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Customer Service: New Scope of Authorial Duties

funny-pictures-itty-bitty-kitty-committee-customer-service-hotline

I’ve been futzing with this article for a couple of months and it’s not working out. I told myself to finish it and publish it and it accidentally went up last week. I guess that is a sign. I think the problem that I have with the subject is that I don’t have any real concrete opinion here but rather than let it languish, I figured I would post it and then read all the comments. Maybe something will crystalize after reading the opinions of the  commenters of Dear Author.

Sarah Wendell and I give presentations on ebook reading devices (Angela James, too, at RT). We try to cover the pros and cons of the devices and we always try to include a section on customer service. Good customer service can make up for a less than perfect device. Barnes and Noble’s in store service is remarkable. Amazon’s online service can’t be beat. Good customer service engenders loyalty. Loyalty, in return, means return sales and good word of mouth. Even if a product is outpaced by another product, the loyal customer defends their allegiance, believing that even if this current product isn’t perfect, the next one will be. It takes a long time of substandard service to break a customer’s loyalty but it can be done.

I’m sure you can all see where I am going with this. John Locke, the seller of over 1,000,000 ebook units in 5 months, has a marketing book out. In the marketing book, he describes the efforts he makes to reach out to his fans, to create a personal connection with them. Authors are in the business of providing customer service as well. Do it well and those fans become loyal followers who spread of the gospel of Author A without any prompting.

When Sarah and I did a reader roundtable at RT this past year, I asked the question “How many books does it take for an author to go on the autobuy list.” Many responded with “just one”. When I asked the converse question “How many books does it take for an author to move off the autobuy list, the response was varied and many agreed that it would take more than one, even several. A reader won is not easily lost.

As we enter this new age of publishing, however, the pressure will increase on authors to provide more customer service, maybe not to the extent that John Locke is promoting, but definitely increased.

In the past, when an author has been confronted by price or availability, scheduling, bad cover blurbs, bad covers, publication of a series, the author has been able to say that those decisions are outside of her control. And it was true. With self publishing, however, the mantra from readers may be that nothing is out of the author’s control no matter who the author’s publisher is, whether it be her or another entity.

Isabella Loretta ChaseAnd what one author is doing will be held up to other authors. For instance, Courtney Milan and Tessa Dare have had their self published works translated in German. German readers are going to wonder why more authors aren’t offering that service. Anne Stuart self published a sequel to her ICE series and it is price at $6.99 and not available to UK readers. UK readers are asking why. Loretta Chase, one of the grand dames of romance (and I don’t mean by age, but by the way in which her books are revered), is self publishing her backlist titles with covers that make her books look like they were culled from the ranks of public domain books that are over 100 years old. Suzanne Enoch can’t be bothered to update her website. She has a new book out this month called “A Beginner’s Guide to Rakes” (and that is a misleading title if there ever was one) but you wouldn’t know it from the website which has her latest book as ” ” which came out in 2010. Fans of Enoch wouldn’t know that she has another book coming out in the Spring of 2012. Someone may comment that Enoch has more important things than updating her website like personal problems (I’m not saying she does, but that may be an excuse), but to readers who want more information, that is of no matter.

I know this feeds into the argument or belief that authors have about readers and their entitlement attitudes.  I’ve heard authors unhappy that readers email them right after a book has been released and want to know what is next.  Readers are a lusty, demanding group and that’s actually a good thing. It’s why romance readers buy so many books and in such huge quantities.  A  reader doesn’t demand what she doesn’t want.

Still, the idea of authors providing customer service for their products might seem a little frightening but maybe there really isn’t a change. Authors have always had a higher profile that publishers and editors. They are the ones that field the complaints about books not being available, about ebooks having DRM, about books priced too high, about books being too short, too long, too much green on the cover.

It’s obvious that the competency in the business of selling books isn’t in the same trade set as writing books. To place the burden of customer service on authors presents an almost unfair expectation. Writers are not necessarily business people or people that understand the fine art of customer service. Writers may not know every available resource out there (german translators?!) or they may be misled by even well intentioned individuals. I read, from time to time, advice thrown out on blogs that makes me cringe.

Obviously, the solution, every time we readers get anxious about customer service, is to picture the person providing the service is that kitten in the picture because that no one can be impatient with that kitten and her little itty bitty phone but barring that, what expectations should readers have? I.e., if it can be done, do we expect every author to adopt it? Do we, as readers, have tolerance for slow moving responses to our demands?   Will the move of some authors to self publishing and the freedom gained with self publishing increase the demands of readers?  Can an author rely solely on her books to build her base?  Or does she have to be John Locke? Or Bella Andre who writes a personalized email to everyone on her email list for the past seven years every time a new release comes out? Or Courtney Milan who is pricing her books at $.99 and getting them translated into German?  What is reasonable readers?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

82 Comments

  1. Carin
    Oct 04, 2011 @ 07:33:42

    This article cuts off after the fourth paragraph for me, but it sure reads like there should be more.

  2. Ritu
    Oct 04, 2011 @ 07:38:01

    Me too. I’m hoping the rest of the article shows up soon.

  3. Meg
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 04:22:38

    I frankly don’t care if an author has a charming Twitter presence or sends a million “personal” emails. The only thing I’m interested in, the only thing I will lend word-of-mouth to, and the only thing that guarantees I’ll be “loyal” enough to buy the next book is the quality of the last book I read.

    I can’t help but think authors would be writing more and better books if not for this new expectation that half their job description is creating some personal obligation of eternal support amongst their “friends” (formerly known as readers).

  4. Bronte
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 04:55:24

    I don’t want personalised service. I don’t want facebook contact or twitter contact however I do expect that if I go looking at an author’s website that it is up to date. And you can add me to one of the people who are cranky about Anne Stuart’s latest book not being available to anyone outside of North America. What do we not read Anne Stuart in the antipodes? Talk about promoting piracy given that it is only available in ebook format. I want to give you my money, why will you not take it? From what I understand she is also releasing her backlist as Kindle books so I desperately hope that these will be made available to a wide geographical distribution. As far as covers go I tend to not look too much at covers if they are an author I automatically buy, however if I had not read Loretta Chase before, that cover would definitely NOT entice me to buy one of her books.

  5. GrowlyCub
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 05:01:49

    @Meg:

    I agree re better books and I know that it’s painful for some of the more introverted to *have* to interact, but I lay the blame at the door of the publishers who seem to expect a lot more self-promo from authors these days than in earlier decades. And I’ve long thought that if that’s the case, the authors ought to be getting a bigger piece of the pie (aka much higher royalties).

    With the advent of self-publishing, the onus for the production side does fall on the authors who now have to compete with even more books released every month. It certainly comes easier to some people, but even then it takes away time from their writing/crafting.

  6. Kim in Hawaii
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 05:09:16

    I appreciate the thought you put into this article. I post daily on my blog and author interviews are a high percentage of the content. I read an author’s website to help formulate my questions. It is difficult to ask relevant questions when the website is out of date or even slim on personal tidbits.

    I am a bit surprised to read “I’ve heard authors unhappy that readers email them right after a book has been released and want to know what is next.” You’re right – we are a lusty group and want to know if it is worth investing our time (and money) into a product line that will have more to offer.

    Those authors who are savvy to customer service will rise to the top.

    Looking forward to your panels at RT/2012 in Chicago.

