Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Ellery Adams on Reader Email

Ellery Adams
The Last Word
Publisher: Berkley
Pub date: December 2012
Agent: Jessica Faust


(Click to Buy)


Reader Email: An Exercise for Aspiring Authors

Today marks the release of my 15th novel, The Last Word: A Books by the Bay Mystery. I believe this is my best book yet and I’m exceedingly proud if it. Of course, my celebratory feelings are tempered by a wee bit of trepidation. Will my sales numbers be impressive? Will the reviews be good? And when will the emails begin?

You see, once you’ve been published and have promoted yourself on every social network known to man, you’re quite easy to find. Folks will contact you. Most of the time the emails are full of praise and they’ll make you smile, but every now and then they can be, um, rather challenging.

So let’s pretend that you need to answer the following emails (all of which I’ve received within the past year). Pick your favorite and have a go. Remember, this might be you sometime soon, so word your answer carefully.

  1. “You’ve obviously never been to the Outer Banks before because you never once mention sea oats.”
  2. “Some pages from A Deadly Cliché fell out when I bent the cover all the way back (that’s how I read my paperbacks). You should be ashamed to have written such a cheap book.”
  3. “I wanted you to know that I was very offended when your main character parked in a handicapped spot. I will never buy any of your books again.”
  4. “I’ve never read your books, but could you donate a signed copy to my son’s school benefit auction?”
  5. “Why does it take nine months for the next book in the series to come out? Can’t you write faster?”

That’s enough to give you a sampling of the ones I struggle to answer (though I totally ignored the first one. I lived in NC for 8 years, but sometimes you have to sense which battles you can’t win).

It’s far easier to reply to the dozens of lovely emails telling me that my characters are complex and memorable, that my plots are complicated and expertly woven, that the reader can’t wait to escape to my fictional town or stayed up far too late reading my book, and that I’m one of their favorite authors. I’ve gotten beautiful holiday cards and one reader knit me the most gorgeous scarf, so there’s plenty of love out there, friends.

*If you’ve ever written to an author, feel free to comment on your experience.

**And to the published authors, please share a few of your “challenging” emails.

22 comments:

Booklady said...

I have written to a few authors over the years. I'm always a little nervous about doing it, because I don't want to say something stupid and embarrass myself.

I do a lesson in the library with my students that involves writing authors - but I don't teach them to write letters like the ones in the beginning of Dr. Mr. Henshaw.

I have asked about signed books - but I ask where can I purchase a signed copy. I never ask for a donated copy.That's like asking someone to do their job for free. It's amazing how thoughtless people can be.
I'm sure you have found very thoughtful and polite ways to deal with these outrageous emails.

I, for one, have loved everything I have read that you (in your various incarnations) have written. I know I've not read all you've written, but I'm working on it.

Beth said...

I've written a variety of authors, usually to ask for a blog interview, but often just to say I loved this. I don't think I'd write an author a letter about a book I didn't like, because what's the point? But the authors I remember are the ones who write back and say thank you. There are a few who can't be bothered and I remember that too.

As for #4, I would have just given the lady the book. I know authors get limited free copies, but it's a chance to make a reader of a non-reader. And if it was for a school, it's probably tax deductible.

Ramona Dark said...

I wrote to Jillian Lauren to say how much I loved her memoir Some Girls. She wrote back the next day and was lovely! (it was Christmas time and she discussed her shopping plans, hehe). If I was a fan before, I became a bigger fan after that.

Tonya Thomas said...

Beth, as a rules, authors have generous hearts, but you cannot believe the number of people who are trolling for free stuff ALL THE TIME. It's just not possible to give away free books to everyone who asks, and especially to those who are never likely to buy your book or remember that you even donated it. We rely on word of mouth for most of our sales. And a lot of us simply cannot afford to give away our work for free. We have mortgages, and college tuition to pay, and mass market paperback sales are tumbling. As Booklady said, it's asking someone to do their job for free.

Tonya Thomas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie Daines said...

There are so many crazy people out there who just don't seem to get it. Everyone always says to be an artist you have to have a thick skin. I guess that's true, but still I often wonder, why can't people just be nice? Is that really so hard?

Writing Jo Lawler said...

In addition to working on all the things that go into marketing our book, perhaps we should have a form letter prepared for such events:

Dear Reader,
Thank you for taking the time to write. I wish that time permitted a more personal response, but the volume of fan mail I receive does not permit me to do so. I have read your letter and am sorry to say I am declining interest. I wish you all the best in your literary pursuits.
Sincerely,
Author

Now that's sharing the love ;-)

The Other Stephen King said...

