What do writers owe their readers?
My answer is the best book you can write.
Others have been saying lately that we owe readers unlimited access to ourselves.
- If a teacher assigns a literature class a project that calls for each student to e-mail the author of the book read in class and ask a series of questions, the author should graciously respond.
- If an unknown number of readers randomly ask the author about his or her work, the author should graciously respond.
I don’t have time to answer an unlimited number of questions, especially those that call for long-thought-out answers. Goodness knows how a bestselling author could possibly handle the incoming glut of e-mail and snail mail after selling several hundred thousand copies.
The people who say we owe our readers anything more than the product (book) they purchased are not being fair to small-press and self-published authors. People who would never expect Jo Rowling or John Grisham to answer every single incoming e-mail, expect less well known authors to do that as a so-called social networking responsibility.
If we took the “you owe your readers” advocates seriously, we’d end up writing more words in response to questions than we write in our manuscripts. The idea that we can give up many hours a day to chat with readers is almost too absurd to discuss; yet, I keep seeing essays and feature articles advocating that very thing.
I try to interact with readers through blog posts and Facebook updates. Others rely on Twitter and Pinterest. Those who can afford it, often send out author newsletters or agree to participate in Q&A sessions on GoodReads. We can probably do better, but doing better does not include answering hundreds or thousands of e-mails a week.
Nobody deserves our time because we have already contributed our time in the form of a novel, article or poem. They paid what they thought it was worth. It didn’t come with an extended warranty giving them more time for free.
We appreciate readers because they invest their own time in the reading of a book. So, we give them the best books we can within the genres we both enjoy. After that, we’re rather tapped out.