What Do Readers Owe Authors?

A graphic titled “The Care and Feeding of an Author on Amazon” has recently swept through the social media world. The bullet-pointed tips, created by technical writer Sherry Snider, include suggestions such as “Write a Review,” “Like It,” “Tag It,” and “Share the Link,” all of which will hypothetically “keep writers fed and writing.”

The Care and Feeding of an Author on Amazon, by Sherry Snider

Word of mouth is a huge sales driver in publishing, especially for midlist and self-published authors working with shoestring promotion budgets. Social media is fast replacing traditional word of mouth — or at least that’s what publishers and booksellers are banking on. Unlike a face-to-face recommendation, social media shares and likes can be tracked and quantified. Amazon’s recent purchase of Goodreads for a rumored $150 million only underscores how valuable the digital word-of-mouth trail is expected to be. It makes sense, then, that authors would try to do everything in their power to increase the chatter surrounding their own books on social media.

I’ve seen authors beg their fans to “like” their books on Amazon, even though there’s no evidence this button-clicking does anything. (In fact, the “like” button disappeared on Amazon products back in February for many users, a “technical glitch” that Amazon customer service tells me they are still working on.) I’ve seen readers tweet to writers that they enjoyed their books, only to have the writer respond with a “small request” to leave their thoughts on Amazon in the form of a review. Snider even suggests that readers “download and print the infographic to use a checklist” when buying books, so they don’t accidentally forget to like, tag, tweet, share, or review their new purchases. When did being a reader begin to feel like such a chore?

Before the advent of the Internet, I remember reading books and, if the mood struck me, telling friends or family that “YOU’VE GOT TO READ THIS.” I often passed my book on with my recommendation, an archaic (and illegal) notion in this day and age of DRM’d ebooks. I occasionally wrote fan letters to authors, and often received kind responses. I can’t remember an author ever responding with a bullet-pointed list of tasks I should perform if I wanted to “keep them fed and writing”; I’m not sure what I would have done with such a request.

As an author, I’m delighted if anyone takes it upon themselves to help get the word out about my books—I even have a street team dedicated to sparking word of mouth. Still, it doesn’t feel right to me to pester every single reader who contacts me on Twitter or via e-mail to “help” me. Guilt-tripping readers may help with short term social media indicators, but it seems like a losing strategy longterm.

Readers already give authors the most precious thing in the world: their time. They spend hours reading any given book. Isn’t that enough?

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