Well into the second decade of the twenty-first century, I remain amazed by authors who have not yet succeeded in mastering basic computer skills I mastered in the late-1980s and early 1990s, and computers have changed a lot since then. I can understand being a year or two behind, but a decade or two behind for authors is like a death sentence for the sale of their books.
Following are a few, to me largely unbelievable, examples of true-life stories of high maintenance authors I have dealt with or heard about from others. They have become high maintenance because they have allowed themselves to fall behind the times.
- A poet who continues to type his poems on a typewriter and uses white-out and correction ribbons. He then snail mails his typed poems to various print publications-newspapers and magazines-but does not get responses. He wonders why. He then asks friends to help him submit his poems. When they suggest he buy a computer so he can submit his poems electronically (because no one wants to have to retype them), he says he cannot afford a computer. The truth is, if he wants his poems published, he can’t afford not to buy a computer.
- An author wants an editor to proofread his work. This author sends his Word doc manuscript to the editor double-spaced, only the author has never learned how to use the double spacing function in Word so at the end of every line he has hit return twice. The editor is then forced to remove all the paragraph symbols before he can edit the manuscript.
- An author sends emails to book reviewers, editors, or anyone else demanding to talk to a live person each time because he wants to know how to submit his book for review or editing, even when the instructions are clearly printed on the reviewer or editor’s website. The author does not want to take the time to read the website (despite the fact that a phone call will take longer).
- An author wants an editor to proofread her manuscript. The editor requests that she send it as a Word document and email it to him, but she does not know how to send an attachment. Rather than ask her teenage granddaughter for help, she prints the entire manuscript and mails it to the editor who then agrees to use his red pen and make corrections on it. The editor mails the manuscript back to the author who then makes the corrections in the Word document-but she ends up with several typos in the book since she is not a good proofreader herself and makes mistakes the editor would not have made in correcting the document.
- An author wants to submit her manuscript to a publisher but she doesn’t know how to put a header on the manuscript so she writes to her agent repeatedly asking her simple computer questions to help her format her manuscript. The agent tries to explain that there is a Help function in Word to show her how to do everything. Eventually, the agent gives up on trying to represent this author.
Trust me, these are all true life examples. And authors who behave this way will drive crazy the book reviewers, agents, editors, publishers, printers, and anyone they ask for help.
If you are one of these authors, please take note that your lack of computer skills are not the fault, priority, concern, or responsibility of others. We are not computer instructors and we have enough to do without having to get on the phone with you and spend an hour trying to help you figure out how to pay for a service online or explain to you how we do business. We would love to spend the time to be friendly and chat with you for an hour, but we have dozens, even hundreds of clients. That’s why we have websites-so we can provide information to the world at large rather than to one person at a time. It’s not personal that we don’t want to talk with you on the phone at length or exchange a dozen emails with you. It’s that we have a lot to do and can’t give you that personal kind of attention. Please understand that your expectation that we do so makes you a “High Maintenance Author.”
Granted, every now and then a legitimate question arises when a website has a malfunction or something is not clear, and in those cases an email question is acceptable, and in a rare instance, even a phone call. But usually, you are wasting our time by not being responsible or self-sufficient enough to find out for yourself how to do things when the instructions are clear or what needs to be done falls under the Computers 101 category.
For example, when you want to know where your book review is posted, you don’t need to send an email asking. Look at the website and click on where it says “Reviews,” then click on where it says “Alphabetical by Author.” If your name is Mary Smith, then look under “S” until you find “Smith, Mary.” Now that you’ve found your name, click on it and you’ll find your book review. Remember something called the Card Catalogue that they used to have in libraries about twenty years ago? It works like that-it’s alphabetical.
For those of you who are in the same boat where you have to deal with High Maintenance Authors, here are a few other tips.
- When they say they can’t find something on your website, send them the link to where it’s at. If that doesn’t work, I find writing back something like this often helps: “Gosh…I’m surprised you can’t see _____ (whatever it is they want me to find). I suggest you clear your cache and history on your computer because it may be causing issues for you. Once you do that I suggest you search again.” This response works-I usually don’t hear back from them-either they found it and don’t bother to thank me, or they don’t have a clue what a cache/history means. Tech New Master
- When they ask you how to do something on their computer, respond: “I’m sorry but I am not a computer tech and probably have a different computer and software than you. I suggest you contact your local computer store or find a computer instructor to help you.”
- When they have problems opening documents or reading them, respond: “I suspect you can’t open the document because your computer is too old or your programs are out-of-date. Most computers have a lifespan of about four years, so maybe it’s time to get a new one, or have someone knowledgeable about computers come over and upgrade your programs.”
Granted, I am expressing some frustration here, and I have to admit I get frustrated myself with computers and how programs are continually being upgraded or you need to install new programs. Technology, however, is in many respects a necessary evil, and if we don’t keep up with it, we are going to fall behind, which will be detrimental for promoting our books and our author career.
The best advice I can offer any author is to stay up-to-date with technology. If technology makes you uncomfortable, find someone you can trust who will come over and set up your computer for you so you are protected from viruses and so you can update programs as needed. Find someone you can call or email when you have a problem who knows your computer and knows you and will be able to understand what you need. If you don’t know anyone, call a local computer store to see whether the staff there can recommend someone. In a way, it’s a bit like going to the doctor-you want to find a computer doctor. You need someone who can help you maintain a healthy computer and do regular checkups for you.
You don’t have to be a high maintenance author if you do regular maintenance when it comes to keeping up with your knowledge of computers, the Internet, and technology. I have expressed some frustration here, but I know if you recognize yourself as a High Maintenance Author, you feel frustration as well. Rather than fighting and resisting learning how a website works or how to use a Word Processing program, realize that technology is your best friend today for getting your words out there in a way that allows people to read them-because of technology, authors can now reach a worldwide audience 24/7 with little real effort. Learning how to stay up-to-date with technology is a small investment for such an incredible payoff. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, but ask the right people. Find yourself a computer doctor and both you and your computer will have good mental health going forward.