Sunday, December 21, 2008

Victoria Strauss -- Letter to a Desperate Author

Dear Desperate Author,

Once again, you sent me an email solicitation to buy your recently self- or small press-published novel. Perhaps you used Media Eblast or a similar spam generator, or hired one of those fake marketing services that prey on desperate authors just like you. Perhaps you crafted the email all on your own. Because it's the holidays and the world is spiraling ever farther into economic crisis, you may have suggested that books make good gifts, so I should buy yours.

What I want to know is, what made you think that the email address for a website called "Writer Beware" was appropriate to solicit? I mean, for one thing, there's that word, "Beware." Why would you imagine that the folks at a website that's all about Bewares, especially writing-related Bewares, would be receptive to a buy-my-book spam? (Of course, scammers also solicit Writer Beware, so I guess it's not that much of a deterrent.)

Another thing. If you aren't just spamming blindly, and actually know something about me or Writer Beware, you may also be aware of my opinion of bulk email as a promotional strategy. You may even know that I have a particular loathing for Media Eblast. Which would make your buy-my-book spam even less appropriate and even more annoying than it would otherwise be. (And if this is news to you, I guess you are spamming blindly. Naughty, naughty.)

Also, do you really think that spamming--even targeted spamming--is an effective way to drum up sales for your book? I mean, really? I've got news for you--it's not. No one buys a book because they got an email solicitation from someone they never heard of. Most people will respond as I did, and hit the delete button. (For your sake, I hope you didn't pay someone a lot of money to irritate me in this way.)

One last suggestion. Proofread your damn spams. A thriller is not a "triller." It's "heart-rending," not "heart-rendering." Apostrophes should not randomly adorn plurals and possessives, but should decorate only contractions. Yes, I'm a stickler for this stuff, and I'm not alone. You don't enhance your credibility with typos, grammatical errors, or malapropisms. (Again, I really hope you did not pay anyone to make these mistakes on your behalf.)

Desperate Author, I don't mean to be unsympathetic. I understand your desperation--heck, all authors are fairly desperate these days, no matter who their publishers are. I know you may be spamming me not because you really think I'll buy your book and give it to my Great-Aunt Edna for Christmas, but because it distracts you from your desperation by giving you the illusion of being pro-active. But trust me--you need to stop. Seriously. Because it's not doing you any good, and no one loves a spammer. Not even at the holidays.

Sincerely,

- Victoria

50 comments:

janeyolen said...

You had me at "heart-rendering."

Jane Yolen

barrettmanor said...

A couple of weeks ago a spam from a self-pubbed author landed in my inbox. It contained a typo that was rather ... unfortunate.

Of course, if I'd been consuming a beverage at the time, it may have been just the excuse I needed to replace my keyboard.

Bill Dyszel said...

Hi, Victoria-

I know how you feel. I cover technology, but I receive a constant barrage of pitches on politics, parenting, travel, you name something I don't cover, they pitch me on it.

To bring some cheer, I just posted The Freelance National Anthem,
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCXZgcSs954 , which I created for the ASJA anniversary party last week. I hope you'll get a chuckle from it. -Bill Dyszel

C.E. Petit said...

Maybe it was really a horror novel, which at least explains "heart-rendering". In that context, though, I defer to Professor Tom Lehrer.

Jane Smith said...

I've only just started to receive these emails, and now I get a handful each week. They don't get read, just deleted: and it's incredibly frustrating thinking about the people who have paid to publish their book now paying to promote it when it's probably unsaleable (sp?), and shouldn't have been published in the first place.

Gah.

Georgie B said...

Spamming is definitely not the way to go if you're trying to get someone to buy your novel.

Sort of reminds me of the old Nigerian e-mail scam.

Captain Black said...

Dear Victoria (One of God),

I'm from Nigeria and I have US $ 50,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 ...

Just kidding.
Thanks for this post, it made me smile.

Jane Smith said...

Victoria, your post is timely for me: in the last five minutes I've received spam emails for half a dozen authors from Bostick Communications: a quick google has revealed a lot of people unhappy with the spam that they send out, and nothing in the way of results. I can only assume they found my email address from my self-publishing review blog (which is tiny).

