Author Etiquette

Dear Ms Lawyer,

I have a pending legal matter that needs urgent attention. I know you are no doubt busy with other cases, but I believe reading through my 20,000 word complaint, providing detailed feedback as to what action I need to take, should take you no more than a day or two. As you have undoubtedly dealt with dozens of these cases, providing the answers I need should be just a matter of repeating previously supplied information and no need to charge me.

Signed: Maurice Moocher

Dear Mr Plumber,

Please help! I am experiencing a plumbing problem in my bathroom. Well, a problem is an understatement. There is water everywhere, accompanied by other matter that really has no other place than down the drain. Yuck! I'm sure you will agree, this is an emergency situation and I appreciate you dropping everything to come and repair the problem. I trust that as it is urgent and clearly a stressful situation for me, you will find it within your heart to fix it free of charge.

Signed: Lola Leech

Believe it or not some people expect to secure services for free. No industry is immune, including the children's writing industry!

Let me explain…

During my time in this industry, over 15 years, I have had the privilege of working with and assisting a number of blossoming authors and illustrators. I have learned many valuable lessons and endeavoured to share my experiences with others in the industry.

In 2011 I founded Creative Kids Tales to fill a need in the children's writing industry and assist those working towards publication. Fast forward to today; lots of blood, sweat, tears and time have been invested to make it the industry recognised site it is today.

Countless hours are spent each week ensuring the site is up-to-date. We are constantly promoting and cultivating new ideas to keep the site fresh for you.

It's a fact of life with any service that is provided; you will always find a number of 'takers'.

Takers = people who believe they should receive goods/services for minimal outlay, either money or their time just like Maurice Mooch and Lola Leech.

Don't get me wrong, the majority of the writing community is supportive, but there are a few who expect everything to be handed to them. I guess it's the same with anything in life, but sadly the number of 'takers' are on the rise.

Here's one example: Someone recently expressed their disappointment when I had not secured them a publishing contract during their 1st year of membership with CKT. This person had only made one submission and had not utilised CKT's services to their fullest potential. This member had done nothing to promote themselves or their work. They told me the minimal membership fee of $30 we charge per year was purely for our financial gain. They also said 'we were not offering enough to the writing community'. They then threatened to take us to the Department of Fair Trading.

Sadly, this is becoming all too familiar. Some of the comments I've received would astound you, including threats to my family.

Creative Kids Tales is here purely to assist you with your creative journey. We are not agents, publishers and certainly do not make promises that we will make you the next JK Rowling. You need to work with us and not expect us to do all the work. Together we are a team!

I am a full-time working mother of three young children. My daily two-hour train commute and lunch hours are spent doing CKT updates, posting reviews, promoting our emerging authors and illustrators on social media. I respond to emails as soon as I get home and then again after my kids have gone to bed. My writing time has dwindled to almost nothing, yet I continue to promote those within the industry I love, and yes, it is my choice to do it. However, the small minority who choose to expect the world and personally attack me when their unrealistic expectations are not met have left me questioning whether it is all worth it.

Our membership fees do not cover our time or running expenses. We reinvest them back into the website and for prizes, postage and initiatives we offer. We are continually introducing new features and keeping the site fresh for our members and visitors.

However, this post is about author etiquette, and now you have a bit of a background on why I have sought feedback from some of my colleagues and what led to sharing this information with you.

Here are some Do's and Don'ts when asking for assistance in the children's writing industry.

I have lost count of the many times I have been sent a submission or hundred to read.

Despite stating clearly on our website and on various pages that Creative Kids Tales are not publishers, we receive copious amounts of manuscripts from people who don't want to book an assessment through our Manuscript Assessment service, but instead request for us to just take a quick read through their submission, edit it and provide feedback. Itemised comments in track changes are almost always requested.

I have even received phone calls, asking if I can read 'just this one'. For some reason, these people feel I can accomplish reading, editing and providing detailed feedback in only five minutes. I wish I were that good!

On rare occasions I have obliged, only to receive abusive emails. Very rarely have I received a 'thank you. 'In fact, in most instances, I never hear from the person again. Just like with Ms Lawyer and Mr Plumber; you wouldn't expect them to offer their services for free, so why should an author or an editor?

This brought me to some interesting topics of discussion with my peers. I was sure I wasn't the only one receiving these requests, so I started to ask around.

Social Media Promotion

  • Don't promote your book on other author's Facebook pages unless you are invited to do so.
  • Always ensure you seek the approval of the owner of that page first.

It is the fastest way to be unfriended, ruin your credibility and guarantee one less buyer at your book launch.

Another don't is to constantly promote your book through social media. Your friends love the fact that you have a book published, they love it even more when you have a second, third and so on published but the most infuriating thing is when an author promotes, promotes, promotes their work by shoving it in your face. They stop at nothing to promote their work even finding ways to intertwine their publications into the conversation of sometimes unrelated matters. This is a known as 'book bullying' and one that swiftly turns your once supporters into abandoners.

