I remember the first time I was moved to write to an author. When I finished Nobody’s Baby But Mine, I wanted to reach out to Susan Elizabeth Phillips and thank her for the hours of reading pleasure. I wanted to honor her hard work by telling her I cried, lost sleep, and fell in love. Mostly, I wanted her to know that I’d had an epiphany while reading: her book convinced me that, more than anything in the world, I wanted to try to make someone else feel the way she made me feel.
After much internal debate and ten different drafts, I deleted my letter. I decided that 1) I couldn’t write anything worthy of her eyes; 2) she got so much mail that my one letter was meaningless; 3) she’d assume I was a gushing nutcase, if she even thought about it at all; 4) she couldn’t care less what readers think; or 5) an assistant would answer and she’d never see the letter anyway.
You know what? I was wrong on every point. I didn’t write to Susan Elizabeth Phillips on that August night in 1999, but I did start my first novel the next day. Years later, I am an author myself. Nowhere near as well-published or well-loved as the great and talented SEP, but with enough books and readers out there to get a lovely, regular flow of fan mail.
There is absolutely nothing like the joy of opening an email from a reader. Reader mail is like a straight shot of adrenaline for me, or at least a giant gulp of an energy drink that fuels my writing day. When a reader takes the time to look up my email address to write to me, I’ve been paid the highest possible compliment. I know it can be daunting to write to an author, impossible not to worry about every word and how it “appears” to someone who makes a living with words. Trust me, we don’t notice typos, grammar, spelling, or sentence structure when the note starts out with “I have to tell you how much I loved your book.” The rest is sheer genius, no matter what it says.
Also, the idea that we get so much mail that one letter is meaningless? I can’t speak for the “household name” authors, but I have some good friends who sell in big numbers. Bestselling authors love reader mail just as much as the debut author. We sweat, cry, stress, and fret over every word in every book, so whatever the quantity of mail — three, thirty, or three hundred — every letter that acknowledges that work is precious.
There is no judging a fan, no sense that she is a loser with no life (what I thought SEP would think). The fact is, I write to please one person: a nameless reader. When that person has a name…Sue or Barbara or Rossella or Rita… and they share with me how and why they connected with my characters and story, I have succeeded. And, sometimes, like those ladies I just mentioned, they become dear friends. They send pictures…like these.
Here’s 95 year old Rita and her daughters when they all read Edge of Sight. Rita first contacted me through one of her daughters, to tell me how much she loved my books. (Do you not love her? And, trust me, she loves the hawt stuff, and I have no doubt she’s the firecracker of her nursing home!)
And speaking of hawt stuff, here’s my darling Rossella, a reader from Italy who contacted me a few years ago, and sent “proof” that she took me on holiday in the Mediterranean Sea. Well, she took Dan Gallagher of Hunt Her Down, and sent this treasure of a picture. Rossella first wrote as a fan, now she helps me with my Italian and I’ve named Zach and Vivi Angelino’s mother after her.
Yes, authors really do care what readers think, even if the comments aren’t completely positive. I took some grief for a love triangle decision I made with my previous series, getting some opinionated letters from readers who didn’t agree with that choice. I’ve had readers tell me what my characters really thought. And sometimes, quite honestly, they are wrong. But I’ve never told anyone that; I’m still stupefied and complimented that someone is that invested in my imagination. All I can do is thank them for their feedback.
And my concern that an assistant reads the mail and replies (if a response is ever sent)? I don’t know how other authors handle this, but I read every letter myself and I reply personally. I usually sign the letters “Rocki” so they know it’s really me. It takes time, yes, especially when a new book comes out. But I feel like those responses are my reward for all the work.
Last year, at the Orlando RWA conference, I happened to sit next to Susan Elizabeth Phillips in the hotel lobby. I finally had a chance to tell her my thoughts on that book, to share with her what an impact it made on every single aspect of my life, and to thank her for writing one of my all time favorite keepers. She gave me hug and thanked me for making her day. And I believe I did, so I’m sorry it took me a dozen years to tell her how much I loved her work.
So, have you ever written to an author you’ve never met? Have you thought about it and chickened out for some of the same reasons? Next time, send that letter.
Let’s talk about fan mail today. Who have you written…or wanted to write? And when you’re done commenting, go look up that author whose book moved you and drop her a note. You’ll make her day, I promise you.
One commenter will win a copy of…Nobody’s Baby But Mine, of course! (Brand new – you can’t have my well-loved keeper copy!) And when you read it, you might want to write to Ms. Phillips and tell her how much you loved her book!
PS. Bonus points if you know the song quoted in the title! You’re welcome for the earworm, children of the 70′s.