Recently I received a bona fide “fan letter” via email. It wasn’t my first, I’m proud to say. But most of the kudos I’ve received from the public have come in the form of comments on my self-promotional Facebook posts. Sometimes I get very encouraging private messages. But an email from someone that I’m not even hooked up with via social media? That was indeed odd.
I won’t divulge too much about this person (though I did share his email on my Facebook page), other than he’s from the Midwest, half way across the country from me, but suffice to say I seriously doubt, given our different backgrounds, that we have much in common personally. I could be wrong. That’s only a superficial assessment based on a couple of introductory details he provided.
What we do share for certain is a passion for my work, and that’s plenty enough common ground for me.
The fact that anyone would take the time to compose an enthusiastic appraisal of my books, then send it to me, is the sort of reward one can’t measure monetarily. It’s one thing to have friends or families offer positive feedback to your work. They’re biased, after all, even if they try hard to be objective.
The true test comes when someone that doesn’t know you, or really anything about you, contacts you directly with high praise. That is truly something special.
"To All My Friends!"
The same goes for readers’ reviews posted on Amazon and Goodreads. Those are even more beneficial from a strictly commercial standpoint, since nothing beats customer word of mouth when it comes to boosting sales.
Since Amazon has a controversial, randomly enforced policy of refusing reviews by “friends,” almost assuredly most of these reviews, good or bad, are from people with no agenda other than to provide an honest assessment for the sake of their fellow consumers, which is exactly why they’re generally trusted more than professional critics, who often tend to judge books per mainstream market standards.
When I was hosting a local semi-regular live reading event called Noir at the Bar Seattle not long ago, a very nice guy I knew of only via Facebook, Tim Hewitt, dropped by with his lovely wife and bought a few signed copies of my books from me. This was very flattering since Tim, a resident of South Carolina (clear across the country from me!) whom I’d never met in person, fit the event into his busy itinerary during a visit to the Pacific Northwest, simply so he could meet me and tell me how much he appreciated my work in person.
We hit it off right away because if someone enjoys my books, as Tim does quite sincerely, that means we must have similar sensibilities. That goes for the guy that emailed me recently, too.
Having that connection with strangers gives any writer a sense of validation, because it’s proof that they – okay, we – are not wasting our time, or anyone else's, with a self-indulgent pastime, masquerading as a “career.” It's an authentic source of confidence and inspiration you can only generate organically, which is exactly what makes it so gratifying.
"I'd Like To Teach the World to Sing..."
This sort of communication is what it’s all about. Touching the lives of others with your art is one of the keys to peace, I believe, because establishing a rapport based on our common interests and humanity – as opposed to becoming pointlessly alienated by our differences – is essential to a harmonious society.
That may sound grandiose. Maybe it is. But if Art doesn’t serve a higher purpose, you better at least be paying some bills with it, in order to make it worth anyone’s while, especially yours.
Trust me. It’s much easier to spread joy than make money with your writing. And it’s fulfilling on a level that resonates far deeper than your bank count.
Keep that in mind when you are promoting your work to the outside world. You’re not just issuing a product. You’re sharing an important piece of your life that may become a significant part of someone else’s, too.
There’s nothing cooler than that.
PHOTO: TIM HEWITT, WILL VIHARO, PEARCE HANSEN (PHOTO BY TIM HEWITT)
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New Orleans, LA