Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Author's Contract with The Reader

I've written before about the importance of the unspoken contract between authors and readers, particularly in genre fiction, particularly if an author wants to keep -- or better still, grow -- their audience. In the past, I harped on the importance of the author delivering on the expectations the reader had based on the genre they'd chosen. Example: Readers of Romance expect a Happily Ever After (HEA) or a Happy For Now (HFN). Readers of Erotica expect explicit sex. Readers of Fantasy expect a magical or non-human element that operates within set rules. Etc.

Two, maybe three years later, and I am compelled to add a new -- yet heretofore implied -- clause to the contract between authors and readers.


Thanks, Self-Publishing, for putting the spotlight back on this requirement. I'm not saying all self-published books are crap and that all traditionally published books are perfection. Far from it. In fact, the lackadaisical copy editing too often provided by publishers over the last decade is pissing off readers more than it once did. The publisher, in its role as gatekeeper, has violated their contract with the reader and the publishers are scrambling to restore lost ground. Self-published authors who consider their work ready for public consumption simply because they have a Word document and access to the Internet are in breach of contract with the readers the moment they hit "upload."

Any author, regardless of who is publishing their work, cannot -- simply cannot -- deliver a crap-draft to the public. Style and scope of a story are subjective.  If an author or publisher doesn't want to invest in a development edit, fine. Unfortunate, but fine. As long as the author has delivered on the terms of the genre and quality, the reader is far more likely to forgive. Deliver a story riddled with basic errors, and you've lost the reader permanently. Viral marketing will work against the author to more detriment than the publisher incurs. If the publisher is also the author, then the insult is two-fold. Every blip on social media promoting the PoS book is a taunt to the reader, a slap of disrespect, public mockery.

Publishers -- be they self-publishers or traditional publishers -- who invest the extra money and time delivering a story scrubbed of semantic, grammatical, and formatting errors can hold the reader-contract above their heads and shout, "Readers, I value you. I respect you, your time, and your investment in me and my work." The readers will react to that and they'll come. Sure, it may be slowly, but the audience will build. The more quality work built on the expectations of genre the author produces, the more readers will come and the more readers will share and recommend.

An author's contract with the readers is invaluable. It is the foundation of a career.
Respect the contract. 
Respect the readers.


  1. There was a very involved discussion of this on Chuck Wendig's blog, wherein somebody was (or seemed to be?) defending pretty vehemently that it was no big deal to publish a sub par draft and to fix it later. Or to leave it and move on, because as we write more we grow.

    I'm also of the school of thought that the work you put out had better be spit shined to a mirror finish, read and looked over by eyes other than the writer's, etc. etc. and that's self published or otherwise. If we don't hold ourselves to that standard, why should the reader trust us?

    1. Yes! Yes! And yes again, for the seats in the nose-bleeds!

      I wholly agree with Chuck's point that the moment you start charging for your story is the moment you become a professional. The onus is not -- nor should it be -- on the readers to be our gatekeepers. It's on us, the authors, the professionals. Expecting the reader who purchased your book to police your work is akin to expecting them to pay you to be your CP.

      Boggles. The. Mind.

      For those interested, Chuck Wendig's post on the topic is here: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/01/28/follow-up-on-self-publishing-readers-are-not-good-gatekeepers

  2. Point on KAK. I have picked up too many self pub'd books that were terribly or not at all edited. Awful to try read and now these authors are on my NEVER BUY FROM THEM AGAIN list. Which may be too bad, they could grow as an author and be wonderful but I will never know because they burned that bridge.

    1. Exactly! And on more than one occasion I've been angry at the trad-pub house for not doing an effective job of editing yet still publishing the work. There are publishers from whom I will not buy because they've wasted my investment too often.