September 20, 2011
To Whom It May Concern
When I was kid, we didn't have email. (You know, when dinosaurs existed and Scott Baio was still popular.) Fan letters were written with pen and paper. People couldn't whip out their smart phones and send off an email, text, or Facebook update. They had to find a pen, get some paper, sit down at a table, and think about what they wanted to say. Then they had to write it. If they were lucky, they had some White-Out to cover up mistakes. Or they could go with the ol' scratching out method. Writing an actual letter gave people time to consider their words. It took a lot more work to create an fan letter (and yes, I've gotten of few of those, too, and they are awesome), and people really had to consider what they were writing. Then they had to take time to fold up that paper, put it in an envelope, and stick a stamp on it. And then ... then they had to take it to the mailbox. All of this effort and time gave them an opportunity to decide if they REALLY wanted to send that letter. And no one expected an actual response--and if they got one, I imagine they were thrilled. With email, no one has to think about what they're writing, or what they're sending. They type out whatever's in their heart or mind and hit send. It takes seconds for that fan (or not fan) letter to reach an author.
These days, it's a lot easier to get in touch, or at least have the illusion of getting in touch, with authors. Most of us utilize social media networks, so a Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn post will get our attention and sometimes, our response. We are accessible. And because we are accessible, people feel as though they know us. In fact, it's possible to believe that because Author A responded to Fan B's tweet ... they are, of course, practically friends. And readers can get upset if authors don't respond to their emails or their tweets. There is somehow this odd sense of entitlement, of expectation from some readers that honestly baffles me. I write books. But I also have a day job and take care of a family. I'm pretty much a regular human being. (Regular. Not normal.) I'm published, that's true (and wonderful), and readers who love my novels make it so that I can keep writing. All the same, I wonder if authors are supposed to walk around feeling like they owe readers. I mean, our fans aren't the mob. You're not gonna break our legs if we don't do want you say ... er, right?
What do you think? Is reader interaction (social media, email, or otherwise) with published authors a perk ... or an obligation? And when you write an email or a fan letter to an author, do you expect a response?