If they're not careful I'll request review copies. I doubt my review will help them sell a single copy of the books involved.

Andra M. said...

Nobody likes me, apparently, because I've received none of these author emails. Poor me.

Speaking of which, I self-published a book and I know you'd love it. You can find it at . . .

Kidding!

Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

Hi Ms. Strauss,

Something about this letter bothers me.

(No, I'm not a desperate author and I certainly wouldn't use spam in any case. And I'm published by a "real" publisher. So this isn't about me.)

I wonder about the people you've offended here. The letter is condescending and belittles writers trying to learn the ropes.

Perhaps some of them are using spam because they don't know better? Maybe some of them are embarrassed upon realizing their error?

You of all people should show a little compassion and empathy for beginning writers -- even the self-published.

I know you will make this personal and write me off as a "desperate author". I'm not. Look me up.

I'm 61 now and no beginner at this business/art. I just received a sizable royalty check.

If I was a new writer, however, and was sucked into a con which uses spam -- I would feel humiliated by my mistake -- and by your snide, contempable attitude.

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous, I'd love to look you up. But it's kinda hard because you are, well, anonymous. Own your words, buddy, the way I do mine--sign your name.

I knew this post would upset some people (I've gotten several angry or defensive emails today, including one from someone who seems to think I was writing about them. I wasn't. I had no particular individual in mind when I composed this blog post). Oh well. You can't make everyone happy. But I'd put my record for compassion and empathy for beginning writers up against anyone's.

Sally Zigmond said...

Come now, Mr Anonymous. Who are you trying to protect? If anyone is naive enough to believe spamming is an acceptable or helpful way to sell a book, then they need a sharp wake-up call. That's exactly what Victoria has done. With any luck, they won't ever do it again.

Ignorance is no excuse. It's the same in law. I can't ask to be let off murder because 'Sorry, officer, I didn't know it was wrong.' You can, of course, claim diminished responsibility, in which case you shouldn't be selling your book but seeking help.

Andra M. said...

Boy, people can be offended by everything these days.

The color green offends me.

Who can I yell at for that?

I know! The Jolly Green Giant. Does he have an email address?

P.S. Though I've read this entry so far, I enjoy it muchly and will come back often.

BuffySquirrel said...

Oh dear me, it's priceless to have "Anon" telling us to look them up.

Georgie B said...

I would like to add my two cents again, only because I think highly of this blog in general and this post in particular.

While I'm not like most of the people on here, in that I self-published my novel, there are few basic things that I learned in the real world that can and should be applied to writing/publishing.

Using bulk e-mail is definitely a major turn off. I find it very annoying when I get spam at work, and if I was on the receiving end of this kind of spam, I would be doubly annoyed.

There are right ways and there are wrong ways to go about trying to sell your book, and spamming is the #1 wrong way.

My next point is directed to Mr. Anon, who doesn't want to back up his words with his name: So what if whst Ms. Strause wrote was a bit condensending and somewhat nasty. If I were in her shoes, I would probably do the same thing, and in fact have done the same thing elsewhere.

Sometimes a person needs a major slap in the face, in order to get a point across.

She got her point across. Everyone here got the point, and I think basically agreed with the approach.

Why does it bother you so?

Henie said...

Hello Victoria,

I am glad to have stumbled upon this blog.

I write simply for the love of it and to continue to train the tenor of my writing voice...but should I aspire to pursue publication, please know that I am now forewarned...much appreciated!

I will visit often for your informative posts.

Henie said...

It's me again...I didn't want to be like "Anonymous" so here is my working url:)

Shawn James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shawn James said...

As a self-published author,I feel bulk e-mails are a waste of time and resources; plus aggravated people are less likely to think positvely about my books.
Most book sales are done by "word of mouth" and if an author leaves a bad first impression on readers, there aren't going to be may sales.

There are dozens of more effective methods of getting the word out on a new book than sending thousands of unsolicited e-mails to strangers. These campaigns never work because most people delete e-mails from people outside of their circles. In the age of viruses and Malware it's too much of a risk. In addition, no one is going to plunk down a credit card number on an untested product from a stranger and put themselves at risk for identity theft.

