The more I think about Harris’ puff piece, the more irritated I get. Couldn’t she have put just a little effort into this? Let’s start.
“In a world in which the internet, with its forums and discussion groups, has blurred the line between readers and writers almost to invisibility, the relationship between one and the other now seems increasingly difficult – audience participation in the creation of art is considered by many to be not only legitimate, but desirable.” JH
I don’t think the internet has blurred the line, I think inexperience and eagerness has blurred the line. Inexperience, on the part of authors especially. Far too many authors use the internet in a way that invites fans, casual readers, bloggers, any passing stranger to view their private lives and opinions. When you know all about someone’s kids, their malfunctioning furnace, their contributions to a candidate’s presidential campaign, their homophobia, the conversation they had with their agent/publisher/editor, where and what they had for dinner, then the line has more than blurred.
Readers/reviewers/fans aren’t to blame for this, this rests squarely on the authors. A number of the more outrageously behaving authors, Harris included, seem to believe that anything goes on social media. Not if you don’t want those blurred lines. I’m firmly of the opinion that authors, for the most part, should have an author account/page and a private one.
The author page should be friendly but professional. The private one where the author connects with only their trusted friends and not anyone connected to their profession is where they can vent their opinions and frustrations. Not saying an author can’t share a little of their private life with their readers but far, far too many authors share far, far too much.
I don’t need to know an author’s views on hot button topics like religion, abortion, or politics. I really, really don’t want to listen to an author complain about their fans, those are the people supporting them, and all too often authors seem to think that buying their book(s) is not enough. How many times have you read an author urging their fans to leave them (only) positive reviews? How many times have you seen authors asking their fans to join their street teams or review teams?
Part of this is because authors now, even if traditionally published, are responsible for all or most of their own promotion. And once again (most) authors are inexperienced. Authors, who thought they would only have to write the book and someone else would sell it for them or it would magically sell itself are finding that the writing might be not the hardest part of the process. Self published authors complain about this all the time, what did they think was going to happen?
Is the relationship between reader and author increasingly difficult? Only if you are an author like Harris, or Annie Rice, or any number of overly entitled self published ones. You want to vent about how much you don’t like us? How we don’t know how to read your book? Why we aren’t leaving you glowing reviews? How dare we dislike your latest release because of what you did with the main characters? Do it where we don’t see it. In private. To a few trusted friends.
Please leave us with the illusion that you are the truly wonderful person we like to think you are. Nora Roberts- looking right at you.
Now we tackle the audience participation part- are you crazy? What the hell. I can’t quite figure this out. Is Harris talking about reviews and discussions that complain bitterly when a book doesn’t go where a certain group of readers think it should? Like the whole Charlaine Harris/ Sookie Stackhouse finale fracas all over the net? Aside from the threats of violence directed at Harris, something that readers should abhor and denounce, it was certainly interesting to watch a very large group of people get a rude awakening. Charlaine went where she was always going and all those discussions all over the net didn’t change her mind.
Audience participation? Only if the author wants it or encourages it and then they can’t or shouldn’t complain about what happens.
“Both on and offline, everyone has an opinion. And everyone has a platform from which to disseminate their opinions. Much of the time, this is a good thing. It allows a potential dialogue to exist between readers and creators. It allows readers to get in touch with the authors of work they have enjoyed. It allows writers to understand where and how they might have gone wrong, and how they can improve and grow. However, this breaking-down of barriers has also created a false sense of entitlement, giving some readers the impression that artists and writers not only inhabit a privileged world, in which there are no bills to pay and in which time is infinitely flexible, but that they also exist primarily to serve the public, to be available night and day, and to cater for the personal needs of everyone who contacts them.” – JH
Oh look, Harris and I agree on something, everyone does have an opinion, dialogue is good, readers and authors talk, everybody learns something, and then we part ways. Harris now speaks of “some” readers. At this point I want to break readers up into three groups- readers like myself who know quite a bit about the process of producing a book, the readers who just like to read and maybe leave a comment occasionally on an author’s page, and the reader who Harris has chosen to talk about.
“Some readers”, I checked my Websters’ and one definition of some is a fairly large amount or number. Oh, really? I suspect that Harris is taking one of her all too frequent swipes at readers who do not hang on and agree with her every word. Let’s do something that would make Harris’ head explode, let’s adjust the text- just a little.
