Wednesday 23 February 2011

The value of feedback

Like all writers, I sometimes receive lovely emails from readers (I've yet to receive an unlovley one, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time). I came home today to find this:

"I'm writing this through very damp eyes, and sniffing. Dead Earnest is a brilliant book. I read your other book first and loved it so much, I had to get Dead Earnest.

That's all I want to say, really, except that I hope the new book comes out really soon."*

She added that she had never contacted a writer before.

Given all that's been happening recently, this kind of email is especially heartening, and I am always very grateful when people take the trouble to make contact. Writing is often like dropping books or stories into a void; one has no idea what happens to them, whether people like them or hate them, or even who reads them. Family and friends are invariably kind, and any criticisms couched in the gentlest of terms, but a message from a stranger is somehow especially welcome.

Years go, when I was a student nurse, I was so taken with the Strangers and Brothers series by C P Snow, that I phoned him up to tell him how much I loved his books. He was very surprised (of course he was. What can I have been thinking of?), but pleased and polite, and asked me what my job was. I've never forgotten that phone call (I doubt whether he did, either!).

* So do I!


  1. Frances, what a lovely surprise in your in-box. I think a writer can survive for years on a single email that was as genuine as that one. Writing *is* a giant void for so much of the time; this kind of feedback is like finding gold in them thar hills! :)
    Judy (South Africa)

  2. Makes me smile, Frances. Very happy for you that you got that letter!

  3. Thanks, everyone. It cheered me up even if it doensn't help the sales!

    Judy - give my love to the sun. We don't seem to get it over here any more!

  4. I think it's one of the best things about being writer - proof that all that time you spent closeted away, producing something you thought no-one was interested in, was worthwhile.

    Writing's a pretty solitary occupation so it always comes as a surprise to find you've made a connection to someone else through it.

  5. Thanks, Tim. that's pretty well what I said when I acknowledged the email!

  6. I love the fact that you phoned CP Snow. How cool.

    At my last book club we all enjoyed a novel very much so I emailed the author to tell her. The rest of the club were aghast at this - contact an author? But they're not like normal people - you can't just email them! I think this is why we get little feedback. People think we're not real, in some way.

  7. Aliya, I sent a very complimentary email to a novelist recently - I'd loved her book, and been surprised at the effect it had had on me - and received no repy. Which I think was ungracious (I doubt whether she gets that many.

    Did your author reply?

  8. What a nice pick-me-up while you're waiting for good news, Frances! Hope it comes soon (the good news, I mean..)

  9. @Aliya - I actually get that reaction sometimes from people I've known for years. As if when I'm in writer mode, I'm not the same dork that used make an idiot of himself around the college lunch table.

    Even thought I haven't published a novel yet!

    (Exclamation point for Deborah.)

    @Frances - I've was very fortunate when I was younger. When I was a teenager I e-mailed two authors (Vonda McIntyre and Michael Crichton) and both responded to me personally. She was an award-winner and he a best-seller. That really set the mode for me for how authors should be.

    Unfortunately, I've recently reached out through proper channels to the publicists of a handful of commercially successful authors and not gotten a peep in response.

    That almost floors me even more than an author not responding.

    Aren't publicists paid to respond so that authors don't have to?

    It's a weird world.

  10. Some years ago I wrote to the actor Michael Hordern after I heard him on a radio programme. It might have been Desert Island Discs, or something similar. I can't remember now exactly what he said, but he was talking about the death of his wife, and his words touched me in such a way that I just had to send him a note via the BBC. He replied with a charming little card, which I still have.

    I don't think I'd ever have had the nerve to phone up CP Snow though!

  11. Frances, the author did respond and was very pleased that her novel had been so well received.

    I've had a (very) few people contact me to tell me they enjoyed my novels/short stories and I reply with delight. How brilliant it is that somebody 'gets' it! It's not why I do it, exactly, but it's a wonderful bonus.

  12. How lovely. Bet it made your day. And I've awarded you a Blog Award. you can find it on
    Though I don't always comment I've noticed how regularly you post, and it's nice to get your updates.

  13. Thanks for the award, Dee. When the visiting baby grandson and his dad have left, I'll find out what I need to do about it!

    Hi, Joanne. I have a not at all charming card from Evelyn Waugh, no less. A very long time ago, when I was secretary of the Catholic Society at university, I invited him to come ane speak. He replied as follows (I think - not sure where I've put the card):

    "I regret that I shall be unable to come and speak to your society as I have nothing whatever to say. E.W."

    Hmm. Perhaps I should have complimented him on his books. I didn't think.

    Aliya - I'm glad your author replied. Quite right, too.