An Open Letter to an Entitled Reader

“George RR Martin is not your bitch.” ~ Neil Gaiman

A while back, Neil Gaiman wrote a terrific, evergreen blog post about entitlement issues. What is true for GRRM is also true for me. It is true for every artist and writer. If you haven’t yet read it, you can do so here:

Okay, guys. I’m going to post about something I have never posted before, and something I never thought I would have to post.

I’m going to post about an email I got from a reader. I’m fifty-seven years old. I’ve been in this business a long time, and this was the nastiest email I have ever received. The nastiest and the angriest.

Please keep in mind that 99.99% of readers are amazing and awesome, so I considered staying silent. As authors we are often told to be silent when people are rude, boundaries are crossed, and things happen that make us uncomfortable. The two acceptable approaches, I have been told, are to either be silent or take the “kill them with kindness” approach.

But I don’t believe in that wholesale. I certainly believe in acting with kindness, politeness and professionalism, but I also believe that someone can cross so far over a line it is entirely appropriate to call out that behavior. Sometimes it’s even necessary.

And please read this next paragraph carefully. This blog post is not a call to a witch hunt or a call to action in any way. This is simply a request to the reader that you consider your own actions and how you might do better the next time. 

So for that reason, the reader’s name is removed from the following email to protect their privacy. I’ve censored the email by adding the asterisks, the original email was uncensored.


Subject: stop swearing

Message Body:
F**king stop f**king swearing so f**king much in f**king your f**king books. Just f**king read the f**king american f**king witch and was f**king tired of f**king the word f**king. F**king bad enough f**king sex scenes go for f**king chapters; your f**king characters f**king say it’s f**king okay to f**king swear. Treat the public like you want them to be; treat them like polite folk, not f**king f**kers who can’t f**king read.

Thank you.


Dear reader,

This is exactly the kind of email you should never send to an author, ever, for any reason.

Not everything is going to be your cup of tea. If you don’t like someone’s books, stop reading and walk away. There’s a whole wide world of books out there for you to explore.

Readers get to make that choice all the time. If you don’t like someone’s books, vent to your friends. Write a review. Vote with your wallet. I’ve been reading since I was four years old, and I have done the same thing myself, many times.

Also, I would like to point out, cursing in the dialog of a book is FAR different from actively cursing at someone in an email. Thinking that this could be an appropriate message in any way is the height of entitlement.

Currently, there seems to be a grand delusion in our society that all opinions are equal and valid, and that is simply not the truth. Especially when the people spewing this rhetoric usually confuse “opinion” with fact-less, tasteless, bigoted vitriol.

Someone doesn’t write this kind of email unless they feel they have the indisputable right to everything they want, the exact way they want it. Even art and entertainment. And if it isn’t exactly as they want it? Well then, that’s the fault of the person creating the art. Because to these people, self-monitoring so as not to offend and political correctness are buzzwords that have nothing to do with them.

That’s the only way I can explain why something as innocuous as the language in a book–a book you do not have to read–could lead you to write and send an email like this.

It’s beyond overreaction. It’s beyond finding a book in poor-taste and abandoning it. It’s a demand that because “I caused” your emotional unhappiness, now you get to lash out and put all that ugliness on me, because you don’t possess the ability to monitor your own behavior and deal with mild unhappiness and discontentment.

In this reality, you’re not in charge of your emotions, I am, so the person who has to change is me. You’re not offended by the plot or characters. You’re pearl-clutchingly horrified by sex scenes and the f-word…which is why you then proceed to hurl it at me more times than I have ever seen in email form before. 

Because after all, you’re the customer and the customer is always right, so what am I going to do to make YOU happy? There’s no real understanding here that this is a book and not an overcooked T-bone. 

There is satisfaction to be had in refusing to acknowledge and engage. For a few days I decided to take the high road and not respond in any way. But I also think there’s merit in (anonymously) calling out this behavior too. So much bad behavior slips through because people like you have learned that throwing a tantrum is valid, and it makes your emotions someone else’s problem.

But it isn’t valid, I do not have to accept it, and neither does anyone else who has this kind of rage tsunami launched in their direction. You are the keeper of your emotions and responsible for your behavior, and I do not forfeit the high ground by pointing this out. 

Authors are not public property. We are not a meal cooked incorrectly in a restaurant that may lead you to “demand to speak to the management.” We are not commodities. We are people. We create art with our voices that is personal, and what we create is not meant for everybody. It can’t be. Not every story is going to resonate with everybody. That, my rage tsunami friend, is the definition of impossibility.

