I Am Writing For You: A Guide To Treating Readers With Respect

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This last week there’s been a barrage of authors out there who are taking shots at readers. We saw this a lot with the situation in the comics industry over the last year, where so many of the creators fought the fans when they’d produced a lot of politically driven narrative their fans didn’t like, and sales dropped substantially as a consequence.

Instead of owning up to the fact that they’d made product that didn’t appeal to their readers, most of the creators took to social media to throw public tantrums, telling fans to “check their privilege” and “Not everything out there has to be for you.” Well, when you tell your fans you’re not writing for them, who are you writing for?

That’s the question. It’s of course important for an artist to stretch and try to do new things and always make new fans, but being condescending to your existing fanbase because the work has changed into something they didn’t like — especially on something that’s an established property where there are sets of expectations — is not a good tack to take. I understand authors being frustrated when things aren’t selling and they’re getting negative reviews, but taking it out on the existing fans is a sure fire way to amplify that situation, not to resolve it and get back to work.

The comments this week were similar. We saw a NYT bestseller complain about receiving the question “are your books any good?”

This seems innocuous at first, but he went off on a sarcastic rant about how his books are terrible, a very odd thing to do. But let’s break down the interaction that has him so flustered. Someone asking “are your books any good?” is a person taking interest in your books. That’s a POSITIVE thing. Your answer should be “yes, yes they are, try this one.” Or something along those lines. Remember, to most people, you’re an author, you’re someone who they’re not sure if they should be wasting your time, and they’re a bit intimidated to interact with you. Phrasing the question like this isn’t some slight to you, but it’s done because they’re trying not to appear too eager in posturing to you, so that you treat them a little more like an equal than (in their minds) like someone who’s annoyingly gushing over you.  Bottom line is: when someone takes an interest in your books, let them! This is something to applaud, not to condemn.

And next we had an author state “I don’t give a f*** what you want to read” in criticism to a sales elevator pitch the author gave on twitter, which didn’t talk about the story’s merits, but focused on identity politics. Again, all this is serving to do is to turn off potential fan groups. If someone’s taking enough interest to criticize in a reasonable manner, they’re doing so because they have taken enough interest in you. It’s not fun to get negative feedback, but being mindful that there’s readers out there and that this isn’t a one time thing, but your interactions mean future reads for the rest of your career is so important.

It comes down to viewing interactions with readers as people who are there to at some point buy your book. They might not now. They might not stay and might not like it, but regardless, they’re people to be treasured because they are the customers.

I, by contrast, kept getting messages about how James Gentry didn’t get enough development in For Steam And Country, and my readership wanted to see more of him. What did I do? I wrote a novella sequel to the book where it’s entirely from his perspective. Why? Because I care about what my readers want. That’s all I care about. And that’s why I’ll still be in business in a couple of years. Will these guys?

My James novella, “Knight Training,” comes out on July 18th, but for now, catch up on the first book For Steam And Country. It’s all about giving you, the reader, a fun experience. Check it out here.  

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2 thoughts on “I Am Writing For You: A Guide To Treating Readers With Respect

  1. Jon, off-topic, so delete if you are inclined:

    Steve Ditko, creator of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, as passed at 90 years of age.
    Working to the very end: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1704592942/something-big-by-snyder-and-ditko

    A master of the craft of comic books is gone.

    I am saddened.

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