Most self published authors need to understand that they have a long road ahead of them. They're going to have to build a reputation with the community and create a reading audience; that takes time, especially when it's the first or second book by an author. Most self-published books don't start becoming popular until years later; others didn't start developing a following until they went out of print.

ALC said...

Anonymous seems so upset that someone might be "offended" by this blog post.

He/She said: The letter is condescending and belittles writers trying to learn the ropes.

Uh... no. A writer who is actually bothering to try to learn the ropes will have done sufficient research to avoid this mistake to begin with.

Spam blasting is the promotional equivilant of an idiot running out into a darkened street & firing a loaded gun in various random directions in the hope of hitting a target. Odds are a zillion to one that the target will ever be hit, but the odds that innocent passers by will be hit are pretty darned good. Those passers by will be just about as appreciative of being shot as anyone is of being spammed.

Inkpot said...

Great post Victoria. I hate spam of any kind (who doesn't?). I haven't received the author spam yet, although I've got lots of offers from nice companies to pay me for writing for them and many many drug companies who think I'm a man.

I looked up anon btw. Apparently he has written thousands of things, mostly poetry. Go figure. :)

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

I recently agreed to become a book reviewer for the Book Talk blog. The site administrator sent me blurbs for several possible to review. All except one were vanity-published authors (even a PublishAmerica author). Even though Book Talk is a relatively respectable review site, I had to politely explain to the administrator why I refused to review any vanity-published books (i.e., from PublishAmerica, AuthorHouse, Lulu, Vantage, iUniverse, ad nauseaum) and say that I felt the site should simply refuse to accept their queries. In the end I agreed to review a Harlequin series romance book. Not something I would ordinarily do, but at least Harlequin is a legit publisher with actual editorial oversight.

So Victoria, if you think you have it bad, imagine the inboxes of people who run book review sites.

Georgie B said...

This is for Ms. Hughes:

Why do a blanket condemnation of self published books?

Granted, there are some that don't meet anyones expectations, but on the other side of the coin, there are that do.

Seems to me that you have some kind of personal bias against self-publishing with your post.

If not, perhaps you can clarify

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

To Georgie B:

"Why do a blanket condemnation of self published books?"

Because 99.9% of self-published books are unpublishable dreck. As a working author myself, I have limited time available in which to read books for review, and I don't have time to waste picking through the vast piles of unpublishable dreck in search of the one rare quality self-published book. Since I mainly review genre fiction books and not, say, experimental fiction or poetry, the chances of finding a quality (hell, even readable) self-published genre book is next to nil.

With rare exceptions (such as poetry, experimental fiction, local history, etc) most self-published books didn't get traditionally published for a REASON.

Georgie B said...

Ms. Hughes:

That certainly is a nasty attitude about people trying to do their upmost best at something they like.

I would have to disagree with you about 99% of self-published stuff to be "dreck". Some of it is actually quite good.

I find that about 75% of "published" stuff to be quite horrible, and that goes for ALL GENRES.

I'm sorry that you can't find the time in your busy life to wade through books to review. Isn't that what a book reviewer's job entials? If you have such a problem doing it, then either hire an assistant to cull the amount of books to read, or get out of the business.

"Don't get published for a reason?"

And what, pray tell, is that particular reason that they don't get published?

Please, enligten everyone here as to why you believe the way that you do.

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

"hire an assistant"???

BWAAHAHAHAHA!

This shows just how clueless you are, Georgie B. There isn't a book reviewer in existence who makes a living by reviewing books. Most of us either do it for free, or for less than a penny a word.

Even people who write reviews for the New York Times are making the price of a Chinese dinner for their reviews. How, pray tell, are we to afford the hiring of assistants to pick through your unpublishable dreck?

Reviewing books is not a career that pays a living wage. (And to wit, most editors and publicity assistants at NYC publishing houses who have any title other than "Executive Editor" are making pittance salaries and pay their Manhattan rent via family trust funds).

Self-published authors who are seeking to have their books reviewed should think about that before getting mad about why it's so hard for them to get their books reviewed. There's a ton of competition out there. A lot of books published by big NYC publishing houses have trouble getting reviewed. My current midlist book is released by Random House, and I've only managed to get four reviews at small blogs so far. And that's RANDOM HOUSE, for Chrissakes. Against that, what chances does a self-pubbed author really have of getting reviewed?

