Author As Bitch from Hell,
Ways to Persuade Me I Would Rather Be Cleaning Bathrooms Than Answering Book Mail
Some of the Bitch from Hell> thing that follows is just my cross-grained nature. But some of the problem is the result of the grim truth that there are only so many hours in the day, as well as pennies in the bank account, and most of mine are already taken. I would write longer, better and prompter replies to quite a few of the people who have written to me... if I had time. I would automatically donate books to libraries, too, many of whom have pathetic book buying budgets, if I could afford it. But I donít and I canít. I streamline the process of book-mail-answering as much as possible to do it at all, because I do appreciate the fact that readers bother to write to me and (most of the time) I would like to write back. And let me remind you of something I have said elsewhere, which is that there are two basic reasons for this web site: the first one is to hang a FAQ so that I can tell people to go read it instead of answering the same questions over and over; and second, to promote the concept of author as human being. Cantankerous human being maybe, but still, human being. Human beings answer their post. Usually. A lot of the following has to do with not treating me as a fellow human being, but as Something Else, and how annoying this is.
Also, further on the ever-aggrieved subject of time, I donít want to encourage anybody to believe that I will answer their email promptly or that I scorn lettersóIím still a hard copy person at heartóbut anyone reading this and (still) thinking of trying to contact me should bear in mind that forwarding book mail is not a top priority in any publisherís life. (Your best street mail bet is c/o my agent, Merrilee Heifetz, Writers House, 21 W 26th St, NY NY 10010.) I receive street mail dated months ago and I wonder sometimes about the stuff that never gets here at all. I only found out that one publisher is still occasionally sending things to me at an address I havenít lived in in over twenty years when a royalty check didnít arrive a few months ago, and when its absence showed up on the annual tax form as having been paid to me, I knew to inquire. I donít know to inquire about missing book mail from people I didnít know were writing to me. And then, of course, once book mail has arrived here it has to refrain from being instantly buried in one of the many paper avalanches in this disaster area I call an office. This is not to say that email is any surer a thing. I think the basic truth is that Iím the computer version of the sort of person who canít wear wristwatches because they always stop. The Ďwarning computer crashí banner has been up for over a year... and I bought a new computer last autumn and it crashes and takes email with it too. Not to mention My First Exciting Computer Virus early this year that ate my hard disc and took all my files with it. You know the three basic rules of computers? Back up, back up, and back up? What about when youíve corrupted all your back up files before you found out you had a virus?
Anyway. On with the show. Here are the Best Ways NOT To Receive An Answer from me:
1. Misspell my name, my charactersí names, or the titles of my books. (There are other rather startling things to get wrong too. I once had a letter from a boy in junior high, persistently referring to Aerin, inescapably central heroine of Hero and the Crown, as Ďheí. He claimed to have liked the book, and, barring what I would have said was this critical matter of gender, had paid enough attention to some of it to get references to the plot right.)
1a. Praise (or, for that matter, fault) me energetically for something in my books that isnít there. (I recently received a letter saying that the writer loooved my books because of the St Bernard dogs. There arenít any St Bernard dogs in any of my books.)
1b. Iíve answered many letters and emails addressed this way, but pleeease donít write to me as Dear Mrs McKinley. McKinley is my birth name. My mother is Mrs McKinley. If youíre a stickler for titles, Iím Mrs Dickinson. (Although ĎDear Mrs Peter Dickinsoní probably will get you erased or binned without reply. Iím basically a romantic, so I like sharing a last name with my husband, but there are limits. The name on my bank account, just for the record, is Robin McKinley Dickinson.) Dear Robin McKinley will do just fine. Or Ms McKinley. Donít write to me as Dear Robin, either, if youíve never met me. (See #9, below. You donít know me.)
2. WRITE TO ME, ESPECIALLY BY EMAIL, IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS.
3. Write to me, especially by email, in pink type on a blue background, or vice versa, or purple on lavender, or whatever. This also includes illegible handwriting in street mail. Iím actually pretty good at deciphering illegible handwriting per se but I wonít even try if itís in yellow ink on chartreuse stationery. I am old-fashioned as well as merely old, my temperament never could take this kind of whimsy, and the remainder of my vision, carefully preserved thus far by contact lenses and reading glasses (my eyes started going to the bad in second grade), is deteriorating.
3a. Fail to put a legible return address on your street mail envelopeóand I prefer an address on your letter itself. Envelopes get lost, thrown out, and eaten by dogs. (Letters do too, come to that, but less oftenóI think.)
3b. Fail to put any address on a street mail letter. Donít laugh: it happens.
3c. See A Few Further Bitch from Hell Remarks Specifically on How to Have your Email Answered, below.
4. Ask me any questions answered in the FAQ, especially this one and any variation on a theme of "When are you going to write another Damar novel? 5. Send me any list of questions, especially any list obvious, even to someone who hasnít been in school for nearly thirty years, as your homework, with a frantic plea that I answer immediately.
5a. See School Assignment Letter essay.
6. Tell me to send you a free book. GET A GRIP. I EARN WHAT PASSES FOR MY LIVING OFF A TEENY WEENY PERCENTAGE OF THE SALES OF MY BOOKS. This also goes for charitable institutions, including libraries, who tell me patronisingly to send them a free book. Polite queries for free books from charitable institutions or for money-raiser auctions in good causes may or may not receive an answer, depending on how heavy the book mail load is that week, but since the answer will almost certainly be Ďnoí (I have my own ideas about where my limited contributions to charity will go, I get a lot of donation requests, and why should I agree to send a free book to the Consolidated School District of East Fishbreath but not to the Amalgamated Libraries of West Antonomasia?) itís not a big loss either way.
