Dear Author: The Delicate Art of Responding to Readers’ Letters

Written by on July 20, 2011 in Books & Self-Publishing, Writing Tips - 1 Comment

One of the most exciting (and nerve-wracking) parts of being a published author is the awareness that your work is being read and discussed by strangers all over the world. Once your book is “out there,” anyone can read it and anyone can have an opinion about it. And if you’ve made your contact information available, it’s only a matter of time before some of those readers share their opinions with you.

Receiving letters and e-mails from readers can be a joy or a burden, depending on the volume of correspondence and its type. Here are the three most common types of letters from readers and some tips on responding.

1. The Fan Letter

a) The Letter:

Dear Author,

Your book, Cooking With Wild Mushrooms, is positively the best of its kind. I use it every day and it has expanded my culinary horizons in ways I never thought possible. I live in Nova Scotia where we get a lot of chanterelles, and I’m dying to try the chanterelle-walnut soup recipe as soon as they’re in season.

Sincerely,

Happy Reader

b) The Response:

Happy letters can be the hardest letters to respond to, because they may not give you much to go on.  Luckily, a simple “thank you” followed by a brief personal note is enough to let readers know you care. You can also let readers know about any upcoming projects or appearances. Here’s an example:

Dear Reader,

Thank you so much for your kind words about Cooking With Wild Mushrooms. I had so much fun researching this book and it makes me so happy to hear from readers who enjoyed it [thank you]. Nova Scotia has some of the finest chanterelles I’ve ever seen [personal note]. In fact, I’ll be doing a mushroom talk in Halifax on July 15th. If you’re in the area, I’d be delighted to see you there [upcoming projects/appearances].

Happy hunting!

Author

2. The Anti-Fan Letter

a) The Letter:

Author:

Your book, Cooking With Wild Mushrooms, ought to be pulled from the shelves. Mushroom poisoning is a leading cause of death in this country and irresponsible authors like you are contributing to the problem. I hope you eat a Destroying Angel and die.

Sincerely,

Angry Reader

b) The Response:

Every author receives a nasty letter sooner or later in her career. When you put something into the world—whether it’s music, a book, a blog, or any other creative work—there are going to be people who disagree with your approach. The key is to be tactful and unfailingly polite in your response, no matter how wrong or crazy the letter writer seems (we live, after all, in an age where angry slip-ups can be retweeted all over the web within seconds—so it’s worth keeping a rein on your emotions). There’s a fine balance between acknowledging the reader’s concerns and standing your ground. Here’s an example:

Dear Reader,

Thank you so much for getting in touch [polite opener]. I’m sorry to hear that Cooking With Wild Mushrooms was not to your liking [acknowledge reader’s feelings]. As one of this nation’s leading experts on culinary mushrooms, I can assure you that eating wild mushrooms is perfectly safe as long as they are gathered and positively identified according to the methods described in my book and others in its genre. It is my sincere wish to make this activity safe and pleasant for anyone who chooses to pursue it [state your position in a polite and pleasant way].

Best wishes,

Author

3.  The Correction Letter

a) The Letter:

Dear Author,

I quite enjoyed your book, Cooking With Wild Mushrooms, but as a professional mycologist I felt the need to point out that color plate 52, identified as Lepiota Americana is actually a rare subspecies of Lepiota rachodes. It’s a minor difference but you may wish to correct it in the next edition.

Sincerely,

Knowledgeable Reader

b) The Response:

It can be embarrassing to be corrected by a reader, but it can also be exciting: after all, books are meant to start conversations. If you’re passionate about your subject matter, you will naturally be eager to learn from your readers (although that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t verify the mistake). Letters like this should be forwarded to your publisher (they will have a file for corrections) and the reader in question should receive a thank you. For example:

Dear Reader,

Thank you so much for getting in touch with the correction. I have forwarded it to my publisher and will see that the error is corrected in the next printing. It’s wonderful to hear from a fellow mycologist, and you’re very perceptive to notice the difference from that small color plate.

Wishing you happy mushroom hunting,

Author

One Comment on "Dear Author: The Delicate Art of Responding to Readers’ Letters"

  1. Carol Saller July 20, 2011 at 2:40 am ·

    Very tactful! I especially compliment you on letter number 2. I think in most such circumstances it might be wise simply not to engage at all, but if you think you might be able to influence someone–or just show some kindness–that’s the way to do it.

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