Wednesday, January 17, 2007

DEAR STUPID AUTHOR

My ego always runs just a notch above empty, so I'm like a little kid at Christmas when a satisfied reader takes time to drop me a note about how much they enjoyed one of my books. A better gift I truly can't imagine.

That said, I'm also like a little kid when I hear from a DISsatisfied reader. I never know whether to put myself in time-out, or just go ahead and bend over for a good spanking.

I definitely took my spanking from a particular reader who began her correspondence with "Dear Stupid Author." The woman went on to tell me that she didn't understand why stupid authors like me made up characters readers were going to care about, then left the reader hanging wondering how those character's lives turned out.

In this particular case, the woman wasn't even talking about my MAIN characters in the book. She was talking about two secondary characters in my first Warner Forever "Dream Guy" - who were the main character's mother and the mother's much younger boyfriend.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? was my first reaction.

She wasn't kidding.

She informed me that "leaving things with Bev and Umberto moving in together at the end of the book is just plain cheating!" And she also informed me that she'd paid her good money for my book, and she felt she had every right to demand that I tell her what happened to these two characters. Did the relationship work out after they moved in together? Did they end up getting married? Did they break up? What the heck happened to them!!!!!!!

My second stunned reaction was - Lady! These are FICTIONAL characters! Get a life already!

But after a pound of chocolate and a bottle of wine later to help take some of the sting out of her biting words, it began to sink in that as angry as this reader was with me, she was actually paying me a huge compliment. If I'd really made her care so much about these two secondary characters that she felt compelled to send me such an angry e-mail, then I had to be doing something right.

Sooo, I e-mailed her back and apologized for leaving her hanging, and I simply made up an ending for these two characters whom I'd considered basically insignificant. I told her that yes, the relationship with Bev and Umberto did work out, but that they decided not to marry. Their relationship, I told her, was so good the way it was, Bev and Umberto didn't want to chance messing things up between them.

I never heard back from the woman, since she also informed me in her e-mail that she'd never read another book of mine even if someone gave it to her for FREE!

And several of my writer buddies tease me that I am a stupid author for letting this reader mentally blackmail me into making up an ending for two secondary characters, but I disagree. That's what we authors do - we make up stories about characters we hope our readers are going to love and we hopefully give the relationships of all those characters satisfying endings that don't leave the reader hanging.

And if we don't deliver . . . . well, we get an occasional nastygram. :)

So. How about you guys?

Readers - have you ever sent an author a dissatisfied note?

And authors - if you've ever received a dissatisfied note, how did you handle the situation?

Candy Halliday

24 comments:

Shari Anton said...

Hugs, Candy! I mope, go for the chocolate, do an extra half hour on the treadmill, then do what I do about a bad review -- ignore it. Tough? Yes, but its the only way to keep your sanity in this business.
Shari

Michelle said...

Wow. That's a letter, alright. I feel very paranoid that I have yet to receive a nasty letter, however, I've been lucky enough (?) to receive my share of nasty reviews. One that comes to mind wished that Buffy would arrive on-scene to slay all of my vampires. That's lovely.

I found this recently. The second one listed is an Amazon review that was apparently also sent to the author. Ouch!

Elizabeth Hoyt said...

Dear Stupid Author?!?

I think I would've deleted the e-mail right there. Obviously, you are a much nicer person than I, Candy, and I admire you for it.

But it seems to me that most writers carry enough mental baggage--guilt, uncertainty, the little voice that says they're writing crap--not to mention the daily stresses of their own personal life, without taking on the hostility of total strangers.

My 2 cents.

Diana Holquist said...

Great post, Candy.

Eek. I'm sending you some cyber chocolate.

I recently read a piece by the poet Carl Sandburg, who sends this reply to complainers: "Dear Blank Blank, Thank you for your letter. I shall try to do better."

I LOVE that.

Mine would probably be more like, "Dear Blank Blank, blanketly blank blank and blank to your blanking mother too!"

What I like best is when people say stuff TO MY FACE. It's usually along the lines of, "is it hard to write smut?" Or, "It was interesting. You know. For a romance novel."

