The Mail I Get

I get lots of wonderful fan mail from MONK readers. But I also get ones like this:

Mr, Goldberg, thanks for this opportunity to contact you.  First, you have given me great pleasure over the years.  I have bought and read every Monk book, and also own the series.  Monk is one of my favorite characters, and I enjoyed all of your books until recently.

To make this brief,  I’m sorry, but “Mr. Monk is a Mess”  is simply a really lousy book, in my opinion.  I hardly know where to begin.

She then goes on, at great length, to tell me all the reasons why the book didn’t work for her on any level, concluding with:

I do thank you for all the great books and T. V. episodes you have given us, But if I can find my receipt, this book will go back, and I am going to watch episodes of Monk to get the bad “taste” out of my mind. I don’t know if you will bother to read this (the first time I’ve ever to an author). But if you do, thank you for the opportunity to air my opinion.

I’m so glad I could give her a chance to vent. But I responded politely:

Thanks for taking the time to share your opinion with me. This is the first email I’ve received from a reader that has expressed any disappointment with the book. Although you may not think the events in the story were true to the character, Andy Breckman, who created the characters and ran the tv series, heartily approved of everything in the book. I don’t do anything in the books without getting his consent first. So we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this point :-).  

I often wonder what kind of response a reader who sends an email like that expects from an author. Usually, I don’t bother to respond at all. But I was at Costco, waiting for my wife, when I browsed my email, so I had time to kill…
UPDATE: The fan responded to my note:

Lee, thanks for your friendly response. I appreciate knowing that Andy Breckman okayed everything (though I do disagree!) Keep writing!

6 thoughts on “The Mail I Get”

  1. Well, I liked it, but I have to admit I’ve only seen a few of the TV shows. Maybe she was objecting to the characters growing and changing (which is unlike many tie-in books) without realizing what she disliked?

  2. Hi, Lee! Wow!…but my curiosity is piqued! What in the world could make her perceive everything to be wrong about that Monk book?!!!

  3. Well, I can see your point. You don’t want to hear negative comments about your writing. And you responded terrifically, showing a lot of emotional maturity. But, well, the comment comes across differently if you look at it as “free market research.” Companies are dying to get a read on the market and pay a lot to get it. For every reader like this one who openly complains, there are probably 50 or more who feel the same way but don’t complain.
    For example, take a refrigerator as a product. A buyer tells the company a door hinge doesn’t work well. So they look at it, the buyer is correct, and they re-engineer it, and recall the others sold and fix them. The initial complaint is the “golden information” that helps them make a better product. They are dying to receive such information. They actually welcome all and any complaints.
    So, I’m just saying, you could open a Word Folder and label it “Complaints,” say. One file could be a master list of all the complaints. Then the actual complaint could be pasted in its own file along with all similar complaints. This way, you build up an understanding of how your book is coming across in the market place, to some readers. Then, as an experiment, you might write a stand-alone that eliminates all these causes for complaint.
    Anyway, if people care so much about you and your book that they’ll try to help you out in writing the next one, well, if you can get yourself to welcome the process, and focus on the information rather than the insult, and act on it, that’s kinda how a person finds their path to success, maybe–by eliminating the mistakes. To get Zen for a moment: The universe is actually loving you, it just doesn’t feel like it, that’s the illusion.

  4. The only time I wrote an author to vent on his book had to do with sloppiness on facts.
    Like:
    Having a *revolver* with a safety and loading it with an ammo clip in the grip. This was described in detail.
    (Yes, at a key moment the hero forgets the safety’s on, generating false suspense.)
    Putting eyelids on a snake. , having it “purr.” WTF?
    Having a domestic commuter jet with an airspeed equal to that of an F-16 on full thrust.
    Having “magnificent white bay horses.” Bays are brown.
    And a dozen other things I won’t go into, but they’ve stuck with me since 1991 and I’ve not knowingly read his books since.
    I will say he inspired me in that I vowed to avoid howlers like that in my own writing.
    You can’t control who loves or hates your books, but how you handled her in your reply was danged fine.
    I once got a letter–a paper letter!–from a fan who thought I’d wholly ruined vampire fiction based on a single point of action in one of my books that he didn’t like.
    That’s quite a responsibility heaped upon little ol’ me. I tried to rise to it and suggested he do what I did when I didn’t like something I’d read: write his own book and make that other writer look like a fool.
    Strangely, I’d not heard back from him. ;0)

  5. The critique from August 18 echoed my sentiments exactly! I love the Monk series and have every season on dvd…and have read every Monk book — we read and watch Monk not so much for the plot (that won’t bring us back again and again) but for spending time with the characters. This is what we feel was missing with the last two Monk books — a sense of who Monk really was. In the last two books he came across as a flat and nasty character…critical and unlikable — it wasn’t fun or touching or engaging– bravo to the guy who had the courage to analyze and comment — it was as if you really didn’t like Monk anymore and just let some software writing program produce a plot and the characters names dropped in later — Andy Breckman may have ok’d the Monk book — but there are still a lot of us out here who felt let down — this was like a school assignment written in haste the night before the deadline — however, we die hard Monk fans look forward to more books!

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