What Writers Owe Readers and Vice-Versa

What Writers Owe Readers and Vice-Versa

tumblr_mmvohvsRXb1rnvzfwo1_500Okay, so I’m really sorry, but I don’t remember where I received the link for an interesting Huffington Post article I read yesterday that was essentially a rant more than a column (it’ll probably show up in my related content feed, so you’ll probably find it at the bottom). However, I can give you the gist. The writer of this article I read believes readers owe writers nothing and writers owe readers nothing in return. The writer feels this way because of a FEW entitled writers angry that reviews aren’t being left for books readers have read. Now, in this light readers really don’t owe writers anything. The book is there for their entertainment, not for the purpose of being reviewed or to help a writer’s career. So if they want to buy a book at a second-hand book store, that is their business and not the author’s.

However, I believe we writers do owe readers a good book, but we also don’t owe them the book they want.

In any case, I found a flaw in the article. It was very hateful, to start. Essentially we writers should be left to our own devices to drown in our careers. Sure, we can posit all we want that readers owe us nothing, but then when does that stop? Mid-listers and small press authors and indie authors depend on reviews to be noticed, depend on reviews for sales, depend on reviews to make money. If we impress upon readers they owe us nothing, they really will owe us nothing and then it’s very possible our careers as writers will flounder. Then we won’t be writing and readers won’t be reading.

I have 40 interested reviewers for my book so far. I am allowed to expect that they owe me a review or a quote in exchange for a free ARC. Does that make me entitled? I don’t think so. I am depending on reviews, word-of-mouth, to really push my book out there, and if I’m not getting those reviews, I’m going to be upset. You just got a free book. Write even a one sentence review. I don’t care if the review of my book is bad. Even bad reviews can still garner sales because readers can read that review and still discover something in that review that they like that the reviewer didn’t like. I’m not going to be hurt. I’m not going to attack you. That is your right as a reader. I am just going to be grateful you took the time out of your schedule to give my book a chance at all.

Now outside of giving free books in exchange for reviews, readers don’t owe us anything. They bought our books. That should be good enough. I am going to be grateful to every reader who buys my book, even the ones who bought it and discovered it wasn’t their cup of tea. They gave me and the book a chance, and that is enough.

The mentality, too, that writers owe readers nothing is a little dangerous. Sure, we owe them nothing insofar as to what we want to write, but we owe them a darn good book because a darn good book will help our sales. A fantastic book is the best way to ensure good sales, along with an expanding base of followers THAT YOU INTERACT WITH. A darn good book will also foster literacy and hopefully inspire people in their lives and affect a change in their lives. I certainly want my book to inspire someone.

I don’t write for the money. Period. But if I spend years pouring everything I have into a book, I expect compensation of sorts. You wouldn’t expect a chef to give you a free meal without some sort of compensation so don’t expect a writer to give you a free book without some sort of compensation either.

The arts seem to be the one thing where receivers of art hold this entitled attitude that we should starve for our work, while all other vocations are expected to receive compensation. We need to put more value into our arts than that.


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15 thoughts on “What Writers Owe Readers and Vice-Versa

  1. Hmm, interesting topic. I agree with you.

    I believe we writers do owe readers a good book, but we also don’t owe them the book they want.

    I just started a series on the writing process, starting with…color. If it interests.

  2. Your last paragraph pulled it all together. Several people I know personally believe that since they can access movies, music and books for free they should be allowed to. When I point out that they are stealing from the people who made those works of art they give me a blank stare.
    You’re not talking about that, I know, but your post reminded me of some of the heated conversations I’ve had with friends and family over this subject.

    1. I think the problem with things like this is extortion. I’m not for stealing either, but sometimes the public are charged way over the amount for the products worth. Books are one thing, but things like movies and video games… I’ve little pity.
      It costs £7-12 to watch a movie and £40 to £50 for a video game. Piracy does have the ability to ruin business’ and artists, this is true, but for the buyer the competition against piracy and the digital age means they are suddenly charged a more reasonable and realistic amount for said product. (bar video games for some reason).

