Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

What Readers Want vs What Writers Must Do

You can see, right above the title of this post, what this blog is “about”. And, you can definitely help me decide the balance of those three broad topics by taking a brief survey

Today, I’ll write about Readers (and their Relationship with Writers).

What do Readers want?

That’s a question writers are asked to consider when they attempt to build an audience, whether through social media or more traditional efforts.

In a previous post called, So, How Do Writers Find Readers?, I said this:

“Some of the wildest relationships in the world are between authors and readers.

“Lately, writers have had a new horde of ‘experts’ yelling at them about how to hook-up with readers.

“Personally, I don’t think any two books (except the pulps in various genres) have the same history of attracting readers.

“It seems that, just as Mary wants Jim but Jim needs a wake up call and Mary doesn’t want to seem forward and Jim, well you get the idea; seems that authors need Relationship advice, not Marketing advice.

“Readers have relationships with authors, always have, and today’s publishing scene is begging authors to build relationships with their readers, like never before.”

Still, writers have needs that readers don’t, and vice versa.

To help readers understand the needs of a writer, I want to share a few quotes from an article on Curator by Rebecca D. Martin.

The article focuses on J. K. Rowling’s newest novel The Casual Vacancy and the whole issue of what the fans of Harry Potter Expected

As always, I urge you to read the whole article but, early on, Rebecca Martin says:

many of her devoted readers wanted to know where the magic—overt or otherwise—had gone. The expectation was understandable. She had done Middle Grades fantasy so well before. Why wouldn’t she produce the same again?”

Then, she boldly states the main point:

we readers tend to think writers, in general, owe it to us. We may concede the right—nay, the duty (dangerous word)—of the creator to push herself, test new ground, blaze new artistic trails. But the reality is that, having done something well once, the writer must do the same again. We expect that he do it over and over and over.”

I suppose Rowling induced some of her fans’ criticism by writing so many Potter books, yet, as Martin says:

“Let’s…give Rowling a hearty congratulations, too, not only for her work at crafting another story, but also for pushing herself to branch out, with all the risks and imperfections involved in attempting something new.”

Martin also considers other authors’ readership challenges:

“Charles Dickens…wrote and wrote and wrote. He wrote what he knew would sell….But he also wrote about what interested him, including essays that weren’t all that well done or well received, because he cared to experiment with his craft. The reading public held expectations of him, and only sometimes did he answer those expectations with his ever-scribbling pen.”

“This nonconformity in writerly habit, whether it’s one exemplary novel in a lifetime or many books with varying reception, stymies us. Our criticism is implicit in the seeming oddity of Marilynne Robinson’s long pause between writing the Pulitzer Prize-nominated Housekeeping and the winning Gilead…”

“We are befuddled by why E.M. Forster ‘stopped writing fiction at the age of 45. He lived quietly for another 46 years and continued to write essays, short biographies and literary journalism—but no more novels’.”

Martin, herself a writer, gives a number of other examples, then asks the question:

“Experimenting with form and content, pushing ourselves outside the comfort of predictable perfection in order to create new and maybe—hopefully—better art: Is this not what we, as creative people, do?”


As a reader

Do you expect writers to do things they may not care to do?

Do you judge the newest book by what that author did before?

Are you willing to let the writer do what they feel they must do and judge each book (even in a series) as a unique creation?
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10 responses to “What Readers Want vs What Writers Must Do

  1. Richard Berry September 10, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    Hard questions.
    Do you expect writers to do things they may not care to do?
    I can only answer that if I assume I know what the writer wants to do. I also have to assume that he is doing what he wants to do (write) otherwise he could be a plumber.

    Do you judge the newest book by what that author did before?
    That only works if you are enough of a fan to know the chronology. Most of the time, I don’t have a clue which came first. Every author (and artist) is judged on their finished work. Only a really interested viewer, or reader, knows the order of creation.

    Are you willing to let the writer do what they feel they must do and judge each book (even in a series) as a unique creation?
    I think you yourself once said something to the effect that the characters and story goes where it wants. I’m willing to follow along.


    • Alexander M Zoltai September 10, 2013 at 8:34 pm

      Thanks for your responses, Richard.

      Regarding your answer to my first question: Many writers (especially those doing mass market genre) often do things they may not care to do in order to please what they perceive to be the established “market” of readers

      Your other two answers are quite in line with my own sentiments :-)


  2. juliecround September 11, 2013 at 5:27 am

    If you read a number of books by the same author you are bound to compare them. I have often found myself really enjoying certain books by an author and then being disappointed by others. As writers we are probably more inconsistent than we would like to be. I know, as a teacher, some lessons were better than others and it was often because of the amount of enthusiasm I had for the subject. It must be the same with writers. Writing to a deadline or a formula probably leads to less interesting works. One author who springs to mind is Dean Koontz, whose Odd Thomas books have a wit and fascination that I do not find in his other works. I wonder which of his books he enjoyed writing most?


    • Alexander M Zoltai September 11, 2013 at 10:26 am

      I agree, Julie, the reader certainly Compares different books by the same author—wondering, in terms of the issues raised in the post, if some readers Expect the author to maintain some “norm” or they are willing to accept differences, even if they don’t like them :-)

      And, again, I wonder, from your last comment, if readers, in general, are sensitive to an awareness of when the author has enjoyed the task?


  3. Jane Watson September 11, 2013 at 9:58 am

    i like to judge each book a writer gives as a ‘unique creation’. I think that a writer must write what he/she feels is the right book *for them* at the time they write it – otherwise their lack of interest will come through. Too often I think writers shy away from some esoteric subject, which they feel passionate about, for fear that people ‘wont get it’. You know, I think everyone *gets* it when the prose reflects a passion and a love for the subject… otherwise, yeah, go be a plumber – I hear they make more money… ;-)


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