Alright, so I'm about to wade into some pretty heavy stuff regarding the complicated author-reader relationship. And I'm going to do so in a way that will probably irritate readers no end, because I am firmly on the side of authors when it comes to this issue.
I suppose I am, therefore, quite lucky I'm an unknown at this juncture. If I was better known, I'm sure I would garner a great deal of vitriol from readers who feel entitled; entitled to an author's time, entitled to an author's story, entitled to an author's most polite consideration (no matter how poorly the reader is behaving) ... or god help that author. Their name and works will be slathered all over the internet in the least flattering light possible with the potential of ruining their careers.
Readers, I love you, but you are not entitled to any of it.
I've already discussed the issue of readers feeling entitled to an author's story in another blog post. I think I will find it and post it as this month's Throwback Thursday, because it is well worth mentioning again.
Anyway, before I begin, I want you all to know that I am also a reader. All writers are. Or at least, they should be. The difference here, I suppose, is that I've always been grateful to authors.
Reading was how I survived most of my young life. People were awful. My family was slowly falling apart. I felt so alone, and so unloved, and so desperate. Reading gave me a way to escape the fear, and the anger, and the pain. It gave me the role models that my world was lacking. It gave me insight into how to cope with all the hurt. Reading taught me about the best in humanity at a time when I could only see the worst.
I am alive today because of books.
And I am so, so, so grateful that those books existed. I am so grateful to the authors of those books for shining their light into my very dark world.
Perhaps it's because I am coming from a place of such deep gratitude that I feel very differently about the author-reader relationship.
Becoming an author has not changed how I feel about this relationship. It has only served to confirm those feelings. And those feelings are thus:
Readers, I love you, but you are not entitled to an author's time, an author's story, or an author's polite consideration. You're not. You're just not.
Let's examine the case of Chelsea Cain. I am specifically rebutting this article, as it smacks of the entitlement that the author is trying chastise Ms. Cain for.
The issue is this, Ms. Cain took to social media to inform some readers in no uncertain terms that she was not their personal lackey, that Google is a thing that exists that readers can use, and that pestering her with inane questions where answers can easily be found elsewhere is inconsiderate and a waste of everyone's time. This is the offending post:
Or shall you bombard her with these inane questions and then scream from the top of your lungs when it takes her a really long time to finish her next book? Even though, you, and others like you, who feel entitled to ask this author all these silly questions, are the reason she is taking so damned long to finish her next book.
And yes, as the author of the article I'm referencing said themselves that she was right, though her delivery of this fact could have been worded better. The author of the article still chastised Ms. Cain, noting that she did not have to reply to any of the inane questions.
No. She needn't reply to these questions. And I'll stake money on the fact that she didn't. But even reading these questions, having to sift through this rubbish in order to find and respond to readers who do ask the good questions, the readers who deserve an answer takes a lot of time. It's time consuming. It's time better spent elsewhere.
An author's work is to write. That's not all, these days. Now, it's also to reach out to fans; plan and organise launches, tours and appearances. It's being on social media, and answering letters, and selling yourself as if your work wasn't enough, when your work really ought to be enough.
What really, really, really ground my gears, though, was this particular gem of a quote from the article:
"Ms. Cain’s tone, whilst understandably frustrated, ultimately comes across as being ungrateful for the privilege of being an author of books that people actually would like to read and purchase."
Fuck right off. And I'm saying this as a reader.
The privilege here belongs not to the author, but to the reader. It is they who are privileged to be able to fall into a world of someone else's creation, a world that they love, a world which makes their lives that much richer. It is they who are able to benefit from the extremely hard work of the author of the book they are currently privileged enough to be reading.
Writing a book, getting it out into the world, building a readership, planning, and making appearances, touring etc, is hard work. It's exhausting work. For most authors it is doubly so because they tend to be introverted, and any social engagement for an introvert is sometimes a monumental task. Being a widely read author is a culmination of many, many years of often fruitless effort and no small amount of tears. The fact that the author is widely read now is a testament not nearly so much to talent as it is to dedication and work ethic.
That is the very opposite of privilege.
