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Opinion: How (and How Not To) Involve Your Family In Your Self-publishing Career

Opinion: How (and How Not to) Involve Your Family in Your Self-publishing Career

Debbie Young with family beneath road sign at John O'Groats

Pulling together – Team Young

Advice Centre Editor Debbie Young shares thoughts from the ALLi hive on how indie authors can mobilize their families to support their self-publishing journeys, even if they’re not interested in buying, reading or reviewing their books.

 A Reality Check on Family Support

Indie authors often report that their families are less supportive than they’d expected or hoped. Many authors report that:

  • relatives don’t buy their books – or expect to receive free copies
  • relatives don’t read their books, even if they’ve been given free copies
  • if they do read them, they don’t post reviews
  • they don’t take their writing seriously
  • more hurtful, they treat your writing as an embarrassing eccentricity and don’t want to talk about it at all

If any of these situations chime with your experience, don’t let your disappointment drain your energy.

You can’t expect people to be interested in reading your books just because they’re related to you, especially if you don’t write in a genre they usually read. My husband, for example, is hugely supportive in principle, but prefers grisly murder stories – the polar opposite to my gentle, lighthearted stories – so I don’t expect him to read them.

Family are General Public Too

The general public doesn’t realise how important reviews are to authors, or write them as a matter of course. Plenty of bestselling authors receive very few reviews for great books.

Why should your family be any different? If your relatives aren’t naturally inclined to review books, you’re probably better to steer clear. Otherwise you risk ending up with well-intentioned appraisals that could do you more harm than good.

Gushing reviews abound on Amazon saying things like “Everyone should read this book! I couldn’t put it down! Can’t wait to read more by this fabulous author!” These are usually written by people who haven’t reviewed anything else. It’s immediately obvious to other readers that such reviews have been written by the author’s friends and relations, and that they are therefore biased and unreliable. Such reviews make the author look unprofessional and a tiny bit desperate, so better to do without them.

A Puzzling Hobby for the Uninitiated

To non-writers, the compulsion to write and the urge to reach readers can be just as puzzling and faintly comical as any number of minority hobbies. I’m sure we can all think of people we know who have hobbies about which they are passionate but which leave us cold. Fill in your own examples here –  I’m not going to name any examples here, though, for fear of offending anyone!

Your family may be so baffled by your books that they don’t even know how to discuss them. It’s analagous to good friends crossing the road to avoid you after a bereavement. They’re just nervous of upsetting you by saying the wrong thing. Just sharing your genes doesn’t mean they’d make good street team members.

But take heart! There are still lots of ways to get your family involved by playing to their strengths and enthusiasms.

How to Play to Your Family’s Strengths

Helena Halme

Finnish novelist Helena Halme is harnessing her family’s talents in a very business-like way

Finnish novelist Helena Halme has gone about it in a very businesslike way:

I realised there is a multitude of talent amongst my family (one child works in TV, another with big data in a digital marketing company). Getting my children involved seems to also make sense because I am building for the future and hoping my books will be read long after I’m gone. (This may sound big-headed, but I believe in having big dreams – if you don’t plan for success, it’ll never happen, right?). I’m initially organising an official board meeting with the family, getting ideas on marketing, how to build my mailing list, suggestions on new titles, and ideas on how to best use the content I already have. I’m curious, how many others involve their families in their author/entrepreneurships?

Both Helena and Joanna Penn have also involved their husbands as business partners with a share interest – very motivating! Other ideas suggested by ALLi authors include:

  • appointing your children as literary executors
  • involving children as assistants (great for their CVs!)
  • getting relatives who are good photographers to take your publicity shots
  • providing practical back-up to give you more writing time (cooking, shopping, cleaning etc)
  • asking artistic relations to provide cover artwork and illustrations
  • engaging the family’s IT experts to set up or assist with websites, social media, and book formatting
  • using those with strong organisational skills to help you plan your schedule – then get your stick to it
  • priming willing family members to make their purchases at strategic times to suit you e.g. on launch dates or during free promotions
  • providing inspiration with their antics for future stories
  • just being there as a voice of reason and calm when you need it!

So though your family and friends may still not read what you write, it’s best to ditch any resentment you may be secretly harbouring, and instead draw strength and confidence from value their support in whatever way they give it.

With thanks to Pauline Baird Jones, Sarah Banham, Chris Calder, Jane Davis, Helena Halme, Mari Howard, Joanna Penn, Cindy Rinaman Marsch and Sue Wickstead for contributing ideas.

OVER TO YOU If you’d like to suggest other ways of involving your family in your indie author career, feel free to join the conversation via the comments box.

#Authors - how to get your family to support your #writing career by @DebbieYoungBN Click To Tweet

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Debbie Young

Debbie Young writes warm, funny feel-good fiction, including the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series, which begins with the bestselling "Best Murder in Show". As ALLi's Author Advice Center Manager, she also writes guidebooks for authors. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, she is a frequent speaker at other literary events. Find out more about Debbie's writing life on her author website www.authordebbieyoung.com.

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  1. Thank you. I’ve been struggling with self publishing and this crispy article was just the thing I needed. I’ve been having trouble with my relatives trying to get free copies of my book, and it gets irritating often. But now I know how to deal with that, haha! Also, I think I started applying your tips a bit before actually reading your article, for instance, I made my mom edit my books – and she happened to go ask her friend to buy it and review it! Will definitely share this article with my others buds!

  2. What if the resentment is on the other side? What if one has jettisoned all other hobbies to show how seriously one take’s one’s writing, and yet it’s still referred to as a “vanity project?” It can be quite demoralizing and demotivating, to say the least.

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