05/27/2013 08:07 am ET Updated Jul 27, 2013

Responding to Fans Isn't Always Easy

A funny Tumblr blog talks about book people you can't have a conversation with, including book clubbers and "the YA freak." It ends with authors who don't respond when you praise their books.

Despite what you might think, it's not the easiest thing being an author getting praise,

I've published 25 books in many genres since 1990 and had all kinds of comments in all sorts of venues, from airports to bookstores to bathrooms at conferences. Even now, it's a surprise and sometimes awkward, despite the hundreds of readings I've done on three different continents and the many thousands of readers I've met.

When you start publishing, nobody prepares you for the weird experience of being praised in person by a stranger. Not your editor, not your publicist, not your agent. Other authors don't talk about it, either.

The moment is both heartening and a bit embarrassing, even when you're an extrovert. Writing is a bizarre profession. It's a very private art that is also a public business involving reviews, book tours, speaking engagements, interviews and relentless self-promotion if you have the enthusiasm for it. The work you do in your head and your study is constantly exposed for scrutiny -- and of course, that's part of the reason you got into the business in the first place.

The hardest comment for me to respond to is "I read your book. It was interesting." I say thank you, but the comment is so general and even guarded, I don't feel that I want to explore why it's muted. The last thing I need is a stranger telling me how my book is lacking in some way, especially since some readers feel no constraints in what they share with authors. The flip side is people who rave about one of your books as if it's a work of genius. You're obviously pleased they like it, but their enthusiasm can be off-putting, since you know all the ways the book falls short. At least you do if you're honest.

Then there are the people who compare you to authors you don't like and don't read. Again, a thank you is what I offer in those cases. People who ask specific questions about where an idea came from, what I'm currently working on, or what my routine is like, make it easier to respond.

But I find the safest thing is to get onto comfortable turf and ask my fans what they're reading now, what they think of it, and keep the focus on them. It's often informative and feels less like hero worship or an inquisition. The most honest thing when the praise seems on-target and measured is to share how much it means to hear the compliments.

The best conversations result when people are writing themselves, because then we can talk about craft and writing workshops and the business, and I can offer encouragement. That's what I've gotten from many other writers, and I like to pass it on whenever I can.