I remember when my friend Jay Lake won the Campbell and started his rise to popularity in the science fiction and fantasy genre with hundreds of short stories, several editing gigs and a steady stream of novels. We’d talk and he’d frequently reference how he’d simply traded up for a new set of problems. And as he would say, it’s hard to complain about that new set of problems because along with them comes a new set of rewards.
One of the more interesting experiences I’ve had since my first few novels started coming out was increased contact with my readers and a much larger pool of people reading my work. Now, when I first landed the contract with Tor, I asked my agent “So what do you think are the most important things I need to be doing?”
Her answer? “Write your books and connect with your readers.”
So I did. I started looking for ways to connect and made myself available out there on the web and at conventions and book stores.
And it’s definitely a mixed bag. Certainly, it’s an increase in workload as the notes come in from the various places I’m present — my website, my blog, Facebook — because I make a point of answering everyone promptly and politely. And the reward is vast — it’s very gratifying to hear people talk about how much they enjoyed your book, how eagerly they look forward to the next, etc.
One woman found an ARC of Lamentation at a resort in Mexico. She wrote me a sweet letter letting me know that she started it, couldn’t put it down, and decided to steal it because she couldn’t bear to wait until February, when the hardcover released, to finish it.
(I’m pleased to say that most people who write in actually bought the book.)
And some of those readers that have written in have actually become friends that I cherish and try to see when I’m in their neck of the woods. A few of them are even helping me keep things straight in my somewhat complex five book series in exchange for walk-on parts in the books and mention in the acknowledgements. One reader was looking over my website and sent along some ideas for us to look at that might improve it. Some keep dropping me notes with each book.
Of course, there are the other readers. I think my first exposure to them was the anonymous post I found on my blog from a reader who greatly enjoyed my series but couldn’t help but notice that I was obese and he strongly suspected that I would not live long enough to finish the series. He wondered if he might be able to help me out with some suggested diet changes and exercise regiments so that he could get his books. Hmmm.
And then there was the reader who wrote in to rave about the first book only to let me know that he was so offended by the second book that he would not purchase my work again unless I assured him that I would no longer write such things. Hmmm.
And then (not too long ago) the re were the Kindle readers who felt that the glitch in Antiphon (wherein they went suddenly from Chapter 15 in MY world to Chapter 16 in in Lisa Desrochers world) was best addressed not by contacting me directly but by giving the book a low review. When another author kindly pointed out that their approach actually would hurt the writer (me) more than it would fix their problem, the response from several was that I wouldn’t “get my people to fix it” unless they hit me through the reviews. (Incidentally, on the other side, there were the readers who were kind and savvy enough to email me directly which led to the issue being fixed.) But still, another moment to say: Hmmm.
Most recently? A reader who was unhappy and wanted to know why I wasn’t presenting Antiphon in an audio version and let me know that he wouldn’t be buying my books in paper, only audio, and only if read by a quality cast. Hmmm.
Truth be told, there are far, far more lovely notes from readers than notes like these. But it does present a new set of problems. So what’s a Trailer Boy to do?
First, I just keep in mind that in most instances, these notes are missteps brought on by disappointments and aren’t always intended to be disrespectful. As a matter of fact, it usually showcases a lack of knowledge about how the industry works or a lack of tact and social grace often inherent in my Geeky Fannish Tribe.
Second, I always stay polite even when the desire to be snarky is strong with me. And typically, I write back even to those readers. Though I never engage them and I always try to stay positive.
Third, I just keep doing my job. Writing and connecting with readers.
Speaking of which, if you’re in the Bay Area, come out and hear me tonight (10/16) at Writers With Drinks, over in the Make-Out Room. (Making out, I’m assured, is entirely optional.) And drop by Borderlands Books tomorrow (10/17) for a double header — me at 1pm and David Weber at 3pm.
Until nezt week…Trailer Boy out.