In 1952, English novelist Nancy Mitford wrote to her friend Evelyn Waugh, asking, “What do you do with all the people who want interviews, with fan letters & with fans in the flesh? Just a barrage of nos?” Waugh, famously misanthropic and intimidating, and once described as “the nastiest-tempered man in England,” was generally indifferent to the public, though devoted to his friends, responded with a list of personal policies for responding to different kinds of fan mail, many of them delightfully curt. You can’t say he’s not practical, though — one does have to be polite to the very rich, if only for the off chance that they will buy armfuls of your books. We’re not sure that admiring ladies deserve to be tattled on, however. We wonder if Nancy Mitford had these same types of problems. Click through to read Waugh’s personal guidelines for dealing with fan mail, and let us know if you think he’s justified in the comments.
“I am not greatly troubled by fans nowadays. Less than one a day on the average. No sour grapes when I say they were an infernal nuisance. I divide them into…
(a) Humble expressions of admiration. To these a post-card saying “I am delighted to learn that you enjoyed my book. E. W.” (b) Impudent criticism. No answer. (c) Bores who wish to tell me about themselves. Post-card saying “Thank you for interesting letter. E. W.” (d) Technical criticism, eg. One has made a character go to Salisbury from Paddington. Post-card: “Many thanks for your valuable suggestion. E. W.” (e) Humble aspirations of would-be writers. If attractive a letter of discouragement. If unattractive a post-card. (f) Requests from University Clubs for a lecture. Printed refusal. (g) Requests from Catholic Clubs for lecture. Acceptance. (h) American students of “Creative Writing” who are writing theses about one & want one, virtually, to write their theses for them. Printed refusal. (i) Tourists who invite themselves to one’s house. Printed refusal. (j) Manuscript sent for advice. Return without comment.
I also have some post-cards with my photograph on them which I send to nuns.
In case of very impudent letters from married women I write to the husband warning him that his wife is attempting to enter into correspondence with strange men.
Oh, and of course…
(k) Autograph collectors: no answer. (l) Indians & Germans asking for free copies of one’s books: no answer. (m) Very rich Americans: polite letter. They are capable of buying 100 copies for Christmas presents.
I think that more or less covers the field.”
[via Lists of Note]