Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The benefits of the SinC list

by Donna Andrews

I love it when something works exactly the way it’s supposed to work. One of the main reasons Sisters in Crime established our national listserv was to let our members network and exchange useful information—information that can help us in our reading, our writing, our careers, and our lives. And that was working beautifully this past week.

For me, it all started when I got an email—I’ll quote it here:


My sister is one of your biggest fans and she has terminal breast cancer and her birthday is coming up and I was wondering if I could get her an autographed copies of one of your books. She would enjoy it so much.Thank you so much.

I’m leaving out the name of the sender and the name and address of the sister, although both were included. After all, if there really is a sister with terminal breast cancer, I don’t want to embarrass her here. But my first instinct was that this might not be legit. The fact that she didn’t start out with either "Hi, Donna!" or "Dear Ms. Andrews:" wasn’t all that suspicious—some readers who write me just dive right into the message. But that unanchored "Hello" seemed a little odd. And maybe she knows her sister is a fan but does not, herself, know the names of any of my books—though if I were asking for a freebie for a family member, I think I’d make a little effort to find out which books she already had and name one of them in my message. I mean, you’re asking for a freebie—make a little effort to butter me up, will you?

In short, it just felt a little off. So I kept the email in my in-basket to think about before responding, and sure enough, before too long, I learned on one of my social lists that at least two other writers, Taffy Cannon and Jan Burke, had received the same email.

Dang. Do they think none of us ever talk to each other?

Okay, there’s still the possibility that it’s not a scam . . . maybe the breast cancer patient is a big mystery fan and the sister, who isn’t, is writing everyone whose books she sees on the patient’s shelve. But in that case, she could be honest, and admit that she’s writing ALL the patient’s favorite authors.

A day or two after Jan and Taffy confirmed that I was not the patient’s only favorite writer, I checked the Sisters in Crime list and found that April Henry had received the same letter--apparently had the same gut feeling that something was not right--and was savvy enough to post to the Sisters in Crime list asking if anyone else had received it.

And wow--what a lot of us had received it! I thought the ensuing discussion was a very useful one. Several people pointed out the things that had made them suspect it might be a scam. A couple of folks confessed that they had fallen for the email and sent books. The funniest post was from Krista Davis, who was a little skeptical about how she could possibly be anyone’s favorite writer when her first book, The Diva Runs Out of Thyme, will not be out from Berkley until October 7, 2008. Definitely something fishy there.

What gladdens my heart is that we had writers who prefer not to donate a book if they think there’s a chance the request is a scam, and others prefer to send a book if there’s even the slightest chance the request is real. And yet we all exchanged views civilly, and I suspect most of us went away more knowledgeable than before.

Yay, us!

And incidentally, kudos to Krista for accomplishing so gracefully the best kind of BSP in the world—contributing useful information conveyed in an entertaining matter about a topic that was actually under discussion!

Donna Andrews is the Sisters In Crime Chapter Liaison


Sheila Connolly said...

I was an early recipient of this email, and I did nothing except mention it to some other writer friends--who, as it turns out, also received the same email.

It walks like, talks like, smells like a scam. But what is the goal? Is this person an obsessed groupie who worships any and all writers? In that case, is there any harm in catering to her obsession?

But, no, she didn't say she was the biggest fan. She nominated her sister, who is possibly dying (now there's an appeal: one of our books can prolong life!).

Is there some financial gain to be had? Say she receives our signed books (and we're out the cost of the book plus postage), what can she do with them? Do our signed mass-market books have much after-market value? One could say she is getting something for nothing, but what's she supposed to do with them?

So I'm still left scratching my head and asking, "what was that all about?" Will she out herself in a blog post, proclaiming how kind and/or gullible writers are? Stay tuned.

Michelle said...

Thanks for your post! I received the same email, with the same words in the subject line but no text in the email. It seemed iffy, so I did a google search for the phrasing in the subject line and found your post. Thanks for saving us all some time! (What made me suspicious was that the sender's last name is "Sickles," and she claims her sister is sick.) Naturally, if her claim were true, I'd be leaping to send her sister all of my books, but I hate it when someone preys upon others' good instincts!

Donna Andrews said...

Sheila, you have a very good point--what is the goal? For me, the jury's out on whether it's a scam or a genuine request from someone who wasn't straightforward enough to say, "I'm writing all the mystery writers whose addresses I can find."

You know what I finally decided to do? Instead of continuing to agonize, I went over and made a donation at the Susan B. Komen Foundation's website:

I'm pretty sure they're real.

Kathy said...

Thank you, You see I know my sister appreciated those books, Because I was with her on her birthday and she brought out all the autographed copies of the books she got and showed them to her guests.This is not a Scam, I am a real person, and so is my sister and tragically so is her inflammatory breast cancer(If anyone cared to investigate they could find my myspace or my yahoo 360 from my e-mail addy.)THis is not a scam and not a joke, Cancer is NO JOke to me, I lost my brother two years ago to bone cancer and my father 13 years ago to Liver cancer .I'm surethere are many other people that do not think cancer is a joke, Just visit an ocology floor in a hospital or sit with someone while they are receiving chemo. IT is no joke and I would do anything for my sister, for the little time she has left here, Just to hearthe joy in her voice or the look on her face when she receives a book.
Kathy Sickles

Anonymous said...

Please note, no name was listed on Donna's original post. The author of the original e-mail under discussion has elected to name herself on this blog with the previous post.

Lorraine -- SinC Blog Moderator

Sheila Connolly said...

I would be happy to believe that the sender of this appeal is completely legitimate. But then my inner editor kicks in. Why didn't she simply state the truth? "My sister is a big mystery fan. She has breast cancer. I'm trying to cheer her up, and I'd be grateful if you would be willing to send her one of your books."

Instead she gives what in many cases is a patently false line: "you are my favorite writer." That's what put me off. She had no need to lie, and would have done as well or better with the truth.

I like Donna's idea: send a contribution to support breast cancer research, and let Kathy know.

Kathleen said...

I got this one too and so did all of my writer friends in Pittsburgh. It must have been a pretty big mailing list!

PS I have a Bouchercon registration to sell if anybody is thinking about going and just now deciding. I'm Kathleen George, georgeke@pitt.edu, www.kathleengeorgebooks.com