Biting the Hand that Feeds

“Reading books does not give you the right to give advice to authors.” NOT my words. I saw this on some social network or another recently. Probably Twitter, possibly Facebook or a blog comment. My reaction: Whoa! Hold the fuck up.

Ok, I’ll give you that there are some people out there that should simply enjoy the books they enjoy and move on, but as a writer myself, it is the reader’s opinion that I value most. If I had to choose between feedback from a dozen readers, editors, publishers, agents, or writers, I’d take the readers. Readers buy the books. Readers drive the market. Readers pay their hard-earned money for the stories they most want to read.

One could make the argument that if an agent doesn’t like the story, it won’t get sold, or if a publisher doesn’t like the story, good luck getting to print, but when it comes down to the bottom line, you can have both an agent and a publisher that is ecstatic about your story and it still won’t be popular if you tell potential readers to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine.

I asked an online friend to read three short stories and tell me which she liked the best and why. She said she was honored that I’d ask her to read my stuff. My reaction was, “What? No. It’s the other way around.” Without the reader’s viewpoint, how could I ever know that the scene that seemed so right in my head was confusing? Without the reader’s viewpoint, how can I know that the subtle hints of strength in the character that’s down on her luck are showing through? Without the reader, how can I be certain that the story is appealing to those that open their wallets and pocketbooks at the local bookstores?

Sure, your agent, if you have one, can do this too. So can a critique group. Writers get hung up in the creation process however, and a reader can offer a fresh set of eyes. Eyes that can overlook the misplaced comma to say, “I don’t get how Mr. X figured out what Ms. Y was doing.”

When an agent reads the synopsis before the book, are they getting the full experience that a reader would? Of course not; they have all the answers already. When a critique group reads a book, are they? Not at all; they’re focused on the writing aspects and on the nerves of having their own story shredded.

Before I get jumped in a dark alley and slashed up with a red pen, I’m not discounting the usefulness of these other groups. By all means, critique groups, editors, agents, they all serve an important purpose to helping a writer grow both as a person and in grooming their babies for public consumption. It was the derogatory comment towards readers, written by a writer, that has me standing up to fight for the people that pay $6.99 (or more) for your darkest thoughts put to paper.

The reader might not be able to advise you with the experience of a writer, but he can advise on what a reader likes to read, and if you’re not writing for your readers, then why put your words anywhere but in the diary under your mattress? When authors look down their noses at their readers, they lose touch. Maybe it doesn’t happen to every one and you’ll probably still have readers, but you’re not better than they are just because you’re the one writing.

You will, of course, receive feedback, advice, and random comments that you don’t agree with. These will come not only from readers, but from writer, friends, and yes, even your agent. They might be right. They might be way off base. It’s up to you to decide which to take to heart and which to nod politely at and then promptly forget. But don’t forget to nod politely because if you’re not listening to the world around you, how can you write about it?


PS The writer who said this was on my To-Read list. Yes, was. Maybe I’ll get to it eventually, because the story sounded good, but I only have so much time to read and there are struggling authors out there that will appreciate the time spent by someone reading their books and they, in my opinion as a reader and a writer, are the ones I’ll enjoy reading the most.


One response to “Biting the Hand that Feeds

  • Christopher

    It is hard for me to give my work to others to read. Starting over after over a decade away from writing has left my already low self esteem shot. Then I finished a novel (that I knew was okay for a first novel but probably not okay for publication).

    I sucked it up and sent it to some people and I enclosed a note that said I would never ask about the book. Friendship was more important than being worried you didn’t like it. For the first time in my life I got comments both positive and negative that made me think about the writing process. About what I needed to do to get better.

    Ultimately I had to decide what comments worked and didn’t work. I am glad I sent it out because I needed to start working on that thick skin. I also needed to learn how to weigh criticism. There is still so much to learn.

    Thanks for your post. That’s some more learning done 🙂

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