What Does an Author "Owe" Their Readers?

For some of you, the title of this blog may look very familiar. I actually ran across an article with a similar name by another author (found here). After reading her article and the information it contained, it got me thinking about how I would answer that question.

Being the no BS country boy that I am, I had a different take on that question than what it seemed the author and others mentioned in the post had. Given that I had my own thoughts on the question, I figured it might be worthwhile to put together my own post on the topic.

So what does an author owe their readers?

Not a damn thing!

As a writer, I write the stories I want to tell, not necessarily the stories someone else wants to read. I don't owe you the story you want. If you want a particular story then you write it. If you want me to write your particular story then you can pay me to write what you want written and that's the only way I'll owe you anything.

Writers tell stories, but its their stories they tell. Readers have the option to read those stories or not. If you don't like a story, don't read it. Don't endorse it. Don't recommend it. Don't buy it or more copies of it. You don't have to support the things you don't like. But at the same time, keep in mind, that story probably wasn't written by the author with you specifically in mind. Let's not be so egotistical to think that every book written was written about ourselves.

But just as the authors don't owe the readers anything, the readers don't owe the authors anything either!

Readers aren't required to buy every book published. Readers aren't required to leave a review for every book they've ever read. Readers aren't required to leave positive reviews when they do opt to review a book. If readers "owed" an author anything it would be something like that but that debt doesn't exist.

The only people authors are beholden to are those who they may have a contract with to produce said works in exchange for some form of payment, like the contracts between an author and a publishing house. But those aren't readers, those are contractual partnerships aimed and providing a finished piece to the consumer market.

Alethea's article shared some data from a poll taken by a 3rd party that talked about readers wanting more free books from authors, more interaction with authors, and giveaways in the form of retail gift cards from authors.

Well, I have been offering my books for free since Day 1 (you can find them here) and for as many readers who seem to say they want free books, the number of free books I've given away would beg to differ. My books all have 5-star ratings on Amazon and I have hundreds of followers on social media but I've given away far less than that number to readers. I've had more retail sales than I've given away so it seems from my experience that people would rather buy books than read the free ones. But either way, an author should NOT be expected to give books away for free. That's like asking mechanics to work on your car for free or builders to create your dream home for free. Writing a book is act of labor. It is a job just like any other. Authors shouldn't be expected to give that away just because you don't want to pay for it. You pay for movie tickets, right? You pay for streaming services, right? How are books different? Authors don't owe you free books. Authors can choose to give you free books but don't mistake their choice as your entitlement.

More interaction with the author? How can that be an issue? Social media is everywhere and every author knows that you have to have a social media presence to market your books. What are people expecting, personalized 1-on-1 phone calls every day from an author to seek their approval or opinions about what the author is working on? If a reader is a fan of an author then the reader should reach out and not wait for the author to make a personal appearance. Many writers have day jobs, which may include writing their next book, and can't spend all day on social media doing live chats and AMA sessions with random people. I respond to social media messages. I reply to emails. I participate in online groups and reply to comments on my posts from others. I interact as my schedule allows and as I see fit, the same way followers interact with my page as their schedules allow and as they see fit. I try to post regularly to give readers/followers incentives to watch my pages but I can't live on social media 24/7 just as my followers can't either. Don't ask authors to be available on your schedule if you're not also willing to be available on theirs. What's good for the goose is good for the gander!

Retail gift card giveaways? Just how greedy have we as a species become? Is it not enough that I spend countless hours writing, revising, tweaking, and tuning a manuscript before sending it off to be edited that may cost hundreds or thousands of dollars out of my pocket before paying an artist to create an enticing cover art so that next I can pay to register the book's ISBN number for retail sale and then pay to register that package of work with a printer so it can be manufactured and sold for a few bucks to interested reader? So after all of that, I'm also expected to procure gift cards using my money and turn around to give that away to people who may never have bought a single copy of any of my books? No thank you!

I mean, if I were able to do big book signing parties or release parties then there could be opportunities to include raffles to giveaway prizes to those who showed up to buy a copy or to get a copy signed but why should I be expected to giveaway free money to potential readers? That's just pandering on my part at that point and frankly just absolute greed on the part of the "readers" who demand that of an author. If you're not willing to give me your money for my books then why should I give you my money for just existing?

At this point, I think it should be pretty clear where I stand on this matter. And I've said it all along, I wrote the stories that I wanted to tell. I don't care if I never become a best-selling author because I already accomplished my goal by simply writing the books. I don't feel indebted to readers to produce more content or specific content to fit their desires. My obligations are to myself and to my family, beyond that, you're on your own. I have no responsibility to provide free anything to my readers just as they have no responsibilities to me.

Just as they don't have to support me as an author, I do not have to "owe" them anything as readers.

The closing of Alethea's article did have one part that I agreed with and that was the part about respect. But that respect is about an author respecting their readers or vice versa. It is more about each of us respecting one another as people. Opinions are always going to differ at some point about what value something has, which governmental policy is right or wrong, if religion is real, or even just about what to eat for dinner but that is where respect comes in. If we can respect one another than those differences are much easier to discuss and potentially resolve. Respect has no bearing on social class, job title, sex, race, religion, or any of that. It can be given freely by everyone to anyone.

But respect is something that even though it can be given freely, it usually comes at a cost. And that cost is respect. You can get respect more often by giving respect. And respect isn't just about saying your "please and thank yous" but by honoring your commitments, allowing others to live as they please even if it is a lifestyle that is contrary to your beliefs, not using hurtful or derogatory words with speaking with or of others, and just simply being nice even to strangers. You can give respect to the minimum-wage fast food worker when they get your order wrong. You can give respect even when an angry customer complains that their fast food order was wrong. You'd be surprised at how much faster and easier problems can be resolved when respect is given mutually. Its when that respect fails that things go sideways.

So as an author, I owe my readers nothing. But as a human, we all owe each other respect.

Leave a comment