I’ve been meaning to write a post about how important it is for writers to treat your readers with respect, especially in a small, tight-knit group like the sapphic fiction community—a safe space that very much depends on mutual trust, support, and respect.
The AC Adams/Adam Gaffen deception
Recently, the topic came up again when AC Adams, an author whom I helped promote during the past year, was revealed to have created an entirely fake persona who interacted and formed friendships with readers and fellow authors, pretending to be a young lesbian when he’s in fact a 50-something straight cis man named Adam Gaffen, who also publishes sapphic fiction.
Important note: The issue isn’t that he’s a man writing sapphic fiction; the issue is that he lied and manipulated readers and befriended fellow authors pretending to be a queer woman.
But, of course, there are a lot of other ways in which authors are inauthentic and disrespectful to their readers.
Here are my top 5 “don’ts” when it comes to how not to treat your readers:
Don’t pretend you’re someone you’re not
Using a pen name or not wanting to share all (or any) details of your personal life is fine. Authors have the right to protect their privacy, and you don’t owe anyone details of your personal life. But anything you do tell your readers or fellow authors should be the truth.
Don’t make up a fake persona and lie to your readers. Don’t use a profile picture showing someone who is not you. Don’t include details in your bio that aren’t true. Don’t pretend you are a debut author—taking up promotion spots that are meant for new authors—if you have published multiple books under another pen name. Especially don’t lie about significant parts of your identity such as your sexual orientation, your gender identity, or your relationship status. Remember that saying nothing to protect your privacy is always a valid option. You can let your books speak for themselves, if that’s what you prefer.
If you interact with readers or fellow writers, be your authentic self as much as you can. It’s not okay to form relationships of any kind that are based on lies. That’s not marketing—that’s flat-out lying.
Don’t trick readers into signing up for your newsletter
If you have a landing page on your website where readers can sign up to receive your newsletter, make sure it’s clear that they are subscribing to your newsletter. I’ve seen websites that promote a free ebook without the tiniest mention that readers will not just receive a one-time email with the free ebook; they will also continue to receive the newsletter.
That’s not only dishonest, it also violates data privacy laws such as the GDPR, plus you might rightfully get spam complaints, which will harm your newsletter sender reputation.
Of course, you can offer readers a free ebook as a welcome to your newsletter, but please make it clear that they will be signed up to your newsletter if they enter their email address.
Don’t put your book into inaccurate categories
Every now and then, I see authors promote a book with an orange Amazon bestseller tag, but if I look more closely, the book isn’t a bestseller in lesbian fiction or lesbian romance or any other fiction category; it’s a bestseller in an obscure little category such as “cookbook, food & wine” just because the main character is a chef.
Sometimes, it happens by accident and it’s Amazon putting the book into the wrong categories, but some authors intentionally put their book into a tiny category with less competition, even if it’s not a good fit for the book, just to get the orange bestseller tag and to be able to promote the book as an Amazon bestseller.
Not only is that cheating your readers, it will also hurt you because Amazon will start to recommend your book to the wrong readers. For example, if you put your sapphic romance into “Northeast US Travel Guides” just because it’s set in New York City, Amazon will promote it to readers looking for travel guides. These readers won’t buy your book, which will make Amazon think it doesn’t appeal to readers, so they will stop promoting it completely.
Don’t brag about award nominations when you were the one to nominate your book
More than once, I’ve seen posts like this on social media: “Yay! My book was nominated for an award!”
Readers congratulate the author profusely because they might not be aware that the person nominating a book for an award is, in many cases, the book’s author. For many awards, all you have to do for your book to be nominated is to submit your book and pay a submission fee. Being nominated doesn’t say anything about a book’s quality.
Now, if your book is a finalist or a winner that has been chosen by judges or voted on by readers, shout it from the rooftops and celebrate! But don’t fool readers into thinking being nominated for an award means something it doesn’t.
Don’t publish an unedited book
As an editor, I might be biased, but I strongly believe that we as professional authors owe our readers a professionally produced book that is as good as we can possibly make it.
A book full of plot holes, flat characters, poor grammar, spelling mistakes, etc., not only disappoints readers, it will also harm your reputation.
To me, that means that my books will always go through several beta readers, proofreaders, and at least one editor before they are published. It also means that I invested time and money into improving my writing skills.
I know not every author will be able to invest thousands of dollars into editing, but even if your budget is limited, there are always ways to work within that budget while not skipping editing. For example, you could swap manuscripts with fellow authors and critique each other’s manuscripts.
What do you think?
What are your do’s and don’ts for how to treat readers with respect?