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.