  7. Ros
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 05:19:54

    I wonder if this is one of the big worldview changes that needs to happen in the publishing industry. We’ve talked a lot about how publishers have traditionally viewed bookstores as their customers, rather than readers. I think some authors have viewed publishing houses as their customers, rather than readers. The ‘customer service’ they have been expected to provide is the manuscript and the working relationship with their editor. Publishers are indeed demanding more, including author promo, which suits some authors well and others not at all.

    But in the online world, all authors, whether self-published or traditionally published, are more accessible to readers and readers are aware of that. Readers think of themselves as customers, not just of a bookstore, certainly not of a publisher, but of an author. I buy Loretta Chase’s books, whether she is self-pubbing or trade-published or whatever. And so I expect some degree of customer service from her. If there is an author website, I expect it to be informative and up to date (if it’s not those things, it would be better not to have one at all). If there is a problem with the book (formatting, factual errors etc) the person I would approach first would be the author. Not because I think she is necessarily personally responsible for all those things but because she is the person whose product I have bought. And actually, when I emailed Loretta Chase in an explosion of frustration about digital rights, I received a lovely response from her and her agent, though nothing much actually changed as a result.

    I don’t expect all authors to have a social media presence, but if they do, I expect them to be courteous to and about their readers. I expect them to respect their customers and recognise that I don’t owe them my money or my praise of their product. They have to earn it, like everyone else I buy stuff from, by producing a quality product that I’m happy to buy and recommend, and by being the kind of person I want to do business with.

  8. Eve Langlais
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 06:33:44

    As a reader, I really am not interested in the author as person. I just want to know when their next book is coming out lol. I agree websites MUST be up to date and accurate. I really dislike discovering a great book, wondering what else is out there for that author and landing on a website that doesn’t even have the book I just finished, let alone info on the sequels. It doesn’t take long to update a site. As for social media, I don’t really follow anybody, although I do like to lurk and read comments.

    In my role as an author, I interact with the readers who take the time to contact me. Most prefer to do so privately which is great, but I also make sure to acknowledge those who do so publicly via comments on my blog or on FB. While some show an interest in me as a person, most just want to know when the next book is coming. I’ve noticed romance readers are voracious in their appetites and always eager for their next reading fix. LOL, kind of like me when I find something I like.

    One final note, while I would love to translate my work, the cost is prohibitive. It’s also scary because I know for a fact, meaning and humor don’t always translate well. I used to read alot in French when I lived in Quebec because that’s what the libraries carried. I speak from experience when I say, some things when directly translated make absolutely no sense. I have wonder how and if my sarcasm would transition well into another language. Maybe one day, I’ll find out.

  9. Mary Anne Graham
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 07:08:27

    I’m an indie author in the Amazon Indie Store sense of the word (“Indie” is hard to define, but anything cool, creative, and different is “indie.”) My writing can politely be described as different – to say the least.

    Some folks “get” my stuff and others don’t. Readers who get it – and those who don’t – sometimes take the time to email suggesting a story idea, inquiring about why – in the name of all ducks in the universe – I had a character do whatever or asking when a sequel will be out. I try to take the time to respond to every reader email. Rarely does anything make me as heel-clicking happy as an email from a reader.

    I realize that authors who have “arrived” get a heck of a lot more email than I do, but I think each reader always, always, always deserves a response – even if it’s “canned” and (says thank you ) and then directs the reader to FAQ’s on a website or whatever. I think the author owes it to readers to always respond to all – or at least some – of the email personally. Nothing’s better to show a connection to readers than respecting readers enough to realize that an author owes something to people who took the time to read her work.

    I think authors should always follow back on Twitter because that is a fairly easy and quite effective way to open a dialogue.

    Going indie may increase the contact with readers, but the word “demand” gives the wrong impression. Authors should want to connect with readers. They surely want readers to connect with their work and for communication to function it must be a two-way street.

    If a writer can’t make time to communnicate with readers – even unhappy and ranting ones – she might want to consider taking up another line of work.

  10. joanne
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 07:38:51

    I don’t want or need to connect with an author personally, just their work. I don’t want to have lunch with them or shake their hands or be email buddies. My “thank you for a great book” is not an email or comment on their site but a pre-order for their next book.

    I am a demanding reader and I do buy many, many books and it’s sometimes fun to read an author’s comments about upcoming books or characters… but it does seem that often the authors that produce the best quality work (imo) are seldom the ones that spend a large amount of time online.

    It may ‘feel’ as though a Facebook presence is almost mandatory but really that’s only what happens to be popular right now. It will pass and make room for the next social blah-blah place because, really, the book is the thing that makes a successful connection.

    I’m looking for what’s next from a writer and to see if their back list is available. After too many frustrating visits to author’s sites I’ve returned to Fantastic Fiction for any info I need. No muss, no fuss, no pictures of doggies and flowers.

    I don’t understand the geographical limitations of ebooks but I would think the fight should be with each countries’ publishers and/or book sellers and not the authors. I do know that if I lived in Australia or Malaysia or a dozen other countries where so many books are unavailable I’d be bald from pulling my hair out.

  11. DS
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 07:39:51

    I googled the publisher on Loretta Chase’s book (NYLA) and found some dubious things about it. Apparently this is short for New York Literary Agency, a strongly not recommended group listed on Preditors and Editors . Unless this is some other group with the same acronym, Ms Chase may have met up with some less than competent or knowledgeable business associates. From the look of those covers I would say they are also trying to do this really on the cheap.

    ETA: I rarely contact authors although I will drop an email if a book has proved particularly entertaining or useful just to let the author know he or she is appreciated. I don’t expect to strike up a conversation or join a fan group though. But information about current and upcoming books made available on a user friendly site is always welcome. Spam is still a no-no, even if I like the author’ s books.

  12. Lil
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 07:40:03

    As a reader, I really do not want to interact with authors via “social media.” All I want from them is good books to read, and I suspect that the books would be better if they didn’t waste their time twittering.
    I do appreciate a website that lists their books, past, present and future, and their availability.
    On ebooks in particular, I am completely indifferent to the covers. I don’t really understand why anyone bothers to put a cover there anyway.
    As for readers who demand interaction with authors, I will maintain my silence because I can’t think of any way to put my thoughts that would not be extremely rude.

  13. Jill Sorenson
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 07:44:23

    On Twitter the other day, an author I was following complained about reader email in a really snarky way: “It’s not hard to find info on my next book, people! Just go to my web site and scroll down. Put some effort into it.”

    I’m paraphrasing, but her attitude was a big turn-off. Granted, I don’t know what it’s like to be overwhelmed by huge amounts of fanmail. I can’t imagine it being so annoying that I’d have to vent on Twitter.

    Unfollow.

    As far as self-publishing and having “total control,” this is something I worry about. Now that readers know self-publishing is an option, perhaps they will no longer accept the “X is beyond my control” answer that authors give when asked if they will continue a series or storyline.

  14. Jane
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 08:01:59

    I actually don’t think of social media interaction as customer service. That is promotion to me, although it can overlap into CS. I view CS as putting out a good product and then responding to complaints about the product. Thus price, cover, blurb (i.e., does the blurb match the book’s contents), proper labeling, availability (both geographically and at the various retailers), whether the ebook has DRM, whether there is print version available, when the book is available, the length, the formatting, the design, the “extras”, etc. That’s kind of what I am thinking in terms of CS. There is a component of communication with the customer as well, such as Enoch’s failure to let her reader’s know when her book is going to be out; what the book is about.

