TERROR FROM BEYOND THE DAVES is pleased to welcome Richard Church as a guest writer! Mr. Church generously agreed to not only share his personal experiences in collecting autographs, but photos from his amazing collection as well!
I like getting mail – always have, always will. It was probably inevitable that this would morph with my love of comic books, creepy things, and loud music into an autograph collection created by writing letters. The Daves have been kind (or completely insane) enough to allow me a little space on their fantastic site, to share a few tips and tricks with fellow geeks who might want to start their own collections. I’m definitely no pro (as you’ll soon find out if you continue reading) so I’ll try to compensate for lack of skill, with some useful information. And, please don’t send the Daves hate mail because of how badly this turned out – they were only trying to be nice.
A little background, I live in Raleigh, North Carolina – not an area known for great horror conventions (thought we do have a pretty great comic book convention – Heroes Convention in Charlotte, every summer). This makes for very few face-to-face opportunities to meet the famous faces working the convention circuits. Luckily, this is easily solved by; you got it, Al Gore’s favorite invention…the internet. While I still rely on the good old-fashioned U.S. Postal Service to do the heavy lifting, the internet is a fantastic resource for anyone looking to connect with horror’s (or any other genre’s) heroes.
In addition to getting mail, I also like making lists – I know, I know I’m a barrel of laughs. That said I’m going to lay this out in sections. A “how to” bit, some resource information, and a little etiquette I like to use when writing correspondence. Obviously, you’ll want to pick the things you like best and ignore the rest, but here we go…
1. Print or type your letter. Every letter you mail might not get read but just in-case, make sure Tommy Lee Wallace can actually read how awesome you thought he was in Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Also, in writing to older stars (and I don’t mean to offend anyone, in saying this, by the way), use a higher point font in-case his or her eyesight isn’t what it once was. Finally, nothing says “impersonal” like a typed letter without a signature, so always add your own autograph.
2. Proofread your letter! Your grade school teacher was right about good grammar and proper spelling! If this is someone you admire, you don’t want to make a bad first impression. If you hand-write it, ask a pal to be your editor. If you type it, spell checking is awesome – but also ask someone to read it, if possible.
3. Include something for your hero/heroine to sign. Some stars have pictures they will kindly send but, try to include your own memorabilia whenever possible. More than likely, you have something you’d really like to have autographed anyway. DVD covers are always great, as are pictures, which can be printed at-home on good quality photo paper. eBay is also a fantastic resource for lobby cards, posters, and just about anything else you can think of.
4. Don’t include anything you can’t bear to lose. A few years back, I sent William Peter Blatty a bookplate to sign for my copy of The Exorcist. Mr. Blatty not only signed my bookplate, but he also included a signed picture of himself with Ellen Burstyn and Jason Miller (the exorcist in, The Exorcist). Sadly, Mr. Miller passed away in 2001, but I came across a fan mail address for Ellen Burstyn. Now, I’m risk averse and didn’t want to chance losing this fantastic picture, but I threw the dice and mailed it to Ms. Burstyn. This sounds like the tagline for a really bad alien film but 2 years later, it came back.
I’m happy to report that Ms. Burstyn signed it for me and I now have two autographs from one of the greatest horror films ever made. That said, after the first year I’d written it off to as a poor choice on my part. Sorry for keeping a long story long but the point is, you know how much any particular “thing” means to you so, if you can’t live without it, don’t put it in the mail. I also realize I made the assumption that anyone reading this had also read/seen The Exorcist. If you haven’t, read the book/see the film, as soon as possible. I don’t know if I can say you’ll “enjoy” it, but it is probably the scariest film I’ve ever seen.
Ellen Burstyn: A little busy and unable to respond right away!
5. Include proper postage and something to have your signed item returned to you in. If your idol does you the solid of signing your paraphernalia, don’t assume that they are going to cough up the extra $1.60 you need to have that Jason Takes Manhattan nightlight returned to you. The U.S Postal Service has a handy online calculator (http://postcalc.usps.gov/ ) or you can physically take it to the post office and they will help you out. Make sure you also include a return mailer (e.g., envelope, box, etc.) of sufficient size to easily drop in the mail to return to you. You’ve come this far, so don’t lose the prize over 25 cents of postage!
