In continuing a bit from an earlier post, I’d like to talk not about one’s blog readers and how much they matter (hint: a lot), but rather about the people who read our work — the editors, the beta readers, the friends and family who take time out of their day to read our work and suggest revision.
A while back, I got a rather sadmaking comment from one of my blog readers, Colin Kerr:
I don’t write, but my more creative, productive friends do, and they often send a draft to get a reaction. I always say I’ll help, because what kind of ass doesn’t help a friend with a book? But then, after giving notes, they say, “Yes, but Michael said exactly the opposite.” Michael tells me he hears much the same.
Writers and editors alike act like they’re put out by the process. I don’t know what to make of it. If you ask a dozen people to edit a manuscript, of course they’ll give you a dozen different kinds of advice. It’s not physics. Do writers want a dozen opinions to chose from, and if not, why send out so many manuscripts?
My friends have not been published, and I have never edited a book which was subsequently published. Most of us fight with computers for our salary.
Maybe my input is not worth hearing. I try not to be cross, but editing takes time and effort, and it’s taxing to be dismissed. Just as writers agonize over giving away or charging for sample work, I think about charging a fee for editing just to see whether people take me, and editing, more seriously.
As writers, most of us have volunteer editors who help us with our work. Revision is a crucial step in the writing process, and central to creating good fiction. Another set of eyes can prove invaluable in fine-tuning that revision. But writers also tend to be prickly when it comes to editing and suggestions. I’ve been on both sides of that argument — I’ve argued with writers who took issue with my every revision, and I’ve argued with editors and readers who dared to question my holy writing process! Who the hell asked them in the first place… oh wait, I did.
Editing is hard. Revision is hard. No one’s saying it isn’t. It’s one of the most grueling steps in the writing process. But that doesn’t give us license to take it out on the people who volunteer their time and energy to helping us create better work. Listen to your readers and your editors. Weigh their words carefully, even when they hurt. Take them seriously, even when they contradict each other. And most of all, say thank you.
Today’s post on the value of readership comes from Avalon Jaedra at Writability. Thanks, AvaJae!
It wasn’t long after I jumped into the blogosphere that I realized blogging is very much about the numbers. The number of pageviews, the number of subscribers, the number of blog posts and comments and retweets and inbound and outbound links and the list goes on.
But blogging isn’t just about the numbers—it’s about the people. More than that—it’s about the relationships you build with your readers.
Because your blog stats may measure your readers in numbers, but your readers aren’t numbers, nor do they appreciate being treated like one. Your readers matter — every single one.
And really, when it comes to building your audience, paying attention to your readers is probably one of the best things you can do. Because an audience isn’t built overnight through some enormous explosion of people, it’s built one reader at a time. One relationship at a time.
So how do you build a relationship with your readers?
Answer comments. Yes, as in every single one. I recommend installing a commenting system that allows you to reply directly to comments rather than @ mentioning people, but either way you really do need to answer all of your comments if you want to build relationships with your readers.
Visit your readers’ blogs. I’m not suggesting you try to visit every single one of your readers blogs all in one day (although kudos to you if you do), but especially once you start to see people making repeat visits to your blog, take the time to see if they have one as well. You never know, you might just find that you like what they have to say just as much as they do you. (Fun fact: This is how I found Dan’s blog.)
Talk to your readers through other means. Do your readers have Twitter accounts? Have they liked you on Facebook? Do they have a tumblr or LinkedIn or a Goodreads account? Chances are they do, and taking the extra step to thank them for commenting on your blog via Twitter or whatever other site is a great way to reach out to your readers on sites other than your blog.
Repeat. You mean you’ve done all three? Great. Do it again.
Building an audience—especially a well-connected one—takes time, but if you make the effort you’ll find that not only do you have a growing audience, but you have a loyal one.
Without a connection to your audience, the numbers are useless. But don’t just take my word for it, think about it yourself. Would you prefer an audience of 1,000 readers who rarely comment on your posts and nearly never share it with others or an audience of 100 readers you visit your blog daily and comment often?
I know which I would choose every time. What about you?