  15. Las
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 08:03:51

    As a reader, a lot of the extras authors, publishers, bloggers, etc. do to create customer loyalty is completely lost on me. I just don’t do team loyalty in that sense, and, frankly, I’m a little turned off by all the techniques that writers, etc. use to gain that loyalty. Personalized emails? People really fall for that?

    Write good books that appeal to my tastes and don’t make an ass of yourself in public and I’ll buy. And being a big fan of your work won’t stop me from openly stating that your latest work sucks if I think it does, or stating that I think you’re being an asshole when you’re being an asshole, so don’t make an even bigger ass of yourself by complaining when that happens.

    All that said, I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority when it comes to romance readers, or, at least, the romance readers who interact online. If I were a writer (or someone else in the business), I would absolutely look for ways to improve customer service with my readers, even in those ways that I personally dislike as a reader, because it looks to me like that kind of thing works for increasing sales, especially for indie and self-pub.

    Edited: After reading Jane’s last comment I realize I’m talking more about promotion that CS. I’m not convinced that responding to anything but the biggest complaints would be all that helpful. Unless we’re talking about bad formatting or missing pages, I think it’d be better not respond directly to complaints…that will easily turn into a mess. Don’t ignore those complaints, of course. If you get a lot of complaints about the covers, for example, improve you’re covers. But constantly interacting with your readers over their complaints can become problematic, I think.

  16. Jane
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 08:07:33

    @DS I think that NYLA stands for Nancy Yost Literary Agency. Yost is Chase’s agent and I think it has been stated that Yost is assisting her clients in their self publishing endeavors.

  17. Jane
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 08:11:06

    @Jill Sorenson

    Now that readers know self-publishing is an option, perhaps they will no longer accept the “X is beyond my control” answer that authors give when asked if they will continue a series or storyline.

    This is already happening. I saw a blow up between a reader/author and a mainstream author on facebook over the windowing of ebooks. Author claimed that it was a problem with distribution at her house (which I really didn’t buy) and the reader claimed that if the author went self pubbing, it wouldn’t be a problem.

  18. Jane
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 08:11:35

    @Lil If you are completely indifferent to covers, how do you shop for books online?

  19. Jane
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 08:13:55

    @joanne

    My “thank you for a great book” is not an email or comment on their site but a pre-order for their next book.

    I love this line and it’s so true.

    I’m looking for what’s next from a writer and to see if their back list is available. After too many frustrating visits to author’s sites I’ve returned to Fantastic Fiction for any info I need. No muss, no fuss, no pictures of doggies and flowers.

    An author on twitter asked what was the one thing that an author’s website should have and I replied “Coming Soon”. When I visit an author’s site, it’s usually because I’ve read a book I’ve liked and want to know two things. What is next and what is connected to the book I just read.

  20. Jane
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 08:15:54

    @Eve Langlais

    As a reader, I really am not interested in the author as person.

    This is me as well. The author is two entities, in my opinion. She is a personal entity and she is also “author” which is a different entity to a reader altogether.

  21. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 08:24:27

    Yes, Loretta’s agent is publishing her backlist for her in e, and the covers are truly awful. I mean, use an Ingres image, but try to make the surroundings a bit prettier! (Besides, I’m not sure that image is in the public domain. It’s part of the Frick collection, and they are protective about the images they own. But I really don’t know how that works, so advice would be useful.
    I try to concentrate on a few areas, like my website, and keep them up to date. I do my site myself, at least I update it, and that way I can be sure they are up there in a timely manner, because ebook or print, that first week is still crucial. I get my newsletter out on time and I pop up on Twitter. My blog is for my newsletter only (it goes up after it’s gone to the mailing list, so they still get it first).
    But I have real problems with the aggressive approach. I employ an agency to do the straight “buy my books” posts because I’m uncomfortable doing them (is it British reticence, or just a feeling of self inadequacy? Do others feel like that?) I do more of the socialising thing, and I only do that when I’m not in writing mode.
    I do think that courtesy and respect on both sides is a nice thing, and should be striven for, but it’s no worse if an author does it than a reader. Of course, it has more financial consequences for the author, but I know some authors who don’t stick their heads out of their shells because of the sometimes aggressive comments they get from readers. Good and bad. Writers are very different, from the media and marketing savvy to the shy country dweller. There is no one type. Which is probably why it’s so hard to decide this.
    However, I will say this. Even the unpublished author needs some kind of web presence these days. A blog, a website, whatever. The first thing many editors do, if a piece takes their interest, is to google the author. So many editors have said this recently.
    And the same for the new writer, who has to work harder than the established ones to gain a web presence. And it has to be maintained. It is surprising that a writer of standing hasn’t updated her site, but maybe she doesn’t have web access, maybe she’s switching providers or companies. Or maybe she can’t be bothered. We just don’t know.

  22. Susan Brown
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 08:25:06

    If an author has a website, it HAS to be kept updated. Sometimes it seems that websites are created almost on a whim (or maybe somebody said it would be a good idea) and then they just languish. A well-maintained website seems like a relatively low-pressure way of keeping your readership informed, especially for authors who don’t want to be BFFs with all their readers.

  23. SAO
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 08:44:50

    I don’t get not making work available worldwide. My observation is that readers unable to legally buy books figure that it is fair to illegally download them. After all, no one feels much loyalty to someone who has discriminated against them.

  24. Lil
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 08:45:15

    @Jane:

    By author and title, the same way I do in bookstores. I do my browsing in reviews. I don’t think I’ve ever been attracted to a book by its cover. (Turned off, maybe.)

  25. DS
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 08:46:18

    @Jane: Thanks for the correction. Ms Yost might want to write the title of her agency out in full or do something to distinguish herself from NYLA the truly bad guys. (I’m pretty sure this agent as publisher trend is going to blow up in someones face eventually. I think you noted some of the problems with it earlier.)

    That has got to be one of the ugliest covers I have ever seen though. It’s not even funny ugly, just graceless.

  26. Nikki
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 08:46:20

    Authors need to be more aware of reader relationships and the use of the internet and social media as vehicles for marketing and advertising. With the loss of Borders and the fact that there are fewer independent bookstores you cannot depend on a reader possibly seeing your books as they browse or staff recommendations, the internet presence of authors is more important. In the last 12 months I have been in an actual bookstore four times. Nearly everything I buy is an ebook now so I am not in a bookstore acting as an impromptu seller for your books like I was before. However, I will write an online review.

    All I need from an author is a usable website that gets updated regularly (honestly, I could live with every couple of months). C. L. Wilson and Eileen Wilks have poorly updated websites but Wilks at least has a sidebar where she responds to comments, though I think to myself if you respond to comments why can’t you update your website. On the other hand Meljean Brook clearly indicated on her blog that she was going on hiatus which is different from Lorna Freeman who has not updated her blog since New Year’s.

    Authors who are more exclusively online absolutely need to update their websites in a coherent way and on a regular basis. Give me your backlist if you have one, excerpts, what’s coming soon or why it is delayed and I am happy.

