Saturday, February 28, 2009

If you Don’t Have Time For Your Fans, Do You Deserve Them?

By John Ramsey Miller

We need our fans and readers because they buy our books and not just because without their purchases we’d be negatively impacted financially. A lot of authors say they only owe their readers the best book they can write and nothing else. To a lot of authors, a book sale is merely an arm’s length business transaction. Other authors go out of their way to get close to their fans, surrounding themselves with their readers at every opportunity. I know some authors who see their fan clubs as being their immediate family. And some authors will go out of their way to avoid having their fans be able to get in touch with them.

I appreciate my readers and the fans of my books. Fans are readers who read every book I write. I’d love to have a few million fans who couldn’t live without my next book. The majority of the e-mails I get from readers say they enjoyed one of my books, or are asking when a new book is coming out. I can and do answer every e-mail I get. I guess a lot of authors are afraid they’ll get so many e-mails they can’t address them all without spending hours doing so, that they make themselves very difficult to get in touch with.

See, I think being reasonably accessible to readers and fans is good for one’s career. I don’t see my readers as nuisances, instead as individuals worthy of my attention.

Web sites are sales tools, and they should promote authors, but the best ones do more than that. I think a writer’s web site should have a way for readers to contact the author. Not having that feature seems arrogant to me. I think some authors see being hard to get in touch with creates a mystique, but I don’t think it does. I always smile at the way some authors listed in the “members registries” of professional organizations have their agents phone number as the way to contact them, which I think is a waste of an agent’s time. I guess if you are making your agent enough money they might be happy to become your answering service. My agent would not be at all amused.

Every very, very, busy author I know has a private e-mail address and a business e-mail address. I have four e-mail addresses. One I’ve had for fifteen years and is my “private” box. I have one connected to my web site, which goes directly into my private site. I have another one for my corporation, Burning Rabbit, LLC., and I have a G-mail one for getting into this blog site. I check e-mails when I’m at the computer. I give anybody reading this blog permission to drop me an e-mail any time they like. It may take time to respond, if I’m busy, but I will reply.

I have a busy life aside from writing, and a wonderful family and good friends, dogs and chickens all of which require time. But I want my readers to be able to at least send me messages, to ask me questions related to my books or about writing in general.

Although I might not “owe” a reader anything beyond my book, I think communicating with the people who invest time and money in my stories, and go to the trouble to write me a note is the least I can do. Just don’t come to my house without e-mailing ahead, or better yet, calling. I’m in the book.

11 comments:

  1. You are so right, John. That is the best "promotion" you can do. It generates good will and positive word-of-mouth. I spend an hour or more each day just answering emails or letters from readers...and I know they truly appreciate the personal contact. As a mystery fan myself, who often send emails to authors whose work I enjoy, I know that I appreciate it, too.

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  2. Totally agree, John. It's extra meaningful for me this weekend while I attend the MWA SleuthFest and get to meet folks that have bought and enjoyed my books. There's nothing more fulfilling than to have a fan talk about my characters as if they're real people. When that happens, I know I've made an impression.

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  3. Right on, John. I, too, answer my reader emails personally and know it's well worth the effort. The "good will" built up is one of our most precious commodities, and it happens slowly, bit by bit. But it happens.

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  4. The key phrase might be "reasonably accessible." I haven't had any "fans"--not that I'm buried in them anyway--who crossed the line, although I had one local guy who wanted to buy my books and was insistent he buy them directly from me because he wanted them signed and he came to the house. That insistence gave me pause, but it worked out okay.

    I read once where Tony Hillerman had a listed phone number until somebody called him up and asked him his opinion of a car because one of his characters' drove it (or he did, I don't remember which) and he was thinking of buying one and wondered what Tony thought. At which point Tony decided that was a little too much access.

    Being known is one odd thing, and I'd kind of like Stephen King's sales (or even half of Stephen King's sales), but I'd just as soon not be known by everyone on the planet the minute I walk out my front door.

    But I do respond to any "fan" letters I receive.

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  5. There are always lines, and some people will cross them no matter what they are, or how well defined. We all take the good with the bad, because that is the way life is structured. My fans are not my friends, but some have become e-mail buddies, but that ongoing relationship is because of joint interests, not love for my work in particular. I am not my books, or characters in them. I'm just the guy who banged them out.

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  6. I love talking to people, and I'm totally thrilled when they email me through my author's web site. I always try to write back as soon as possible. Nowadays I'm also staying in touch through Twitter, which is my newest toy.

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  7. Contact with readers/fans builds good solid relationships, makes you real to them, and is the best kind of advertisement.
    I'd also enjoy having a readers forum with active chatting going on.
    A lot of readers like to have the opportunity for input without necessarily being touched back. Having a comments section on the website is a terrific tool. It has been a great way to cheer me up from time to time to read comments readers leave behind anytime of night or day.
    I am really looking forward to the day my agent makes that big deal that enables me to attend a conference as a presenter, just because I love doing readings and talking to people.

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  8. By the way, it was mucho coolo when Ken Follet personally responded to my email and wished me good luck on my books.

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  9. I believe it is important to respond to readers.
    My daughter emailed her favorite author, and was thrilled beyond believe when he wrote her back.
    She will read everything he ever writes!

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  10. I love talking and exchanging emails with fans - I totally agree the personal contact makes all the difference and it gives me a little inner smile that people have enjoyed my work.

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  11. I answer all my email, too- of course, it's not as if the volume of it is tough to keep up with ;)
    Receiving a note from someone who enjoys my work always makes my day. I know a lot of writers these days use "gnomes," people who maintain their social networking pages and answer their emails. I can understand where for someone like Dan Brown that becomes necessary, but it's also kind of sad to have that wall up. And I know that when I write to an author whose work I enjoyed, and I don't get any response at all, I find it mildly insulting- have a form letter ready to send if you don't have the time.

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