Should Writers Cater to Readers?

When we fiction writers put pen to paper or finger to keyboard or, I dunno, bloody toothpick to cocktail napkin, we are likely writing a story that 1. We enjoy in our heads enough to write it into reality, and 2. We hope others will enjoy as well.

Lifelong readers have come to expect certain things from stories. The hero should win. The wizard should be a wise sage. A time-traveling orangutan is difficult to root for. Whatever. The point is this: Whether they’re aware of it or not, readers place personal demands on a story.

And the question for us writers becomes this: Should we write what readers will likely demand?

reader's writing problems

If we’re using that pie chart as a reference, for some of the major concerns (like Dull or Unbelievable Characters) I’d say, yes. We should write to those expectations. Non-dull prose is generally preferable. However, in some of those smaller points, it gets more subjective. I personally don’t care if a story has profanity, but that’s apparently an issue for 5.75% of readers in this survey. I have put a book down because of repetition, though – I would be part of that 1.15%.

Now, would I as a reader go after the writer of the repetitious story and complain because it didn’t meet my demand for repetition-free chapters?

A few days ago on Twitter, Chuck Wendig wrote a thread on this topic. I’m highlighting parts of that thread here – click the link to read the whole thing.

 

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monkeywriter2

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Wendig’s point is clear: Writers don’t (and can’t!) cater to readers’ demands.

The book I put down for repetition is one that millions of readers bought and many, many thousands loved. So either they all are uncultured trend-lovers who don’t know bad literature when they see it, or this particular book simply wasn’t for me. I could go online and write a scathing review of the book, complaining how a third of it was wasted, but what would that accomplish? Simply showing that I didn’t like something that most people did?

Here’s the thing about that:

Any number of variables can impact the reading experience. Maybe I was especially grouchy the day I read the repetitive book so I was more sensitive to such things. In any case, complaining that the author (who doesn’t know me) didn’t have the foresight to write a story the way I would have would make me sound crazy. It’s like I’ve heard many times – negative reviews say more about the reviewer than the book.

So to my writing friends I say this: Write the best story you can. Listen to trusted critique partners and/or editors. Take constructive input from beta readers. But realize that despite all of this, if you publish, your book will get bad reviews no matter how good it is. Adopt a translator of sorts to these bad reviews so they all say “this monkey didn’t dance like I wanted it to.”

Because most of them basically say that.

The good news is it’s not our job to cater to every demand.

8 thoughts on “Should Writers Cater to Readers?

  1. I think you need to have common sense. You can’t write a romance without an HEA. Then it’s not a romance. Tropes exist for a reason, and readers pick up that genre because they expect to know what’s inside the covers. It’s your job to twist that trope and make it interesting. Lots of indies write lots of different things. Who’s to say if they are too far off the mark to find readers? Some writers share and some don’t, so we’ll never really know if their fairy-cow detective series has a fan club. I think it’s important to follow the guideline–If a bookseller had your book in his hands, what shelf would it belong on? Because if you don’t know, no one else will either.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fairy-cow detective! 😂
      I agree with everything you said. It’s like the “dull” element that makes readers put down the book. Like everything else in this craft, it’s about balance. Some writers don’t care AT ALL what readers expect and publish the first draft of their stream-of-consciousness saga only to complain about no sales. On the other side, there are writers who get so paralyzed wondering if their book will be accepted/loved that they tinker with it for a decade only to stick it in a drawer.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for writing this, it’s given me some perspective while attempting to write my first novel. My favourite line is ’write the best story you can’, I think I’ll put it on a post-it note and stick it to my laptop to help keep me grounded.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is one of the best topics, Allison.
    I really hate writing a review on a story I’ve just finished reading and seeing other people writing such negative nonsense for just the reasons you mentioned above.
    Wait, that didn’t sound right. I do like writing a review after I’ve read a book but thoroughly dislike negative feedback given to the author.

    I am not an author but a prolific reader of many genres. I recently started reading a book and about a third way through found I couldn’t continue because a character in the story was a pediphile. I could not imagine blasting that author for adding such a disgraceful character in his story. There are so many combined parts that make a story and if you expect the only way you can enjoy the book is to absolutely like all the sums of the parts…that is not likely to happen. So, as a reader you have a responsibility to every author you read to either put the book down and decide it’s not for you, and, or let the author know how much you appreciate their effort to entertain you and find something else to read.
    So, no. I don’t think the author should cater to their readers. It is enough that the author got it all down on paper no less worrying about how many curse words were written.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I would content that writers are artists. And sometimes artists produce works which initially garner bad reviews. Consider Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, Claude Monet and a host of other “big” names who have been accused of making bad art. If they have anything to teach us, I think it is take the bad review and go make more art.

    Liked by 1 person

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