    An author needs to be aware of their brand and its relationship to their continued sales. As an author the product that you put out and the efforts you make around your product are your calling card and your legacy at the same time. Saying authors are not business people gives them a false out from reality. With the changing publishing landscape an author who knows their product and can respond to appropriate complaints such as bad formatting or interact with fans will be more successful in the long-run. There are authors whose first book I tried but did not feel I clicked with. One had an internet presence that I enjoyed and put out a self-pub ebook which I really liked. I then went and purchased the backlist and they have been on my auto-buy list since then. Sometimes that presence might bring you sales that you otherwise might not have gotten.

  27. DS
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 09:11:09

    In terms of customer service outside an updated website, I think that the self published author should at least offer the book world wide and in as many DRM free forms as necessary. This would stop a lot of queries about access (and pirating as mentioned above).

    Also looking into making the book available in audio is something that I think more authors might want to think about. I saw a press release earlier this year where Audible announced a service for authors who own their audio rights. Not sure about the cost but I have noticed some self published ebooks appearing as audio downloads on Amazon and Audible.

  28. Mari
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 09:48:22

    I don’t need authors to be my friends or to send me personalized notes; I’d rather they spend their time on other things, such as writing books, doing research, keeping their websites up to date, and having a life.

    If a book is bad enough, the author can go from auto-buy to don’t buy for me. But the book would have to be truly awful.

    I don’t expect self-pubbed books to be priced at 0.99, though obviously it can work as a promotional tool. I do expect authors who self-publish to make their books available beyond the US. No geo-blocking, and if possible, make the books available on websites other than Amazon and B&N. Amazon often charges international readers extra for delivery beyond the price set by the author, which is extremely annoying; Smashwords does not. Smashwords also gives me access to multiple file formats. Give the readers as many options as possible for buying the books. It’s not a coincidence that I’m reading Marsha Canham’s backlist but not Loretta Chase’s.

    If authors can make their work available in languages other than English, great, but I realize the costs would be prohibitive for many, and that selling foreign rights to a local publisher may be more realistic. As a side note, I’ve worked as a translator, though only on briefer academic materials, and I am in awe of anyone who can translate a full-length novel.

    For me, it comes down to 1. put out a good product and 2. make sure it’s available (corollary: and that readers are made aware of that fact). Everything else is secondary.

  29. Kim
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 09:53:29

    I think that authors have to realize that if they start to self-publish, they become the CEO of their own company. As such, customer service is a must. Whether it’s keeping their website updated or interacting with readers on Facebook and Twitter, marketing is key. I’ve seen some websites that say the author loves to hear from readers, but when you contact them, they never email back. This is fine if you don’t set up a certain expectation. If you’re too busy, then do what Julia Quinn does. She states that while she reads all comments, she’s too busy to respond personally to each and every reader.

    One thing that I’ve never understood is why traditional publishers never respond to reader mail.If a department store never responded to customer complaints they’d soon be out of business. I recently contacted a former editor of a major publisher asking if publishers care about complaints. She said yes, they read it, but don’t expect any response. Even if it’s a form letter, shouldn’t a publisher respond to any and all correspondence? It just seems like good business practice to acknowledge the problem and respond.

    .

  30. Nadia Lee
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 09:55:29

    @SAO: I don’t get not making work available worldwide.

    If somebody’s self-pubbing, the easiest way to make the work available worldwide w/o DRM is to publish via Smashwords. Unfortunately SW styleguide and formatting can be a total PITA, and SW sells very little via their own website because of the poor design that makes browsing nearly impossible. Still, I think self-pubbing writers format for SW because it has its advantages: multiple formats, no delivery surcharge for international readers, no geo restrictions, no DRM.

    A lot more of sales come from Amazon Kindle or BN Nook, but to make your books look good, you have to format for mobi and epub and proof before uploading them. So some authors choose Kindle or Nook.

    And interestingly enough, Kindle allows you to sell worldwide even though they charge customers from certain countries $2 delivery surcharge (I honestly don’t get why they do that at all). PubIt (which is BN’s self-pubbing program) allows you to click “worldwide distribution” but will NOT sell to people outside of America. I don’t know why that is, and BN has never been able to explain why they do this.

  31. Geneva
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 09:56:08

    I think readers need to pare back their expectations, especially if they want .99 ebooks. It costs $3000-10000 to get a book translated into one language depending on the language. Dear Author pointed out that the .99 ebook readers aren’t sticky, so the one book and buy forever rule stated here doesn’t apply so much.

    Pretty cover art starts at Getty Stock at $350.00 for a 10 year license. Less pretty art is cheaper, and that’s what you’re seeing.

    It costs $5000-up just to hire the actor to read the audiobook. That doesn’t include formatting it and distributing it. Indie authors offer what they can afford to offer.

    Authors in legacy contracts can’t make Audible buy audio book rights. They don’t get to separate their e-book rights from their print rights. They don’t get to pick their cover art, and they don’t get to choose whether there’s DRM or regional sales available on their books.

    They don’t get to pick which house publishes them. They don’t get to cherrypick the contract and set your their rates and demands. (There’s a reason JK Rowling is doing Pottermore mostly on her own.)

    So basically you can have indie books that provide what authors can afford to provide (and sometimes that will mean one language and an ugly cover) or you can have legacy books that have pretty covers and are available everywhere, but have DRM and cost more.

    Reality applies to everybody. That has nothing to do with customer service.

  32. Carin
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 10:15:00

    Mari said this:
    “For me, it comes down to 1. put out a good product and 2. make sure it’s available (corollary: and that readers are made aware of that fact). Everything else is secondary. ”

    Yes. This is what I believe. And if you’re self-pubbing, then it’s your job to do this. If you have a big name publisher, then you have entered a contract to ask them to do this.

    I’ll add that I’m frustrated by author websites and find myslef more and more going to goodreads to see what the reading order for a series is and what is coming soon.

  33. Courtney Milan
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 10:17:28

    @Geneva: Yes on the costs of translation; in fact, for a good translator, $3000 seems extremely low. No on the cost of cover art. Getty Stock is probably the worst way to get cover art.

    I just want to make something clear. I don’t feel obligated to get things translated into languages in general. The German language thing is an experiment and a marker so that I can watch the e-market, because we’re unlikely to sell foreign rights to a novella. I suspect I would have made more by taking the money and putting it into an interest bearing checking account at 0.10% APY. And as it was, I cut some corners that I wouldn’t cut in the future.

    Specifically: I should have gotten a lawyer who actually knows German law to draft the contract with our translator–because copyright between the US and Germany doesn’t correspond, and here in the US we have no conception of author’s rights. I wouldn’t do a translation again without consulting a lawyer, and that’s probably adding at least another $500 to the cost.

    So let me be pretty clear: I like doing things for readers. I think “customer service” is important. But translating a book is not “customer service.” It’s a new business venture, and I’m not going to do it if it doesn’t pay off.

    I’d be flattered if someone e-mailed me and asked me to please translate something. But if I don’t think it will pay off monetarily, I’m not going to do it, and that’s a pretty easy line for me to draw.

  34. Junne
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 10:29:08

    One author comes to mind regarding well-kept website, good web presence and that is Jane Porter. She writes for Harlequin and some other editor for chick-lit ( I only read the Harlequins). Her blog is all kinds of awesome, too, as she shares every tidbit about her authorial life ( books, meetings with fans/fellow authors), hosts a lot of giveaways and even shares details of her personal life ( that last part sometimes makes me a bit uncomfortable, as she frequently uploads pics of her boyfriend and children).

