Do You Hate Your Readers Like I Hate Writing about Writing?

Monday, February 8, 2016
By Phil Elmore

You are an author with a small but perceptible reader base. One of your readers posts a political opinion with which you disagree. Do you A) ignore it; B) post your opposing opinion; or C) tell the reader you hope his children are raped to death by wild dogs? If you said C, congratulations: You’re a psychopath. And yet in all the bickering I’ve seen writers and authors do on Facebook, I can honestly say that I have seen someone who believed Option C was actually a viable and worthy response.

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One of the things I hate is writing about writing. I do it because this is what you’re supposed to do to promote your work (and as someone with some experience in the field I do feel good about passing on what I’ve learned to this point). Always, in the back of mind, is the understanding that when I am writing about writing, I am not actually getting any paid work done. A working writer lives and dies by how much he can accomplish. To pay the bills off the sweat of your brain, you have to work; you have to work hard; you have to work hard and fast. Those are the realities of making a living this way. Writing about writing may feel good, but it’s ultimately an indulgence, even if it’s done for promotional purposes.

I get kind of sick when I see writers (and yes, I’m aware that I sometimes use that term when technically what I mean is authors — people who write fiction — rather than people who write to spec for pay) who maintain elaborate blogs about writing, success in the writing field, “how to fail” while making it as an indie author, and so on. If you’re not already making enough money off your writing for it to be a significant part of your life, you have no business telling the world all about the craft of writing. In other words, if you’re not already achieving at least a limited amount of success, your deep and weighty opinions about the profession… aren’t. You’re wasting precious productive time indulging yourself in writing about writing.

There’s a worse offense, though, than indulging yourself in this way. That is hating your readers. People like the author I mentioned — the guy who, yes, told a Facebook friend, reader, and fan that he wanted the man’s family raped to death by dogs — aren’t even that successful as authors. They’ve stepped onto the lowest rung of recognition (the one I’m sitting on) and there are a few people who know what they write and who like it. So what do they do? They treat these people like crap. They act like they expect total fealty from people they hardly know. “Oh, you liked one of my books but not the sequel? Then screw you, buddy. I hope a pack of kangaroos steals your grandmother’s car and leaves her for dead.”

These same entitled, ungrateful authors will post lengthy diatribes about the many ways their fans and readers displease them. Their fans are posting memes they don’t like on Facebook; their fans aren’t reviewing their books enough; their fans are daring to pose questions that the author thinks are tiresome. One of the more offensive articles I’ve seen floating around the Internet is something like, “Ten Things Never to say to a Writer.” The questions all seem to revolve around the author’s sense of self-importance. And that’s why some authors believe, even at the lowest levels of success, that they can treat their fans like garbage, take them for granted, or scold them for having opinions of their own. Most authors are self-absorbed children.

We should all be so lucky as to have people asking us repetitive, annoying questions about our work. It means not only that people care about what we do, but that they care enough to hear what we think about it. If you ever have a few hours to kill, just ask an author about the craft of writing. He’ll go on and on for hours. I should know; it’s my favorite thing in the world. Never ask me to talk about my work if you have a plane to catch later this week.

The fact is that what writers and authors do simply isn’t that big a deal. The most self-indulgent authors seem to think of themselves as national treasures. They’re not. They’re bass players in Han Dold City. Nobody ever says to himself, “Where am I going to find a writer?” You can’t throw a cat into traffic and not hit a car driven by one. Now, yes, it’s hard to find a good writer, someone who consistently hits deadlines and produces quality work across a broad swath of subject matter categories. That’s something that I can do, but even I’m going to miss deadlines, and I’m good at this. Still, there is a ton of competition for what I do, much of it at cutthroat rates from third-world countries like India.

There’s an even greater surplus of fiction authors. Everybody and his uncle is writing the Great American Novel, or wants to, and now that anybody can publish to Amazon, there’s nothing stopping any amateur from declaring himself a published author. I’d rather it be that way than the old model, where your choices were the big publishers or a vanity press… but the point stands. Authors, even successful authors, aren’t that big a deal. Many of them aren’t even good people. (A surprising number are fairly awful.) Even the best of these can’t afford to mistreat readers and fans, though. Those readers are the whole reason you’ve experienced any success at all. They are your success personified and you must respect them.

Respect takes many forms. It starts with refusing to indulge yourself too often… or take yourself too seriously. It hinges on the respect you show the people who make possible what you are trying to do. Your readers are not your followers. They are your supporters, and there’s a significant difference.

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