Friday, October 21, 2011

Melanie Milburne: Fan etiquette

One of the nicest things about being a published writer is fan mail ( mostly email these days) from readers. I remember when one of my sons was about ten and he wrote to his favourite author Graeme Base via his publisher. It was so lovely when Mr Base wrote back. I remember thinking that if I ever got to live my dream and become a writer I would be just like that and personally respond to fans.

I have some lovely messages from fans from all over the world. Those messages have nearly always come at just the right moment. Usually on a day when my writing has stalled for some reason or I'm having back troubles and wonder why I put myself through the torture of long hours of sitting. And then in my inbox comes a gorgeous message that lifts my spirits and reminds me that someone out there loves what I do.

But there is a downside. Yes, there always is in life. It doesn't happen often but occasionally I get an email from an unhappy reader. Something has upset them in one of my books. Perhaps they didn't like the way a certain character behaved or they thought the heroine was too weak or too strong, or the hero too alpha or not alpha enough.
When this happens I remind myself that reading is a subjective enterprise. No two readers read a book in the same way. We all come to a book (or a movie) and view or read it through the lens of our life and experiences. That lens colours how we interpret things and make sense of our world. We have expectations when we come to a book or an author and we feel let down if they don't deliver. I've experienced it myself, but I would never dream of contacting the author and telling him or her I hated their book.

It is a reviewer's job to offer an opinion of a book and they usually do it without any sense of malice. I appreciate the time and effort it takes to read a book and then write a review. They have to really understand the controlling idea of the story and the nature of the conflict between the characters.

But what is the etiquette for fans in this digital age when everyone has an opinion on everything at the click of a mouse?
I have five suggestions on this and I would love to hear yours. I will send a signed copy of my latest release His Poor Little Rich Girl to a random poster.

 1. Be polite
 2. Tell the author what you liked about the book/s or their writing. If you can't think of anything then perhaps you shouldn't be reading their work at all.
 3. Remember that your opinion is just your opinion. Many authors have huge fan bases and you might be the only one who doesn't like their book.
 4. Give the author another chance. The publisher/editor or both might have pushed for a particular story line and the author did the best they could do with it.
 5. Try writing your own story. Often when a reader is increasingly frustrated within a genre they are reading in it is a sign (in my opinion) that they are developing a writer's mindset. That's what happened to me and the rest as they say is history!

Happy reading,
Melanie Milburne


EllenToo said...

If I didn't like a book I would never write the author and say something bad about it because my tastes in reading are different than others and each individual relates to things differently. When I write a review to post somewhere the most I might say ~ if I didn't like the book ~ is something along the lines of this book is not to my taste but try it for yourself.

Sonali said...

If i don't like a book i try and find something in that book that appealed to me let the author know about that rather than writing what i didn't like and dishearten the author. Fans must realize that when a book is published a lot of time, effort and hard work has been put into it by the authors. My philosophy when emailing authors is to write something good about the book or not to email at all if i have nothing good to say.

Melanie Milburne said...

Hi EllenToo,
"Not to my taste" is certainly is a much nicer way of saying you didn't like the book. I have had people trash movies or books to me and then I've seen or read them for myself and thoroughly enjoyed them. The same with meeting people you've heard bad things about. You are absolutely right-you should only judge for yourself.

Melanie Milburne said...

Hi Sonali,
You sound like the perfect fan! Writing is much harder than most people realise and it doesn't get any easier as time goes on.
I do appreciate feedback, however, as long as it's not destructive.I'm pretty tough but having someone rubbish your work can be paralysing when it comes to writing the next book. Ironically, so too can a great review or winning an award. Pressure, pressure, pressure!

Pat Cochran said...

One of my mother's favorite sayings
was: "If you can't say something nice, say nothing at all". I would amend that to "If you must say something, say it as
nicely as possible because someday you
might be on the receiving end!"

Pat Cochran

Melanie Milburne said...

So true, Pat!

TashNz said...

Hi Melanie. I really like your post because it really frustrates me when I look up a review on Amazon or Goodreads and the review is one star because they don't like the book for most lamest reason and you always think in the back of your mind "Clearly you don't enjoy this genre so why read it? Why comment? It's not helping me make an informed decision"... Not liking something is your own personal choice but like you say... if the editor didn't think it was right it wouldn't be published :)

The rule I follow is: If you're going to write to ANYONE with a negative view; draft your email then walk away! Come back later, re-read what you've written and ask yourself... is it constructive and could I have written this better?.

This rule has saved me many times from sending emails I would totally regret at a later date :)))

P.S love ya books Melanie!

Kaelee said...

Hi Melanie,

I did send an email once that I wished I hadn't sent with all of the stuff I mentioned in it. I was mainly positive about the trilogy that I had read but pointed out a couple of mistakes in the continuity of the books. The author wrote back quite a few months later to say that when she wrote the last book her mother was dying. She thanked me for the rest of the letter. I really wish I had not pointed out the mistakes but at the same time I hope the author realized that I only noticed them because I was really enjoying the books. I did tell her that but I am still afraid that my bit of negativity stuck.

I have been a good fan since then trying to make only positive comments about books.

Melanie Milburne said...

Hi TashMZ,
I agree that there are some emails that should have been sat on before sending. I wish more people did that!
I think you are right about the online reviews that trash certain books. I try not to be too precious about my writing but writers have to be sensitive in order to write. It seems cruel to bludgeon them with harsh and at tines unnecessary criticism.

Melanie Milburne said...

Hi Kaylee,
Don't feel too bad. At least you were able to apologize and it gave you valuable insight into the life of a writer. We are real people with feelings and families and all the same issues as everyone else.
I hate it when there are mistakes in my books. But I realize there is only so much I can control. Publishing today is faster than ever and mistakes and typos slip through.
Research or continuity mistakes are a little harder to excuse but again, editors have big work loads and the author is often to close to critically review their work.

