How Not to Engage Readers

How Not to Engage Readers

I've been chewing on whether or not to share the most recent creepy Goodreads friend request I received from a self-identified aspiring author. But this one was uncomfortable enough, that I felt like I needed to share in hopes of helping educate other aspiring authors about what not to do when attempting to engage readers. 

Dear Authors, Please Don't Be Creepy

Listen, I know authors are told to engage, engage, engage, but there's a way to do it that doesn't completely freak out readers. Unfortunately this recent request landed smack in the creepy zone. (Note: I've redacting information about this person.)

Greetings Sarah. I appreciate your question that tries to filter out genuine people from the rest. Here is my explanation from one Virgo to another: I came across your profile and I noted: 1. I wear specs. Ditto for you 2. I am good-looking. Ditto for you. For brevity, I am not listing some other obvious points (Like I have 2 eyes and a nose. Ditto for you). Just when I was getting bored noting that similarities between me and you were conspicuous and was about to decide you were too similar to be befriended, I saw this line in your profile that I quote that made me see you in a new perspective: “Please note: before friend requesting me, please be aware that I delete folks from my friends list who send me invites and other promotional or market ...” Now, primarily two kinds of people are there on good reads. The readers - like you. And aspiring authors - like me. And I was looking for you to provide feedback of my work [REDACTED] which is [REDACTED] . I would have told you that novel is very unique and it customizes the story for the reader. And then I would have given you [REDACTED]. But as you sound a bit reluctant as communicated in your profile, I am not sure now whether to approach you with the proposal. However, you still intrigue me enough to send you a friend request. Hence, summarizing: we both share a lot of common attributes as well as hold interesting contradictions in our views that should it imminent that we become long-distance online pen friends. In the end, you should know by now that I have spent a decent amount of time typing this. But I do not mind at all. Because after all, I aspire to be an author. And your feedback matters. If this sufficiently answers your question, well and good.

Why is this inappropriate?

  1. He looked up my birthday. Yes, this was apparently public on my Goodreads profile, but it's still weird that someone sought out this information. I've never noticed someone's birthday on Goodreads, ever. I've since removed that information from my profile.

  2. The glasses thing--this means that this guy actually bothered to look carefully at my profile. Again, weird--I've never noticed someone's glasses status from a small Goodreads profile shot. There's something very disarming about knowing someone has paid that much attention when they're ostensibly making a PR pitch. 

  3. The good-looking thing. Yes, I am not unpleasant to look at; no, I do not need an aspiring author to comment on my appearance, ever. No, no, no. That is not okay. Men, don't ever say things like this to women you don't know--it comes across as threatening. 

  4. I am not your beta reader. This is important. I've received loads of requests for beta-reading from a number of aspiring authors, none of whom are people I've ever talked to. Yes, I have on a very occasional basis beta read novels. This has been for friends and authors with whom I had an existing relationship. Even with that said, I say no to requests from people I know 80% of the time, simply because I do not have time. I run my own one-woman business and can't be working for aspiring authors for free. Build relationships in writers' forums for your beta-reading needs or high an outside editor.
  5. This is PR 101, but pitch people who are actually interested in the genres in which you write. It would take just a few seconds to peruse my Goodreads profile to see that I'm not into the genre he's pitching. 

I could go on, but you get the picture--quite literally everything about this attempt at reader engagement is plain wrong. I'm not a fan of shaming people, even when they're way off base like this, but I felt like this exemplified in one fell swoop the weirdness that's happening more frequently than seems reasonable in the author-blogger universe, especially on Goodreads, a site that was once intended to be a reader space. (Let's be honest, though, it hasn't been for a long time.)

Honestly, I respond to most pitches I receive unless they're wildly off base and it's clear that the person did no research before contacting me. Marketing is hard and I get that, so even though the majority of my replies are "thanks but no thanks," I do generally reply and acknowledge that people are trying. I think most authors get that it's not okay to be weirdly personal or ask readers with whom they have no relationship to beta-read for them.

However, as self-publishing opens up more and more doors for aspiring authors to be "real" authors with just a click on Kindle Direct Publishing, and the competition gets more and more fierce for eyeballs on their work, I'm getting requests that make me genuinely uncomfortable and make me want to withdraw from engaging with authors at all. 

Right now, it feels like the ecosystem of authors, publishers and bloggers is often unhealthy in a lot of ways.

I find myself feeling more and more nervous about speaking up and disagreeing with popular opinions, authors, and yes, even some bloggers--which is an entirely different story than this, I realize. But it all results in the same uncomfortable feeling that makes me feel like withdrawing from the dialogue even more. 

This isn't an "I'm leaving the internet," sort of threat (because I'm not, obviously), but rather an explanation as to why I--and I bet a lot of other folks--are being more and more cautious with regard to engagement. I don't know what I'm hoping to achieve by putting this out there, but it's been gnawing at me far before this incident and sometimes being frank helps relieve that uncomfortable tension. 

Thanks for listening, folks. 

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