Recently, my teen daughter read a YA book that she absolutely loved. After reading the book, she went to the author’s website eager to find more books by that author. While she was browsing the site, she ran across a “contact box.”
She turned to me and said, “Mom, I’d really like to write a note to this author and tell her how much I liked her book. Would that be okay?”
And I was like, “Would that be okay?! Are you kidding! That would be fantastic! Go for it! I always love hearing from readers, and I’m sure she’d be thrilled to get a note from you.”
So my daughter typed her little email, pressed send, and then waited. Yes. She waited. Maybe not literally. But a few days later she said, “Mom, I haven’t heard back from that author yet. Do you think she’ll write back to me?”
Again, I was like, “Will she write back?! Of course she will! I always write back to readers who contact me. Why wouldn’t she write back? Just give her a few days. I'm sure she's just as busy as me.”
Well, you can probably guess where this story is going. Several more days passed and my daughter said, “It’s been a week now. I don’t think that author is going to write me back.”
Of course the dejection in her voice ruffled my mother hen feathers. I immediately wanted to write to that author myself and chew her out a bit. But I didn’t. Instead, I pushed away from my laptop where I’d been working and tried to console my daughter.
As I thought through the incident, I couldn’t keep from asking this question: How much interaction should the modern author have with readers? What’s appropriate? What constitutes too much or too little?
It really boils down to this: What does the modern reader want from the authors whose books they read and love?
Obviously, first and foremost, readers want another story they can fall in love with. My daughter sought out this YA author’s website to find out if she had any more books. If she hadn’t liked the first book, she would have put it down, and that would have been the end of that author’s connection in the life of my daughter.
But because she LOVED the book, she pursued the author further. She took that next step of seeking out more books AND a connection to an author she admired.
In a “one-click-away” social media addicted culture, we can connect with anyone, anywhere, at anytime. And once we initiate communication, we want to be acknowledged. In fact, we often expect a response. Sometimes we even think a lack of response is rude.
So, what’s an author to do? Especially when we’re already busy writing our books, marketing them, and building our platforms?
If we don’t take the time to respond to readers, I highly doubt that will stop them from going out and purchasing our next book. As I said, if they love our stories, that’s the most important thing. Even though my daughter felt slighted by the author, a few days later I heard her mention the book to one of her friends as a “favorite.” I have no doubt my daughter will bug me to buy the next book by this author once it’s released.
Even so, I still think we as writers can be sensitive to our readers. Here are several of my thoughts on how we can do that:
1. If an author doesn’t have the time to write back to readers, then DON'T have a Contact Box. Or at the very least, they could put a note next to the contact box explaining that while they love hearing from readers, they won’t be able to write back. At least the reader will see that up front and not be left wondering what happened.
Let's be honest. If we put a Contact Box on our website or blog, then essentially we're inviting people to connect with us. It's not there simply so that we can collect a file full of compliments about our books that make us feel better about ourselves.
2. Authors should prioritize their interactions. In the plethora of daily communications, if we’re short on time, we may have to decide to forgo chatting on Twitter or Facebook so that we can have the time to interact with our most important customers—our readers. If we’re unable to juggle everything, then we have to decide who is more important in the success of our writing career. For me, that’s readers.
Obviously the super-star, best-selling authors are in a different position than most of the rest of us. They'd likely need to hire an assistant if they wanted to respond to all of their fan mail. However, the large majority of us aren't nearly as overwhelmed by reader emails.
3. The more visible and relatable an author remains the better. Think about what happens when we’re closed off, silent, and unavailable on our social media sites. People might begin to think we’re stuck up, that we think we’re too good to talk to anyone but our closest circles of friends. Such an aura (even if it’s not true) could send out negative vibes and alienate our readers. Why take the risk? Why not remain humble, available, and responsive?
Yes, it takes some time. But, if we’re not prioritizing our interactions with readers on social media, then what’s the point of it all? Isn’t that why we’re on social media in the first place?
So how much interaction do you think authors should have with their readers? Have you ever written to an author and not heard back? How did it make you feel? How has it made you feel when an author has taken the time to respond?