The Southern Festival of Books

By BILL CONGER
Autograph April 2010
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Saul Bellow: A Describer, Not a Prophet

By LAWRENCE GROBEL
Autograph March 2010
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Harlan Ellison

By LAWRENCE GROBEL

Autograph March 2009

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John Updike: Real, Bright and Huge

By LAWRENCE GROBEL
Autograph April 2009
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Book Collector: Dear John Letters

By JOHN SCHLIMM II

—Autograph May 2009

Letter from novelist Carol Higgins Clark

Last May, I shared a few of the letters that are in my private collection from some of today’s most notable and bestselling authors. On the 11th anniversary of my column, I want to showcase a few more from my “Dear John” collection.

When collecting autographed books, keep everything that authors send to you, including notes, letters, pictures, extra bookplates and even envelopes on which they’ve personally written their return address. Besides providing material for a fantastic specialized collection within your larger book collection, it establishes provenance.

Second page of Higgins Clark's letter with her signature

A signed book is always a thrill, but there’s an added pleasure in a personal letter from the author because they often provide insight into their thoughts and true character. In some cases, I was able to prompt letters in response to my request for a signed book because I mentioned that I am an author. But there are many ways to establish a personal connection to an author and prompt a letter in response. If you liked their book, tell them. Mention any point of personal connection, such as that you both grew up in the same town, or worked the same kind of job early in your careers, or have the same kind of dogs. Do a little research and find the connection. Here are a few more tips to help inspire that author to write back a personal response:

1. Always keep your letter to one page, handwritten and include a SASE.

Letter from novelist LaVyrle Spencer

2. Make your letter personal and try to establish a connection, but be brief.

3. If you really have a question that you would like the author to answer, your sincerity will show, and you’re more likely to get a response. Ask a question that interests the author but does not require a lengthy response. For example, “Mr. Tolstoy, what would you say is the theme in Crime and Punishment?” may not get the response that this question will: “Mr. Tolstoy, I was in Yasnaya Poliana over the weekend and I saw your favorite bench. Did you know that it is still there?”

4. Send an inexpensive gift if it’s appropriate to that author. Perhaps you make special craft items, or have a photograph of their book in an unusual bookstore, or happen to have a postcard from their hometown.

Letter from novelist David Baldacci

5. Tell them straight out that you collect letters from authors and ask if they’d please send you a brief note for your collection.