“This breaking down of barriers has not, in some cases, educated readers and authors enough, there are those from both groups that have a false sense of entitlement, giving some authors and readers the impression that artists, writers, and readers inhabit a privileged world, in which there are no bills to pay and in which time is infinitely flexible, they also exist to primarily serve the public or the writer, depending on who is doing the thinking, to be available night and day, and to cater to the personal needs of every writer or reader who contacts them.” There, all better now.
Yes, “some” readers think this way but so do “some” writers. I suspect Harris is one because if she weren’t then she might be more interested in producing a commissioned piece that speaks to the problems created by both sides and not just the ones she wants to bitch about.
Do you remember this blog from September? The one where an author gave instructions on what to do for a “free” book. Yeah. Well, Joanne, I hate to burst that pretty little bubble you are floating around in but readers have lives. too. They have jobs and bills and not enough time in their day just like any artist or author. They don’t have the time to write and post reviews everywhere, they don’t have time to post their reading progress everywhere, they might have precious little time to even just read a few pages a day, they might have had to budget carefully to buy your newest book because money is tight but they want to support you and to find out that some authors feel that just buying that book isn’t enough isn’t helping the reader/author relationship. “Some readers”, Joanne, don’t have the luxury of being your unpaid publicity machine.
Don’t complain about the problem, fix it. Set boundaries and rules, not just for readers but for writers, for yourself. Follow them.
“This is partly due to the fact that there are so many more writers than there were fifty years ago. The rise of self-publishing, e-books and fanfiction means that far more people are now able to identify as writers. And although this is a good thing in many ways, it does also help perpetuate the idea that anyone can write a book, and that the people who actually do so are simply luckier, wealthier, or blessed with more spare time than those who do not.” JH
“Some” of the people who think this way are writers, or they think they are.
“The truth is, not everyone can – or should – be a writer, in the same way that not everyone can or should be an accountant, or a ballet dancer, teacher, pilot, soldier, or marathon runner. The same combination of aptitude, experience and acquired skills apply to being a writer as to any other job. We would never think of telling a doctor that we were thinking of taking up medicine when we retired. We would never expect a plumber to work for free – or a plasterer, for publicity. We would never expect to hear the word “privilege” of a teacher who has spent their career working hard to earn a living. We would never expect a lawyer who has paid to go through law school to tutor aspiring lawyers for free.” -JH
I agree that not everybody who thinks they can write should write. I agree that you need talent, training, and experience because that’s how you become successful in any field. And then I’m going to disagree again. Because sometimes doing a job for free or for the publicity is beneficial to the person doing it. I know someone who paid for the privilege of being on a board of directors. It was expected, it is necessary for his position.
I don’t expect authors to write for free but that is a judgement call that they might have to make. There are discussions between SPAs all over about free books. Should they, shouldn’t they? With the explosion of self publishing I believe that a free book is a good way to find readers. And here is a whole discussion for another time but authors expecting to make a living writing nowadays are authors who haven’t done their research.
“And yet, and yet, these demands are made of writers all the time. Perhaps it’s because the value of writing is such a difficult thing to quantify. Everyone dreams. Not everyone gets to dream for a living. But are we writers expecting too much? Can we keep artistic control, whilst expecting to earn a living? And, in a world in which the consumer increasingly calls the shots, can we still hope for a relationship with our readers that transcends that of mere supply and demand?”– JH
No, they are not. If you don’t want to offer a piece of work for free- don’t. Sometimes though it can work to your advantage. I’ve been self-employed for 25 yrs. Sometimes the money doesn’t flow freely. Sometimes people think you should work for free or next to nothing, sometimes they think anybody can do it. So what? I venture that everybody in any profession encounters some for of this carp. Writers, artists, aren’t that special.
Are writers expecting too much? They are if they think like you do. Can you retain artistic control? Well, Joanne, that is between you and your publisher. I love that you think consumers call the shots. We buy books. We buy books that we enjoy. We buy books from authors we like. The beauty of writing is the writer can almost always find someone who will read their book. The question is can they find enough readers to make their work profitable.
If you want a “relationship” with readers then by all means have one. Set the rules, set the boundaries. Is someone going to complain about your work ? Absolutely. There will always be complaints, you’re complaining right now.
