What do readers owe authors?
April 4, 2013 | 10:15 am
By Joanna Cabot
Two great reads came into my inbox this morning, one via Book Riot and one via email, from a blog called Picky Girl, which I have not read. The subject? Reader responsibility. Do they have any? Does being a ‘reader’ obligate one to perform certain tasks on behalf of the author?
It was an interesting dialogue. Picky Girl (aka Jenn) began with an author tweet that read ‘I am VERY happy you found my novel at the library, dear reader … but do realize that if only libraries buy books, authors don’t eat.’
After her initial irk at the ‘sarcastic’ tone of the whole thing, Picky Girl put on her investigative boots and set out to prove to this author just how little library sales affect a midlist author’s bottom line. Her finding was that at the largest branch in her city, a typical Lawrence Block novel got checked out just 19 times. When you added in the checkout from other branches, the total rose to just under 30. On average, a typical midlist book will get checked out about 7 times.
Of course, if you multiply that by every city in the country, it does add up to a few hundred books. But we’re not talking about New York Times best-selling levels of losses here. Her conclusion? “The library is typically not going to make or break an author, but an attitude of disdain toward a reader may.”
Andrew Shaffer over at Book Riot addresses authorial directives to readers from a different angle, that of a recent graphic by technical writer Sherry Snider, which is making the social media rounds. The graphic includes a checklist-style list of steps for readers to follow ‘to keep writers fed and writing.’ The steps include tweeting, sharing, writing a review, posting a link and so on.
Shaffer acknowledges that ‘word of mouth’ has been a huge part of the book promotion process even since the paper days, but he bristles at the tone of this particular message: “Snider even suggests that readers “download and print the infographic to use a checklist” when buying books, so they don’t accidentally forget to like, tag, tweet, share, or review their new purchases. When did being a reader begin to feel like such a chore?”
Jenn from Picky Girl is similarly sanguine about such directives. “If I read said book, I do not have an obligation to write about it, tweet about it, tell my book club about it, or talk about it, in general. I do do those things. But it isn’t my responsibility.”
Jenn says she does do her best to support the writers she cares about, because she does want them to keep writing. But ultimately, the process of writing, publishing and marketing is completely in the authors’ hands. And if they do find it not rewarding, or not profitable or not their thing, “it won’t be because Jennifer Ravey in Texas did or did not buy the most recent book they’ve written.”
So what are the responsibilities of the reader? To read. That’s it!