Can I be serious for a minute?

And this is where you say, “I don’t know, can you?”

The answer is — yes, yes, I can.

I read the discussion over on Dear Author, called The Hysterical Reader, along with all the pertaining comments. It’s a long bunch of stuff, which you can read (or not), as you like.

Well, I’d never tell other authors how to do their jobs and any attempt to regulate their behavior according to my standards certainly falls under that heading. But for me? That’s something I’d never do.

I’d never post an excerpt from an email I receive, good or bad, without permission. If I get a fan letter that’s particularly exciting, I still email and ask for permission to use a snippet on my blog or website.

I think it’s matter of trust, honestly. I don’t know if other authors feel this way, but I see readers as my customers, my clients. And if you work at Nordstrom, what’s the first thing you learn? The importance of good customer service. That doesn’t include using my ‘status’ to try and prove my own superiority.

The fact is, I’m not superior. I just write books. True, it’s my dream job, but I still find myself dazzled to have it. Perhaps that will change, the longer I go on. But I hope not. I don’t want it to.

Each letter I receive is important to me and I answer every one. Maintaining a good relationship with my readers is important to me. No, not everyone will like my books, but when I do get that sort of mail, I’ll write back with, “Thanks for taking the time to express your thoughts. I hope you’ll like the next book better.” Now chances are, this person won’t buy any more of my books. And that’s okay too. If he or she goes on to harangue me further, I simply won’t respond. I’ve acknowledged the first letter privately, and to my mind, that’s all I need to do.

Further, it’s all I should do.

I would never want to behave in a way that makes readers feel they can’t trust me. I want them to be sure I can be relied on to keep their confidence (not that I necessarily want to become a personal confidante), but I want to be seen as an ethical person, someone who wouldn’t share private information on impulse or because it might benefit me in some way.

I just wouldn’t do that, in the same way I wouldn’t kill off a beloved character on a whim. These are trust issues, and whether authors want to acknowledge it or not, there is a certain rapport that ought to be present. When authors consistently display disregard or disdain for their readership, it gives me a sinking feeling. Without readers, I’d just be jilling off by writing my books, a specialized form of mental masturbation.

And so it behooves me to treat readers with the same sort of respect I’d want to receive. I don’t get to indulge in hissy fits, at least not in public. Because I’m a professional, and I don’t roll like that.

Posted in opinion, writing

12 Responses to Can I be serious for a minute?

  1. Gwyneth Bolton says:

    Great post, Ann. I agree. Maybe it’s because I work in education and we are very careful about what we do and how we approach student work. But I view letters that readers send me and e-mails the same way. That is their work, their words and I don’t have a right to uses them in any way unless I have their permission. And you’d think that authors who value their own words would get this. It’s a respect issue too and a trust issue as you mentioned.

    Gwyneth

  2. Bonnie Dee says:

    Well put and exactly spot on. There was much discussion about anything a person sends out into the electronic world as being fair game, but I don’t think that’s true.

    If someone sent me a disagreeable letter, I might discuss it with a friend, but I wouldn’t publically share it. Nu-uh. Is it wrong that I might discuss said letter even with a friend? I think we have to vent somewhere, but just don’t think an open forum is the way.

  3. Ann Aguirre says:

    I see where you’re coming from, Gwyneth, and I think there’s a correlation, definitely.

    Maybe authors who have been at it for 20, 30 years feel differently. But I’m not trying to be “everywoman” here. It’s just how I feel.

    Bonnie, venting to your friend is something different. The key is the split between public and private, I think. If you trust your friend, then nobody besides him (or her) will ever know you said a word. And if this person spreads your business all over the Internet behind your back, then (s)he is no kind of friend.

    I don’t see anything wrong with that all. If I email you or Gwyneth and say, “You wouldn’t believe what this crazy person wrote to me! She said I was going straight to hell for writing such smut and…” that’s not putting this person out in the world to have her crazy reviled. You and I can shake our heads and move on.

  4. Estella says:

    Right on!

