It takes courage to write emails and snail emails to your favorite authors. But, it can be really disheartening to never receive a response from them. Right? So, let’s talk about some of the reasons why every author should respond to the fan mails they receive.
The times are tough. Especially after the COVID-19 Pandemic, it seems like everybody needs a shoulder, and people have thousands of battles to fight. Every once in a while, a book in your hands, with a cup of tea and some almonds on the side, sounds just perfect for a light reading session – more like a self-care session.
But sometimes, you also need someone to talk to about the book you’re reading. To ask – the person who came up with that story – questions about why the character did what they did, what happened to the ones left behind, what year they died in, and what names they ended up giving their children.
Remember The Fault In Our Stars, where Hazel Grace wanted the answers to so many questions after reading An Imperial Affliction (the imaginary novel)? But even if it isn’t for answers to some questions, it always feels grand to compliment a writer about what they’ve written, and sometimes, you just want to send them presents and make them feel special for what they wrote for everyone, for you. And that is why there exist ‘fan mails’ in the form of ‘emails’ or ‘snail mails’ – a path so many readers choose because they’re now a ‘fan’ of their favorite author.
Why Readers Write to Authors in the First Place
Everybody likes validation in some or the other kind. I hate to admit it, but I do too. When you write a secret letter or even an ‘open letter to your favorite writer, you feel you’re sharing a part of yourself that needs discussion. Moreover, you feel like a writer yourself. Of course, it’s not ‘pivotal’ for a writer to respond, but wouldn’t it be perfect, in a perfect world, where there are flying cars, a real Hogwarts, and a white owl brings you letters – replies from your ideals that you had always been waiting for?
We write to let that person know how much they’ve changed our outlook on some of the most important things to us in life. They should know they are loved and we should be able to perform catharsis too, every once in a while.
The Role That Authors Play in their Readers’ Lives
This discussion is quite different for every reader. For the readers of romantic novels, the authors practically and theoretically teach them how to love and be loved. A good example of this can be the portrayal of love in the Indian novel ‘2 States‘ by Chetan Bhagat, which was later chronicled into a movie casting Alia Bhatt and Arjun Kapoor as the protagonists.
As mundane and easy as that story is – of two people from different states falling in love with each other and managing to get married by battling all the obstacles – it is still relatable and loved by readers worldwide because they see themselves in the story and the characters. People learned how to love freely and without the thought of caste and culture renouncing them of the happiness they could otherwise be lucky enough to have in their lives, and it was not through the book that they learned it, but through the author himself.
Santa Montefiore, the author of 22 novels, with her most recent one being ‘An Italian Girl in Brooklyn’, says, “I want to entertain. That is my goal. If my readers derive anything more profound from my work, and many do, that is a bonus. Life is hard. Reading and watching the news can be depressing. The world seems to be going mad right now, but I think it always has been this way, we just have many more channels nowadays through which we hear and read about it.
News is 24/7. Therefore, we all need things to make us feel better: movies, theatre, restaurants, nature, friends and family – and stories. I love to escape into a good book. It’s one of my favorite things. I write primarily for myself, to entertain ME. I’m just lucky that people enjoy what I write, enabling me to earn money from it. Without my readers, I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
If you can comprehend what Montefiore says, then you might perfectly understand that ‘readers’ have a substantial impact on the lives of the authors too.
Why Authors Should Respond To Fan Mails
In the words of Montefiore, “I feel it’s a matter of courtesy to respond, but also, in my case, of delight, because writing is a solitary occupation so communicating with those who read what I write is a lovely way of connecting with other people. When I was young I wrote to Jilly Cooper. I adored her books and wanted to thank her for writing them. I couldn’t believe it when I received a reply. She was charming. I still have her letter to this day!”
The biggest reason to respond is that the readers feel heard. It’s easy to not appreciate something and avoid being someone’s cheerleader, but when someone really wants to do that, why deprive them of that simple pleasure?
