How to be a great host in 8 easy steps (plus a bonus list of top 6 characteristics)

Have you ever visited or hosted good friends, only to realize that some friendships are better off with distance? There is truth to the adage that fish and guests stink after three days. As someone who enjoys traveling and has many international friends, house visits and homestays have become part of my life. I’ve experienced fantastic visits, horrendous ones, and everything in between. Today, I’d like to share some insights on what guests appreciate.

A few days ago, I returned from a visit that was not without complications. Some unexpected assumptions from my hosts took me (and my budget) by surprise, and I questioned whether the standards for hosting houseguests have changed. I have many years of experience both hosting and visiting, but I scoured the internet for advice on hosting etiquette. I found extravagant advice (buy your guest her very own fluffy robe and slippers!), over-the-top advice (download this packet to fill out a comprehensive file on your home, neighborhood, local tourist information, emergency numbers, and insurance information), and painfully obvious advice (spend time with your guest). Clearly, there is a need for this kind of information.

Due to geographic distance, special events, and the desire to spend time with loved ones, we will all have to be a guest at some time or another. (Unless you are wealthy enough to afford hotel stays wherever you go, which I am not.) I think most people want to be a good host, but they may not realize what can make a guest uncomfortable.

Of course, guests can make a host uncomfortable, too…but that’s for tomorrow. 🙂

Be realistic. As a host, you might want to cram every possible attraction into the visit, but crowded itineraries can leave both you and your guest tired and cranky. Do you spend more than you can afford, take time off work when you have an impending deadline, or try to ignore a knee injury that causes you pain? It may sound noble, but by overextending yourself you will unconsciously place more pressure on your guest to have a good enough time to justify your sacrifices.

Be clear about house rules and boundaries. Do you have a toddler or a pet? Guests who do not have children or pets of their own may not know to lock the safety gate, keep doors closed, or refrain from feeding inappropriate snacks. Do you expect guests to use self-service for meals and cleanup, or is your kitchen off-limits? Do you remove shoes, or are you nauseated by the odor of bare/sock/stocking feet? Some hosts view their kitchen as sacred space and are offended if a guest tries to help. Everyone has different house rules (and you may not be aware of them until they are violated), but take the time to give your guests a heads-up about expectations.

Explain the idiosyncracies of your home. My bathroom has a faulty fan and a pathological ability to grow mold. In other words, taking a shower or bath means wiping the walls with a squeegee, leaving the fan on for half an hour or so afterward, and keeping the door open. Your home may have a toilet lever that needs to be held down to flush properly, a sticky door lock that needs extra coaxing, or nearby construction workers who start jackhammering at 7 AM. Let your guests know so they aren’t surprised.

Don’t expect guests to adore your small children. Many people, including me, love children. However, even the most diehard child lover may not necessarily want to be woken at 5 AM by your six-year-old banging the door open with requests to play. Because of my health issues, I cannot come in contact with diaper wipes or most soaps and personal products. That means, much as I might wish to, I can’t give your child a bath or change her diaper. I once took an eight-hour car trip with a friend who seated me in the back, next to her three-year-old son, and proceeded to talk with her husband in the front seat for all eight hours. That was a long trip, and I’m a confessed baby addict. As a guest, I appreciate when hosts allow me playtime with their children but don’t use me as a free nanny.

Don’t expect guests to adore your pets. This concept is shocking to many, but not all people love pets. Some are actually terrified of pets, especially dogs. When I visit one friend, her large Labrador dog steps on my feet, licks me in unmentionable places, barks, noses through my bag, and hovers one pace behind me. Another friend was offended when her three tiny dogs barked at me and I didn’t pick them up. If someone doesn’t dote on your pets (as long as it is not rudeness or insults), let it go.

Provide meal options. One family I visited didn’t eat meals together but instead ate snacks whenever they felt like it, individually. While they invited me to eat anything I wanted, I felt uncomfortable rummaging through their fridge and cupboards. On a recent visit, my hosts took me to restaurants (of their choice) for all but two meals of my visit…and I was expected to pay my share. I was caught off-guard, especially because the restaurants were out of my price range. Not everyone has unlimited budgets, and if you don’t feel like cooking you can always offer to take your guest to the local grocery store so they can buy food. Making a grocery store trip is a good idea regardless, since your guests may have special dietary needs.

Don’t involve your guest in conflict. One of my most uncomfortable visits was when a friend and her husband put me in the middle of their fights. I like my friend and her husband equally, and it was incredibly painful to hear them yell at each other. As a guest, few things are worse than planning for a vacation and ending up on Geraldo. Of course, sometimes conflicts happen and you can’t help it. Maybe a heart-to-heart with your guest, if you are good enough friends, will give you some perspective. But if you only want to vent, consider how awkward your friend will feel when she is staying in the same house as the partner you just put down.