      The battle against piracy only seems to infuriate people further when locks are put on bought products in order to extract more money from people. Essentially, an item you buy you own and is yours to share, but digitally, sellers are working towards cutting down on this because sharing IS a form of piracy. Digital books can’t be lent out, no, but what I like about this new digital era in regards to books is that readers have so many opportunities to receive books for free. Books are now ridiculously cheap also (which I’m not sure represents how hard it is to write a book!) but because of this, I don’t see why anyone should be stealing.
      I mean, come on, 77p? £1.99? Why steal, ey?

  3. I think the relationship between the author and the reader should be governed by the same basic principles that govern any relationship. I think the golden rule applies. I want my writing to be good because I would want other writers to hone their craft. I pay for books because I want people to pay for my books. I write reviews because I would want reviews written of my books. Treat others how you want to be treated. It’s pretty simple, really.

    1. I agree with this, which is why I think it is so important for writers to interact with their readers, even big-shot ones. My readers are certainly going to take precedence over my other writerly work because they’re people. Plain and simple. People are important and should be treated as such.

  4. Reading this blog post has made me very curious about this HuffPost article! I’ll have to see if I can hunt it down.

    But you make a good point here. In providing a free copy of the book, I think it’s fair to expect a review. I don’t think that makes you entitled at all, although it’s probably a good idea to be up front about these expectations. Now if a writer was expecting everyone that bought a copy of their book to write a glowing review, that’s when things get messy. Everyone’s heard about the existence of certain writers who attack their readers for leaving bad reviews, and it always seems so immature to me. Not everyone’s going to love every book they read, after all.

    1. I don’t understand those types of writers. When you put a product out in the world, it should be an expectation for criticism to occur. It’s immature and can turn hurtful for the reader. I am not about hurting my readers. I am about respecting each and every one of them because they took the time out of their day to read my book, and even if they hated it, that is a risk they took and I respect that.

  5. I think that now, because we live in a digital age, expectations have changed. Books were just that back when I was younger. There was no option to re-tweet about it or like a facebook page, you just talked about it, lent it out or suggested someone buy it. Now because we can review so easily, it’s expected.
    I think if you like something enough, you should support it, but if you do happen to like something enough you don’t need to be told to support it…you just do. I’m not sure writers are owed reviews but if you do a good job, you’ll get what you want anyway.
    In a digital age where everyone can be an author, it’s reaching readers and being given a chance that seems to be the biggest milestone.

    1. I think writers are only owed reviews if you give out free ARCs because the purpose of ARCs is to get reviews or quotes. But, of course that purpose needs to be stated upfront. Otherwise, we aren’t owed a thing other than the money readers use to buy our books.

  6. Is this the HuffPost article you were looking for? Well, it’s a blog post, not an article, so I can understand the tone it’s written in. I actually agree with what she says; it’s a free world. We’re allowed to choose where we get our books—as long as it’s not illegal—and what we do with it, as long as it doesn’t break the law or disrespect the author.

    I don’t feel guilty if I buy books at a used book store, or on Book Depository or Amazon. If I have the money and I really like the author, I’ll buy their books new. But I don’t feel obliged to do it. I think if anybody reads what I’m writing at all, that’s already an achievement. What’s the alternative? These ideas and texts, these stories, sitting under the dust in a forgotten notebook somewhere? I’d choose someone buying my books at a used-books store any day.

    1. I wasn’t too fond of the hateful tone, especially over a few writers who felt entitled to reviews. I don’t care where readers get books either, so long as they’re not stolen. I just don’t like this implication of ‘ever man for himself.’ I think writers are allowed to expect reviews to a certain extent–insofar as ARCs go. After all, a great deal of writers depend n reviews to make their sales. But, again, I think this is where ARCs come in where we are allowed to expect reviews and to be upset when we’re not getting them because ARCs function for that purpose.

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