    She’s also on Facebook, and I wonder if all that warmness and impression of closeness that she gives helped her make one of her books ( based loosely on her life) be adapted on TV with Heather Locklear and Robert Buckley. I mean, you just have to google her name and a LOT of links come up, with interviews of her and interesting stuff. And, tbh, her physical appearance helps a bit ( she’s really pretty and dresses well).

  35. dick
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 10:31:41

    I even avoid those author blurbs and portraits at the inside back of books, because I don’t want to know what the person who wrote the book looked like, what he/she does, where she/he lives, or why he/she writes. My only interest is the words between the covers. I appreciate information about publication of new books, but I don’t need the author to get it; eventually, I’d encounter the book regardless.
    IMO, the relationship between commerce and romance fiction is far too cuddly, which the subject of this post brings to the forefront. I think the entire genre would benefit if authors abandoned websites, stopped posting on facebook, and avoided twitter. Like gods, they should be known by their works.

  36. Christine M.
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 10:31:57

    @Courtney Milan: The translator in me is wondering if you could elaborate on the “issues” (and I’m using that term loosely) you have with the translation process? Or maybe it varies from one country to another?

    In any case, whilst literary translation is the poor relation of the translation world, it still is expensive to get a proper, freelance translator with the proper degree, the proper skills and a realistic rate (and I’m not talking about translators who have contracts with publishing houses here). In Canada, we’re talking about 11-13 cents/word (that was about 5 years ago). So a 100K novel would cost $11,000. Not for everyone.

  37. Jeannie Lin
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 10:38:12

    This is a timely post as I just received a “customer service” type question this morning. I do get requests and questions about ebooks and digital formats, specifically if there is a way to read the few Undone novellas that they see on my Books page if they don’t own an e-reader. Authors with a combined print and digital only backlist will have readers who are willing to try digital to get to the backlist. Thus authors can provide a gateway into ebooks for readers who were previously print only. This is nice little boon for our publishers, isn’t it? I always answer to the best of my knowledge, but I feel a bit inadequate at times. I feel like I want to forward an FAQ to my publisher so I can get their answers back to help me field questions. (It’s like I’m providing outreach to the reader/customer) I’m willing to provide the responses to the readers, but it would be nice to have some backup!

    And I didn’t consider that with authors self-publishing, readers will expect more of this from authors. I don’t think many readers differentiate between a work that is self-published versus non-self-published.

  38. Jaclyn
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 10:41:29

    I like to go to author’s web sites and blogs for booklists and for the extra content they offer between books–the excerpts, deleted scenes, or extra short stories or little scenes featuring favorite characters. I think this might be an example of the glom tendency of romance readers that Jane wrote about last week. MOAR CONTENT! GLOM GLOM GLOM…

    Something that I can’t quite figure out it how authors use social media to promote their books without offering more of themselves than simple promotion. Social media gurus talk about authentic voice in social media–that it’s a conversation between participants not just straight promotion from author to reader. Conversation implies two sides participating, and if it persists, a community of some sort is formed. Even if it’s not a friendship it’s a connection that has participatory investment on both sides. This to me is fundamentally different than customer service, which I think of as a customer getting their question or problem resolved.

    This brings to mind something else. In the past couple days I’ve seen readers referred to as customers in a few different forums. I’ve never thought of myself as a customer when it comes to books. A reader is more than just a procurer of the book as object (whether digital or print). We invest a significant amount of our time and ourselves in the books we read, and those of us who interact in communities like DA and other book blogs (even the lurkers…) are making additional investments of time and thought into the books beyond the hours spent reading the story. Being reduced to a ‘customer’ feels like it’s stripping any acknowledgment of my participation, my reading of the book.

  39. Kate Pearce
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 11:15:01

    Customer service is important to me in any sphere and as writing is my job, I do my best to respond to all comments, questions and queries both negative and positive in a polite and helpful way. Because most of my books are digitally or traditionally published, a lot of things are out of my control, and I’ll admit that to anyone who asks. I don’t see customer service as a burden, it is just part of what I do. :)

  40. Tessa Dare
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 11:58:22

    “I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.”

    This is pretty much the reason I’m a writer and librarian and not, you know, any of those other things Lloyd Dobler mentioned.

    I’m not saying authors have no responsibilities to their readers, or that authors aren’t businesspeople, or that this conversation has no merit. But the term “customer service” makes me itch. It’s so…soulless. It’s killing my buzz. :)

    Readers are not all direct customers. Authors have many, many readers who have never given us a dime of their personal income, because they get the books from a library, a UBS, a friend, PaperbackSwap, whatever. Do we owe them something less? I know the self-pub trend is changing the dynamic on all sides, but still. I don’t know of any author who begins her newsletter, “Dear Customer.” It’s “Dear Reader.” (Jane, I really hope you’re not planning to rename this blog “Dear Content Provider.”)

    Reading isn’t just a transaction, it’s a relationship – not necessarily between reader and author, but at least between reader and book. It can be magical, intimate, sacred, inspiring. Please, let’s not cheapen that by adopting corporate-speak. It won’t be cool anymore.

  41. Courtney Milan
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 12:06:19

    @Christine M.: Not issues with the translation process itself–issues with contracts for translation itself, and specifically, with the fact that the US is a world outlier (and possibly in noncompliance with its treaty obligations) because we have no conception of authors rights in our copyright statute.

    Translators in other countries likely have both copyrights (which we have in the US) and author’s rights (which we don’t), and the latter may not be waivable, depending on the country of residence. In the US, I would get a translation done as work-for-hire, or at least assign all rights, and I would be done.

    I don’t even know what I need to be asking for from someone in France. I don’t know what rights they have. I don’t know if they can waive them. I don’t know if they can agree not to assert them in court. I just don’t know. And if I don’t know, I can’t ask for it; if I can’t ask for it, I can get in trouble.

    Respecting a translator’s intellectual property requires me to understand what that intellectual property consists of, and my understanding is grounded in the US version of things right now. So I wouldn’t do this again without talking to a lawyer who understood the local IP and who could tell me what rights my translator had.

    Your costs seem right–the $3000 quoted here seems abysmally low for a full-length novel, and once you add in proofing, etc., it’s even higher.

    The costs certainly give me pause, but the IP issues are what bring me to a grinding halt at this point.

    I should have put the dots together before encountering this project, but I was shamefully US-centric when I started, and just didn’t think about it, and at the point when I had the, “Holy crap, moral rights, zomg!” realization, the translation process had already begun and it would have been churlish to back out.

    In this case, we had a long discussion with the translator about what we expected and were planning to do with the work, and so I don’t think there will be any issues… but not thinking there will be issues is not where I want to be at this juncture.

    The other major pain in the butt with dealing with translators across seas is that if you are paying someone ten grand, you have to figure out tax treaties and potentially withhold money to the IRS that you otherwise would pay to them, and figure out how to get a translator an ITIN.

    If you’re going to do this right, it is so much work. The chances of my doing this again on my own, as I said, are not high.

  42. Ros
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 12:08:36

    @Tessa Dare: The thing is, if you don’t want to sell your books, why should you expect anyone to buy them? Presumably you’ve had to sell your books to an agent and a publisher, and maybe you hope that they will do all the work of selling them to readers. Fine. But as a reader, you don’t buy the product of a publisher or a bookstore, you buy a book from an author. So readers will, whether you like it or not, think of themselves as your customers in some respects. You can either recognise that and treat them as such, or not and bear the consequences. Up to you.

