What Sending Fanmail Taught Me

One of my ‘pandemic’ hobbies is sending fanmail (both emails and physical letters).

In sending fanmail, there’s the question, ‘will they read this?’ Some people say, ‘I’d send them a fan letter if I knew they’d read it, but I don’t know if they would.’ I understand this. Nobody likes the idea of putting effort into a letter which the recipient will never see.

I once sent a fan letter and received no reply for half a year. I wondered, did she read it? Did she read it and hate it? Later, I sent a much shorter letter congratulating her on her new project. She replied, and said that she loved my first letter, and had even written a draft of a response, but she hadn’t sent it.

Some celebrities say they read all fan mail, but because of the limits on their time, they sadly can’t reply.

Before I started this hobby, I expected that less famous people would reply more often and more quickly than more famous people. That’s… not the case.

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Is it okay to enjoy reading about toxic relationships in fiction?

Sometimes, I enjoy reading about abusive relationships in fiction. This isn’t an endorsement of abuse in real life. I’m open to talking about the toxic nature of this fictional relationships (or I think I am). Yet I don’t slap on a ‘yes, I know this relationship is messed up’ disclaimer every time I mention them.

Purging fiction of all toxic behavior is ridiculous. Many people experience abuse, and they deserve to see themselves in fiction. They need to know they’re not alone.

Some time ago, I read an essay by a bookseller who feels uncomfortable whenever 12-year-olds buy Colleen Hoover books. (I haven’t read anything by CoHo). This bookseller read one of her novels and felt that it romanticized relationship abuse. She doesn’t want 12-year-olds to think that’s acceptable behavior. Yes, she sells them the books anyway upon request.

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Have My Civic Ideals Faded?

Now I’m reading Boundless by Jack Campbell. It’s a military science-fiction novel. The story begins in a multi-planet democracy which verges on collapse. Some characters—reasonably—believe their democracy is doomed.

Why? A faction diverted military resources to building a secret fleet of AI-controlled spaceships which only they control to ensure nobody else—including a majority of elected representatives—can take power away from them. Most of these AI-controlled spaceships were destroyed in the previous book, but a few still exist, and the people who built them still haven’t been held accountable (yet, I haven’t finished the book).

Many characters fear that the admiral who defeated the rogue AI spaceship fleet is so popular he can—and will—install himself as a dictator. Heck, some characters want that to happen.

On top of all that, they’ve contacted several alien species. The alien species are interested in humans, yet their goals are unclear. This is rocket fuel for conspiracy theories—which already motivated two assassination attempts.

This democracy is in trouble. And yet… most of the senators give a damn what their voters think. They care enough that they will piss off other senators to meet their voters’ demands.

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I’d Love to Read a Good Duryodhana Novel

Recently, I quit reading Ajaya: Epic of the Kaurava Clan by Anand Neelakantan. I felt bad about it because I want to read a version of the Mahabharata told from Duryodhana’s point of view (I know, there’s that Bhasa play, I plan to read that). The introduction got me pumped up because Neelakantan shared his inspiration for writing about Duryodhana. Alas, the writing style for the novel itself just ain’t for me.

In the Mahabharata, Duryodhana is my favorite character. He’s the one who acts the most like a real person. That includes some shitty decisions. And for all that, he is the main villain, he just… doesn’t come across as evil. I found it easier to relate to him than to the ‘heroes.’

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Is My Age Why I Find It So Hard to Enjoy Fiction?

I Do No Finish (DNF) most novels I try these days. It makes me wonder… why is it so hard to find novels I want to complete?

Part of it is that I’m more honest with myself when I don’t enjoy a novel. Or maybe, because I DNF so many books these days, I expect most novels I pick up to be not worth finishing, and I find what I expect…

Somewhere, I read that when people get older, they prefer nonfiction over fiction. Obviously, this isn’t true for everyone. But I can’t help noticing that I’m much more likely to read a nonfiction book cover-to-cover these days. I think about them more after I put them down.

Yes, I pick nonfiction based on what interests me… but that applies to fiction too, doesn’t it?

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I’m now a columnist at The Writing Cooperative. Also, I’m giving away books (international shipping available)

First, here’s the book giveaway. Yep, it’s international.

