Before the Internet, there was a very simple unwritten contract that existed between writers and readers. That contact went simply:
“I, The Reader, will read whatever books take my fancy. I am free to disparage the books I don’t like/gush about the books I love to everyone I meet. If my love or hatred for a book exceeds all bounds, I am free to write a letter to the author, which will be sent through the post. As long as I continue to read books, I will abide by these rules. Signed, Readers Everywhere.”
“I, The Writer, will write whatever books take my fancy. I may get fan mail or I may get hate mail, but I have no way to reach my readers unless they contact me first. As long as I continue to write books, I will abide by these rules. Signed, Writers Everywhere.”
Now that the Internet has come along and redefined everything, I think we need some new rules. Or at least a new addendum to the existing contract, with separate clauses for various online institutions. I’ve never been to law school, but I am a lifelong reader and writer, so I feel fairly qualified to tackle this problem.
Readers: please use sites such as Amazon, Goodreads, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. to discuss books, exchange book lists, give opinions of the books you’ve read. Good grammar and spelling really are a must, however.
Writers: for God’s sake, don’t just spam about your book. Yes, writers have to market shamelessly, but if all you do on any online space is list your titles, drop a lot of links saying “Buy My Book Here,” and then swan off never to be seen again, this will bite you in the ass. If you want to talk about your book on Amazon or Goodreads or anywhere else, hang around for a while and earn your cred talking about other people’s books first.
Readers: All readers keep a blog nowadays about the books they read, love, and hate. Just don’t expect everyone to read it.
Writers: All writers keep a blog nowadays because their publisher told them to. Try not to let the blog interfere with your actual job, which is writing books.
Readers: feel free to post critical reviews on Amazon.com of the books you love/hate. But if you hate a book, simply posting “This bk sux” is not helpful to anybody. Tell why you hated the book, and do so in clear concise prose. Such reviews are far more likely to be taken seriously–the ranting ungrammatical ones, I assure you, are quickly dismissed by the author, who soothes the sting of your vitriol by reassuring themselves that you undoubtedly live in your mother’s basement festering over a drawer of unpublished manuscripts. And for those who like to post grammatical but venomous reviews–really, there is no need to be so nasty. Internet anonymity does not give you the right to behave badly. Keep your criticism honest but fair–not for the writer’s sake, but for your own. You probably think your eloquent nastiness makes you quite the Dorothy Parker, but you just come across like an envious nit.
Writers: read your negative reviews if you must, but don’t comment on them. Keep your snide remarks about the negative reviewer’s lack of taste, experience, or personal hygiene off the screen, unless you want be labeled an unprofessional hack. You published a book in a public sphere, and these people are entitled to their opinion of it. Don’t ask your friends to post good reviews to help you out–there are people out there who make it their life’s mission to “out” the fake reviews written by friends and family, and they will be vocal in their condemnation. On the other hand, it would be nice if such people would realize that writers have no control over what their family and friends say online. Don’t shun me or my work simply because a reader later identified as my best friend shot down your one-star review. Believe me, I couldn’t stop her.
Readers: The internet has made it much easier to get in touch with the authors we like. An email or PM or Tweet to a favorite author to express how much you liked their book is always much appreciated. An email or Tweet or PM to express how much you hated their book, or a request that the author please recommend your unpublished manuscript to their agent, is not quite so appreciated.
Writers: Fan emails or PMs or Tweets are like wedding presents–receiving either one means you should send a thank-you note in return. If you are Kate Middleton or J.K. Rowling and receive more wedding presents or fan emails than you can possibly answer yourself, then you are rich enough to hire a team of personal assistants to do it for you. Though do feel free to ignore emails/PMs that are rude, insulting, or overly personal–there is a limit to politeness.
Readers: You read enough by your favorite author and you start to feel like you know them. And these days authors aren’t just faces on the back of the book–they’re out there in cyberspace, doing blog interviews, posting Facebook updates on their book tour schedules, Tweeting about their plot problems. They’re everywhere, they’re accessible . . . but they are not 100% answerable to you. They don’t owe you a personal explanation why their second book took four months longer to write than expected (Jim Butcher); they don’t have to answer the questions you posted on their website asking about their religious beliefs (Bernard Cornwell); they don’t have to take the abuse you heap on them for daring to mention the football game they watched on Sunday instead of working 24 hours a day on the book you can’t wait to read (George R.R. Martin).
Writers: The web is everywhere, and anyone can get on it to look you up. You might not be accountable to your readers for every single thing they want out of you, but you are accountable for every word you write. Including that snippy Facebook post you put up at 2am, shooting back on that reader who posted a snide comment about your book. Before you can get up in the morning to re-think what you’ve said and maybe take the post down, it’s gone viral. Think before you type.
And finally–the last clause in the contract, not a word changed from the original which has been in existence ever since there were readers and writers in the first place.
“We all love books here, or we wouldn’t be in the business of writing/reading them. So let’s all try to be polite and act like adults, shall we?”
Please sign and date here: