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Readers have responsibilities too

So here we are as writers, locked in our garrets, eschewing social life and family responsibilities, slaving over a hot laptop for hours on end, week after week, maybe even year after year, our entire focus on creating a cast of fascinating characters and a make-believe but believable world for our readers to get lost in for a few hours.  

A few hours? Yes, that’s right. A few hours is pretty much all it takes to read an averagely paced 100,000 word novel. Then they close the book, (or switch off the Kindle,) lean back in their chair, take a deep satisfied breath, smile to themselves, stretch, scratch, check the time and realise that dog/ family/Guinea pig hasn’t been fed, and with a last fond glance at the novel (or Kindle) they put it to one side and rejoin the real world. 

And all the months the writer spent in the garret didn’t even include the time spent in editing, packaging, marketing, and promoting (let alone Tweeting). That’s another whole time consuming (and uncomfortably competitive) ball game, one which writers are obliged to enter into just at the point when they want to start writing the sequel! 

Now I’d be the last to complain, even about the non-writing aspects of being a writer, because I love the process of writing. There is nothing I enjoy more than creating a page-turning story with characters that live on beyond the page. Or is there? 

Yes, actually there is. Knowing that people have really enjoyed reading it, on balance, probably just has the edge.  (It is a shame that one of a writer’s rare vicarious pleasures has been removed at a stroke by the advent of eReaders – the chance sighting of some stranger on a plane or train engrossed in your novel. I can confess here that I once missed my stop on the London underground because a fellow traveller was reading one of my novels and laughing out loud (with some obvious embarrassment) at the funny bits.) 

The moral of all this is that although it is clearly the writer’s job to create the best possible book they can, those of us who are readers also have some kind of a responsibility too. Not just to let the poor, socially deprived writer know that we have enjoyed their book, but also to tell other people, even to write a review. It’s a competitive world out there and we want our favourite writers to survive. Spreading the word is the best way to do it.

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15 thoughts on “Readers have responsibilities too

  1. Another great post! Very thought provoking.

    With my first novel hitting Kindle store (and others) soon, a lot of reading I’ve done about promoting it talks about reviews and getting them. Seems like it’s hard, and obviously I’ve drawn up a list of people I’m going to ask if they would like a free copy to review (and a review request document of course).

    I suppose where the biggest thrill will come from for me will be that first review that I don’t know is coming. Hopefully it’ll be a good one! But I’ll be one step further down the road to reaching the audience on a wider scale, and that will be an amazing feeling!

  2. Thank you for this post! I agree – we, as readers, can take control of our realm of what is known as a grass-roots effort, and spread the word (email, word of mouth, forums, reviews …) regarding the books/eBooks (traditionally published or not) that we’ve loved. However, as an author who has just published my first independently published eBook, I struggle with this concept! I know that the endless – and shameless 😉 – self promotions are necessary if I want my book to be read but the constant need to encourage those in my social realm to please, please, please review it and then “If you love it, tell everyone you know!’ gets to be like slogging through molasses! I know that the book is being read, and loved, but getting the readers to ‘act’ can be a daunting task. I sure would love to know how to overcome this!

  3. I agree that leaving a review is a great way of letting an author know you enjoyed their book, as well as hopefully helping them to increased sales by recommending it to others, which is how I see any review I post.

    But I also like how, with the advent of Facebook pages, blogs and Twitter, it’s much easier to contact the author to tell them how much you enjoyed their book. (I appreciate that some people choose to use these social networking tools to tell an author when they didn’t enjoy a book, but generally, I’d hope that they’re more often used for positive feedback, rather than negative.

    • Yes, and by posting this on an online blog I suppose I am rather preaching to the converted! How do we send the message to readers who don’t engage online? Book clubs are great but there are millions of completely private readers too. I’ve tried to put encouraging notes at the end of each of my novels, but I think it sounds a bit lame to say ‘please tell your friends’!!

      • Well, you’re not necessarily preaching to the converted. Just because someone is online, it doesn’t have to mean that they’re comfortable making contact with an author, especially one they might never have tweeted with or on whose blog they may have not have commented before. It took me a while before I summoned up the courage to let someone know I enjoyed their book and it was an actor friend who encouraged me to do so. He said that he always enjoyed hearing if someone enjoyed his performance and he felt sure that authors would be no different.

        Besides, there are always going to be people who will never share their thoughts or recommend a book because reading is private for them or because they don’t think they’re qualified to advise anyone else on what to read or make recommendations. I think all you can do is to say how much you love hearing from your readers, engage with those who do contact you and carry on being friendly whether here or on Twitter or at events and that might encourage more people to get in touch when they’ve read one of your books.

        You can be fairly sure that even if you don’t hear from all of them yourself, there will be readers out there who not only enjoy your books but also recommend them to their friends or members of book clubs or gift them to others because they have enjoyed reading you so much. That’s every bit as valuable as contacting you personally, surely, even if might not be as personally satisfying?

