Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Authors and Fans

I've been thinking a lot about how easy it is to contact authors. When I was a kid, authors were these mysterious celebrities who wrote magical books-and if you were lucky, they would respond to your letter. I remember writing to two authors in elementary school-Roald Dahl (who was no longer living, which I did not realize, so the publisher wrote me back and sent a bunch of swag) and Avi, who wrote me a wonderful letter back that I still have and still means a lot to me.

I still feel very fangirly when I hear from or meet authors-even as an adult. They're still somewhat mysterious celebrities and I'm always amazed when they say they're excited to hear from me-I'm just a silly fangirl librarian!! Authors have a bigger presence in everyday life than they did when I was growing up-they're online, they comment back on their blogs, they Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail. So I've been thinking about how much interaction is too much and how do you deal with author let down?

Luckily this hasn't happened very often, but there have been a couple of instances when I've contacted or met authors after reading their blog, books, etc. only to be somewhat let down in the response. Maybe I caught them on a bad day but the responses I received were not what I was expecting from the online persona the authors had created. Please don't think that just because I'm a blogger and librarian, I expect glowing responses from everyone-I don't. I'm still shocked when they respond or recognize me! What disappointed me was that the online persona created by these authors was warm and friendly and welcoming, but the responses I received (either online or in person) were very short and brisk. I tried not to take it personally, but it did make me wonder if I could now look at their work objectively without putting their personality into my assessment of their books.

On the flip side, what do we do when we've been following an author's blog, commenting on their posts, Twittering, etc. only to read their book and not enjoy it?

Author Stephanie Burgis was blogging about writing to authors and the when's and how's of fan writing. I don't think it's wrong to be in contact with authors online, and in fact I think it adds to the fun of being a reader! But I do think we need to keep interactions short and not expect a response from everyone. And when we get a response that's not what we were hoping for, it's hard, but we need to remember why we wanted to contact the author in the first place and what made us a fan.

So how do you as a reader in contact with an author keep your opinions of the author and book separate? Is there too much social networking between fans and authors?

Also, check out Kristi from The Story Siren's post she did last year on author and blogger friendships. It's an interesting discussion and with more and more authors including many social networking platforms as part of their book buzz, I think it will continue to be discussed.


  1. I try not to be too overzealous when I comment, contact, etc. authors online. So far, that has worked well and I don't think that I've overwhelmed anyone, nor have I gotten any less than stellar responses from authors online. The one poor response I had from an author was actually in person at a signing. I had read all of her books and I was stoked to meet her because I really felt they were wonderful and I admit I was a little enthusiastic, but I did think about what I said to her and kept it short and she dismissed me totally out of hand. Not even a, "Thanks." It really cut me. I still recommend her books, but I think that I will always remember that she was not that wonderful in person. That is a definite case where the author mystery cache really should have been kept!!

  2. I'm an "older" (yuck) reader and remember 1985 vividly. I was 10 and contacted the writer of a series I had absorbed every word of. Of course, it was a hand-written labor of love addressed to the publisher (remember, 1985!). Her response? An order form for her books, which I had said I owned and devoured. How far we've come!!!

  3. I'm also amazed at how accessible authors have become over the years. Some of my favorite authors have responded to me on the various blogs/social networking sites I frequent.

  4. Jessica-In the cases I had, I keep recommending the books but the encounter sticks out for sure. That stinks that your author didn't even say thank you!

    Erica-An order form?? That's terrible! I hope you've had better experiences since than.

    Medeia-I recently found my favorite author from my teen years on Facebook and squeeled with delight when she sent me a message!

  5. Great post. I often wrote to authors as a kid. And I, too, wrote a dead one (Laura Ingalls Wilder), but her estate was prepared (evidently I wasn't the only one) and sent some fun stuff. I also went back and forth a few times with Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, who wrote Cheaper By the Dozen. Every bit of correspondence meant so much to me.

    Flash forward to now and I'm a soon to be new author. I've found that every author I've reached out to has been so wonderful. Even my idol, Sarah Dessen, wrote a lovely note back when I asked her to blurb for me (she couldn't, but there was a big fangirl squeal at my house to see an e-mail from Sarah Dessen in my inbox).

    That said, in my past life in TV I had the occasion to work with several celebrities. And often, they were very disappointing in person. Sometimes the fantasy is better than the reality, so Jessica, I can relate to your experience meeting that author.

    I took my daughter to meet Kate Gosselin (in the days before the whole divorce, etc, when she was just an enthusiastic mom of 8 who wrote a book). My daughter was so excited to meet this woman she admired. There were a thousand people on the line and I made a comment to Kate on behalf of my daughter. Much to my relief, Kate looked up and smiled at my daughter and acknowledged my comment. What a difference it made. Had she been short or ignored her, it would have been very disappointing.

    Probably a good lesson for us all -- these little things mean a lot to our readers.

    Thanks for this fun post.

  6. Before I started blogging, I think I experienced that author-mystique. I remember a couple of years ago (so not even when I was a kid or teen), some blog declared that it was Let an Author Know You Care Day or something and I wrote emails to Jordan Sonnenblick and Catherine Gilbert Murdock telling them how much I had enjoyed their books. They both wrote back and I was SO EXCITED!