So, my advice to you is this:  treat people the way you want them to be. Treat them like polite folk.

In the meantime, I will continue to write at a time of my choosing. I will not make myself sick to produce content no matter what. I will write stories wherever I have my voice, wherever that may take me, and with whatever language I deem is right and valid for that particular story.

Because, to paraphrase what Mr. Gaiman said, the simple and unanswerable truth is, I don’t work for you.

And I’m not your bitch.

Thank you.


44 Responses

  1. Francesca says:

    Omg I can’t believe someone would email you such a way. I have read your books and love them, that i didnt even noticed the f bomb. Im sorry you had this happened to you. No one should be treated this way.

  2. Kathy Miller says:

    Excellent response. If people like this are not called out it encourages their ridiculous bad behavior,
    Well done.

  3. Diana says:

    I can only hope this person reads your wonderful reply. Well done.

  4. Merry-Sue Adair-Gill says:

    Who ever wrote that obviously has no tact, self respect, or even a large amount of brain cells. My Dad always said if all you can say is swear / curse words, then your language skills are lacking.
    I follow / read lots of different authors. I have plowed my way thru some absolutely horrid chapters, and in some cases the whole book. Nothing I have read would give the the idea that I could attack the author. If I don’t like the direction the author is heading then I switch to another author. No need to be crude. As you said, walk away and take your money with you.

  5. Sandy D. says:

    Well said! If I read something I don’t enjoy I won’t buy another book by that author. We don’t all like and read the same things and that’s okay.

  6. Rosa Duron says:

    Voy a ventilar en español
    Que diablos le pasa a la gente???, como alguien se pone a escribir un correo así y dice “que buena idea asi aprenderá ese autor a hacer lo que quiero ” o sea que clase de escoria hace eso?????
    Lo siento, si sirve de algo quiero decirte que eres maravillosa y espero que estés bien y este tipo de correos no te quite La Paz

  7. Kimberley says:

    Wow. Self entitled is polite. I just don’t know what to say other than your response was spot on.

    Just wow.

    Thank you for standing up to this bully.

    Peace light and love K

  8. Patricia Sparrazza says:

    I’m sorry you were exposed to that person’s attitude. I certainly agree that you should feel free to write your book as it feels best to you. And no one has the right to say those things to you. Her judgment should have been put on a review but not sent as what was really, at its core, a personal attack. And you’re right to bring it up on the blog & say “this is my line & I won’t allow anyone to verbally abuse me like this.” The language wasn’t inappropriate & she’s gaslighting for her own issues. Stay strong.

  9. Mary Kay O’keefe says:

    You are my favorite writer, and it hurts me to know someone spoke to you in this disrespectful way. You are a wonderful writer and human being and have every right to stick up for yourself! And as one of you 99% I appreciate every story, word, world as you describe it to us…. do not ever doubt it! .

  10. Winter says:

    I’m a member of several different author’s Facebook groups and was HORRIFIED recently by the way someone was speaking about the author. This person made a rather snippy rude post about how dissatisfied she was with the author for writing a book in a different series than writing the book SHE wanted to read. I was floored. Then I was glad to see that, although there were a few similar comments, most other readers expressed their distaste for the post. They pointed out that the author is a human and writes what’s inspiring her, along with the reminder that she has a life that doesn’t revolve around writing the book each individual reader wants to read. Most of these readers are also anxiously awaiting the next book in the series, just as the poster is, but are happy to wait for that book because they want it to be the same quality as her other books and also want her to be happy and stress free. I don’t understand how anyone thinks this sort of behavior is acceptable.

  11. Meljean Brook says:

    Oh, for fuck’s sake.

    Swearing is all about character. Some do, some don’t. Just like some people in real life do, and some don’t. That’s it.

    Regarding the email sent, your response is spot on.

  12. Carmen Quall says:

    So, I don’t have much to say about the person that sent you this email, because your response was quite elegant/eloquent and there’s really nothing more for me to add.
    I do, however, feel compelled to tell you that the book that she is referring to I absolutely, 100%, loved that book… It was one of my top favourites that have read in the last year.
    I have always thoroughly enjoyed your writing, the characters you’ve created, the humour and the sensuality. Thank you for your words, for your books and your artistry.

  13. Donna Cignarella says:

    Well said, Ms Harrison!

