Popular Posts

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Readers and Writers: Friendship

Readers and Writers: A Delicate Balance


This is part of a multi-part series regarding some potential pitfalls and difficulties on both sides of the reader/writer relationship. It's important to note that different writers (and readers) will have different comfort levels. It has been a surprise for me how many authors suffer from serious social anxiety, it's always important to remember that you cannot own another person and while the writer does not have an excuse to treat another poorly, sometimes they may not, for their own mental well-being, be able to engage with you in the way you would prefer.
This series will focus mainly on things I've observed about writer/reader interactions. It will in no way be a blanket statement of how it is appropriate for all readers to interact with all writers, or vice versa.
Some subjects we'll be covering:



Part Two: Should the writer be the reader's friend?

It is my belief that you should be friendly to the best of your ability. No one likes to be brushed off or treated meanly. However, depending on your definition of "friend," most authors are unlikely to be able to maintain a true friendship with the majority of their readers. Now how many readers they will be willing and able to befriend is going to differ wildly depending on the writer's personality, schedule, and comfort zone.

Schedules


It's easier with "big names" to understand that they might not be able to answer your emails or letters or interact with you reliably on their social media. It's not personal, but you're one of a thousand voices, and if they spent all their time fielding messages from their readers, they'd never have time to live let alone write.
However, a lot of indies simply aren't that overwhelmed yet. I generally do respond to emails from readers. I interact with most social media posts on my page. I do not respond to direct messages on Twitter because most of them are spam and I don't really want to bother to figure out which ones aren't. There might (in my wildest dreams of success) come a time where I can no longer reasonably do that ... but that's not likely to be any time soon. 

So should you (the reader) expect interaction from your favorite indie writers?

Expect? No. Expectations are problematic for a number of reasons. 

Personality Types and Interaction

While it is not universally true, the majority of writers tend to be introverts. Writing is a private and often lonely occupation. A lot of introverts are more comfortable expressing themselves through the written word and so get in the habit of composing their thoughts that way, and introverts are also often readers which can lead to them being writers. 
For them, their books might be the only way they are comfortable reaching out to the world. The idea of talking to strangers is horrifying. 
If you reach out to a writer and find them unwilling to respond or only giving you brief responses, they could simply be shy and awkward. 
I don't even consider myself an introvert, and I still get awkward when responding to strangers online. 

And even being an extrovert won't save you. I once heard an extrovert writer express worry that they'd never be able to respond meaningfully to all their contacts because they really really wanted to get to know every one of their followers ... yeah, not happening. 

I'm kind of a hybrid. I am comfortable dealing with people but tend to keep true friends down to a manageable amount. I'm generally speaking busy with my own thoughts. I'm easily distracted. Small talk makes me so so so so so bored. I once backed a coworker into the corner explaining the root causes of the Civil War and I will analyze a book or movie to death with you, but oh gosh ... please, NOT small talk. 
So while I like people, I sometimes don't know what to do with them. I sometimes wish people came with a menu that told me what things they like to talk about so I could skim through and say, "Medical dramas, no. Romance novels, heck no. Politics ... not in the mood. Ooooh, trying international recipes and new foods. Yeah, I'll have THAT conversation, please." 
 I try to keep my reader-writer interactions personable but professional. I don't necessarily want more from the average reader. 

Do you really know a writer?


I think sometimes readers think they know writers from their books, but writing is a lot like acting. When you write you have to wear many faces, to see through the eyes of many different characters, and assuming you know a writer because you read their books is a lot like assuming you know an actor because you've seen them on TV. There might be glimpses of the "real" them here and there, but writers can slip in and out of imaginary worlds, different voices, even different world views as they try to see a story from all sides.  

So you can't really expect a writer to be your friend just based on you reading their books and a little social media interaction.

But expectations aside, can writers end up being friends with their readers?
Of course. 
Just like you might end up friends with the lady at the checkout stand or your next door neighbor or any other human being you come into contact with ... if you put in the effort. 
And while I used "IRL" examples above, this can happen online too. I have several internet friends I met in various online communities who I'm still in touch with. In many ways I'm closer to them then I am to the humans I interact with offline on a daily basis. That can happen with a writer. 

Facebook


One thing I would caution you about, though: Don't send a writer a Friends request on Facebook. Most writers will have a "page" devoted to their "writer" persona and a profile devoted to their personal stuff. A lot of writers save their personal page for people who meet a very specific criteria. I vet people very carefully before I allow them on my personal profile. I have had too many awful experiences with internet folks (or even people in real life who I may not want to have access to that much of my personal life) to just let anyone in until we've interacted for a bit on "neutral" territory.


For Writers


Now, that's a lot of rules for readers, so what about writers? Well, mostly just common sense politeness applies. Usually the first contact ball is in the reader's court, so the writer doesn't have to worry about when to begin the interaction. I'd basically just say to do your best to respond, and try not to follow up every reader interaction with a sales pitch. Try to assume the best about people, even if their message includes a "what did they mean by that?" moment. I think sometimes writers forget that not everyone spends hours obsessing over perfect word choices, and I know a lot who tend to analyze what people mean way too much.

Creepers ...

 So be polite, try to respond ... but if someone is making you uncomfortable, writers, remember, you don't have to continue the correspondence. If someone messages you frequently and tries to develop a sense of intimacy you aren't comfortable with or wants to know details about your personal life, use common sense. Either tell them to stop or block them. 
A lot of people think you really shouldn't block without an explanation, but occasionally you will just get a sense you can't really explain that something is "off" about a person and their way of dealing with you. Your personal safety is more important than the loss of a single reader. 
If the person, especially a person of the opposite sex, starts commenting on your personal appearance, for instance, this is not appropriate. If you wouldn't say it casually to the person making your coffee, you shouldn't say it to a stranger online. 

Now if you fear not for your own safety, but for the reader's safety, for instance, they said something that leads you to believe they might harm themselves, some social media sites have the option to report this to their admins. Click here for more information

2 comments:

  1. Haha! I'm so with you on small talk, Heidi!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've never been able to convincingly feign interest either, so that makes it worse.

      Delete