I can’t speak for other writers, but for me an unsolicited comment from a reader is worth more than getting published, or even getting a check in the mail. For a total stranger to tell you she read your story and that it affected her … wow, you can’t put a price on that.
Like a lot of folks around here, my first time exposing my scribblings to the public came courtesy of ERWA and the Story Gallery. And while email addresses of authors are tacked on the stories that appear in the gallery now, some time ago readers were encouraged to share their thoughts with authors about stories. And, if you think seeing your words in print is a thrill, wait until you get your first fan mail from someone you don’t know saying, “Hey, I really liked your story.” Then it’s Release the endorphins!
I can’t remember ever getting a negative response to a story, but I remember one that was somewhat unsettling.
I don’t have any particular system for choosing names for my characters, particularly last names. Most are relatively common surnames, so no one is likely to confuse a character in one of my stories with an actual individual, even when I pick a name from someone out of my past – except for this one time. Oy!
I was pondering a name for a female character who was a psychologist and settled on the name of a kid with whom I shared a few classes at high school.
The story was chosen to appear in ERWA’s story gallery, and shortly afterward I received an email from a young woman who was urgently curious to know how I had come up with the surname of the character of the psychologist. She explained that it was her family name and only 35 people on the entire planet had it.
It was a classic Uh-oh! moment.
I replied explaining I was trying to settle on a name that fit a female psychologist and that I remembered the name of the kid from high school. I described him and told her his first name.
“That’s my Dad!” came the reply.
Like I said, Oy!
I braced for her to demand I change the name or take down the story. You can’t tell, after all, how someone might react to having their family name in an erotic story. I explained that her dad and I weren’t friends, but only shared a couple of classes, so only knew each other casually.
She replied, “That’s amazing.” Then she shared that she was in college studying psychology, and wasn’t that also a coincidence.
We kind of chatted back and forth for a bit, as she told me what had become of her dad. I offered that he would likely not remember me at all.
Anyway, that’s how we left it. Except, feeling a bit more relaxed about the situation, I asked her how she liked the story. She said erotica wasn’t really her thing and that it was one of her dorm mates who had read the story on ERWA and brought it to her attention. I didn’t think to ask her what her dorm mate thought of the story. Afterward, I couldn’t help feeling like I had dodged a bullet of sorts.
The story was never published anywhere else but in the Story Gallery, but if I’d ever submitted it elsewhere I would have likely changed the name.
And so … a bit of a cautionary tale. What were the chances?