Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Selfish authors

Recently I visited a writer's blog on which a reader commented that with only a few exceptions, authors are "too selfish" to answer e-mail from aspiring authors. She went on to complain that she'd been unable to establish contact with several of the authors she'd e-mailed. I didn't post a response to that, because it would have strayed from the topic being discussed, but her attitude bugged me. This individual has decided that if an author does not answer her e-mail, that author must be a selfish person.

If you owned a hamburger stand and I e-mailed to tell you I really enjoyed the hamburger I bought at your place yesterday, would you feel obligated to answer my message if it went on to say, "I want to open a hamburger stand, too. Would you tell me how to get started?"

That's what people do to published authors every day. Few and far between are the e-mails that say, "I loved your book. Keep up the good work!" Most are along these lines: "Loved your book. I'm writing one, myself. Would you please share your secrets for getting published?"

I spend, on average, over an hour each day (yes, even on Sundays) responding to e-mailed questions from readers of my book, my website, and this blog. Oh, I'm glad to do it. If I didn't get a kick out of "meeting" all sorts of people and trying to encourage them in their writing, I wouldn't do it. But I can absolutely understand why many authors don't have the time or the inclination to answer that kind of e-mail. And if you want to see me back away from you fast, just try hinting that I owe you something (other than a sincere thank you) because you bought my book or visited my website or are a faithful reader of this blog.

I've been thrilled by the increasing popularity of this blog, but it's been responsible for a steady increase in the amount of e-mail I receive, and I may be nearing a point where I'll have to stop promising a personal response to everyone who writes. Sometimes I have an e-mail backlog of two weeks or even more. It has been months since I've had an empty inbox. If I answer eight messages one afternoon, nine more are sure to drop into the box before I've finished.

Some authors and bloggers believe interacting with their readers is fun and encourages "buzz" about their books and blogs. But some prefer to spend their time in other ways. I get a kick out of communicating with all of you, but if it stops being pleasurable or if it begins to require too much of my time, I'll walk away without a pang of guilt. I'm aware of no moral obligation to answer unsolicited e-mail.

Lady, the authors who don't answer your e-mails are not being selfish. You are.


Carl said...

Would you please tell me the secrets of getting published?

Okay, okay...I couldn't resist. :-)


Kate S. said...

Well said. I have never understood complaints about authors not answering their fan mail, let alone complaints about them not doing favours for strangers with writing aspirations. If you are truly a fan of an author, surely you would rather that they spend their time writing their next book? The communication that I want from favourite authors is in the form of another book, not a personal e-mail.

Tina said...

Bravo! I'm glad you enjoy the interaction but would totally understand if you had to step away. One of my favorite authors used to interact quite a bit with her readers but her schedule got too busy and something had to go. It was not the writing. So she blogs every day, sometimes several times a day and I enjoy that form of communication.

Shelbi said...

Wow, I get 'plum giddy' when people respond to me on the comments section of their blogs!

I did write one e-mail for advice on writing to Tracie Peterson, but in my defense, it was after she had spoken at a women's luncheon thing I went to. I don't remember the topic exactly, but it was along the lines of finding your place as a Christian woman in the world, which was almost on-topic *g*.

She was very kind, though, and wrote me an e-mail with lots of advice in it. However, if she hadn't responded, I wouldn't have taken it personally. I would have figured that she's really busy and doesn't have time to personally respond to every piece of correspondence she receives.

You're right, Brenda, it is selfishness [although unintentional, I'm sure]. Since that lady is the most important person in her own life, she naturally assumes that she's the center of every one else's world, too. So when people don't see things her way, she gets her feelings hurt, and reacts accordingly. It's not right, but it is common.

Come to think of it, I don't want just an e-mail, I want a hand-written letter with some of that scented ink you like so much! My address is:

he heh... just kidding!

Brenda Coulter said...

Would you please tell me the secrets of getting published?

Nice try, Carl. But if I told you, they wouldn't be secrets anymore. Thanks for understanding. ;-)

Shelbi, there's nothing wrong with asking a writer for advice. It's really quite flattering to her. Besides, when an author puts her e-mail address "out there," it means she's willing to receive e-mail. Every author I know reads her e-mail, whether she answers it or not.

I recently sent a congratulatory e-mail to an author and blogger who didn't answer me. But I wasn't expecting an answer. That's all I'm saying.

Kate, what is that photo you're using? It looks like a gargoyle reading a book.

Anonymous said...

I "appreciate" you Brenda
and all that you do :D

LaShaunda said...


Its funny, I'm not published, and I get emails from aspiring writers wanting me to show them the way to publication.

I laugh because if I knew I'd be published too.

I answer the emails and share what I do know.

That's my choice. I don’t believe an author is selfish if they choose not to answer an email.

However I think its unfair to list your email address if you don’t plan on returning emails. I know of many authors who don’t have their email addresses listed. Mainly because they don’t have the time to answer email. I respect that. However if you list your email and you don’t reply to them. What can a reader think?

When I post to a blog, I don’t expect a reply but its nice when there is one. :)

Robin Bayne said...

hmmm. . . I bought Brenda's book, so she must owe me something!

