Recently I was forced to do a little e-housecleaning when my site’s mailbox reached its max capacity. I’ve spent the last several days going through about three years worth of emails from fans, peers and critics. Most of these emails I answered. Some I did not. However, I can say with certainty that I read them all. And reliving years of authorial emails has inspired me to compose a teeny blog on the topic. A blogella, if you will.
Keep in mind, I don’t speak for all authors. I haven’t interviewed anyone, and it’s possible that others might not even agree with what I’m saying here. But from my personal inbox, here are some examples of how I’ve been contacted in pitch perfect and in “ehhhhh, could’ve been better” ways.:
Asking for signed and/or free books: This is something every author will face at some point, and it’s flattering, because a request for a free book means that there’s interest. And the person doing the asking usually sees it this way as well. However, given the context, it can be a little bit like going into your grocery store and asking the manager for a free crate of steak so that you can invite your friends over for dinner and spread your unbiased word about his store.
So how and when should you request a free book? If you are collecting books for a charitable cause, provide the specifics and ask whom you should contact about obtaining a signed copy. Some authors or their publishers may be willing to donate. It’s also perfectly acceptable, prior to publication, to ask for an ARC (advanced reader copy) for review purposes. ARCs are absolutely free, and if the author doesn’t handle their distribution personally (I don’t), they should know where to refer you.
How and when should you request a signed book? Ask the author where you can purchase a signed copy, or a bookplate. Most authors can refer you to a local bookstore where they sign copies of the books that can be mailed out nationally. And most authors will be willing to send you a bookplate for free, or ask for you to send them a self-addressed envelope. Bookplates are a signed sticker that you can put inside of your book’s cover, and it’s the next best thing to a signature.
How and when should you NOT request a signed and/or free book? When you’d like to give the book as a present for your cousin Harold’s birthday, or you just really really want one. A book is a product like hair gel or nose clippers, and buying a copy is a great way to show your support. And if you are a reviewer, it’s a faux pas to ask for a review copy of a book that is already published. If you’d like a free copy for review, check your local library; if they don’t have it, ask for it! This is a great way to support an author. You could also try looking for giveaways online. Bloggers are always eager to share books and are known to give away a copy once they’ve reviewed it.
Inviting an author to participate in a blog post/other event: This is something I faced a LOT during the year Wither debuted. And it’s as flattering as it is overwhelming, because of course an author wants to answer questions, but when there are so many interviews fighting for that author’s time, and there are only so many hours in a day, the author is forced to pick and choose.
How should you request an interview and/or event participation? Always address the author by name. Always. I can’t stress this enough. Read the author’s FAQ; the author’s FAQ is a response to frequent interview questions, and it’s where the author will provide the most detailed and thoughtful answer. Be sure to look through it and be certain that you aren’t asking something that’s already been answered. The author will notice and appreciate that you took the time to do this.
How should you NOT request an interview and/or event participation? By beginning your email with “Dear Author,” no greeting at all, or an apology for the mass email and an explanation that you’re just so busy you can’t send individual emails. You’re emailing an author to ask for his or her time, thought and consideration, and how can they be expected to offer those things when you didn’t take the time, thought or consideration to mention them by name? Which leads me to another fatal error: mass emailing a group of authors. While it may save time for you, what it says to the author is, “I’m just going to throw this out there and hope I get a few bites, and it doesn’t matter who from.” These are the most common emails in my inbox that went unanswered. And the most fatal of fatal flaws: Sending periodic reminders, inundating the author with friendly nudges, or, worst of all, forwarding your request again. If an author is interested, he or she WILL REPLY as quickly as possible. Sometimes “as quickly as possible” means a few weeks. It takes a long time to slay the deadline monster and feed the editor and agent dragons their word chum. We are doing the best that we can and we adore our readers and we will get back to you. Promise.