Why I am a reader and why it matters: thoughts on jealousy and the reader/author paradigm.

Yesterday I asked this question over Facebook, Twitter and on the blog.

Do you identify yourself as a writer or a reader? If you had to choose one and leave the other, which would you pick?

The responses were varied. The majority of people who answered classified themselves as readers, some came down VERY definitely on the side of writing, and about a third of my online friends shrieked in horror at the question and refused to answer it at all.

Fair enough.

This is why I asked:

If you've been around the Internet for a while, you've no doubt seen at least one instance of an Author Behaving Badly. Generally this has to do with reviews, or opinions of books that people put up on Goodreads, Amazon and such.  Authors, provoked or not, respond and things explode.

This never ends well for the author. Never.

Yesterday I read a fascinating post by Jane at DearAuthor.com about the differences between the author's paradigm and the readers' paradigm.  She says a lot of well-thought out things much better than I could, so you should read her post as well.

It occurred to me while I was reading that a lot of my reactions to stories of Authors Behaving Badly comes from the fact that I consider myself a reader first and formost and so my sympathies are usually with the reader.

This might sound weird since I just finished telling you that I've been writing for fourteen years and that I would never give up on that. But it's true. I don't write for self-expression, honestly. I write because I'm in love with stories.

For as long as I can remember, I've told myself stories every night to fall asleep. And they're not set in my worlds, oh no. Over the summer, my bedtime imaginings were all set in the Sherlock universe. This month, it's been mostly Burn Notice. I spin weeks and weeks of Valdemar stories in my head ever time I go on a Mercedes Lackey binge. I love stories. I love to create stories. But more than that, I love to be a part of stories, and that is what makes me a reader first and foremost.

Which leads me to a part of the author/reader paradigm that Jane doesn't touch on, the idea of "it's just jealousy."

"They just want the success I have."
"It's the unpublished writers who are mad at me."
"People should stop being so bitter and envious."

Okay, if you identify as a writer first, I can see how that assumption might make sense. It's possible it comes from the same place as things like "I can't read certain authors because they are too good and make me want to quit." If what you want more than anything is to write and be read, then it stands to reason you would assume everyone wants the same thing.

But as someone who identifies as a reader first and a writer second, that is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Period.

I am certainly not denying the existence of bitter hateful people on the Internet. Of course not. The Internet is a buzzing, swirling HIVE OF CRAZY in many places, populated by people who you would never want to stand next to at a cocktail party.

But. BUT.

The idea that all people who share their bad opinions are just jealous? The assumption that all readers secretly want to be writers? That is plain and simply wrong.

Let's translate it to television. As mentioned above, I'm a huge Sherlock fangirl. I love that show, as do many others. Like many diehard Holmes fans, my favorite character has always been Irene Adler. In the book, she rules. And when the producer, Stephen Moffat chose to go in an unexpected direction with the character in this season, the Internet exploded.

I read a lot of opinons on the subject. A lot of them. Ranging from "Stephan writes horrible women and clearly hates the female race" to "Stephan did a lot of interesting things with the character and she still rules, but in a more subtle way." Lots of conversation, lots of disagreement.

Not once did I hear anyone respond to someone else's opinion by saying. "You're just jealous that this guy is a producer. You secretly wish you could be a producer and that's why you're so angry."

I did not hear that. Not once.

Do you know why? Because it's a ridiculous statement. I have no desire to produce and write a television show. I don't care how much success Stephan Moffat has. But I care very deeply about the story he's telling. I care about the product he produces and the impact that product has on me and the world around me. And unless I am very much mistaken, the vast majority of readers feel that way too.

I'm not going to pat you on the head and say I know how hard it is to take criticism. I don't know. My book's not even out of copyedits yet. And if you are someone who identifies as a writer, more power to you. But not everyone does.

Readers are not jealous wanna-be writers. Most of them are intelligent people who love stories and want to talk about them, dissect them and offer opinions on them. People who care passionately about how stories are told and how characters are treated. People who want to be a part of the story.

Near the end of her post, Jane says:
I know these are generalizations and do not apply to every author and reader. There are well-balanced, respectful authors who value the role of critical debate about their books. And there are poorly-behaved readers who make thoughtless comments about books and authors. But over the years, these generalizations continue to return in the author-reader dynamic, especially as the community grapples with the growth of reader-generated criticism. 
But one constant remains: book reviews are not the same as a workplace performance evaluation. They are not even meant for authors. Reviews are for readers. This needs to be our mantra.
Whether or not reviews are for readers only can be debated--though I agree with Jane here--but what needs to be remembered is that readers and writers are not the same kinds of people and they often approach stories in completely different ways. And in the end, readers and writers are both people who love books. That alone should make us allies, not enemies.

What do you think?

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Fabric art in the header by Carol Riggs.