My debut novel has only been published for a few weeks, so there hasn't really been time for any comments. I've received some "I love it"s on Facebook, but that's about it.

Interesting comments from your readers. Here's the Grumpy Dean's replies:

1. “You’ve obviously never been to the Outer Banks before because you never once mention sea oats.”

Does the fact that I also never mention the Statue of Liberty tell you that I've obviously never been to New York, too? Didn't think so.

2. “Some pages from A Deadly Cliché fell out when I bent the cover all the way back (that’s how I read my paperbacks). You should be ashamed to have written such a cheap book.”

I am absolutely ashamed, and I just went and gave my book gluer a stern talking-to for it. I'm certain he won't make the same mistake again. Meanwhile, bending the cover all the way back messes up my name on the spine, so could I beg of you to bend it back just a little bit on future copies?

3. “I wanted you to know that I was very offended when your main character parked in a handicapped spot. I will never buy any of your books again.”

The word "fiction" comes from the Greek word for "to make stuff up," actually. The main character never actually parked in a handicapped spot because that spot doesn't really exist.

4. “I’ve never read your books, but could you donate a signed copy to my son’s school benefit auction?”

Be happy to. In fact, if I send two, could I ask you to read one of them before the auction?

5. “Why does it take nine months for the next book in the series to come out? Can’t you write faster?”

It really only takes about a week to write every letter used in the book. The rest of the time is spent rearranging them all so that they make sense. I hope you'll agree that's an important part of the process?

Ellery Adams said...

I'm sending all my mail to The Other Stephen King! Thanks for the laughs today!

RC Writer Girl said...

I've found that writing a letter--at least for an adult--takes a lot of time and energy. If you're doing that, it means you're not doing something else that's probably pretty important (like your job, cleaning your house, tending to your children, or enjoying your free time otherwise).

So, people who take that time tend to be very happy and enthusiastic or really mad. You don't tend to just get ho-hum, I have nothing better to do than write to you letters.

So, I think it's wonderful that Ms. Adams only gets a few upset or strange e-mails. And I really appreciate that she took the time to share them with us, because it's good to be prepared for what kind of mail you might get. My brain always deals better with situations it's thought about before, rather than being surprised. So, this sharing was good.

As for responding to the unhappy letters, you have to be nice, be succinct, and then be done. While the Other Stephen King's responses made me laugh, it's best not to say that to people. It's best, just to say you're sorry they're unhappy (and frankly, they'll probably always be unhappy) and then move on.

The Other Stephen King said...

Let me caveat my previous comments with the following: I wouldn't actually say those to a reader. After years and years of being a Dean, though, I'm quite used to thinking one thing and saying another. Usually, even, with a smile on my face.

Flo said...

1) I have no interest in mentioning grass by name. Much as any other artist chooses what to include or to leave out of a painting or sculpture, I chose not to shift reader focus from my story to something that wasn't going to matter to the characters. Some details aren't worth slowing the story to point out. For this story, they sea oats were not a focus.


2) I have passed your complaint along to the book maker. He assures me the book was not cheap, but your handling of it was rougher than the binder had in mind. I only write the words, I don't put the pages together or test them for durability. I am not ashamed of the hours of work that went into the book. I hope that you found the story worth your time, even if the pages did not remain in place.

3) I understand the great passion minority issues cause in people. I was not trying to make any statement as to the morality of the able bodied parking in an illegal space in real life, merely trying to show the character's state of mind and motivations at that point in the story. I'm sorry one bit of characterization has chased you off my future works.


#4 "I'd be happy to sign a book you've bought, that you can then donate to the school auction." My snarky side wants to say: "If you've never read them, how do you know it's something that should be associated with a school in any way? Was it the death or the dismemberment?"

5) Sadly, my doctor has advised that the risk of a crippling, career-ending repetitive stress injury is too large to write any faster. I can only hope you'll be patient as I continue to carry the series forward at my best speed. Thank you for your enthusiasm.

mary kennedy said...

These are hysterical! I've actually been very lucky with my reader mail. A sharp-eyed reader wrote me to say that one of the "buy" links on my website didn't work (horrors!). It was possible to link to booksellers but you had to go a roundabout way. I thought it was very cool that she took the time to alert me to this and I sent her an autographed. (which she was kind enough to review.) So...she's the kind of "dream" reader everyone wants to have!

