Fan Mail from Prison and Other Milestones

I’ve heard several writer friends say you know you’ve “made it” as a writer when you receive fan mail from prison. It’s a thing. A bit of black humour, obviously, as I’ve never known any writer who seriously thinks they’ve “made it.” It’s an intriguing idea, fan mail from prison. Especially these days when ebooks are gaining in popularity over print books. Are inmates allowed internet access to download ebooks? I have no idea.

I haven’t received any fan mail, let alone from prison, but two things happened recently that hit near the top of my own personal squee-o-meter and that feel like milestones in my writing career. Mind you, this stuff is subjective. Pretty sure you could find a writer or three who would disagree.

The first thing was getting an alert that showed one of my books [How Did This Happen? Lunch with Imaginary Friends and Other (mostly) True Stories] was listed on a piracy site. My initial gut reaction was something along the lines of, “What. The. Hell. That’s my book. I created that and you– you– fuck you, man– you just took it? You stole my book and decided you could offer it up over there for FREE? You slimy goddamned bastard.”

Ahem. What can I say? Probably it’s a primal human emotion, possessiveness.

That outrage lasted for about thirty seconds. Okay, maybe a full minute. I’m surprised it lasted that long, or even existed at all, because I decided a long time ago that piracy is not a bad thing. That it is, in fact, a good thing. As a fledgling writer, my greatest enemy is obscurity. Piracy is a nice boost in visibility for someone in my position.

I’ve come to think of (free*) pirate sites as sort of like a library, only without express permission. God knows, I wish I could interest libraries in carrying my books. A Pirate Library increases my exposure to readers. Readers who, for whatever reason, might someday decide they want to or are able to pay for the books they read. And even if they don’t ever become paying customers, I’m thrilled any time someone reads a thing I wrote. That’s sort of the whole point of putting your writing out in public.

*To be clear: piracy sites that take other people’s work and SELL IT and PROFIT FROM IT are engaged in indefensible black-hearted gutless thievery and deserve every particle of bad karma and aggressive legal action aimed at them.

I found it amusing that part of their shtick was, “There used to be a book called…” Like it was no longer available and they were doing everyone a favour by finding it and once again making it available. Clever. But the icing on this particular cake was the blurb they wrote:

A First Opinion: A Book that Realistically Describes Teen Life

Imagine a book that inspires you to stand up and act out scenes at lunch to your co-workers! Imagine a book that you mark pages to read to specific people in your life: your husband, your friends, your students, your siblings …

I love that. Even though it’s the extent of what I could see without logging in.

Honestly, I can’t tell whether someone actually read the book and wrote that or whether they just have a really good algorithm that picks up on keywords and writes relevant reviews. Either way, I thought this blurb was awesome. Way better than anything I’ve managed to come up with. Do you think I could get away with posting it on retail sites as an editorial review? I’m sure they wouldn’t mind me stealing it sharing it with others.

Another thing that sort of made me go “awww” was a comment after the blurb (I can’t access it anymore, so probably someone targeted the site for takedown) that said, “Thank you so much for posting this book!” I think it was from someone named Jenny B. Or maybe Julie T. I’m so bad with names. Whichever, Jenny or Julie, you’re most welcome. I hope you enjoy it. I also hope you share it with a friend. For free.

The second thing that happened is that I finally got a two-star review. Of that same book, actually. I didn’t even need to pause to gather my thoughts on this. My immediate reaction was, “OMG! YES! This is SO awesome!!” And then I laughed — literally, out loud — in sheer delight.

I’ve been hugging it close since I first saw it, keeping it to myself, savoring it like a secret treasure. It felt too precious to share.

You think I’m kidding, perhaps being sarcastic? I assure you, I am not.

I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for someone to write a one- or two-star review of one of my books. I can’t even tell you how much I’ve wanted this to happen. I’m surprised it just now happened for a book I published three and a half years ago. Ebooks really are an equalizer of time.

This book has gotten a couple two-star ratings on Goodreads, along with one three-star rating. Those made me smile too, but those are just ratings, not actual reviews. I’ve been waiting and hoping for someone who was underwhelmed enough to bother with a review. Here it is:

2.0 out of 5 stars

ended up boring, April 15, 2014

By TMS (Texas) – See all my reviews

Verified Purchase (What’s this?)

This review is from: How Did This Happen? Lunch with Imaginary Friends and other (mostly) True Stories (Kindle Edition)

This book had some funny spots, it’s a bunch of short blog notes. But, after awhile it got really boring. I got about 75% done and just quit.

