Great writers are pretty inspiring, aren’t they? They take intangible things, like words and grammar, to build entire worlds. We’ve never met these people, yet we feel like we know them because we know their words. This kind of devotion and adoration needs somewhere to go. Enter the fan letter.
Social media is such a constant presence that it can be easier and quicker to just send a Tweet to your favorite author or Instagram a photo of you with their book in hand. But, there’s still something special about a properly written letter. When writing to an author whose work left you in tears or convinced you to contact an estranged parent, how can your feelings be contained within 140 characters?
I’ve compiled a list of Do’s and Don’ts that you might want to keep in mind when writing your own fan letter:
Do believe that your voice matters. You may be asking yourself, why would a big shot, award-winning, Oprah book club author care about what I think? Uh, because they wouldn’t be where they are without you! You read the book, bought the book, told your friends, family, coworkers, and friendly neighborhood librarians that they should also read the book. You gave the book a five star review on Amazon and Goodreads. Without readers, a great book is a forgotten book. And a forgotten book means a forgotten author. So get the thought that your opinion means nothing out of your head. Authors know how important it is to have fans. They want to know that their work has meant something to readers.
Don’t get your hopes up that you will receive a reply. My general understanding is that the more famous the author, the more mail they receive, and the less likely they are to write you back. Do not allow this fact to discourage you; just because it would be impossible for some writers to answer every piece of fan mail, does not mean that they haven’t read what you sent to them and are not flattered by your words. In fact, you may have made their day.
Do take advantage of social media. An author’s online presence (or lack thereof) can clue you in to some important information: how best to reach them (email, website, publicist, publisher, etc.), scheduled book signings and speaking engagements (great for hand delivering notes of praise), and their relative degree of reclusiveness (i.e. NO SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE). You may even find that sending a tweet or leaving a comment on their Facebook wall is sufficient.
Don’t be rude. This includes: telling them that their wife is ugly, that their first book was much better than their second, and that the National Book Foundation got it wrong when they recognized their latest release. Keep it classy! Under the umbrella of not being rude, I will also include: Don’t pressure the author! Look, no one wants to wait five, ten, or fifteen years for a new book from a writer they love. Writers want to write—odds are they write every day. Inspiration takes time, and having a gaggle of people breathing down their necks won’t make the creative light bulb burn any brighter.
Do be specific and know what you’re talking about. Anyone could say, I love your book, the main character reminds me of myself, I was swept away by the story. Write about what exactly has connected you to this book. Add a dash of your personal story to show how you relate. And while we’re on the subject, get your facts straight. This means using the correct spelling of the author’s name, knowing the names of the characters, and not confusing plot points. If you want a writer to take your fandom seriously, you need to be accurate.
Don’t get too personal. Adding some details about your life does not mean that you should write your entire biography. Unless something is relevant to your relationship with said book or books, best to leave it out. You’re not applying for a job (let’s add that to the list of Maybe Don’ts: Don’t use any phrase that sounds or means anything remotely close to the following: I wrote a book, too! Would you mind reading it and offering some pointers? Gee, I could really use a publisher. I know how hard it can be to resist the urge to get your foot in the door. But, disguising a networking attempt as a fan letter might come across as tacky and ultimately work against you).
Do include your contact info….because you never know. Regular readers of Checking the Shelf will know that this worked for me when I wrote to Rainbow Rowell. J.K. Rowling recently made headlines when she responded to a fan who first contacted her through Twitter and subsequently gave her a handwritten letter and gift during a book signing. Rowling’s beautiful letter back to the young fan is proof that sometimes even the most popular of authors will go out of the way to show appreciation for their fans.
Best of luck with your own fan letters! Has anyone out there ever corresponded with their favorite author? Please feel free to share your stories and letters with the Checking the Shelf community. We would love to hear from you!