favourite authors. But it goes both ways, you know. The online world makes interaction between readers and authors ever more frequent, more immediate, and often more intense. An arrogant, unappreciative author can do a lot of damage. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing: who likes arrogant, unappreciative people anyway? If the online world outs them, then that’s fine by me.

But it’s still useful for an author to pull him or herself up short occasionally, to make sure we’re not taking our position for granted. It’s easy to get lazy, easy to get carried away with the knee-jerk response, or the delete key.

Here are some of the things authors should consider. It’s all about being professional. It’s all about being appreciative. It’s all about being nice.

  1. Pricing
    If you’re with a big commercial publisher, you have little say in the price that appears on the cover of your books. Increasingly though, authors do have control over the pricing of at least some of their work. Readers… readers are smart enough to know that it’s far cheaper to produce an ebook than a print edition; and that it’s far cheaper to produce a print-on-demand edition than a nationally-distributed and marketed mass market edition. Don’t take the piss. Don’t reason that if someone’s willing to pay £9.99 for a trade paperback it’s reasonable to charge that for your Kindle edition. It’s not. Even if your fans buy it, they’ll resent it. They’ll resent you. That’s not a good way to maintain your beautiful relationship.
  2. Engage, respond
    It almost goes without saying these days, whether you have a mighty commercial publisher behind you or you’re doing it yourself, that as an author you need to be online. You need to blog. You need to Facebook. You need to tweet and get Linkedin and Google-plus yourself left, right and centre. So we do. And some of us SHOUT. When someone follows us on Twitter we have an automated response set to send a ‘personal’ message to the new follower, asking them to buy our latest book. Just to be sure, we tweet about that book every day or more. We Facebook about it. We blog about it. And about nothing else. Writer as Jehovah’s Witness just doesn’t work. I don’t want you knocking on my door to flog your latest book. Several times a day. As a reader I love being acquainted with writers online; I really am a fanboy sometimes. And I like to know what a writer is working on, and what is available to buy. But I want more than that: I want to engage. I want to get to know the writer and his or her preoccupations. I love to get a response to my own tweets and comments and emails. Being nice and considerate is far better marketing than marketing. And it’s fun too: it’s so much more rewarding for a writer to have genuine interaction with readers than just to shout at them all the time.
  3. Give it away, go on
    Back when I started out in ebook publishing, the lovely Steve Savile pointed out to me that for all the genre readers who know an author’s name, there are thousands who don’t. It’s galling, but true: most people don’t have a clue who I am, and why they should give me time of day. There are lots of ways to reach these people, and one is to give stuff away for free. This was the principle on which I founded the online genre fiction showcase infinity plus way back in 1997: a bunch of authors getting together to put fiction online for free, to draw new readers in and share them around. If someone doesn’t recognise my name, why not make stories available for free? At infinity plus ebooks we published a free anthology of fiction from our authors and friends in the hope that it would draw in new readers who might want to buy our books. It also rewards people who do know our work. For the last week or two it’s been in the top three most popular free anthologies at Amazon, finding a huge audience. Freebies are good. We all benefit.
  4. Don’t ever cruise
    I remember years ago reading an interview with an author in a small press magazine, where he said that he was assured of selling everything he wrote to small press magazines and so he was happy. He never made it to the big presses, and even though he was prolific, within a year or two he vanished. Complacency murders creativity. It’s every writer’s duty not to take the easy route: never cruise. Readers won’t hate you for it. They just won’t care.
  5. Attention to detail
    If your tweets are sloppy and ungrammatical, if your blog postings are rough first drafts, that says a lot. Some people won’t care. But remember: most of the people out there really don’t have a clue who you are. Who would bother to spend $2.99 or more on a book by someone who can’t even be botherd to proof-read? Sloppiness undermines your reputation. And nowadays, when – in addition to commercial publishing – most authors will be self-publishing or publishing through cooperatives and small presses, there are even fewer quality controls in place: pay attention to the detail. Get it right. Show you care. Or readers will assume you don’t.
  6. Pay it forward
    Communities build up around writers and writing. A lot of fans are aspiring writers. Some of them will make it. Back in 1989 when I went to my first science-fiction convention, the sorely-missed and total sweetie Rob Holdstock spent the weekend introducing me to people in the business and getting me set up with an agent because he knew that I was about to get offers from two publishers for my work. I ran infinity plus for ten years, and some of my most powerful memories of that time are the comments from writers who have appreciated the fact that I backed them and promoted their work. For me it was simple: if I loved a writer’s work I did my utmost to find an audience for it. Just like Rob did with me, back in ’89. Lots of people are surprised about how supportive writers can be to each other: it’s a competitive world, after all. But kindness repays kindness. Whether the people a writer meets at a con are fellow writers or readers, everyone benefits if we just gave a toss. I choose to give a toss.
  7. Boredom shows
    If a writer gets bored with what they’re doing it shows. Really. Publishers don’t help with this. If a book does well they tend to encourage the author to write something Very Much Like It. Again and again. Writers, even the very best of writers, will do this. They need to make a living. They know that if they compromise just a little, the publisher will probably take the book they really want to write too. And most writers finish a novel knowing just what happens next to their characters. It’s easy to return, easy to pick up the story. Which is all absolutely fine, unless it really does bore you. Most readers won’t hate a writer for doing this. They’ll be grateful for a return to a loved setting, to loved characters. They’ll rush to buy it and that book will be a success too. But even as this happens, most readers will be just a little disappointed; it wasn’t as good as the original. It wasn’t bad, as such. But when the next one comes out, fewer will rush to it. A bored writer doesn’t piss many readers off; she or he just bores them a little. Is that how you want your career to end?

