Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ask the Authors: Wednesday

Do you answer critical reader letters? Why or why not?

Yes. Usually to thank them for taking the time to write. I also thank those who aren't critical. One letter in particular, very negative, said a series I'd written wasn't worth keeping or giving to the library especially because I suggested that historical women had choices when they didn't. I wrote back saying we all have choices: at the very least the choice to be clear about what matters in our lives and to have the courage to act on that. We also have the choice to be curious when our life is not what we want it to be, to ask ourselves what part we have in that and what part is the reality of living with its many challenges. And we also have the choice to increase our compassion -- for our neighbors and for ourselves. I think all letters from readers, whether negative or positive, arise from someone's personal journey and if I can suggest another perspective to a reader, a more positive one perhaps, then I feel that I am still being used by God to touch others through my work. I never plan to change their minds just to offer another perspective. Every now and then that reader writes back and thanks me for what I had to say, too so I see it as time well spent. -Jane Kirkpatrick

Thankfully, I haven't received a lot of these, but when I do receive them, answering them depends on the tone with which they were written. When it's clear someone is writing pretty much to trash either me or my writing, then no, I don't respond. Because little I can say will effect good in that situation. But if someone writes out of a genuine concern, then yes, I answer as best I can. Because I do care about what my readers think and feel. -Karen Ball

If a reader takes the time to write to an author, it's only common courtesy to reply. Whether I agree with a criticism is immaterial. I can make at least a brief explanation--but not a defense--of my rationale for doing what he/she might disagree with. I can at least acknowledge the fact that she took the time to address an issue in my book. The exception to this would be a letter that's wild-eyed and a totally incomprehensible rant, one I can sense was written solely for the purpose of wounding: then I don't feel obligated to respond.

I've had more than a few surprises in replying to reader letters. I recall one in which a reader took me to task for giving "too much time" to one set of characters and not enough to another and was just generally griping about how I handled relationships--all minor (it seemed to me). I sensed a lot of personal stress behind that letter, so I gritted my teeth and replied with more kindness than I was actually feeling. I heard from her not long after, with an apology for taking out a "bad day" of frustrations and problems on me. She admitted that the book wasn't at fault--her own angst was. She still writes to me with great encouragement for each book she reads. I think it pays to keep in mind that readers sometimes see us as a safe place to vent--or even a source of understanding. Doesn't hurt to be be here for them whenever possible. -BJ Hoff

I answer every letter I get, even the critical ones. I try to be open to what they're saying and respond in a way that makes them understand that I take what they are telling me seriously, even if I don't agree. -Rene Gutteridge

If you're talking about harsh critical reader letters, no. I figure someone has to release some steam, and they targeted me, thinking maybe I have a tough hide. Or maybe thinking they might wound me just for the fun of it. Either way, a reply might encourage them to take another hit. I don't like hits, so I don't encourage them.--Hannah Alexander

Yes--probably more so than non-critical. I think of my books as a small ministry, and if that means correcting a percieved mistake or a real error then I'm more than willing to do that. Many of my readers confuse my old secular titles with my Christian titles and they write to know how could I write for both markets! Well, I don't--and haven't written secular in ten years so I always make an attempt to explain. I don't answer those who could have written it better, been more accurate, ended it a different way or changed a charectors actions. The story is the author's. -Lori Copeland

I have, and have regretted it. It has been my experience that people who write these kinds of letters are, for the most part, drive-by critics. They want to vent and run. -Jack Cavanaugh

Will saying Yes invite more? -- James Scott Bell

Almost always. I sometimes end up throwing away my first attempt at a response because it’s too defensive, but if I can possibly help a reader understand why I wrote the thing that made him/her angry enough to write, I like to do so. Sometimes I’ve just needed to apologize for the thing that person found hurtful or inaccurate or whatever. Even if I wouldn’t write the book differently in hindsight, I can always genuinely say “I’m sorry that what I wrote upset you.” I’m a big believer in keeping short accounts and more than once, I’ve made a friend of a critic with such a response. ––Deborah Raney

Yes. How I answer depends a great deal upon the type of criticism I'm receiving. For instance, I don't allow myself to be dragged into theological debates. I simply thank the writer for sending me their opinion. -Robin Lee Hatcher

You mean there are people out there who would actually criticize what I write? Good news is, I really haven't received many. Most I have answered. However, the one in which the man ranted against an ending of mine that he hated, calling it "garbage," "malfeasance," and a "miscarriage of writting [sic]"--I figured, hey, what can I possibly say that would come close to this guy's poetic prose? (Chalk to up to my warpedness, but to this day that reader letter remains one of my favorites.) -Brandilyn Collins

Yes, I usually do. First, because I want the reader to know that I’m a real, breathing person who can be hurt, and second, because I want to address whatever issue is being raised. I try to prayerfully consider every point and then say “You were right” or “Thank you for writing, but I stand by what I wrote.”-Angela Hunt

Oh, absolutely! I answer all my reader mail, but especially those letters or emails that are critical. Clearly my writing has struck a chord (however sour!), and the reader is hurting in some way, or she would not have responded so negatively. It's my privilege to minister to her by extending the grace God has kindly given to us. Often the reader writes back, stunned that I answered her at all and admitting WHY she was so unhappy. With few exceptions, it was primarily a personal reason, and only secondarily some dissatisfaction with my book. This is not to suggest that my books are NO means! I learn a great deal from readers and reviewers, including from their often valid criticisms. But sometimes writers take negative comments to heart when in truth it's the READER who is in trouble, not the writing itself. -Liz Curtis Higgs

Sometimes. If it's just mean (and thankfully I don't get many of those) I try to get it out of my inbox right away. If I think I've been misunderstood and that misunderstanding could really keep a person down, I definitely will answer. If it's something I agree with, especially as the letters and emails start arriving a year after you're finished and you can now sit back and look at it more objectively, I'll write back and say, "You're right! And if I was writing it right now, I'd . . ." -lisa samson

Mostly I do answer them, though it depends on the tone and what they are saying. Most critical reader letters are kind of funny. They start out telling me how much they loved my book, in general terms, then list all the things I did wrong, until most of their words are actually devoted to the work’s flaws, not whatever it was that made them love it. I’ve always found that a bit odd. Usually I answer them, express my delight in knowing they’ve enjoyed the work and thank them for their input.

The ones I don’t answer are the ones who lecture me on what I did wrong, how I'm going to corrupt various and sundry readers, and how bad I am. I’ve only gotten a couple of those. I didn't answer them primarily because I didn't feel led to, and because it seemed obvious the letter-writers just wanted to say what they said. In their view what I did was wrong, bad, and inexcusable. Period. – Karen Hancock

I’m sitting here rubbing my chin. I generally get mail from readers every day, and either I have a very selective memory or I’m exceptionally blessed, because I cannot recall a reader letter that wasn’t positive. Statistically, that means I’m due for a lollapalooza of a broadside any day now. -Tom Morrisey (Editor's note to Tom: want me to send you one of mine? )


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