09/16/2014 03:25 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

When Reader Inspires Author


To the joy and horror of authors everywhere, it's never been easier for readers to reach us. And given the value so many publishers now place on platform, celebrity and branding, very few authors can afford to be reclusive. So we do the professionally responsible thing. We make ourselves available to our readers -- through websites, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and the list goes on.

This process can seem dirty and disagreeable at first, until one starts receiving accolades from strangers, at which point, it can become intoxicating. Writing is a lonely profession, full of rejection and disappointment. Hearing from readers can have the miraculous consequence of momentarily easing the chronic isolation and insecurity that plague so many authors among us.

Still, readers don't always communicate in the most respectful ways. Over the years, I've received some vicious messages, including hate mail and death threats. But even these I appreciate. They confirm what all writers with a sense of social responsibility yearn to know -- namely, that we are infuriating the right people.

While the vast majority of the messages I receive from readers are not of this venomous variety, most aren't pure expressions of admiration or gratitude either. At first glance, they may appear to be fan letters, but they aren't -- because they're not from fans.

Rather, they're from applicants parading as fans, seeking positions that either don't exist or over which I have no interest or control. These "fanplicants," as I've taken to calling them, tend to begin their messages sweetly, often praising my writing or activism. But then comes the ask: Introduce me to your agent or editor or publisher, read my manuscript, "Like" me on Facebook, call me, promote my product, represent me in court (pro bono of course) and so on.

I'm not saying these folks aren't well-intentioned or worthy or talented. They may well be all of the above, but they assume writers (and in my case, lawyers-turned-writers, a good-sized subset unto ourselves) have more pull, will, time and resources than we generally do.

With the rise of the fanplicant, it's easy for writers to become jaded and underestimate the power of the sacred relationship between reader and author. In an attempt to salvage some dignity in the face of thinly veiled requests masquerading as adulation, we may even feel tempted to dismiss our readers, like greedy lovers who take more than they give. But then, if we're lucky, a gracious reader comes along.

Recently I received an email from one such angel. In it, she simply thanked me for a book I'd written, asking for nothing in return, not even a reply. Reading the last sentence of her message, I found myself wondering, "Where's the ask?" But there was none. Instead, she concluded with this piece of encouragement: "Don't ever stop writing!"

By reaching out to me when she did, that reader accomplished something extraordinary in this writer's world. Her words helped break a bitter bout of writer's block and swiftly earned her a fan in me. So now I turn the tables. Overwhelmed with admiration and gratitude, I say to this reader and her beloved breed: Don't ever stop reading.