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Robert Heinlein's Pre-Internet Fan Mail FAQ 181

Posted by Soulskill
from the tanstaafl dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Kevin Kelly has an interesting post about a letter he found amongst correspondence from his days editing the Whole Earth Catalog. The letter is Robert Heinlein's own nerdy solution to a problem common to famous authors: to deal with fan mail. In the days before the internet, Heinlein's solution was to create a list of frequently asked questions, answer them, and remove the questions. Then he, or rather his wife Ginny, checked off the appropriate answer(s) and mailed it back. Some of the entries in Heinlein's answer sheet are quite illuminating and amusing. Our personal favorite: 'You say that you have enjoyed my stories for years. Why did you wait until you disliked one story before writing to me?'"
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Robert Heinlein's Pre-Internet Fan Mail FAQ

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  • Why?! (Score:5, Funny)

    by UnixUnix (1149659) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @01:15AM (#24943331) Homepage
    Why did I wait?! Because I am Lazarus Long and I do things my own way, Bob.
  • Citations? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Naznarreb (1274908) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @01:26AM (#24943399)
    Anyone know off hand what the papers and articles he cites are all about? I'm curious to know what questions The Saturday Evening Post, Mark Twain and Who's Who's in America might answer, especially since they were common enough to be included in the FAQ.
    • Re:Citations? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @01:37AM (#24943465)

      The Renshaw reference is regarding "Citizen of the Galaxy": accelerated education using a tachistoscope to provide brief glimpses of material that must be read and or memorized. Using a projector with exposure settings much like a camera, you can learn to recognize things very quickly. I used this when I learned to speed read and it was quite effective.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Samuel Renshaw [wikipedia.org], psychologist, which leads to this [enter.net] rather interesting read.
  • Interesting (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Aerynvala (1109505) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @01:29AM (#24943419) Homepage
    Some of the answers were amusing. Good to know that fannish entitlement and the false sense of intimacy are not merely a product of the internet.
    • Re:Interesting (Score:4, Insightful)

      by CortoMaltese (828267) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @01:37AM (#24943463)

      Some of the answers were amusing.

      The list makes me think that the *unchecked* "Please do not write to me again" and "Your letter was most welcome! ..." answers also work as special reward and punishment, respectively.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by RichiH (749257)
      Well, a sense of false entitlement was one of the things he hated the most (judging by what he wrote, but I read pretty much all fiction and a good chunk of his non-fiction).
  • (with fewer reasons). Please post {descriptions of /links to} the articles, etc. which he lists in his FAQ (Frequently Answered Questions)
  • by sleeponthemic (1253494) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @01:36AM (#24943451) Homepage

    Before, they had to write the thing, buy a stamp and send it.

    Now I can send britney my lesbian star trek fan fiction at the click of a mouse. It's got to be wayyyy worse to go through your mail now. (Assuming you have the intention of attempting to appease your fans by answering). Way easier to delete of course.. :)

    • by meta-monkey (321000) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @02:06AM (#24943579) Journal

      Every time I feel like writing fan-mail, I think, "Wait, would I really want to be bothered by this? And is it creepy?" and then I don't send it. I'd love to tell Alastair Reynolds how much I enjoy his work, but then I stop myself because the last thing I want to do is waste his time reading "gosh I sur luv ur books lawl" when he could be spending that time writing more books...

      • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @02:32AM (#24943677) Homepage Journal

        This is why hate mail makes so much more sense. People like reading their hate mail.

        • My psychology supervisor used to keep a whole filing cabinet of hate mail he received after doing a series of radio programmes. He occasionally used to trawl it for offensive phrases to use on some of his less intelligent colleagues, and to reassure himself that his work had in fact had an effect on people.

          And yes, some of it was unintentionally very funny. (I think he was planning to donate it eventually to the Abnormal Psychology people.)

        • This is why hate mail makes so much more sense. People like reading their hate mail.

          Well, Slashdot does, anyway (see idle).

      • by g253 (855070) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @03:02AM (#24943795) Homepage
        " Your letter was most welcome! - loaded with friendliness and with no requests or demands. You suggested that no answer was expected but I must tell you how _much_ it pleased me. I wish you calm seas, following winds, and a happy voyage through life. "
      • by plen246 (1195843) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:07AM (#24944083)

        My fans are pretty well-behaved. Sometimes they'll say "hi" to me on the street, but they're almost always too shy to tell me that they recognize me from the photos on my blog. Occasionally, my more enthusiastic fans will take time out of their workdays to send me fan mail, often exclaiming that I'm "Super lucky!" or "Pre-qualified!". I do find it a bit creepy when my more ardent fans send me lists of all of the public places I've been in the past few weeks. Although I don't usually notice them when I'm out and about, some of them must get pretty close, as they've been keeping track of my spending habits.

        Come to think of it, rising political stars often take advantage of the boost in self-confidence that comes with their new stature on the national stage to send me personalized greetings in the mail, praising our shared values and beliefs. Somehow, though, we always lose that special connection once they're in office.