JM said...

The oddest reader comment I ever got was someone who had loved a short story of mine and wrote to me gushing about how funny it was. The only problem was that I hadn't intended for it to be humorous! I debated whether to correct her, and even wondered if she might have been having me on, but ultimately I just thanked her for writing and said I was glad she enjoyed the story. It's not worth winding yourself up over stuff like that.

Negative comments are easy to answer -- a few polite words, or ignore them if you can't manage that. Even if someone is being unreasonable, there's no reason to stoop to their level.

Avery Aames said...

Ellery, congrats on yet another terrific book! And great post. Loved the letters. Yes, I've received a few, but most are genuinely fabulous letters.

Loved #4, however. Can't you write faster. And Stephan's response: It really only takes about a week to write every letter used in the book. The rest of the time is spent rearranging them all so that they make sense. LOL funny!

Personally, I'm becoming an advocate of the one word book, except there's no word that's "fresh" out there. And you know the publishing business wants fresh. :) If anybody has a single word that isn't four letters that is fresh? Please share.

~Avery
AveryAames.com

Books by Heather said...

Jenn/Ellery, can't wait to read this book. And LOL on your letters. I think we've all had a few of those. Distressing yet entertaining at the same time.

Elizabeth said...

1. Yes, they're beautiful, aren't they? I was hoping readers would imagine them, but every reading experience is unique.
(I'm not sure I would answer no. 2 about the cheap book.)
3. I hate when people park in handicapped spots, too! It showed how upset the main character was in that life-or-death situation.
4. I don't get enough free books to donate outside of my own zip code. However, if you and your friends buy 10 copies and send me a photo, I will personally buy an 11th book with the profits and donate it to this worthy cause.
5. I want to take just enough time to write a quality book. Thank you so much for wanting the next one. You have made my day!

Anonymous said...

Q:“You’ve obviously never been to the Outer Banks before because you never once mention sea oats.”
A: Wow, you got me -- I haven't, so please don't tell. Truth is, I heard the place stinks and I have an aversion to odours. Sniff.

Q:“Some pages from A Deadly Cliché fell out when I bent the cover all the way back (that’s how I read my paperbacks). You should be ashamed to have written such a cheap book.”
A: Dear reader -- first off, thank you for letting me know of your dreadful experience. But fear not, as soon as I deal with my colossal shame, I intend to subject my next title to intensive yoga classes, and rigid East German callisthenics before being released. Hopefully that prevents me from ruining your life a second time.
All my love,
x.o.

Q:“I wanted you to know that I was very offended when your main character parked in a handicapped spot. I will never buy any of your books again.”
A: To whom it may concern. I'm very offended for having opened your letter to see you quoting an event that took place in my novel. I have handed this to my attorney -- I am suing your a$$. Cha-ching.

Q:“I’ve never read your books, but could you donate a signed copy to my son’s school benefit auction?”
A: I don't care if you read em' baby, just as long as you buy em'.

Q: “Why does it take nine months for the next book in the series to come out? Can’t you write faster?”
A: Dear reader -- thank you for your curious letter. First, I give up; why does it take nine months for the next book to come out? And secondly, yes I can. "Faster". Happy?

G said...

I sort of write to a few authors, but mostly through their blogs and them through mine. Sometimes they answer my questios via the e-mail, but more often than not, they answer them via the blogs.

Cynthia Ivers said...

Response to comment No.1 - "Sea Oats?" Don't those come in little packages with a Quaker man on the front - Yum!

Response to comment No.2 - Why don't you try bending yourself backwards all the way and see if anything falls out.

Response to comment No. 3 - My main character was entitled to park in that spot. You see, she has a mental illness - something I'm sure you know alot about.

Response to comment No. 4 - I would donate to your son's auction - but - sorry, I didn't read your letter!

Response to comment No. 5 - It takes nine months because I actually give birth to my books - last one by Caesarian section - didn't you notice the scar down the front cover? :-)

Deborah Serravalle said...

Wow! I'm surprised you received bizarre comments and requests like the examples you posted. Good on you for answering them. I'd be tempted to ignore them.

I have contacted authors, but it was to either to say 'thank you' for helping me at a workshop or some other writing event or to let someone know I favorably reviewed their book on my blog.

Laura W. said...

I've written to several authors, but never gotten replies. It's encouraging to know that some people still read their email...