Be honest, but be compassionate. Even the nicest guest will get on your nerves at some point. My personal pet peeve is guests who don’t help out with meal preparation and cleanup (but more on that tomorrow). Is it something that you can’t tolerate, or can you let it go? If it will bother you enough that you need to say something, say it early rather than in the heat of anger. Remember that your guest is not on her home turf, may be feeling uncomfortable, and likely does not know what you expect.

 

The Six Bests of Being a Host, According to Ana:

#6 Internet access and charging ports.

These days, this is nearly a basic need. I greatly appreciate when hosts ask me about internet setup. That way, I don’t have to feel awkward asking them for a wi-fi password. If for some reason they don’t or can’t allow me to use internet, I appreciate knowing ahead of time so I can take care of things in advance.

#5 Target/Wal-Mart/grocery store runs.

Whenever I pick up a guest at the airport, we stop by Target/Wal-Mart and/or the grocery store on the way home. That way, my guest can pick up any essentials she forgot to pack and any food or snacks she prefers. This is especially helpful for guests with allergies or strong dietary preferences.

#4 Respect for your guest’s boundaries.

You may adore your small children and pets, but not everyone does. One thoughtful host, seeing I was overwhelmed by her three dogs running all over me, asked her husband to bring them to a different room. Another host warned me that his live-in elderly aunt had dementia and might ask me offensive questions, and he gave me advice how to handle it. Yet another host, when I asked if something were wrong, said that her husband was having a hard time and needed some space. I appreciated this kind of information and understanding from all of my hosts, and it made the trip much smoother.

#3 Anticipation of your guest’s needs.

It’s a small thing, but I love when hosts give me enough washcloths for the days I will stay. Almost all the time, they give me one set of towel and washcloth. Then I feel awkward asking for more, unless they’ve shown me where to get them. I don’t own a coffee maker, so I let people know they can walk next door to buy some or pick up instant coffee at the store (another reason store runs are a good idea).

Put a plunger in your bathroom (or the guest’s bathroom, if you have a separate one), and perhaps a few…ahem…personal supplies. It is a truly terrible experience to flush the toilet in a host’s bathroom and watch the water continue to rise. 😉

#2 Honesty about limitations.

A friend once informed me she would visit at my busiest time, and she wanted us to drive two hours to do an expensive activity that didn’t interest me. I politely told her that she was welcome to visit, but I would be at work all day and she would need to arrange for her own transportation. Another friend of mine likes guests but hates playing tour guide, so she gives her guests a house key, city and public transportation map, and a suggestion that they meet up for dinner.

And the #1 best characteristic of a good host…

 

Enjoy time with your guest. If you are having a good time, so will she.

Tuesdays with Ana: Thoughts for a newbie considering publishing

One of the best parts about being a published author is reading letters from readers. Because I was part of the blogging community before I became a published author, I’ve tried to keep one foot in each world. I try to do enough marketing/advertising to make people aware of my books, but I also try to stay connected with blogging friends who may never have the desire to purchase a single book. I’m not here only as a blogging advertisement; I’m also here as Ana the person who enjoys talking with people. So when these two worlds converge and reader/friends ask me about publishing and authoring, it’s a special joy.

I’ve been asked these questions, in various formulations, over the past few weeks and months:

How did you get published?

Could I get published, too?

How do you know if a manuscript is good enough to submit?

Where do I start?

I wrote something for fun. I’d like to publish it, but I don’t know if it’s an impossible dream.

Good news! With all of the smaller epublishers operating, there are publication opportunities for more and more types of fiction. Gone are the days when publishing, especially publishing something other than the mainstream types of fiction, was a pipe dream. Several people have gotten contracts to publish lately: PK for her first Cassie book and Sunny Girl for her collection of short stories. Others may not be new to publishing, but this is their first time using a publisher for a full-length book: Celeste and Thianna. Other have had success with self-publishing (when you don’t use a publisher but do all of the work on your own or hire someone to do it for you).

Instead of writing out new answers to the questions, let me first point you to a wealth of information available on previous Fika posts (as always, you’ll want to read the comments because information is also in the discussion):

For some thoughts on what kind of books readers want to read, read this Fika by Minelle on a reader’s perspective.

You may be especially interested in Maria Coltman’s Fika with Kate discussing her aspirations to publish a manuscript.

Don’t forget previous Tuesdays with Ana posts, either! One you might find relevant is on creating an author identity. Also this post on digging down to find emotional honesty in your writing.

