Some People Just Can’t Read

I’m bothered by a reader seeking technical support.

I’d just checked into the Hotel McCall, in McCall, ID. Mike and I were making our way from the desk to the stairs when my cell phone vibrated.

“Hello?”

“Is this Maria Langer?”

“Yes.”

“The author of the bestselling guide to Quicken 2003?”

I started to get a bad feeling. “That’s what they tell me,” I replied.

The caller proceeded to introduce herself as an 88 year old woman living in New Mexico who had bought my Quicken 2003 book to learn Quicken. She was having a lot of trouble with the software and needed help.

“How much do you charge for consulting?” she finished.

“I’m sorry,” I told her as gently as I could. “I don’t do consulting anymore. And I don’t support my books by phone.” This is clearly stated numerous places on my Web site. “You called on my cell phone,” I added. “I’m on my way out. I’m sorry. I can’t help you. Go to Intuit’s Web site for help.”

And before she could protest, I flipped the phone closed.

Some readers just can’t read. They search my Web site for a phone number and call anyway. In this case, she went the next step: when she didn’t get me at my office (on a Saturday afternoon, no less), she decided to interrupt my weekend by bothering me on my cell phone.

I didn’t have a computer with me. And even if I did, it wouldn’t be a PC with Quicken 2003 installed. The current version of Quicken is 2006; can she honestly expect me to support (or remember) software that’s 3 years old?

In a way, I admire her guts. But don’t get any ideas. I don’t provide technical support by phone. Period. End of statement.

In fact, her call kind of pissed me off. Why? Because like a few other people over the past few years, she seemed to think that the statements I made on my Web site about technical support didn’t apply to her. Maybe it was because she was 88 years old. Maybe because she was a woman. Or because she lived in the southwest. Or because she was crafty enough to track down my phone number and dial it.

There’s an FAQ system on my Web site. One that I designed and implemented, with no small amount of effort, with FileMaker Pro. It’s basically a database of questions and answers. Readers seeking support are asked to read the questions and answers for the book they’re interested in. If their question is not answered, they may post another question. I usually get around to answering them within a week or so. Sadly, few readers bother to read the questions before posting their own.

And what is it with people? They think that just because they spend $25 on a book, they own a piece of the author. (And how much of that $25 do they think I get?) I don’t mind clarifying or correcting information in my book, but so many people want more. They want me to add content, just for them. Just write a few more pages covering the obscure topic they need to learn about.

So half the contents of the FAQ system fall into one of two categories: questions that are beyond the scope of my book and questions that I’ve already answered in the FAQ system. Once in a while, I’ll get a question from someone who claims to own the book but, if so, doesn’t know how to use a table of contents or index. When I get one of those, I just give him/her the page reference in the most recent edition of the book.

There’s another thing, too. I clearly state on my Web site that I only answer FAQ questions about books listed in the pop-up menu there. Quicken is not one of the listed books. Why? Because of all the abusive readers I’ve had to put up with over the past few years. People who use the FAQ system to post nasty comments about the book, followed by a question they demand an answer for. Comments and questions regarding missing content that is so obscure they’re likely to be the only people to miss it. Content that I wouldn’t cover even if the book were 2,000 pages long. One day, a reader pushed me too far. I deleted all the Quicken FAQs, removed the book from the menu of books, and stated that I was no longer supporting it. When I told my editor what I’d done, she wasn’t concerned. She thought that the FAQ system was already above and beyond the call of duty. So now readers can get support for the book from the publisher’s Web site.

Anyway, this reader’s call bugged me for a few hours. But then I tucked the experience away in the back of my mind and got on with my life.

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