A PSA on how, when, and why to contact an author, or at least this one
A decade ago I sat with NYT bestselling authors at an RWA function, several of them friends, and one of them leaned over, held my hand and said, “Honey, treasure this time you’re not published. It’ll never be this quiet and easy once you start making your mark.” Another author from this same crew in a different venue smiled wryly when several of us unpubbed authors vowed we’d never send out inferior, unpolished work, that we’d always serve the story first, last and always. “Not once you’re under deadline, you won’t,” she said. I seethed during both conversations and vowed with the passion only the young and foolish can swear that I would never, ever believe either of those things.
Today I believe both of those things. I don’t long to be unpublished, but I sometimes think of the quiet headspace and room to create I once had and wish I’d enjoyed it more–which is what those authors had, somewhat clumsily, been saying. I even get now why their words hurt a bit–they were meant to, because those authors were jealous. Because nobody enjoys those days of anonymity. Nobody understands what a gift of space and time that is. Not until it’s too late.
Someone asked me the other day how many hours a day I write, and I had to shut my eyes a moment and hit rewind to calculate when the last time I’d composed story actually was. (Seven days, and now it’s ten.) When I say that, I think the general public assumption is I had to stop to do laundry, or binge-watched a show or gossiped with a friend. The truth is that I’ve put in minimum ten hours a day every one of those ten days. I have RT convention coming up, a proposal due, a book I’m editing for release, another I’m final proofing for re-release, a blog tour I’m running as soon as I get back from RT, and another re-release I’m five months late reformatting and editing. Though my average of releases a year is 3-4, this year I have seven: four re-releases and three new. I’ve also been to the hospital twice this spring, once for surgery, and I’m heading under the knife again at the end of July–and that convalescence must be accounted for in my work schedule. I’m prepping work for summer of 2015, which means by the time this fall comes I will have to have completed two more works–and honestly, I need to begin mentally mapping three more works for the rest of that year and into 2016.
And yeah, every now and again I have to push back the tides of all the above and actually write, to make sure the nougat center of the crazy author machine keeps churning.
My point of relaying all this is not to get you to play violins for me but to backdrop what goes on in my life on a daily basis, especially right now. I spend $24 a month on organizational software just so I can keep up with myself. My email inbox is an intricate system of colored flags and folders which are the only way I make sure no ball is dropped. I am CEO, manager, secretary, promoter, cook, janitor and accountant for a one-woman operation. This is not a state of being unique to me–many, many many authors have this kind of schedule. And yes, we have to get on social media and promote, and interact–and we do. We want to play and connect. That’s the whole point of why we killed ourselves to get published, right? To talk to readers? To have our stories be heard?
It is. It absolutely is.
Who I Always Want to Hear From, and How Best to Do It
Readers, I always want to hear from you. Email is best. Or, you know, twitter or FB wall is GREAT. I always see those, and if you’re okay with a favorite or like or quickie comment for me to hug you and say I heard you back, I can so meet you there even if I’m in line at the grocery store. If you need to email or PM? Go for it. Long as you want! It might take me awhile to answer, but I will. I love hearing from you. Always. Every time. Sometimes you move me so much I don’t know what to say, but that kind of communication? It always brings me home. Reminds me why I work the 80 hours. There are many of you whose comments in pixels and in person stand out like lighthouses for me when I get bogged down. Please, don’t ever stop.
Bloggers. I always want to hear from you too. Bloggers, you’re business. You’re my best promo going, you’re the way most of my readers find me–as much as I can be, I’m yours. I’d say you need to give me a little warning, but you know, I don’t have to, because you’re all so awesome you always do. Email is always best, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS, because if I check my PMs in a store (often. Happens OFTEN) I won’t remember very well to go back and see what you said or that you spoke. I might, in the middle of the night, think I’ve possibly forgotten something. But that’s rare, and when you do PM me or something more casual, you follow up and walk me through. Because you’re professionals and you’re awesome.
