The Power of Fan Mail by Maree Anderson (for Writers Gone Wild)
(Note: Cross-posted from MareeAnderson.com)
You know what? This is probably gonna sound a little crazy, but I’ll share it anyway. I feel this all-powerful need to put words to paper–so much so that I feel like crap and I’m like a bear with a sore head when I go for a week or two without writing. But every now and then, despite my passion for dreaming up stories and seeing them come to life on the page, I wonder why I bother.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Writing is a lonely, very insular business. Too often it’s just you and your computer and those characters that’ve been running round in your head. Too often it becomes all too easy to heed the nasty little inner voice whispering in your ear… and start to wonder if you’re just a bit delusional believing you can write stories that people will want to read, and hopefully pay to read, and the truth of the matter is you can’t write your way out of a paper bag. Sometimes the doubts get so bad that all you can do is write the best book you can, put it out there, and get started straight away on the next one. Because if you pause to smell the roses and bask in the pleasure of having completed another book, then there’s a rather high possibility you’ll get to thinking hard about this whole crazy writing business, and weighing it’s ups and downs… leading to an even higher possibility you might have an epiphany and decide to go look for a more rewarding job. Been there, done that, BTW. And it made me pretty miserable *wry grin*
So what makes authors want to keep pouring out their hearts on page after page in the hope that their efforts will please those incomprehensible and often capricious beings known as readers?
One way for authors to know they’ve done a good job with a book and that it’s worth the pain and agony of writing another, is by reading reviews of their books. But, as we all know, reviews can be a double-edged sword–so much so that some authors refuse to read them. I can understand that. A good review can make you feel euphoric. A not-so-good one can feel like someone’s ripped out your heart and soul, and stuck ‘em through a meat-grinder before feeding ‘em to their freaky-looking, red-eyed albino axolotl. It’s so very easy to focus on the bad, and it’s so very hard to keep in mind that a review is only one person’s opinion.
But the sad thing is, sometimes the only thing that can lift an author’s profile on places like Amazon, where every man and his dog seems to be jumping on the self-publishing bandwagon, is reviews. Sometimes the only thing that makes a book stand out among all the constant self-promotion and “rah rah!” hype are genuine reviews from genuine readers. And I think the even sadder thing is, many people these days barely have time to read books, let alone go through all the rigmarole of creating a profile, logging in, and writing a thoughtful review about a book they’ve just read.
I have to admit that I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to writing reviews of books I’ve read. Now I’m a published author, I angst over them. I feel like I can’t just toss off a review in five minutes flat and say something like, “OMG, I loved this book to bits and beyond and back again! Read it!!!” because I have this fear that people will judge my review just like they judge my books. So I end up spending an hour or two trying to craft a thoughtful, insightful paragraph or two, and angsting over every sentence… and more often than not I don’t have a spare hour or two, so I’ll put it off indefinitely.
Plus, I’m hyper-conscious that these days, when authors review a book it’s often perceived as a “I’ll rub your back if you rub mine” favor, rather than a genuine review inspired by how much they happened to have loved the book and just felt like letting everyone know for the hell of it. All those short ‘n sweet 5-star reviews must be “fake” if there’s not a few “real” 1- or 2-star reviews among them, right? Riiiight *eyeroll* Don’t get me started. People sometimes forget that authors are readers, too. And we love reading books just as much as the next person.
But if you’re not getting reviews of your books, aside from the obvious like tracking sales (if indeed you’re able to do that yourself rather than waiting for six-monthly royalty statements from your publisher), what keeps an author on this treadmill of angst and doubt? What encourages an author to start writing that next book–or finish the current work-in-progress–and not just throw their hands up in the air and say, “Stick a fork in me, I’m done. Enough, already.”?
Two words: fan mail.
Emails like this are what makes an author like me choose to plant her butt in front of her computer day in, day out, through good times and bad:
“I just finished your “Freaks of Greenfield High” story about an hour ago!! I got to say, i’ve read a lot of stories on wattpad in the last week and half (i’m an obsessed reader when it comes to romantic stories) – and you are the first writer that i felt compelled to leave a message to. I absolutely loved this story and how you managed to tie together all loose ends by the end of the story! Many writers can not get past the feat of creating characters that are dynamic and have a life to them. And you managed to make a cyborg into probably the most humane character i’ve read in a long while. I loved the fact that this story was so heart touching without even needing for there to be copious amounts of PDAs. lol don’t get me wrong, I love to read the occasional physically moving scene every once in a while. But it’s great to see a writer that can create a story that moves their readers without even needing a sex scene. Also, the fact that you managed to pull together a fairly complex story in just 20 parts is really wonderful too :) I stayed up until 5 in the morning reading this story before I dozed off, and then I got right back to the story when I woke up to finish it. Simply put, I really loved it :) Please keep writing! You have a wonderful talent and I hope to become a fan of more of your stories. I know you included an epilogue in this story, but will you writing a sequel to this wonderful plot?”Pranavi
Re: Freaks of Greenfield High“Hi. I’m 48 pushing 49 and I guess i’m what folks call a computer geek. Have a wife and 4 boys, and I must say, I found your story well VERY entertaining. I NEVER just Read stories. I don’t have time to read books, unless they are computer related information. So just for enjoyment, never, not since I was a kid, and this was really a wonderful story kept my interest the entire way. Started it yesterday morning and haven’t really put it down till now when I finished it. EXCELLENT. I’d LOVE to see this book made into a MOVIE. Or heck a TV series LOL.”Frank
Re: Freaks of Greenfield High“So, I kept seeing this pop up whenever I was looking for a read and I’d skip over it because I really wasn’t interested in a story with a cyborg in it, but finally, because it kept nagging at me, I gave it a shot and wow, probably one of my favorites! I absolutely loved the characters and the storyline, it was amazing! I spent half my break from college laying on my couch and reading it. Good grief. Thank you for the great story.”indigofish
So to all you readers out there, if you’ve just read a book from a not-so-well-known author and you’ve loved it to bits, consider dropping them a quick email or leaving a short message on their website contact form. You never know: your email could end up being the one thing that encourages them to keep at it and not go looking for a slightly more sane job *g*
And if you’ve taken the time to do just that, then on behalf of all the authors out there, THANK YOU! It means more to us than you could ever know.
Addendum: And there's one another thing that can make a difference when you're feeling like throwing in the towel and crawling under the duvet: winning a writing contest. Freaks of Greenfield High won the Gulf-Coast Chapter of RWA "Silken Sands Self-Published Star" contest -- a contest designed to recognize excellence in self-published fiction -- Woohoo!