Disclaimer: Once again, this is just opinions/thinking on the page, YMMV, Devil’s Advocate, hoping for a dialogue, please don’t kill me, all that sort of thing.
Not too long ago I was involved in a discussion on an internet forum where I am a long-time member, in which I expressed an opinion about the writing process, basically. And someone responded to me to say, basically, that I obviously expected everyone to give my opinions more weight because of my publishing record, and that it seemed to this person that I expected everyone to listen to me not because I was right but because I thought being published meant I knew better than everyone else; this person felt that I was acting like my opinions were facts and relying on my credentials to make others think so too.
Now. For the record, I know some of you may have seen that discussion and I want to make it very, very clear that the person who said that is entitled to his/her opinions and feelings and that I am absolutely NOT trying to “bring the discussion here,” or berate or belittle them in any way. I’m not. Not one bit.
My reason for mentioning it here is because it so perfectly illustrates the point I want to make today and the discussion I want to have, which is that once you are published you are no longer “a reader;” not because you’ve stopped reading (hopefully), but because other people see you differently. Readers see you differently. Maybe not all of them, no; I certainly can’t speak for every reader in the world (or any of them, for that matter; they can speak for themselves, and who am I to decide I’m their champion or something?). But for many of them…you have become “an author.” A different sort of animal.
I don’t base this statement just on that one experience. I’ve seen not just evidence of this but people actively stating it for years. I’ve seen writers accused repeatedly, in all sorts of venues, of thinking their opinions should carry more weight or that they’re more important or whatever else, when they speak up in reader forums.
Now, while I can say with certainty that I’ve never expected any reader to give a flying goddamn about my opinion, and I’m willing to bet most authors don’t expect it either (although see next PP), I also don’t think I’m in any position to tell them they’re wrong for feeling that way. How do I know that I didn’t suddenly start coming across like I expected that? I don’t. And it doesn’t matter. What matters is that at least some readers feel that way; at least some of them feel frankly bullied whenever authors enter the conversation or express their point of view. What matters is that a lot of them don’t give a shit about our point of view (and why should they?). And what matters is that they are absolutely perfectly entitled to feel that way.
And to be fair, what matters is that I’ve seen more than one author act like that is indeed the case and readers should all listen and pay attention and care and see things from their POV. Well, gee, we saw it five times in the past ten days, didn’t we? What are these “What do you know, you non-constructive-review-giving-peon?” internet scandales if not authors expecting readers to care about them or what they think above what the reader cares about or thinks? Every time an author pulls the oh-so-irritating “You need to remember that’s someone’s heart and soul/baby you’re reviewing and act accordingly” whine out of their entitled asses, that author is telling readers that readers are obligated to care about them; frankly, they’re telling readers that the writers’ feelings are more important than the readers’, IMO.
(Sadly, I can’t even just say these authors tend to be the same types of amateurs who make their sisters leave them glowing reviews online, because we’ve seen some major-house authors pull this shit, which is so intensely depressing I can’t stand it. Sigh. Every time an author has a tantrum, Satan shoots a puppy. Or something like that. Please, authors, won’t you think of the puppies?!)
Anyway. The point is, I honestly don’t believe my thoughts or the way I express myself has changed since I became published. I certainly don’t think being a low-midlister at best who writes books that have inspired hate mail for their subject matter means I have any sort of special entitlement to be listened to or heard or that it makes my opinion so much more worthy of attention than anyone else’s. But I can definitely see how just the fact that I have been published means readers don’t really want me around, and it makes sense to me. Why? Because readers want readerspace. Readers want to talk to other readers who share their outlook.
And to be frank, I don’t share that outlook anymore, not entirely, no matter how much I want to or try. Neither do you, Published Person. This is why I’m no longer A Reader. Even when I read.
See, for one thing, I’m aware of how publishing works, and more than that, my opinions on matters like ebook pricing and Amazon and whatever else are by necessity colored by the fact that I make a living from that industry. That doesn’t mean I automatically advocate high ebook prices or something (though it does mean I understand that printing costs saved by ebooks are eaten up in part by digital storage/transfer/etc costs), but it does mean that it’s harder for me to be objective when there are discussions about industry practice. Just as there are unpublished authors who complain about things that make perfect sense to me (like rejections without explanation), there are readers who dislike things that make perfect sense to me. Does that mean I think readers are stupid? Of course not. Does it mean I don’t think they have a right to their opinions? Of course not.