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Phew! Is that a big enough list of links to keep you busy for a while? 🙂

Deciding whether you want to publish is a big step. No one can tell you if you or your writing is ready, but one of the best things you can do is practice your writing. Be brave. Share a story with a friend, or even send a story to PK for Fantasy Friday. She’ll post stories from anyone, even if it’s your first time trying to write. Try visiting author blogs to see snippets of their work. Of course, there are other similar options if you want to publish fiction without spanking. (Fiction without spanking? It exists? Oh, the horror! 🙂 )

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Finally, you may want to finish by revisiting this piece: Everything I need to know I learned writing spanking fiction. If you’d like a one-stop shop to understanding my thoughts on writing and how writing changes us as people, here you go. 🙂

(And although I really don’t want to turn this into a book-promoting feature, Editorial Board–for all its silliness–actually contains much of my philosophy on writing.)

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Does that help? Did I miss an important part of your question? Join the discussion by leaving a comment below! If you’re a published author, I encourage you to add your advice/wisdom to the mix. If you’re an aspiring author, please add questions. If you’re a happy-to-never-publish reader, do you have any input as a reader of fiction?

Thanks for joining Tuesdays with Ana!

How to hate an author in five easy steps

First of all, please stop by Celeste Jones’ book club discussion of Desire in Any Language today. This discussion is amazing! She has a few great questions about F/F, reading F/F…and I am finding out that I was the first F/F reading experience for more people than I thought! I’m flattered and a bit nervous at the same time. I worry whether Mira’s tutor is so perfect that now every character after her will be held to the same standard.

Today I’m going talk about ways that authors screw up. Turn off their audience. Become relegated to the “do not reply” slush pile of emails and requests. I have met many more wonderful authors than lemons in this journey toward establishing a writing career, but some of the lemons have been bad enough experiences to alienate me from the author and the author’s work.

Bottom line: There are millions of authors out there hoping to get noticed. If you make people hate you, there are 9,999,999 (margin of error of plus or minus a few thousand) other hopeful authors who will happily take your place.

Anthea Jane has written a wonderful, insightful blog post on how to promote books (she says indie, but it can be true for anyone). Regarding blog commenting, she says:

Don’t make it an opportunity to promote your book, just make thoughtful comments that relate to the article, and make sure your signature contains a link back to your book or website.  [. . .] You have to read the article so that your comment can be relevant. Otherwise it will look like an obvious cheap attempt to put a link back to your blog. Your comments should add to the discussion. [. . .] Don’t put in a plug for your book.

Well said, Anthea Jane. Very well said. Which brings me to my first point:

1. MAKE EVERYTHING ABOUT YOU. MENTION YOUR BOOK(S) EVERY TIME YOU OPEN YOUR MOUTH (OR TYPE).

Facebook posts. Replies. Blog comments. Tweets. Emails.

Everyone has experienced the nauseating parents who will NOT shut up about their nauseatingly perfect children doing nauseatingly perfect things. How often do you deliberately seek out their company, purely for the enjoyment of spending time with them?

Or what about your friend who just got a new boy/girlfriend and manages to work in a “Susie/Scotty says” reference into every single conversation? Are you thrilled at each reference and eager to learn more?

I thought not.

It’s a good rule of thumb that, unless you have been invited to do a guest blog/promo spot, you should treat people’s blogs as their homes and skip the self-promo. Their home; their rules. Same with their Facebook page or other social media sites. If someone visits my page or blog only to insert a reference to his or her own book every other sentence…or if that person only ever posts to promote his or her own work, I stop engaging.

Yes, it is true that as an author of a book you are absolutely certain that your book relates to the discussion and absolutely certain that everyone else is as fascinated with it as you are, but the sad truth is that few people enjoy relentless advertising. Think back to that nauseating parent who is sure that everyone must be fascinated with the latest tale of Susie’s latest amazing exploit, remember how you rolled your eyes and vowed never to get stuck in a conversation with this person again…and you will get a taste for how people react to authors who only talk about their own books.

We get it. You’re excited. But remember that everyone else is just as excited as you…about his or her own book.

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2. ONLY SHOW UP/CONTACT PEOPLE IF YOU NEED SOMETHING. DON’T DIRECTLY STATE THAT’S WHY YOU’RE CONTACTING THEM.

Call me old-fashioned, but I like relationships. I like honesty, integrity, and above all I like someone to be interested in me (don’t we all?) as a person rather than as a conduit for advertising.

If you only want to contact someone to advertise your book or to serve as a platform for you to mention your own book, it should be a paid service.

If you’re going to make me your call girl, I want to get paid like one.

There are some people who are consistent about their contact, and they ask for help in promoting. In that case, I am pleased to be asked and pleased to help–when it is phrased as a direct, clear request rather than something sneaky. When authors only post in groups and blogs right before or after a book release (and I never hear from them otherwise, and they only post about their own books or books associated with them), I tend to write them off. (Pun not intended.)

