How do I develop a friendship with my favorite writer?
February 22, 2007 3:06 AM   Subscribe

Recently I've met my favorite writer in a book presentation. He is considered one of the best living writers. In 2006 he won several prizes. His name is sometimes mentioned as a Nobel candidate. I was lucky enough to cause an impression on him, and I suggested him to visit my blog. He did, and then he sent me a short e-mail about it. Now, how do I keep things moving forward? How do I develop this contact into a friendship, without turning this into a worship, without causing a wrong impression that I could be using his name to my personal benefit? Essentially: how do I maintain and develop this relation, instead of killing it?
posted by dfreire to Human Relations (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Reply to his email with some questions that you think he will find it enjoyable to answer. And pretend he's not your favourite writer, but just some guy you like.
posted by pollystark at 3:13 AM on February 22, 2007

If you haven't already gushed, perhaps one brief, well crafted e-mail to get it out of the way might be useful. Something like, "I want you to know I'm a huge fan of your work, I think it's terrific and I'm pleased you liked my blog." Move on to...what pollystark said.

He may be some guy you just like, but it might be weird if your fandom just hangs over there forever without being mentioned at all.

Also, care to put your blog URL in your profile? I'm curious to see what possible Nobel laureates are reading these days...
posted by Deathalicious at 4:53 AM on February 22, 2007

Prepare yourself for a shock: it's unlikely that he wants to be your friend. He's just being polite.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:13 AM on February 22, 2007

It's hard enough for conversation to take off if one of the parties starts by praising the other. It just doesn't leave much room for the other to say something beyond "thanks" or launch into a monologue about himself that might not be the best way to develop a relationship.

Being famous (or recognized, if you will) creates an uneven situation, because you know a lot of that person, when he/she doesn't know much about you. So, to balance that, I think you should focus the "conversation" on interesting topics, rather than on his/her work. Leave that aside, if you develop a relationship with that person you'll have plenty of time to tell her/him your thoughts on his/her work, if not, you are going to regret having spent your five minutes with that person talking about how much you admire her/him.

Put yourself in that person's shoes. You meet someone interesting, and that person, instead of being interesting, just launches into a dissection of things you've written. Would you like to see/talk to that person again, or would you just look for the other people, who can actually discuss things apart from what you've done?
posted by micayetoca at 5:14 AM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

If I met someone socially who just wanted to talk about my work, I'd run a hundred miles in the other direction. And I don't experience this at all -- he probably experiences it close to 100% of the time.

Treat the author as you would treat me if I'd met you at a conference, and then visited your blog and dropped you a note about it. See if there are any shared interests (other than his work) and build on those. Don't try too hard.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 5:38 AM on February 22, 2007

How do I develop this contact into a friendship, without turning this into a worship, without causing a wrong impression that I could be using his name to my personal benefit?

Sounds like you're already in worship mode which is a bad way to start any friendship.

What Carol Anne said.
posted by three blind mice at 6:19 AM on February 22, 2007

Stop obsessing and write him back? All the friendships I have didn't start with me scheming about how to make them so.
posted by chunking express at 6:38 AM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Do not instantly reply to his messages. If he has a turnaround time of three days when he replies to one of your messages, use that same interval for your reply. Basically, you're establishing a rhythm to communication.

If the intervals grow steadily longer, or the replies terser, he was just being polite.

Also, see if you cannot divine some highly tangential interests from reading his works. If there is anything you have in common, mention it casually. Intellectual friendships are often not formed on the basis of obvious commonalities, but on the recognition that someone out there likes the same obscure thing you do.
posted by adipocere at 7:08 AM on February 22, 2007

Ask him if he's read Misery.
posted by Optamystic at 7:13 AM on February 22, 2007 [4 favorites]

Having had a few long term dialogues with "famous" people, a general rule of thumb is to just treat him like a person. Skip the worship and don't pull your punches, he gets adulation all day long, he doesn't need another voice in the choir. Keep it on topic, too, and don't be afraid.
posted by GilloD at 7:28 AM on February 22, 2007

I'd reply with something like "Hey, man. Thanks for the note -- appreciate it. If you're into [subject of blog], you might also get a kick out of [list of other sites]."