Bottom line, I have the time to read and review one book a month on top of everything else I'm doing (like, say, writing books to make my living). I am not going to waste my time reading something that has no guarantee of even being properly edited.

Victoria, I'd encourage you to do a post about this. Hell, I'd even write it for you.

Nuff said.

Victoria Strauss said...

Georgie and Jill, I really don't want to have a flame war here. You've both had equal time, and I hate deleting comments. So please, let it go now. Thanks.

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

No problem. I've said my piece, FWIW, and wish Georgie B. the best of luck with his self-pubbed book.

Georgie B said...

My, aren't you the bitter individual.

If reviewing books intrudes on your precious time of writing books and attempting to cut people down to size with your lame sarcasm, then I suggest you drop book reviewing.

And no, I'm not clueless. I got just as much on the ball as you do, which is probably due to the fact that I live in the real world and treat people the way I want to be treated.

Just because you consider yourself to be a big fish in a ridiculously small pond, doesn't mean you can go off treating people like a doormant.


The chances of self-published book getting reviewed is just as equal as someone who gets their stuff churned out by a traditional publisher.

I'm sure it's easy for you once you got to where you are, but is your memory just that short? Did you work and hustle to get where you are, or did you have it handed to you on a silver platter?

December/Stacia said...

Personally, I thought this was a gently amusing post, not a rude one. *shrug*

Have a great holiday, Victoria and Ann! Thanks for another wonderful year.

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

Rather than continue a flame war here, I'll be posting a blog entry today about my feelings regarding reviewing vanity-published books, if anyone is interested.

Best wishes to all for a safe and happy holiday season. And Victoria, for the record I thought your post was hilarious.

Mad Scientist Matt said...

"Heart rendering" sounds like it could be a good trademark for a medical imaging device. Though I'm pretty sure that was not what the author had in mind...

Anyone else enjoy trying to take great malapropisms and trying to find a legitimate use for them?

Victoria Strauss said...

Anyone else enjoy trying to take great malapropisms and trying to find a legitimate use for them?

Have at it, Matt. Here are a few I've collected over the years--translations follow in parenthesis:

- enroot (en route)
- ease drop (eavesdrop)
- down packed (down pat)
- chalked full (chock full)
- meticulate (meticulous)
- intermangled (intermingled)
- pension (penchant)
- Walla! (Voila!)
- intrical (integral)
- whole hardily (wholeheartedly)
- prosterity (posterity)
- defunked (defunct)
- veneered (revered)
- grizzly (grisly)
- same oh, same oh (same old, same old)
- deep-seeded (deep-seated)
- tubular rosa (tabula rasa)
- null invoid (null and void)
- homophonics (your guess is as good as mine)
- delimer (dilemma)

The interesting thing is that people are often able to use the malapropisms in the correct context--my guess is that some of them are expressions that people hear, but haven't seen written down.

Jane Smith said...

Victoria, I love that list, and I can add a few to it.

We will do our upmost to ensure... (instead of utmost--this came in a letter from my son's secondary school...)

Complexed (complex--used routinely by my husband's ex-boss)

Imput (input--same guy as above)

Fragrant breach (flagrant breach--ditto--no wonder David went freelance)

Have a wonderful Christmas, all at Writer Beware, and thanks for all the wonderful help and advice you've given me and many other writers all year.

Georgie B said...

Fair enough.

I was feeling a bit uncomfortable carrying this out on someone else's personal property, too.

My apologies to anyone who happened to offended by the exchange between myself and Ms. Hughes.

Merry Christmas to one and all.

Ms. Strauss, this is very excellent blog you have here. I'm glad I found it as it has given me valuable advice and tips.

December/Stacia said...

"per say" is one I see a lot. Don't know if it really counts, but...it drives me nuts, is that enough? :-)

Victoria Strauss said...

I can't believe I forgot "per say!"

"Fragrant breach"--OMG. That's too funny. I'm going to add it to my list.

Shawn James said...

I haven't had much of a problem getting reviews for my self-published POD book. I did some research, followed the rules and guidelines laid out by reviewers and got lots of requests (15) for review copies from online book clubs.