Website Promotion

  • If someone promotes your work or interviews you on their website, be courteous and offer them a reciprocal link on your own site.
  • Perhaps you could interview them in return.
  • Help by sharing the interview link on your website, or social media outlets.
  • Do all you can to help promote the article or interview.
  • Try to share it in as many places as you can without pushing it in people's faces.
  • Perhaps you have contacts the interviewer doesn't and this could open doors for both of you.
  • The children's writing industry wheel turns smoother and faster when we all support one-another.

Reviewing

Reviewing books is a great way to enhance your skills as an author and build your name within the community. It also helps bring your name to the attention of publishers.

Some key points to remember when putting up your hand to review:

  • Don't commit to review unless you have the time to do so.
  • Holding onto a book for months before you do your review is not only rude it also strains the relationship between the hosting site and the publishers.
  • Publishers do not pay people to review their books, but they do send them out expecting the book to be reviewed in a timely manner.
  • Books that are reviewed 12 months after its release do not assist the author with sales.
  • The closer the review is to the release date the better.
  • Also, don't treat reviewing as a visit to the library.
  • You are probably not going to like every book that comes before you, but keep in mind it costs money to post or courier books out. Try and find something about the book you did like; the illustrations, the text – something. If you feel that bad about it, let the reader know why in your review. But remember, what you say can damage not only the sale of the book for the author, but potentially their reputation as well. You can also contact the site you are reviewing for and request not to receive books from that author or theme again.
  • Take care of books you receive. If it is requested you return the books after reviewing them, don't return them with broken spines, dog-eared corners or dare I say it, coffee rings on the pages. Yes, this has happened in the past. All it will do is have you removed off the reviewing list.
  • When submitting your reviews for publication, always read the instructions thoroughly. Ensure your submissions are free from spelling and grammar mistakes.
  • You need to think of yourself as a business. You are the product you are selling.
  • Articles, stories or submissions that have your name tied to them are a reflection of you and your work.
  • If you submit work with errors, you should be ok with the fact it might be published with these errors.
  • It always pays to check your work.
  • Don't expect that the website/person/publisher you are submitting to will fix any errors.
  • Some sites may charge you a small fee to make changes to your submission. This is also relevant for sites that might host your own personal works.

If you are requesting your book to be reviewed always send a query letter or email first. Introduce yourself and tell the reader a little about your book and why you would like them to review it. However, you must remember that offering free copies of your book does not guarantee a review will be returned. It also might not be the kind of review you were hoping for. So be prepared and don't get upset.

  • Never resort to a public slanging match, especially through social media.
  • A review is one person's opinion. If you don't like it, move on.
  • You, don't ever have to send that reviewer copies of your subsequent books.
  • Be sure if you've offered something in return for a review, such as a link to the review or website to honour it.
  • Regardless of whether you liked the review or not, always remember to say thank you!

Critiquing

  • Critique groups are a vital step in a writer's development. If you have the opportunity to join one you should jump at the chance.
  • Groups are made up of like-minded people who are at different stages of their creative journey.
  • Always read and adhere to the critique guidelines set out by the administrator of the group.
  • Provide honest, helpful meaty feedback with encouraging suggestions.
  • Do not attack the author or their work.

If you are able to see other group members comments it's a good idea to provide your feedback before reading others comments. This way your feedback will be your feedback and not swayed by other comments from group members.

If you are unable to critique for any reason, let your group or administrator know. Everyone has things that come up from time to time, it's only natural you might have to take a step back. It you stop commenting or attending group meetings; when it's your turn to submit, members might not offer your work the feedback it deserves. If you do miss critiquing some members work, try to catch up if you can.

Never feel overwhelmed or intimated by anyone else's experience in this industry. We are all looking for help and welcome the feedback from other's eyes.

Asking for help

There will be many times when you need to ask your colleagues for help.More often than not, they will be only too happy to assist you. There may be times when they are rushing towards a deadline or have commitments that don't allow them any spare time, so if your request is denied, don't take it personally. It may just be that the person you are asking is too busy right now. Instead, thank them and perhaps you can do something to help them, which will be remembered next time you need assistance. If they are able to assist you, remember to thank them and don't treat them like an ATM that you can keep taking from whenever you want to.

This comes back to you doing for yourself and not expecting others to do the hard work for you.

If you are looking for feedback or guidance for something as detailed as a sizeable manuscript, website or blog, it might be best to look at having these things assessed professionally.

You don't want to strain any relationships before they have really begun. Questions or requests should be easy to answer and not require a lot of time from the person you are asking. Don't monopolise their time with continual questions or emails.

Again remember to thank them for whatever response you receive. How you respond will be remembered.

It is extremely frustrating if someone is trying to assist you and takes the time to respond to your query, then receives no acknowledgement from you. It is also unprofessional to ignore repeated attempts to contact you through emails, when it is clear in the content that a response is required. If you email or ask something of someone, you would expect a response. A quick response doesn't take too much time, and remember if you need that person in the future they will remember how you ignored them.