“Not long ago, I was involved in the debate around an app called CleanReader, which contained an algorithm that picked out and replaced “offensive words” in e-books with “acceptable substitutes.” Thus, “breasts” becomes “chest,” “bitch” becomes “witch” and any kind of profanity is reduced to a series of American euphemisms, making nonsense of the text, its rhythms, style and meaning. Writers rallied round to combat the distribution of this app, which was swiftly withdrawn from sale. But the designers of the app, a Christian couple from Idaho, wrote to me several times to protest that readers, having paid for my books, should have the right to change my words if they disapproved of them. Readers are consumers, they said. Therefore, just as a person ordering a salad in a restaurant should have the right to ask the chef for a different dressing, readers should also have the choice to enjoy a story without being exposed to language they deem offensive, or ideas that challenge their perceptions. After all, they said; isn’t that why writers exist in the first place? Are they not there primarily to serve the needs of the public, and does it not make sense that they should take those needs into account?” -JH
Joanne, bless your heart, let this go. This couple is earnestly bat shit. They probably only read the Bible and tracts published by certain Christian publishers. If someone is that afraid of words on paper then you just have to realize that nothing is going to help them. Let. It. Go. They. Are. Bat. Shit. Crazy.
“Well, of course our readers do have a choice. And of course, we writers owe them a great deal. But a novel isn’t a salad with interchangeable ingredients. Nor is the reader entitled to order from a menu. As writers, we are always grateful when a reader chooses one of our books. We hope that they will enjoy it. And most writers value feedback and dialogue with their readers. But ultimately, a reader’s role is different to that of a writer. And a writer’s role is to try to convey a series of ideas as honestly and as well as we possibly can, with minimal interference, and most of all, without being distracted by heckling from the audience.” -JH
Readers have the choice to read your books or not. The only thing you owe readers is a well written book. You owe readers and yourself to be professional in your interactions with them. Thank you for being grateful, it just doesn’t sound that way. Yes, Miss Obvious, a reader’s role is different from that of a writer. Duh. If your book is already published no one can interfere of heckle. If you are writing a book and you can’t handle your social pages then get an assistant and let them. No one is standing next to you barking orders in your ear while you write. No one can interfere with your writing unless you let them.
“The fact is that the writer cannot please everyone all of the time. We shouldn’t even try – fiction, by its nature, should present a challenge. Books allow us to see the world in different ways; to experience things we might never encounter – or wish to – outside the world of fiction. Fiction is not by its nature a design for living, nor an imaginary comfort zone. Although it can be both those things, its range goes much further than comfort or escapism. Fiction is often uncomfortable; often unexpected. Most importantly, fiction is not democratic. It is, at best, a benign dictatorship, in which there can be an infinite number of followers with any number of different ideas, but only ever one leader. Like all good leaders, the writer can (and should) take advice from time to time, but where the actual work is concerned, they, and no-one else, must take final responsibility.” -JH
Obvious. Obvious. Obvious. Obvious. Yes. Not necessarily. Mostly obvious (for another time). Obvious. Yes, take advice but if the writer is the one taking the responsibility then the author is the one setting boundaries with readers and the author is the one who either allows or doesn’t interference and “heckling”, a word that is not the best choice for a writer in this setting.
“I love my readers. I love their enthusiasm, their willingness to engage. I enjoy our conversations on Twitter and at festivals. I love their diversity, and the fact that they all see different things in my books, according to what’s important to them, and according to what they have experienced. Without readers, writers would have no context; no audience; no voice. But that doesn’t mean we’re employees, writing books to order. We, too, have a choice. We choose what kind of relationship we want to have with our readers – whether to interact online, go to festivals, give interviews, tour abroad, teach pro bono creative writing sessions or even live in seclusion, without talking to anyone. Writers are as diverse as readers themselves, and all of them have their own way of operating. What may work for one author may be hopelessly inappropriate for another. But whatever our methods of working, the relationship between a writer and their readers should be based on mutual respect, along with a shared understanding of books, their nature and their importance.” -JH
I question your love for your readers because this whole piece so far has been one long negative description of “some” readers. Remember, some is a fairly large amount or number. And I realized something writing this, you shouldn’t be grateful for just your readers, you should be grateful for all readers. But I suspect you won’t be able to figure out why and won’t even try. I suspect your gratitude has very narrow dimensions.
