Writing Community Etiquette

One of the most amazing things about being an author is mingling within the writing community. Writers, as I’m sure you’ll agree, are some of the most generous, supportive, and kind humans on the planet.

That said, there are a few unwritten rules within the community. Let’s discuss to enlighten the newer members of our family.

Other Writers are NOT Competition.

They are our people, our tribe. The longer we’re in this business the more it becomes a kinship. I can’t even imagine working without other writers by my side. We share successes, as Joe so beautifully demonstrated last Saturday. We also share failures (privately, btw, never rant on social media). We lift each other up and try to help where we can.

Without other writers, imagine how lonely this profession would be? As it is, we spend countless hours alone at the keyboard, hanging with our fictional homies or burrowing down one research rabbit hole after another. What if we had no one to share our discoveries with? Or to bounce ideas off of? Or to help us celebrate a new release? Or to knock some sense into us when nothing seems to go right?

We’re better because of, not in spite of, our relationships with other writers.

Lose the Ego

If this business hasn’t taught you humility, you haven’t been part of the publishing industry long enough. You might be soaring now, but you will fall one day. It’s inevitable. Yes, celebrate your successes. Don’t let it go to your head, though. A reality check now and then is an important exercise. Chances are there’s plenty of writers who sell more books than you, who are more loved by readers, who has rocketed to heights you (or I) might never reach.

John’s recent post is the perfect example of success and humility. It’s one of my favorite posts he’s written because of its honesty and realness.

Don’t be a Jerk

Do you really need to point out a typo in a tweet? We’re all fallible. Smile and move on.

Do you really need to say how much you disliked a fellow writer’s work?

What you put out in the universe has a way of boomeranging at the most inconvenient times. It may not be today, but eventually Karma will bite back. Count on it.

When you first join the writing community, it may seem endless. Here’s the thing about skewed impressions. Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. Cross a fellow writer, and that circle can and will get downright claustrophobic. Why? Because writers protect other writers. It’s what we do; it’s who we are as a community. Just ask Disney.

Give More Than You Receive

Did a fellow writer blurb a book for you? Great! What did you do to help support them? I’m not saying you need to match the gesture by blurbing their next book. Maybe you’re not at that level yet. What should you do? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Review one of their books
  • Offer to beta read
  • Share their good news, new release, book cover(s), blog posts, interview, etc. on social media
  • Better yet, pay it forward to a writer farther down the rungs of the ladder—most writers will love knowing by helping Writer X, they also helped Writer Y.

The worst thing you can do is to ask for another helping hand when you’ve showed no appreciation for the last favor. And for the love of God, NEVER ask a fellow writer to fund your writing career because, in your eyes, they’re successful and you’re entitled enough to think you shouldn’t have to work a day job while you hone your craft. Yeah, those people exist. And they all seem to have my email address. Lucky me. 🙂

Common Courtesy

Treat fellow writers as you would like to be treated.

  1. Respond to blog comments. If someone has taken the time to comment on your article, don’t treat them like they’re invisible. Reciprocate with a response. Common courtesy is not rocket science. How would you feel if one day everyone stopped commenting on your blog posts? If you continue to ignore your audience, that can and will happen. If chatting with your audience isn’t important to you, then close the comment section. By leaving it open you’re obligated to respond.
  2. Share a fellow writer’s posts. Let’s take Twitter, for example. If someone retweets everything you share, or even if they only share one post, return the favor. They didn’t have to take the time to share your tweet with their audience, but they did. Do the same for them.

But Sue, what if their books have sex acts on the covers? If you don’t feel comfortable sharing their pinned post with your audience, then scroll through their timeline until you find a more appropriate post that you can share.

  1. Never hijack another writer’s social media timeline. We’ve all met the writer who thinks it’s acceptable to tag 90 authors in their book promos. It isn’t. If anything, said writer looks unprofessional and desperate. I have a few followers on Twitter who do it constantly, and it drives me crazy. The only ones I haven’t blocked (yet) are the writers who also RT my tweets. Does that make tagging okay? No. Unless you’re having a conversation with someone or sharing their work, pretend tagging doesn’t exist.

Lose the Automated Message

I admit, when I first joined Twitter, an automated message to greet my new followers seemed like a good idea. Let me set the record straight—they are never a good idea.

