Bad Advice Wednesday: How Not to Write a Fan Letter

categories: Cocktail Hour


meanAs anyone who has ever been in a writing workshop knows, you say the nice stuff first and slide in the criticism in later. Apparently, this is not common knowledge in the world beyond workshop walls. At least not based on some of the letters I’ve gotten about my new book this summer. Purportedly these are “fan letters,” though some of them stretch that definition.


Here’s an example from a letter I got last week:


Dear David,

I recently bought a copy of “All the Wild that Remains.” Although I thought it got off-track and dragged a bit in spots (sorry!), overall I enjoyed it…”


How exactly should I respond to that? Well, I can tell you how I did respond: I stopped reading (sorry!). Which brings me back to my point about the workshop model being a good one here. If your real reason for writing an author is to criticize their work, then maybe at least Trojan-horse that in later and say some nice stuff first. It’s a Miss Manners kind of thing.

For the purpose of this blog post, which I know is kind of off-track and draggy in spots, I did go back and skim the entire letter. It turns out our letter-writer went on to add that my book was “well-written and well-researched” (thanks!). Then: “That is, except for one glaring omission, about which I hope you’ll let me have my say.”

The next four paragraphs explained that my omission was spending too few pages on the damage that ranching has done to western lands. Which is actually a valid point, (and one I might have been more open to had he not begun his letter with an insult). Of course it turned out that our ill-mannered letter writer had a self-published book on this very subject…..

I need to stress that this guy’s letter was not a mean or spiteful. This guy is no Dobyx. He was just a little weak in the tact department. So that’s this week’s bad advice. Say it with flowers first. Then slip in the arsenic.

  1. Tommy writes:

    Dobyx has his own radio talk show in Philadelphia now; he makes his living shitting on anything creative. People love it! He also swears gender identification therapy helped him find his true self.

  2. Kate Sidwell writes:

    Dear David,
    I read your book All the Wild…. It was right on track, in fact I sent copies to Colorado and to my 95 year old Dad whose family came across the west in Conestoga wagons in the Gold Rush landing in Denver, starting the first ever general store at the base of the foothills, They built a store that had the first neon in the West on the Top. My entire family loved this book , they in turn sent all over the four corners and Durango leading people to gobble up Abbey and Stenger , all people who LIVED the western saga, and the comments on Wyoming and other areas were so poignant and something only those of us who birthed our children at the foot of Flagstaff Mountain really knew intimately.
    You are becoming the true literary voice for a generation whose roots are there , Keep on writing and publishing, You have a true brilliant voice and eye. Dont let any blogger who knows nothing of these men, this land and the legacy of David Gessner. The only complaint I have is that your success has kept you from Slough Road. Ha. We wish you the greatest success, struggle, journey and make sure sometime before we are gone from here you come again to Brewster, Quivett Creek and Paines Creek Beach, The Sidwells