In the increasingly devolved world of publishing, where everyone can be a publisher and everyone can be an author, everyone can also be an unappreciative, arrogant twat. I like my readers. I like that they appreciate what I do and that some of them are interested in engaging with me. So if I get it wrong any time it’s not deliberate: let me know. I’ll be sure to reply! I really hope I can avoid the seven sins outlined above, but I’m sure there are more. If so, tell me. Engage with me. And I’ll try to be nice.

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About Keith Brooke and infinity plus

Keith Brooke is a writer of science fiction, fantasy and other strange stuff, and editor and reviewer of same. He is also the publisher at infinity plus, an independent imprint publishing books by leading genre fiction authors. View all posts by Keith Brooke and infinity plus

7 responses to “Seven things you can do to help the reader

  • 1 Story A Week

    This is great advice. I am going to take this as a checklist for the day when I can finally call myself a “published author”. Thanks for sharing!

    • keithbrooke

      Glad you liked it! I must admit that I’m a fan of checklists: I use them in my teaching a lot. It’s not so much that I’m setting out rules for my students; the reason I like them is that they set a framework for discussion. My seven rules might not be yours, but hopefully it’s a useful entry point for some people.

  • Christine Dougherty

    We use big whiteboards…even for the ongoing tasks! I love making checkmarks, especially next to my favorite admonishment: WRITE!

  • JJ Toner

    Don’t treat your readers like idiots. Leave a trail of breadcrumbs in your plots that they can follow (with a bit of mental work). Don’t hit them over the head explaining every little plot detail.

    Never give them a mystery to worry about and then leave them hanging (as in Tana French’s first book In the Woods, I think it was called).

    With print books, choose a decent-sized font with good spaces between lines.

    I could go on. 🙂

  • James Everington

    Remember you were once a reader too…

    I was talking to a writer the other day on good ol’ Twitter, and he mentioned some promo thing he was going to do that sounded a bit in your face and annoying. He said something like “I wouldn’t like it if I saw an author do it, but my market won’t mind…”

    I gave up the conversation; if you wouldn’t like it, don’t do it! Ethics 101.

    • keithbrooke

      That’s a very interesting comment for this writer to make! It’s always a fine line between inyerface marketing or letting people know what you have available and being just too aggressive and pushy. I really hope I don’t do anything that would piss me off if I was on the receiving end!

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