Nothing screams amateur more than an automated message. I once followed this writer whose automated message read: “I want to be your favorite author!” I wrote back: “I want to be your favorite author, too!”

Surprise, surprise, she unfollowed me. Good riddance.

I can think of only two possible exceptions for sending a private message.

  1. If you’re extending an offer that will benefit them, not you. And it’s free. You wouldn’t ask someone you just met at a party for money, right?
  2. If you’re having trouble finding their books and are asking for a link.

In both these non-automated scenarios, most writers won’t mind. But first try to find their email address. Email is less intrusive than private messaging.

Auto-Add Email to Newsletter

If a fellow writer accepts your friend request on Facebook or follows you on Twitter/Instagram or subscribes to your YouTube channel, that does NOT mean they’ve signed up to receive your newsletter. I’ve had friends add me to their list, but they’re actual friends who I chat with all the time. For everyone else, there’s a big difference between showing support for your fellow writers and signing up to receive their newsletters.

Think of it this way. I have over 12K followers on Twitter alone. Imagine if they all added me to their email list? My inbox would explode! The less-informed writer may be thinking: But Sue, you can unsubscribe at any time.

Oy. I hear that excuse all the time. Newsflash. Unsubscribing from a newsletter you never signed up for in the first place annoys most writers. Plus, it takes time away from writing, researching, marketing, or the gazillion other things we do daily.

Read the room, dear guppy (new writers a la MWA). A follow-back or an acceptance of a friend request is just that. Nothing more.

Final Thought

As I said at the beginning of this post, writers are some of the best people on the planet. Most of us would agree that without other writers, this profession would be a lonely one. But we’re never truly alone. There’s always another writer who’ll be there when we need them, just as we were there for them. We’re blessed, and that gift should never be taken for granted.

Over to you, TKZ family.

Did I miss anything? Add your tip! If you can’t think of anything to add, then share a story of a writer helping you or vice versa.

This entry was posted in #amwriting, #writers, #writerslife, #writing, #WritingCommunity, Writing and tagged , , , , , by Sue Coletta. Bookmark the permalink.

About Sue Coletta

Sue Coletta is an award-winning crime writer and an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. Feedspot and Expertido.org named her Murder Blog as “Best 100 Crime Blogs on the Net” (2018-2021). She also blogs at the Kill Zone (Writer's Digest "101 Best Websites for Writers" 2013-2021). Sue lives with her husband and two spoiled guinea pigs in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire and writes two psychological thriller series (Tirgearr Publishing) and true crime/narrative nonfiction (Rowman & Littlefield). And recently, she appeared on the Emmy award-winning true crime series Storm of Suspicion, and will be a panelist at the 2021 New England Crime Bake. Learn more about Sue and her books at https://suecoletta.com

38 thoughts on “Writing Community Etiquette

  1. It’s only Monday morning and I’m doing cartwheels up and down the street because of this wonderful and ever-so-necessary post. Thank you, Sue, for sharing the wisdom as well as for mentioning my post from last Saturday.

    I can’t think of anything to add, really, other than that “please” and “thank you” are always welcome, whether it’s for a stranger you have just met who has done you a solid or someone you’ve been buds with since Moses was in short pants. I guess that’s included under common courtesy.

    Have a wonderful day, Sue. You just made mine.

    • “Since Moses was in short pants.” Hahahahaha. Stealing that line! I have the perfect character for it. Thanks, Joe! And thanks for adding “please” and “thank you.” They’re important words.

      Wishing you an amazing day, my friend! xo

  2. Good post, Sue. I often share others’ posts (including this one) with the readers of my Journal. Also, in my novels, if I encounter a character who reads regularly, I often find that he or she is reading a novel by an author whose work I enjoy. I always work-in the title of the novel and the author’s name. I figure every little bit helps. You never know when a reader might search to see whether the novel(s) featured in my story is “real.”

  3. Excellent advice, Sue. I was under the impression that you can’t add someone to your email list without either their explicit permission or by using the double op-in subscription system. I know it’s the EU law, but maybe not in the US, but my provide requires it. I’ve done a drastic cull on my list, cutting people who haven’t opened one newsletter in a year. A smaller number of interested people is better than a huge pool of people who don’t want it, but don’t bother to unsubscribe. Also, I pay for that service, so why pay for people who aren’t reading.
    I agree with you on the ‘respond to comments’ on blog posts.
    As far as general Social Media–pick one or two platforms that you enjoy and don’t worry about the rest. I stopped accepting Facebook friends when Facebook was nothing more than a place for political ranting. My profile is for people who would help me move–or hide a body. My author page is where I interact with everyone.

