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.
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