That’s some of the drier parts of the process, onto the fun stuff. You’ve got your materials, but how do you find the address you need? There are a myriad of different sources and, as with anything, some work much better than others. Unfortunately, reliability of resources is just one of those things that you have to work out for yourself as you go along.
One great way to find addresses – and connect with other fans – is fan maintained web pages. Since the inception of the internet, there have been all kinds of web pages out there and if there is a movie, there is likely a site for it. Let’s say Friday the 13th is your thing, so enter “Friday the 13th” and autographs into the search engine of your choice (use quotation marks around phrases, as it will refine the search to only pages that include an exact term).
More than likely, you will come across someone who has posted some of his or her autographs. For the most part, fans are very generous and welcoming to others who share their interests so, if they’ve got information you need, just ask. Chances are if they have addresses, they will share them with you – unless they have a reason why they can’t (e.g. – the address is private; the star they are contacting has asked them not to give it out, etc.). And, always try to pay it forward if you have an address that someone else needs.
If you are lucky, the individual whose autograph you are seeking will have his or her own web page. Make sure to look in their “store” if they have one, as many charge for autographs. The price is usually equivalent to what you might pay at a convention and, many times, they provide some cool, rare pictures from their personal archives and/or will sign something you send them. Other times, these stars might have an email address or physical address on their site.
If they do provide a physical address, and don’t have a store, chances are they’ve provided it specifically for fans to send fan mail to them – and there are many really cool stars that do so out of appreciation for their fans. If there is only an email address, shoot out an email requesting information about autographs. One note, always include your mailing address in any email as sometimes you won’t get an email back, but will be sent an autograph anyway. While this is kind of rare, I have gotten very lucky a couple of times.
Finally, there is a site that posts a lot of celebrity addresses (horror and otherwise) http://fanmail.biz/. This is a fantastic site, as you can enter the star’s name and it will return specific contact information about them. In addition, folks who have mailed requests to that star validate the addresses in a database. So, if the address is invalid you won’t mail something only to have it returned to you. Also, if someone has a new, more accurate address, the database is constantly being updated. They also have message boards about specific stars, so you can join the discussions to share information – but to do so you must register with the site.
This is by no means a comprehensive guide, just a starting point for your searches. You’ll be able to determine what techniques work best for you the more requests you make. This is the really fun part, as you’ll connect with lots of fans all over the world. And, it will amaze you the information you’ll be privy to when speaking with all kinds of fans with all kinds of cool experiences.
If you’ve read this far, I hope I haven’t bored you to stone. This last bit is entirely personal preference, but there is some etiquette I like to follow in writing autograph requests.
1. Only write to those of whom you are really a fan. I know there are a lot of people out there who write to celebrities as sort of an investment. They are looking to turnaround and sell the autographs for a profit. Like I said, totally personal preference here, but you are going to enjoy this hobby a lot more if you are collecting something you are really passionate about. I imagine Johnny Depp’s autograph will always sell for more on Ebay than Rich Koz’s, but, Rich’s will always be worth more to me.
2. Put some of yourself into your requests. I’ve had stars that have told me how much it means to them to know fans appreciate their work. If you ware requesting someone’s autograph, I’d guess that they mean something to you so, tell him or her about it. Maybe they were in the first horror movie you ever saw, and maybe they scared the bejeezers out of you. Remember that they are people, just like you, and everyone likes to hear when they have made an impact on someone else’s life.
3. Follow-up with a thank you note. If someone does something nice for me, I like to tell him or her how much I appreciate it, and this is no different. This isn’t always possible and, if you send it, there is no guarantee they’ll read it. But, your mom was right about sending thank you notes – it is always a good idea.
So, there you have it. That is pretty much everything I know about autograph collecting via the mail – hopefully not too disappointing. But, this can be a really fun hobby you can enjoy, at a pretty modest cost. I hope this was of some use to you in beginning, or continuing your collection. And, thanks again to the Daves for letting me ramble on for far too long!