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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Getting In Touch With Well Known Writers In The Days After Snail Mail

Many, many years ago, when the Internet was unknown, I found a wonderful book directory to children's writers. Many of the bios featured a mailing address. I sent a letter - not an email - to Susan Cooper, author of The Dark Is Rising series, who was a huge name in those days. She replied. The typewriter was manual and the print a bit pale. As a children's writer, she was used to being in contact with her fans. I have to say, things have changed even with her since then. She has a profile on Goodreads, but you can only become a fan, not a friend. You can't contact her any more. Perhaps she can't cope with all the fan mail any more or maybe she is simply fed up with emails from yet another PhD candidate doing a thesis on her work. 

I don't really blame her, if that's the case, though there are other children's writers who have found ways around the hugeness that is the Internet and stayed connected with their young fans. Tamora Pierce, for example. You can still friend her, and unlike many other writers who are only on Goodreads and Twitter because their publishers advised them to have a social media profile,  but don't actually write about the books they read or do any tweeting, she blogs and reviews books by other people. Plenty of Australian children's writers still communicate, too many to list here. Barbara Hambly has a Livejournal, as does George R.R.Martin(and I got a response to a comment even from him once). 

Some folk say, "I can write more books or I can communicate, not both." Some can theoretically be contacted via their agents, but only theoretically. Agents make their money on their clients' sales. If a client had to reply to the people who read their books, they would have less time to write more stuff or appear at writers' festivals and make money for themselves and, through them, their agents. I totally get that. 

I just don't think it's very polite to ignore reasonable inquiries or, at best, reply and tell the inquirer to piss off. One such agent replied to my inquiry a few years back. I found another writer for my wonderful student Selena to interview, one who was just as well known, but checked his own web site and was willing at least to hear what I had to say. 

It feels weird, in this day and age, to think that it's harder to contact some writers than it was back in the days when you could only make contact by snail mail. If nothing else, you could write to their publishers, who would pass it on. 

In the last couple of years, I have been able to arrange for interviews for several of my students with the authors of books they had read and loved in Literature Circles. Last year, the delightful Felice Arena answered questions from our kids, making one young man so happy that he carried around a printout of the blog post for weeks. Li Cunxin, author of Mao's Last Dancer, who had a ballet to direct and a tour to organise, nevertheless responded to questions by some other students. True gentlemen both! I wouldn't have blamed them if they'd said no, but they said yes.

This year, I have been able to arrange for an interview with Jenny Mounfield, author of The Ice-Cream Man, a children's thriller published by Ford Street(Stand by!).

But two of my other students, very good readers and intelligent kids, have asked to interview a well known US writer who has a Twitter account(nine tweets, all on the one day, then never again), who writes for a big name US newspaper, who is on the books of a speaker agency. He has a Goodreads profile, but no friends and no books, just an option to be his fan. I could understand a no, though I'd be disappointed, but no reply at all? That is just rude! 

I have emailed on their behalf to his publisher, his agency, his newspaper. I have even tweeted. So far, no response, not even a "piss off, he's too busy". 

I will have to tell the kids to do something else, though they have, just in case, prepared some good questions.


miki said...

that's something i don't agree with as well.... the minimum is a short reply "sorry, i received your inquiry but i'm too busy at the moment"

but no reply? or rude one that's teh thing that could make me stop reading an author all together after all if i'm not worth a few minutes of his/her time then he isn't worth my money!

Thankfully there are still a lot that are kind and open to their readers ( like you!) we often forget the power of a small answer, a small hello can have on a reader

i do hope your students will get an answer

Sue Bursztynski said...

Thanks, miki! It's not the authors who are that rude, it's the agents. But they make themselves unavailable except through their agents. The one I mentioned whose agent wrote to tell us to go away actually passed on my email to the agent - I had managed to get it through a friend of hers who hadn't thought she would mind. Maybe it was in her contract. I don't know. But it was rude. My email was courteous. The agent's wasn't.

miki said...

sadly some authors are.... one even posted on her page that we had to stop bothering her with stupid questiosn etc ( don't remember all teh message but believe me it was rude and so , so not deserved)

^^ but we can be glad it's a minority

Sue Bursztynski said...

Dear me! Some people don't get it that whatever money they're making is because people pay to read their books. That WAS rude. If she had had any sense she would have said, "Look, I'd love to answer all your questions, but if I do that I won't have time to write you more books, will I? So here is a page of 'frequently asked questions'."

And you know what? Charlie Higson did something like that, but left a comments section just in case, and when I said, "oh, we do want more books, of course, but if you'd consider answering a few questions fr one of my students..." he listened.
I think some shy people really don't want to do anything but write. Years ago, they could have got away with it. But public appearance is now part of the deal. Readers want to meet their heroes.