Competitions

  • Always read the guidelines.
  • Never tell the organisers of that competition they are wrong unless you legitimately find an error within their guidelines.
  • Never request to make a change to your submission after the competition date has closed.
  • If it is a paid competition, always ensure your entry fee is paid days before the close date.
  • It's better to submit payment before sending your manuscript, as making payment the day before the competition closes doesn't guarantee they will have received the funds. Some banks might not process payment for a few days especially if payment was made late on a Friday evening.
  • If both payment and manuscript have not been received by competition closing date, your entry could be disqualified.
  • It's best to ensure your submission has been thoroughly checked for grammatical and spelling errors.
  • It is unprofessional to submit and then request the competition organisers to accept subsequent versions because you discovered an error. In many instances, it would be best to leave as is unless your error dramatically affects your plotline. Most competitions are run for emerging authors and the organisers take this into account at judging time.
  • Requesting to resubmit or just emailing without explanation can be confusing and frustrate the organisers, many of which are volunteers and not paid.
  • If you disagree with the outcome of the competition, don't send complaint emails to the organisers or judges.
  • Most guidelines state that correspondence will not be entered into.
  • Many judges of writing competitions are people of standing within the writing industry, such as already published authors, editors, agents, etc. Complaining is not going to do you any favours in your quest to be published.

Of course, if you believe there has been a serious breach of the competition guidelines perhaps contact the Australian Society of Authors to discuss.

Submitting to Publishers

If you adhere to the following, you are well on your way:

  • Always read the submission guidelines.
  • Always adhere to the submission guidelines.
  • Never complain about the submission guidelines.
  • Read your work thoroughly before submitting
  • Tick off the criteria listed in the submission guidelines before submitting.
  • Be patient once you have submitted.
  • Keep your submission information in a spreadsheet. (See Tracking your Submissions for more information)
  • Work on your next submission.
  • Continue to be patient for a reply.
  • Do not harass the publisher for a reply. Sometimes you won't get a response at all. If you do it is a bonus if you haven't after the time stated within their guidelines, submit it to another publisher.
  • Again be patient. Responses can take between 6-24 months. Now pick yourself up off the floor.
  • If you do receive a response or feedback from the publisher, don't get defensive or dismiss their comments. They have a lot of experience and know what they are talking about.

If you are invited to rework your submission and resubmit it, take on board their suggestions. If you feel you can work with their suggestions and would like to be published with that publisher, follow through with them. If not, politely decline and take your work elsewhere. It is after all your work and while publishers have experience, your work is your work and you may believe it is fine the way it is. Keep an open mind but follow your instincts.

Writers in their early years often think their work is the next big thing. Sorry to burst your bubble, but that is rarely the case. Your writing will blossom as you mature as a writer and put in the hard work. I guarantee if you look at your first manuscript after a number of years, you will cringe.

If you receive a response from a publisher, even a thanks but no thanks, feel privileged. Publishers are extremely busy and taking the time to comment is good news for you. They may see something there, but it might not be right for them in its current format. You just need to keep fine tuning and chipping away at your manuscript.

Should you be paid?

The ultimate struggle with should I charge to speak at a festival, library, school etc? That is a tough one and it depends on your experience, but the overall consensus is 'Yes.'

Authors and Illustrators often feel uncomfortable charging for their time at events and there is no reason they should. Just as Mr Plumber and Ms Lawyer (from Part 1) wouldn't hesitate to charge for their time, neither should you.

If you are new to this industry and have limited knowledge to share, it may be worth your while donating some of your time. This will not only do you well for future events, but will also add to your confidence levels. You could look upon it as part of your writing apprenticeship. If you are required to travel a distance from your home, you could discuss part payment with the organisers of the event.

As you grow within this industry, you can revise when and if you donate your time. Remember, you are a professional too. Your job is a children's author and you are no different from other professionals who are paid to do their job.

Always say 'thank you'

As I mentioned earlier, always say thank you and when asking for something, always offer something in return. Remember it's not all about you! You receive what you give.

Never take someone for granted and NEVER be abusive or demanding. Word spreads very quickly in this industry. Everyone knows one another and we do share.

We are all one big team in the children's writing industry. We are all at different stages on the same journey. Don't feel overwhelmed by someone who has more experience than you. They were once where you are and can appreciate the steps you are now taking. Remember, they too are still learning from people who are more experienced than they are.

Final points

  • No one owes you anything.
  • You need to earn your stripes and put in the hard work.
  • Always leave a good impression.
  • When you enter the children's writing industry, leave any sense of entitlement at the door.
  • Take time to recharge your batteries.
  • Writing is a solitary life and not restricted to 9-5.
  • Never give up!

This is a rewarding, nurturing and giving industry to be in, one that you will never want to leave.

Good luck and Happy Writing!