Authors and Readers

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.


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9 Responses to Authors and Readers

  1. Jack says:

    Hi, Elle,
    It’s been a while, but it’s good to see your posts have lost none of their thought-provoking qualities. Just thought I drop by and present a contrary opinion. Maybe it has to do with the different groups we frequent, but I haven’t found a lot of negativity on Goodreads. You have to go out and show your face on one of the news sites like MSN if you want to meet people who feel it their right to call you dirty names that I never heard in the navy for the outrage of holding a different opinion. In any case, wherever I encounter a troll, I simply don’t answer, and the problem is solved.
    As to the current relationship between authors and their readers, I like the social media and instant access. I might feel differently if I was J.K. Rowling, and I found six million e-mails in my folder every morning, but I like the (seemingly) intimate relationship I have with my twenty-odd fans. I like that fact that I can post an opinion or a question, and within an hour be seeing what my little reading group thinks about it. I like the volume of contact that it generates. A generation ago, how long would I have to wait for one of those readers to sit down and write a letter, buy a stamp for it, and carry it to a mailbox? But if anything crosses anyone’s mind, it’s the work of a moment for them to sit down at their keyboard and type, “Hey, man, what did you say that for?” It’s almost like getting together with friends… You included. I know we’ll never meet, and might not have much to say if we did, but we are exchanging intellectual beliefs and concepts, and isn’t that what friends do?
    Yes, it’s a pseudo form of friendship, but it’s a wonderful illusion, and I enjoy it. How about you, friend?

  2. elletodd says:

    I’m glad you haven’t seen a lot of ugliness on Goodreads. At its best, that site really can be amazing.
    Friendship is evolving. I don’t see that as a bad thing. Finding other authors, readers, and bloggers, and sharing opinions with those we’re unable to meet face-to-face is easier than ever. While that opens the door for the unsavory, it also provides opportunities that would be impossible otherwise. I’m thankful for those, as well as the people I’ve met–yourself included–that social media has enabled me to “know.”
    Good to see you again, Jack.
    (And BTW, I love your new avatar!)

  3. datmama4 says:

    I love the author-reader relationship when the author is a real person. I can’t tolerate it when people are so busy selling themselves that they ignore the opportunity to develop a relationship with individuals. I’ve seen both extremes of great and horrific on Goodreads (as I’m sure you have) and it astounds me.

    Glad to get back to your blog again!

    • elletodd says:

      Glad to have you here, Lynda!

      I think impatience gets to a lot of writers. They want to publish NOW! and sell NOW! and get a thousand reviews NOW! It’s hard to accept that there really isn’t a rush, that building a readership takes time, and too much of a good thing just isn’t a good thing anymore.

  4. Edward M Wolfe says:

    Nice article, Elle.

    I think a simple rule on Goodreads is to be a writer in a writer group, and be a reader in a reader group. Try as much as possible to keep the two separate. Let your fans comment on your blog, or find you elsewhere. We should be seen and not heard – unless spoken to.

    • elletodd says:

      That’s good advice, Edward. I struggle so with the author/reader role that I almost never speak as the latter anymore, but there is a time and place that it’s acceptable. Writers just have to remember where!

  5. Hi, Elle!

    Thoughtful blog post, as usual.

    I participated in that discussion, relating my own experiences. As I mentioned on GoodReads:
    “I think the relationship between authors and readers should be as they should be between any human being: mutually respectful and appreciative.

    I enjoy getting letters/emails from readers, so I always answer them, even if it’s just to thank them. I also try to answer any questions they have, unless their questions are about what’s going to happen with the characters in future publications.

    Most communications I’ve had with readers up till now have been pleasant, informative and interesting. From the reader perspective, I’ve had wonderful conversations with authors.”

    I met some readers who were coming to Amsterdam and had some great discussions over coffee. I treasure those meetings, I’m still in awe that I have ‘fans’, and I don’t think I’ll ever take that for granted. I do think that the initiative should lie with the readers, though.

    • elletodd says:

      Good to hear from you! I think I did see your comments on that post. You always seem to maintain a very level head in even the most explosive of discussions.

      Yes, the readers must decide. Some will enjoy making contact, while others would shy away. I understand both reactions and I think it’s those authors who respect the individual and allow them to dictate the terms, that will be most successful.

      Enjoy your fans, Martyn. You’ve worked hard for them!

      • Ah, my level-headedness… that’s why I got the nickname ‘Baron Sang-Froid’. *grin*

        Of course, my other job is conflict resolution instructor, so it wouldn’t be good form for me to have a short fuse, whether in real life or online.

        My ‘trick’ for not becoming too emotionally involved, even in the most volatile internet discussion, is to try and find out what someone wants to say, rather than what someone is saying. It’s difficult, especially when people become irascible or downright belligerent, but I always assume people participate in a discussion not just to hear their own voice, but also to hear other people’s opinions. Although that’s not always apparent.

        At the same time, it’s important to realize that it’s ‘just the internet’ and some people use their keyboards as an outlet to vent their frustrations.

        As to the subject, as a reader I’d be uncomfortable if the author would approach me, so whenever I’m approached by a reader, no matter how eager I am to glean some information from them (like: How did you find me/my books? Are my self-promotional strategies, like using free short stories like loss leaders, working? Did you laugh at the part I intended to be funny? Et cetera), I try to ease the questions in, just like you would in polite conversation. Don’t corner your reader and badger them with questions that make them sorry they contacted you in the first place.

        I think a lot has to do with the ‘rush’. People seem to lack patience nowadays, so they try to cram everything in where they can, instead of cultivating friends slowly. Don’t expect ‘overnight successs’–if you check the overnight successes you’ve heard about, realize that their sudden success was often decades in the making.

        I intend to have a long career and slowly build a wide readership of people who will enjoy immersing themselves in the world(s) I create. I want to create characters that live on in the minds of my readers long after they closed the books. Something like that doesn’t happen overnight, so I’m patient, taking it one day at a time.

        I enjoyed our conversations, Elle, and thank you for visiting my blog.

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