Do Readers Have an Obligation to Writers?

In a current writing discussion on Facebook, authors are trying to figure out why so few readers leave reviews of books, even books the readers loved. This expectation of reviews seems just another example of the upside-down book world that exists today. Writers have come to feel that because they publish a book and make it available for people to read that readers have an obligation to them, but readers have no obligations to writers.

Writers have obligations to readers, and they often fail to honor those obligations. Writers have an obligation to make sure what they write is readable and free of error. They have an obligation to present a finished product, one that has been edited and presented in the best possible manner. And they have an obligation to fulfill the promise of the book. If a story starts out strong, tantalizing readers with a wonderful premise, the author has an obligation to fulfill the implied promise of an equally dazzling ending, but so often books simply fizzle at the end, as if the writer ran out of ideas. (Many big name writers do this, yet people still continue to buy their books. Maybe they keep hoping that one day the ending will be spectacular? I’ve given up hope, and no longer read books by these authors, but considering their continued success, I can see I am a very small minority.)

Writers ask readers for their money, for their time, for their suspension of belief. Even if the book is a free download or a library checkout, authors are still asking for time, and time is worth more than money these days. So why should readers be obligated to pay for the book — again — with a review?

Not only do many writers expect reviews, they expect readers to critique their books, to tell them what works and what doesn’t. This is one of the many ridiculous results of the current anyone-can-publish-anything world — people do publish anything. They publish first drafts as if the drafts were finished books and expect readers to tell them what works and what doesn’t. It is not the readers’ obligation to help writers hone their craft — it is the writer’s responsibility to present an already honed product. (Writers have actually told me they publish their book to get feedback. And they charge readers for the privilege. There is something dreadfully wrong about knowingly publishing a first draft and selling it as a finished book.)

It’s amazing to me not that so few readers follow through with reviews, but that so many do. I am grateful for every review I have received, and I am thrilled every time someone tells me they love my books either via email or through a review left on Amazon or Goodreads, but I don’t expect it. I know readers have no obligations to me as a writer, just as I have no obligation to the writers of the books I read.

11 Responses to “Do Readers Have an Obligation to Writers?”

  1. margosnotebook Says:

    It often surprises me how many books are published that fail to deliver a good read. With so many would-be authors out there I would have thought there would be enough good books for publishers to select … but maybe most of us are wannabees and publishers get desperate ‘D

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I always thought that in straddling the line between publishable books and sellable books, the major publishers let the better books fall through the cracks, but now that so many are self-publishing and the unpublished books are surfacing, I no longer believe that is the case. Maybe there aren’t many good books being written.

  2. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Reviews are a nice thing to have, I bet. When my short stories get published this semester, I hope people give me some good reviews and critiques.

  3. Paige Nolley Says:

    As a reader, once I’ve finished an exceptional book (and I am finding a fair number of those independently and self published both), I tend to be in a state of catharsis. As such, I have trouble writing a review. I’ll mark it as read and give it an appropriate number of stars on Goodreads, but rarely will I write about it unless there was something in it which irritated me. I’m more likely to actually write a review for something with great potential in need of a few tweaks than for something stunning or absolutely terrible.

    As a writer, when I am someday published (I will shop to indie publishers, then consider self publishing), I hope for reviewers, however few, to tell me what they thought. Any review is a good review. Oddly, I would rather have one review with critique in it than a thousand simply stating I’ve written something great; though those thousand would be a joy to read.

    Those who regularly write reviews of what they’ve read deserve gratitude. It is not an easy thing, after finishing any book, to put into words one’s thoughts and share them with the world. Especially when one writes a ‘negative’ review and runs the risk of online and real world harassment for it.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      You are absolutely right — those who write reviews deserve gratitude, especially since it’s a gift an not an obligation. I’ve actually become friends with most of my reviewers. How can I not since they have such great taste as to like my books?

      I don’t pay attention to reviews with critiques of my books. I spent years on my books, perfecting the craft, rewriting and editing, following the suggestions of my editors to make them even better. They are the exact stories I wanted to write with the exact words I wanted to use. If people don’t like my books, that is their perogative and they are welcome to say so, but I’m not changing a single word to reflect the tastes of the few who dislike or who misunderstand my books. The way I see it, reviews are for other readers, not me — I already know what the books are about.

      Best of luck with your writing career.

  4. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    I am grateful for whatever reviews I get for my books. Of late Desk Job has had some nice ones.

    A couple came totally out of the blue from people I haven’t had anything to do with. Why they decided to buy my book in the first place I can only guess at. Why they decided to comment and comment favorably on my book I don’t know. I am glad they decided to take the time because every positive review is gold to an author.

    It isn’t just about making sales. (If you really want to make money go into real estate.) There is the fact that you have gotten through to someone on some level to the point where they want to support your efforts.

  5. joylene Says:

    Amen, Pat. A fellow writer did do a logline review for me once, one that I didn’t expect; I found out later he hadn’t finished my book. Since then he has hounded me with emails about his book releases, requesting that I do this and this and this to help celebrate their release. When he decided to start a blog, he asked me to be a follower and to comment regularly. After a time he asked me how he could get more followers. I told him he’d have to start reciprocating. Yep, you guessed it. He quit blogging. He hasn’t quit emailing though.

  6. roguemutt Says:

    You’re right to some extent. But if I GIVE someone a book for free it would be nice if they reviewed it–and more than just giving it one star with one sentence would be good. I mean Amazon gives me ARCs in exchange for reviewing the book, so I don’t see it as unreasonable to expect the same when I give away books. I mean really the whole point of giving away books is to get some word of mouth going; the point isn’t for you to just take the book and sit on it for two years or not say anything. Maybe we need a contract to spell that out for giveaways.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      You’re right, the point of giving away books free is to get word of mouth going, but it doesn’t always work that way. In this book climate, free books are the norm, so people take them as their due. Most don’t even read the books — they are just filling their Kindles. However, if people request review copies or otherwise agree to review your book, those people do have an obligation, though they seldom follow through. (Only about ten percent of people who agreed to review one of my books in exchange for a copy of the book ever did a review.)

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