Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Dear author, you suck!

I receive regular emails from readers of my books, which is a delightful experience, and I always try to reply. But sometimes what they ask for is not very practical.

I have had the 'I have this assignment from school on light, will you write it for me?' type of email, for instance. To these I very gently point out that they can find out the information here and here, but it's up to them.

I also get emails and letters asking me to explain something in one of my books in a different way or in more detail. These I feel more sympathy for - at least part of me thinks that this implies that I didn't get it right the first time. If it's a quick query, I will do my best to answer it - but if it implies re-packaging the material of a whole chapter, say, I'm afraid I do give a fairly unhelpful answer.

I recently had one of these emails about a book I wrote 5 years ago, basically saying I don't get chapter 13 and 14 and as I like to understand each chapter as I go, can you explain it to me so I can read on? I replied that I could only really advise keeping going and hoping all will become clear. This is a common problem with science and maths subjects - you sometimes have to take bits on trust and go with the flow. It's certainly what I found when at university. In this case, we were dealing with infinity, a subject that is never going to have clear and absolute answers anyway.

Unfortunately, the email writer was not happy. He told me off for giving him a lame excuse. I find this quite upsetting. I wasn't trying to give a lame excuse - but the fact is, I can't write a new book for every reader to put the information across the way they want it. Many people have enjoyed that book - I know that from their emails. In this case, I failed. Half of me wants to go back and apologise - but I know it's the road to disaster. There are some conversations that aren't ever going to succeed.


  1. And let's not forget that he/she may have been trying to get you to write his/her English assignment on those chapters.
    There are plenty of people out there who do not see why they shouldn't get around the rules, and when they find a way that involves upright people helping them, they're often frustrated and upset when it doesn't work.
    Don't underestimate the lack of scruples or the wealth of gall some people have.

  2. Sadly that may be true... though I like to hope for the best!