Since I returned to Albany in September, my coworkers at the paper and I have had several discussions about what it means to write for an audience. Any given day, we get phone calls with people telling us to go to hell (I’ve had two in the past week on my voice mail) for not answering the phone, telling the paper it sucks because they didn’t like the latest editorial and generally using inappropriate language.
Sadly, this type of behavior isn’t reserved for journalist. I have lots of author friends that receive scathing reviews, often with comments that make the author wonder if the reviewer even read the book or if he/she latched on to an aspect of the story and decided to deploy a “seek and destroy” mission because of a perceived idea.
What it comes down to is that when you write for an audience, you are in the public eye, and it does open the writer up to negative and positive feedback. It can be hard for a writer to hear the negative comments, especially when there seems to be an absence of positive feedback.
When you have so much negative commentary, it does create a mini-war between writer and reader or even reader versus writer. That is why it is so important to remember etiquette on both sides.
Duty of a writer:
I don’t know any writer that doesn’t put their heart and soul into their writing, so when someone criticizes that work, it’s hard not to take it to heart. However, it is important to remember that writing, like any art, is subjective. Not everyone is going to agree with that opinion piece, that feature story, the themes of the fictional novel or even like the novel’s characters.
As a writer, that idea should always be kept in mind, but the feedback should not just be dismissed because the writer doesn’t like what the other person has said. A writer’s audience is what makes he/she a journalist, an author or a blogger. Without that audience, a writer is just another nobody holding a pen. Writers owe it to the person to hear him/her out, so long as that feedback is constructive.
Duty of a reader:
If a reader feels passionate about something in the negative or positive categories, it is important to do so constructively. By keeping it constructive, it opens a dialogue with the writer. Through that dialogue both parties may learn something. Too often, I have been sworn at, called names, threatened and generally treated like dirt during my time as a journalist and writer. I know several of my author friends who have experienced the same type of feedback from their audience.
Readers tend to forget that their local journalist and their authors are human. There is also a certain mentality that they can treat those in the public eye as if they aren’t human. A writer should be flawless and stand above the rest on par with God. Really? That isn’t reasonable, but based on the feedback, it is the impression a lot of readers leave. Besides, why else would anyone think it was okay to speak to someone so inappropriately?
Readers have no business treating authors as if they are less than human, anymore than an author should dismiss their readers as if they were meaningless.
Both sides need to remember that without writers, there would be no literature, and without readers, there would be no need to write.