Writing Letters to an Author or Illustrator


Often times a young reader is asked to write a letter to a favorite author or illustrator. Sometimes authors/illustrators view an assignment as not a geniune letter -- others recognize that the teacher or individual reader could have chosen to have written to any other author or illustrator. Out of courtesy there are some common rules of etiquette when writing an author or illustrator.

How to Contact:

Many authors/illustrators have a website and a form or information about how to contact them on that website. If you can not locate a U.S. Mailing address, you will want to send the letter to the publisher of one of the author's/illustrator's recent books. Address the outside envelope to the publisher and add a second "name" line -- Attn: Author/Illustrator Mail - Children's/YA Marketing. Inside the larger outside envelope place a regular envelope with the author/illustrator's name -- the marketing department will put on the address or simply package the letter with others that are sent in bulk to the author/illustrator. Make sure you affix postage to the inside envelope, in case the publisher sends the letter individually.

Class Mail

Groups sending e-mail should try as much as possible to compose a group e-mail and send a composite message to the author. If you wish a response please double-check that your return address is correct on your e-mail settings and include the e-mail address at the end of your messages.

If an entire class is to write a letter to an author you might consider a group letter where all have input on what is to be said. The letter could be written on a white board, revisions made, format modeled, appropriate comments/questions (not more than 2-3 questions and make sure the answers could not be found with a good reference session in the library), and positive comments about the book/writing of the author. Ask one child to copy the letter onto paper, and attach an appropriate signature. Be sure to include the class's address as the inside address, or on the letterhead. Don't ever assume the author will have time to respond to your class's letter but just in case it is polite to include a self-addressed stamped envelope.

If a class or group of readers write individual letters please send them together and unfolded in a larger mailing envelope. Please include a self-addressed and stamped envelope if you wish to receive a response.

large envelope

Ten Tips for Writing to an Author/Illustrator

1. Always proofread your letter and revise if necessary by editing content as well as spelling and grammar.

2. Do not ask more than 2-3 questions and make sure you are not asking questions that you could research the answers for yourself. For example asking how many books an author has written is probably a question that you can find the answer for yourself with some research on your own, or that you can find on the author's/illustrator's website. However, asking if an author or illustrator has a new book that will be coming out soon or if she/he will be writing a sequel to a title most likely is not information that can be readily researched.

3. Stay positive -- Do not offer your advice regarding the author's/illustrator's writing or illustrations in terms of any critical comments -- remember the author/illustrator is a professional and their work has been critiqued by professional editors.

4. Do not ask for free books, free things, or for the author/illustrator to do YOUR assignment. Research, research, research.

5. If you are hoping for a response please enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope and make sure you include your return address (e-mail or U.S. mail address - whichever is more appropriate). But please do not demand a response -- most authors/illustrators love to receive fan mail but answering fan mail takes time and often it is time that the author/illustrator needs to use to write or illustrate so don't be disappointed if no response comes - -they may be writing or illustrating. Enjoy their work.

6. Be sure you tell the person that you are writing how much you like their work. Be complimentary.

7. Proofread and revise.

8. Proofread and revise.

9. Proofread and revise.

10. Proofread and revise.


By Sharron L. McElmeel

Sharron L. McElmeel is the author of several reference books about authors and illustrators, including An Author a Month series and the Bookpeople series, both available from Libraries Unlimited, as well as the ABCs of an Author/Illustrator Visit (Linworth)

This article is reprinted by the permission of the author. The article's contents may not be copied or e-mailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv or any WWW site without the permission of the author. However, users may print and download this article for individual use or for use within a school or school district in conjunction with the preparation of an author/illustrator visit or an author/illustrator focus in the class room.
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