There’s an image that’s been making its way around the internet, popping up in both my Facebook and Tumblr accounts. It kind of drives me a little bit crazy. Here’s the image in its entirety:
So, let’s begin with the positives. First off, there’s nothing wrong with liking or reviewing or rating a book. I LOVE it when someone likes or reviews or rates my books. I even like the occasional bad review, especially if they’re fun to read. (My favorite bad review: it was completely negative and then said “I will give it credit because it’s an idea I haven’t seen before; but maybe I haven’t seen it before because it’s a really bad idea.” That’s a great review.) So, anyway, yes: reviews and likes and stars are awesome.
Let me make that bolder:
Readers do not owe one thing to an author. This is an attitude that I see often in writers circles, and it infects authors from the lowliest of indies to the most popular of bestsellers: that the author worked really hard on the book, so readers ought to like it for that reason alone. To quote the image above: “It’s a lonely journey to embark on just to tell a story, yet the personal costs are huge.”
You know what, though? Writing is just work. And while I certainly don’t mean to downplay my own profession, writing is REALLY GREAT. It’s the dream job. Even back when I wasn’t writing fulltime, back when I was right out of college and working as an accountant at a lumber yard and writing in my spare time–writing was great. It was fun. That’s why I was doing it. As the image above says: “It’s a labor of love.”
Besides that, you know what else is “a lonely journey” with huge “personal costs”? Just about any career. I got my MBA before my writing gig took off, and I can name dozens upon dozens of people who work harder than me: dozens of people who work longer hours, under higher stress, for much less recognition. And you know what? Every one of those people are just as personally committed to their dreams, be they entrepreneurship or business success or promotion or building a company from the ground up, they are just as committed to their dream as I am to my writing.
You know who has a lonely journey with huge personal costs? The guy who scraped together enough money to buy a Burger King franchise. Or the woman who sunk herself into debt and put off temporary pleasures so she could get through dental school. Or the carpenter who hangs drywall for years while he’s waiting for his own custom furniture business to take off. In other words: everyone is making a lonely journey. Everyone pays huge personal costs. And yet there’s no Facebook plea of “Please give my Burger King franchise a great review on Yelp, because I try really hard!” And there shouldn’t be.
Readers don’t owe anything to authors. It’s completely the opposite: authors owe everything to their readers.
A couple years ago I wrote about attending a concert where the crowd just wasn’t into it. I was infuriated–this was one of my very favorite singers, and my town wasn’t showing her the kind of attentiveness she deserved. But then she changed her show, singing some of her older songs, trying to connect–and when it worked, she did the same song a second time. And then she said, cheerfully: “My job is to make you happy.”
She knew the truth. She knew that SHE was the entertainer, and WE were the paying public. We’d paid to be there, and we wanted a good show, and she was bound and determined to give us one. And she did, and we loved it.
THAT’S the attitude that authors should have, rather than begging for positive reviews. That’s how writers get better, and it’s how readers get happier. And the happier those readers are, the less writers will need to beg you to give them a rating.