These books aren’t famous. They’re only popular within a particular niche, or not popular at all. To explain why people would want these books cluttering their bookshelf space, I wrote reviews. I submitted them to The Writing Cooperative to get extra exposure.

I didn’t expect Justin Cox, the editor, to like my reviews so much that he invited me to become a regular columnist.

I said yes.

Here are anti-paywall links to the book reviews which have already been published. More are coming.

“Publishers (Including Self-Published Authors) Need This Book’s Message”

“Even This Book’s Mistakes Show You How to Write Better Blurbs”

“This Book Flopped. Seize Its Bestseller Insights Anyway.”

I hope these reviews bring you something of value (the books themselves contain much more value).

I Don’t Want to Write Bestsellers. I Want to Write Evergreens.

I’m currently re-reading The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers. Such a thought-provoking book. It reveals things about reader behavior few others discuss—and which some people refuse to believe despite the evidence. Maybe that’s why only computer algorithms could dig up those truths.

The book is also a failure.

It promised a system for predicting which manuscripts would become New York Times bestsellers with 80% accuracy. But it doesn’t deliver. It hints at which features predict a bestselling manuscript—to be fair, the hints are strong—but it falls short of giving an editor the tools to make the predictions at 80% accuracy themselves. It teases the reader about the ‘code’ without sharing it.

The book never made it to the NYT bestseller list itself. Over five years after publication, acquiring editors don’t use the system to evaluate manuscripts. This book has fallen into obscurity. It didn’t deliver on its promise.

It’s a failure, yes, but it has much to teach .

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History Curricula Aren’t Cheat Codes for Changing Other People’s Worldviews

Many people talk about changing history curricula, especially in grade schools, to instill their preferred worldview in the population. This has been a thing for as long as mass education/schooling has been around, though the temperature of the debates is currently higher-than-average.

Does changing history curricula actually change students’ worldviews? A little, but not nearly as much as proponents think it does.

Most of you have been in a grade school history class. Did it always interest you? Do you remember all the history facts the class covered? Did you uncritically absorb your teacher’s point of view with no resistance, not even resistance confined to your own mind?

I’m going to go out on a limb and claim that the answers to all those questions are ‘no.’

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When Major Publishers Underpay Editors, They Shoot Themselves in the Foot

What is the point of a corporate trade publisher’s existence in the 21st century?

Great editorial support. That’s it.

And the large English-language publishers are pissing their editorial departments away.

Editors have been leaving large corporate trade publishers for decades. To a large part, this was because of mergers. The new, consolidated, corporate-owned publishers laid off ‘surplus’ staff. Unfair as this was to the people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own, this didn’t harm the editorial power of the publishers as long as the editors they kept maintained a high standard. Conceivably (though I don’t believe this actually happened), reducing the number of editors could even improve quality if it solved a ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ problem.

Recently, a bunch of editors have quit their jobs at large English-language publishers, most notably Molly McGhee, who quit because her publisher overworked and underpaid her. Here’s a summary of what happened.

Great editorial departments are the only reason to keep these large trade publishers around. Others can do everything else cheaper and/or better.

If Molly McGhee’s claims are correct, the publishers are under-investing in their editorial departments. That’s the road to failure.

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Why I Search Under the Streetlight—and Why That’s Okay

I thank everyone who commented on my post from last week, publicly or privately, whether you felt it described you as a reader or not. You reminded me that, as I try to get a better understanding of readers, I have a ‘drunk searching for keys under the streetlight’ issue.

My ‘original’ research is binge-reading Amazon reviews of books and sharing the analyses with my newsletter—speaking of that, I’m running a silly giveaway to build my email list, if you need an antique book from Victorian England with a broken spine and have a U.S. postal address, this is a great giveaway for you.

Amazon book reviews are a convenience sample—I only get information from people who post them. That is, the readers who have especially strong opinions. Lukewarm/casual readers are severely underrepresented. (But how do I know that? Actually, I don’t. I’m making an assumption. I don’t have concrete evidence to prove that lukewarm/casual readers are underrepresented in Amazon reviews).

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