Should writers keep their distance from readers?

It’s often easy to contact a writer these days, by email, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads etc. But how much contact, particularly two way contact is good? Do readers want writers looking over their shoulders? Is even a “thanks, glad you liked it” on an informal few lines long review on Goodreads an intrusion into a space the writer may have no business being? Once there’s a relationship, however slight, there’s a risk of interfering with how the reader judges the writer’s work.

If an author acts like a jerk then it makes people decide not to read their books. But is there an effect the other way around too? Does the fact an author and their fans chat on Twitter like they are old pals mean the reader might give the writer’s books a more positive rating than they would have otherwise, for fear of offending someone they interact with. That’s natural of course. We tell white lies all the time to spare people’s feelings, so doing the same about a book you’re actually a bit disappointed in would naturally follow.

Or even further on from that will the reader end up defending the books against those who are critical of it, even when deep down they agree with them, but they want to show the writer they’re a loyal fan? At what point does someone go from “loyal fan” to “minion”?

Let’s take an example, with me as the reader. I reviewed a book on Goodreads last week. It wasn’t m/m since I’ve decided not to review fellow m/m writers (and that’s a whole ‘nother blog post subject), but it was by a writer I’m in contact with on Twitter. And in fact she sent me the book free as an advance reader copy and I promised a review in return. Does that make me a minion helping to create a pre-release buzz for the book? (Not that she needs much help from me to get people to look forward to her books!) Did my relationship with her over Twitter and Facebook influence what I wrote about the book?

But looking at it from another angle – I started following her on Twitter etc. because I liked her previous books. I’m therefore likely to enjoy her future books and give them a good rating, whether we’ve ever Tweeted to each other or not, so it’s all a very grey area. I feel I was honest about what I thought about the book, but influence can be unconscious, so I can’t be absolutely certain.

I don’t think it’s possible that writers and readers will ever have the kind of distance they once had if the writer is participating in social media as part of their marketing efforts. And of course there are many good things about this contact. I’ve seen it from both sides now and it can be so enjoyable. But I think it’s also a potential minefield and we’re all still learning our way across it. Writers should be aware of the need for discretion about activities which may have undue influence on readers. Unless of course you are planning on building an army of minions to do your bidding. In which case, carry on.

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9 thoughts on “Should writers keep their distance from readers?

  1. I’ve had dialogues with a couple of readers along the way, but I think I’ve managed to keep a ‘safe distance’. By that I mean I’ve held back from getting too chatty about stories or anything personal. If it starts moving into “I think you should do this next”, I thank them but make absolutely no commitments. I think one can have a ‘professional’ relationship with readers so it doesn’t get too involved.

    As to other writers I already ‘know’, I guess if I did have problems with a book or story they’d written, I’d probably let them know privately, and if they were okay with it, do the requested public review. But for writers I don’t know, I think it’s very possible to give an honest review without being nasty, so they really wouldn’t have anything to complain about. And those who would, would probably complain if there were 30 positives and 1 negative!

    1. Yes, good point about the reader making suggestions of where you should go next with a story or series. That’s a very tricky area.

      Sorry, your comment went into the spam queue! Just spotted it. Bloody WordPress is too sensitive sometimes.

  2. Yeah, it’s a minefield. I don’t want to stop being friendly with readers and reviewers, and likewise, I don’t see why I shouldn’t review things written by my writer friends, but it does mean I have to frequently ask myself these kinds of questions.

    I’ve now taken the policy of only reccing books I truly enjoyed, and declaring any friendship connection to the author in the “review”. Can’t say fairer than that. I tend to seek out friendships with other writers I enjoy simply because I think we must have something in common if I loved their writing. It would be a real shame not to be able to share that joy with other readers.

  3. I do tend to air on the side of caution. I’ve got into habit of reviewing books on Goodreads for my own reference, and now I am ‘friends’ with some of the authors on Twitter and Facebook.

    It could work two ways. I’m an aspiring author, and to have friends in the right places, might help push my book (if one day I’m lucky enough to get one published) so I don’t want to piss off people in the right places.

    I am only giving my reader opinion, and generally I’ve not found a book I don’t really like. If it were truly terrible, and I did have acquaintances with the author, maybe I wouldn’t publicly review it.

    With the likes of being sent an ARC, I suppose the author is hoping for an early ‘good’ review to boost the sales of her book, so I would certainly do my best to give a good review.

    I’m such an easy going reader anyway, I’ll believe anything… Except vampires making babies!

  4. I suppose what I’m trying to say… reading all that back, (and not sure that it makes sense lol!) is that I try to treat those as I would like to be treated. I try to review fairly, and highlight the good stuff. I might point out something I wasn’t so sure about but that could be just personal opinion. We’re all different.

    I think there is a difference between critiquing a work in progress with an aspiring writer, who needs honest feedback and reviewing a book that is already published, by an established author. I’m not saying it all needs to be sugar coated, but published authors are humans, and they probably want to believe they’ve pleased a few readers along the way.

    1. Treating people as you’d want to be treated is good. And treating everyone as a grown up, assuming they’re going to behave like one is another key one, I think.

      And you and me are definitely part of Liz Fielding’s army of minions, I think! 😀

  5. it’s an excellent point you make that you make:

    “I started following her on Twitter etc. because I liked her previous books. ”

    and that’s the point–I have been accused of favourtism but then I seek out online friendships with writers whose writing I like. I am not likely to woo an author when I’ve read their shoddy excuse for research and plot I could throw a dog through.

    I don’t comment on facebook and goodreads if I’m mentioned, because Idon’t want people to think I’m the type of saddo author who seeks out every mention of self–I’ve even seen people retweet mentions of themselves which is just embarrassing. however part of it isa cultural thing, the americans often aren’t as diffident as I

    1. There’s definitely a cultural difference there! Some things that come naturally to Americans would feel like showing off if I did it. I suppose I have to try to overcome my Englishness!

      And I can’t condone the throwing of dogs through plot holes. 😉

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