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Back To Literature, Past
A Literary & Poetry Column
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Your Mama Told You To Write Thank Yous

Introduction: I feel comfortable including a little excerpt from a book I am writing called Getting Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically to be released in August. 2016. I think the basic idea of thank you notes for reviewers is as valid for readers as it is for writers (you’ll see why in the excerpt I adapted below to include both!). I also feel comfortable because I write very few reviews for so I don’t feel as if I’m asking for visitors to this site to send thank yous to me. I prefer to concentrate on my Back to Literature columns and the Noble (Not Nobel!) Awards I give on this site each January. (See more about those in the archives—almost any January issue will help you!). It’s also true that I have watched reviews for this site and others labor for many years to help readers find great books. They do it out of love for literature. And that’s what this column is about—literature.

From the First Draft of Getting Great Book Reviews,
third in Carolyn’s HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers

ATTENDING TO YOUR THANK YOUS is always important. Your mama taught you that a long time ago.

Reviewers need love, too. When they write a review that writer’s love because it praises their work, write a review authors don’t love so much because it doesn’t rave enough, or even when they write a review of someone else’s book that convinces a reader to buy a book and support the industry that brings them so much pleasure, send them a note of congratulations.

Don’t stop there. There will be other occasions where notes are appropriate—sympathy, holidays, birthdays, and--as your friendship grows--postcards when you travel. Readers who do this will feel they are more a part of the industry that does so much for them; writers will benefit by staying in touch with those who influence the industry they are part of!

Other Possibilities: Send congratulatory notes when reviewers and other media friends receive awards, redesign their Web pages, write a great feature story, or are assigned a new column.

Notes create goodwill. Goodwill creates opportunity. Use your writing skill to make the recipient feel valued rather than a cursory note like the ones you tried to get away with when you were in the third grade. Let the reviewer know what you liked and even what you didn’t like so much. That helps them do better work in the future.

What about rules governing thank you notes? You didn’t really think I was going to give you firm, fast rules, did you? Trust me. Reviewers won’t care if your note is perfect. They will love the attention. It will probably be a first for them.

Hint for Authors: Your most memorable note—the one that turns out to be the most instrumental in your writing career—may be the one you send to a reviewer who was critical of your book. One of my least favorite reviews for my first novel was written by the owner of an online Web site other than this one. I told her—sincerely—that I learned much from her critique. I kept in touch with her and it wasn’t long before she occasionally published my articles or essays on her site.

Here’s another guideline (not a firm rule!). A thank you note sent on real paper with a real stamp to a reviewer’s place of business or home is always preferable to any other method. Having said that, we know that is not always possible and authors and readers can only spend so much time tracing down contact information on the Web.

If you decide to do some tracking, though, try finding the reviewer’s personal or business Web site. It might include her address or the address of the journal or other media she works for. A note sent to a reviewer in care of, say, Kirkus reviews, has a good chance of being forwarded to her. See what you find searching on the reviewer’s name using Google, Bing search, or your social network’s search engine. A reviewer will be thrilled if you send it any old way-- by post, e-mail, or just tweet it out. Everyone is tweeting these days, even politicians.

Tips and Tidbits

(Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a Tidbit that will help authors write or promote better. She will also include a Tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.)

Writers' Tidbit: Everyone is a writer these days. They write on social networks. They blog. They may even write books. My multi award-winning The Frugal Editor will help them with all the grammar and formatting that their English teacher never taught them. Or all the things that have changed since their English teacher gave them an A. The Frugal Editor is now in its second edition in paper or as an e-book. It’s been reformatted, updated, and expanded.

Tidbit for Readers:My newest book is a full book of poetry. Jim Cox, Editor-in-Chief of Wisconsin Bookwatch says, “[Carolyn Howard-Johnson is] an exceptionally skilled wordsmith, her poetry will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf. Very highly recommended for community and academic library Contemporary American Poetry collections . . .” Find Imperfect Echoes at


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