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Are We Badgering Readers?

BY RANDY SUSAN MEYERS

When I was a reader, I spoke as a reader, I understood as a reader.
When I became a writer, I read as a writer, I understood as a writer.

I just finished “Readers Don’t Owe Authors S**t” (http://tinyurl.com/readersdontoweauthors) on the online site Book Riot. The credo of the post is basically this: writers and independent bookstores shouldn’t nag readers (into shopping Indie, posting reviews, asking for shout-outs, etc.). Much of it resonated in me. I’ve been asked to spread the word many times—and though most of the time I’m happy to help, I don’t like to feel I’ll be ostracized for non-compliance.

When my first novel debuted, it was pretty late in my game. (I was 57.) Though an addicted reader, the only “insider” information and terms I knew, came from novels such as The Bestseller by Olivia Goldsmith.

(The first time anyone used the term “the list” I didn’t have a clue that’s how the cool kids referenced the New York Times Bestseller list.) I published my first novel just around the time social media exploded (at least in my awareness,) so I’ve never experienced books or authors online, except as an author/reader—but being a reader is my identity.

As a small child, I went to the library daily. (The only books we had was a Reader’s Digest Condensed Digest, an oversized photo book about Africa with a scratchy grey cover, and a copy of Ideal Marriage by Van de Velde, hidden in my mother’s nightstand.) Eventually, I built up a small shelf of books—spending my babysitting dollars on the YA of my time, by Beverly Cleary (Fifteen! The Sister of the Bride!), I read and re-read every book I owned. When I traded Brooklyn NY for Berkeley California, books took up as much room in my backpack as my teensy mini dresses.

When I became a mother, I managed my book-a-day habit by using the library, so I could buy books for my daughters.

Books have always been the platform on which my sanity rested. Reading was a quiet private pursuit, consisting of reviews, bookstores, library shelves, and trading books and titles with friends.

Authors were akin to gods.

Is it different now? I go back to the sudden onslaught of articles such as “Readers Don’t Owe Writers S**T.” (The article references other essays.) It’s an article I agree with in many facts, if not tone. The author writes, in bold, I don’t owe you your dream career, explaining:

“I want very much for my favourite writers to write books, and I often make the choice to support that by purchasing their books. Sometimes in more than one form. Sometimes in multiple copies as gifts. But I don’t owe my favourite writers those things. Likewise, when I read a wonderful book, I tell lots and lots of people about it. But I don’t owe that to the wonderful books I’ve loved. These are choices I make freely because I love stories and books. And when I make these choices, it is about my relationship with the person I am sharing my love of the book with. It is about neither author nor bookshop, at the core.”

The author goes on to say, “When an author I follow on social media tells me I am not doing enough to sell his or her books for him or her on social media, I stop following that author.”

I understand. Completely. Who wanted to be scolded? It’s not a readers’ job to sell our books. I’ve winced seeing writers online doing everything from groveling to begging to screeching for readers to buy them, “like” their pages, write Amazon reviews. I’ve winced at myself, even as I pretend that when I do it I somehow sound cute and not pathetic.    

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