Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Do's and Don'ts of Form Letters for Authors

Impersonal, but it demands nothing of me. 
If you have seen any of my mail call posts, you know that I get a lot of books in the mail. I'm crazy lucky and win a lot of Goodreads First Reads giveaways. Many of the books I receive come with form letters congratulating me on my win and inviting me to essentially leave a review when I've finished reading the book (the word choice varies.) I don't always pay much attention to these form letters because most of them come with books I've won from a Big 5 publisher (and because they're form letters, the only thing that varies is the book title and author). I do pay attention when I get a book from a smaller press or indie author that also includes a form letter (and I wouldn't necessarily classify all of those form letters because they do tend to be a bit more personal sounding than those received from the Big 5.)

Please don't ask reviewers to lie about your book. 

Yesterday I got two books in the mail that came with form letters, and one of them made me cringe. Even my husband, who's only real interest in books is trying to convince me to get rid of all of mine and replace them with ebooks, thought it was in poor taste (he actually told me I should give the book an unfavorable review simply because of the form letter, but that would be just as bad as the letter itself.) I understand that this author doesn't realize that my integrity as a reviewer is important to me, but that shouldn't matter.

But it got me thinking that maybe there is a need for a form letter etiquette resource. I'm only one person and hardly an expert, and this is largely opinion based, but it may just provide a starting point.


Obviously not a form letter, but handwritten notes are totally
awesome to receive. The left side of this one demonstrates a
do. The right side demonstrates a very particular don't.
  1. Send a form letter to people who win copies of your books. That is if you want to. You are certainly not obligated to send them, but they can be a nice touch. 
  2. Address them by name. It's really not hard to change the name in the salutation part of your form letter and gives it a bit more of a personal touch. 
  3. Congratulate them on winning a copy of your book. As a reader and giveaway winner, that's a little extra ego boost, a reminder that I freakin' won something! (And who doesn't like winning things?)
  4. Thank them for their interest in your book. They did enter your giveaway for a reason. (That reason might be that they like winning things, though, so the thank you might guilt them into actually being interested in your book. It works on me.) 
  5. Invite them to share their thoughts on Goodreads, Facebook, or any book retailer of their choosing. This is a subtle reminder that reviews are appreciated, but using the word "thoughts" instead of "review" makes it seems a little less intimidating to the casual reader. 
  6. Include the links to all of your social media. You never know when you'll find a new lifelong fan, and if you make it easy to find you on social media, they are more likely to follow you. I know I personally appreciate it when Instagram handles are provided so I can tag with assurance when I share photos of the books on my IG. 
  7. Sign the letter, by hand. I swear this is something I learned in my middle school typing classes when we were learning how to write form letters (and how to use spreadsheets or databases, I don't remember which now, to make them personal without having to manually change the relevant information). It is something that seems to be falling by the wayside though. If nothing else, it at least provides the winner with your autograph, and who doesn't like signing those?


I'm not an idiot! I find this really appalling because it came
from a small press (I've won at least two books published by
them, and received the same form letter.) They should know
  1. Ask the winner to lie about your book. This one is huge, and shouldn't even need to be stated, but it clearly does based on the cringe-worthy form letter I got yesterday. Authors asking reviewers to provide favorable reviews even if they didn't like a book are the reason why readers are skeptical of books with all favorable reviews. I know for a fact that not all authors do this. In fact, it's a very small percentage who do, but that small percentage is enough to make savvy readers wary. 
  2. Demand a review, or that reviews be posted in specific places. (I know on the do's list I said you should invite them to share their thoughts with some suggested places, but inviting and demanding are very different things. Mostly, just be conscious of your word choice. It does make a difference.) 
  3. Talk down to the recipient. If you treat me like I'm a complete moron who doesn't know how to leave a review for a book, I'm likely to ignore the book completely, no matter how much I wanted to read it before. I already know how to leave reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, etc., and I do it automatically, but being talked down to makes me not want to leave a review (at least not on Amazon where it does seem to count a bit more.) Yes, I'm aware this is a petty reaction; I don't care. 
  4. Assume anything about the recipient based on their mailing address. This isn't one that will likely come up often for most people, but it has recently become a bit of an issue for me. For all but one month of the time that I've been entering Goodreads giveaways, my US mailing address has been at an APO (for those of you that don't know, those are military post offices, typically overseas like in Germany where I currently live.) Within the past year I have received several books with either handwritten notes (like shown above) or autographs within the book thanking me for my service. I am not in the military and I have never been in the military. My husband was a service member, and now he works with the military as a contractor (which is why we have APO mail privileges). Stolen valor is a thing, and I feel like I'm guilty of it every time I receive a message thanking me for my service because the author sending me a book I've won has made an assumption about me based on my mailing address. I understand why the assumption is made because you do have to be affiliated with the military to have an APO address, but there are a LOT of non-service members with that kind of access, too. (And frankly, soldiers down range are probably not entering giveaways because they don't always have a lot of time to spend online, and the internet connection is spotty at best. At least it was last time my husband was deployed. Improvements may have been made in the past 6 years.) 

And that's pretty much it. The basics of form letter do's and don'ts from a reader's perspective. Is there anything you would add to the list? - Katie

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