Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Dear Author, Dear Reader

Had some interesting online conversations with other writers this week and been surprised by their stance.

When it comes to the relationship of author and reader, I honestly don't believe there are, or should be any demands made of a reader. The author on the other hand, is compelled to make their book entertaining. For what is reading but a pleasurable form of entertainment? Of course a book can also educate, or excite emotion and engage thought. But its primary purpose is to entertain, in order for a reader to devote a few hours of their life to read that book.

The book makes demands on its reader, hopefully engaging them to stick with it and read it all the way through. But the author has no right to demand anything over and above what the words themselves do.

I don't believe any reader is obliged to write a review, as much as it might help the author. Nor is the reader obliged to 'like' a book by clicking on a button. The reader isn't obliged to finish a book. Or even begin to read any book having downloaded or bought it. This seems to me to happen more these days, as some readers scoop up lots of free titles and then may sample them all before deciding on just one to read and ignoring the rest. Seems an eminently rational way of making your consumption decisions to me, especially at no cost to yourself.

If a reader is so engaged with a book that they are then moved to want to engage further with it, in the form of a review, or a 'like', or even starting up a conversation directly with the author via social media, then this is a huge bonus for the author. But there ought not to be any expectation of any of it. The reader undertakes every aspect of reading as a voluntary act. Same thing in their reactions to the book having finished it. If the reader is moved to want to support the author they have just read, then they will, in whatever manner they opt to do so.

Of course there is a chicken and egg situation about the visibility of an author's book being partly dependent on reviews and likes and retweets. But the reader is not responsible for any book's visibility, unless they choose to contribute to that. Books have always been partly dependent on word of mouth. Readers can still talk to their friends and recommend your book without them formally committing 200 words to a review, or liking on Facebook.

Authors, if you agree with me, please join in debate via the comments. Readers, I would love you to participate in any debate too, but I make no demands of you to do so! 

17 comments:

zenandtheartoftightropewalking said...

Absolutely.
I like it when people do any of those good things but while I hope those things will be done, I have no expectation of them.
The work has to stand or fall by its own merits, not those of the readers.
And currently, seeing the wave of concern and worry about authors reviewing other authors, I'm personally very reluctant to review another book on Amazon again.
Viv

Sulci Collective said...

My thoughts entirely Viv. The Amazon thing, while they maybe using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut and maybe could find a more filtered way, I entirely understand why they feel the need to do this. I think plenty of perfectly honest reader reviews are compromised by those reviews designed to game the algorithm. There's no getting past the fact that some reviews are dishonest, both those that seek to pull the author's book down, or those to artificially boost it through an association with the author.

Thomas Pluck said...

The best gift a writer can get is good word of mouth, but there is no obligation put on the reader, whether they love the book or not. When I see writers complain of reviews where the reader didn't finish the book, it perplexes me. You didn't hook them enough. It happens all the time, and it is not the reader's fault. If a book is great, you will finish it, whenever you get around to it. Books are often largely a matter of taste and cannot be quantified by Amazon stars or sales numbers. Good stories can be badly written; lush prose can camouflage a weak storyline. Some readers can forgive either of those, some can't be bothered.
When someone picks up your book, they are giving you hours of their LIFE. Do not abuse it. Do not disrespect it. Do not pester them for MORE of their time. Write another story! Respond to critics when you're famous enough that it is expected. Otherwise, really. Go write.

Anne Stormont said...

I completely agree with you, Marc. Of course it's good to get positive feedback. But better one genuinely moved and impressed reader than lots of 'sham' or 'done as a favour' ones.

Sulci Collective said...

Thanks Thomas and Anne. So far unanimous, so i'm waiting for those authors who I was in Twitter conversations when this starting to crop up to put their side of the story.

zenandtheartoftightropewalking said...

A thread ran round a while back which stated that once you get 25 reviews, Amazon starts promoting your book in some way and does it more once you get past 40. There were correspondingly large amounts of authors who then did their best to get more folks to review. I wonder if this was actually true or a sort of author urban myth.
Anyway, whichever way you see it, it's interesting.
I do know of authors who have garnered 80+ reviews (mainly US) and I wonder what difference it actually makes to sales.
It's all a mystery to me. Not only that, I don't really read reviews much myself now, except reading 1* reviews of famous books I've loved, just to remind myself of perspective!

zenandtheartoftightropewalking said...

A thread ran round a while back which stated that once you get 25 reviews, Amazon starts promoting your book in some way and does it more once you get past 40. There were correspondingly large amounts of authors who then did their best to get more folks to review. I wonder if this was actually true or a sort of author urban myth.
Anyway, whichever way you see it, it's interesting.
I do know of authors who have garnered 80+ reviews (mainly US) and I wonder what difference it actually makes to sales.
It's all a mystery to me. Not only that, I don't really read reviews much myself now, except reading 1* reviews of famous books I've loved, just to remind myself of perspective!

