Writers Etiquette Regarding Things You Must Do vs. Things You Should Do

This post is about our code of conduct.  Our “rules” that we each live by, with regard to our writing.

Reviews are the golden apple of publishing.  Books with bad reviews die faster than books with good reviews, but books with no reviews die fastest of all.  Yet, as any published author doubtless already knows, the only thing harder than getting someone to buy your book is getting them to write you a review.

You can ask everyone you know to read your story and write a review, and what you will get is:

MOST will not read it; MANY actually will read it; SOME will tell you what they thought of it; FEW will actually write you a review;  but they will ALL make promises to do so.

New writers, especially, have to get past this difficult stage in order for their book (and future books) to gain the momentum necessary to garner sales and reviews without having to beg for them.

Why is it so hard to get reviews?

It all comes down to must vs. should.

Everyone has a code of ethics that they live by.  How they see themselves, define themselves.  These codes, or “rules”, are a big part of what we use to make decisions in life.  What we will and will not do.  When we violate our own codes and act out of accordance with how we see ourselves, it causes us pain.

In short, our conscience suffers.

But our codes have a hierarchy, which tends to come down to what we must or must never do, vs. what we should or should never do.

So let’s say you see yourself as someone who (mostly) keeps the promises that they make to others (lot’s of us see ourselves this way).  I interjected that “mostly” in the last sentence, because this is a code that many of us attach lots of “except if” situations to.

We keep our promise if it ends up not being too hard to do, or if we have the time.

There are lots of if’s in this equation.  If we don’t have to make a sign-on and give out our name to a website.  If it takes less than 5 minutes.  If our kids don’t have a baseball game that day.  If we like the story.  If not, we are unwilling to tell our author friend, let alone write a review.

You get the picture.

As new authors, we are often hurt by the lack of support from family and friends.  Our book is very important to us.  It took a lot of time, sweat, and tears for us to write it, and the least we expect from the people we hold most dear is for them to take the time to read it and review it.

For the record… those are our rules.  Not theirs.

But let’s think about what we’re actually asking them to do.

The friend that has a full or part-time job, kids to drive to soccer, a mother-in-law that’s coming to visit, a spouse that they’re helping to get ready and off on a business trip, housework they are behind on, laundry piled up in the hallway, bills to pay, meetings to attend, dinner to cook, their teenager’s drama’s and crises to handle, and family entertainment to take part in – whew! – and you want them to review your book?

Your code of ethics tells you that they shouldn’t promise to do it if they are just going to let you down.  And I agree with that.  But the reality is, it’s not going to happen that way.

Maybe they are a writer too, in which case you promise to review their book if they review yours.  This could work in your favor if they’ve already published theirs, and maybe you’ve even already reviewed it.  A “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” situation.  (Don’t scoff at this… bartering has been an effective economic system since, oh, forever).

On the other hand, if they haven’t published yet, then your promise to do it for them – if, and when the time comes – may not hold a lot of sway.

Bottom line is this:

Contrary to popular belief, most people don’t regularly go in and leave reviews for things they buy.  They don’t know how to do it, and here we are, asking them to give up one of their most precious commodities – time –  to do something they are not familiar with.

You can tell them how to do it.  Write them out specific instructions.  Assure them it is really simple to do (because it is), but no matter how good their intentions, this is one of those promises that many people will see as a should, not a must.

It’s just too overwhelming for them to think about adding to their already stressed day.

They will feel guilty about not doing it.  Every time they see you, they’re reminded of how they’ve let you down, because they don’t (here’s that mostly word again) define themselves as someone who doesn’t keep their promises.  But they still don’t do it.

The amount of time they spend justifying themselves is ten times more than the amount of time it would take for them to just do it and put their conscience at rest.

They want to support you (they’re your friends and family, after all), but they see it as overwhelming.  Something beyond their capabilities.

And so that must becomes a should becomes an empty promise.

If it’s brought up to them, they might get angry.  Maybe come up with excuses… what you’re asking them to do is just too hard… if it was easy, they would do it.  The fact that it is easy is an incomprehensible concept they don’t believe.  (Note: you just create a sign-on at Amazon.com and then put the book title in the search field, hit enter, click on the book cover and scroll down to write a review.  Unless you’re wordy, it takes all of 5 minutes).

Rest assured it’s not really you they’re angry with.  It’s themselves.  More than letting you down, they’ve let down themselves.

I suppose if I was a more talented, creative writer I would have a solution to this dilemma.  One that I could list here and all of us could use to draw countless “golden egg” reviews.

Yeah.  Don’t we all wish.

I have no magic formula.  Maybe offer to personally show them how to do it, if they don’t live too far away.  Once they are shown how to do it, don’t be surprised if you hear comments like, “I’m sorry I procrastinated.  I didn’t realize how simple it really was to do.”

People really do want to support the one’s they care about.

We need to cut them some slack.  It’s hard not to feel hurt, but our expectations should be tempered with the realization of what we’re asking them to give up for us.  Our time is better spent writing than nursing unrealistic wounds.

Turn that energy into your next book, your next marketing blitz, your next blog post.  Remember, buzz is created by more than just written reviews.  Don’t burn your bridges… you just may get more support from your friend’s word of mouth than anything else.


DJ Marcussen

About Cary Area Writer's Group (CAWG)

Who Are We? We are a group who live, meet, and support each other in Cary, Illinois. Writers… that is what we call ourselves, but we are so much more than that. We have full time jobs, full time kids and full time hassles like anyone else. We don’t come up with stories. we live them. The only thing different about us is that we write them down. We don’t sleep. We have deadlines that are constantly looming and we always hope for that elusive quiet that never quite finds its way to our lives. If you think you can keep up with this pace, if you can put down the phone long enough to write a sentence or two and make sense, well I’m sorry to say you’re a writer and I know what you’re going through. Stick to it. Publication is just around the corner and then you can sit down. Or can you? It’s all in a day’s work but you know you wouldn’t trade it in. It’s who you are. By Grace Rellie
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