“Helpful” seems like it should be a simple concept. But it’s not. It always astounds me how some people use helpfulness to mask their own self-serving agenda. Okay, okay. As human beings, we all have that little monster of selfishness that wants everything to come back to us.
I’ve heard this mantra of writers helping writers all over social media. And a lot of them truly mean what they say. But some people just talk the talk and never follow through. And others follow through with the best intentions but end up doing more harm than good.
So I thought I’d share my Helping Authors Manifesto. It’s in progress, of course. My overall theme is Be Kind and Respectful. This list may grow or change. But for now, my manifesto addresses beta reading, reviewing, and general customer service!
When Beta Reading- I Will Be Honest and Respectful
If I have agreed to beta read your project, then I will do my best to be helpful to you. I will try not to impose my personal writing style and preferences on you. I will try to leave my prejudices and biases at the door. But I will give honest feedback about plot holes, character development, and story craft issues.
When Reviewing a Book- I Will Show Courtesy
As a principle, I review the story itself. If there are formatting issues or typos, I like to treat the author how I would like to be treated and give them a chance to fix it. If it really is such a mess that it is distracting and/or the author doesn’t respond to me, I’ll put a comment in my review to be fair to potential readers.
I know how much work it takes to write a book. In all my reviews I purpose to bring out the best qualities of the work, even if I didn’t like it that much. But I also try to be honest about my reading experience. Technically a review is a personal opinion. But it’s not quite fair that the writer’s career hangs so heavily on the personal opinions of complete strangers. That doesn’t mean I will be dishonest. But there is a way to be tactful and to admit that other people have different taste and may enjoy the book.
Obviously, if I love the book I will praise it to the skies.
I Will Give the Author the Chance to Make it Right
When dealing with self-published authors I am dealing with people, not corporations. If I have purchased a service and something goes wrong, I will reach out and give the author the chance to provide excellent customer service before resorting to other means (writing a negative review, or a negative post on social media).
What am I talking about? What if I ordered a print book and found the formatting was all off? I could go straight to Amazon and write a bad review. Or I could contact the author and explain the situation. As an author, I want my readers to have a good experience. As an author, I would replace that book for the customer.
It’s too easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “They published it like this, so they need to take the consequences.” I don’t want to have that attitude. I want to have the attitude of, “They are an author just like me and maybe I can help them in this area.”
One time I changed the file for my ebook and published it to KDP. The proof copy showed everything was perfect. But there was an error on Amazon’s part and the proof was wrong! For almost two weeks, my ebook had flaws that I thought had been corrected. I was horrified when I found out. I got the issue straightened out. But I would have loved a kind person to have sent me a quick e-mail saying, “Hey…just wanted to let you know that there were some weird formatting things happening on this page…”
The author may listen, the author may not listen. But I want to be that person for other authors.
I recognize that the indie publishing scene is super lopsided right now. Some indie authors spend hundreds of dollars to make their books as professional as trad pub. Others don’t have those resources, or the knowledge and experience. But I think if we treat each other with courtesy and professionalism we will only benefit!