I shall try to do better.

--Diana

Kimber said...

In new product development, we cherish "hate" mail. The person normally is writing and asking for a reason to buy again. If we can supply a reason, we land a purchaser for life.

Handle it with class and your very vocal reader will tell the world (and even more so if you tell her a "secret" like the imaginary end for her characters).

Lori Wilde said...

I've gotten all kinds of crazy letters. I got one from a woman who was angry because I decribed a walk-on character as a bad date because he had multiple allergies, wore lifts in his shoes and raised earthworms. This reader went ballistic accusing me of saying her son would never find love because he had multiple allergies. Excuse me? Perhaps someone is a wee bit defensive on the subject?

I had another reader write and ask what brand of perfume my heroine was wearing and when I told her I had no idea she accused me of not wanting her to be able to smell sexy for her boyfriend. Oookay.

I had another reader, like the one you hear from, who wanted to know what sex was the baby of a pregnant secondary character. I made something up. Luckily, she didn't call me dear stupid author.

There's lots more stories, but I won't belabor the point. Most reader letters I get are very nice.

Diane Perkins said...

I can't recall anything too scathing. Yet. I suppose we all will get a negative response someday.

It is funny how the negative review hits us more powerfully than the glowing positive ones.

And it also amazes me that people can be so mean in their negative reviews. There's a way to say I didn't like this without saying "Dear Stupid Author."

Diane

Paula Quinn said...

Diane, I agree. I think there are people out there in the this great big world of ours who think that spending 6.50 on a book gives them the right to say whatever nasty thing pops into their head. I remember a letter I received on MOTHER'S DAY last year. First line read, "You're not going to like this." That was my clue to hit delete, but I was curious.

She told me she hated one of my books and then proceeded to tell me, in list format, every detail she disagreed with. The letter was condescending and hateful and she even went so far as to question my education!

I didn't console myself with chocolate. No, I glared at her font and told her exactly what I thought of her.

Theennn I emailed her back and told her I was sorry she was so upset by my book and to please let me know the moment she found an agent, and then a publisher for a full length novel she poured her heart and soul into and I'd rush right out and buy it.

It's always best to be polite, not just because we're authors, but because we're human beings. But I won't eat dirt. Chocolate yes, but not dirt.
Negative reviews don't bother me. We can't please everyone and people have a right not to like something we wrote. But if 6.50 is all it takes to get so ugly, then please, keep it in your pocket.

Anonymous said...

Nope, no nasty letters from me, but I'm someone who never even thinks to send "I Loved it!" notes! LOL :) But that's why I could never be an author. Assuming I actually got published, I could never read any letters about it or look at Amazon.com and see what people are posting about it. I just don't have it in me to be able to take it. LOL :)

Candy Halliday said...

Thanks for the hugs, Shari!

And yes, it is tough to ignore negativity, but also necessary for your sanity.

Part of me feels like I sold out being the one to apologize when it was the reader who was so nasty - but the other part has the satisfaction of imagining the surprised look on her face when my e-mail to her was nice. :)

Candy

Candy Halliday said...

OH.MY.GOD! Michelle.

Wow, and I thought my e-mail was nasty.

Sheesh - some people.

Candy

Candy Halliday said...

Elizabeth:

I've thought about this a lot, and I don't think readers really see authors as being real people with the same types of insecurites and problems readers have themselves.

Maybe it's putting ourselves out there for the whole world to take shot at that makes them think the poison darts they send our way won't affect us.

Sigh. Who knows?

Like Shari said, you just have to move on and ignore it. :)

Candy

Candy Halliday said...

LOL, Diana!

I've gotten my share of those TO YOUR FACE comments about romance, too.

My most memorable, from my snooty cousin who asked, "Why don't you stop writing smut and write a real novel?"

I smiled and said, "Simple. Smut research is a lot more fun." :)

Candy

Candy Halliday said...

Well said, Kimber.

I'm not sure I handled the situation with class, but at least I didn't let the reader know she pushed my buttons!