Boring. She thought it was boring! Tee hee. I giggle every time I read that. It wasn’t anything personal. She wasn’t angry or vitriolic. She simply didn’t enjoy the book. It’s ridiculous how happy this makes me.

Okay, I shouldn’t have to say this, but DO NOT go over there and harass this person or down-vote her review. I mean it. That’s not cool and I’d be very disappointed with you if you did. In fact, don’t go over there at all. Well, unless you want to buy the book.

I’m halfway convinced that every time someone looks at a book on Amazon and ends up NOT buying it, Amazon gives it a higher (worse) rating. I imagine a wizened little man wearing a transparent green visor sitting in the back room over there with a creased scorecard and a stubby golf pencil, taking note, “Another visitor, another NO SALE. Tsk. Black mark for you, my dear.” People look but don’t buy and the ranking goes higher and higher until they simply run out of known numbers and then the book quietly implodes, turning into fairy dust, never to be seen again.

I figure I’m only a half-dozen views away from that fate as it is. So. Just don’t.

How can I explain this happiness? I know darn well there are a ton of people out there who wouldn’t like that book. Or any book I write, but especially that one. If you like my blog posts, you might like that book. Because that’s what it is, blog posts. Personal essays. I think they’re some of my best pieces. I selected them carefully and I’m proud of that book, but I never expected to reach beyond a very small specific audience with what was essentially an experiment in self-publishing.

The people who enjoyed that book are people who have been following me on the internet for a while now. People who say they love my voice and who get my dry sense of humour and claim they’d read anything I write. I’m humbled by their faith in me. I am incredibly lucky to count them as friends. But they’re a minority. As they should be.

Thing is, I know those “other” people are out there, the ones who think my writing is boring or just not their kind of thing. And I love it that one of them decided to say so, publicly. It feels like a major accomplishment just to have finally reached one of those others. That one of their vast number picked up a book written by a stranger and gave it a try.

I was starting to think it might never happen. I mean, every other writer I know has one- and two-star reviews of their books. Several of them, in fact. What was wrong with me, that I couldn’t get even one?

Now, I’m not suggesting you all should go rush over there and write disappointed reviews of my books to make me happy. Well, unless you really truly feel that way. Then, you know, go right ahead.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate people who do enjoy my writing. I treasure them more than I can say. They keep me sane and motivate me to keep on writing when I want to throw my hands up in frustration and say to hell with it. And it’s not that I think they’re less than honest in their opinions. Not at all. But opinion is subjective. It should be wide-ranging.

Sure, I want people to enjoy my stories. I hope the people who do enjoy them continue to outnumber those who don’t. That’s why I write, to entertain people. Well, and also with the hope that I might make some money. So, yes, I want people to like my writing. But not ALL people. In the same way that I’d be very concerned, even alarmed, if EVERYONE liked mint chip ice cream. Or rollercoasters. Or cats. That would be disturbing as hell.

I don’t want my writing to be universally loved. The thought of that kind of unanimity of opinion makes me feel all snarly. I’d begin to suspect I was doing something horribly wrong if that happened.

So it feels like an affirmation to have finally found this person — or have her find me, whatever — who took a chance on reading something that wasn’t to her taste. Something she found boring. I’m unreasonably proud of her for taking that chance, for reading something outside the norm. I hope she tries some other new thing some day soon and really does enjoy it. Or maybe not. Maybe someone else is even now impatiently anticipating her next two-star review, just as I was.

So, there you have it. Two recent events that made me outrageously happy. I guess the next milestone will be garnering enough reviews of a book that they number in double digits. A small thing, I know. But hey, there are a lot of little steps on the way to that ultimate writerly accomplishment: having a book banned and/or burned. That would make me pretty damn happy too, although I’ll have to really step it up before that’s even a possibility. I’m working on it.

Disapprobation and piracy. Way better than fan mail from prison.



Filed under book reviews, deep thoughts, reader opinion

2 responses to “Fan Mail from Prison and Other Milestones

  1. Merry

    So… if someone rips off your book to post it somewhere else, gets sent to prison for their crime, then writes a bum review about the book, you’d consider that a triumph? 🙂

    p.s. Between this and the previous blog title about “frisking” I’m starting to notice a certain criminal trend in your writing. What have you been up to lately? (Note: you have the right to remain silent.)


  2. YES! Moar readers!

    What have I been up to? Why, whatever do you mean? *smiles mysteriously*

    Note to self: work on that whole mysterious smile thing.