The Technium

Heinlein’s Fan Mail Solution


I found this letter in a folder of old correspondence from my days when I was editing at the Whole Earth Catalog. It is from the science fiction master Robert Heinlein.

Heinlein engineered his own nerdy solution to a problem common to famous authors: how to deal with fan mail.  In the days before the internet, Heinlein’s solution was fabulous. He created a one page FAQ answer sheet –  minus the questions. Then he, or rather his wife Ginny, checked off the appropriate answer and mailed it back.  While getting a form letter back might be thought rude, it was much better than being ignored, and besides, the other questions you did not ask were also answered! Indeed, it is both remarkable and heartwarming that Heinlein replied at all to most mail. Can you imagine other great authors doing the same — even with a form letter? Heinlein’s form is very entertaining to read because you are forced to reconstruct the missing requests.

heinlein.jpg

Click on the image to see enlarged version.

But progress marches on, even in science fiction author’s households. Ginny Heinlein said that by 1984, “with the advent of computerization in our household, we no long use the form letter to answer fan mail. I find that it is possible now, with the computer, to write individual letters in reply to fan mail faster than I could check off the answer on the form.”




Comments
  • M.L. Mills

    I have one of these, with a handwritten note by “Ginny”. (Hope I am not taking too large a liberty there).
    One of my most prized possessions.

  • John Manning

    I have a reply letter from Robert dated 28 Dec 1975 from when he lived on Bonny Doon Road. It is a 5-page, single spaced letter (not a form letter) in which he discusses how he introduced love as a viable plot requirement into science fiction starting in 1939 and talking about his corpus of work through “Time Enough for Love.”

    I must confess that I wonder what it’s value might be.

  • John Manning

    Pardon me. I mis-typed the date. It’s 28 Dec 1973.