Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Author's Bill of Rights

By Andrew E. Kaufman

How Much Time Should I Give Other Authors?

It’s a question I often ask. The truth is, I’d help everyone if I could, because I know how overwhelming being (or becoming) an author can be. I also know how frustrating it is to feel excited about my work, and then struggle to get others to feel the same enthusiasm. By nature, I like to give just as much as receive and find equal joy in both. Besides, I truly love meeting other writers. We are a community, and I enjoy being a part of it.

But with that comes another set of issues: part of it is time; the other is that these days, it feels like there are almost as many people writing books as reading them. 

And it seems the busier I get with my career, the less time I have, with even less of it to enjoy activities in my personal life. Since I signed with a publisher, I’m no longer my own boss. Now there are deadlines set by others that I’m obligated to meet. There are conference calls with my editor, with promotions people, and with my agent. My time doesn’t seem to belong to me as much as it once did.

Despite this, I still want to offer other authors help when they ask for it. I’ve just learned to recognize my limitations. Since my writing and my readers have to come first, I can’t provide everyone with everything they need. I can only do my best, but I have to accept that my best will not always be what I’d like.

So in setting these priorities, I’ve made some decisions, devising a Personal Author’s Bill of Rights. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Amendment 1: Reading Requests/Endorsements/Beta Reads

I have the right to refuse reading or endorsing another author's book when asked.

This was the toughest one for me. I feel bad saying no. It’s not that I don’t want to read another author’s book—it’s that next to writing a novel, reading one is a huge time investment. I usually read at bedtime, but sometimes that only lasts a few minutes before I pass out.

I will occasionally break this rule if I know an author well enough (and their work), and even then, it depends on whether my schedule will permit. But I’ve run into trouble there as well. I’ve made promises, only to find I’m not able to follow through when my workload becomes too overwhelming. So, as much as I hate to say no to a friend (and suffer the ill effects of that decision) I’ve decided it’s far worse to say yes, and then not be able to deliver. The guilt is colossal.

Amendment 2: Offering Advice.

I will always answer emails from authors who ask for advice and try my best to do so in a timely manner.

With limits, that is. If I feel I can answer a question, I will—unfortunately, how much information I’m able to provide depends on the question, and anything requiring an in-depth outline or pages of explanation simply isn’t manageable. But I do try to do my best and be as helpful as possible, and I also apologize when I can’t.  I don’t always have to give advice, but I do feel an obligation to be kind to everyone.

Amendment 3: Promoting Other Authors’ Books on Social Media and Beyond.

I will gladly promote other authors’ books that:

1) I know and trust deliver quality content
2) I know (period).

But even with that, I’ve started to feel I need to clearly state when I haven't read a book I’m promoting, because it feels unfair to readers otherwise. Then the question arises: how do I enthusiastically recommend a book I’ve never read? Haven’t figured that one out yet.

Amendment 4: Appearing as a Guest on Blogs/ Doing Interviews

 I will always make time to be a guest on blogs (time permitting) and will gladly do interviews.

This applies to all of them, no matter how big or small, because I’m honored to be asked, and because they’re doing me a favor by showing interest (Not the other way around).

Amendment 5: Appearing at Writers' Gatherings

I will always say yes (Time and geography permitting) in order to encourage other authors.
See above—same reason, and because when I first started out, I never had the benefit of getting advice from experienced authors, and I know what a big difference it would have made if I did. Besides, as I've mentioned, I love meeting other writers, and I benefit from that just as much as they might.

Have I left anything out? And what about you? Both writers and readers: how do you manage time constraints when the requirements of everyday life seem to get in the way?


  1. Excellent assessment of this issue. I face the same concerns, and typically spend an hour or more every day just answering emails. Fortunately, most of those come from readers.

    But for writers, I've arrived at about the same guidelines you have, and to date, I haven't turned down a Q&A request. But I've stopped reading/blurbing anyone but very close friends who write in my genre and people who beta read for me.

    And simply put, I don't have time for writers gatherings. Mostly because they involve travel. Driving is not only time consuming, but hard on my knee. And flying is both time consuming and expensive.

    But I'll continue to attend two reader conventions a year (where I also get to see my writer friends!), and I do two local signing/selling events every year.

    Because I still have a large extended family that calls on me for support nearly every day. And I occasionally need a little sleep.

  2. I've already adopted many of the same concepts as you. Some of them I learned the hard way—the promoting of others is a prime example.

    As much as I loved presenting at a small writers conference last weekend, I wouldn't want to do it all the time.

    What I haven't done is a local signing/selling event—mostly because, believe it or not, Denver does not have a book festival! What's with that?

  3. Very good advice. I've been struggling with some of this myself lately. I will always find time to speak with other authors and give advice when I can. The reading part is the one I have the most trouble with. My biggest fear is that I won't like the book. While I do believe in constructive criticism, I cringe at the thought of hurting someone's feelings.

  4. Time is always a juggling act for authors. The more books we release, the busier we get. Like LJ, I spend 1-2 hours every morning responding to emails and other messages. With promoting and blog posts added in, I often don't begin writing until midday. I also struggle with reading. I'm a reviewer for The New York Journal of Books and get to read some fantastic work, but it all takes time. Like Lia, I fear disliking books written by author friends, hence I will no longer agree to read & review for friends. If I do read their book, I'll do it because I want to and not because asked, with no promise of a review. I'll only give a review if I genuinely liked the book.

  5. Not sure why that comment posted as anonymous - I chose name as an identity. Very cloak and dagger......

  6. Bravo Drew! Excellent advice. #1 is especially difficult for any author to come to grips with. But, I read just like you do and that's because the rest of the day is already jam packed.

    However, I think you should add #6: I have the right to set my own priorities. This gives you a bit of emotional freedom to say, "Sorry, I don't have time for ABC, but thank you for asking." Just a thought. Best of luck to you!

  7. Steven Pressfield addressed this recently in his blog, under two entries - Principals & Profiles and Opportunities are B.S.

    A marketing expert I work with explained the different stages we move through in our careers. I'm paraphrasing, but it's the craft model (how appropriate): As apprentices we know nothing, think we know something and ask for help appropriately and inappropriately. As journeyers, we are competent but not expert, and so share with others who are skilled crafts-folk. As masters, we are the doers and teachers; we provide guidance to many but individual mentoring to few, and we respect the uniqueness of our peers and the sanctity of their work-space. (Not sure I got that last bit right.)

    It sounds, Andrew, like you've moved to stage 3 and are realizing that what was proper for stage 2 is not so at stage 3.

    Besides, there are plenty of places on the net to get help and advice. (Hmm, can I think of a blog with the initials CFC?)

    Put more simply: unless you write and dedicate yourself to your career, you can't help others. You are already giving people your time when you give them your work. Anything else is lagniappe.

    (Now will you beta read my book, since we share a last name? Oh, and will you promote it on all the social media sites instead of yours? And my cousin has an idea for a script, can you just tell your agent to represent her? - I'M KIDDING!)

    It's an important subject, and you've presented it professionally and sensitively. Thank you.

  8. Thanks, David.

    I appreciate the compliment (and love your last name), but I'm not sure I deserve to consider myself a master, because I feel like I still have so much to learn. I do, however, find myself becoming a stage three giver lately--but that's more as a victim of circumstance than desire.

    Of course, sometimes life shows me who's boss and bumps me back to stage one, which is fine--it keeps me humble. A place I like to be.


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