Sulci Collective said...

I think Helen Smith (@Emperorsclothes on twitter) said it did make a difference to her novel. She read out some very funny comments from 1 star reviews of her book as the sales units were ticking over during a week where sales and concomitant number of reviews just grew & grew. It exposed her work to people who were never going to like it but bought it anyway

zenandtheartoftightropewalking said...

Ha, I'd consider doing that were there any funny parts in my 1* review. Instead it's quite simply mean and nasty. I'd be thought to be going for the sympathy vote!!

Sessha Batto said...

I've never asked anyone to read my books, never asked for a review - but it hurts that honestly given reviews have been removed! Writing is a hard, relatively thankless task - hours of work for pennies in return. A new review is like a little jump start that helps keep me going. It has nothing to do with sales, everything to do with the self-confidence to keep going. Now there will be even less feedback, and those of us (like me) who lack confidence will find it harder and harder to find impetus to keep writing!

Sulci Collective said...

That's an absolutely valid rejoinder Sessha, but I can't help feeling that the whole system is skewed so that the review has become too significant in many authors' eyes, because it helps with algorithms and SEO and rising into visibility and all that. I do think Amazon have gone in really heavy in this case, but I think the principle is right if not the solution, because reviews have been corrupted by gamers; however small a percentage, it reflects badly on all reviews. If we could clean that up, then I think it absolutely backs up your take on reviews. Of course Amazon are acting out of business reasons rather than any purity of commitment to literature and letters, but their analysis dovetails with mine coming from a different perspective.

Sessha Batto said...

As you said, you don't read reviews before you purchase, neither do I . . . in fact, I don't know anyone who does! If you gamed the system you know it, and you know your reviews are meaningless. If you haven't, those reviews are the only feedback you'll ever get, good or bad. I don't give a shit about ranking, or SEO, or visibility . . . my work will never be in a position for that to matter. But losing the ability to get feedback makes Amazon less desirable to me as a sales outlet. Of course, maybe that's what they want - I don't see it happening to traditionally published books.

Sulci Collective said...

I don't know the thinking behind Amazon's model, but I believe they rub their hands with glee at such interaction between consumers (readers) and producers (authors) through the interaction of a review. On some level it empowers the consumer which makes them more eager to consume. So I don't believe, though I could be wrong of course, that Amazon wants to unbalance a balance of power that works in their favour where they reap the benefits from both producer & consumer.

There is a constituency of readers who do hoover up books by price (freemium/ 99c models) and reviews and in particular visibility probably are significant here. I could never understand authors trumpeting that they were in a top 10 chart for free books in their genre.

You and I write what I would say are niche works. In that they are unlikely to be mass sellers. Our markets are limited. Reviews and visibility are no less important in their own more modest way than the mass sellers. That's how the Amazon market works, even in the fringes where we reside. I think one can critique the whole Amazon model as you may be suggesting. In my case it's the only economic option I have, because there are no production costs. Either we are in with both feet, accepting the rules the Corporation sets, or we can take our business elsewhere I guess. The free market isn't really free, not for producers and not for consumers.

Virginia Moffatt said...

Absolutely right Marc. I totally agree with this...

kathrynmagendie said...

I never ever expect, demand, ask, beg, borrow, plead, steal, whine, cajole, hint, or otherwise, anything from my readers! Lawdy no!

I adore my readers and recognize that they are the reason I am able to do this thing I love over and over -- without them, I am just some woman typing up a lot of words that slip into some black hole. Thank gawd for readers of books!

If a reader feels moved to contact me by email or letter or social networking, or to write a review, or "like" my whatevers, or etc, then I am honored and pleased and it means so much more that I didn't ask--they were moved to do it. Never do I expect that!

I also never ask other authors to do these things.
Great post - saw the link on litchat!

Kelly McClymer said...

I am always touched when a reader comments, reviews, emails me, likes my book, etc. Because I've been a reader forever, all I've ever wanted from my readers was for them to "get" my story. And if they didn't, then no harm, no foul, they move on to an author they do get.

I wonder if the sentiment comes from a conversation between author and reader that I have seen before: READER: "When is your next book coming out?" AUTHOR: "When the publisher thinks my sales are good enough, so if you liked the book, please write a good review, or tell your friends."

I can see the point that if you, as a reader, really want an author to continue publishing, you can aid the effort by making a little noise. But there is no obligation to do so, ever.

Sulci Collective said...

Thank you Kelly and Kathryn. No writer is saying these aren't wonderful things to receive from our readers, just the degree to which we initiate them by asking which I think is misguided and a touch presumptuous.

I never respond to a plea on Twitter to RT someone's product (only charity appeals, or lost people/items). If I think the product is worthy, I'll voluntarily retweet it. I don't have to be asked nor appealed to.