  14. Tiffany Roberts says:

    **Stands and claps**

    Well said!

  15. Darynda Jones says:

    Thea, you are my hero and I dare say I’m a little in love with you right now. And I was certain my opinion of you could not go any higher. You are a rockstar in every essence of the term. A rock for standing firm in your values and beliefs, a star for shining so brightly and using this as a teaching moment, and a rockstar because, well, you’re you. Thank you for this.

  16. Mina See says:

    Dear Thea,
    I am so sorry you had to receive that drivel. What a jerk and seriously doesnt understand artistic liscense. Keep writing what you want (I love it just the way you write it).
    Great response. No one has a right to tell you how to express your art.
    My add comment to said jerk is, “Please feel free to never read my books again. They are obliviously too advanced for you to comprehend that these are characters and the author has complete authority to write as her muse dictates.”

    I only wish your Elder race characters could jump off your pages and express their displeasure with such an Ill mannered, uncultured, ignorant jerk (choosing to not call a spade a “f**….) as they so richly deserve.

  17. Laura Kuhl says:

    I am a avid reader and I so enjoy the wonderful worlds created by romance authors. I am not inhibited in my reading and support all the artists that give me wings to fly. There is so much emotion and enjoyment in the art that authors create. Thank You … Ignorance and self righteousness is this persons crime…yep she is a idiot ..

  18. Pam says:

    Wow. I can’t believe someone wrote that to you. I’m so sorry you had to deal with that.

  19. Fiona Cameron-Mackintosh says:

    Uh … I know I swear like a dockworker but I truly don’t remember there being that many f-bombs in the Elder series or the American Witch series … I shall have to back and re-read clearly cause …

    Great response and it amazes me just how sadly evergreen Gaiman’s post is/was and probably always will be …

  20. Tony says:

    Well said Thea.

  21. Monica Mistry says:

    Your one line said it perfectly, If you don’t like someone’s books, stop reading and walk away.

    I find it incredibly hard to fathom that someone took the time out to send this awful and pointless email. Your books are a gift that transport me to a place where I forget the outside world and get immersed in your world. So thank you for the joy you’ve bought to me over the years and I’m sorry you had to read that vitriol.

  22. Alethea Lyn says:

    Dear Ms. Harrison, I am sorry that you had to read such a reprehensible email. I read the American Witch and my first response was, “There was swearing?”. I love your books and one of my favourite parts is your use of language in believable and subtle character development. I am glad that you spoke up for yourself.

  23. Pilar Seacord says:

    So sorry you received an email such as that. Some people are so intitled so they think if you don’t like what you are reading put it away or get rid of it!!!!

  24. Lúcia says:

    I’m sorry you had to to read and handle this trash. Fortunately, most of your readers are respectable and appreciate you and your work. Thanks for sharing and ignore, if you can, all the “asterisk” you receive.

  25. Diane Garvey says:

    BRAVA! Several years ago one of my favorite authors shared that she appreciated that so many people loved one of her series, but wished she didn’t feel pressured by fans and her publisher to ONLY write books about those characters. She lived into her late eighties and, as far as I know, only added to that series.

  26. Michelle Olesiejuk says:

    Dear Thea,

    Never change, and never, ever, try to make me happy. Write your story. Drop all the f-bombs you want. I will enjoy it thoroughly. And then I will reread it and enjoy it again. Your writing is exceptional and you have a unique voice. I adored American Witch as much as I adored Dragon Bound.

    Thank you for years of enjoyment.


  27. Grace Draven says:

    That email was one of the most batshit-crazy, incoherent bits of drivel I’ve read in a long time. Entitled doesn’t even begin to cover all the negatives attached to this asshole.

    Good for you for calling out this kind of behavior, Thea. Someone this feral doesn’t need to be anywhere near a keyboard or the internet. I’m sorry your inbox got smeared with this garbage, but I applaud your response. Classy, firm, and a fine example of what it is to be a dignified human being (something your emailer most definitely is not).

  28. Louise says:

    Saw this shared by an author on Facebook and came to see what she was fangirling over. My time was not wasted as this is a very valid message given in an honest and respectful manner.
    I’m only a reader but I’m going to be book marking this post so that I can refer to it when supporting authors against other entitled idiots like the one you were unfortunate enough to encounter.