Seriously, Reviews good or bad don't mean an increase in sales, which is what every author wants.

I've got four good reviews for my self published POD novel and it hasn't helped much with sales. Networking with vendors and small shops has made a lot of difference there.

That being said, I would never be so desperate to solicit people with an e-mail blitz. As I stated earlier, it's a total waste of time and effort to send a bunch of e-mails to strangers that'll just get deleted. Word of mouth and Hand sales face-to face are how authors' reputations get built and how books get sold.

December/Stacia said...

Oh, and:

"ecksedra" or similar for "etcetera". "Ecksedra" always sounds to me like the next wave in erectile dysfunction medications.

"Here here!" instead of "Hear hear!"

and "suppose to" instead of "supposed to." I know there's another very similar one which I see a lot but I can't for the life of me recall it just now.


The worst one I ever saw, though was a woman who'd named her son--so she thought--after Orion, of the myth and nifty constellation. But she hadn't checked the spelling first, and so consequently named her son "Aryan." (Get it? A-Ryan.) Aryan. Nobody had the heart to tell her what the word actually meant. That was five years ago and I still wonder how people respond when they see that poor child's name written down.

Anonymous said...

"Should of" (should've)
"Intensive purposes" (Intents and purposes)
"Doormant" (Doormat)
"Wreckless" (Reckless)

BuffySquirrel said...

Hey, Matt, I think that's how we got the word malaprop in the first place! lol

Anonymous said...

"Mute point" (Moot point)

barrettmanor said...

Just ran across a a good malopropism:

Culperts (culprits, I think).

The comments section at my morning paper web sight (excuse me, sight) is full of 'em.

Kristi Holl said...

You made your point to desperate authors/email spammers in a kind way that still makes it clear. The "comment" spam lately is about as bad. For some reason, the Viagra spammers have been especially busy sending me stuff to a children's writing blog. 8-)
Kristi Holl
Writer's First Aid blog

Anonymous said...

"You're bias" (instead of biased)
and
"You're prejudice" (instead of prejudiced)

Martyn Kinsella-Jones said...

Spam marketing is always a bad idea and can ruin the reputation of an otherwise great product. I spent five years in direct marketing and learned the hard way about the low return percentages on mass marketing.

Yet you can see the attraction of self publishing; especially when getting your work read at all can seem like a labour of Hercules.

Karen Opas-Lanouette said...

Heart-rendering; slowly boiling down the heart to remove fatty matter? It's a departure from "I'm going to wash that man right out of my hair," at any rate.

Enjoyed the blog.

Jane Smith said...

I think it must be "send out all the emails" week at Bostick Communications: after a couple of weeks or so of hearing nothing from them, on Monday I got two emails from them, on Tuesday four or five, and yesterday a few more. All are press releases for new, self-published or vanity-published books. I'm not interested. It's not going to help the authors sell their books at all. And yet they're paying for these emails to be sent.

Eugh.

just..gord said...

Hilarious and refreshing read... cherrrrrist, I needed that!

Recalls to mind many banal discussions with headhunters, that only later could I enjoy by recanting to someone who appreciates biting sarcasm.


We see the same scams again and again with Fine Artists also. One of my alter email personas gets a continuous stream of daily spam, from seemingly legit and well presented Art Fair Competitions / Retrospectives / Biennales - "Please return your 50 dollar entry fee with only your finest works, and be sure to fill out all your intimate details, so we can sell them on to other spammers".

Forgive me while I suppress a finger-down-the-throat yawn.

Of course the poor artists are exactly the people who have no money, care about their craft and achingly want it all to be true. The art scene is a bit more insidious as often quite well respected galleries and museums self fund competitions - they all look the same leaving one jaded and cynical.

Pure evil.


Keep putting these bastards out of business, you're making the world a better place and your particular flavor of debunk anti-cool-aid is very readable and highly entertaining.

thanks.

gord.

eileenslovak said...

Thanks for posting this. I received an email from Bostick Communications and in researching them, I found your post. It is difficult navigating these shark infested waters. I look forward to reading more of your blog.

Sincerely,
Eileen Slovak, author of "Secret Agent of God"