  5. roslynholcomb says:

    I have to agree. Maybe it’s my social work background, but confidentiality is confidentiality. I’m something of a hothead, so I’ve posted stuff on my blog that I’ve immediately had to take down. I would certainly have made fun of a letter like that, much as I did the person who posted in her review on Amazon that she shorted me a star because of the use of the word ‘goddamn.’ (Note, she posted it publicly). Had she sent me that letter privately I probably would’ve mentioned a reader objecting to profanity, but I wouldn’t have posted the letter.

  6. L says:

    People take liberties with “confidentiality”. Lots of people define it in ways that would excuse something that could otherwise be argued as private correspondence.

    Most people do care and take time in the letters they write to people they admire(or don’t). It’s a slap to the proverbial face when it’s strung out in public and mocked.

    Donna on the Dear Author post mentioned that it’s out of the sender’s hands and into the receiver’s, and that it has become his or her prerogative to do whatever.

    There’s no trust in that. NONE. Especially when you are sending it to someone that should endeavor to keep a “professional” appearance.

  7. Ann Aguirre says:

    “Donna on the Dear Author post mentioned that it’s out of the sender’s hands and into the receiver’s, and that it has become his or her prerogative to do whatever.”

    That violates my personal sense of ethics. I know some people claim email is as secure as putting a message in a bottle, but it’s not the same thing for me. If I post about my personal troubles on a bulletin board, I deserve whatever comes from it.

    But if I send a message to ONE person, if my words get repeated without my permission, you can call it whatever you want, but the bottom line for me is, there has been a discretionary breach.

  8. Ann Aguirre says:

    In fact, you know, when I wrote a post called Beta is the New Alpha, and I was inspired by something Gwyneth wrote on another blog, I even emailed her to let her know I was quoting her words. She had put them out in public herself but I felt it was polite to let her know I was using something she said.

    The world could seriously use a little more “common” courtesy.

  9. Jacqueline Barbour says:

    I really applaud you for your attitude, Ann. (You may soon tie La Nora in the annals of author unflappability and coolness, in fact.)

    There’s nothing more crass, IMO, than sharing personal correspondence without the author’s permission, especially when your intention is only to try to show that the other person is crazy/stupid/wrong/etc.

    There is nothing wrong with DEBATE in a public forum. If you say something here on your blog and I disagree with you, then it’s a debate we’ve both freely engaged in and both of us are fair game. But if I say something to you in private, which I believe will be held in confidence, and you turn around and hold me up, to ridicule in a public forum without my consent (and, as appears to have happened in this case, without even NOTIFYING me of that fact), then you are WAY out of line.

    Personally, this incident has caused me to lose a little respect for some authors I previously thought highly of. I’m sure that wasn’t their intention, but they should know that was the effect of their behavior.

    But for you, Ann, I still have LOADS of respect :).

  10. Michele Lee says:

    >>There was much discussion about anything a person sends out into the electronic world as being fair game, but I don’t think that’s true.

    Me either. Email is private. If I use something from and email or forward an email I always ask for permission first. Things put on public boards and blogs are different. I still try to merely forward links, but occasionally I quote and I always attribute.

    It outrages me when people use privately sent emails to humiliate others. Even if it was an inappropriate rant, or unprofessional behavior it’s still private!

    If the logic is that the message belongs to the receiver after sent then wouldn’t it also hold that when these writers send stories out they belong to the receiver? Why would casual composures be different from formal ones?

  11. Michele Lee says:

    >>(You may soon tie La Nora in the annals of author unflappability and coolness, in fact.)

    :) It’s my pleasure to say I told you so.

    Heck, Ann and I “met” because we went back and forth on our blogs debating.

  12. Ann Aguirre says:

    Wow, thank you, Jacq. That’s a pretty high accolade. I don’t know that I’m worthy of it, but it sure made me smile to read it.

    Yep, I remember that, Michele. We disagreed over rejections I think it was, but we had a nice intellectual exchange over it and came away with a better understanding of each other.

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