  43. Jane
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 12:09:46

    I don’t think of being a customer as a dirty word or “corporate speak” at all. I view myself as a valuable part of the publishing eco cycle.

  44. Courtney Milan
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 12:12:59

    @Tessa Dare: I, on the other hand, am driven by a deep compulsion to process everything.

    ;)

  45. DM
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 12:30:14

    Being able to find a backlist–and in the case of a series, one that helps me to figure out the intended reading order–makes a huge difference in my purchasing decisions. Amazon isn’t much help with this–they organize by publication date–and books are often issued and reissued. Publisher websites are rarely organized this way–they’re promoting their latest books–and in the case of Harlequin, often don’t have any information at all on a title if it is old enough. I started reading a trilogy of historicals from them last week–really enjoyed it–wanted to glom the whole thing–could not find a single page that presented the three works as related. And they all came out in the last six months.

    So when authors step into the breach and provide this kind of wayfinding, I’m grateful. But the lack of it–not just on author sites but on publisher sites as well–and the robust sales the genre reports even in a bad economy–remind me that most readers aren’t looking for this kind of in-depth info. They aren’t reading this way–they don’t sleuth out their next book. They buy what is on offer at their usual outlet–whether that is a bookstore or a big box store or the supermarket or their e-readers list of recommendations.

    I think this is why so many authors don’t bother with this kind of reader interaction–readers like me are too small a group to impact their sales. But I’m impressed by authors who take the time the to do it anyway–it speaks of a respect for their readers and a love for their craft.

  46. Geneva
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 12:44:23

    Deleted to make the reply properly!

  47. Tessa Dare
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 12:45:04

    @Ros: You think I’m saying I feel less responsibility toward “readers” than I would toward “customers”? What I’m saying is the exact opposite.

    When a reader writes me with a question, I have no way of knowing whether she bought the book, borrowed it, or what. I’m going to respond the same, regardless.

    Absolutely, publishing is a business. Of course I take my livelihood as seriously as anyone else. But I still don’t want to call my readers “customers.” I don’t want to call my library patrons “customers,” either. That doesn’t mean I don’t take my librarian job seriously. But librarian/patron interaction is inherently different from a bookseller/customer relationship.

    As a reader, if I wrote to an author with a question or comment, I’d feel insulted to get a reply that began “Dear customer…” To me, “customer service” language makes the whole reading experience sound cheap and cold. YMMV, of course. But my experience with “customer service” reps in various realms usually hasn’t made me feel valued. I think readers should feel valued–not just for their money, but for their time and imagination.

  48. Tessa Dare
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 12:48:13

    @Courtney Milan: Just one of the many reasons I love you.

  49. Tessa Dare
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 12:53:25

    @Jane: I guess we just have different reactions to the word. If you wrote to an author and received a reply that said, “Dear Customer,” that would sound positive to you? I would cringe and be thinking, “I’m so much more than a customer! I gave your characters precious brainspace! Call me a landlord, at least.”

    Now I’m having horrors at the thought of “Dear Customer, I married him.” *sob*

  50. Jane
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 12:54:58

    @Tessa Dare I view myself as a customer of Amazon and it always refers to me as Jane. Even when I got the Kindle. Really good customer service is personalized service.

  51. Jill Sorenson
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 12:59:17

    @Tessa Dare: I find the customer service term a lot warmer and less intimidating than “self-promotion.” Customer service is something I can do for readers who reach out to *me.* I like that. But I like your Lloyd Dobler quote, too. :)

  52. Geneva
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 13:07:01

    @Courtney Milan: I should have specified. $3000 is rock bottom for a good (not a great) translation of a YA novel. Our word counts are much lower, so the price is lower. Romance novels running to the 100ks, it would be impossible to get a $3000 translation.

    I use Getty because the YA market expects striking photos of pretty girls on the cover. The pickings are slim at cheaper outlets like Shutterstock and iStockphoto. I’ve never found appropriate dress porn photography at Morgue File or on Stock x Chng. Sometimes on Getty, you can find something nice in the royalty free section, but if you have specific needs (models of color, for example) it’s a lot harder.

  53. Christine M.
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 13:17:44

    @Courtney Milan: Thanks for the detailed answer. It makes sense although I wouldn’t really know about how it works outside of Canada. My freelance friend usually bills his clients (incl. US clients) then he’s the one who deals with the Revenue Agency for everything that’s tax-related. But then again, he’s not a literary translator so it might be a different scenario altogether.

  54. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 13:35:28

    I have two Amazon experiences.
    1. My original Kindle developed two hairline cracks. I honestly didn’t know how they’d got there, but I always keep it in a case, and I try to be careful with it. But I called Amazon and asked for their advice.
    They sent me a new Kindle. I didn’t have to return the old one until I had the new one running, which meant I could restore all the content. Then all I had to do was put it in the box the new one came in, give them a call, and they came and picked it up.

    2. I wanted a new keyboard and I had a shortlist of a few. This time I wanted to give my custom to a local supplier, if I could. After an afternoon in town, I found an overprices one and nobody, no store was willing to order one in for me. I know. I could hardly believe it. I hadn’t picked esoteric models. There was a Cherry, a Razer and a Microsoft one I would have accepted. Came home and ordered it on Amazon. Saved myself £20 on the shop price.

    3. I needed a new netbook. Decided on one of those 12 inch thin and light beauties. Ordered it from Amazon, it came but it had a faulty LCD screen. Emailed them. Returned it (again they picked it up). Since there were no more in stock, ordered a different one. But the price had gone up £20 since I ordered (Amazon don’t do price guarantees). But when I wrote to them and had a little moan, I got a £10 refund, because they thought it was only fair.

    That’s customer service. Compare that to when I bought my desktop a year ago, and couldn’t even return it when the graphics card died. Eventually, I packed it up, went into the store and fussed, but I hate doing that, and it took a day out of my life, all that arranging and messing about.

  55. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 13:35:59

    @Lynne Connolly: That should be three experiences. Maths was never my strong suit, sigh.

  56. library addict
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 13:50:22

    I’m one of those readers who sometimes emails authors after reading their latest book. Certainly not every author of every book I’ve read, but more than one. For the most part the authors always write back with a short note which may or may not include info on their next book. Regardless, I’m happy if they respond. Not because I want a personalized email, but to know my thank you for the hours of reading enjoyment got through to them.

    Since I am not on Twitter or Facebook those things don’t matter to me. Despite their popularity, not everyone joins the various social media sites. But many, many more people are apt to visit an author’s website. It needs to be kept up to date.

    @Tessa Dare: I get what you are saying. And I would rather get a generic email addressed to Dear Reader than Dear Customer.

    I also agree with Jane and think the author will take the brunt of reader complaints regardless if they self-publish or not. It’s the author’s name on the book and most readers don’t pay that much attention to who the publisher is.

  57. De
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 13:55:19

    Mildly OT, but I’m going to shoehorn it in.

    I had a library patron the other day who wanted to contact an author. She really liked the book she’d just read and wanted to tell the author. The author has a website but there’s no contact info on it.

    The only thing on there was a link to the author’s Facebook page. More Googling later we came up with an address to send snail mail through the publisher.

    Please, please remember, not everyone is on Facebook.

  58. Cybercliper
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 14:37:00

    The only thing I would expect from any of my auto buy authors is to continue with their writing of my favorite books, an updated website with backlist and upcoming releases.

