It's the thing I want to say most often in life, especially as a writer. Yes, even more than, "sorry, you must send me the dry cleaning bill". In fact, I lose count of the times i want to say thank you in any one day.
Take yesterday. Someone in the publishing industry agreed to look at my book and help me find places to send it for review; an author I greatly admire had a personal word with a magazine editor who then requested a review copy; a bookstore owner agreed to take my book sale or return; a website host posted a great big plug for my book; a blogger I hugely admire gave me a link; most of all, more than one person who's read my stuff sent me a lovely message. I want to buy them ALL milk and cookies and hire the Red Arrows to write thank you in the sky.
But it's not that simple. Thank you is a minefield for a writer.
Let me start with some very bad practice, and it might help you also to see the problem with seemingly good practice. Book blog tours seem to be all the rage at the moment. Or maybe it just seems it because there's a particularly interesting thread on the subject on the excellent Help Supprt Indpendent Publishers group on Facebook.
Maybe it's just me but one thing I've noticed is just how many writers on blog tours, or giving interviews on websites, attract comments from readers, and questions, which are met with a stony silence.
Now, pardon me for being old fashioned, but that's RUDE. And before authors chime in with "you're unpublished, you don't know how busy it is" (true, and also true [but try working a 37.5 hour week, running a festival, coordinating a collective, launching a book single-handed, AND trying to revolutionise an industry]), I KNOW how busy you are, but that's not an excuse. In practical terms, you actually lose readers as well as gaining them (and remember the old adage about one complaint needing nine bits of praise to balance it out. That's not just true in restaurants). But aside from that, don't take it on if you can't manage the courtesy of engaging with the readers when you do. These people are your RAISON D'ETRE. And it's not just that. It's incredibly rude to the blog host, who has to pick up the pieces of disgruntled readers and explain why their star guest bailed half way.
OK, that's a pet peeve out of the way. Do you see the other thing that would have been really rude of me? In the context of calling people who act like this a SUPERCILIOUS PLANK (as I believe I said in a bilious tweet last night :-))?
That's right. It would have been REALLY rude of me to name names.
Which brings me back to the business of when and how you DO say thank you. Take the first two instances. In both cases, I want to say thank you publicly. Because surely that's the greatest honour for someone, and gives them the best rep, the biggest kudos, right? Well, yes, BUT. If I say "Thank you for agreeing to read my book" to someone who's hugely busy and has done it as a favour (either to me or to a fairy godmother of whom I know nothing), they're not going to thank me back when 200 requests to do likewise arrive in their inbox.
So I send a grateful e-mail, right? Well, it's not that simple. Only the other day I was reading tweets by a Well Known But Nameless Agent who complained that authors are stalkers and, in not too many words "get out of my inbox" and certainly "if we've given something, go away and don't come back and bother us again." So the last thing I want to do if WKBNA does a kindness for me is to hack them off by sending a long e-mail thanking them and clogging their inbox. Nor do I want to seem curt. It's a minefield. (In this case, my advice is be thankful for one thing; never ask a second but say yes if it's offered; DO send a thank you that's friendly and personal, wishing well for a current project; I wouldn't offer to "let them know how it goes" - my guess is this will make them feel pressured to reply, which is bad - if they REALLY want to know they'll ask, but chances are they don't, so not offering spares embarrassment).
Which brings us to the nicest category. Readers, and fellow-writers. These are people who have approached you. So you needn't worry you're bothering them (that's NOT a stalker's charter). It goes without saying you MUST say thank you. It also, and this is important, because if you're not careful you can end up with no time to write, and that's actually what people really want from you, should go without saying that you can't, even though you'd like to, be everyone's lifecoach. You need to have boundaries, and to make those clear (which is NOT to say some, probably many, readers and fellow-writers won't become friends, possibly lifelong. I would hope they will. But that shouldn't be the expectation from your initial contact - that's THEIR stalker's charter). On the other hand, if you can do something to help, I really believe you should. That means much more than the words "thank you". You could offer to host them on your blog; or look at a short story; or put them onto a helpful website.
Yes, again. I KNOW you're busy. And I know it's easy fro me because I don't really have any fans. But remember those times before you were famous, when you were met with silence? Remember the mutterings under your breath. And remember the one person who showed you even a bit of kindness? I bet you DO. And don't EVER forget it.
Which brings me to a general observation. One of the most important articles ever written about culture (or business) can be found here. Kevin Kelly's basic premise is that you only need 1,000 true fans to sustain your business/life as a writer. I happen to think he's right (I'm not getting into that argument here). Now 1,000 is NOT a huge number. Certainly not if, like me, you write 50-100 e-mails a day. One reason I like 1,000 true fans is because it's a way of being that allows you to engage with everyone who's a fan of yours. And if you're a writer, someone who communicates, that's really how it should be, isn't it?