Tag Archives: Reading

How to treat writers, and readers

Recently I’ve read some articles on supposed do’s and don’ts for readers, telling them how they should treat writers. (Among these: do support authors by writing positive customer reviews; don’t criticize or correct authors when interacting online. Unsurprisingly, these articles tend to be written by writers.) Here’s what I think.

For readers: how to treat writers

DO: Buy books. Borrow books. Check them out of the library. Read them. Share them.

DON’T: Steal an author’s work.

That’s it.

If readers feel inspired to talk about a book, or to leave customer reviews on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, that’s wonderful. Authors truly appreciate it. But for a reader to go that extra mile is a generous gesture, not an obligation.

For writers: how to treat readers

DON’T: Argue with readers over their opinion of your work.

DO: Treat readers with respect. Honor them. Do that by writing the best damn books you can. Learn your craft. Study language and story and your deepest heart. Pour that onto the page. Polish your work until it shines like an exploding star.

Then, if someone tells you they’ve read your work, say thank you.

Everything else falls under the Golden Rule. Readers and writers: treat each other the way you’d like to be treated.

How should writers engage with readers?

Recently I discovered what it’s like to speak to a room full of people and have my words reported online. At the New England Crime Bake, I was interviewed by Steve Ulfelder. We spoke for almost an hour, about the craft of writing, and suspense fiction, and what it’s like to be a writer nowadays.

Somewhere in that discussion, I said that I don’t read Amazon reviews. Ever. I used to, but ended up with heartburn. Some Amazon reviews are thoughtful, but plenty aren’t (“This book is so stupid” being the mildest example). After a while I decided that reading customer reviews on retail sites was obsessive, self-involved, and masochistic. I thought I conveyed that to the audience — I don’t read these reviews because it’s both narcissistic and painful. My time is better spent trying to write the best books I can.

A few minutes after the interview ended, I checked Twitter. To my surprise, people in the audience had live-tweeted many of my remarks. I was really pleased — until I saw that “I don’t read Amazon reviews. Period.” had generated pushback.

One person online countered with, “I do. I want to hear from readers. Period.” Another wrote, “When you’re first time authors like we are, we LOVE to hear from our readers!” And they added the hashtag #notjaded.

I didn’t expect that. It never occurred to me that people would take my remark to mean that I am too high and mighty to engage with readers. Or that I am so jaded that I can’t be bothered to care about the people who read my novels. First, I don’t consider reading Amazon reviews to be “engagement.” Customers who post reviews aren’t generally trying to engage with the author. Second, I love to talk to readers. That’s why I have comments on this blog. It’s why I am on Twitter and Facebook, and take part in conversations online. I answer emails from readers. I go to conferences and spend weekends talking to readers. I am a reader. So to say that any author who doesn’t read online customer reviews is ignoring readers… yeah, not exactly.

In one way, I think the Twitter kerfuffle was a case of people looking for an online argument. The woman who originally tweeted my remarks — the estimable Jane Friedman — later added a string of “In Meg Gardiner’s defense…” tweets, suggesting that I hadn’t actually expressed a disregard for readers. And I responded directly to the people who were complaining about my remark. Some replied to me. Others ignored me.

Yes, I love the irony.

In any case: I do love to talk to readers. Earlier today I asked online whether other authors think writers are obligated to read all online customer reviews. I got this response, from Ian Rankin:

Travel day

I’ve been telling people that I can work on a 747 in flight, in a thunderstorm, surrounded by flying cutlery and crying babies — but if my kids start laughing in the next room, I’m doomed. Well, today I’m going to put all that to the test. The family’s headed on a road trip.

Of course one of the most important things to take on a flight, besides boarding pass, ID, and a toothbrush, is a book. I’ve got Don DeLillo’s White Noise. When the plane lifts off the runway I will crack open page 1.

What’s everybody else reading? Do you have summer reading recommendations? Please let us know.