    I don’t want personal interactions such as Facebook or Twitter and I’m thinking those same “personal” touches are allowing readers to blur the lines of the relationship between author and reader. And for some authors these same “personal touches” have resulted in eipc meltdowns which have lead to their alienation from current and future customers. If I’m not happy with an author’s product, I don’t need to inform an author – I just won’t buy any more of their books. If I’m happy – I buy.

  59. Sunita
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 14:59:02

    I just want an up-to-date website. I don’t think of it as being a lot to ask, but I’m always surprised by authors who are active on Twitter and/or Facebook but don’t keep up their webpages.

    One of my favorite Harlequin authors, Marion Lennox, has a minimal-to-nonexistent social media presence. But her website is *always* up to date and easy to navigate. She’s one of the few authors I’ve ever emailed. I sent her a note to let her know that Jayne and I had both put her on our DA Best of 2010 lists. She wrote back the nicest, sweetest email. That concluded our personal interaction.

    At the other extreme, I was interested in a forthcoming book by an author (honestly cannot remember who it was now) and went to the site and it was nearly a year out of date.

    I appreciate excerpts, especially for authors who are relatively new or who are writing books in a different sub-genre than before.

    I am both a reader and a customer. The term that really drives me bats is “friend” in reference to someone I don’t interact with and only know as the author of books I read.

  60. swati
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 15:01:18

    As a reader i don’t really care about facebook updates, emails, twitter etc but i do appreciate a good website.
    Sometimes i read a book by a new author and i rush to find any and all books by her. A good updated website i feel is essential these days.
    I’ve heard authors unhappy that readers email them right after a book has been released and want to know what is next.
    I do that! Well, i don’t email the author but i definitely check out their website and amazon stores to see if there is any info. But is that not good from an author’s perspective? Hard to imagine that this makes them unhappy.

  61. Sunita
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 15:15:37

    And I forgot to add: If you write a series (which is everyone now), PLEASE PROVIDE A LIST OF THE SERIES ORDER. Sorry for shouting. But really. How hard is this?

  62. GrowlyCub
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 15:20:02

    @Sunita:

    From the evidence out there in the trenches, unfortunately the answer to that seems to be ‘very hard’. :(

  63. Sherry Thomas
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 15:34:05

    I wonder whether sometimes authors don’t update their website as often because they can’t do it themselves and must pay others?

    WordPress websites have become more and more popular because they are easy for authors to update. But for authors who choose html & php websites, or just never got around to moving to wordpress, a certain fluency in basic html is still required.

    I learned html so that I can update my own website at the cost of only my time. If I had to part with dollars, I might be updating it less frequently–or provide a great deal less depth of information.

  64. Estara
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 15:47:21

    @Jane: Yes, that is the case from what I read on Ilona Andrews site, who has released Silver Shark via NYLA herself AND was the cover designer for the current ebook cover of Loretta Chase’s Captives of the Night (much better!).

    I do wonder, considering what the Andrews Team wrote about the interaction with NYLA when they were prepping Silver Shark for publishing, if this can still be called self-publishing.

    I would have called it a small e-publisher by now. As other agents have done before, viz e-reads.com.

  65. Annabel
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 15:51:38

    Oh gosh, when readers write to me asking for another book I want to cry from happiness. Really, that is the reason I sit myself down every day and keep writing.

    I guess the only downside is when an author feels so pressured (by either readers or publishers) to release new content that the story craft or editing suffers. I know a lot of authors are afraid they’ll be forgotten or replaced with other authors if they don’t crank out four or five books a year for their readers. But I think sometimes in that case the customer relationship suffers because the books are rushed and not as good as they could be.

    I agree, as a reader, that the best customer service for me is for the author to keep writing quality books they know will meet my expectations…even if I have to wait for them for them a while. Even a loooong time…some authors are worth the wait. (I’m looking at you, Laura Kinsale. Another book please!!!)

  66. Kate Pearce
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 16:06:37

    Re the backlist on your website, I’ve been told (and thanked) for having said backlist in an easy printable, downloadable black and white version.
    I do pay for someone to update my website regularly as I am a technoklutz, but it is worth every penny. To go with the customer service analogy, you need a great shop window. :)

  67. Ros
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 16:27:26

    @Tessa Dare: Oh, I think I misunderstood what you were saying. I thought you were trying to say that you didn’t want to engage in the commercial side of the publishing business at all by selling books (which I’ll admit did strike me as odd, given your fabulous book trailers). I don’t really mind whether you think of me as a customer or a reader, provided you treat me with respect and courtesy.

  68. cecilia
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 17:30:41

    A writer like Loretta Chase can probably get away to a great extent with a few horrible covers, if people are eager to read backlist titles that are otherwise hard to get. She has already created her reputation as a good writer, and people who have read recent releases, I imagine, will not be deterred by the self-published books’ covers. I can seem them complaining, but really, refusing to buy? Maybe she’ll feel some pressure to get a better cover next time if she’s shamed into it, but I don’t think it’s really necessary. There’s another writer with backlist titles selling for 25, 50, 100 dollars on eBay/Alibris/etc. There is no cover in the world ugly enough to put me off buying a reasonably-priced eBook version of those books.

    Newer, less-established authors, in my opinion as a shallow person, would be crazy not to invest some more time/money into getting a decent cover. Most of the books I buy are eBooks, but for authors I don’t know, the cover thumbnail is the first filter. If it looks bad, I’m unlikely to pause to read the synopsis.

  69. Kim
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 17:39:18

    I don’t think customer service necessarily means depersonalization. In fact, not much email is ever addressed to Dear Customer. Customer service is just a way to reciprocate. Readers tell authors that they loved their book (product) and authors let readers (consumer) know that it’s appreciated.

  70. Charlotte Stein
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 19:20:23

    I’d give my right arm to have a reader email me and ask about any books I had in the pipeline. Not even sure what someone’s doing writing books if a thing like that is such a massive inconvenience to them. I mean, even if you do view it as an inconvenience, why not just ignore all your millions of annoying pieces of fanmail and bypass complaining about it on Twitter altogether?

    Or is the complaining about how many loyal readers you have the point? Hey, look at me, I’m so famous and orsum!

    Gross.

    Personally, I love talking to any readers I’m lucky enough to have. I don’t see it as wasting my time on Twitter, to thank them for commenting on my books. I don’t see it as breaking some sort of reader/author boundary. I just want to show my appreciation, because that’s how I feel. Appreciative. Thankful. They chose my book over the millions of others they could have picked, and they read it and took the time to say they enjoyed it (or even that they didn’t).

    That means a lot to me. It means I get to keep writing, and enjoying a career I love.

    Plus, as a reader it made my life when Portia Da Costa actually responded to the fan email I sent her, before I’d plucked up the courage to submit to Black Lace. It not only made me think a lot of her, but it pushed me to actually take a step towards publication.

  71. Lynn S.
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 20:12:24

    The only thing I think is that we are overthinking things here.

    @dick: Once again, the voice of reason at the festivities.

    @Tessa Dare: Thanks for the wonderful reminder of Lloyd Dobler. A man way ahead of any time we are likely to live in.

