What happens when the reader writes back to a book's author?

Avid reader and now brand new author Andrea Mara ponders how social media has made modern authors accessible to their fans

The other night, I caught my ten-year-old reading my copy of Let The Dead Speak by Irish crime writer Jane Casey — the first chapter involves a fair amount of blood spatter so I whisked it away and handed her something more suitable.

I tweeted Casey to tell her, and we had a good chat about books that might be more appropriate for my bloodthirsty daughter. At the same time, I got an email from a reader of my own book — she’d just finished it, and had a question about a character mentioned in the final chapter. It struck me as I replied, that 10 or 15 years ago, it wasn’t so easy to contact authors, whereas today, there’s constant online interaction between the readers and writers; to the benefit of both, I suspect.

I went back to Casey to ask if any reader emails stand out. “I had a man get in touch to tell me he’d been suffering from chronic pain and his GP was baffled, but he happened to read about a minor character in one of my books who had a medical condition that matched his symptoms,” says Casey.

“The GP treated him accordingly, and he was cured — he was literally training for a marathon instead of being crippled with pain. I love hearing from readers even if the only way I’ve touched their lives is to deprive them of a couple of hours sleep, but that story stands out!”

Lying in Wait author Liz Nugent gets lots of interaction from readers on social media. “On the whole, I think it’s been very positive for both of us. They are quite frank about what they think of my books, and I can learn from that.”

She says she’s met a number of readers through Rick O’Shea Book Club events (a giant Facebook group for book lovers). “I think of some as friends now more than readers. Five minutes ago, I got a tweet from a reader who said she loved Lying in Wait, but found the ending ‘strange’. I’m about to apologise to her!”

She has seen it from both sides, having met some of her own heroes. “I met Rick Stein at an event in January and told him I’d been following him on Twitter. We had a lovely chat and he was very nice. A few weeks later, he blocked me!”

Readers aren’t always sure if it’s appropriate to contact an author Catherine Ryan Howard finds responses give her a lift. “A few months after Distress Signals came out, a friend asked me what had been the best thing about the experience. I’d had two fabulous launches and the book had made it onto the bestseller list, but what had actually made me happiest was a tweet from a random reader who’d spent a day on the couch with my book.

“She said, ‘Thank you for those lovely hours of reading.’ I write books because there’s nothing I love more than curling up on the couch and losing a day to one of them, and I want to give other readers that experience. So that simple sentiment just totally undid me. Whenever I feel like I’m having a bad day, I think about it!”

I asked the Rick O’Shea Book Club if any readers had had exceptionally good responses from authors. There were dozens and dozens of examples, but one that stood out was Nicola Depuis’ story: “I emailed Matthew Quick a few years back to let him know how much I loved The Silver Linings Playbook and how it had meant a lot to me when I was recovering from depression.

“A few weeks later a big box arrived from California containing copies of all of his books, signed!”

Aisling Coyle has tweeted a number of authors, but particularly remembers one response. “Anna McPartlin was lovely; I tweeted her saying she was ruining my holiday because I couldn’t stop crying at The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes. She told me to put it down and keep it for a rainy day in Ireland. Which I did and now it’s a firm favourite!”

McPartlin remembers that tweet, and recalls an email from an American reader. “She was about to talk on radio about one of my books. She told me her mission was to explain to Americans that the way the Irish use the f-word is endearing!”

Author Dave Rudden figures there’s always something to learn from readers. “As a kid, I imagined authors as demigods far beyond the reach of tiny ginger book nerds like myself, so I love that social media has demystified writing for the next generation, whether it’s Twitter Q&As, Skype visits, or, in one case, Skyping to a tablet and being carried on a virtual tour of the school like a head in a jar. My favourite, however, has to be stumbling across a fan’s blog that exhaustively explained the lore of Knights of the Borrowed Dark. I think even I learned something about the books that day.”

The last word on this goes to reader Mary Orford. “I emailed an author after a group I facilitated read his book. I hesitated before contacting him but sent the email. I was stunned to receive an immediate reply — he was suffering from writer’s block and questioning his talent when my message arrived. He thanked me and my group for boosting his morale. He was so thankful I had taken the time to do what I thought was an inconsequential task which turned out to be a positive affirmation to the author. Memo to self: Never hesitate to pass on a compliment.”

As a lifelong reader and brand new author, I second that.


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