    • Thanks, Terry. You’re not supposed to do it in the U.S., either, but many still do.

      Haha. I’ve got a similar group on Facebook!

  4. Sue, great post. Thanks for the etiquette lesson. As someone who is relatively new to this scene, I am definitely bookmarking this post. And as someone who has avoided social media for a variety of reasons, I am now even less inclined to dip my toe in dangerous waters (until I have memorized all your caveats).

    I certainly don’t have any tips to add. You have covered the topic thoroughly. But I would add that you and many other contributors here at TKZ–I won’t list names for fear of missing someone–have gone above and beyond with helping me to get started in the blogging. Thank-you all!

    • Aww, you’re sweet, Steve. Thank you! Don’t fear social media. Most writers are gentle, patient souls who will guide you if you misstep. It’s the ones who know better who get blocked. 🙂

  5. The only thing I might add to this excellent advice is, at writers conferences, if you see someone who looks new, at sea or just alone, invite them to join you. It can be intimidating at first to mingle among the aleady-pubbed and of course, the stars in our firmament.

    • Great advice, Kris. Yes, I agree. Conferences can be cliquey. A new writer can feel overwhelmed and alone in the sea of writers.

  6. Thank you for this post, Sue. I’m a complete newbie and the last thing I would want is to be an annoyance to my fellow writers. So much of this seems like common courtesy along the lines of what our mothers taught us all those years ago, but sometimes the almost desperate pursuit of success can make the best of us discourteous. So thank you for sharing this reminder.

    • You’re so welcome, Douglas. You’re right. Most of it IS common courtesy. But we all have big dreams tied to real emotions, so sometimes those dreams can blind us. We’re human. 🙂

  7. Good stuff here, Sue. Please, let’s get back to common courtesy across the board!

    Re: Social media, I follow the 90/10 plan. 90% welcome content, 10% book push or PR.

    While it’s my usual practice, I don’t think it’s necessary to respond to every comment. On most blogs people who post know their comment will be read but don’t expect it’s always going to get a response.

    Our Reader Friday is especially like that. It’s our “anonymous” question for all, designed to just let the comments happen as they will.

    • Hear, hear! Reader Friday is different (and I probably should’ve pointed that out, so thank you, Jim!). Reader Friday is more community focused with our audience mingling amongst themselves. I still like to respond to comments, but I don’t have it in me to not respond. LOL

    • “… common courtesy across the board.” Yes! As ol’ Wes Crowley says, “Upright is not a matter of degree. In every moment, you either are or you aren’t.”

  8. Sue, this is solid advice not only for getting along in the writing community but also getting along in the human community.

    In real life, I try not to make anyone’s day worse than it already is, and possibly make it a little better. Save the conflict for fiction, which always needs more.

    The more you give to the writing community, the more you get back. I’ve received incredible gifts that were totally unexpected from fellow writers.

    “You might be soaring now, but you will fall one day.” True! And vice versa. This biz is a roller coaster. Today’s disappointment might be tomorrow’s triumph…although tomorrow might be five years away.

  9. This is what so many of us writers need or needed to hear, Sue, whether for the first or tenth time. Just be a friend to other writers. Be a caring human, not a goal-focused machine. Ask yourself how you’d like to be treated. Thanks!

  10. I love your advice, Sue. It’s nice to be reminded occasionally that good manners never go out of style.

    As a relatively new member of the writer community, I’ve been amazed at the kindness and generosity of other authors — both new and experienced. I’ve been on the receiving end of much good will and help from other writers, including the contributors and commenters on TKZ. It’s a special world. I’m grateful to be part of it.

  11. This is such important (and useful) advice, Sue. Thank you for sharing it!

    “We’re all in this together” is my own approach to both the writing community and life in general, because, well, we are, and it keeps me other focused. To my mind, in the writer community, it’s not just about me, it’s about us. Bringing value by sharing what I know, asking questions about what I don’t or am curious about, helping others, sharing the joy in their publishing journeys, that’s what matters. In other words, give more than you receive, as you so very well put it.