If you become a trusted colleague and even a friend, I will do anything for you. One loyal friend in the author world is worth one hundred acquaintances who tolerate your self-promo only long enough to make sure that they get their own turn to promote themselves.

Make relationships, not sales.

A sale is over in one day. A relationship, if you are lucky, will last you throughout your career.

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3. ENGAGE IN NEGATIVITY. DO NOT WALK AWAY! YOU MUST PROVE THAT YOU ARE RIGHT.

As grown-ups, and there are fewer than biological age might otherwise indicate, we come to a conclusion that would have shocked us in childhood:

People have different, equally valid perspectives and opinions.

Someone might misunderstand something you have said or written. Someone might post an unflattering review, say something unkind, or perhaps even begin a smear campaign.

While I have sympathy for people who receive these kinds of responses, I quickly become frustrated when authors then turn the occasion into a spitting match.

I have seen people post negative things about me and my work. I have read public messages that accused me of things that I did not do, or they distorted the actions and assumed intentions that were not there. I have been on the receiving end of snarky, mean-spirited comments that served no purpose.

I’m not talking about a thoughtful, intelligent critique that says my book sucks for reasons that the critiquer then outlines. Although that kind of critique is painful, I have received strong criticism that I incorporated into my work to make it even better. If I can win over a naysayer, I count it as an enormous victory.

But to engage in flame wars and drag something out makes you lose credibility as a professional.

Protect your name and your reputation. While there may be certain cases severe enough that you do need to post a public clarification, engaging in negativity will nearly always make you look like a donkey.

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4. GIVE ORDERS. AFTER ALL, YOU NEED TO MINIMIZE YOUR EFFORT AND MAXIMIZE YOUR RETURNS.

It’s another funny thing about being a grown-up. The things we learned in kindergarten really are true.

I host Fika. I hosted the Advent Calendar last year and plan to do it again this year. I’ve been the contact person/coordinator for Love Spanks and Spank or Treat. We hope to bring you another event in the summer. I truly love it. It is such a joy that at times I have to remind myself to go back to my “real” writing. However, there are always a few lemons who seem to confuse “request” with “order”. I would say that I make a sincere effort to give back to the reader and author community.

However, some people seem to think that they are entitled to my services, not because we are friends or because we have built up a professional working relationship, but because I (pick one or more) am a woman, write about women, write spanking fiction, have done similar things for other people in the past, have worked hard to build up a blog following, have published two books…or who knows what else.

When I receive a short note commanding me to do this or that (whether it’s to follow someone on Twitter, retweet, add someone to an event, promote his/her book, vote in a contest, like an author Facebook page, visit a blog, buy a book, or anything else), very rarely do I respond. More frequently, I unfriend or unfollow the person. If there are reasons why I can’t do that, I certainly don’t like or buy or visit.

Up to a certain point, letting people know is fine. Getting back to the parenthood and dating example again, if your child is getting baptized or performing in a recital…or if you are getting engaged or going on a special trip…I want to know. I would be hurt if I did not. The difference is whether you tell someone close to you or randomly spam 5,000 people on every social media site.

Remember those emails telling you to wire money to Nigeria or to enlarge a body part that you don’t own? You don’t want to become relegated to the same category.

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5. FORGET THE FOLLOW-UP. AFTER ALL, YOU HAVE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO.

The truth is that there are many wonderful, generous, kind, and intelligent people out there. The “conventional wisdom” of “Circles that are only authors promoting each other are worthless” is not true, particularly for new authors. I slid into writing from the back door, so I was lucky enough to have readers and followers. Maybe not enough to turn The Vengeance of Mrs. Claus and Desire in Any Language into instant bestsellers, but I had some. (I adore each and every one of you! Thank you!)

While I consider myself extremely lucky to get to talk with readers, I also am lucky to be connected with other authors who can help me out with questions about submissions, anthology calls, formatting, publication procedures, and especially to get tips on which publishers, reviewers, and advertisers might be worth my time.

That network also includes discussion of which authors are gracious colleagues…and which fall into the categories listed above.

If someone invites you or allows you to visit a blog, show up and comment. Thank the person afterward. If someone hosts your book as part of a giveaway or other promotion, visit the person’s site or blog. If you find something that would be helpful, share it with others.

As I said in my recent interview with Blushing: Be real, be honest, and be true. It’s hard enough to make it in the publishing world already. Epublishing has opened the market to new writers in new fields, but it has also meant that authors need to work that much harder to get noticed even after getting published. Treasure the connections you make, show your appreciation for those who have helped you, and never be afraid to help out someone who can’t do anything in return.

Oh, and the people who are only nice in order to get what they want?

We call that manipulation.

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Anyone can write a book. But can you be an author…without making people hate you?