Marilyn Shoemaker said...

I absolutely "HATE" nasty reviews. They way I look at it, as an author, you had an idea, you wrote a story from your heart, gave up family and friend time and we should all be respectful of that. I like your "bullet" points Melanie.

Melanie Milburne said...

Hi Marilyn!
I heartily agree. It's so upsetting to read unnecessarily harsh reviews. I've been very lucky with great reviewers who are nothing but professional, but I've seen others that are not.
Thanks for dropping by!

marybelle said...

I always feel that just because I don't like a book, for whatever reason, that it's not a bad book. It just does not suit my taste. Others may rave. I would never come out in the pubic arena & revile a book I was less than enthusiastic about.

scarlet wilson said...

If I read a book and thoroughly enjoy it then I can't wait to go and write a review to share the news with the world.
If I read a book and don't enjoy it? I recycle and give it to Barnardoes (children's home charity) to resell in their shop.
I am well aware that not every reader will enjoy every book but don't feel the need to share the news!

Melanie Milburne said...

Hi Scarlet!
I'm with you on that too. Reading is so subjective. It is amazing how a book will resonate with one reader and do-nothing for another.
I just remembered a not so good review I got for a book that spent two weeks at number one on the bestseller's list. I put the comments aside as clearly not everyone thought the same way. Mind you, it wasn't my favourite book either but it just goes to show how little it matters.

Melanie Milburne said...

Hi Marybelle,
The way the net is now means that everyone has an opinion. It's both good and bad. I'm not sure everyone realizes how far and wide their comments go. I don't want to give the impression that writers are off limits to criticize but I would like to see a little more understanding of the craft and process- just like all those fabulous comments are demonstrating!

Annie West said...

Hi Melanie,

I really enjoyed your post. Like you, I suppose I came at this from two angles - from the side of the author receiving mail and from the side of the reader having an opinion on someone else's work.

It's wonderful getting positive feedback on a story. In fact I think there's nothing nicer for a writer, and as you say, it usually comes out of the blue, just when you're having a difficult day and it bursts out like a ray of sunshine. I love that. Until I'd started writing I'd never written to an author to tell them how much I enjoyed their work - but now I know how much that means to a solitary writer!

Less than happy reviews? Again, like you, I remind myself that not everyone is going to like a particular book. Sometimes I do wonder about people who complain about the same things again and again in romance (I wonder if they'd be better off reading something else). Though, that's the wonderful thing about this genre, it's so wide that there's likely to be something for everyone within it.

Thanks for the post.

Melanie Milburne said...

Hi Annie!
Great comments from you as usual. I think it's lovely that readers contact authors so much these days too. It is lonely writing and to get a nice message makes it all worthwhile.
I'm with you on the usual critics of romance- it's like a crime fiction reader constantly being annoyed about all the dead bodies!

Gab said...

There’s a difference between nasty and honest. Not everything is good, and that’s the point of a review. If a book isn’t good, then I want to know. Those who only write positive reviews aren’t helping me make an informed purchasing decision. If everything gets five stars, then there might as well not be any reviews to begin with!

“Review” definition from
“a critical article or report, as in a periodical, on a book, play, recital, or the like; critique; evaluation.”

"Critical". Nowhere does it say anything about bolstering a writer’s ego.

Any author who tries to tell me how to write a review is an author who will never get another purchase from me. Reviews are for readers, not writers, and writers shouldn’t be reading them if they’re going to dent their egos.

This blog post is being discussed on the Amazon boards, and you’ll find nobody agrees with you:

DzanaG said...

I agree with:

4. Give an author another chance. - There is bound to be at least one or two books by the same author that is not to your taste.

I DON'T AGREE with if you don't have anything nice to say then don't say anything at all.

That sounds like an author just wants her ego stroked. Not fair to the readers who gave their hard earned money for that author's book.

I don't know whether you are talking about just fan mail or reviews in general but...

In case of fan mail, since a reader bought the book she has the right to an opinion be it positive or negative.

Naturally the reader should convey that opinion in a polite way and say what she liked and didn't like about a book as well as WHY.

There are some readers out there that write decent reviews that make valid points which could/should be taken into consideration by authors when writing next book.

In case of reviews in general on other websites, they are not for authors but for other readers so that they can decide whether to buy the book or not.

Authors shouldn't be discouraged by negative reviews because someone's trash is another's treasure. I have several "one star" books on my keeper shelf.

Melanie Milburne said...

Hi DzanaG,
Thanks for your comments. I was speaking about fan comments, not reviewers. I expect a reviewer to give feedback, both good or bad as the case may be. I don't mind a fan telling me what they liked or didn't like either, but I think there needs to be a little more thought into how this is done.
The bullet points I put down are my suggestions on how to go about contacting an author if one felt the need to do so, but they are not set in stone. They are just points that I've found helpful in working out why an author's work has occasionally "let me down".
Thanks for your insights!

DzanaG said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MichelleReviews said...

This is being touted over on Amazon as your advice to reviewers. Your name was eventually removed, but not before 6 pages of comments.

DzanaG said...

You say you "don't want to give the impression that writers are off limits to criticize", but that is exactly what you are doing with suggestions nr 2, 3 and 5.

If you plan on having any of those suggestions on your own website I suggest you keep nr 1. and revise nr 2.

1. Be Polite ALWAYS
2. Tell the author what you LIKED and DID NOT LIKE as well as WHY.

If possible, a writer can also write a diary about the writing process she went through while writing a particular book and post it next to that book. It doesn't have to be long, just a description of her joys and struggles. It might evoke empathy in readers and tamper their nasty comments.