    Also, I keep in mind that my fellow writers are “not my target audience.” They are my companions on our writing and publishing road.

    Thanks again for today’s post. A great way to start off the week!

    • Thanks, Dale! Yes, great point about our target audience. I love sharing in other writers successes. When one of us wins, we all should rejoice. And in a sense, we’ve won, too. It means the dream is real!

    • Hey Dale – I feel slimy when I say no to other writers. It’s gut wrenching when they put you in that position.

      I also don’t like when I get a publicist reaching out to me on a writer’s Twitter account or through LinkedIn. That doesn’t fly with me either.

      On the other hand I don’t know why I get emails like that when I have yet to publish a novel anyway.

      • Oh, I hate the publicist emails! It’s so tacky, especially if you’ve never signed up for communications from their client. Great addition to the list, Ben.

  12. Hi, my BFF. I try to go with the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” So far, in 65 years (this October), this part of the life formula has worked pretty well. My other formula components are, “If you don’t have something nice or positively constructive to say, well, then don’t say it.” Also, Facebook for laughs. Twitter to share. Write more books to sell. And that’s all I got to say about that. (~Forrest Gump)

    • Exactly, Garry! We are human and fallible, but a quick pause before commenting helps put things into perspective. Especially on social media, where some people can get downright nasty. Btw, the Nigerian Prince wants to send another 3.2 mil to some lucky recipient. Namely, me, but I’ve gotten so many other offers this week. Shall I send him your way? At the bottom of the email he wrote: This is the THIRD email. He’s keeping track. Hilarious!

  13. Amen to all of it! Thanks for writing this post. I haven’t had the misfortune of having some newbie demand I support him. But I can believe it. Some newbie writers are that entitled and clueless. I’d add that PMs are not okay even if you’re offering something free–if it’s your book. Because a free book is still promotion.

    And one of my big pet peeves: Don’t use a birthday greeting to pimp your book. Every year on my birthday, a couple of writers will say, “happy birthday. Here’s a link to my book that’s on sale or free…” Please don’t, people. That’s not a gift. It’s an ad.

    Thanks for a must-needed post, Sue!

    • Oh, geez, I’m glad you pointed that out, Anne. I never considered a “free” book via PM while writing this post. I meant an interview or the like. But yes! Free books, free marketing/promo site, etc. all falls under an emphatic no. Thanks, Anne!

      You poor thing. I haven’t gotten hit with the birthday ad. That’s wrong on so many levels.

    • I’ve seen that, too, Anne. Always such a turn-off.
      If someone wants to suggest a charity fund in place of physical gifts, yay for them! But pushing sales on others in that respect? No thanks.

  14. Thanks Sue. Makes me think more people (AKA wirters) on Twitter need to read this blog daily. I saw your Tweet related this other day and really like the linked you had there as well. Very informative.

  15. Perhaps I’m taking it too far, but it bothers me how many authors, including some very rich and famous ones, publicly diss other authors and/or their work. I get that there’s a certain tradition of literary rivalries in high brow circles, but I don’t see the value of a guy like [redacted] freely saying James Patterson sucks (btw [redacted] is a major offender here. For a guy who blurbs 99% of all books published, I don’t get why he trashes so many huge bestsellers like Patterson, Stephanie Meyer, EL James, and Dan Brown).

    Even if you truly believe a certain book is lousy or the writer is talentless, maybe it’s just not to your personal taste?

    Right now I’m a nobody, but as someone just dipping his toes in the self-publishing water, even I don’t leave bad reviews on Amazon. I either give a book and honest good review or I pass on reviewing it.

    • I agree with you, Philip. In the rivalry you speak of, [redacted] is acting like a spoiled toddler throwing a temper tantrum. Any author, regardless of who they are, should conduct themselves as a professional. Sadly, some don’t.

      Like you, if I don’t enjoy a book, I don’t leave a review. The author worked hard (presumably). Just because I might not care for the book doesn’t mean another reader won’t love it.

  16. I got a thing like that a few months ago, someone I went to college with who has been published some. Make it your own and wrap characters around it. Put it into a story. Take ownership of the story. Nasty people are great material.

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