I'll just take a latte, Brenda, whenver you have a moment : )

Mirtika said...

I don't feel any author owes me a thing beyond entertaining me when I pay for their book.

What I don't understand is why people won't do the legwork. And these days, it's not even legwork: It's sitting-down-at-ease-with-some-iced-tea work. You go on the web, you search for key terms relating to writing novels, and you study what authors HAVE ALREADY FREELY AND HELPFULLY SET UP ON SITES!!! It's a treasure trove.

Or you join Writer's Digest Book Club and order books on How To Write X and Y and Z, too. Or you visit the library for writing books. Or you go to workshops. Or you take a class with a writer. Or you go to book readings where authors take questions.

There is so much one can gather on one's own.

And then one can join writing clubs and have great access to experienced writers for less than 100 bucks a year. That's a bargain!

People who expect authors to give them "secrets" or read their manuscripts (without first building a relationship) are not only selfish and arrogant, they're amazingly dumb, yes, dumb, not to just google up what's available.

Mir<--opinionated on this matter

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I agree with everything, everybody said, except instead of a latte, I take an expresso with heavy cream and a live orchid...I know, I know that's pushing it...okay just the expresso! :-)

Dennie McDonald said...

Well said!

I enjoy seeing authors who have blogs, it's fun to see what they are up to, too. It makes me feel normal as a pre-published writer - that's all I need to get out of it!

(that and a way to avoid writing for the day. . .)

Josie said...

Fantastic post! Call me naive but when I started writing, I never even thought about asking an established author for advice. I figured they were too busy on their own novels to help every Tom, Dick, and Harry who wrote to them. I've written one fan letter in my life - to my favorite author Victoria Holt. I didn't expect her to answer it. A few weeks after mailing it, I read she'd passed away. Don't know if she even got to read it or not...

Brenda Coulter said...

I understand what you're saying, Bonnie, but authors provide postal and e-mail addresses because they know many readers will still want to express themselves (as Josie did) even if their letters aren't going to be answered. So I don't believe any promise of an answer is implied to readers when an author shares her address. Many authors will read all or at least some of their mail, even if they don't have time to answer it.

Of course, the classy thing to do is provide a disclaimer along with the address, stating that the author may not be able to answer everyone who writes.

Dr. Lisa said...

I get, on average, about 200 emails a day from students at my university, other universities, and basic folks either asking me for information about my area of expertise or asking for specific advice on class. It's really hard to deal with them.

Brenda Coulter said...

It's just been brought to my attention that my last comment was directed to Bonnie when I meant to address LaShaunda. It would be so much simpler if you people would just learn to read my mind!


Mirtika said...

Is that Sean bean's pic by that comment????????????????????????



Um, what was the topic again?

Brenda Coulter said...

Oh, it wasn't anything important, Mir. Let's talk about Sean Bean instead. I remember him from that great "Sharpe" series years ago on PBS.

Sharon said...

WOW! people think authors are selfish for not returning emails? hehe I only write and don't always answer my emails to my friends!! I must be REALLY selfish.

I do not expect EVERY author to respond to my emails, mostly I email them to tell them they inspired me or helped me get off the couch and into the desk chair. And believe me, I have emailed all of my favorites *yes you too Brenda*

Heck I 'bout fell out of my chair when you responded to me on this blog within minutes of my comment...I wish I had a camera to catch the look on my face when I saw that! I even sent all my friends to this blog to see that a published author talked to me!!

I just want to email an author, tell her what she or he has done to inspire me or in Bently Littles case SCARE ME....and then just visualize the smile on their face when they see they did their job well.

Josie said...

Yes, that's Sean Bean on my avatar - my personal Prince Charming!

Mirtika said...

I've loved Sean since 1992, when I first saw him. Patriot GAmes. Then caught some Sharpe episodes on PBS. Wow. And of course, various other films (GoldenEye, The Field, etc) and BBC stuff. And LotR, natch. He is just too sexy for his shirt, which he apparently removed when he did MacBeth on the stage a few years ago. And I missed it.


Josie said...

Here's a fantastic forum with a million pictures of him:

Oops! Brenda, please forgive me for hijacking your post. What were we talking about?

Anonymous said...

Commenting for two reasons:

First, I've written to you at least once that I can remember, and wanted to say that the fact that you write back means a lot to me, and wasn't expected.

Second, I commented a while back when you were talking about Nanowrimo and told you I was entering, and wanted to tell you that I surprised myself and won. :)

And I'm dying for your new book to come out. In fact, I thought it was coming out in January and was bummed that I had gotten the dates mixed up. Oh well. (not to make the shopping trip a waste, I bought two other Love Inspired books, hehe)

Brenda Coulter said...

Hey, congratulations on that NaNoWriMo win! Aren't you going to tell us your name so we can all cheer for you?

Lydia said...

whoops. Haha. I'm Lydia. :)

Brenda Coulter said...

Well, congratulations, Lydia. Finishing a novel is quite an accomplishment. Good for you!