Librarians. For you, I would walk over coals. Librarians, I wrote a book about a librarian which I dedicated to you because this is how much I love librarians. (Sleigh Ride, Samhain Publishing, out November 2014.) I can’t always give you a book, but I’ll try if I can, and I’ll always give you whatever I”m able as fast as possible. You are how I read most of my books until I was in my late twenties. You are what kept me sane and connected when I was a small child and young adult. Outside of my child and my cats, everything else you might ask for is a negotiable item. (You could have my husband with hello. He loves you even more than me.) However you can get ahold of me, do it, and I’m all over you so fast you’ll think I’m your shadow.
Family members, I’m really not dead, just an ass. This notation of “family” includes made family, and you know who you are. You can call me, PM me, email me, show up at my door. I know I have sucked epically at being available, but I still love you, and I’m still yours. Please beat me about the head if I’m ignoring you. Always.
These are the people I want, NEED to hear from. And really, I’m game to hear from anybody. But given how things have been going lately, I’m going to put this out there as public record, and I’m considering it fair warning. Here are some things I would like the world to know about getting ahold of me if you don’t fit one of the above criteria/scenarios. Here I have no idea how much this applies to other authors, but I’m betting I’m not exactly a unicorn here.
What Not to Wear When Contacting an Author
The worst way in the world to get my attention is in a PM of a social media service. The one medium which is mostly safe is twitter, because I am crazy careful about who I follow. If I’m following you, then you can PM me and I’ll pay attention. In fact if it’s important I’ll ask you to email it to me so I don’t forget. Twitter is also easy because I love it like chocolate and am on there all the time.
But everywhere else? Goodreads? Facebook? Possibly there are other places, but if someone has PMd me on Tumblr or Pinterest or Instagram or some such, I don’t even know how to access those, and I’m not going to learn. I cannot take one more contact point or I’ll blow up. As it is, Goodreads and Facebook in particular are getting bogged way, way down with authors PMing me as promo (????!!!!), people I don’t know asking for help/favors freebies, or especially on Facebook, creeping all over me. I’m really, really bitter about FB because I have friends on my author account I hug in PM, and there’s nothing like going in to snug on Leigh and having to sidestep a freak or someone trying to guilt me into becoming their promotional manager. And that’s a great segue to another point.
If you are a budding author, want-to-be author, lost and confused author and I do not know you from Adam, you should join RWA or whatever appropriate organization and learn the ropes there, not ask me. If you’re a reader of mine and we’ve already established a personal connection, or you’re a friend of mine, that’s slightly different. If you’re a friend, it’s different. If we’ve hung at a con, or had any kind of interaction that is moderately human, emailing me and asking for direction is part of the social contract, and I’m down. I might have to tell you I don’t have time or don’t have a clue. I might have to tell you to be patient or give you a quickie answer. But I can do that because we’re friends. We can grab lunch sometime or work in a phone call. Because what everyone truly needs in that moment is a mirror, someone to reflect themselves back at them. THAT is the secret to all writing advice: look at yourself. There is no formula, no bullet, no key. There is you and your path, which you alone must find. But you should totally lunch and dish with friends on the way.
And so if you are DESPERATE to become my friend, or any author’s friend, so you too can nosh and dish, you need to do the work. You need to go out of your way to associate with whoever it is you’re courting, and you need to be humble and patient. It’s like dating. Be interesting. Be compassionate. Be the thing that person needs, but please don’t be crazy because we’re all full up here.
I have about fifty great friends I’ve made THROUGH twitter. I got my AGENT via twitter. There’s a woman, a reader, on FB I haven’t met but when I do I’m hugging the hell out of her because she makes me really happy. I would do about anything for her, and I haven’t ever met her.
Authors–PMing your “news” or begging for (or hell, demanding) help form a stranger or even outright emailing it is not a strategy. The story of too much shit to do I told above could be told by any author working full time. It’s told with crippling agony by someone working a day job–because they have all that PLUS A DAY JOB, and occasional nuzzles with sleep. There is nothing endearing about cold messages assuming we have nothing better to do than abruptly go see your event, release, or stop everything and give you the secret of life.
If you are asking an author for a favor, be polite, prepared and patient. I’m always looking to promote, but I’m not a whore. If you’re a small blogger, I can get you an ARC as part of a blog tour. If your blog has medium to heavy traffic, probably my publisher already gave the book you’re after to you, but if not I’m happy to oblige. If you’re a small blogger and we’ve been cordial and friendly to each other, if the first interaction we had wasn’t “hey can I have a free book,” I probably will wink and slip you a copy. But if you basically email me–or god help us all, PM me and say “Hi I’m Sally can I have a free book” I’m probably not going to be answering.
