If you’re a reader, chances are pretty good that at some point in your life you’ve read a book that changed you, shook you, kept you up late, stayed with you for weeks. In the past year, I decided to start sending letters to those authors of mine, letting them know the impact they’ve had. It seemed a small trouble to go to considering all I got from their writing.
So I thought I would share some of the guidelines I used to write those letters, in case any of you are looking to send out some “fan mail” of your own. I’ve outlined 10 tips below, but keep in mind that these are guidelines that are supposed to ease any anxiety you might have over the process – authors are like rock stars to readers, after all, which can be squee-inducing to the faint of heart – not rules you “must follow.”
1) Send it snail-mail.
This isn’t a must, but it’s a touch that I think makes a difference. Yes, email is easier, but that’s why taking the extra 5 minutes to put a piece of paper in an envelope means so much. If you can’t find their address—which is hopefully the case—just send it to them c/o (care of) their agency, which should have an address listed online. Hopefully their agent will forward the letter to them at home.
2) Introduce yourself and the book in question.
This doesn’t have to be extravagant! A simple, “Hello. My name is ____ and I just finished reading ____,” will do nicely. If you have some sort of connection to them, such as being an aspiring writer in their genre, etc., you can mention that if you want, but don’t go overboard. Which brings me to…
3) Be personal.
If you know this writer through real life or some sort of social media, by all means, speak in your natural voice. Just because it’s snail mail doesn’t mean it has to be stuffy. If you tweet back and forth with this person all the time, you don’t need to address them as Ms. or Mr. Lastname.
The point of this letter is to express a reading experience that went above and beyond average. So yes, the letter can get personal. You can tell them why something about their book touched you. If your parent just died and the book is about that—and helped you get through it somehow—that’s a beautiful thing to let them know. But…
4) Don’t get creepy.
Sometimes the temptation to idolize people you’ve never met is strong, especially if you feel like you know them because you’re familiar with their work. But remember, this is just a person, like you. Keep it appropriate. Don’t ask for favors, don’t ask for personal details, don’t ask for help. Just keep it to letting them know that they’ve impacted you positively in some way, even if it was just a weekend of entertainment.
5) Keep it short.
If this is a published author, I think it’s courteous to assume that they’re a busy person. And yes, you’re doing a nice thing, but that doesn’t give you the right to ramble on for 18 pages (front and back!). Unless this is truly a personal letter, I think 1 page single-spaced should be adequate.
6) Keep it mostly about the book.
Maybe you think so-and-so is hot. Maybe you love the bits of their personal life they reveal on Twitter. Maybe you have a super crush on them or their adorable doggy. But those things being true is a lot less creepy than telling the author those things are true. You don’t want to give off stalker vibes.
7) Be specific.
What is it that you loved about the book? Be specific! Writers love to know what exactly worked and why. But…
8) Don’t speak in hyperbole.
When we hear the words “fan letter,” we tend to think of long raves. Which is okay, if you feel the need to do that. But don’t fake it. Don’t tell them it’s the best book you’ve ever read if it’s not; tell them it’s good or great or excellent. Don’t tell them you’re going to buy all of the books they’ve ever published if you aren’t; tell them that you gave it five stars on Goodreads or that you’ve recommended it to a friend.
Remember, they aren’t *expecting* this letter, so any level of compliment you give (besides backwards or underhanded ones, of course) will be a pleasant surprise. Be honest, genuine, and candid. Don’t blow smoke up their ass.
9) But don’t talk about negatives.
This might sound obvious, but there are many reasons that people feel the urge to tell someone something they didn’t like. Maybe it makes us feel clever or superior. Maybe it’s a disclaimer. I know I truly love some flawed books, and when I recommend them to people I mention the negatives so they don’t think I’m oblivious or have awful taste. But a praise letter is not the place to talk about those things. Even one negative comment buried in a nice letter can hurt. This isn’t a critique group where the writer is expecting criticism; it’s a friendly letter. This goes for backhanded compliments too. (Even though your main character annoyed the crap out of me, the plot was so amazing that I couldn’t put the book down!) Don’t hide insults or little jabs amongst your praise.
10) Include your contact information,
just in case they want to reply, but don’t expect a response.
And finally, thank them and/or wish them well. Sign your name and send it off. Hooray! Hopefully, you just made someone’s day. =)
Have you ever written a fan letter? Do you have any tips for the rest of us?
And authors out there… have you ever received a fan letter? What was that like for you? Do you have any wisdom to share from the experience?Share this: