Why Authors Should Answer Their Fan Mail

If you’re new to self-publishing, it may be hard to imagine that someday you might have actual fans – people who really love your work and are excited to read more. It will be really exciting when some of those fans are passionate enough about your work that they actually reach out to you, whether it be on Facebook, Twitter, or even in an email.

It may tempting for you to play it cool. You might be jumping up and down with excitement that you’ve actually got some fan mail, but perhaps you decide not to answer, preferring instead to act like you’re too busy and too important to answer back.

I don’t recommend that course of action.

As a self-published author, one who had spent over twenty years wallowing in obscurity, I treasure each and every sale that I get. It makes me so happy when someone buys my book, or even downloads it for free. I’m honored that people take the time to read my books, and if a fan contacts me, I’m more than happy to write back. 

As authors, we’re always bombarded with so much information on marketing and social media. Ya gotta advertise on Facebook! Tweet five times a day! Use Pinterest and Linked in! It’s easy to forget the SOCIAL in social media. It doesn’t work for me to have you throw marketing in my face and walk away. If I’m a true fan (which is what you want, after all. That’s why you’re marketing), I might want some kind of personal response.

My advice is, if a fan writes to you, write her back. You can wait 24 hours if you don’t want to appear overeager. Of, if you’re fortunate enough to have lots of fan mail, write back but make your responses quick. Even if a fan writes you a ten-page love letter, you can still write back with only a few sentences, and you don’t have an obligation to keep the conversation going after that. Fans should understand that you’re busy, but it’s not too much to ask to get some kind of response when they send you a nice message about your work.

Sean Platt, one of the authors and self-publishing gurus behind Write, Publish, Repeat (a great resource for indies if you haven’t read it) wrote me back and answered my question about publishing middle-grade fiction. It really meant a lot to me and I never forgot it.

And guess what? I never would have plugged his book as I just did if he’d ignored me. I wouldn’t hold a grudge I guess, but I would have been disappointed and wouldn’t go out of my way to promote his work.

I had a similar situation with an indie author whose books I LOVE. I’ve only read two so far, and I couldn’t put them down. They were just the type of book I love to read – sweet, sexy, tender romance with an excellent plot. I loved her first book and made it a Book Pick of the Week on my blog. I read her second book and did the same thing again. I loved that book so much that I deliberately read it slowly so that it wouldn’t end. I said this on Twitter and tagged the author. To be fair, she did answer back on Twitter to say thanks.

She has a Contact Me email address on her website, so I did. I wrote her a nice email and told her how much I loved her books, and how I admired her for her success. I told her she was an inspiration to me. She somehow managed to get a review in The New York Times of her self-published book, and I asked how she managed such a great accomplishment.

As you can probably guess, she never wrote me back. I’m not gonna lie; it kinda broke my heart. I really don’t have the enthusiasm for her work that I once had. I loved her books – she was really my favorite author – but now when I see her books, it kinda bums me out. I’m not trying to be petty, but I just don’t have much interest in reading her stuff anymore. So I haven’t read any more so far.

I’m sure it’s no big deal to her if I don’t buy her books, but this loss of sale(s) could have easily been avoided. If she had taken the time to write me back- even two sentences – that would have been enough for me. As my readers know by reading Romance Novel Addicts Anonymous, I have a real passion for helping other authors. I really feel that we need to look out for each other. If you’re ahead of me on the success ladder, I hope you’ll reach down, give me a hand, and help pull me up. It’s what I would do.

I also feel it’s a little unfair to encourage your fans to Contact Me if all you want is for us to tell you how great you are. Even with traditional publishing, gone are the days where the publishers do all the publicity for you. YOU need to be your own best advertising advocate. Taking your fans for granted is just not wise, no matter how successful you are.

Okay – one more rejected-by-an-author story. Through an acquaintance, I’ve met a traditionally-published Young Adult author. I’ve met her once in person – when I attended a book signing of hers – and we’re friends on Facebook. I’ve responded to several of her posts on Facebook. They were posts about writing, and I commented about my own experience. She never answered back, even though there were usually only one or two other comments on the thread. I definitely got an “I’m better than you” vibe from her, though I could be wrong. After all, I drove to her book signing, listened to her talk, and bought a copy of her book (and not the Kindle version, either). This woman knows who I am and knows I have self-published books, but she really doesn’t bother to give me the time of day. It’s frustrating, because if the shoe was on the other foot, I would have been excited to see what I could do to help her. Kinda annoys me, too, when I think of all the literary agents who will only consider a new writer if he/she is referred by a published author. So what happens when published authors treat you like garbage?

She has a three-book series out now. Guess how many I bought after the book signing? Again, I know I’m small potatoes, but a sale’s a sale. And she’s lost mine, and any other publicity I might have given her.

One last story. I promise.

Jodi Picoult is an internationally-renowned, traditionally-published, New York Times bestselling author, who has had several movies made based on her books. If you send her an email, she usually sends you a brief yet very friendly response within 24 hours.

