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Readers Don’t Owe Authors Sh*t

Brenna Clarke Gray

Staff Writer

Part muppet and part college faculty member, Brenna Clarke Gray holds a PhD in Canadian Literature while simultaneously holding two cats named Chaucer and Swift. It's a juggling act. Raised in small-town Ontario, Brenna has since been transported by school to the Atlantic provinces and by work to the Vancouver area, where she now lives with her stylish cyclist/webgeek husband and the aforementioned cats. When not posing by day as a forserious academic, she can be found painting her nails and watching Degrassi (through the critical lens of awesomeness). She posts about graphic narratives at Graphixia, and occasionally she remembers to update her own blog, Not That Kind of Doctor. Blog: Not That Kind of Doctor Twitter: @brennacgray

I spent a lot of time being annoyed with the bookish internet last week. There was a whiff of entitlement in the air, emanating from some (not all!) indie booksellers and some (not all!) authors-who-tweet. A lot of people have been talking about (and responding to) what readers owe writers and indie bookshops.

There are a lot of layers to this conversation, and I’m standing on a bunch of shoulders here. Peter’s post here at Book Riot had one comment, in particular, that got my gears rolling. And then I remembered that I had also read this post, by Andrew here at Book Riot, that addressed similar things quite exquisitely.  And when I started tweeting about these issues, I was pointed in the direction of this post over at picky girl. And after reading all theses posts (and the conversations that prompted them), I have determined this:

I don’t owe you your dream career.

I hope that writers make careers of writing. I hope that indie bookshop owners make careers of owning and working in indie bookshops.  I hope that these things are lucrative and happiness-making. But being a reader does not obligate me to do anything other than read books. As a reader, I will accept responsibility to do one thing:

  1. I won’t ever steal books, digital or otherwise. Not ever.

But I won’t (a) not use the library, (b) not buy used books, (c) not borrow books from friends. If I choose to do any of those things, I don’t (a) owe a tweet, (b) owe a blog review, (c) owe a word of mouth review. I am not betraying bookish culture if I (a) buy from Amazon or Chapters or Barnes and Noble, (b) wait to buy the paperback, (c) don’t buy at all. None of the above things are unethical or amoral or indicative of my deep failings as a reader or blogger or member of the bookish community.

I want very much for my favourite writers to write books, and I often make the choice to support that by purchasing their books.  Sometimes in more than one form. Sometimes in multiple copies as gifts. But I don’t owe my favourite writers those things. Likewise, when I read a wonderful book, I tell lots and lots of people about it. But I don’t owe that to the wonderful books I’ve loved. These are choices I make freely because I love stories and books. And when I make these choices, it is about my relationship with the person I am sharing my love of the book with. It is about neither author nor bookshop, at the core.

You don’t owe me my job as a paid contributor here at Book Riot. If you like something I write, it is really cool when you share it. I’m always super excited about that. But you don’t owe that to me. Ostensibly, if I write more decent stuff than crap, and you think the stuff I write is worth reading, you will pass my posts along on occasion, and you’ll come back to Book Riot more often. But those are choices you should make freely because the content is worth something to you. Not because I passive-agressively tweet about it. (Which I don’t.  Because yucky.)

I have a new policy. When an author I follow on social media tells me I am not doing enough to sell his or her books for him or her on social media, I stop following that author. When an indie bookseller I am interested in posts content belittling those who choose to acquire books by non-indie bookshop means, I stop following that indie bookseller. I do this because those posts and tweets betray that the individual in question has mistaken my interest for some kind of obligation.

I hope you find your bliss. But I don’t owe it to you.

I don’t owe you shit.


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