Saturday, November 17, 2018

Never correspond with your readers, unless invited

The invisible wall that exists between writer and reader is best left unbroken

I have been asked whether I ever correspond with my readers. Well, naturally we writers do, especially when we are so embroiled in social media these days. Writers automatically seek an audience, that’s why we write, so when someone writes back to us and refers to our writing, our interest is aroused, our vanity is stoked, and our bubble of loneliness is punctured.

But what happens when a writer takes a reader unawares and initiates the conversation? I am guilty of this act of commission, and after three lessons, I decided to discontinue this practice. The first incident occurred when a reader gave one of my books a score 1 on a scale 1(poor) to 5(excellent). This particular book had been enjoying an average reader score of 4 on Goodreads, so I was curious as to why this reader had found the book so weak. As she hadn’t written comments to support her rating, I was itching to find out more. So I wrote to her asking why she had rated my book so poorly, and could she provide some constructive feedback. I never received a reply. The second time, I encountered an independent reviewer who said that another one of my books needed stronger editing. As I had self-published that particular book, I wrote to this reviewer to ask for pointers on where I could improve. I never heard back. On the third and final occasion, I stumbled upon a social media group that had been discussing my books in a positive way. I wrote to thank the lead member of the group and asked for her view on a controversial point in one of my books; I thought an enthusiastic and engaged reader would be able to provide me a new perspective on this point. Silence was the reply.

To say that my self-confidence was shaken was an understatement. But after the air returned to my deflated ego, I tried to figure out why I had been treated so shabbily. Then a few things became clear to me. I am a fiction writer. I create worlds in which the writer is absent, only his characters exist. Fiction writers are not intrusive, and their voices emerge through the mouths of their creations; readers draw their own inferences from what is laid down on the page, sometimes, obviously, sometimes opaquely. Therefore, my sudden presence “in the flesh” must have been alarming – like a dead man come to life, and one who had been snooping on the conversations others had been having about him! I had betrayed the trust of the storyteller, where the story is more important than the teller.

In the age of social media, self-publishing, and shameless self-promotion, writers are pushed towards breaking the wall that exists between them and readers, and towards making contact with the “other side.” Some say it’s the “new way,” that readers buy the writer and not the story. That may be so for commercial survival, and even then, commercial writers work with their publicists to create a persona and all communication with readers is carefully scripted and routed via one’s literary agent or publisher – an even greater wall of separation. Yet, readers seem to be more comfortable with this “fictitious” form of correspondence than with a message from the heart.

After my experiences, I have returned to my cocoon of silence and only speak through my stories. Yes, I still remain active on social media and other online channels to announce upcoming projects (the shameless self-promotion stuff), but a serious discussion of my work will not be on the cards, unless specifically invited. This has been a hard lesson to learn, and one I thought worthy of sharing with others on the same journey.

About the Writer

Shane Joseph is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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5 comments on Never correspond with your readers, unless invited

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By Shane Joseph on October 27, 2014 at 09:09 am

There appears to be a segment of this article that has been inadvertently deleted. A corrected version will be posted shortly.

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By Shane Joseph on October 27, 2014 at 02:55 pm

The corrected article is now posted!

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By Barbara MacDonald on October 29, 2014 at 04:17 pm

Thanks for the advice Shane...I had never really thought of that as I tend to write in a different format than fiction...but what you says makes total sense. I think as writers at times we have to develop a thicker I remember how awful it felt when someone rated me as awful...when I had written about a homeless man. I reacted badly...but you do have to roll with the punches and realize not everyone will like what you write.

I was waiting to comment as I had read this earlier but noticed you were making a correction. Thanks for the knowledge you shared Shane, appreciated.

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By Shane Joseph on October 29, 2014 at 04:49 pm

Thanks Barbara - I noticed that someone had scored me "Awful" on this forum too. I will take it on the chin and keep writing what matters to me, ratings notwithstanding!

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By Barbara MacDonald on October 29, 2014 at 05:34 pm

Exactly Shane, I agree.

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