One of my favorite true stories is about a famous writer who got crabby and got his comeupance. It happens to me here all the time.

He replied to a letter where a reader had a question by saying, "I am sick and tired of letters like this that are written just to get my signature."

The recipient of this nasty note cut his signature out of the letter and sent it back to him.

Served the bastard right!

But answering letters does cost a writer his stock in trade: writing time and effort. It costs him money, but correspondence is also his life's blood. He needs that feedback. It is worth money to him.

I talked below about discipline. People always ask a writer how to get published, but, like the centurion who has troops who forget to recite, "Throw the pilum first," you know that the person who comes up to you to ask this is not listening.

You could do endless good by hitting your favorite writers with the Mantra. Take it from me, writers DO look at what you write to them, IF YOU DO IT RIGHT.

Once again, what I have to say is common sense, but few will really hear me.

First of all, writers -- or the assistants who are paid to cull out the obvious spam before it reaches the writer - take about five seconds to dismiss it. If it is long and preachy, out it goes. If it says what has been said, it goes into the "This is another letter about X." This is not useless, because it goes into the X file, like congressional correspondence. But the writer or congressman is interested in your missive on a purely statistical basis, "One more letter protesting X."

Enough of those and he will change his stance on X or not write a one-sided piece later. But he will not really READ what you say. You are an important statistic, but a statistic only.

A writer or an editor or the culler instantly recognizes whether your letter is written TO HIM. This is a DISCIPLINE. You have to have read and show interest in the writer's WRITING or the editor's MAGAZINE.

Once again, I have explained this obvious point to lots of people, and they promptly forget it when they do the writing. They send out a note about what they are thinking that could be written to anybody. That won't make it past the culler.

You have to remember that you are writing to a person who PRACTICES writing discipline.

I see my concepts showing up in writers I have written to. More important, it joins the conversation among writers if you make it interesting. Publications remain politically correct, but most writers hate at least some of it. Make what you say interesting IN THEIR WORLD.

What I do is make a SHORT point about something HE wrote, quoting it. Then I might add, "I wish you wouldn't be so politically correct on the racial stuff. I know it sounds paranoid, but all this "anti-racism seems to me to come down to "Asia for Asians, Africa for the Africans, and white countries for everybody."

No, don't explain WHY you said that. The most obvious sign of spam is hammering on how innocent it is.

It is point that bothers you, not spam. Keep it there.

After that short digression, I try to make another point ABOUT HIS WRITING, one that will interest him. This is professional level work. This is WORK and DISCIPLINE. It doesn't look like spam because it ISN'T.

Don't try to fool a pro. Any writer you are really INTERESTED in and THINK about can be reached with our message. If all you are really interested in is making that point, he will smell it. That why I specified, "your favorite writers" above.

No, it won't lead to his getting on his knees and converting. But it has a HUGE effect torchlight parade types cannot see.