I’ve been seeing this phrase more and more as authors and readers interact on Facebook and Twitter and blogs. I’ve seen it in e-mails. I’ve read it in reviews of books I’ve written and books I’ve read from other authors.
“You owe it to your readers to…”
I find myself dismissing everything that comes after that phrase. But since I don’t want to be a dismissive person, I asked myself this morning, “What do I owe my readers?”
After all, you’ve spent money on a book that I wrote and published. So yes, I do think I owe you some things. But what do I owe you? When I really started to think about it, I came up with this short list.
I, as the writer (and publisher) of a book you have paid money for, owe you:
1. A well-written and edited book.
You’ve paid me your cash; I owe you a story that is readable and free from distracting typos. I’m not deluding myself that my books are perfect, and typos happen (YES, even in the holy grail of traditionally published books.) But I should do my best to give you a professional product, from cover to formatting. I hope I do this. I try. I hire people who help me make my writing better. Obviously, I’m not perfect.
2. A story that makes sense.
Now, notice I did NOT say “a story that satisfies your every expectation as a reader.” I’ll tell you a secret: That isn’t ever going to happen. Never. Because every reader has a different set of expectations (as they should) and I am the one writing the story. I’m going to write the story that I want. It’s my book.
BUT, I do think I have a responsibility as a writer to make a storyline or a character plausible. I have a responsibility to guide you along a narrative line where you may be surprised, but you shouldn’t get to the end of the book and make this face.
Meaning, characters should act in consistent ways (unless that inconsistency is a plot point or part of their character) and the resolution of the book shouldn’t come completely out of left field as aliens descend on the werewolf-filled forest in steam powered dirigibles and shoot everyone with their AK-47s. (I mean, unless you’ve set that up in some way that makes sense, and if you have, I really want to read it.)
Writing a story that makes sense is just good writing, and yes, readers have a right to expect that if they’re paying for a book. But keep in mind, just because you don’t like a book personally, that doesn’t mean it’s necessary “bad writing.” That’s very subjective. Also remember, that no one is forcing you to buy any book you don’t want. No one is blackmailing you.
3. Marketing that is true to the product.
I’m going to be careful with this one, because for a long time, writers had little choice in publishing. If you wanted your book read by a lot of people, you pretty much had to go with a traditional publisher. Now, sometimes, that was awesome! And sometimes, it wasn’t. Meaning, for some writers, they had little or no say about what cover their book had or how it was marketed.
But if you’re self-published, you have total control over this. So (because I am also the publisher) I have a responsibility to my readers to put a cover on a book that gives them an idea about what genre it is. I don’t want to put a scifi cover on a contemporary romance, for instance. And I have a responsibility to write a summary that gives readers an idea about what kind of book it is and how long it is. Is it a novel? Novella? Short story? Is it YA or adult? Don’t sell readers a bull and hand over a bunny. Not cool.
And those are the three things I could come up with. Other than that? Well… it’s really up to me. As Neil Gaiman famously said, “George R. R. Martin is not your bitch.” Writers write the stories they want because, in the end, that is what will make the reader most happy. You’re reading our books (presumably) because you like the characters and worlds we create.
So we’re going to write what inspires us. What we’re passionate about. And that is what creates the most compelling fiction.
Thanks for reading,