My Two Cents

on February 9, 2015

Last month, Nora Roberts posted a blog entitled “Bite Me” where she took issue with two things and spoke her mind.

I agree with every word she said. I posted the link on my Facebook page because I felt it was a valuable lesson in social media etiquette.

The gist of the blog was about two things:

1) Readers who insult other readers

2) Who writers write for

You can (and should) read the blog (it’s short) to get the backstory, but in summary, Nora’s assistant posted about Nora’s new trilogy on Nora’s Facebook page where, presumably, Nora’s readers go for information about Nora and her books. Several people posted about how her trilogies were boring and predictable and all the same. THOSE comments were ignored or smoothed over by Nora’s assistant. Then, later, a person posted that Nora’s books were boring and “didn’t take much brain power to read them.” THAT is what Nora took exception to because it was an insult to HER readers.

She commented that it’s rude to go into someone’s house and insult the host and food, but to then attack all the other guests? That’s why Nora spoke up. She was defending her people, her readers, her cyber-friends.

Unfortunately, so many reviewers take exception to any author saying anything about any opinion spoken anywhere, so most of us are too afraid to speak out for fear of being attacked. I’m so glad that Nora Roberts spoke.

I want to make it clear that this is NOT a post critical of reviewers. There are plenty of forums where reviewers can share their opinion — Amazon, GoodReads, their blog, emails to friends, their own Facebook page, etc. etc. And they have every right to do so, and no author would (or should) take exception to that.

Nora pointed out that readers are absolutely entitled to their opinion, that they have forums for reviews, that they can share their opinions with whomever they want. But to go onto HER page with her readers and criticize both her and her readers, that’s rude.

Nora Roberts has been in this business a long time and has a thick skin. I don’t think that she was offended by the comments, just by the rudeness in which they were displayed. I’m sure she has heard much worse. All of us have.

The second main point of her blog is the one that apparently started a mini-rant by one of my good friends on his Facebook page. And because he invited comments, I went to his Facebook page and disagreed with him, but because so many other authors were piling on saying that Nora was wrong, I felt compelled to write this blog.

The point in question, from Nora’s blog:

Second thing. Constructive criticism. The reader is not my employer, my teacher, my mother. This is not my hobby, this is my profession, and in this profession I have an editor. I welcome her constructive criticism. I have an agent. I welcome hers. Readers, having those opinions that will vary dramatically from one to another? Not welcome. Not asked for. Not accepted.

Because you use a sink do you get in the plumber’s face and advise him how to fix it? Do you walk into a shop and tell the owner she needs to shake up her stock?If the plumber isn’t doing the job to your standards, find another plumber. If the shop doesn’t have what you’re looking for, try another shop. That’s your power as a consumer.

A book doesn’t come with a suggestion box, and the writer is not obliged to sculpt a story to your specific needs.

The comments on Facebook were that of course authors write for readers, that they are fools to think they write for a publisher, yada yada.

Again, people were totally missing the POINT.

Professional authors RARELY ask readers for their opinions. Maybe they’ll ask fun things (what should the name of my character’s new cat be? Where should Lucy Kincaid be assigned in the FBI?) But they’re not going to say, “Oh, you don’t like my trilogies? Okay! I won’t write them anymore. Or instead of a hero/heroine I’ll write about two sisters. So what if I built a multi-million person readership writing romances with happy endings! You’re tired of happy endings? Okay! The heroine will kill the hero in the last chapter.”

Readers are going to disagree, and to try to make all readers in the world happy with a story is a fool’s quest. Pick your favorite book ever and go read the reviews — someone is going to think the book sucks. Pick a book you hated and read the reviews. Someone is going to think it’s the Best Book Ever.

Writers write. That’s what we do. We write — or we should write — what we love. Because truly, if I didn’t love what I write I wouldn’t spend 8-10 hours every day at my computer writing. If I had to write by committee, I’d have a nervous breakdown.

I write for readers, of course — without my readers I wouldn’t have a career. But I write for MY readers. Not for EVERY reader. No one can write a book and expect everyone to love it. It just does not happen. There are 300 million people, plus or minus, in the United States and they all have different likes and dislikes. Go to any restaurant with a salad bar — there are plenty of choices of what to put on your salad. Authors offer such an endless variety — but we are the choices. You want lettuce, tomato and some spicy salami on your salad? Read Author A. You want the works, but leave off the dressing? Try Author B. You want extra cheese? Try Author C. But we don’t stand there, wait for the order, and then write to satisfy the order. We write, offer our work, and if enough people like our literary salad, they’ll come back again and again and again.

Nora’s comments about taking constructive criticism from her editor and agent were right on. She’s built a long-standing relationship with them so if she made a story decision that they felt would damage the story, her career, or offended her readership, they would call her on it and she’d listen. I trust my editor to point out potential problems in my story. I want to make sure I give my readers a completely satisfactory story that they will enjoy, because I want them to read my future books — or buy my backlist. I WANT to satisfy my readers.

But nothing in Nora’s blog can be construed to think that she doesn’t write for her readers. She writes what she loves to write, and does a damn good job at it. She has a readership for those books. If someone doesn’t like them, they don’t have to buy them. That doesn’t mean she should change what’s working for her. No one can be all things to all people. To try is foolish, and is the surest way to kill your muse.

My two cents.