  29. Kris Frear says:

    I have been reading your novels since you wrote under the name Amanda Carpenter. I still have the original Harlequin books in my library. Sooo thrilled when I saw Dragon Bound and you were writing again. I love your f*cking books and how you write them, and (for my sake) I hope you have many years of writing ahead of you!!

  30. Sandra Robards says:

    Not a T-bone… Priceless!
    Hear, hear!

  31. Carlene Dell says:

    Well said! I do my own art for my own edification and don’t care what others think. I don’t even show. You actually PUBLISH yours and got THAT e-mail? Wow. You took the high road better than I would have.

  32. Winnie Montes says:

    You were so correct (in my opinion) to call this person out. I am continually amazed at what other people feel they are in titled to comment on. I love getting on the internet and just puttering about. I’ve gotten to the point where I avoid Facebook and any “ Entertainment ” site because random people feel they have the RIGHT to rant at celebrities as if really know them. As for your cyber bully, people cuss, and yep have sex. If your good ya can do both at the same time.

  33. Dana Zamora says:

    Holy SHIT, what a bully, crock of hatefulness, congratulations to you for politely giving it right back, if you don’t like it don’t read it, it’s that simple, thanks bunches for sharing your story

  34. thea says:

    Thank you to everyone who spoke up. It’s readers like you (and writers) that make this profession such a joy.

  35. njb says:

    Wow, just wow. I can’t imagine what kind of idiot would write such a mass of utter crap. That person seriously has a screw loose and needs to get help for his/her anger issues. And as you said, if you don’t like the book, don’t read it and don’t buy more. That’s a pretty easy decision to make and one most of us who read voraciously have made at some point in time.

    I’ve read most of your books at this point and I’ve enjoyed them. I can’t recall being offended by anything you wrote either. If you did use the f-bomb, it must have been appropriate to the character or circumstances. I sure didn’t focus in on it! And as for sexual scenes, if you don’t like to read that in your fantasy/romance, then stick to YA. There are plenty of authors out there who write lovely books, even in the urban fantasy/romance genres. I follow several.

    Hang in there and write what you love!

  36. Simon says:

    Absolutely absurd. Well said. The PC brigaid of entitlement can go too far sometimes. A friend of mine was in New York and he saw some lady say “Shit I’ve stepped in some doggy-do”. I mean seriously.
    People swear. Some people swear a lot, like in every sentence. Now I am not claiming to like it. But really what’s wrong with fuck? I mean really? It cannot be considered blasphemous like many other swear words. Also let’s face it we as a species actually need to do it. I know the word is taken to imply no emotional connection. But really if someone you just met wants to make love to you, what’s the difference?
    I find it laughable that so many films and TV series show the action quite graphically in many cases, and so much violence. But if anyone says it hands go up in horror? What is going on?
    Words and images are created by artists to create worlds filled with colourful and interesting characters. If everything was a homolinised brew of politeness how dull they would be.
    Imagine a book where everyone was a clone including all there beliefs and reactions and the book was just a slice of life rather than the breaking out of the mould. Fun read…

  37. Ursula says:

    Your point, Thea, is one I wholeheartedly endorse.
    It is an author’s absolute right to publish whatever they wish.
    It is a reader’s right to like it dislike the book. This is the lovely, symbiotic relationship at the heart of all literature. It all comes down to personal preferences and there is no objective test for what is a “good” boo
    There are books where I do wince at the over-use ( in my opinion!) of fuck. But my profanity threshold will not be the same as another’s. If I don’t like the style I won’t read any more. Simple. I have the choice. To write abusive letters to an author simply exposes the writer’s arrogance and ignorance.
    That letter, Thea, is a bloody disgrace. Good on you for taking it public.

  38. Mary VanSwearingen says:

    What an amazing waste of a brain. It’s a shame the email’s author did not realize they had the right to skip over what they decided is vulgar. Or, better yet, step away from the book. Do you suppose this person believed there would be an exam at the end? That they would need to pass a reading comprehension exam?
    If one does not enjoy or appreciate an author one should walkaway – close whatever type of page you have before you and STEP AWAY.

  39. Yllunis says:

    Dear Thea,

    please don’t get discouraged by negative reactions to your work or person.

    Take the time you need to process them, take a good breathe and realize what they are: a cry for help from someone who definitely needs more love and kindness in their life.

    Please don’t let any of us dictate how your books are written. So far they have given me many hours full of laughter and joy, which are so desperately needed in the world we live in.

    Thank you! 🙂