It is a persistent idea, that readers or authors may owe each other something beyond just the reading or writing of that which established the initial relationship. Part of what I think brings it up so perpetually is that, with author blogs and pages on Facebook and Twitter feeds and easy email and easy ways to publically review books, it is easier to contact authors. They are more commonly considered real people. Actually, that’s a slight mis-statement: they are more commonly considered accessible writing machines.

I see a number of authors being asked ‘So when will this update?’ ‘Is this abandoned?’ ‘How could you do X?’

Most of it is of the first variety: compare to the fan reaction when G. R. R. Martin doesn’t get a book out weekly. Like this blog. That blog is entirely dedicated to being an entitled jerk as relates to a series that apparently the writer is so invested in he is writing a blog about it. I don’t understand.

What I do understand are lists.

So here we go, what authors owe:

  • to themselves
    • output
      • Most writers start to feel icky and stale if they don’t write. So it is probably to most writers’ benefit to write something. Whether it’s 1000 words a day or 10 a year is completely up to the individual writer, to be determined by them and no one else.
    • time off
      • Intense creative effort is hard to sustain indefinitely. Time off allows one to recharge. Even if it’s just time off from Serious Novel to outline smutty sex scenes that will never be included in anything: that can be a form of time off. What constitutes time off and how long it has to be is completely up to the individual writer, to be determined by them and no one else.
    • pacing/deadlines
      • It can be easy to be swept away and keep writing until three in the morning. It can also be easy to rewrite one section over and over and get nothing else done. Self-assigned deadlines and markers can be helpful. Keywords are ‘self-assigned’ and ‘can be.’
    • keeping it fun
      • If writing becomes a chore, everyone loses. Some parts are always going to be a pain to write, and some editing is frustrating, but finishing those comes with a sense of satisfaction that is definitely fun. A lot of external pressure can make a project less fun.
  • to readers
    • nothing
      • You heard me.
    • still nothing
      • This is not the most community-building approach. A lot of authors reach out and try to engage readers through social media and answering questions and such. But readers are there to read what you wrote. If they stop liking it, they will stop reading it. If they continue to like it, they will continue to read it. Being able to talk to the creator? That’s nice, that’s like sprinkles on the cake, but that’s not part of the writing itself. Neil Gaiman does speaking engagements. If Neil Gaiman did nothing but sit on stage and write during the speaking engagement, that would be bad. During the time he is being paid to speak, he is taking on that as his job. During times he is not at speaking engagements, engaging with readers is optional. As are progress reports and news about upcoming projects. They make good business sense to provide, because, hey, readers will know what to look for. But they are not something owed.
    • not destroying the fabric of society
      • This is one that probably not all authors would agree with me on, but I think it’s important. I don’t mean never to write anything that rocks the boat, but I mean give serious consideration to what on earth you’re doing before you contribute to damaging cultural narratives.
  • to editors
    • meet deadlines
      • It is hard work, editing. It is made harder when you don’t get a final revision to edit until just hours before your own deadline. Most writers find their editors a huge help: in some cases, it is the editors who are responsible for publication at all. That means that writers should treat their editors with at least the respect of meeting deadlines. Negotiating to set deadlines that are realistic will help both authors and editors.
    • answer calls/emails
      • Your editor does not want to hound you. It will feel a lot less like hounding if you return calls or emails, even if it’s just to say there’s been a delay.

I really love lists. The one above can be boiled down to writers owing themselves self-care (like everyone else), owing their editors consideration, and owing their audience nothing but their best output, no matter the quantity and frequency of said output.

A lot of things – like running a formspring or a blog or a Facebook page or a forum – that allow readers to interact with the author are good things. They make fans happy, and can boost engagement and therefore sales. They make some business sense. But they are in no way owed.

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