Here’s a question that has been making the rounds on social media lately. I’ve had it on my mind for a while, but then last week R. L. Syme posted this fascinating article, The Hard Truth About Authors Following Authors that brought the issue back to the front of my mind.
So what do we think? Should authors be following other authors? Do all of these authors count as readers? Who are the readers we really want to court?
As you may expect, I have all sorts of opinions on this one.
On the one hand, you have people who claim that writers read as much or more than anyone else. They buy a lot of books and recommend books to their friends and readers. In that way they do count as readers. On the other hand, you have the belief that writers spend too much time marketing to each other and that while they do read, the level of support they give is not the same as a dedicated reader would give. This argument says that it’s a misuse of time to court fellow authors in lieu of readers.
I think my thoughts on the matter fall somewhere between the two viewpoints. Yes, writers read a lot of books. They comment and share and recommend as well. If you have a well-known, heavily-followed author mention or recommend your book to their fans, then you might just have a golden ticket to a lot of sales.
Ah, but here’s the rub in that logic. They’re recommending your books to their readers. And while writers may be readers, not all readers are writers. In fact, in the larger scheme of people who read books in the world, most readers are not writers. But boy are they supportive of good writers when they find them.
Readers are some of the most awesome people in the world. They don’t just read your books, they devour them. They live in them and fall in love with them and share them with everyone they know. A Reader (with a capital R) might not comment on blog posts or leave reviews, but they will keep buying your books once they fall in love with you.
I know this because before I was a writer, I was a Reader. I bought dozens of books throughout the year and ate them up. I found favorite authors and made it a mission to read everything they’d ever written. I was willing to forgive the not-so-great books in whatever series I was working my way through because I had complete faith in their ability as a writer to make the next book better.
So did I stop being a Reader once I started publishing? My theory is that yes, I did. I still read a lot of books—maybe even more than before—but now those books are homework. They are items I could write off on my taxes if I so chose. Yes, it still counts as reading for enjoyment, but it’s something more than that now. It’s my job.
In that respect, writers don’t count as capital-R Readers. We are still part of the audience though. But I would venture to say that what we do with books is not the same as what pure Readers do with books. As much as I love reading, I haven’t indulged in reading a book for absolute entertainment value only in a long, long time. And that’s okay. I still get a lot out of every book I read, and part of that is enjoyment.
The other thing that worries me—and I can’t exactly put my finger on why—is the tendency we writers have to market in a circle. It’s great that we promote each other’s books and repost or retweet each other’s links and announcements, but every time I get the same link to an interview or article nine times in one day in my Facebook feed I wonder how effective that helpful little push was. I’m not saying that it’s unhelpful, but if I’m seeing something nine times that means other people are seeing it nine times too, and if I’m tuning it out as ever so slightly spammy, I know I’m not the only one.
I would like to think that I write for Readers. I mean, we all do. That’s what writing is all about. My challenge to myself is to find new and powerful ways to reach those golden Readers with the marketing I do. It’s hard, let me tell you. Other writers are so much easier to find because we’re in closer proximity to each other. Readers can be quiet and therefore fly under the radar. I think I’ve found a few ways to reach them, but I also know that there is a vast chasm that separates me from all the Readers I want to find, and it’s up to me to take the epic pole-vault leap across that chasm to find them.
That doesn’t mean I don’t squee with delight every time one of my writer friends tells me they’ve read my book. That also doesn’t mean I don’t jump up and down whenever they share it with their readership. But like Syme states in her post, I sometimes worry that the love I feel from my writing buddies is more of an exclusive family sort of a love than an “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” sort of love.
So what’s the answer? Do writers count as readers? Mmm…. Yes. With reservations. We certainly do, but we tend to give ourselves the illusion that we’re the biggest game in town. We’re not. There are lots of other games in town and it’s in our best interest to play as many of them as possible.