Do you want to be a classy, humble, appreciative author, or play it cool and aloof, even when it means losing followers?

Be cool, man. Make sure your readers know you appreciate them.

  • Linda Fausnet

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Why Should Readers Leave Book Reviews?

It’s a frustrating Catch-22 for authors – most readers rely heavily on reviews when deciding whether or not to buy a book, but most readers don’t leave reviews.  Posting a review on Amazon can literally take less than a minute, and will have a profound effect on an author and her career. 

Why Reviews Matter

Reviews have a powerful effect on the Amazon algorithm, meaning the more positive reviews a book gets, the more visible the book can become in Amazon’s ranking. Some have speculated that the magic number is 50 reviews for a book to get a boost in visibility on the Amazon website. 

Many advertising opportunities are only available for books that have a minimum number of reviews. A book with insufficient reviews can and will be rejected, therefore robbing the author of a chance to get the book in front of more readers…and to try to get more reviews. 

Most consumers wouldn’t buy any product online without first reading the reviews first. If a book has only a few reviews or perhaps none at all, most readers will pass on the book. It could be a terrific story, but it will get lost in the shuffle if no one has reviewed it. 

What You May Not Know

Most authors obsessively check their reviews on Amazon, and it can be pretty demoralizing when none appear for days or weeks at a time.

Writer’s social media groups and message boards are flooded with hand-wringing discussions about what to do to get more reviews. Book reviews can be an afterthought for readers, but authors often feel that they live and die by them. 

Amazon cracks down hard on reviews from people the author knows personally. That means, for the most part, the author’s friends and family members cannot help him by posting a review of his book.  Amazon has ways of knowing who is connected with an author on social networks, and will pull reviews from someone who appears be personally connected. This is especially frustrating because this includes other authors and business contacts who the author frequently does not know personally. 

There are a number of paid services that authors use to try to get honest reviews. These services frequently involve a fair amount of money and a great deal of time on the author’s part. The author gets a list of potential reviewers, and then has to email these people directly offering them a free of the book in exchange for an honest review on Amazon. The majority of these emails go unanswered and, worse, it’s not uncommon for the author to send the book for free, only to never hear from the “reviewer” again. 

Reviews on Goodreads are nice, but are nowhere near as crucial as reviews on the “buying” page of Amazon. It can be nice, yet maddening, to get a five-star review on Goodreads but not on Amazon where it is desperately needed.

Post an Honest Review, but Remember that There is a Real Person Behind the Book

 

Never forget that the author is a real human being with feelings. She most likely spent months or even years writing this book. She probably poured a lot of herself into the story and the characters, and had high hopes that the book would do well. It was brave of her to put her book out there into the world, where she knew it might get rejected. By giving a book a one-star review, you may feel you are getting “revenge” on the writer for wasting your time if you didn’t like the book. The author did not write the book to make you mad. She hoped you would like it. She may even have given you the book for free, as many authors do in an effort to get more reviews. 

Not all authors read their reviews, but I would wager that most do. If you gave a book a one-star review, the author probably saw it. And it hurt. It hurt a lot. It also tanked his overall rating, even if all of the other reviews were positive. Maybe the author was able to brush it off, or maybe he spent the rest of the day second-guessing himself and his talent as a writer. Negative reviews go with the territory of being a writer, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t devastating.

In my personal opinion, a book is not one-star worthy simply because I didn’t like it. A one-star book is one that is poorly written and riddled with lazy, grammatical errors. Or perhaps it’s a book that bills itself as a clean romance, but in fact contains explicit sex. Both of these examples constitute a betrayal of reader expectations as far as I’m concerned (I still wouldn’t give a one-star review to anyone ever. I just can’t do that to somebody. In those cases I simply will not leave a review at all). Any author who has ever done a free promotion of her books can tell you that’s where the majority of low ratings came from. For some odd reason, readers tend to feel more entitled when they get something for free.

Frankly, giving an author one star for a book you got for free is like having someone give you a free piece of candy, and then you spit it back in their face because you didn’t like it.

It’s fine to tell the truth in a review if you didn’t like the book, but there’s no reason to be cruel. Be honest, but be constructive. “This book was stupid” is not helpful. Saying something like “I didn’t like this book because I felt the plot really lagged in the middle. The story just didn’t hold my interest.” is still going to hurt the author, but it can help her at the same time. 

As a reader, you may by unaware of the tremendous power you wield. Even an honest, three-star review with constructive criticism can be helpful. Best of all, you can really help an author – and the reading community at large – by leaving a positive review for a book that you genuinely enjoyed.

The writer life can be a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs, sometimes all in the same day, and there’s just no feeling in the world like checking your Amazon page and finding a review from a reader who really liked your book. You don’t have to write a lengthy review. All you have to do is post a rating of 1 to 5 stars, and write one or two sentences about how you felt about the book. 

Write a review today – and be a book lover’s hero!

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