      • Yes, you are absolutely right and of course great sales figures are personally satisfying as well!! And better still, even though, (rather oddly in this electronic ‘tracking’ age,) we authors can’t tell who is actually buying our books from Amazon etc., we can see if they are moving steadily through our back lists, showing it’s not just the marketing that works but the books themselves!

        But to go back to my original point, my real worry is that good new writers have a real struggle to get noticed, so the more readers can do to spread the word, the more chance they have of making a decent career of their writing, which is important if we want to retain a lively, innovative creative world.

  4. Thank you for this piece — I wholeheartedly agree. I’d love to know the statistic for the amount of readers who leave negative reviews vs. those readers who loved a book but “never got around to leaving a review.” As a new writer, I need to grow a rhino skin thicker than the one I have now. Positive reviews have me saying, “oh, well, they’re just being kind,” while negative reviews seem to have a level of validity I’m not sure they warrant. In addition, marketing can be a challenge for some writers who tend to be solitary beings by nature. The good news is that in today’s environment anyone can publish a book. The bad news is that anyone can publish a book. It makes marketing (which usually falls on the writer’s shoulders) all the more important.
    Thanks again for this great topic.
    Sarah

    • Thanks, yes, things have changed so much and so quickly for writers. It’s great that anyone can get a book ‘published’, (I always felt that publishers and agents had too tight a stranglehold over what they considered was ‘in’ or ‘commercial’) but the downside is that authors, published or not, are now under increasing pressure to fight their own corner if they want sales, and those skills don’t always come all that easily to writers. Exposing one’s work to the world is hard enough sometimes anyway, without then having to go into battle on its behalf! Most writers I know are pretty sensitive beings, I think you have to be to write with insight and empathy, developing the rhino hide as you suggest might help with the bruising effects of ‘marketing’, but may not help with the next book!!

  5. I have a blog of my own and review books all the time. If I love and enjoy a book I am always eager to spread the word and do so on Amazon as well so that I am now in their top 500 reviewers. No point in keeping one’s enjoyment to oneself and I know from hearing from authors how much they appreciate it. The fact that they write and tell me so, gives me a kick as well so it is a two way thing

    • Thank you, Elaine! YES, authors not only appreciate the support, but need it too. In the (good?) old days writers could pretty much rely on publishers to spread the word, but in this brave new (enormous) Kindle world even traditionally published novelists are finding it hard to keep their heads above water. The fact that this post has generated such a lot of interest here and elsewhere shows that the issue is a serious one. Some writers can afford to write for love, but many can’t. It would be a shame if, just at the point when the opportunity for writers to get work out into the world becomes so much easier, really talented writers fall by the wayside simply because they are overlooked in the stampede!

  6. This is such an interesting post and no writer would disagree with your point of view. Your point about making positive comments to other writers about ways in which you enjoyed their work is a great suggestion. There is an element of karma about this. You do that and the positive tide will return to you. Dorothy’s comment shows this I think. I think your poitn about the poor overworked socially deprived writer fades into nothing compared with loving the writing as you do. Must look for your new book…

  7. I know exactly what you mean – it’s so lovely when a reader takes time out of their busy day to do something like write an Amazon review to let you know those hours slaving away were worth it – I was particularly pleased by a recent one for my The Girls’ Guide to Losing your L Plates – how to pass your driving test – which was described as ‘the best book u can buy’ (forget Tolstoy and Jane Austen!) by a girl who’d had multiple failures before

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/product-reviews/1416526609/ref=cm_cr_dp_synop?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending#R197DUXK8FQST7

    I suppose there’s also the case when readers don’t enjoy a book and feel it’s their ‘responsibility’ to let people know by posting a negative review. I’ve been lucky enough not to have many of those but it must be bruising when you do… though with some I get the feeling there might be a vendetta going on… for example, I was checking out some interior design books on Amazon and one particular author seemed to have lots of negative reviews, in which the ‘reviewer’ kept flagging up another author who they said covered the same area so much better…hmmmmm? Dealing with negative reviews another possible blog post?

  8. Couldn’t agree more. My novel has been out for a week now, and I spend my days combing the web for comments, reviews and ratings. It means so much to me to see that people are reading and enjoying it, and it makes me want to make an effort for other writers whose work I have read and enjoyed.

    And I agree, a massive big-up to the tireless bloggers who make such an effort to read, review and promote. They’ve been awesome to me.

  9. Yes, I agree, it’s brilliant that so many people really do care enough about books to make the effort to write about them. If only we all did it! I am as guilty as the next person of reading a book, even a great book, and then not doing anything about it.

  10. Very nice piece, Helen. Just wanted to add that since I’ve been trying to “market” my mystery, I have discovered the amazing multi-faceted world of the book blogger — hundreds and hundreds of people out there, so-called “ordinary people,” not professional critics, reading and writing about books because they like doing this. They have certainly widened the circle of reader-writers. But, as you say, the more, the better.

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