        • My fans are mostly well behaved as well. The dogs know how to sit and stay, but the cat never gives me any space or privacy at all - particularly at feeding time...

      • Do it - I emailed Alastair Reynolds regarding his work back when I first picked up the Revelation Space series. It wasn't at all creepy, and we ended up having a decent email conversation about a bunch of things.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Rob the Bold (788862)

        Every time I feel like writing fan-mail, I think, "Wait, would I really want to be bothered by this? And is it creepy?" and then I don't send it.

        One thing that tells you is that your personality profile has an "I" in it instead of an "E", due to the 2 italicized words in the quote. That said, I'm sure almost anyone would appreciate novel, well-thought-out, positive, criticism. That said, I always figure someone has always beaten me to it with a better-thought-out note already, so I don't send it either.

        • INTJ, actually. You've piqued my curiosity. How did my use of italicized words lead you to this conclusion?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Brandee07 (964634)

        I always figured the best kind of fan mail is the royalty check the author gets each month. For those books I truly love, I buy them again when the old copy wears out/gets left behind on the train/becomes a chew toy for the dog. I've bought the paperback version of Dune four times now (I know, he's beyond getting fan mail or royalty checks now.)

        I have, however, sent fan emails in a few specific cases- with specific inquiries. I've asked a couple authors about making their work available for the Kindle (I

      • by Gilmoure (18428)

        I only respond to authors with blogs. If a person just wants to work and create stuff I like to read, I'm not going to joggle their elbow unless they invite comments and such.

    • by Grashnak (1003791) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @10:44AM (#24947635)

      I am intrigued by your lesbian star trek fan fiction and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

  • Answer to answer (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TheLink (130905) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @01:39AM (#24943471) Journal
    "You say that you have enjoyed my stories for years. Why did you wait until you disliked one story before writing to me?'"

    Because if you're a good writer, you might have pleased millions.

    And if millions of people write to you, it could make the postman unhappy (and other people too).

    There's already a good way to show appreciation - via the writer's bank account.

    That said, do write an appreciation letter if it's for something exceptional (or your letter is going to be something worth reading).

    But millions of letters just saying "I liked your latest book" might get a bit tiresome (or worse think star trek fan vs Shatner ala SNL ).
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      If you've got a better answer than Heinlein, then quit writing it on Slashdot and start a novel.

      • by Nebu (566313)

        If you've got a better answer than Heinlein, then quit writing it on Slashdot and start a novel.

        Perhaps being good at answering questions doesn't necessary imply being good at writing novels.

  • Good idea (Score:5, Funny)

    by Patrik_AKA_RedX (624423) <patrik,vanostaeyen&gmail,com> on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @01:44AM (#24943495) Journal
    (X)The article
    ( )The intervieuw
    ( )The ramblings
    was
    ( )intresting
    (X)informative
    (X)funny
    ( )bullshit
    and thank you for
    (X)sharing this with us
    ( )informing us of such a very important item.
    ( )wasting our time
  • Reminds me of this (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tmk (712144) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @01:53AM (#24943521)
    Stephen Goldin's 23 rules [stephengoldin.com] how to act when you meet a pro at an Sci-Fi convention. Not as amusing as Heinlein's, but an interesting read.

    via [thislife.org]
    • by syousef (465911) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @02:11AM (#24943595) Journal

      Stephen Goldin's 23 rules

      I count 17 actual rules and 6 "refer to rule X" clauses where the same rule applies to other situations.

      The gist however is don't be an ass, do the right thing at the right event, be generous and buy the bloke a meal or drink. Seems like common sense to me. I guess it's not so common (especially for some of the less socially adept that attend these conventions).

    • From the linked article:

      ``Offering to buy the Pro a drink or a meal is always in order.''

      I disagree with this on the principle that the pro is already being rewarded, perhaps handsomely, for attending the event in return for the expectation that he or she will entertain or inform the audience.

      If a fan were to meet their hero in the street, then by all means buy them a drink in return for their time. But they shouldn't require additional inducements to perform their contracted duties at a convention.

  • Another one (Score:5, Informative)

    by ian_mackereth (889101) * on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @02:02AM (#24943561) Journal
    Spider Robinson appropriated (with permission) another form of RAH's and used them as thank you cards to subscribers to his Spider on the Web podcast.

    There's a copy here: http://mackereth.net/images/SotW_Thank_You_Card.jpg [mackereth.net]

  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @02:04AM (#24943569) Homepage

    One of the big-name televanglists (Billy Graham?) had an early computerized system for answering his fan mail. A staff of people read the mail, and used highlighter to mark phrases that contained relevant keywords. Data entry operators keyed in the address and the highlighted phrases. A program used the phrases to select an appropriate canned reply, filled in keywords, added bible citations, and printed out a letter.