    I mean, I still get excited if authors acknowledge my reviews or write me back or follow me on Twitter, but I guess now that I'm reading their blogs, some of the mystery is gone...

    I still get all fangirly when I get to meet authors in person, though. ;)

  7. So far, -- knock on wood -- I've never had a bad author experience. The only person I ever fan-wrote to who never wrote back was the Backstreet Boys. And um, I suppose they were kind of busy anyways.

    I feel like being able to see authors online has actually made me love them more. Maureen Johnson writes fabulous books, but literally cracks me up daily on Twitter.

    And when an author comments on my blog? I squee like a ten-year-old every single time!

    - Katie

  8. Shari-I love that you wote to Laura Ingalls Wilder! I know people have off days, or they're not very socialable and shy around others, but a smile and thank you really does mean everything to a fan!

    Abby-I think the mystery is somewhat gone too, but it's still exciting to hear from or meet authors.

    Katie-I squee like a little girl when I get comments or e-mails too!:) I don't think it ever goes away.

  9. I am giddy with the availability of authors these days. For me personally, it makes it even more interesting to read their books when you get an insider view!

    I have had a couple short responses from author's. I just don't let it bother me, and move forward. There are so many other books out there to discover :)

  10. The only response I ever got from an author was when one of my faves returned my fan letter to me marked, "READ." I think about that a lot now that I have a book about to release...One of the absolute best parts of pre-publication has been mingling with bloggers and YA fans. They've been so incredible. And the first time I meet a YA reader who tells me they've actually read my book and liked it? I'll probably pass out from sheer excitement / gratitude...

  11. I don't see how authors have time to answer letters and emails and be on Facebook and blog and still write good books. So when they respond to me or to a post or review I've written, I'm still impressed and a bit smitten. Even when they don't agree with my review, and I've had a few of those, I'm impressed with the fact that they took the time to respond.

    I haven't initiated contact with many of my favorites;I guess I'm still back in the dark ages, pre-social networking, when that was not so easy. The few authors I have asked to interview or commented on their blogs have been very gracious.

  12. Jill-You're right-there are so many books out there!

    Holly-That's so sad-I can't believe your letter just said "read." I do think pre-pub interaction is important for authors and I'm glad you're online!

    Sherry-I don't know how they do it either! And I'm always impressed they have time to respond. It's kind of funny, but now I expect authors to have websites!

  13. When I was reporting full time I was lucky enough to interview some of my idols. And then I realized that wasn't so lucky after all -- a couple of them were seriously abrasive. I think if it's someone I really, really like it might still be best to meet him or her only through the printed page.

    My kids have started writing to authors recently, but unfortunately they tend to write to huge people from whom there is no possible personal response.
    My daughter did get a lovely, handwritten note from Ursula Le Guin, along with a little Catwings doodle, though!

  14. Those are excellent points and I feel the same way. Authors are huge celebrities in my book (pun intended!). When I was a kid I wrote to a few but nothing remarkable stands out. Since I've been involved in online book clubs and my own blog this last year I've been fortunate enough to chat with several authors. I've rarely initiated it because I don't feel comfortable doing it and haven't really needed to. I have had authors leave messages on my blog and send me emails and it shocks me every time!! I'm so honored by any contact and totally amazed if I'm asked to review a book. I really don't like to bother authors and any contact I do have I keep friendly but brief. I let them set the tone but I know they are very busy and aren't looking for a pen pal. I did know someone who would do just the opposite and would attach herself to authors. She would write to them constantly just to chat about her day. I felt sorry for them.

    I mentioned this on my blog last year that I participated in a month long discussion at Barnes & Nobles bookclub with author Lisa See for her book Peony in Love. She was fascinating and so friendly to chat with on the message boards. Some of the discussions gave her ideas to use in her next book Shanghai Girls that she was working on at the time. She said we had all been helpful and she would mention us in the acknowledgments. I didn't really expect anything but thought it was very kind of her to say that. I received an ARC from the publisher several months later and we were in it! There were 4 pages of acknowledgments and many people mentioned for all different reasons but she listed all 7 of us, first and last name, and the club we had been in together. How cool is that?? I have my name in a real book!! It takes so little to make me happy, can you tell? Sorry I rambled on but this is an interesting topic and I had to share my story too. I may bring this up on my blog this week and I will link to your post. Great comments! :)

  15. Mad-I adored Catwings when I was younger-that's so cool your daughter heard back from Ursula Le Guin!

    Wrighty-I remember when you shared that story-very cool and you're in a book!:) I always feel sad for the authors who get fan mail from the same people every day and the internet makes it really easy to connect!

  16. Such an interesting topic. Nearly all my online encounters with authors have been positive. It is nice to be acknowledged or sought out and, yes, it is very exciting when an author leaves a comment on a post or interacts in another way.

    I was slightly disappointed over the holidays. I had tweeted back and forth with an author a couple times, but then when I asked whether I could purchase a signed copy of a book to give as a gift to my daughter's teacher, I did not receive any response whatsoever. I would have been fine with a "no" but not to get any response back was kind of saddening, and I do think about it every time we pick up one of the books by the author.


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