Monday, June 4, 2012

5 Etiquette Rules for Writer Friends

First, I just wanted to say: I'm giving away a copy of the yummy cookbook Home Baked Comfort by Kim Laidlaw over at my cooking blog, so check it out and enter a comment to win by June 8, 2012!

5 Etiquette Rules for Writer Friends

If you're an unpublished writer busy learning and honing your craft, via writing a lot, reading books on craft, and staying plugged into the writing and publishing social media scene, then you're in a good place when it comes time to presenting your work to the world. And if you're particularly keen, you've developed friendships or at least solid associations with other writers--especially published ones.

We've all heard dream stories of how an unpublished, unrepresented writer was given his or her big break from a friend who referred them to an agent or editor. Seems like half the debut stories in Writer's Digest got agents this way. And that's good. Referrals are gold. But there's definitely an etiquette to your relationships with pubbed writers.

Because let's face it: when you're unpublished, they've got something you need. So do make sure you're polite about it.

1. Be gracious for any help you get. This is a no-brainer, but plenty of people aren't gracious--especially when they get negative feedback. Big-time Author Friend didn't like your book, and tells you what's wrong with it? Thank them anyway. Do not throw a strop and get angry. They did you a favor and you forgot--forgot-- that they are in a place of knowledge about this stuff. If you get feedback and it's clear you have  a lot of work to do, do you want that author friend to give you advice or read your stuff in the future? If so, be professional. No further beseeching on your part is acceptable.Which leads me to #2...

2. Don't abuse their good will. If you have an author friend, they might be willing to read your query or first chapter or if you're super lucky, your manuscript. But you are not to abuse this privilege. If they review it and the comments aren't along the lines of ecstatic monkey joy, then you will not write a diatribe in response, asking for another look, berating the author for not understanding you. Nor will you vomit repeated drafts their way unless they are a very good friend indeed and they said you could.

3. Don't assume the author has time for you. Authors have reams of things to do, usually on a deadline. In addition to actually writing, they have to read loads of stuff, sometimes as part of their contract. They have to socialize online and they have to be nice when they don't want to, because authors are very public. When you ask for help and they give it to you, you've encroached on that time. Be respectful of it.

4. Don't assume every author friend will help you. You might think you're being polite by not asking for help from a published author friend. Here's you, just sitting there nicely with your hands folded in your lap, not asking for anything. The nerve of your author friend for not noticing your non-neediness and offering to help because you've been a good boy or girl!

The unpublished think authors are oracles of wisdom, but every published author was once an unpublished one. They don't have all the answers, especially not for your situation. If you have an author friend, you will not assume he or she will offer to help--and if they don't, it usually isn't anything to do with you.

5. If the author helps out and gives you feedback and it's terrible, it doesn't mean they're right. This isn't exactly etiquette, but the result is: not every published author has all the answers, and sometimes the feedback they give you just isn't quite right for you or your book. All the same, you'll weigh their opinion carefully and thank them for their time.

What do you think? Have you experienced any of the above on either side of the fence?

For more very good information on this topic, check out this post from Warrior Poet Blog called 5 undying myths about published writers and their eerie powers.


Steven J. Wangsness said...

I did have one author acquaintance help me by steering me away from her agent -- overbooked, overworked -- to another one. In the end it didn't make any difference, but it was nice of her. When I asked, I did so with a lot of humility and I-hope-I'm-not-bothering-you, feel-free-to-tell-me-to-frak-off caveats. Probably most important is remembering that your published author friends can at most help you get a foot in the door. Getting over the transom entirely is still going to depend on you, your book, the publishing market, kismet...

Cathryn Leigh said...

I've been doing work for a friend, reviewing her manuscript. She's been very understanding when I haven't gotten it back to her when I said I would. (though Ido feel bad) Instead she's focused on how much she loves my input - that's a good feeling, knowing I'm being useful...

She's also been very useful on the copule of things I've politely asked for her feedback on.

Both of us are novices when it comes to publisheing. I haven't gotten up the muster to ask anyone else if they would ever so kindly look at my work...

I'm definately an ever so kindly, if you have time, asking type of person.

:} Cathryn

Meghan Ward said...

These are excellent suggestions. I want to add to number 4 that you should not assume your author friend doesn't want to help you just because he/she hasn't offered. DO ask, but follow all the other rules above, and don't be upset/angry if the author declines because he/she doesn't have time. I'm not a published author, but as an editor I wish I had more time to read and critique my friends' books. I barely have time to edit the ones I need to read in order to pay my bills, and I need time to read published books, too, in order to improve my own writing. The writing life is a busy life. Especially if you have small children. (As you well know!!)

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