Somebody on DorothyL asked a few days ago, “What makes a good reader?” As in, we know what readers expect from writers (perfection!), but what do we expect – or at least wish for – from readers?
I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in my contacts with readers. I love hearing from them. I’ve received many e-mails and in-person comments that were so wonderful and gratifying that they kept me going for weeks afterward. I’ve suffered only indirect blows from those who think the very existence of my books is an affront to everything they hold dear. My portrait of The Good Reader is drawn from the experiences of other writers as well as my own.
The Good Reader pays attention to what she’s reading and does not complain to the writer about nonexistent errors or omissions.
The Good Reader lets an author know that she has read and enjoyed the writer’s book(s).
The Good Reader doesn’t rush to ruin an author’s day/week/year with a long e-mail or online “review” detailing every reason large and small why she hated the writer’s new book.
The Good Reader realizes that few authors make much money, that most of us do this because we love to write, that a single book represents a year or more of intense creative work, and it’s disheartening, to say the least, when a reader makes it her personal mission to go around the internet urging everybody, everywhere, to shun it. The Good Reader realizes that his or her taste may not be shared by all readers.
While The Good Reader is certainly entitled to express an opinion, she doesn’t use online reviews to instruct a professional author on how to improve his or her writing in future books. That’s an editor’s job.
(Note: Many professional writers make it a point to avoid looking at reader reviews on sites like Amazon.)
The Good Reader realizes that the characters in a book are not stand-ins for the author who created them. If a character does something awful or expresses an unfortunate opinion, that doesn’t mean the writer behaves or thinks that way.
The Good Reader may voice a wish for the future direction of a series character’s life – as in, “I’d love to see her marry Tom” – but doesn’t become aggressive about it (as in, “If they don’t get married soon, I’m going to stop reading your books”).
The Good Reader realizes that an author with a traditional print publisher probably has no control over the release of an e-book version of her novel. The Good Reader doesn’t ask about the e-book repeatedly, then when it’s available, decide not to buy it after all.
The Good Reader doesn’t ask an author published by a small press why her books aren’t all prominently displayed at the local Barnes & Noble.
The Good Reader doesn’t tell an author that she looks nothing like her picture on the book jacket.
I’m sure any writer who’s reading this could add to the list. Feel free.