My editor just sent me a packet containing what most authors call fan mail. I have always made a point of calling it "reader mail."
The word "fan" is, of course, short for "fanatic," which Merriam-Webster defines as "marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion." That's why I find it off-putting when an author makes casual references to her fans or her fan letters, as though everyone who reads her books and especially those who write letters is excessively enthusiastic about the author and her entire body of work. Even if that's the case, it seems immodest of the author to call attention to it.
It may strike longtime NRJW readers as a bit strange that this normally unabashed hyperbolist would object to playing fast and loose with a little word like fan. But since the publication of my first novel I have scrupulously avoided using the term to describe the people who like my books. Sure, I want my books to get the exposure I think they deserve. I want people to understand and to enjoy reading my work. But I'm uncomfortable with talk about "fans" because to tell you the truth, I'm as tempted as any other author to climb up onto the pedestal some of my readers have prepared for me--and I don't want to want that. I think far too much of myself as it is.
Much is made over writers' "fragile" feelings, but the fact is that we tend to have uncommonly large egos. After all, it requires no small amount of self-confidence to submit a manuscript to an agent or publisher in the hope of having your words read by the wider world. Show me a writer seeking publication and I'll show you someone who believes what she has to say is so important that all the world should have the opportunity to read it.
It's one thing for readers to identify themselves as fans. But when an author refers to the people who buy her books, I'd rather hear the neutral description, "my readers," and not the ego-plumping "my fans."
Am I overly sensitive on this subject? I imagine a lot of authors, in particular, will think so. Go ahead and blast me in the Comments; this might turn out to be an interesting discussion.
Technorati Tags: writers, writing