Writers as Readers… Or Worse (?) Fans

True confession: I’m a fan. 

I don’t read SF/F nearly as much as I’d like – I’m a slow reader thanks to mild dyslexia and an easily-distracted personality (a bad combination if ever there were one, IMHO.)  But, I love SF/F.  Though I read lots of other genres, I still reach first for SF/F.  But I’ve found that my enjoyment of reading in the genre I write in has changed over the years.

Before I made it over the transom, I had that absolutely ridiculous fear that I might accidentally “steal” some current author’s ideas and doom myself as some kind of plagiarist before my career even started.  Now, of course, I realize that this fear is truly silly.  Not only are “ideas” not copyrightable, but the chances that I would write something EXACTLY like someone else is close to nil.  More importantly, it’s more likely the person who hasn’t read enough SF/F, who repeats “old” ideas thinking that they’re new.  But, at the time, I didn’t have the confidence in my own abilities to believe the pros that patiently explained that to me.

Then, just before I broke in, when times were getting tough and I was on the verge of becoming bitter, I could hardly stand to walk down the aisles of the SF/F section in bookstores because my jealousy of those who were successful was so strong. 

I rediscovered my genre once I published, because I was suddenly terrifically thrilled to see all the other new names next to my own on the bookshelves (I could afford to be generous, you see).  At any rate, this rediscovery has led to a new set of problems.  Now the writers I read are my colleagues.  There is the obvious akwardness of absolutely loving the author as a person, but not being excited by their writing.  And the flip side, of course.  Yet I’ve found the solution to those problems is pretty simple:  act professional and remember the golden rule.

There’s one situation I still find especially thorny, however.  That’s what do you do when you read a book you adore?  Do you tell the author?  Is it weird (and potentially unprofessional)  to write a gushing e-mail to an author whose work you love when you’re also professionally published?  Do you mention it on your blog? 

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  1. 1. Alma Alexander

    It is NOT weird! Writers – and I know you know this already, being one – love getting feedback from others on their work – why should it factor into that whether the person doing the reacting is also published? I wrote a note to Nicola Griffith about a PHRASE of hers that stuck in my head – not even a book – and she was tickled to hear it. It’s always great to be on the receiving end of someone’s pleasure in something you’ve done, and you’ve written a private and personal note to another writer telling them you like their work. it’s not only not unforgivable, it’s to be encouraged, as far as I am concerned…

    A far thornier question is whether published authors make good reviewers. You give something even a marginally bad review, it’s GOT to be because you’re jealous to tears of that writer’s achievement, isn’t it? I mean, are published writers allowed negative opinions…? It somehow always comes off sounding like sour grapes…

  2. 2. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    I do it. And it means a lot when I get those from other writers. Maybe it’s because they’ve been through the process and so I always feel that if anybody is going to see me faking my way through, it will be them. So when they like it, whoa baby! It’s huge. Maybe that’s why the Nebulas are still so valued–a jury of your peers.

  3. 3. Amy Sisson

    I mention it on my blog, because I want to share a good book with others. If the author has a website with an e-mail address, I’ll drop a polite (and hopefully not too gushing) note. (Or, if I’ve previously corresponded with the author, I’ll certainly send them a note.)

  4. 4. Kate Elliott

    If I’ve enjoyed a novel and I have a chance to say so to the author, I do so. Spread the love!

  5. 5. CE Murphy

    I gush! I love getting fan mail and on the occasions I’m moved to send it that makes me all happy too. :) And if I’m especially delighted with a book I blog about it too. :)

    -Catie

  6. 6. Cheryl

    A far thornier question is whether published authors make good reviewers

    Leaving aside for a moment that awkward word, “good”, published authors are generally more credible as reviewers because there is an assumption that they know what they are talking about. These days anyone can write a review, and on Amazon anyone does. Being a published author helps shield your review from the common charge of it being “just someone’s opinion”.

  7. 7. SMD

    I don’t see there being any problem telling an author directly that you enjoyed their work. I’ve had two occasions where doing so resulted in getting a response of thanks. Tobias Buckell has actually stopped by my blog and left comments, which was really cool (since I look up to him for lack of a better phrase). I’m not a published author but I’ve put free stuff online and I know I have enjoyed it a lot when someone said they enjoyed the story. Maybe it gets annoying when you have millions of fans, but I can’t imagine it being a problem. What’s wrong with finding out people like your work?

  8. 8. Jackie Kessler

    I absolutely tell the author. I email, or do it through MySpace, or do an interpretive dance and post it on my blog, but yes, absolutely, I let the author know. It makes me feel good when I get warm, fuzzy mail from readers; why wouldn’t other authors?

  9. 9. lyda morehouse

    Yeah, okay, but what if your love *isn’t* unconditional. Do you write a review of a book by a fellow author that gushes but also talks meaningfully about the problems?

  10. 10. Steven Schend

    Go ahead and share your enthusiasm, especially since you know how lonely and isolated that writer’s chair can get sometimes. I know I treasure any feedback that shows me someone went through the effort of actually reading what I’ve written and has an opinion (good or bad).

    Steven
    who’s got to get offline and get back to revising his 2nd novel for Wizards of the Coast…..

  11. 11. Bran fan

    The thing about writers is that we are very, very picky readers. Isn’t that the curse of our profession? The more we write, the less we like what we read.

    So, if a writer likes something and recommends it, it means more. Any author who gives a shout-out on her blog about a novel she really likes usually has my full attention.

    Thanks for your honesty about stuff, Lyda! I can relate to your past, when you said you could barely stand to go down the SF/F aisle at the bookstore. It’s not a good feeling and I hope I get over it soon.

  12. 12. Constance

    It’s one of life’s joys to tell a writer / artist that one truly enjoyed and admired her work, and why.

    Elizabeth Hand is a good reviewer, methinks, and she writes the same sort of works she tends to review. Just a ‘for instance.’

    Love, C.

  13. 13. Katherine Mankiller

    I noticed something in my 20s. People say nice things behind other people’s backs. Seriously. I was at a party once with my friend Madeline, and she got up to go to the bathroom and everyone leaned together and started whispering, “She’s so beautiful!”

    Why do people do that? Wouldn’t Madeline like to know that she’s beautiful? (It just so happens that when I noticed this, I asked Madeline, and yes, she’d love to hear that.)

    Don’t say nice things behind people’s backs. Walk right up to them and say nice things to their faces. You’ll both be glad.

    If you want to talk meaningfully about the problems, that’s something a little different, but in my opinion you have as much right to review something as anyone else. They may or may not want to get that in their face, though. You won’t know that unless you know them.

  14. 14. Sarah Prineas

    When I love a book, I say so in as many places and to as many people as I can, and I’ve written fan emails, too.

    As an author, though, I’ve realized recently that writing a negative review, or even a qualified positive one, might not be a good idea, so I’m going to keep my mouth shut about books that I can’t gush about.

  15. 15. S.C. Butler

    By all means, gush. Tell everyone you really, really loved a book. But another question you mention I find much harder: what to say when you’ve become friends with another writer and you really don’t like their books.

    Lie.

Author Information

Lyda Morehouse

Lyda Morehouse is the author of the science fiction AngeLINK series. She's won the Shamus and the Philip K. Dick Special Citation for Excellence (aka 2nd place). Her books have also been nominated for the Romantic Times Critics' Choice and preliminary Nebula ballot. She lives in the deep-freeze of Saint Paul, MN with her partner of twenty-odd years, their son, and lots and lots of cats (and fish!) Visit site.

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