Candy

Candy Halliday said...

Too funny about the allergies, Lori!

What isn't funny is how we could ever be expected to anticipate what readers might find offensive.

I swear it makes me wonder sometimes why I even write.

Candy

Candy Halliday said...

It is funny how the negative always affects us more than the positive, Diane.

Human nature I guess.

Candy

Candy Halliday said...

Yay Paula!

I agree.

$6.50 doesn't give anyone the right to be so nasty.

Candy

Candy Halliday said...

You develope a thick skin quickly in this business, Lois. :)

Well, at least a "thicker" skin. :)

Candy

Judy T said...

Oh, Candy! How awful! Clearly the reader missed learning the basic elements of how to write a letter!

I've written unpleasant letters but have always been careful to try and be as polite as possible. I want to be able to look the person in the eye if I ever meet them on the street.

My friend, Mary, is the one who encouraged me to start writing to authors. I only write to those whose books I particularly enjoy. If I don't like a book, I don't feel like I can blame the author. If we all had the same taste, life would be really boring.

I have asked about secondary characters that I found interesting, and on several occassions discovered a book was in the works, but sometimes not.

No one should have to put up with such rudeness, but so many of us do. It shows a great deal of compassion on your part to recognize that even though the secondary characters weren't important to you, they were to the reader and I truly hope she appreciated your kindness in responding with a pleasant reply.

As to the effect of negative comments, I had a teacher who gave us a strip of paper. Every time someone made a negative comment, we were to tear off a piece and save it. Every time a person made a positive comment, you could tape a piece back on. Needless to say, that piece of paper looked pretty shabby by the end of the day. Even if it was whole again, there were still the visible lines of the rips. For a long time, I kept a compliment book, where I wrote every single compliment directed at me. When things got unpleasant, I could steal some time with my notebook and remind myself that there were people who thought good things about me, enough to tell me.

Larissa said...

People suck. :(

Sounds like this person had a mental problem. I mean, seriously...who in their right mind would not only get that upset about fictional characters, but upset enough to write you a rude letter?

You handled it very well. Hugs!

Candy Halliday said...

Judy!

I LOVE your compliment notebook idea!

Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

Candy

Candy Halliday said...

Thanks for the hugs, Larissa!

Candy

Anonymous said...

Hey there...

I once went to a reading for Dennis Lehane (Mystic River) at the local bookstore...and when it was time for Q and A, this guy in the middle of the (standing room only) room raised his hand and asked Mr. Lehane - "Now everyone seems to like this book, critics and readers alike, I hate it. Why do you think people like it?" To which Mr. Lehane didn't miss a beat and said, "A writer never defends their work." And pointed to another person in the audience. I've remembered that everyday since.

I also went to the LA Times Festival of Books and sat in on a panel of mystery writers...and someone from the audience asked the question,"How do you know when to stop writing?" - which I thought was a great question. Donald Westlake (an old school legend of the genre) said with the cool and calm of someone with his experience, "You stop writing when the reader can write the next chapter." And I've never forgotten that either...and the emails that I get from people who want to know where the relationship in my novel is going after the novel ends...this is exactly what I tell them...it's for you (the reader) to continue on where I left off...

Rika said...

I've been on holiday and just got back. I have to comment on this!

Michelle, I got hives reading that Amazon reviewers posts! She claim's to not have time in that last review to comment on books often but my-oh-my... Three reviews from her and all of them are negative.

I don't comment on a book if I have not enjoyed the read. What's the point? I know how it feels to be hurt when someone knocks my work down.

But mostly its because I can't say bad things to authors. I love my books and whether you've written a good story or not you give them to me and its your sweat, blood and tears that went into it. It's all about respect.

Candy, you are too kind. I thought you should have replied with "Dear Blind Reader..." ... Hehehe... Kidding but what else could she have been? This IS fiction!

I agree with Larissa. She must be on meds or something to that effect ...and really some people do suck.

My hats off to all you authors for the crap you put up with. Thank you for not painting all of us with the same brush. Keep writing!

Rika
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