Writers and Readers Who Write to Writers

Writers and Readers Who Write to Writers March 19, 2012

From Lists of Note:

In July of 1952, Nancy Mitford wrote to her friend, the famous novelist Evelyn Waugh, and asked:

“What do you do with all the people who want interviews, with fan letters & with fans in the flesh? Just a barrage of nos?”

Waugh’s reply contained the following — a list of the stock responses he used in such situations.

(Source: Evelyn Waugh: A Biography; Image: Evelyn Waugh, via.)

I am not greatly troubled by fans nowadays. Less than one a day on the average. No sour grapes when I say they were an infernal nuisance. I divide them into…

(a) Humble expressions of admiration. To these a post-card saying “I am delighted to learn that you enjoyed my book. E. W.”
(b) Impudent criticism. No answer.
(c) Bores who wish to tell me about themselves. Post-card saying “Thank you for interesting letter. E. W.”

(d) Technical criticism, eg. One has made a character go to Salisbury from Paddington. Post-card: “Many thanks for your valuable suggestion. E. W.”
(e) Humble aspirations of would-be writers. If attractive a letter of discouragement. If unattractive a post-card.
(f) Requests from University Clubs for a lecture. Printed refusal.
(g) Requests from Catholic Clubs for lecture. Acceptance.
(h) American students of “Creative Writing” who are writing theses about one & want one, virtually, to write their theses for them. Printed refusal.
(i) Tourists who invite themselves to one’s house. Printed refusal.
(j) Manuscript sent for advice. Return without comment.

I also have some post-cards with my photograph on them which I send to nuns.

In case of very impudent letters from married women I write to the husband warning him that his wife is attempting to enter into correspondence with strange men.

Oh, and of course…

(k) Autograph collectors: no answer.
(l) Indians & Germans asking for free copies of one’s books: no answer.
(m) Very rich Americans: polite letter. They are capable of buying 100 copies for Christmas presents.

I think that more or less covers the field.

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  • I have received all of the above from readers, with the exception of request to speak at a Catholic University. Perhaps they know I was raised Southern Baptist? At any rate, I find EW’s responses lacking. If the job of a writer is to communicate then why cut off the communication in such a dismissive way? I value the people who read my work and seek me out to tell me their own stories. It doesn’t take long to figure out who is “using” you to build their careers, and easy enough to avoid them. But some of my dearest friendships have grown out of communicating with readers who contacted me after reading one of my books. I have no use for the person who is just looking to collect “fans.” I don’t use a printed response for anything. And I don’t follow the blogs of those who cut off comments, because they are just interested in their own voice. I have been blessed with great mentors in this writing field and I make an effort to return the favor when I can. Some of the best writers out there are unknowns who just need a hand up. I never forget that I was that girl once…

  • Hilarious. Thanks so much for sharing it!

  • AHH

    There’s a somewhat similar story about Francis Crick (co-discoverer of the structure of DNA), who devised a standardized reply card to deal with all the requests he got after winning the Nobel Prize. I find it described here:

  • Joe Canner

    After I finished my 11th grade term paper on the works of Isaac Asimov, I wrote him a letter asking him if my thesis was correct. He send back a signed postcard saying something like: “That’s all stuff that the critics read into my work. I just write for the money.”

    I submitted an addendum to my term paper to account for this additional piece of evidence, but my teacher was not amused.

  • Val

    #3 AHH Francis Crick (co-discoverer of the Double Helix)… DNA was discovered earlier, by Johann Friedrich Miescher. 😉

  • You need a like button your comments, Scot. 🙂

  • AHH

    Val #5, that’s why I said “co-discoverer of the structure of DNA” … 🙂

  • Tim

    #1 karenzach – exactly. It’s like Danny Bonaduce says, those are the people who pay the bills so never snub them (even if they interrupt your dinner at a nice restaurant). Apparently he’s passed this advice along to his showbiz friends that he’s seen behave boorishly with fans. Danny may have had his problems over the years but it’s nice to see he’s got his priorities straight on this.

  • I wasn’t aware of how much an Introvert EW was. Though I see the importance of boundaries if one gains notoriety, the thought of ignoring so many people is abhorrent to us extraverts.