Gifts for Writers (That They Actually Want): 6 Suggestions

I am constantly besieged by ads for products and gift ideas intended for writers. Some of them are cute, some of them are interesting, but most of them are rather useless when it comes to what I actually need as a writer. As much as a sweatshirt with a quill on it will keep me warm, it won’t help me reach my writing goals.

Let’s take a look at some gifts you could give an self-published, or aspiring self-published writer, that can actually be used in their writing journey. Also, you might get a shout out in the acknowledgements of their book and that’s always awesome.

Gifts for Writers (That They Actually Want): 6 Suggestions

Before You Select a Gift

You need to start by learning more about the writer you’re buying for. You might know little to nothing about the self-publishing industry or even what kind of writing your friend or family member does. Go deeper than a product with a funny label about how hard writing is and talk to them about their craft.

Believe me, they will probably be more than happy to share their work with you.

I cannot stress just how important this step is. If you don’t talk to your author, you will never know what they actually need, and probably will not be able to get them a gift they can use. This is essential and it’s also easy. Asking someone to talk about their passion is takes one well-placed sentence and then you sit back while they do the work for you.

Gifts for Writers (That They Actually Want): 6 Suggestions

Gift Ideas for Writers

1. Read and Review

If your loved one has already been published and has a book out, buy that book and leave them a review. It’s really that simple. All of the sweatshirts in the world can’t make up for the helpfulness of a review on Amazon, GoodReads, or Barnes & Noble. Also, while the book will cost money, and it probably will be less than you were going to spend originally. Not to mention, writing a review is completely free.

2. Hire a Professional

Self-publishing does not just require being able to write. It can involve graphic design, formatting, blurbs, editing, proofreading, marketing, website design, email lists, and so much more it’s slightly ridiculous. If your writer is a fantastic author, but uses MS Paint to make their cover designs, think about gifting them a certificate for a graphic artist (and you probably already know one), or just giving them the gift of cash to use towards finding one themselves.

Note: Websites like Fivver can be useful for finding professionals who work at low price points, but be sure to independently verify their credentials. A quick post on your local Facebook Marketplace or Craig’s List often turns up dozens of people who could help a writer work on their book.

Gifts for Writers (That They Actually Want): 6 Suggestions

3. Classes and Further Education

I know what you’re thinking:

Hold on, Star, wouldn’t that kind of gift be insulting?

The answer is that everyone can work to improve their writing, whether they’re just starting out or they’ve even published a book before. If your writer friend regularly teaches classes like these, then yes, consider another gift. But there is nothing wrong with helping someone find insight and community through a class or seminar.

Also, the class doesn’t have to be for writing only. It could be for social media management for authors, submitting books to agents or publishers, networking in the writing world, or even how to put together a writing resume.

Remember were I talked about writers having to do much more than write? This could be a chance to help them improve something other than writing, that will help them with their writing goals.

Caveat: Although you’ve probably seen a billion flashy ads for writing seminars and this kind of class or that kind of class online, be very careful when selecting which one is right for your writer friend. While anyone with an internet connection seems to be offering a class on this, that, or whatever, you want to make sure to check out reviews for this class.

Pay careful attention to what the reviews say the writers are taught, how they are evaluated, if they are evaluated at all, or what they can reasonably expect to leave this class or seminar with. This could be a great time to find local workshops or writing centers where you could find quality instruction and real life connection for your favorite writer.

Check out The Muse Writers Center, based out of Norfolk, VA, for quality online classes on everything writing. They offer tuition assistance and classes at a variety of price points. From one-day seminars to 8-week workshops. I’ve taken classes with them for over 5 years and have never been disappointed.

4. Be a Reader for Them

One thing you could do for your writer friend or family member is read the project they’re working on yourself and provide feedback. You don’t have to be a professional in order to tell the writer what you enjoyed, what questions you had, and what you think they might want to work on.

Your feedback, whether it’s praise or criticism, is valuable to a writer. After all, most people who read the book will be everyday readers, just like yourself. If you didn’t understand why Princess Tylia used the Sword of Acorn and not the more powerful Dagger of Vengar to save the day, neither with the other people who read it. It could be very helpful for the finished project to be vetted by readers.

5. Writing Ritual Items They Will Actually Use

A lot of writers have rituals that come with sitting down to write. They might like to listen to a particular kind of music, prefer to drink their favorite coffee or tea, or even use a certain kind of pen to write with, if they write longhand. These are often the items subscription box companies try to tell you are contained in their products.

However, if your writer friend uses a pen, they have an exact pen or style of pen they probably like. You simply can’t hand them a pen you got for free from your dentist’s office and expect it to strike the same chord.

Do your research. As I said before, most writers will be delighted to share this information with you. If you want to keep them from catching on to the fact that you’re getting them a gift, just say you’re curious about their craft or wonder why they always seem to be drinking the same kind of tea or carrying the same fountain pen.

6. Low on Cash? No Problem!

There are other ways to help out an indie author that doesn’t even have to involve opening your wallet. If they have kids, offer to look after them one afternoon so they can get some quality writing time in. Bring them a meal so they can write away instead of losing their evening to meal preparation and clean up.

Once you know their genre, you can also scour thrift shops, library sales, or your own book shelves for books that they might find inspiring or helpful. Buying a poet a well-loved volume you thought they’d connect with is the stuff poems are made of.

