Monday, April 14, 2014

How to Ask an Author for Help

I get a lot of people asking me for advice on how to get published. 

When I was first writing my novels I learned quickly the best and worst ways to ask an author for help. Certain things you say can really help you out, while other comments can be offensive to authors. I've compiled a list below of do's and don'ts. These are actual questions and comments I've heard while being approached for help. 

PLEASE never ever say to an author:
  • "I want to get published. Obviously you know how to get into bookstores. So tell me how you did that." 
I understand that you genuinely want to learn how to become a successful author. However, please assume that most writers spent years learning the art, going to school, writing their novels, and working to get published. When someone asks me like that, I feel that they are looking for a one sentence answer of how to quickly and easily get published. Would you ask that same question to a doctor, musician, lawyer, artist, or pilot? 
  • "I have a great idea for a book. I was wondering if you would be willing to write it for me so that I can get it published. It's a really good idea, you'll definitely like it."
Sigh. Unfortunately I've heard this a lot. If you want someone to write your novel for you then you need to hire a ghostwriter. I have about twenty books that are waiting on the back burner for me to write. Most authors have a lot of ideas for novels and can't take the time to write someone else's book for them (unless they are a professional ghostwriter). 
  • "I just finished writing my novel! Will you please read it for me and then tell me how to improve it and get it published?" 
I feel terrible I can't help you, but there are too many problems with this idea. Authors need to spend that time reading and improving their own novels. Also, several authors have been sued because of copyright issues due to this scenario. Basically this is a job for your writer's group or a paid editor. 
  • "I live by you, know your aunt, go to the same gym, knew you in jr. high, etc. can you put a good word in for me with your publisher about my book?" 
This just makes authors feel uncomfortable. 
  • "It looks like you are successful as an author. Can you tell me how I can quickly publish a book?"
Yes. Go to school for several years to learn how to write, go to at least twenty different writing conferences and classes, take a couple of years to write your novels and edit them, spend months learning the art of writing a query letter, and another couple of years to submit to publishers. Also, make sure you have an amazing, original idea that is trending in the market you're going into. That's it! ;)

How to contact authors:

Almost every author has a blog or website. You can enter their name in a search engine with the word "blog" and their page will come up. I've received so much advice from talented, bestselling authors, and you know how? I put their name in a search engine with "blog" and found their site, then clicked on FAQ or ADVICE TO WRITERS. It helped me so much, and I didn't waste their time or my time. I'd rather spend that time working on my books!

Please do not Facebook message, Twitter message, or Google message authors, unless that author requests so on their blog or website. Most authors have a contact page. When you contact them differently than what their contact page suggests, it shows that you didn't care to take the time to even visit their site and see what they prefer.

If you have written a book, and you are earnestly seeking advice that is not already on their website, there are smart ways to approach the topic. Authors will be more likely to listen to you if you word your comment or question right.

Do say: 
  • "I am a fan of your books. I was wondering if I could get some advice..."
  • "I met you at "blank" writing convention. I was wondering if I could get some advice..."
  • "I went to your class/panel at "blank" writing event. I was wondering if I could get some advice..."
  • "I really like your blog/website/Twitter/Instagram account. I was wondering if I could get some advice...."
  • "I've checked your FAQ on your blog and I was wondering if I could get some advice..."
(Disclaimer: Make sure you actually did what you are saying).

In my own quest of asking authors for advice, I quickly realized something. If I had read their books, read their blog, gone to their classes, met them at a convention, or had gone to their signings, they were a thousand times more likely to give me advice or help me out! I feel the exact same way when asked for advice about getting published.

Plus, bonus points if you went to my blog and read my "advice to writers" page or FAQ. Then I just want to be your friend because obviously you are a great person with fantastic taste.

If you're ever in doubt, ask yourself how you would want to be approached for advice. Everyone wants to be treated with kindness and respect. Please know that I do love helping writers! I try my best to give genuine advice that will help you accomplish your writing goals. So if you have any questions, my blog is a great place to ask!  


  1. What wonderful advice! Sometimes when we are starting out we do things that later might make us cringe. But, I guess it is all part of the learning experience. Your advice should help new authors and save them from some awkward moments. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Jess, thanks so much. And you're right, It is definitely all part of the learning process!