The Collecting Bug

I got two in the mail just yesterday.

The first one:

I am your biggest fan. Send me an 8×10 glossy photo that you yourself have signed with your own hand. You get to pay the postage because you are rich and famous. My address is (usually in Europe somewhere).

The second one: an envelope empty except for a torn scrap of paper with the sender’s address scrawled on it.

I threw both of them in the recycling.

Don’t get me wrong. I get a warm fuzzy feeling from helping out members of my community. I love hearing from people who’ve enjoyed my work, whether by email or street mail. I don’t even mind (too much) mail from people who’ve disliked what I’ve written or have issues with it or want to tell me about big mistakes I’ve made. (I incorporated a correction about one book into its sequel, and, in appreciation, sent a copy of the sequel to the person who had pointed out the error. She was quite civil about the correction, which makes a big difference.)

I answer all but the actively abusive communications. I even replied to the reader who wrote to me before he had read my Star Wars book to inform me that he would be reading it with an eye to catching me in all my myriad mistakes. (I admit that I did reply that it would be pointless to tell me the mistakes since the book was already in print; and I told him the right address to complain to.)

My website offers autographed bookplates for the price of a stamped return envelope. I’m delighted when someone has enjoyed a book of mine enough to ask me to inscribe it or to send for a bookplate.

I don’t even mind (too much) when the bookplate turns up on eBay. There’s some perverse satisfaction in seeing the auction languish with 0 bids, because anybody savvy enough to bid on eBay is savvy enough to find my website page where they can get a book plate for essentially nothing.

What I’m heartily sick of is You Owe Me Free Stuff.

I used to reply to it with the URL of the bookplate page, until I realized that not a single person who had demanded free stuff had gone to the trouble of following the instructions on how to get it. When I got demands for photographs, I used to reply with information about how to get one of my publicity photos, until I realized that not a single person who had demanded a photo had ever bought one and sent it to me for my signature.

I finally realized that the demands for free stuff are entirely generic. Not only do the correspondents want stuff — they want it free and they want it easy and they want it from anybody and everybody. The correspondent always claims to be a big fan, but never mentions a title or a character or a scene that made such a big impression. Oftentimes the letters include Byzantine descriptions of the groups that are desperate for my autograph, always with a high sob-story quotient.

It took two identical Byzantine letters — exactly the same wording, exactly the same bizarre story, exactly the same spelling mistakes — from two different people in two different states arriving on the same day to get through to my little pea brain that this was, if not a scam, at best nothing more than a demand for free stuff by people whose purpose in life is to send for free stuff.

The people who send out these demands aren’t SF fans. They certainly aren’t fans of my work. I don’t think they’re even readers, except of websites that list addresses from which somebody, sometime, has received free stuff.

I think that what they are is collectors. They’ve got the bug. They don’t care who they collect from or what the person does, as long as the target of their demands is minimally in the public eye.

Considering how often I get these sorts of demands, I have to assume that “minimally in the public eye” means “anybody with a website.”

— Vonda

The HelpVera LJ community is currently auctioning a copy of A Winter Solstice Ritual from the Pacific Northwest, a chapbook by Ursula K. Le Guin and Vonda N. McIntyre, signed by both authors, donated by VNM. The auction continues till 20 December 2008.

Vonda N. McIntyre is the author of the Nebula-winning novel The Moon and the Sun, which is being offered at Book View Café in electronic form for the first time. “The Natural History and Extinction of the People of the Sea,” the faux-encyclopedia article that inspired the novel, written by Vonda N. McIntyre and illustrated by Ursula K. Le Guin, appears as a Book View Café Bonus story.

Other fiction by Vonda N. McIntyre, including cell-phone-friendly formats of The Moon and the Sun, can be found in the fiction section of her website, as can mint copies of her published books. To celebrate the debut of Book View Café, book prices are temporarily lowered.

Books make great gifts!



The Collecting Bug — 5 Comments

  1. FYI, I’ve never had anybody contact me like this Vonda, and I have two or three websites. You are definitely in the public eye. Stop whining and celebrate your famousness. Start demanding your own booth at the local slop joint. Get your feet wet in the cement when they’re laying the foundation for the next super cineplex in your neighborhood mall. Wear dark glasses at night in winter while you’re driving on ice. Better yet, get somebody to chauffeur you. You with all that royalty money you’re sitting on.

  2. Um, Sue? If there’s contact information on the two websites of yours that I just looked at, I can’t find it. If there’s no way to contact you, how would anybody demand that you send them free stuff?

    My point is that I do have free stuff for people and there’s contact information on my website (it’s less convenient than it used to be, but that’s because of spammers, not because of collecting bugs) and I don’t like feeling that maybe I ought to take it off because autograph collectors (as opposed to readers who liked signed books or who just want to drop me a note) abuse the process.

    Whining? Hah. Snarling, maybe.

    Because I *like* hearing from people.

    If somebody mails or emails me a real message, I answer it.

    If somebody asks me for a bookplate and sends me a stamped envelope, I send them a bookplate. They don’t have to butter me up or send me a bizarre story about whatever-challenged autograph collectors whose only joy in life is their scrapbook. All they have to do is follow the instructions, and the instructions are pretty darn simple: Send an addressed, stamped envelope.

    I mean, it’s nice if they like one of my books and say so, but it isn’t a requirement. What is becoming a requirement, in my mind, is that they not try to scam me.

    It’s the mail-merge quality of all the “you owe me this” demands — and the expectation that I’m happy to pay the postage on it as well, out of those piles of royalty money, about which an Internet acronym for hysterical laughter is hardly adequate — that I find annoying.

    — Vonda

  3. Collecting? Maybe you’re less paranoid than I. It sounds like phishing for personal information and a physical sample of a signature that someone could practice forging.

    Alternatively, it’s a troll gag that’s moved to street mail so the dippy little trolls can have hootfests on their blogs about how many famous people were dopey enough to reply.

    Mean trolls. Nasty, wicked trolls. Slap-slap! Ooze back into your sewer tanks. Yuck. How do you wipe these trolls off your shoes? 🙂

  4. Hi Gene,

    If I got all paranoid about identity theft every time I got asked for my autograph, I’d be in a strait-jacket.

    The sites I’ve come across that list who’s replied or sent Free Stuff don’t ridicule the people who send free stuff. They just show no awareness of anything about anybody who will send a bookplate or whatever as anybody but someone who will send Free Stuff. No interest in the work that the Free Stuff is meant to publicize.

    (I have no evidence that the free stuff I offer has any effect on book sales or anything else. I used to think it might, but I don’t anymore. I offer the stuff, because. Just because. When I run out, I probably won’t get any more.)

    So I have to disagree with you that they’re trolls or in any way malevolent. But I think they do have the collecting bug and aren’t interested in, say, books.