It just means our outlooks on some issues are different. That’s the way it is.
I also don’t read like I used to; I don’t read like a reader, not the way I did before I started writing. This, I believe, is a change that started the first time I picked up a book not as a fun way to spend my time, but as a guide to How It’s Done. (And note: NONE of the points I’m about to make should be taken to imply that I don’t think readers read critically or know good stories or writing or whatever else. I’m explaining how my personal process changed and making a generalization from that–and from the fact that every writer I’ve discussed it with has mentioned it, and it’s a common topic on writing forums–that most writers’ processes change; it’s not meant in any way to imply that readers don’t know good writing or whatever.)
It’s a lot harder for me to read these days. I don’t look at writing the way I did; it’s harder to get caught up in a story because I’m seeing technical faults, I’m seeing how I would have done or phrased it differently (that’s a big huge one). I rewrite sentences in my head. I’m more impressed by great sentences and far more annoyed by bad ones, and mediocre writing can and will ruin a book for me in a way it wouldn’t have ten years ago. Actually, I can’t even list all the ways that writing with an eye to publication changed my reading; there are so many of them. And while I believe that we all want the same thing–great books, easily available–I also believe that in some ways (however small) our outlooks are fundamentally different.
Not to mention that writing and reading are such deeply personal processes anyway. In what way does one’s view of books change when one is writing with an eye toward publication? Does it change again when one is published, and how? Of course every reader’s opinion is colored by their own personal viewpoints; that’s why reviews are valuable. But are the changes that happen when one starts writing for publication really beneficial to readers? (Does it matter?)
So what does this mean, in terms of my relationships as a reader to other readers? Does it make my opinion any more or less valuable (and again, does it matter)? Could I even write an effective review because of my different viewpoint (leaving out for the moment the obvious fact that I have a right to my opinion too blah blah blah, that’s not the point)?
And do readers care what I think?
As I said above, I think there are definitely readers out there who want reader-only spaces. I’ve seen countless complaints about how when readers find a good place to hang out authors start showing up, and it’s an intrusion, like how even the coolest parent is an intrusion at a teen-only event. Authors showing up in reader spaces make readers uncomfortable. We don’t belong there, at least, that’s what I’ve seen many readers say and what I personally feel to a large extent. The simple fact that we are writers colors the way readers see us and perhaps the way we express ourselves; maybe not all of us, but some of us. We can’t control entirely how others see us, frankly. We can be the most pro-reader writers in the world but we’re still writers, and there very well may be readers there who see that and just think “get the fuck off my blog, dude, I didn’t write this post for you.” And they have every right to think that.
I can only think how I would feel if I was on a forum dedicated to, say, shoes. And a bunch of shoe makers kept showing up and joining in. Yeah, in some ways they’d be welcome, but I can also see myself thinking at least part of the time that my conversation wasn’t meant for them, it wasn’t written for them, it was my attempt to relate to and discuss subjects with other consumers, not manufacturers. And I can only imagine this must be how some readers view writers who turn up on reader blogs and in reader forums.
I wonder too if this changes before or after someone is published. How do readers see unpublished vs. published writers, if there is a difference? Is the mere fact of a writer showing up seen as an indicator that they think their opinion is more important; do they seem like they’re trying to dominate the conversation? Readers, how do you really feel when writers join the discussion–does it make a difference what kind of discussion it is?
And since we started all of this by talking about how writers need to back off and quit trying to tell readers how to review, how to look at their work, how to relate to it, how to relate to them personally, or whatever else…how do *you* see reviews written by authors? Are they more or less trustworthy? Again, does it make a difference if it’s an aspiring author or a published one, and is there a level of publishing where that changes (like, do you see someone who just sold a novel to Books of Love Startup Ehouse in the same way as someone who just sold their book to Penguin)? Do you see them as a writer or reader or both? How does that change the way you see them, or does it?