If you’re an unpublished author, if you’re an author I don’t know and you want advice, a free book, a hug, a kidney–I applaud your efforts, I wish you luck, I direct you to organizations and my blog archive, but I can’t read what you send me, I can’t add another hour to my day to give you tips, and I absolutely won’t introduce you to my agent. Especially if you ask for all of this in your opening salvo.
If we have had casual contact, if I would know you if we passed through a conference hall, I’ll do my best, but I might have to regretfully decline. I think this is the hardest part about achieving any kind of authorial success, and as a former teacher, it pains me the most. I want to help. I want to give advice, especially to good people. I want to aid my peers. But when I’m choosing between getting my work done, meeting my deadlines, and carving out a moment with my family, I can’t add anything more in there. If we’re close enough for you to ask, we’re close enough for you to understand when I say, “I’m so sorry. I can’t right now. How about next month?”
I sit with this post ninety percent drafted and wonder about posting it, because I’m pretty sure the people I need most to see it won’t be reading my blog. Because the people reading my blog to learn about me aren’t the kind of people who would PM me asking for the moon. (You want to know who always, always reads my blog? The press. Every time I’ve been interviewed, every time someone has approached me for a media piece, they tell me they cite things from my website and blog.) Which is why I spent so much time talking about who I DO want to hear from, and I’ll close by reiterating that. Because I need you guys. I need your reactions to my work, your invitations to be author of the month, your follow-ups on that tour post. I need you too, family, more than anyone else.
I guess I’m hoping maybe someone reads this and rethinks about how they drown 800 strangers on Goodreads with promo or gets them to think maybe the best route to publication isn’t cold-calling a busy published author. Ten years ago when I sat in that RWA conference lobby, social media was a glimmer in everyone’s eye. In another ten years we’ll probably have a better system for it, but right now, I feel like it’s nothing but mess.
At least once a day I consider un-bookmarking Goodreads and not interacting there any more at all, and Facebook has started to become that too. I resist because I love chatting with readers in threads of novels on Goodreads and reading Leslie B’s snark on FB. I love anticipating a book by another author with other readers, of being a reader myself, and of actually letting my hair down and relaxing on FB. I’m reluctant to let all that go.
Probably other authors are better at fielding weird questions and requests, but I have to say I suck at it, especially when it’s not in my email where I feel like I know how to manage it. Right now, this week, as yet another wad of weird hit, as I already have legitimate questions and needs from actual friends and colleagues I can’t quite get to–I don’t know how to react. I can’t ditch FB because I’m using it to promote RT stuff, and honestly, I can’t because I need to relax.
I guess I’m writing this post as a compromise. I’m going to have to cowgirl up and either ignore or face the awkward conversations, and I’m going to have to follow the advice I’ve given to another friend who’s fielded this kind of barrage for a lot longer and with more intensity: ignore it, don’t let it get in the way. It’s harder than I thought, though. It bums me out. It makes me uncertain and confused. And it totally fucks with my writing.
I think I’m going to go a little dark for the rest of the week, or try to. I still need to do the advance work for RT, and I cannot WAIT to meet so many of you there: fellow authors, friends, readers, and soon-to-be friends. When I’m on the ground in NOLA, I am all yours. That’s the whole point of the exercise: to promote, and to give back joyously to readers.
I only ask that you respect the time of me and other authors when we’re not promoting at a con or on social media. When we are trying to write you new stories or get the kind of wisdom and experience you’re wishing for a peek at. And for the record, authors who blanket-promote? Who cold PM everybody? It’s working on no one. Every reader has as much busy in their life as me. Everyone is barraged by crap. You want to stand out? Write good work. Do your time. Make your connections. Be a real human. Provide a service. And then maybe you too someday will be overwhelmed by people wanting a free lunch, and you’ll have to write this post.
When that happens, find me at a con, and we’ll have a toast to the weird circles of life. I’ll buy the first round.