Sunday, June 29, 2014

To Fan-Letter or Not to Fan-Letter?

"I admire Shakespeare enormously. But since I can't be him, I'm glad that his marriage was unhappy and that he's dead."

Our internet is not working. I know you can comprehend how utterly incomprehensive that is. Internet not working? Like, what the blazes? I don’t mean that we are having any large problems. It’s just that I’m sitting here waiting for the Blogger page to load so I can actually blog and instead I’m having to type all of this into a blank Word document. Amazon is loading the super slow html version of the page as I try to check on Five Glass Slippersreviews and it is taking me back to the 90’s and I’m once again overwhelmed with gratefulness that I was not an 80’s kid.

Random asides wrapped up, I wanted to write today on the subject of fan-mail. I’ve always rather scoffed at the practice of fan-mail because I have a mortal dread of seeming like One of Those People. I don’t know how many of you have Instagram accounts and follow celebrities (my celebrity follows are left at Owl City and Broadway stars) but if you do, you will probably relate to a certain sinking sensation in the pit of your stomach when you inadvertently read the latest comment of the queue of four-hundred twenty-seven such worthless things: “SO hey, I love you sosososososossososososososos much and you’re like the best thing ever and I like would scream and cry and absolutely DIE of joy and tears if you followed me back. LOVE YOUR MUSIC. Xoxoxoxxx.”
So for years and years I thought of all fan-mail as that sort of saccharine thing and I figured I would always always hold myself to a snobbier standard that scoffed at such things. Then I began to write and when I was a writer, I noticed how good it felt to have my hard work acknowledged and appreciated. It is a truth universally acknowledged that most people don’t do things for praise (At least … I thought it was. Ahem.), but praise is a wonderful thing in its place. That place, dear reader of mine, is among the responsible, coherent public.
Intelligent fan art, fan mail, and fan other things (I still cringe at fan-fic but that is just my opinion) are the public’s way of letting a person know they place worth on what you do and that they think it worth their while to tell you about it.
The more I looked at fan-mail this way, the less I despised it and before too long I found myself trekking to our mailbox with a letter in hand. This letter was for historical romance author Sarah Sundin and upon its reception Sarah took a photo and put in on her Facebook page. She enjoyed my calm, coherent, congratulatory letter. I was not dying of shame in my corner over a letter I had (not) written in glitter gel-pens and decorated with an unseemly quantity of rainbow Lisa Frank stickers. I wrote a letter with my real (quiet and commonplace) feelings of admiration for her novel and I sent that letter and it was received gladly.
I’ve only written one other fan-letter after this, (though my sister, Leah, wrote to Broadway star Laura Osnes and actually got a reply.) With the publishing of Five Glass Slippers, I have been thinking a lot about what blessing it is to know someone appreciates your work and has taken the time to tell you about it. In the final line-editing copy stages of the pre-publishing work, one of my “Slipper Sisters” emailed to tell me her mother had read The Windy Side of Care and adored it.  That email is going down in history as one that made me happiest of all. It was a simple thing of a few lines and it gave me the boost I needed to finish up the work I had to do. In the same way, last week I received an email from a total stranger who had read Fly Away Home on the recommendation of a friend and very much enjoyed it. Again, none of the fan-girlish (or fan-boyish, which is almost creepier because guys tend to be blessedly understated) effluence that makes one discount the praise immediately.
Because we do.
We do get horrible shivers up our spines (and famous people get them worse) when we open an email or read a letter or what-have-you that is nothing but sugar mixed with that fake maple syrup spread over doughnuts stuffed with caramel frosting and pitted dates that have been chopped up into a compote with children’s ibuprofen and treacle.
The best kind of praise is intelligent praise. I was set to thinking after a comment left by one of my readers on my post about taking criticism. In this comment, the lady said that low-ratings are actually good for the health of public opinion because they make it obvious that you haven’t rigged the votes in your favor. I quite agree. I love to know that a reader loved my book. I’m sure actors or athletes enjoy the sensation too. But if I open an email that says, in essence, “This is the best book ever written and you are a modern-day Dickens. Period.” I am amused and happy but I can’t resist a sort of Miss Taylor To Emma Woodhouse Smile-Across-The-Table. (Dear reader, I have never received an email like that, never fear.)
How much would I rather an email like that I received last week: a simple congratulation of a job well done, quite understanding that many people do jobs equally well done!
In the end, I suppose this is a post of release, as if you needed my sanction on things you wished to do: write fan-letters.
Write them calmly, honestly, and with your natural tone. None of this stiff formality that has no personality but go easy on hyperbole.
Send those letters to people you admire (Even people you actually know. They deserve fan-mail too).
Wait patiently. Maybe they’ll write back. Maybe they won’t. Why did you write? If it was simply to congratulate them, you’ll not want to be another letter to gain a reply sitting in their slush pile.
Do it again. (To a different person or at least for a different occasion.)
And that, dear reader, is how I’d recommend writing fan-mail.
Please let it be understood that I’m not fishing for you to write me fan-mail by creating this post. It was more of a, “Oh, I wonder if my fan-mail (to a celebrity this time) will actually get read. Probably not. Oh well. Hey! Blog-post fodder.”


Carmel Elizabeth said...

Very good points, Rachel! I'm always hesitant to write any sort of fanmail for fear of sounding desperate ("O mi gosh I just loveloveLOVE you!!!" Ick.) But you've encouraged me that not all fanmail has to be witless. Thank you. ^.^

Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

Until recent years this was something I never gave much thought, since most of my favorite authors are long-dead. But if I ever indulged in a what-if about meeting/conversing with any kind of celebrity, I always ended up feeling that telling someone you loved their work (however sincerely) wouldn't have too much meaning, if you were the ten-thousandth person to say it. Never having been in that position myself, of course, I have no first-hand evidence of that. :) As a just-starting-out author, yes, every honest expression of delight from a reader is wonderfully encouraging.

Actually, I was seriously considering writing a fan letter to Mary Stewart a few months before she passed away. It was the first time I'd been able to organize some coherent thoughts on how much I loved someone's writing and how it inspired my own. But I was too late. Moral: don't delay those fan letters if your literary heroes are already in their 90s. :)

Jessy Jones said...

Hello Rachel! Lovely post, by the way. I agree entirely.

I was curious as to what What's Brewing? is. I clicked on it and was told that I must be invited. So I figured it couldn't hurt to ask about it :)

Rachel Heffington said...

It said that? I must inform it that it is QUITE wrong. What's Brewing is my "current projects" page. Hrm. Must fix this.

Jessy Jones said...

Oh, I'm glad to hear that, because that sounds quite interesting, indeed!

I'll email you a pic of the page that came up, if that helps. I didn't even know certain pages could be set like that!