There was a thread put up recently on Goodreads that discussed the relationship–and appropriateness–of the reader-writer relationship. Though I rarely participate in online forums (scary places, those), I do stop by and skim some of the threads, just to keep myself “in the loop.”
Typically, the discussions are predictable. Most of my groups are author-heavy, and the threads focus mainly on attracting new readers and selling (or giving away) more books. There is advice sought and handed out, with whole sections devoted to acquiring the proper team of professionals for your new book. Need a cover artist? Two thousand people have suggested theirs. Need an editor? Your search stops here.
Every now and then, however, there’s a real debate concerning the indie movement, or the slow (but steady) decline of readership. It doesn’t happen often, but I’ve even seen readers put up threads to discuss their own struggles–with authors, self-published books, etc. These are the discussions I like to follow. Unfortunately, they rarely remain civil.
I think, just generally, people have become more sensitive to (real or merely perceived) criticism. We’re all on the defensive. We put ourselves out there, even by stating an opinion, and wait for someone to attack. If you are an argumentative person, this is probably enjoyable for you. As for the rest of us, not so much.
When I saw the discussion going on about the reader-author relationship, I kind of expected it to blow up. (And it still might. Such is the nature of Goodreads.) Whether it did or not, however, I was not optimistic that any real “answer” would arise from the debate. How could it?
I won’t argue any “reader-first” crap with you here. I read books, yes, but I also write them–which invalidates my opinion in ways I’ve only begun to understand. I can’t speak for “Readers.” I won’t even try. As an author, I will say only that any relationship forged between someone who creates a work and the people who enjoy it is up to them.
The “Author” is no longer the distant, untouchable celebrity of the past. Social media, as well as the rise of self-publishing, has created a new class of writer–and a new protocol for interaction. New York Times bestselling authors are now blogging. They have websites, and regularly speak with their fans. On the other end, you have the very real and in-your-face authors who are seemingly everywhere, all the time, begging for attention.
What’s right? What’s wrong? It’s easier to define the latter, rather than the former. A reader told me a few months ago that “authors should be seen, but not heard.” At the time, it made me laugh. The more I think about it, the more I think her statement was probably closer to what’s “right” than I gave her credit for.
If readers want to interact with an author, they will. If they don’t, they shouldn’t have to hide to avoid it. Instead of worrying how best to gain an audience and sell books, I think most authors are better off just writing. Let your work speak for itself, and accept that not everyone is going to love it.