I’ve read some of your opinions and that whole mutual respect thing? Mutual means shared and I sort of get the feeling you want to dictate my side of mutual. You don’t get to do that. This goes right back to appreciating all readers, appreciating their love of books, yours or someone else’s. All this lovely, lovely talk about gratitude and appreciation is negated by the next paragraph.
“On the internet I’ve seen a growing number of sites and blogs enumerating what readers expect of writers. Requests for increased diversity, increased awareness of current issues, requests for time and attention, gratis copies of books for review, interviews and guest blog posts – or simply demands to work faster. Readers have numerous spaces in which to discuss author behaviour, to analyse their politics, lifestyle and beliefs – sometimes, in extreme cases, to urge other readers to boycott the work of those authors whose themes are seen as too controversial, or whose ideas do not coincide with their own. Authors are expected to respect these reader spaces, whatever the nature of the discussion. To comment on a bad review – or even to be seen to notice it – is to risk being labelled an “author behaving badly”. Authors whose work is deemed to have problematic content are expected to analyse the cause – and in some cases, to apologize. There is an increasing call for trigger warnings; profanity warnings; age guidelines – in order to help the reader choose amidst a bewildering number of books. The demands on authors are numerous; often even daunting.” – JH
This is the “Where I will complain about all the drawbacks of being a public person and how I can’t be a bitch when I want without someone complaining about it, and why won’t these people do as I want. Also, the book world is changing and readers want things I don’t want to write, don’t want to do, don’t want to acknowledge” paragraph. Awww. We get it. Your job description has changed and you don’t like it. Deal, oh whiny one, deal.
Not everything applies to you, not everything is about you. If you don’t want your behavior discussed, be professional. Don’t discuss politics on your business pages, use your private one. Don’t be Laurell K Hamilton. If you don’t want it talked about, don’t put it out there. Why is this so hard to understand? A boycott? So what? No one is asking for the book to be banned.
Yes, a lot of readers prefer authors not to comment on and in certain discussions because they perceive you as having a majority of the power and it is hard to argue with that. Also, some readers feel that the author pops up in an effort to change or direct the discussion into author approved channels. Go complain in private. And if you don’t want something discussed in public, don’t make it public.
Why do you want to comment on your “bad” reviews? In public. Yeah. You don’t want to comment on the review, you want to comment on the reviewer.
Don’t be EL James who has ducked, evaded, blocked, and generally been a spoiled brat about the abuse in her books. You don’t agree, you don’t want to be in endless discussions, you want it all to go away. Make a statement. Set rules and boundaries and then follow them. If readers think you got it wrong and you don’t, say their POV never occurred to you but you’re glad they are having a relevant and productive discussion but you don’t have anything to add. Thank them for their interest in your work. Move on.
Yes, the book industry is changing, if you don’t want to set trigger warnings, age guidelines, etc, then delegate. If this now is truly part and parcel of what a trad. pub. author must do, then do it or stop writing. Things change, things evolve. We are not required to like all of them, or any of them.
“But do readers ever ask themselves what authors want of them? Do authors ever ask themselves what they want of their readers? –JH
I would hope you want me to buy your book. I suspect you want me to shut up.
“I think that for most authors, it comes down to two deceptively simple things.
The first and most prosaic is: we want to make a living. This fact is at the same time obvious, and fiercely contested, not least by many authors, who rightly see their work as something more than just a means of paying the rent.
That’s because, many authors find it hard to talk about money. It’s considered vulgar for artists to care about where the next meal is coming from. And many authors are driven to write: would probably write whether or not they had an audience; or whether they were ever published or paid, just for the joy of writing. This is at the same time their strength, and also their downfall; with the exception of a canny few who treat art as a business, writers are often reluctant to think of their work as just another product. We do not like to think of our books as units, to be bought and sold. And yet, to the publishing industry, that’s exactly what they are; the product of thousands of hours of work: of editing; copy-editing; design; marketing; proof-reading; promotion. Publishers spend most of their time thinking about the readers – the consumers of our work – but for an author, thinking about the readers (or, even worse, the pay-check) while trying to write a novel is like thinking about the drop when performing a high-wire act; dangerous, counterproductive, and likely to lead to failure.” -JH
If you wish to continue to foster the ridiculous idea that writers cannot be expected to think about money because it’s somehow wrong to consider the electric bill or the next meal then that is your problem, not mine. If you decide you are going to make your living writing, first don’t give up your day job until you can make your living writing and second, if you can’t bring yourself to consider the monetary side of your writing then your chances of making money are low and you have no one to blame but yourself. Your dumb self.