    • by plasmacutter (901737) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @02:32AM (#24943675)

      One of the big-name televanglists (Billy Graham?) had an early computerized system for answering his fan mail. A staff of people read the mail, and used highlighter to mark phrases that contained relevant keywords. Data entry operators keyed in the address and the highlighted phrases. A program used the phrases to select an appropriate canned reply, filled in keywords, added bible citations, and printed out a letter.

      BAD famous person!

      I once wrote Johnny Isakson about the PDEA (piracy deterrance and enforcement act) which would have turned the p2p wars into the war on drugs, and received a canned reply about the public domain enhancement act.

      Makes me want to pick up my rolled up newspaper and swat him good and proper, then lock him in the garage.

    • Sounds like an awfully technical solution. I wonder why he didn't just use the power of prayer?
  • by sirwired (27582) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @03:20AM (#24943897)

    "Grumbles from the Grave" is a (now out-of-print) posthumous collection of letters from Heinlein, mostly between himself, publishers, and other SF Authors. It contains many letters on dealing with Fan Mail, Fans themselves, critics, publishers, etc. Quite an interesting little book.

    SirWired

  • ...that RAH is a lot more polite in that letter than I would have expected from his books. A letter bomb wouldn't have surprised me but maybe I am confusing Jubal Harshaw with the Author.
    • Re:I have to say (Score:4, Informative)

      by demonlapin (527802) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:46AM (#24944261) Homepage Journal

      a lot more polite in that letter than I would have expected from his books. A letter bomb wouldn't have surprised me

      Ah, but bombs are expensive, and most people aren't worth the money.

    • by nomadic (141991)
      ...that RAH is a lot more polite in that letter than I would have expected from his books.

      I found the letter insulting and sarcastic, and calculated to hurt everyone who received one. A simpler, more polite response would be to have each of the checkboxed items by itself on its own page; form letters still, but one that doesn't beat the recipient over the head with "Your letter is completely unimportant to me."
  • by Lavene (1025400) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @03:49AM (#24944001)
    Even in real life he was way ahead of his time. Look, the letter has underlined links!
    • Re:Good old Robert (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MichaelSmith (789609) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:14AM (#24944119) Homepage Journal
      In space cadet (~1950) a character takes a call on his mobile while standing in a queue for something. He tells the caller he will call back later when he is not in a crowd. Heinlein got the technology of the cellphone absolutely right but it didn't occur to him that in the future people would just keep chatting away, annoying people around them.
      • by flewp (458359) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @05:48AM (#24944531)

        Heinlein got the technology of the cellphone absolutely right but it didn't occur to him that in the future people would just keep chatting away, annoying people around them.

        Well, there's a reason it's called science FICTION, no?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by elrous0 (869638) *

        Dick Tracey had a cellphone long before THAT. It was never much of a stretch, even in the early 20th century, to imagine a portable radio that could be used like a telephone.

        I just want to know when we get out powersuits.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by halcyon1234 (834388)
        It's like the saying goes: a science fiction writer can predict the car, but might not foresee the effect it would have on teenage mating habits.
  • Oblig (Score:2, Funny)

    by rgo (986711)
    ( ) CowboyNeal
  • Because... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Martin Spamer (244245) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @08:03AM (#24945297) Homepage Journal

    'You say that you have enjoyed my stories for years. Why did you wait until you disliked one story before writing to me?'

    Because, if I sent you a fan letter after every story I liked you would probably have me arrested for stalking.

    • by doug (926)

      'You say that you have enjoyed my stories for years. Why did you wait until you disliked one story before writing to me?'

      Because, if I sent you a fan letter after every story I liked you would probably have me arrested for stalking.

      RAH call the police for a stalker? Sorry, but I don't think that going to the authories was his style. He had an electric fence installed around his property to keep out the hippies who were fans of Stranger in a Strange Land.

  • shooped! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @08:14AM (#24945423) Homepage Journal
    It would appear that Kevin Kelly has erased whichever checks were checked on his copy. No desire to tell the Internet how you pissed off a well-loved legend?
  • I am very fortunate to live in Butler Missouri, Robert Heinlein's hometown. Once upon a time Butler was known as 'The Electric City" because it was the first City west of the Mississippi to be fully wired for Electricity. Sadly this little town has lost its technical edge, but Heinlein is still hailed as a local hero.

    I wonder how much of an effect growing up in 'The Electric City" had on him and his writting and what affect he himself had on the community and its total aversion to technology (it's very mu
  • Our personal favorite: 'You say that you have enjoyed my stories for years. Why did you wait until you disliked one story before writing to me?'"

    Isn't it obvious? Do you want to flood him with just "good job" letters everyday, eventually wasting all his time? Constructive criticism and empathy (hence the reason they mention they were a "long time reader") can go a longer way to show that you are doing a good job, but have 1 tiny problem with the work.

  • by Piete (2687) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @04:19PM (#24952679) Homepage

    We recently cycled to his home shaws corner [nationaltrust.org.uk] and on display are the colour coded "FAQ" letters that his secretary would send back to questions about vegetarianism etc.

Nobody's gonna believe that computers are intelligent until they start coming in late and lying about it.

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