Don't talk about his work. If you somehow strike up a real friendship, talk with him about work just as you talk about work with any of your other friends -- in five minute snippets every couple of weeks.
posted by solid-one-love at 8:16 AM on February 22, 2007

I have wound up in working relationships with two separate artists whose work I idolize. One is a novelist and the other a recording artist. These relationships each lasted for several years.

In neither case did I ever really get the chance to tell them what their work had meant to me, or even ask very many questions about it outside the context of the projects we were working on. I was so determined to be "normal" around them, but since my brain was pretty much sputtering and crackling every second we were in touch, I have no idea how well I accomplished that.

If you are determined to try and keep this connection fresh and see where it leads, it's important to know for sure whether your motivations are professional or personal. It's also important to remind yourself (perhaps hourly) of what Carol Anne said upthread. Unless you have some specific business with this person or some specific request of him, then it's a personal connection you're seeking. And if that's the case, the course of it is going to be set entirely by him. All you can do is reply to his email, thank him, ask him whatever questions you have, and let him know what his feedback has meant to you, and let it ride on that.

If he happens to have genuinely taken an interest in you or your work, I'm sure he'll make it clear somehow. You'll probably be able to tell by the tone and length of the emails whether he is really trying to perpetuate this contact. People try to gently let you know that they're done by shortening their responses, taking longer to reply, and declining to ask any questions which might prompt you to reply. This is how someone says, "I'm done". Or they may just stop replying altogether. Don't take it personally; this opportunity has been a shining moment in your life that you will always remember, but to him it is has merely been pleasant and ephemeral in the scope of his regular interactions with the public.

I do and don't envy you. It's an agonizing pleasure, with no real promise of any satisfaction. Act discreetly and with dignity so that telling this story (as you no doubt will for years to come) will be as painless and unself-conscious as possible.
posted by hermitosis at 8:42 AM on February 22, 2007

If I were him and I ever came across this question I'd be kind of skeeved. I'd think you'd want to develop a friendship like you would with anyone else.
posted by 6550 at 8:46 AM on February 22, 2007

keep the "worship" to a bare minimum! i am on the receiving end of compliments and recognition for my work, and the ones who gush on and on are a big red flag who i usually try to avoid. someone who succinctly pays me a compliment on my work and then moves on to deftly engage me in conversation or dialog gets and keeps my attention.

suggestions about pacing responses given here are good to heed. follow their lead, and leave room/space/time for 'real world' concerns when waiting for replies. it most often isn't personal if it takes them some time to get back to you.
posted by kuppajava at 9:01 AM on February 22, 2007

A friend cultivated just a relationship with Kurt Vonnegut (is it him?). I think they just started corresponding, not enough to freak him out, and KV continued it. My friend knows Vonnegut's work backwards and forwards, I'm sure that had something to do with it.
posted by GaelFC at 9:04 AM on February 22, 2007

Carol Anne may or may not be correct. It's not like because a person happens to be particularly accomplished and recognized in a field, he or she stops forming human connections in ordinary ways. The demands of politeness hardly require one to respond to something they were invited to read, and obviously he knows that writing to you invites response. Still, obviously anyone famous to any degree gets hassled a lot so it is worthwhile to be circumspect.

Take a second look at that email and try to to be objective: it is merely a polite missive, or does it invite response? Questions, pointing to specifics in your blog that invite expansion or clarification, and making connections to your prior discussions (creating an ongoing, developing dialog) tend to suggesting he is interested in carrying on a conversation with you. Respond in kind, within the framework of topics that are established, and in something of the ballpark of brevity that he established.

On the other hand, generic praise/adivice, closed-ended comments, "wrapping up" sorts of statements (i.e. it was pleasant to meet you and best of luck with your writing...) indicate that yes, it was a polite formality. Send a polite response of thanks, perhaps a simple statement that you hope he'll keep reading, and let it be.

However it goes, be cognizant that this is a person who necessarily has a much broader burden of communications than you, who probably routinely deals with relative strangers expecting a greater degree of personal connection with him than is reasonable due to their relationship with his work, who has greater commitments on his time. Finally, this person your are communicating with is a human being, not your idol. Your "favorite writer" is a construct you've developed in your mind based on reading his work. Understand that you're not dealing with that, deal with the human being.