“But if, as Samuel Johnson maintains, no man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money, there must be a lot of blockheads in the writing community. I’ll admit I’m one myself. Nevertheless, however much we may cling to society’s romanticized views of art for art’s sake, authors and illustrators need to pay their bills like everyone else.” -JH
You want to help the reader/author relationship? Disabuse authors of the notion that talking about money is something dirty.
“That’s where the readers come in. Many readers seem to believe that authors are earning millions. The reality is that most authors earn rather less than the minimum wage, and when touring, attending festivals, blogging, giving interviews, holding readings, writing guest posts for bloggers, too often give their work for free. That’s why it’s important for readers to show appreciation for the work of the authors we love; firstly by buying their books (as opposed to downloading them illegally); by borrowing them from libraries (because authors are paid for borrowed books, a sum which, though small, adds up and can often provide a welcome annual windfall); and most importantly, by supporting their work; by attending festivals and readings, by writing reviews and joining in discussion groups, and generally promoting awareness of their writing, and of books in general.” -JH
Many readers aren’t quite as dumb as you seem to think. We know what the financial reality of writing really is. There are numerous articles on the incomes of authors, both traditional and otherwise. We read. I would think you would advise new authors to read these articles, too, but I see it’s not going to happen.
Yes, I knew buying that book wasn’t enough. We must now provide unpaid support and promotion. We write reviews, but you were just complaining about the ones you didn’t like. We have discussions but you want to set your own guidelines on what we discuss. You want good reviews, discussions only on approved topics, and attendance at festivals and readings.
“Because what authors really want (and money provides this, to some extent) is validation of their work. We write because we want you to care; because we hope you’re listening – that we can make a connection, somehow; that we can prove we are not alone.
Because stories – even fairy stories – are never just entertainment. Stories are more important than that. They help us understand who we are. They teach us empathy and respect for other cultures, other ideas. They help us articulate concepts that cannot otherwise be expressed. Stories help us communicate; they help eliminate boundaries; they teach us different ways in which to see the world around us. Their value may be intangible, but it is no less real for that. And stories bring us together – readers and writers everywhere – exploring our human experience and sharing it with others.” -JH
If you want to know you are not alone, go on the internet. There we are. 24/7 somebody is awake and willing to talk. There is a catch, they might not agree with everything you say.
Stories are important and they do allow us insight into other cultures, that call for diversity you found to be onerous previously is not a call for you to provide it, but it is a call for you to support it. Oh, wait, that’s another thing you might have to add to your schedule. A little support for another author.
“So this is my manifesto, my promise to you, the reader. From you, I ask that you take it in good faith, respond in kind, and understand that, whatever I do, I do for the sake of something we both value – otherwise we wouldn’t be here.” -JH
“We” are here because of posts such as yours. Where you demand much of your readers, dismiss the majority as rather dim-witted, and totally ignore any author responsibility in the difficult relationship between author and reader. You want to improve our relationship? Start educating new authors. Stop complaining about readers talking about whatever you have chosen to make public. Stop bemoaning about the evolving requirements of your job, yes, it is a job. Stop with the “you must do more for me so I can earn more” carp, recognize that for some of your readers that book is a huge investment and then calling on them to spend more by going to signings and other events so you can earn more is not being grateful, it’s being selfish. Start acting like a professional, whatever you don’t want public keep private.
I find your manifesto very one-sided, you never once call on your fellow authors to step up, you never once address what you can do to make the reader/author relationship better. Sure, you post a series of “I”s where you promise to do your job writing-wise, but that seems to be all you are promising. What else can you do? What else will you do?
There are “some” very successful and not so successful authors who don’t have the problems with readers that you do. Why? Because, Joanne, they have the smarts not to act like you do.