I'm told there was a time when the primary job of writers was to squirrel themselves away and write books. The writer would emerge from his or her cave just long enough to convey the manuscript to the publishing world before re-descending to the depths to start the next one. Rinse and repeat ad infinitum.
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If this model ever existed, it is long gone. These days, writers are expected to be their own best salespeople, shilling for themselves via social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter as well as begging for Goodreads and Amazon reviews. The notion is that the authors are uniquely positioned to stoke word of mouth for their work. Recent self-publishing phenoms like Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey didn't succeed solely on their books' quality. They also figured out how to get noticed by more and more people.
This system has brought readers and writers together in ways that were previously not possible. If you stood outside J.D. Salinger's Cornish, N.H., home for too long, you'd get arrested for loitering.
Writers have always depended on readers for their success. But now this partnership is more fraught, as some writers have begun to believe readers have obligations other than buying their books.
Sherry Snider, an author and technical writer, created a graphic titled "The Care and Feeding of an Amazon Author" that illustrates this attitude. It is a list with six commandments: "Buy the book," "Share 'I just bought,'" "Write a review," "Like it," "Tag it" and "Share the link."
The bottom of the graphic reads, "Keep 'em fed. Keep 'em writing."
Essentially, Sherry Snider is signaling to readers that to keep writers fed, it's no longer enough to buy their books. Readers also need to become a kind of volunteer sales force on behalf of their favorite authors.
I'm not going to lie, we authors love it when people are enthusiastic about our books and are compelled to shout our virtues from rooftops, virtual or otherwise. But let me also go on the record and say that when it comes to the author-reader equation, the obligation rests almost entirely on the author's side of the ledger.
Put another way: The reader doesn't owe me or any other author anything.
We are in the midst of an economic sea change in publishing that threatens the entire ecosystem. This is worrisome, but it's also not something we have the power to resist, or if we do, clicking the "Like" button on Facebook sure isn't going to do the job.
What is in our power is for the authors to write the best, most compelling book possible. It is the author's responsibility to leave nothing in the tank in articulating a vision that is compelling to the reading audience.
The reader's responsibility is just that: to read. Read a lot. Read with pleasure and joy. Other than that, everything else is voluntary, a bonus, a mitzvah. As long as you're not outright stealing books, you'll get no beef from me. Feel free to pass one copy of a book to as many friends as possible.
If after reading you feel compelled to tell the world about that great book you just read, do it because you have a desire to express yourself to the world, not because the author needs it to survive financially.
Even better, send a nice thought down to the writer's cave encouraging him or her to keep writing. We have the Internet down there now.
Biblioracle John Warner is the author of "The Funny Man." He will appear at Printers Row Lit Fest, June 8-9.
The Biblioracle offers his recommendations
1. "Changing My Mind" by Zadie Smith
2. "The Principles of Uncertainty" by Maira Kalman
3. "Dear Life" by Alice Munro
4. "Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace)" by Chade-Meng Tan