A few years ago when I was working on one of my books, I got an email from my overworked editor in London. The copy editor in New York didn’t like one of my sentences and had proposed a change. My London Editor suspected that the change was not in keeping with what I had intended and so she wrote and asked me about it. She was certainly correct; the change proposed by New York was not something I could live with.
Rather than getting into a perhaps fruitless argument with the copy editor, however, I suggested a somewhat simple change that my London editor agreed would likely make New York happy. My point remained in the remainder of the paragraph, so nothing would be lost, but the change I suggested would mollify the copy editor. Getting a book done requires a lot of compromising, given the number of hands involved in the process.
Unfortunately, my suggested change wound up shortening the sentence by twelve words. That meant that my London editor now had blank space that needed filling. After another couple of emails—as well as offering clarification on the point I was attempting to make in the sentence in question—I came up with a rewrite of the first three sentences that added the necessary words and solved the problem.
As usual, my London editor was very apologetic through the whole process and wrote me, “sorry to be such a pain.” As if it’s her fault. It’s the copy editor in New York who seems to have forgotten that it’s not her name on the cover of the book.
Everyone’s a critic, after all.
I get letters. Often times they are not very nice. Of course, as one of my friends pointed out, most people write letters to the editor, or to stores, or, in my case, to authors, only if they are angry with them. In 2008 I registered my last name as a domain on the web and put up an official author’s website, together with a different email address based on that domain name. That way people who read my books can find out about the other books I’ve done and perhaps find out a little more about me if they are so inclined. Most authors have websites; they are a useful marketing tool. My author friends had been bugging me to do this for quite some time.
The very first email to that new email address associated with my website was not from a fan. Quite the opposite.
I was particularly amused by one sentence from my critic: “No! I am not a crack pot … that slang would better be applied to you and your works.” That sentence was actually one of the less nasty of the many sentences I had to endure—sentences which consisted of a series of negative assertions about my character. As my wife and those with whom I shared the wonderful missive commented, “how is it that someone can accuse you of things that are so completely opposite of who and what you actually are?” I’ve had letters before and after accusing me of all manner of character flaws, sometimes laced with profanity or even death threats. This first to my new email address lacked both the vulgar language and the death threats, thankfully.
When people don’t know you, it is easy for them to fill in the blanks and project upon you all manner of things they don’t like, that simply aren’t so. As to why they do it, it is hard to say. I personally don’t understand what motivates a person to go to the effort of writing a rude letter to a stranger. But then, I know it’s easy to at least think unkind things about those who are close to us, whom we do know well. If someone forgets to call us on our birthday, how often do we assume that they no longer value their relationship with us, that in fact, they’ve become our enemies and now probably hate us—only to discover later that they left a message on our answering machine and the birthday card they sent us got delayed because it was inadvertently delivered to our neighbor by mistake? It is very easy to misread the intentions of our closest friends and family. But that reality doesn’t often intrude upon the thoughts of those who write mean-spirited letters and then shake their fingers and tell us that they are not a crackpot.
Unlike letters from my editors asking me change something, I never bother to respond to letters from cranks—except perhaps to chuckle as I drop them in the trash.