“I get a lot of emails about spirituality. My readers seem to respond to those threads in my novels more than any others. They want to discuss life after death, and spirits and explore our purpose here. Some write because they are supporting a family member who is sick, or they are, perhaps, sick themselves. Some are grieving the loss of a loved one and want reassurance that they haven’t gone forever. I really enjoy those discussions. I’m someone they can talk to who has nothing to do with their ordinary lives. I don’t know them or their family and friends. The conversation is confidential. Perhaps that’s why people reach out. Or perhaps because, having read my books, they know I’ll understand.”, the author says.
Some readers also find a way to have a ‘pen pal’ as Julia Child did in her days, whom she later met in Paris, as seen in the movie, ‘Julie & Julia’, while some others want to regularly perform catharsis and feel like there is somebody at the receiving end of the conversation and that their letters are not just arrows in the dark, or simply, a monologue.
As Santa expresses, people from all sorts of circumstances write to her, maybe sometimes to find a friend in someone they’ve never met, or maybe because they know their correspondence will remain confidential. Either way, people look for comfort. So I say, give them the comfort they need.
How Authors Should Ideally Respond to Fan Mails
Everybody has a different way of doing things, especially writing. An expression that is convivial might just be tauntingly hostile for another person – it all depends on the kind of emails you write. But idealistically, trying to become a bigger person in your writing and letting the fan know you can hear them even if you’re miles apart, is the best way to approach these situations.
Of course, stalkers and other sorts of people can be avoided, but a simple act of kindness never hurts anyone.
When asked how a writer should ideally respond to fan mails, Montefiore says, “Personally, I won’t give advice unless I’m specifically asked for it. I won’t share confidences of my own because I’m aware that anything I write might be shared. Although that said, I have built up a few really lovely relationships over the years with readers in America and Canada especially, and I consider us friends now, so I do share things. I won’t judge and I’ll always be polite, even when a reader criticizes something in my book. I’m not going to please everyone all of the time.
The only advice I would give is to be yourself. Readers who love your work just want to reach out to thank you – occasionally, they write to correct an error and I always thank them, even though sometimes they’re not right, or just being pedantic about something that’s really not important. I’d advise you to always be polite in that case.”
Even if An Author Doesn’t Respond, Just Know That They Still Love You
On a lighter note, what is the worst that could happen? You won’t hear back from them.
Montefiore exclaims, “I’m flattered. Really, it’s an honor to be trusted like that, and wonderful to know that what I write sometimes touches people on a deeper level than simply entertainment. Also, I know what it’s like to get an email from someone you admire. So, if writing back makes my reader feel special, heard, uplifted, encouraged, then that’s a wonderful thing and I’m fortunate to be in a position to do that.”
For people reading this piece: Just know that even if your favorite author doesn’t write back to you, they definitely don’t hate you or despise your writing. You’re courageous and very empathetic to have reached out to them in the first place. It’s always good to keep writing to people and appreciate what melts your heart or brings you joy. Never stop doing that. And…for the reader in you, I’d like to say, Never Stop Reading.
About Saheb Nanda
Saheb Kaur Nanda has studied Economics Honours from MCM DAV College For Women, under Panjab University, Chandigarh, India. She has done her schooling at St. Kabir Public School, Chandigarh. She is a former Vice President of AIESEC and is currently working with Lawctopus and NoticeBard as a Marketing Associate. Saheb writes pieces for the Writers’ column on NoticeBard every day as a part of her job, along with various other things.
Writing has been Saheb’s go-to passion ever since she was a little girl. Saheb likes to inspire people with her writing, her sense of aesthetics, and her love for travel. She already loves her future readers and dreams of building a community of everybody who loves doing what she does.
The article was first published on Medium by Saheb Kaur Nanda. You can check it out here.
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Read more articles in our September 2022 issue featuring The Wizard of True Crime – Anirban Bhattacharyya