Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

A Question…

…for my writerly friends out there, specifically those of you who have been published, who have people reading your book(s), who might actually be receiving some form of fan mail:

What question is most frequently asked of you by your readers?

And when I say ‘readers’, I’m not talking about people like me, i.e., someone who is working on joining you on the ‘published author’ side of the line. I’m talking about actual readers, people who don’t necessarily read with one eye on sentence structure or character development, people who aren’t parsing your words because they’re reading to improve their own writing even as they read for enjoyment. I’m talking about people who read for the sake of reading, goshdarnit, people who have no ulterior motive other than enjoying a good story. What is it they want to know?

Earlier this week, agent Rachelle Gardner did a post over at her agency’s blog about privacy, and she talked a bit about the connection between reader and author. That made me ask a question in the comments section (one that she hasn’t answered yet, though I’ve found her to be responsive in the past), which I’ll repeat here:

  “Does the average reader really care that much about making connections with authors beyond what’s on the page?”

I really wonder about this, hence I asked the question, and hence I asked the question of my published friends up top. See, here’s the thing: when I finish a book that I really enjoyed, I don’t immediately hop on to social media and seek the author out. I don’t look for their website, or their twitter feed or stalk their facebook page. What do I do? I move on to the next thing in my To Be Read pile. If the book is by an author I’ve never read before, and that book is more than a couple of years old, I might go to the web to see if they have something newer–which will probably lead me to Amazon or Wikipedia, maybe an author’s personal webpage. But even if I do go to said author’s webpage, I’m not off to follow on twitter, etc.

Am I just a holdover from a bygone era, a dinosaur in a world of mammals? Am I totally off my rocker? Does the average reader really want something more than just a good book from a favorite author? I’m curious what you all think about this, and I’m curious about your experiences with actual readers (who are not writers).

Yeah, this could be me.

I’m looking forward to hearing what you think. Meanwhile, how are your NaNos or other projects going? I hit chapter 10 in BARTON’S WOMEN last night; it was a slow night due to other things happening, but I’ve shaved about 1500 words from the manuscript so far–and I still like it. Have a nice weekend, all.

20 Responses

  1. I'm the same way. It's rare I go seek out an author online when I've finished their book. There are a few, though. I follow maybe ten authors on Twitter. But out of them, I've probably only looked at two or three author websites to find out more about them or what they're working on next. Of course, this doesn't include all the hundreds of authors I know online from blogging.

    And well done on the edits. 🙂

  2. I still get quite overwhelmed when readers seek me out on email or message me on Facebook. It really does mean the world. I've only ever sent one fan letter before and that was to J.K Rowling.

    The question I am asked most is will there be another Camelot book? But mos of the time they just want to say nice things to me personally. I got an email this week that actually made me cry it was so sweet! (I'm a bit of a dork over people being nice!)

  3. I'm still too much of a dang rookie to tell you what the most commonly asked questions are – I'm just so tickled that there are questions at all! But I have to say I am a lot like you in terms of reading. Once I've read a book, I'll set it down, make a mental note that I liked it (or otherwise), and then go to the next. No disrespect to the author, but to borrow from the sporting world, I like to believe the author left it all out there on the field (or the page, as the case may be).

  4. As a fellow reader-with-ulterior-motive I can't answer your question from personal experience, but if it's worth anything, my boyfriend goes out of his way to follow his favourite author (Patrick Rothfuss) even though he isn't trying to improve his own writing. I guess if you become somebody's favourite author, you've got more of a chance of the reader wanting to connect beyond just the pages of the books. That's not to say a reader might not try to get to know you just because you're not their favourite author…

    Awesome work with BARTON'S WOMEN 🙂 Keep it up.

  5. This is a really interesting topic. As social media breaks down the virtual walls between author and reader, it makes it very easy to see many sides of an author's personality and private life. I think it's not a good thing. Look what happened to Orson Scott Card. Everyone loved his books, but now that they know something rather ugly about him, there's a big backlash against his art. I have to admit, Ender's Game is somewhat sullied for me now. The old adage, don't discuss politics, religion or sex among friends should extend to authors and readers. Not many (authors or readers) can bare their entire dirty linen closet opened for all to see.

  6. I'll look up for bits of info by an author and have had a few posts and tweets answered but I don't usually develop a rapport with them. The few exceptions I met through blogs like Jolene Perry and Cassie Mae. So i get what you're saying and you're not a dinosaur. You don't don't obsess over social media and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Yesterday on Dr. OZ he discussed how too much information too fast is aging our brains in thanks in part to the internet.

