When is a Fan Letter NOT a Fan Letter

Kathy Lynn Emerson here, today pondering an email sent to me recently. Every once in a while I receive a communication, supposedly from a reader, that doesn’t quite ring true. Since this was one of those, I did not answer it, but now I wonder if I made the right decision.

Right off the bat, I was disinclined to be receptive. Why? Because although the email came to an email address that included my full name, the salutation read “Dear Kathie.” Call me oversensitive, but you’d think my self-proclaimed “fan” would have known how to spell my name. I respond to Kathy or Kathy Lynn. I wince at Kathy Lee but can understand the error. Kathie Lee Gifford is a lot more famous than Kathy Lynn Emerson. Still, it’s Kathy Lynn on the book covers, on my webpage, on Facebook, and in my email address. This isn’t rocket science!

Kathy Bates in MISERY: At least she knows how to spell Kathy!

Okay, leaving the misspelled name aside, the body of the email began by stating that the sender was a “new fan” of mine. Then, instead of, for example, mentioning the title of a book by me that he’d read, or saying anything about why he’s a fan—not to stroke my ego, but just out of common courtesy, and because there should be some reason he likes my writing and is going to the trouble of contacting me—he tells me what state he lives in. The text of the email is all one paragraph. The remainder consists of three questions: “Are your books available in audio? If so what is the link? Also do you have a news letter that I can subscribe to on your website?”

Those are all legitimate queries, but in order to find my email address in the first place, he presumably went to my website. If that’s the case, he should already know there’s no newsletter sign up. What is there is a complete list of my books that includes what few audio editions there are.

My correspondent signed himself “Your new fan, and new listener.”

Did I mention that the entire email was written in purple, using a font size of at least 24?

But here’s my problem. I always wonder afterward if I should answer an email like this one. What if my “new fan” is just a kid? I’ve written children’s books as Kathy. On the other hand, I’ve received plenty of fan mail from young readers in the past and they’ve always made specific references to the book or books they’ve read. On the other hand, he could be one of those “fans” who try to start a correspondence with every writer than can find an address for. As a general rule, those folks never seem to read books at all, let alone books by the people they’re writing to.

So, here’s my question to those of you reading this blog: What do you think an author should do in response to a suspiciously un-fanlike fan letter like this one? Answer it? Ignore it? Or maybe just flip a coin?

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-three books traditionally published and has self published several children’s books and three works of nonfiction. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Her next publication (as Kaitlyn) is the fourth book in the contemporary “Deadly Edits” series (Murder, She Edited), in stores in August 2021. As Kathy, her most recent novel is a standalone historical mystery, The Finder of Lost Things. She maintains websites at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com. A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, is the gateway to over 2300 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen, now available in e-book format.


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15 Responses to When is a Fan Letter NOT a Fan Letter

  1. Bruce says:

    Ignore it. You made the right decision.

  2. Julianne Spreng says:

    Wise move. Do Not let your politeness override caution. Absolutely, IGNORE IT! This was a phishing expedition not a fan. Do Not open any links or attachments!!

  3. Brenda Buchanan says:

    I would (a) ignore it and (b) write a blog post about it. I can see that good minds think alike!

  4. kaitcarson says:

    I completely understand your dilemma and can feel my mother standing over my shoulder right now. That said, Mom did not live in the age of trolls – except for those living under bridges.

    If someone can’t get the name right, and there is nothing to indicate they are a young fan just learning the ropes of fan letter writing, ignore it. I agree with Julianne, it smacks of a phishing expedition.

  5. Dru says:

    I would ignore it.

  6. John Clark says:

    This somewhat mirrors a current discussion On MELIBS, the Maine library listserv-initial message below
    Hello Library Land!
    A few Piscataquis libraries have had a reference caller that has been very
    pushy, needy and then very angry when told that we have hit our limits in
    helping. They have a private caller number, and will not share name, phone
    number, or address so we can find other ways to help. They will not / can
    not get to the library and want you to read wiki pages and other reference
    materials over the phone for long periods of time. They have now tried to
    make advances such as asking for personal information on some female
    librarians and they have been told that will not happen. We have taken the
    steps needed to address the issue, but wanted to let others know that it
    has been an issue in case other libraries have had problems as well.

    This was posted yesterday morning and elicited a bunch of responses from librarians from Aroostook to York counties, describing similar phone calls over the past few months, all phone numbers blocked or hidden, caller refusing to give name. Maybe this person is expanding his ‘hobby’ to writers. Some of the described calls ventured into sicko territory.

  7. Monica says:

    I used to own a B&B and this sort of email is pretty common. The writer got the email address from somewhere but does not want to do any other work. Thus, a long list of questions that are all completely answered (with an FAQ section, bulleted lists on many pages, long, breezy text blocks for those who like to read, etc) but the writer still wants YOU to show you will personally answer every question. Most of them never made a reservation.

    Then again, there were way more phishing emails that eventually got to the point of wanting to reserve every room for two weeks, how much will that cost, can you also arrange all our meals, rent us a van and driver, here’s our credit card, please give yourself a big tip.

    There are bored, lonely people out there. There are also trolls. I wouldn’t give this email any more space in your head.

  8. kaitlynkathy says:

    Thanks to everyone for your responses. I think Kait hit the nail on the head. I was brought up, long before email, to always respond to letters (and to write thank you notes!) and the mom-instilled guilt still lingers when I don’t.

  9. susanvaughan says:

    Absolutely you were right not to respond. Ignore and if possible, block the emailer.

  10. tempewytch says:

    Personally I think you made the right call, and I am with others saying block them if you can!

  11. I’d archive it, and flag it as suspicious. The worry-wort in me says save it as evidence, hopefully not needed to protect against stalking.

  12. Alice says:

    Ignore it just like unknown phone calls. Legitimate writers and/or callers would ensure that their message was communicated.

  13. itslorrie says:

    I agree with everyone and would also add that you should trust your gut. Often our good manners may override our instincts. Whether it is a phishing expedition or an overly needy fan, you don’t want the hassle. Good job Cassie Lou Diddit/Emersin!

  14. Nancy says:

    Ignore it!

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