Further, Ms. Cain works really hard for her readership. She's dedicated time and effort to reach out to those who ask her (good) questions. Not a lot of authors do that, and her readership is really fucking lucky that she does. I admire her so much for this as I once had an author whose work I greatly admired write me back after I sent him a letter. It made me deliriously happy. For about a week, I was floating around with a dumb-arse grin on my face. In fact, it made me feel so good that I credit that reply with my desire to be an author that reaches out her readership as much as possible.
I was incredibly fucking privileged to get a letter from my favourite author. And Ms. Cain's readers are incredibly fucking privileged to follow an author who cares so damned much about them.
In short, it is not the author who is behaving like an entitled brat.
The publisher thought it best that Ms. Cain take down the offending post - which she did. The author of the article noted that perhaps it was because they found the post rude and misplaced. That's quite a leap in logic. She was asked to take down the post after the idiotic backlash that followed, not before. Further, they did not ask her to submit an apology for it. From this, it would be far more logical to surmise that, despite them finding nothing wrong with the post, they asked her to remove it to avoid dealing with the idiotic reader backlash.
And it is an idiotic backlash because, readers, you are not entitled to an author's time. You're just not.
The author of this article, however, is not satisfied with trying to crucify Ms. Cain for something he admits was justified. No, he must also attack her for expressing her frustration when the high hopes she had for her latest release were not realised. Despite having the best of everything, and despite her working her arse off, her latest release did not make the New York Times Bestseller List.
I'm not sure why this is even an issue. Disappointment is a perfectly reasonable thing to feel when you think you have gold and it doesn't reach its potential as expected. Frustration is absolutely justified when something you've worked so hard for fails to meet expectations.
The author of the article felt that this "entitled", "privileged" author was blaming her readership for the failure. This is the post that brought him to his bizarre conclusion:
So the blaming is where, precisely? Because what I see is an exhausted author who put her heart and soul into a release expressing her disappointment that it didn't do as well as other books she has released. She really thought she had gold with this one. She's upset. She's tired. She just wants to write.
Why is this a point of contention?
Well, the fact of the matter is that it's not. There is no contention here. People are looking for demons where there are only shadows.
The author of the article then had the gall to give Ms. Cain this simple piece of advice:
"P.S. All of this could have been avoided if Ms. Cain had hired a virtual assistant to manage her social media for her. A virtual assistant doesn’t guarantee a place on the NYT list, but at least it could prevent an author publicly complaining that people actually want to read and buy her books. Could YOU benefit from hiring a virtual assistant? Consider Tez Assists…"
I kind of want to punch her right now.
Because of course, simply hiring someone to help you with your workload is the simplest, easiest thing to do. As we all know, authors are simply rolling in money, laughing maniacally from our towers made of illegally obtained ivory and gold that we can all afford such assistants, with money left over to buy our butlers something nice for Christmas.
In case you didn't catch the sarcasm, we're not. Unless you're an established big name, you're left out in the cold. Mid-list authors must pay their own way the majority of the time. Set up and interview with a television station in the next city over? That's on you. You pay your own hotel, your own petrol, your own everything. The idea that publishers take care of all this for you is a giant fucking farce. Going on a book tour? Hope you can afford the plane ticket, bee-otch!
Writers are generally quite poor (most of us work another job in addition to writing, just to keep a roof over our heads) and quite stretched for time, which makes Ms. Cain's desire to personally reach out to her fans all the more impressive.
Before I became a writer, I never once assumed that being a writer was easy, that being a writer was a position of privilege, that writers should be so damned grateful that anyone cares about their work that they ought to give up any hope for the basic respects all human beings ought to expect. Now that I am a writer, I know it's not easy. I know that it is not a position of privilege, and while I am grateful for the incredibly supportive community I have currently surrounding me, I know that I am still worthy of basic respect, and I intend to enforce that throughout my career.
Don't come crying to me about 'privileged' writers. All I will do is hold up a mirror so that you will know the true face of entitlement.
Well, that was far longer than I had planned. I have to go write a story now.
(Editied, as I was informed that Tez Miller was, in fact, of the feminine persuasion. Oops! Thanks, Naomi for pointing that out!)