All of these are prompted by things I have really seen or behavior I have really seen authors engage in.
- Have very basic grammar and spelling errors in your blurb. I hate that this even has to be said. If you can’t write a blurb without fucking up stuff I learned in fourth grade, then I’m not going to trust you to have written a book worth reading. (I made a very basic grammar error in one of my blurbs once, I admit. I fixed it as soon as someone told me about it and am more careful since . . . mostly I make sure I’m awake before posting blurbs now.) (EDIT: I should apply the same rule to blogposts. I had “right a blurb” when I first posted this!)
- Randomly capitalize the first letter of words in your blurb. I understand that starting important nouns with a capital letter was a thing in the eighteenth century, and that some (John Adams, for instance . . . reading something by him and wondering what the deal with the capitals was is what prompted me to research this) took it so far as to start all nouns with capital letters. This is the twenty-first century. Stop it.
- Have a blurb that tells me nothing about the story. I don’t care what awards it’s won. I don’t care where or when it was first published. I care about what I’m going to find in the story.
- Message me on Goodreads after I add your book to my “To Read” list about something unrelated. It’s bad manners, and it’s against their terms of service, and I will report you. Especially if I say I’m not interested in whatever you’ve said and you do it again a week later. Yes, this happened. I decided I didn’t care how interesting the book sounded, that author wasn’t getting my money.
- Send me a “critique” of one of my books that’s mostly you comparing it negatively to yours. I was messaged an unsolicited critique once by an author that read more like the author was saying “You did this wrong, but I did it completely right, as you’ll see if you read my book.” This is not a good first impression. Also, it helps if you’re comparing things that aren’t purely subjective if you’re going to try doing something like this. Though, if that guy happens to be reading this, thanks for pointing out that missing comma. That was helpful. Nitpicky as hell since the sentence did make sense without it, but helpful.
- Related to my last post: have a blog that’s more about marketing than anything else. It makes it look like you’re in it for the (laughable amounts of) money. The only book written for money more than love that I’ve ever read and liked was Little Women. Are you Louisa May Alcott? Didn’t think so. (If you are, I’m sorry about the way people pervert what your dad said about education. Also, I want to know where you got a time machine. Are you traveling with a very eccentric British-sounding fellow in a strange blue box, perchance?) (And now I want to write a Little Women/Doctor Who crossover fanfic . . .)
- Join in discussions with other authors on social media just to advertise your book. It’s tacky, and it makes you look stupid when you butt into a conversation on, say, the consequences of a Trump presidency on abortion rights with “Hey, could you retweet this link to my book? It’s a fantasy coming-of-age story. Thanks! You’re one of my favorite authors!” I don’t read books by stupid people.
- Call me illiterate when I misunderstand something you say in an online discussion with you. An rpg author did this once. Needless to say I have a hard time bringing myself to buy anything by him now. I mean, why should I, since I’m illiterate? He also once politically insulted me in a discussion about fudging dice rolls. I’m still trying to figure that one out. I’m pretty sure my fudging dice rolls only to avoid one-shot kills when dramatically inappropriate and my being a socialist aren’t related. Really, in short, don’t insult a reader directly if you want them to buy anything you write ever again. That’s just plain fucking dumb.
All of the above are probably general enough advice that they apply to getting anyone to read your book. Because I’m in a ranty mood, here are some more that are specific to me:
- Have the following phrase in your blurb “the last/only/lone survivor of”. I am so fucking sick of stories about the last survivor of some cataclysm. It seems to have replaced rape as the “instant drama without the author having to work on such pesky things as character depth” background. It can be done well, but it so rarely is right now that I’m not giving stories about this sort of character a chance at the moment.
- Be a sci-fi romance that’s got an alien dude kidnapping a female human. Look, I sometimes read Bertrice Small novels. I can’t argue against the occasional appeal of a cliché filled bodice ripper. But can we get some new fucking plots too, please? Or can we at least get more interesting characters occasionally? Ms. Small’s plots may have all been pretty much the same, but at least the characters were different! (And even her plots had more variance than some of the best-selling sf romances. I know (because I’ve seen the ads for ghostwriters) that some of these are literally churned out the same way Nancy Drew and the like were ages ago, but that’s no excuse for how horribly alike they are. There’s formulaic and then there’s “same, but with the names changed.”)
- Start with a very long intro to the setting. Get to the point. If I have to read a five page long (or forty pages in one particularly memorable example!) thing before the story starts that’s summarizing the entire history of the setting, then I’m not going to read your book. Start where the story starts. (This does not mean all prologues are bad, by the way. Sometimes they’re necessary — No More Lies has one, for instance, because the event that really kicks off the plot happens several months before the rest of the story. So it’s a prologue instead of chapter one.)
- Start with a long note about why you felt the need to write this book/about characters like this. Look, I understand the need for more diversity in sff heroes. But starting your book with a lecture on how <insert group> is under-represented and you felt compelled to fix that is not a good first impression. It makes it look like — and in every case I’ve seen it this has been obviously true within the first chapter — you weren’t writing for the love of the story you were telling, you were writing just so someone from that group had a hero like them in something. As a political, sexual, and gender minority with various mental issues, I fucking hate it when people do that. It strikes me as nothing more than tokenism. Representation is important, but it feeling natural instead of forced is more important. (And, yes, I’m including my political beliefs as part of what makes me a minority. Being a socialist in America, especially at present, can get fucking awkward . . . and I wouldn’t be surprised if it soon becomes dangerous.)
- Have workshopped your first sentence/paragraph/page/five pages much more than you worried about the rest of the book. I have seen so fucking many self-published books that start very, very strong and then have a sudden quality drop off after one of the above mentioned points. Three seconds on any writing forum makes it easy to figure out why: There is lots of discussion of the importance of all of those to getting someone to read your book. Apparently some people don’t realize that, yes, that will get someone to buy that book, but if you don’t want them to leave a bad review and never buy your next book, you should keep that level of quality throughout the entire thing. (And I do occasionally see something similar in traditionally published books, but, alas, with them it’s usually around page 50 or 100 — the bit the always already known author probably had to show to get the contract for that novel — where the quality nosedives.)
- Have a cover that looks like it was made by a five-year-old. I get that not everybody’s a visual artist. Fuck, I’m not; closest I come is being a decent photographer. I also understand that not everybody can buy cover art. Again, neither can I. But there are free photos available online and it’s not that hard to slap some words on them with some sense of what looks good and what doesn’t. Especially if you use Createspace, and I’d assume the other things like it. Use their cover creators if the alternative is a child’s drawing, please! You’re making all of us look bad just as much as you do when you use terrible grammar and spelling.
- Have an obscene number of grammar and spelling errors in your first page. This should be obvious, but apparently it’s not. I don’t mind a few errors — hell, good self-published books these days tend to have less errors than the things coming out of the big publishers, in my experience — but if you haven’t even run spellcheck, it’s going to show. And, as I said above, it makes all of us look bad when so many are doing it.
- Be an obvious ripoff of something else. Look, I don’t mind fanfiction. I don’t even mind fanfiction as the origin of original fic — it’d be damned hypocritical of me to do so, in fact. I do mind “original” stories that have only been changed from being fanfic by having find/replace done on the names and other copyright/trademark protected terms. Guys, try a little bit harder to hide what your story started as. (Besides, world building is fun! Those things you never liked about Star Trek? This is your chance to fix them! Confession: there is more than one Universal Nexus race that started from me fixing a Star Trek race to work more logically.)
There. I feel better for having ranted. I will now continue with my exciting day which will include such fun adventures as “have lunch” and “figure out where I put my other sock”.