Treat your readers with respect

How to treat your readers with respect

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Table of Contents

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.

If you are interested in finding out the details, you can read up on it on my blog for readers and then head over to Adrian J. Smith’s blog to find out more.

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?

13 Responses

  1. I hate sloppy books, grammatical mistakes, misspelling, not proofread, etc. come on show some respect to those buying your product. I’d never submit a professional writing like that for work.

  2. (sigh) I continue to be amazed, and i guess saddened, by the things we seem to need to tell people. Things that they MUST know, but are either too hurried or lazy to care about.. or worse.. don’t care about and choose to do because the rules don’t apply to them. I try to remind myself that these are the exceptions, and that most people are honest, and will correct a mistake when noted. Thank you for keeping this clear for those who want to continue in that profession. Like all professions, or art, it is not easy, and short cuts are not the reason to do this.. to it right, take the time, and be proud of your work. Be like Jae!

    1. That’s what I always tell new writers: there are no shortcuts. And there shouldn’t be. As a rule of thumb, it takes 10 years or 10,000 hours of practice with feedback to become adept at any job or craft, and writing is no different.

  3. Everything said here is valid! It almost shouldn’t have to be said. Even still, the reminders are good because in our excitement with writing projects it’s better to have earned the praise than to fake self promotion that won’t last, feel as good, and will in all likelihood hurt everyone down the road.

    1. It really should go without saying. And many or even most authors do strive to avoid all of these “don’ts.” But there are always people who make it necessary to say it out loud every now and then.

  4. Jae thank you very much for adding this information. As a conscientious reader, I want to support the authors with a well-considered review. Authors: please contact me if my review accidentally includes a spoiler. In return, I promise to do my best to help promote good books. My request is that authors try to accept the content of my review. I am completely open to discussing my reviews with readers and authors. Authors you have invested your heart in your book babies. – Karen

    1. I think a good rule of thumb to avoid spoilers is to sum up no more of the content than the blurb/book description does at the beginning of the review and to keep that part short, then go on to discussing what you liked/disliked about the book.

  5. I couldn’t agree with you more. Trust is a fragile thing. There are few things lower than a person who lies and cheats for personal gain. It’s selfish, inexcusable and loathsome. Even more so when it’s done to a marginalized community.

    Oh, and please don’t get me started on authors who publish draft-quality work rather than using good beta readers and/or an editor. My beta reader eyes don’t have an off switch (trust me, I’ve tried to turn them off) and it’s extremely frustrating when I can’t settle into a story due to the plethora of edits my mind can’t help making. When that happens, I feel cheated, disappointed, and irritated. What all of those feelings boil down to is feeling like the author cares more about getting published than they do about giving the reader the most immersive experience possible. If the author doesn’t care about the quality of their work, it’s not a giant leap to think they care even less about the reader. Respecting the reader first comes from within the author. I can sum it up to having a good work ethic.

    **Don’t use excuses for not having your work looked at.**
    While writing is a singular activity, no one can go the distance alone. With the growing options for social media contacts today, there is no excuse for not having at least one good beta reader in their stable. There are specific beta reading groups all over socials and various internet sites. Other writers are usually happy to make recommendations. All it takes is time, effort and dedication to growing the writing skills. Do find some beta readers. Don’t use friends, family or anyone else who will pooh pooh you or might be afraid to hurt your feelings. I’ve seen some authors post that they won’t use beta readers because they refuse to “write a book by committee.” Those authors don’t seem to understand the first rule of a beta read; the author is the final authority on all suggested edits. Period. Their work, their choice.

    **Do your absolute best. Don’t do a beta read if you just want a first look or a free book.**
    When I do a beta read, my goal is to bring the best out of the writer so they can give their best to the reader. When it’s warranted, I will push an author to dig deeper, prod them to show me, I may move things around to give the story a better flow, I will suggest nixing this and/or adding that, plot holes, etc. While I’m not unkind in my comments, I don’t spare the red pen either. I’m also liberal with praise for a well-written line, beautiful phrase, moving piece of description, etc. In the midst of the red ink, writers need to know what they’re doing well too! If I’m not giving my absolute best to an author, I feel like it does them (and ultimately the reader) a grave disservice.

    **Do stay open to new learning opportunities.**
    Just like there is no shortage of places to find a good beta reader, there is no shortage of resource material on the craft of writing. Not only are there endless internet articles, there are tons of books, and free online workshops. Not to be repetitive, but it takes time, effort and dedication to grow those writing skills.

    While I’m not new to writing, I’m coming back to it after a very long absence. It’s only been within the past few years that I feel like I’m stepping into my skin as a writer. I am driven to learn, to grow, to improve my writing skills. Why? Because I want the story I’ve crafted to wrap around a reader like a warm blanket. I want them to feel what my characters feel and see what my characters see. I want my characters to reach in there and tug on the readers’ heartstrings. In short, I want to deliver the best reading experience I am capable of.

    What that looks like for me is: participating in free online writing workshops. practicing new skills on unsuspecting fanfic readers, having the courage to do it scared–whether it’s submitting a scene for a workshop or applying for a writing academy. I want to honor the trust readers place in me by being the best writer I can be.

    **Do have the courage to push through the fear! Don’t let your ego get in your way.**
    It’s absolutely terrifying to submit your “baby” to a beta or editor. The first time I did it, I had no idea what I was in for and it was a terrible shock to my fragile writer’s ego. Lol It’s funny now but it took me a minute to stop reeling. Push through, it’s worth it. 🙂

    **Don’t sacrifice quality for quantity!**
    Some writers crank out a new book every few months. That’s great–IF–each book is tight and right. If not, slow down. I would rather read one well-written book than several that should still be on the editing table.

    **Don’t recycle the same characters.**
    I recently finished a book and then rolled to another one by the same author. The characters names were different but it was the same two characters from the previous book. No kidding.

    **Do make your character voicing unique. Don’t confuse your reader.**
    I was reading something in 1st person a couple of weeks back and the character voicing was so similar I kept losing track of whose POV I was in. I had to wait for another dialog tag to get some clarity. I don’t want to work that hard when I’m reading for fun.

    1. These are all very good points! If someone is writing for fun, they can do it in whatever way they prefer. No beta reader or editor needed, unless they want to improve their skills. But as soon as they publish a book and get paid for it, they become a professional author (even if they don’t do it full-time) and owe their readers a book that is as good as they can possibly make it.

  6. I have read a few books in the past and recently where I read the wrong pronouns in regards to the main characters. It makes me wonder if the story was originally about a heterosexual couple and it was changed to be a woman loving woman story. It takes away some of the excitement I have in reading a book. I agree with Jae Author 100%. please have your stories edited and if you started off writing a heterosexual story keep it that way or start over again with the right images of your characters in your imagination.

    1. If the wrong pronouns happen more than once in a book, that usually means the author rewrote an M/F (or M/M) story and turned it into a sapphic one. It can also happen in AI translations. If it’s the former, the author seems to think all they need to do is change the names and pronouns and the romance will still work. Needless to say a character’s gender identity and sexual orientation influence their entire life, so a lot of the scenes will feel subtly wrong.

  7. All such good points. If you’re getting paid for your books, you’re a professional. Act like it.

    As an aside, forming relationships based on identity lies in order to sell books or reap free help is what I’ve come to call Emotional Fraud.

    1. “Emotional fraud” is a very good term that describes exactly what it is!

      Thank you for taking the time to comment, Karin!

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