Several years ago I appeared on Glenn Beck's television program to discuss my novel, “The Wednesday Letters.” Much to Beck’s astonishment, I chose to share my cellphone number on air with his audience. I invited them to call and share their memories on the importance of personal, handwritten letters in their lives.
I will never forget Beck leaning forward and looking straight into the camera with that patented, sneaky look in his eyes. “Please call him at 2 in the morning." After the interview ended, we said goodbye and he promised me my phone would ring.
He was right.
I received thousands of calls and answered as many as I could over the span of several weeks. Many left voicemail messages and some asked for a return call. It took a while, but I honored every request.
It was a sweet experience.
I heard the most incredible stories from people whose lives had been changed by the art of the handwritten letter. I spoke to widows and widowers who clung to boxes of letters like life preservers to remember their loved ones.
I chatted with teens that cherished letters from mothers and from mothers who wept at the memory of a letter from prodigal sons and daughters.
I got to know a young woman whose best friend was on board Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001. A treasure trove of personal letters was the salve that helped her heal.
On these many calls we discussed writing, publishing, the books people were reading and what they liked or didn’t about my books and others in my genre.
Many of those callers became readers, but, more importantly, some of those readers became friends.
At the time, the idea of becoming so accessible was highly controversial. Church friends called me crazy, neighbors wondered if I’d lost a bet and even my own family asked what I was thinking.
But to me, the concept was obvious.
If you ask to see someone in the kitchen, servers will usually accommodate you. You might want to raise a concern or compliment the chef.
When you get your car washed, you might give a shout-out to the dedicated employee who polishes that one last pesky spot before opening your door and sending you on your way.
Perhaps you saw a show at your local high school or community theater. It would be quite natural to congratulate the cast or director and tell them what a fine job they’d done.
When visiting a public restroom you might have noticed a sign on the wall inviting you to report unclean conditions to the management. One popular chain of convenience stores even invites customers to call a member of the executive team to report unsanitary conditions at any of their nationwide locations.
The list never ends. Virtually everywhere consumers spend money offers some line of communication back to management, distributors or creators of those particular goods and services.
Why should it be any different with artists?
I once discussed this topic with a loyal reader who also happens to be a good friend. He was lamenting that another author he enjoys reading has a policy about not responding personally to email received through his website. It's not evident whether messages sent through his online contact form are even read by him and not an assistant.
It’s a shame that any author or artist of any kind would opt to practice their craft behind a digital wall that prevents them from engaging one-on-one with consumers. Have we forgotten whom we work for? I recognize that I owe my entire career to hard-working men and women who spend their treasure on something I've created.
I don’t work for myself; I work for my readers. The notion that artists are self-employed is a myth. Shouldn’t I be responsive to the market and offer easy lines of communication? Shouldn’t all artists welcome opinions on what they enjoy or don’t?
So, if you've got something to say about one of my books or columns, I invite you to email me or pick up the phone and call. I can be reached at [email protected] or 540-328-0111.
I can’t promise I’ll answer every call as life, work and sheer volume may sometimes prevent it. But if you leave me a phone number and ask for a return call, you will get one.
Just don’t call me at 2 a.m.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters," and "The 96th Annual Apple Valley Barn Dance." He can be reached at [email protected] or jasonfwright.com.