Respect is a Two-Way Street

A recent explosion in the writing universe, and a Dear Author post about the whole thing made me consider my views on fan mail and author meltdowns.  DA blogged about a couple of incidents.

One, in the "what was he smoking" category, dealt with an author who not only decided to track down reviewers and commenters on his blog - but he called their JOBS.  Yes, Virginia, you read that right.  An author responded to a blog comment by tracking down a poor soul who commented from their workplace.  He traced the commenter down to a County Education department and then called the person in charge of Internet security for the county to "out" the commenter.

Again, as to that author I ask - "what was he smoking?"  I'd also add - "I don't want none!."  That incident I write off to temporary insanity -- I hope.  But I agree with DA who cautioned her readers to be careful about where they comment.  By All The Ducks In The Pond, I can assure anyone who comments on my blog that the most I'll do, if I even do this, is to reply to your comment here, on my blog.  I lack the time and the motivation to track you down - digitally, virtually or in real life.  Geez.

The other incident I found disturbing enough to make me emerge from my recent blogging holiday, drag out my soapbox and pontificate.  It dealt with an author who recently blogged about how much she'd been "bothered" by certain questions or comments from her readers.   Seriously.

Sadly, I don't think the particular author was smoking anything.  I think she was suffering from "too big for her britches" syndrome.  An occasional ego-driven quote, comment or blog is bad enough, but if a writer has a severe case of TBFHB, his or her friends or family should care enough to lock them away from contact with the outside world until it passes.  Otherwise, they might repay reader loyalty with derision or disdain and do their careers serious damage.  This particular writer wasn't shut away, which is too, too bad.

This TBFHB author did a post listing a bunch of things about her reader email that bothered her.  She didn't like being asked where she got her ideas or how much money she made.  I don't see either question as a big deal - they're easy enough to answer with an "everywhere" for the first and "not nearly enough" for the second.  Those answers would be true for most writers and I think most readers would be glad that their favorite author answered their questions.

Then the TBFHB pushed the author to do the unthinkable -- she chastised a reader anxious to read more of her work.  Yes, Virginia, the reader loved one of the writer's books so much that she went on to buy the rest in that series.  Then the reader took the time to find the author's blog, email the author, telling her that she was anxious to read more.  The reader committed the unpardonable sin of asking the writer to write faster.  The author responded by posting the email on a public blog and expounding upon why it annoyed her.  Even worse, the author played editor for a reader who never tried to post or publish her email and who wrote it only to communicate to the author.  All of us communicate differently and I often use shorthand abbreviations I'd never use in a book or blog post.

The author said she wasn't the reader's slave and that had the reader done her homework, and "done a bit of intelligent googling" that the reader could have found all the information the writer gave her about her publishing schedule, etc.  What struck me most was that the author said she hoped the reader wouldn't "address her mother/grandmother this way."  The writer found the reader's enthusiasm disrespectful.

Well, RESPECT IS A TWO-WAY STREET.  The author's very public response to this reader was anything but respectful.

IMHO, if a reader takes time out of her busy life to contact me about one of my books, that reader deserves my respect, my appreciation for her patronage, and she surely deserves to keep her privacy.  Write me using any slang you like - I'll understand you were trying to communicate a thought in a one to one exchange and that you were not writing for either public consumption or editing tips.  Give me your thoughts any way you choose and I'll take the time to say thank you for buying my book and I'll do my best to respond to your thoughts, questions or suggestions.

See, although I think my time is valuable, I don't think its any more or less valuable than my reader's time.

And that's the key.

Walmart didn't become Walmart by taking out advertisements or writing big posts on its website complaining about how its customers shop.  It became Walmart by appreciating and rewarding customers for their patronage.  Most Walmart's retain a touch of humility even today, as a mega-ginormous-hugely successful business, by still employing greeters who speak to customers as they enter, welcoming them to the store.  Walmart welcomes customers however they shop, whenever they shop and lets the buyers know that the store wants their business.

If a writer doesn't make the time to appreciate readers and to treat any and all contact with them respectfully and courteously, then that writer doesn't want readers.  If readers are such a bother, the writer can confine herself to writing for her own amusement, on her own timetable.  Our books are designed to instill and encourage reader interest and enthusiasm.  If a reader cares enough to contact a writer - that's a home run.

The author wanted to know whether that reader would have spoken that way or in that tone to her mother or grandmother.  The author should have asked herself if she'd have responded in that way or in that tone to her agent or publishing partners.  Let's say Amazon emailed, saying  "Ms. Writer, we purely double-dog love your stuff.  When can you get us some more?"   Would the writer have posted a public blog excoriating Amazon for its enthusiasm for her work?  Would she have edited and re-wrote their email?

You can bet your sweet bank balance that the writer would never have responded to Amazon the way she responded to that reader.  Yet, it's all the readers that make up all the numbers that make Amazon and Barnes and Noble, KOBO and all the other retailers enthusiastic and interested.  Every single reader deserves the same respect that the author thought she deserved because respect either works both ways or it doesn't work at all.

I'm going to crawl down off my soapbox and head back to my WIP, a Highland romance that will be the first of my "lovely lairds" series.  But if you want to reach me, there's a contact link in the upper right corner of this blog.  If you email me because you bought my books, I promise respect and privacy and I promise to say "thank you."

Readers are special people.  We need more readers who care enough to respond, not fewer.  If my work touched you, feel free to email.  I'll always be glad that you did.