As the indie-publishing revolution has gained steam, a mated phenomenon has risen as well: the swelling of the writer’s email inbox. Readers like to open dialogues with the writers whose work they enjoy, and email makes it easier than it’s ever been before. Moreover, most writers enjoy hearing from their readers, and do little or nothing to throttle the incoming missives. Communication in the Internet age has become almost effortless, at least as long as it’s one-way.
As I’m aware of the possibility of misinterpretation should I fail to respond, I try to make it two-way. Yet despite all the time I spend chained to this Cyclopean monstrosity, I do get behind on my communications now and then. I get a lot of email: perhaps two hundred pieces on any given day, not counting the spam. Should I fail to answer a particular item immediately, it will sometimes “fall off the back of the stove.” I hope my Gentle Readers won’t conclude that I’m ignoring them, though inevitably some will. I’m sure I’m not the only writer who has this problem. If I may speak for my colleagues in this matter, please think kindly of us. We do care what you think. In fact, we care about you personally, and more than you might imagine.
But there are hazards. Some of them are more serious than one might imagine. Now that essentially every literate person on Earth has Internet access, those hazards are becoming unpleasantly visible. As the news remains unpleasant and ho-hum – yes, it’s possible to be both simultaneously – I thought I might spend a few words on the subject.
The first aspect of this I’d like to discuss is the division of the globe into time zones. A writer who has readers in faraway places will sometimes receive email from them that he won’t see until many hours later, simply because his morning is their night or vice-versa. If he hasn’t responded promptly, it’s likely to be for that reason alone.
Shortly after I first published Chosen One and On Broken Wings, I received a large number of emails from readers in India. That surprised me at first, as I hadn’t reckoned on the international reach of electronic publishing. (I also hadn’t factored in the status of English as the de facto international language.) Those emails were almost uniformly positive, which warmed the cockles of my spiny little heart. I tried my best to reply to each of them promptly and individually.
However, one young Indian woman believed that because ten or twelve hours would elapse between her missive and my reply, I was ignoring her. Over time her emails became rather shrill, accusatory, and eventually sarcastically self-deprecating and despairing. I tried my best to dispel that notion in my replies, but to no avail. Eventually I ceased to hear from her. I’ve worried over that ever since.
I suppose there isn’t much one can do about such a phenomenon, but those Gentle Readers entering into the electronic publishing realm, or considering doing so, should bear it in mind.
The second aspect of the thing is the inability or unwillingness of many readers to grasp the immense difference between a writer and his characters. I’m nothing much, really, just a retired engineer who writes. I hope that by doing so I can both entertain and edify my readers, while making a few bucks in the process. But a surprising number of my correspondents assume that I resemble my male protagonists in important ways.
That’s dangerous, Gentle Reader. Especially in my case. In fact, my kinda-sorta bios at Amazon and Smashwords are tongue-in-cheek attempts to disillusion anyone who might think that when I write about Louis Redmond, Todd Iverson, Armand Morelon, or Stephen Graham Sumner I’m actually writing about myself. I’m not! Really! I’m not a hero; I write heroes. Genuinely heroic figures are desperately needed in our time. Few other writers are producing any such icons, though there are exceptions.
In short, I can’t solve anyone’s problems, be they political, legal, economic, academic, or romantic. I wish it were otherwise, but...well, I’m only what I am, a retired engineer who writes. (Also, I’m married.) I’m sure other writers have this problem, too.
The third and final aspect I’d like to address today is the weirdly stout resistance of the creative faculty to direction. On this subject I can’t speak for anyone but myself. Other writers might not share this problem with me. However, I suspect that it afflicts many of us, maybe even most of us.
Now and then I receive requests from my readers to write about a particular subject or hero, or to continue a particular saga. This is immensely flattering, and I love them for it. Often the request will mesh with my own desires. In such a case, I might sit down to this monstrosity fully determined to do as I’ve been asked, as it accords with my own inclinations and has verifiably pleased at least a fraction of my readership...and get absolutely nowhere with it.
I can’t explain this. If I want to do it and my readers want me to do it, then by the Law of Wishful Thinking Regnant I should be able to do it, right? But in the great majority of such cases I can’t make it happen, and I don’t know why.
For example, this short romance novel has evoked a slew of requests for more about Jana and Tim. Believe me, I appreciate the feedback, and I love those of you who’ve read and loved that little story. It’s a book I sometimes can’t believe I wrote, simply because romance has always seemed alien to me. (To any Gentle Readers contemplating romance with an engineer: beware! Here there be tygers.) I can’t even remember the chain of events and impulses that led me to write it. I doubt that I could produce more along those lines, at least at the moment.
And once again, it’s not that I disdain to give you what you want.
I hope my Gentle Readers won’t be put off by the above. I certainly hope you’ll continue to write to me. You matter to me more than you know. I just thought it appropriate that you hear about some of my limitations. When there’s so great a gulf between a writer and his fictional imaginings, the possibilities for failing his readers are many and vast. Louis Redmond would tell you so, but he’s dead.