Ask your writer what keeps them from writing and see if there’s a way for you to fill that gap. Sometimes presents can be acts of service and for writers, that’s sometimes exactly what we need.

Gifts for Writers (That They Actually Want): 6 Suggestions

Are You Sure I Can’t Just Order a Writer Subscription Box?

You can. If you think that’s exactly what your writer wants and needs. I’m not the boss of you.

However, from an insider’s perspective, the self-publishing industry is vast and complex. Anyone involved in it knows how difficult and sometimes heartbreaking it can be to be an indie writer. While a candle called “Writer Tears” might elicit a chuckle when unwrapped, there’s so many more concrete ways you could be helpful and supportive of your loved one.

Besides, they probably already have that candle.

Tips for Self-Published Author Photos: Featuring Images from NB Photography

Full Disclosure: This is not a paid promotion. Nina is my neighbor, but she’s also just that damn good I had to write about her and all of her amazing photos.

So you’re ready to publish your book and you need an author photo for the back cover. Okay, so let’s be honest, no one needs an author photo for the back cover. Many books have been published and found success without a photo of the author. But you’d like one. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

The best part of being a self-published author is that you don’t have to sit for a boring black and white photo of you in a turtleneck looking over a shoulder. You can do so much more with your photos because you have complete freedom to pick how you want to be represented and how you want to set the tone for your work.

Here are my top tips for creating an author photo that doesn’t just look good, it looks cool. Not to mention the shoot can also produce promotional material for your books, website, newsletter, and much more.

Finding the Right Professional

This was easy for me! My friend Nina lives next door and she happens to be the most amazing photographer who runs NB Photography in Suffolk, VA. I went with her not only because she is conveniently located, but because she is amazing at what she does. Her portfolio is diverse and I love her style.

I liked the NB Photography Facebook page and Instagram to see more of her work and I knew, this would be perfect. Also, it’s awesome when I go to someone with one of my harebrained ideas and they don’t look at me like I’ve lost the plot. When shooting your author photo and promo material, don’t be afraid to go beyond the seated author photo and really capture the mood and feel of your book.

“But I’m Not a Model!”

I know what you’re thinking and it’s totally okay. I thought it, too. Once you find the right professional to work with, all you have to do is bring some ideas for poses, and your photog will do the rest. Working with Nina is always so great because it’s a mix of me finding the pose that feels right and her giving me the direction I need to hit it just perfectly.

This isn’t sitting for school pictures where they tell you not to move under any circumstances. Bring some movement to your pictures and listen to your photographer for suggestions on how to translate this to the photos.

Also, in my humble opinion, if you’re worried about not looking like a model in the photos, don’t. Put on an outfit that makes you feel great and get your butt in front of the camera. There are plenty of models out there and what the world needs is not more slender bodies gracing every surface.

Being fat, I often think about my size and how I look on camera. How could I not in the society I grew up in? But pushing myself to translate my vision into reality is more important to me than attempting to look like a size 2, when I’m really size 22.

If your fear of what the photos will look like is what’s holding you back, and this can be a formidable force, push back as hard as you can. Because there are readers out there, including children, who need to see people of all kinds represented in media. You never know how much someone might need to see your photograph on the back of a book.

Come with a Vision, Stay for the Execution

Before contacting a professional, be sure to devise what you want the tone or message of the shoot to be and choose some locations (your photographer might also have some location ideas, so be sure to get their input).

Do you want to be photographed in the corner of a coffee shop, writing on your laptop like your character does in the romance novel you wrote? Do you just need a dark backdrop and the perfect mood lighting to convey your true crime book’s dark nature?

For me, I knew that the shoot for moon lost her memory, my disjointed memoir (released date: late 2021), needed to be eerie, unsettling, and a surreal. I talked to Nina ahead of time about how I wanted to set the mood for the book in an industrial backdrop with just enough weird to make it interesting. She had some great ideas for where to shoot and how to capture this eerie tone.

Props, Props, Props

Another fun part of doing a shoot like this instead of a boring author photo, is that you can incorporate some props that have special meaning to the book project or even to you.

That book I’m carrying above? It’s a book called Beautiful Cats. I wrote a poem of the same name that appeared in the chapbook Wake Me When It’s Over about this very book.

The story behind it is that my mother gave me this book one night when I was manic and couldn’t sleep. She told me that looking at the pictures of cats would help calm me down so I could get to bed. It didn’t work, of course. But I kept the book.

Now that book is in some of the photos for moon lost her memory. As a bonus, the cat face on the dark cover looks so intriguing in the photo.

Of course, don’t go all Carrot Top with your props. Pick meaningful ones, use them appropriately, and don’t be afraid to pose without anything at all.

Picking Your Perfect Photo

When you get your photos back, going through them is tremendously exciting. Now you get to see what happened on the opposite end of the camera. If everything went well, you might be overwhelmed by how many great pictures you have and unsure of how to pick only one as your author photo.

I recommend you go with your gut. One photo might stand out as the clear winner, sometimes you have to narrow it down. Getting a second opinion can also be important. Ask a few loved ones what they think. You can even ask your editor, if you have that kind of relationship with them.

Also, think of how you can use all of the photos for promotional items, such as social media posts, website content, and much more. After all, you didn’t take 200 photos so you can only use one. Since you have all of these photos and they are thematically representative of your work, they’re the perfect images to use to promote your book.

Get your pics, have fun, and thanks again to NB Photography for the amazing pictures!