In a gem featured on Letters of Note, E. B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, told a “literary truth” to a young fan inquiring as to when he would publish his next book:
I would like to write another book for children but I spend all my spare time just answering the letters I get from children about the books I have already written. So it looks like a hopeless situation unless you can start a movement in America called ‘Don’t write to E. B. White until he produces another book.
This response dismayed the young girl’s librarian, who returned White’s letter to him and complained of White’s cruel tone. I agree that it’s a bit surprising that a grown man would say such a thing to a child, essentially blaming his lack of productivity on his fans instead of on himself for failing to manage his time better, but I thought his response was funny. I like the curmudgeon-humor, through which E. B. White raises an interesting question: When do writers find the time to write with all of the other demands on their time?
White’s lack of time for creative endeavors comes from his success and the resulting piles of fan mail. For less established authors, it comes from not attaining such success (yet) and their need to hold other jobs while raising their profile and marketing their books. All writers must contend with the business-side of being an author, in addition to other demands on their time, such as raising children or caretaking for adults. White laments, “I don’t want being the author of ‘Charlotte’s Web’ to be a full-time job or even a part-time job. It seems to me that being an author is a silly way to spend one’s day.”
The business-side of being an author certainly detracts from the creative-side and may seem like a silly way to spend one’s day. However, engaging with fans is an important way to market books. I’m much more likely to buy multiple books from an author who writes a sweet note in response to my child’s fan mail than I am from a curmudgeon, no matter how funny, honest, or famous he is.