  72. Emily
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 21:01:36

    I agree with several postees such as swati above that Facebook and Twitter are irrelevant to me but I like to the website to be up to date. the website itself need not include a blog, but its a bonus when it does. The only important information is a list of all books including any book soon to be released (not written, released). Anything else is a nice bonus.
    It seems to me there’s a flip side to authors who go above and beyond the call of duty. It places greater pressure on the reader not to be critical and to keep buying books, etc. I would imagine as a reviewer it would be hard not to be nicer to someone who emails you once a week.
    I think what an author choses to do is their business literally. If they chose to do book tours or public appearences or twitter that’s good for them, good for their sales, good for their careers,etc. But that shouldn’t mean I can’t tell them what I liked and didn’t like (Politely definitely).It also means that every writer should acknowledge how nice it is to have a audience as much as the audience should cheer the author.
    @Jane
    Speaking of customer service, Jane a few hours ago I went to check this website and it said there was no content while the web design was in the background. I guess the server was down. It was weird. I am sorry if this is the wrong way to tell you, but I am not sure how else to contact you.

  73. Jane
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 21:06:54

    @Emily: No worries. The SQL Database was corrupted and it has been repaired. I’m not sure what happened as the hosting providers CS wasn’t terribly helpful. I know that the move this VPS made it faster for the traffic but it asks for more competencies than I currently have and I am looking for alternatives.

  74. Lil
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 21:12:35

    @dick:

    Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

    I do not expect anything of an author except a book I will enjoy reading. I think it is to be regretted that authors are expected to be their own publicists, etc. The skills of a salesman and the skills of an author are not identical. They aren’t even similar.

    I fear that if this insistence on authors’ befriending their readers continues, we will end up with authors who are like politicians, incapable of independent thought, following whatever trend the latest poll/market survey/whatever is promoting. And we will end up with books that are simply clones of each other — precisely the opposite of what e-publishing should have offered.

  75. Elizabeth56
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 23:41:33

    I’m so ticked off with Facebook’s changes that I’m moving to deleting my account. I do like being on my favorite authors’ email lists – a good way to know about a new book.
    From authors, I want their best writing. I may get impatient, but I have stricken authors from my auto buy list for boring, DNF books — though my husband, seeing my book budget, wouldn’t believe I leave a single book unpurchased. (What can I say? I don’t have lots of other expensive habits.)
    I want characters that are never too stupid to live, plots with twists I do not expect, and sex scenes that are so integral to the plot, I don’t skim over them.
    I do like the author’s web sites to have a printable list of their books. I prefer to read series in order. Yup, I too notice if the list of books ends in 2010, or 2009 or earlier.

  76. Mitzi H
    Oct 12, 2011 @ 01:41:21

    @Tessa Dare: As a reader/buyer, I pay little attention to the publisher/agent of a book….I relate to the author.

    If you have a question about the story/book who are you supposed to ask if not the creator?

    I wrote (Nicole Jordan) just a few weeks ago to ask if her newly digital pub’d OOP older books had been edited/updated/modified.

    (Note: I bought them new/they are on my keeper shelf/I’d like to have them on my Kindle/I don’t want to buy a ‘cut’ version of the original/Extra content is okay)

    She responded: “Dear Mitzi…No, I did not rewrite or modify any of my stories…etc.”

    Awesome…I can now buy all her older OOP books newly digitized and know I’m getting the original. I think it’s wonderful she responded to my question and I wouldn’t have asked if I had not run into this problem purchasing some of my old favorites only to discover the content had been edited.

  77. Munrose
    Oct 12, 2011 @ 04:26:26

    @Charlotte: It’s not an issue of “Oh, how tedious that someone’s intruding upon my fabulous life to tell me they liked my book and would buy another one.” It’s a tone in those interactions where one party demands instant availability of what is for them four hours of entertainment with no apparent comprehension that it takes the other party considerably longer than four hours to write.

    The next book will be done when it’s done, and no amount of email urging an author to “HURRY UP!!!!” will achieve a more favorable result. If that’s not sufficiently fast, try one of those “I’m going to write 20 novels this year” people and see how hurrying up affects quality.

    Authors are under enough pressure to write fast. (For one thing, the bigger the backlist, the bigger the income.) It would be nice, once in a while, if someone instead urged them to take as much time as they need to write another good book.

  78. Magic and Mayhem Writers » Blog Archive » What I expect as a reader from authors
    Oct 12, 2011 @ 11:20:14

    [...] a few weeks ago, but it still fits.  An interesting post on DearAuthor.com got me thinking about what I expect from the authors I consistently love to read. Some of the points made in the post talked about reader behavior and what they expect from the [...]

  79. Michelle McCleod
    Oct 12, 2011 @ 14:14:42

    As an indie, I wanted to respond and say that we don’t have as much control over production as we would like.

    With regards to covers, there are still significant hurdles. It is still very easy to end up with a bad cover. There are artist limitations, art availability issues and budget limitations just to start.

    Editing is the same. Editor quality varies widely and their schedules fill up quickly.

    Same as a publisher, we Indies do the best we can. End results are still vulnerable to all sorts of pitfalls.

    As far as service, I encourage readers to contact me with formatting issues or typos at the beginning of each book. I almost offered a $5 Amazon gift card for the first reader to report a specific problem, but then I learned how glitch prone the publishing platforms were and decided such an offer would bankrupt me.

    I had a great copy editor, but the tech side of e-publishing does all sorts of bad things to ebooks without explanation. Fixes can take hours.

    As for your question, I think we have to be John Locke. It is impossible to stand out based on a book alone. You need a lot more noise around you than that. Not even good reviews are enough.

    M

  80. Tessa Dare
    Oct 12, 2011 @ 17:10:37

    @Mitzi H and others: Sorry, I didn’t make my point clearly enough the first time. I have no problem with author/reader interaction whatsoever. I’m all for it.

    My only objection was to Jane’s use of the term “customer service,” which is borrowed from a retail/commercial context and (to my ear) sounds … tacky.

    I love hearing from and communicating with readers – (and yes, address them by name, for those who got the impression I was somehow arguing against that) – but I vastly prefer the word “readers” to “customers.” It feels more accurate, nuanced, respectful, and meaningful.

    I realize it’s just semantics, and I may very well be the only one who is rubbed the wrong way by this. I just don’t like retail-speak, and I feel like it has invaded way too many fields where it doesn’t belong–as if the retailer/customer paradigm is the gold standard for all social interaction. I’m not sure where the idea came from that we have to use the word “customer” to imply graciousness and respect.

  81. Patricia Rice
    Oct 12, 2011 @ 18:01:05

    with the usual caveat that I’m arriving late and haven’t read all the responses:
    As an author, I have always responded to readers, from the snail mail days to Facebook and Google Plus. If that’s service, fine, but I enjoy reader mail.

    But designing covers and producing backlist (and sometimes front list) is not part of my inventory of talents. I’m lousy at marketing. I can locate old documents and books and produce a clean, edited file. After that, I hand the rest over to other people. RegencyReads.com is one of those publishers, and they produce covers for their Regencies similar to the one you’re showing for Loretta. These covers are aimed at a specific market and sell extremely well. I would never have believed it, but they’re selling better than my “hot” covers. So marketing probably isn’t an aspect of customer service.

    It’s a new world out here. We’re all learning.

  82. Jane
    Oct 12, 2011 @ 18:24:10

    @Patricia Rice I don’t think regency romances should have a *hot* cover. I really like Candace Hern’s covers but this Chase one (and the one she had on the previous book but has since changed) looks public domain, like it should be costing the reader money because it could be had freely somewhere else.

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