Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Dear Reader

In the reissued paperback edition of Stephen King's THE STAND, King included a letter, addressed to the reader (or as King calls them, 'Constant Reader'), about how the book was written, why nearly 150,000(!) words were cut from the original publication (primarily economics), and what the reader could expect from the volume within.

I remember reading this introduction for the first time at summer camp when I was a teenager, and then plowing through the 1,100 page novel in about 3 days. The introduction opened up a window into King's mind that I found fascinating. He was self-depricating, a little haughty, darn funny, and cared enough about his readership to reader try and win them over.

I did not write a "Dear Reader" letter in THE MARK because, frankly, it didn't occur to me. Looking back I don't know if, as a debut author, it would have mattered. I did decide to write one for THE GUILTY however. I did this for two reasons.

First, like King, I want to connect with my readers beyond the novel itself (case in point, this blog). Second, I felt several of the themes and non-fiction hooks in the book were interesting enough that a casual reader might read the letter in a bookstore and bring THE GUILTY to the cash register. I have no idea whether this letter will actually accomplish either of those, but thinking back to how much I enjoyed King's letters (literally to the point where I would reread them for pleasure) I can only hope to connect on that level. And if I do, there's more than a good possibility I'll succeed on at least one of those two goals.

As readers, does a "Dear Reader" letter make you more or less likely to buy a book? Does it endear the author to you? Does a letter influence you in any way whatsoever?


Blogger Katie Alender said...

I respect Stephen King's novels, but I looooove his first-person voice. I hadn't really read anything of his until I read "On Writing", and then I felt like I had a better sense of who he was and a better jumping-off point to read his fiction.

That's all I have to contribute.

6:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love Dear Reader letters and Stephen King has got to be the best writer of them there is. I think he should put out a collection of all his reader letters and forewords and afterwards and such.

Duane Swierczynski and I were once talking about this and thought it would be fun to have an anthology full of just afterwards and forewords people write for stories that don't exist.

I'm looking forard to the letter and to The Guilty.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Kimberly J. Smith said...

I'm a big fan of "dear reader" letters for exactly the same reason, and exactly the same letter for The Stand. Maybe that's because I was fascinated in his writer's brain, dreaming of being an author myself. I wonder if we connect with that format for that reason? Interesting to hear what a non-writer's viewpoint on it would be.

Kimberly J. Smith

3:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not a terribly big fan of "Dear Reader" letters, but Stephen King's uncanny whit and raw manner were personal and honestly felt connected instead of "Hey you, reader person, buy my book!"

Btw, thanks for recommending On Writing, one of the best books I've read this year.

11:17 AM  
Blogger Spy Scribbler said...

Oh, wow, see, I'm obsessed with dedications and acknowledgments. In fact, rarely does a book make it to a cash register without me having read both the dedications and acknowledgments.

A dear reader letter? Yep, I'm there. Did you ever read the dedication to his readers in one of Neil Gaiman's books? Hilarious! Definitely check it out if you haven't. :-)

But I never claimed to be normal, btw ...

8:43 PM  
Blogger Allison Brennan said...

I love King's letters and I, too, read the unabridged THE STAND in 3 days . . . I'd already read the abridged version at nearly 800 pages, LOL.

I have considered with each book about writing a dear reader letter. I just couldn't put it together the way I wanted, so never went through with it. I don't particularly like letters that start, "Dear Reader" but everything else seems to be a copy of someone else. It wouldn't make me buy/not buy the book, but I would definitely read it.

2:21 AM  

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