At a time when Covid-19 restrictions have brought author tours to a temporary halt, a new Facebook Watch series called Letters To _____ connects bestselling authors and their fans in a, well, novel way. In each episode of the series, two readers, selected based on author fan letters they submitted, are surprised by a Zoom visit from a favorite author for a conversation about such topics as the path to becoming a writer, where ideas come from, and the creative process. The series, produced by media company Picturestart and digital media network Brat TV, is hosted by teenage actor Anna Cathcart, best known for her role as Agent Olympia in the PBS KIDS show Odd Squad.
The author lineup for the inaugural episodes of Letters To _____ (which airs on Facebook Watch each Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET) includes Elizabeth Acevedo, K.A. Applegate, Ann M. Martin, Karen McManus, Stephenie Meyer, Jason Reynolds, Veronica Roth, R.L. Stine, Sabaa Tahir, and Angie Thomas. After the premiere of each episode (links to clips featuring Roth and Meyer available here), fans can re-watch them on Facebook Watch.
The online series sprang from Picturestart’s established relationships with well-known YA authors, said Martina Lund, v-p of marketing and media design, who explained that Erik Feig, who founded the company in 2019, “has a history of adapting books into successful films, including the Twilight saga, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and the Hunger Games and Divergent series, and we are definitely continuing that trend at Picturestart. We’re very grateful to the fans whose passion for YA novels allows us to turn them into films and TV shows. With Letters To _____, we wanted to find a way to celebrate these fans, and also wanted to find a way to celebrate the authors that we work closely with.”
The production mode morphed as the series was developed, Lund said, noting that “it was originally designed to be shot IRL, but we retooled it for an online video-call format, which we believe actually made the show even better and cooler as we now can reach fans all over the world. It also made the show more intimate as the fans and authors got to meet in the privacy of their own homes—likely the very place they read—or write—books!”
Selecting the authors to participate in With Letters To _____was a collaborative effort; the Picturestart team reached out to authors with whom they are currently developing projects or have previously worked, as well as those, Lund added, “whom we just love. All the authors we approached were as excited about the show as we were, and all embraced the challenge of shooting the show online as it required everyone to manage their own camera set-ups, etc.”
The Authors Weigh In
PW checked in with three authors who are appearing on Letters To _____, who unanimously expressed their enthusiasm for the series and the opportunity it afforded to connect with their fans, especially at this time when so many writers and readers are feeling isolated. Here’s a sampling of their observations and experiences.
I was interested from the very beginning when I heard the idea of connecting with fans in this way. I hear from fans pretty often and have been lucky enough to tour extensively in a manner that allows me to meet thousands and thousands of my readers a year, but it felt special to take a moment to listen to two readers who did not expect to talk to me, and to hopefully surprise them and celebrate them.
The joy and delight written all over my face throughout the episode is very much genuine. I was so glad to meet the two readers, Magnolia and Jessica, to speak with them about their writing dreams and why they were drawn to my work. Creating a novel can be an isolating experience and by the time a novel comes out an author is often a different kind of writer. I desperately wonder whenever a book is released if it met the standard of excellence I set for myself, even as I’m aware that I’m always raising my own bar. So, it means the world to me to meet readers who relate to my writing, and my episode of Letters To _____was just that, spending time with folks who resonated with my work and giving a face and voice to the readers I imagine when I’m writing alone at my desk. I hope it was as fruitful and memorable for them as it was for me.
This was an entirely new experience for me, and it really was fun. I talked to two readers in their 20s who were big Goosebumps fans, and they knew they were going to be interviewed about the series, but they had no idea that they were going to talk to me. Authors never get a chance to barge in on readers, and it was great to see how shocked they were to see me on their screens. I do love talking to readers, and we had a very nice talk.
It’s great that this show involves so many different authors, and I was pleased to learn that Ann M. Martin’s episode was filmed the same day as mine. Ann worked as an assistant to my wife Jane at Scholastic many, many years ago, well before she became a bestselling author. She was practically a teenager! I think Letters To _____is a wonderful way to promote books and authors, and I think this kind of promotion will be a growing trend—it sure is much cheaper than sending an author on tour. And it’s a lot of fun for everyone involved.
When the Divergent books and movies were coming out, it was a pretty intense time for me—in good ways, mostly, but one of the unfortunate costs was losing a more personal connection to readers. Taking part in Letters To _____felt like a way to recapture that a little. These smaller moments where I get to talk to readers one on one (or close to one on one) remind me why I love writing books so much, and I was eager to be able to do that in a more intimate setting.
I was expecting it to be fun, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how meaningful it would be to hear from these two fans and to get to know them a little. We got weepy, we laughed, we talked about their lives and goals and how my books affected them. It’s tempting to think this is a nice thing I did for my readers, but I honestly feel like it was something nice two of my readers did for me. And sure, I hope viewers of the episode learn a little more about me and how I approach my work, but mostly I hope they get an impression of how profound a book can be in a person’s life—and how profound hearing from readers can be for an author.
A Satisfying Wrap
Hopeful that Letters To _____ will extend beyond this first 10-episode season, Lund underscored the benefits of the series to all involved. “This project has been gratifying to work on in so many ways,” she said. “Having fans reach out after the day saying how much this experience meant to them and seeing how conversations between author and fans affect the authors has been especially rewarding. And the series has given Picturestart the opportunity to build stronger relationships with publishers. We truly love these authors and their works, so it’s just icing on the cake that this show is bringing more appreciation and attention their way.”