A few weeks ago, I received a free book of short stories from an indie author as part of a blog contest. The author of the book didn’t ask for a review, but I gave one anyway. My review, unfortunately, was not very positive. Neither was it scathing — I had a few issues with what I felt were grammatical problems and a couple minor structure issues. I rated it below-average, but was careful to say that I enjoyed the bulk of the short stories (which I did).
A few days ago, the author (whom I will not identify) emailed me to correct me on my criticisms. She told me that I’d mistaken her stylistic choices for grammatical errors and brought up her college pedigree. She implied I didn’t understand how fiction writing “worked” and made suppositions about my own grammatical predilections. According to her, I had undoubtedly expected a dry academic text and not living prose.
Finally, she informed me that the only low ratings she’d ever received on her work came from males, implying pretty clearly that my criticisms stemmed from my gender. To be fair, she did admit that perhaps her assumption was wrong, but let the implied accusation lie anyway.
This email bothered me. Not only because it made some pretty hurtful assumptions in response to a review I felt was both honest and fair — but because it left me very disappointed in the author herself.
I’m not writing this entry to get any cheerleading. I don’t need (or want) reassurance that I’m not sexist, or that the review was fair. That’s all entirely too subjective to determine sans context, and I have no intention of sharing the review or the subsequent correspondence.
Instead, I want to urge you, writers: do not do this.
Here’s the thing. I didn’t think the book was terrible. I didn’t tear it to pieces. I said it had some problems, rated it honestly, and thanked the author for the opportunity to read the book. Obviously, the author was under no obligation to like or agree with my review, but writing me to inform me that my criticisms were invalid, born of ignorance, and possibly sexist? That’s a different matter.
Not every book that an author turns out is a winner. Some of my favorite authors in the world have turned out volumes I think are turkeys. That doesn’t stop me from reading them. I would probably have continued to read this particular author’s work — in fact, I had one of her titles in my shopping cart, thinking I’d try it out and see if I liked it any better. But that email just guaranteed that not only will she never see another sale from me, but also that I’ll have nothing positive to say about her ever again.
Of course, that might not amount to much — I’m not going to name the author in question, because I have no interest in hurting her reputation. One or two lost sales isn’t a big deal, right?
But to me, this sort of behavior screams one word, loud and clear: Amateur.
Criticism is hard to take, especially if you feel it’s unfair or unwarranted. I look at some of the one-star reviews my favorite authors get, calling them everything short of Hitler himself, and I think about how difficult that must be to swallow — much less disregard.
But that’s kind of what you have to do, if you want to be a professional writer.
Accept that not everyone will love your work or think you’re a visionary. Accept that some people will think you’re pretty damn bad. A few may think you’re the worst thing ever. Fair or not, that’s how it is, especially on the Internet.
By sending this email, the author changed my perception of her permanently. I’ll never look on her work objectively again — assuming I read anything she writes in the future. I’m likely to think (true or not) that she’s only interested in positive reviews of her work. I find it nearly impossible to respect her as a writer, because she sure didn’t respect me as a reader.
Lastly, I fear this will probably have a chilling effect on the indie books I review in the future, as I’ll be disinclined to bring up any negatives for fear of some sort of retaliation. Would you want your readers to feel that way about you? I sure wouldn’t.
Fortunately, not every writer is like this. Only two weeks prior to this incident, I left a review of another author’s work on Goodreads that was pretty far from glowing. I liked the author and enjoyed the book well enough, but I thought it had some pretty significant issues. The author liked my review, told me it was more than fair, and asked if I’d be interested in “beta reading” her next installment. I happily agreed and am looking forward to working with her in the future.
One of these authors will be getting my money, and my positive recommendations, well into the future. The other will not. My ego’s not so large that I think this will make a vast difference either way — but as indie authors, our readers are all we’ve got, and I believe they should be treated with respect. And yeah, that includes me.
So the next time you get a less-than-favorable review and feel an urge to retaliate, ask yourself: is this really how you want to be seen? Do you really want to create an environment where the only readers whose opinions you value and trust are the ones who praise you unequivocally? Do you want to “correct” your critics by telling them they’re wrong to feel the way they do about their work?