Given your expression and frankly the existence of this thread it does seem like you already have this relationship up on a bit of a pedestal, which is a bad place for any relationship to be. Dial it back, don't worry so much (if this guy is all you say, he's got fans, and chances are he already knows you are one), and keep looking for and following the cues as to whether or not he wants to expand a relationship, maintain a cordial but moderate correspondence, or simply was acknowledging a polite, happenstance connection. Respect the boundaries implicitly communicated, and all will be well regardless of what happens.
posted by nanojath at 9:24 AM on February 22, 2007

In many situations, the writer is going to be in "fan mail mode". He'll have dozens of emails a day, and will probably just skim through them, giving the minimum effort to let the fan know he appreciates their kind words, but leaving him time to actually write.

To make the jump to friend, you need to do what friends do for each other. Help out. See if there's a way you can give him a hand with something - for example, with his website, or getting his own blog up to speed. Or maybe you've got an idea on how he can promote a book. Approach him on issues on which you can be peers.
posted by fcain at 9:28 AM on February 22, 2007

Good advice here. I might also consider a short statement ala deathalicious above early on -- e.g., "Wow, it's sort of strange to be emailing with you, I've been a fan since 1975," or whatever, short, and not repeated, but just to reference the situation so it's not hanging out there creating awkward weirdness in your head. (Perhaps apples and oranges aside: I'm semi well-known in my veerrrrry tiny field, and I've had a few people say, "oh, it's strange to meet you, I've heard so much about you," and I smile and forget about the sentence entirely two seconds later, but it perhaps makes the other person feel more situated.)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:37 AM on February 22, 2007

Dude - What's your website? I'd like to see it. Seeing it also might help with the answers you're getting.
posted by conch soup at 9:49 AM on February 22, 2007

Treat everybody you meet like your friend, and they will want to be one. If you had known this friend since you were in diapers together, would you be gushing?

Chillax, baby. Ain't no author that was never a person too.
posted by troubadour at 10:25 AM on February 22, 2007

Remove "writer" with "VJ" and you have my situation.

When I was 16 I made a fansite for a music TV station and almost all the staff responded positively. One of the VJs especially liked me and we sparked a correspondence. Initially it was a lot of "OMG I LOVE YOU" (the funny thing was that she was such a fan of my website too and would gush about me!) but after a few months we got more personal. When I was first stricken with panic attacks, she knew, and that's when things reached a personal level.

We were out of touch for unavoidable reasons for 9 months, and it didn't help that I was already depressed and panicky so I did not take it at all well. I was nearly obsessed. Right about the time I started recovering, she popped back out of the blue, and we resumed contact, rebuilding our friendship into a more intimate and personal one. She's now one of my best friends and she trusts me with many many personal things.

I didn't do things quite the perfect right way. I was very gushy (well, I was a teenager! And very excitable!) and I didn't realize until much later that it was a bit skeevy and made my best friend uncomfortable (she had enough people only liking her because she's famous). I was forgiven, though, because I was young and still learning. I have gone past the whole "omg fandom" thing and have learnt to see her as a person first and foremost, without being blinded by her fame.

I'm not sure I'd recommend the "I've been such a fan of your work!!" method - they already know, and it kind of brings a sense of enlightenment - "I like you, so you should like me back". Just be human and friendly. Show your appreciation, sure, but don't be scary.

Everyone wants to be treated as a human. There isn't some "celebrity famous" standard protocol thing you have to adhere to. By my experience, the more you treat them as some elusive celebrity, the more awkward and uncomfortable it gets. Be natural, be nice, and don't hold expectations. It's not impossible to befriend someone you're a fan of (certainly happened to me!) but don't go on befriending them ONLY because they're famous. If this was someone random would you still want to be friends?
posted by divabat at 7:43 PM on February 22, 2007

Troll him. Seriously, just say something very outrageous that he will feel the strong compulsion to set you right. When he replies, follow up with an even more ridiculous troll. On the 3rd mail, agree with him, and inject humour into the email.

The thing is, such guys have tons of friends. They only need the exceptional people, and the only way you can do so is by piquing his interest. If you do not have any novel ideas about his field, you should just troll him.
posted by markovich at 1:26 AM on February 23, 2007

Uh, please ignore markovich. They will not feel the need to set you right. They will only think you are a ridiculous troll, and ignore you. Really, don't do what he says.

*has seen too many emails of this nature directed to her best friend, and is already too annoyed*
posted by divabat at 4:01 AM on February 23, 2007

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