  7. Crappy, crap crap. I wrote out this long response and it disappeared! let's try this again….

    I never thought readers contacted the author, but it's happened actually MORE times to me than writers contacting me. it's usually just a "OMG, loved your book!" and I'll respond every time because that connection with my reader is important to me. Then I'll get the "Holy cow, you responded!" and it might kick off a conversation. We usually discuss my book, how they felt while reading it, when is my next book coming out, will there be a sequel (this one I get asked A LOT).

    I'm not sure if the average reader cares about connecting with the author beyond the words on the page, but those who DO, I never ignore. Those connections are precious to me, and when I interact with my readers, they come back. But even if they didn't, I've made friendships beyond the book, and that is important to me.

  8. It's the proverbial double-edged sword. I think it's natural to a certain extent to share your views on certain things in a public forum like a blog, twitter, etc., but it can certainly land you in hot water. Thanks for commenting!

  9. 'Aging our brains'–I hadn't heard that. Considering that people are (typically) living longer, this does not seem like a good thing.

  10. Thanks for coming by, Cassie Mae. Loved your post on this topic and I'm glad you're having such positive interactions with people. I suspect that the two most frequent questions are likely to be "Will there be a sequel" and "When's your next book coming out?" It's great to have people wanting the things we write!

  11. Perhaps those questions and interactions will start piling up, Dan. Do you tend to read series, or standalones? I wonder if authors of series tend to get more questions/interactions from readers.

  12. I don't think there's anything dorky about it, Donna, not at all. You've touched someone with your writing, and they've touched you back. (hmm, that sounds kind of creepy; you know what I mean!)

    I've been answering these comments largely in reverse order, so the more I think about it, the more I think series books may encourage more interaction, especially if the author can get the books out fairly fast. I'm still not certain about the whole connection thing. I must muse over it some more.

  13. Thanks, L.G. I'm curious–what makes you follow these folks on Twitter? I'm not a tweep (or whatever Twitter users call themselves nowadays), so I would imagine most people follow friends or people they've found who are interesting in some way. I'm getting all over the place now.

  14. Hands down, the single most-asked question I receive is, "When is your next book coming out?" This is a hard one to answer since I'm not really sure. But I always tell them "early next year" and that seems to appease them. Now I have to work hard to live up to what they expect of me. It's not a bad place to be.

    As far as connecting with readers, I absolutely love it! It happens most often on Facebook where anyone can reach out. And I accept most requests, except the ones that scare me, an surprisingly, those have been increasing lately. But overall, I love hearing directly from my readers about how much they enjoyed my book or whatever. And now, many of those readers are promoting for me, even forming a "street team." It really is humbling.

  15. I do the same thing as you do–even when I read a book that blows my mind. I *might* find their facebook page and like it, but usually I just move on to a new book. The number one question that fans ask me is where do I get my ideas. Seriously. That is usually followed by something like, "How do you do it?" meaning, I think, my actual writing process. Lately, everywhere I go someone asks, "When is the third one coming out?" I have probably met or come into contact with 10-15 people that I didn't know before who were so passionate about my books that hey wrote me lovely emails and we've since exchanged some correspondence and become friends on Facebook. And I still keep my Facebook account fairly private. That is always really cool. There are a lot of people who love one or both books and will email or Facebook me or tweet me, and we will have wonderful exchanges, but as I said, there are that handful of people who felt that what I wrote touched them on a deep personal level and I just live for that.

  16. I constantly get asked when the next book is coming out–which is a great motivator! My favorites, though, are the readers who write to tell me how they personally related to a certain scene or character. Those are the days that make all of this publishing madness worthwhile. 🙂

    P.S. If this doesn't make sense, it's because I wrote it at 4:40 AM. NaNoWriMess is killing me!

  17. What kind of Facebook friend requests scare you? I suppose people can send messages that are kind of …creepy. I do wonder how many people send e-mails or FB messages to you (or any author) and expect a reply. Thanks for adding your experiences to the discussion, Nancy.

  18. That's a great thing, Lisa. One of the nice things about the whole 'e-mail revolution' is that there's a heck of a lot less impediment to fan mail (which, I guess, is a good news/bad news sort of thing). Thank you for jumping in, I appreciate it!

  19. It makes perfect sense! It seems like, in terms of questions, it's a toss up between "next book" and "ideas".

    I can't decide whether this supports or undermines my thoughts on the whole thing or not! Thanks, Carrie!

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