6a. Send me anything larger than a bookplate to autograph without including return postage. Including return postage involves finding out in advance that I live in England and therefore sending me postage I can use. I cannot use American stamps. (With reference to those people who think they are doing their best by sending me an American SASE. Kids young enough not to have a firm grasp of geography get full points for this effort: they are trying, but chances are some grown up suggested this, and grown ups ought to know there is a world beyond their national boundaries.) People who send me books or other clever objects to autograph with the brisk explanation that these are to be auctioned off for worthy causes might recollect that they are also commanding me to donate postage, see 6, above. When I still lived in America where postage rates are cheaper I used to sigh a lot and do it anyway. Now that I live in England, and am older and crabbier as well, I donít. Iíve also been stiffed several times by charitable organisers who promised to reimburse me and havenít, so I donít do anything any more before the cash or the IRCs (International Reply Coupons) are in my hands, thanks, although Iíll send you a nice email reminding you of this if you enclose your email address.
7. Explain to me (additional minus points for length and detail) what is wrong with my books...
7a. ...and how you would have written them better...
7b. ...and how I should do it your way next time.
8. Offer to split the money 50-50 with me if I write your great idea which is generous of you because the idea is the hard part and the writing is just writing, and furthermore everybody knows publishing is a scam and why should you waste your valuable time since Iíve already got the necessary Ďiní.
8a. Any business queries should go to my agent anyway (as above: Merrilee Heifetz, Writers House, 21 W 26th St, NY NY 10010), but I can tell you that offers to split the money with me 50-50 if I write your great idea arenít going to get you an answer from her, either.
8b. Abuse me for having used your great idea from your last letter/email which I wonít have read past the opening sentence of because I have enough ideas of my own thanks, in some one of my books or other (including any book with a copyright date earlier than that on your previous communication), without acknowledgement or recompense. (Note: I am not worth suing. Trust me. Especially after the more or less constant rain here for the last six months, weíre starting to fall behind on roof repairs. Buckets, fortunately, are still cheap.)
8c. Inform me that you are sending me your great novel under separate cover which I am to command my publisher to publish because everybody knows publishing is a scam (see 8). I will, by the way, never see it, because forwarding parcels costs extra postage, and neither my publisher(s) nor my agent is going to provide this. They will send it back to you. (Supposing some harassed assistant had an absent-minded moment and did mark it to be stamped and sent on, I will myself return it unopened. This has happened a few times.) So if it doesnít arrive back into your arms, take it up with the post office, not me.
9. Tell me that you know me from reading my books. (Or, for that matter, from reading my web site, which, while absolutely truthful, to the best of my ability, in everything it does say, tells monster, privacy-retaining whoppers by omission.) This includes any explanation of how weíre just alike and have twin souls.
10. Tell me that even though youíre [any age over 16] you still read my books. The pigeonholing of books by the supposed appropriate age of their readers is a source of continuing fury to me anyway, and one of my pet peeves is adults who wouldnít be caught dead looking at a picture book unless they have an under-six-year-old available. My books have always been published in a variety of formats to make it easier for people of a variety of ages to find them, and the variety of my book mail tells me this strategy is reasonably successful. I write for people who like to read the sort of thing I write, and age is no signifier.
11. Send me your casting list for when book x or y is made into a movie. Once a writer has signed on the dotted line with a movie company, thatís it. Movie company contracts are 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pages long to make sure there is no chance that a mere book writer should have any rights left about anything. Furthermore, your overheated daydreams are almost certainly not mine (I am not denying I have them) and it will ruin my day to discover that anyone could think that [insert creepy actor/actressí name here] is suitable for any part in one of my stories, except possibly cleaning up after the elephants (elephants?).
A Few Further Bitch from Hell Remarks Specifically on How to Have your Email Answered:
1. Send me an email with an attachment, or any formatting that my (admittedly perverse and deranged) server is going to see as an attachment. Life is short and viruses are always with us, and I had one take me out in a big way a few months ago and almost swore off email. I do not now open any email attachment unless I already have your first-born child as hostage. Note: do not send me advice about how to protect myself against viruses. There was a time when my computer was so loaded for bear that it wouldnít run any programmes either and trying to persuade it that actually I wanted to run, say, Word, only made it scream in paranoid horror and fall over.Postscript: And if youíve just read through the above and recognised yourself and are about to crawl off to hide under the bed and moan in utter shame and humiliation ó donít. I wonít remember your name. If you still want to get in touch with me, just try again and donít mention earlier errors. And if the postal piranhas donít eat your letter or my computer go bungie jumping without a bungie, you may receive an answer this time. Of course you may have received an answer last time ó there are all kinds of things I should have known too, but didnít, till someone told me, and the above is also meant to be, you know, Educational. Furthermore, my bark is a lot worse than my bite. Usually. Arf arf.
2. Tell me to send my reply to some other address than the one yours has come from. Listen, I get a lot of email, and to the extent that I manage to answer it at all, I hit Ďreplyí and start typing. Usually Iím answering a large wodge of email in a tear, cursing myself for getting so far behind and thinking of everything else I should be doing instead of writing emails, and I probably wonít notice that you want it sent somewhere else. If you have written an unusually clever and amusing email that Iíve read carefully, or if Iím having one of my sane, calm, caught-up and on top of things weeks, which happen once a decade or so, I may notice. But you canít count on it.
2a. And even if I do notice, I will probably type the alternate address inaccurately, or lop off some crucial fragment or other if I cut and paste, and it still wonít arrive.
3. I regularly receive returned email. By that time Iíve erased the original email and canít call it up again and look for messages about where to send answers. So if you want an answer make sure that what I get when I hit Ďreplyí is actually going to go back to you.