There are a lot of different kinds of readers...Wait...What? A reader is a reader...right?
Um. No. And yes. A reader *hopefully* reads our books, so yes. But what authors REALLY need from a reader totally depends upon what kind of reader that person is, so no. Lemme explain.
Readers come to authors in a variety of ways: they know us IRL (in real life), family or friends of ours, word of mouth from another reader...and so on. Each kind of reader is a HUGE win for us--we WANT readers, LOTS of readers, ANY KIND of reader--really, we are not above begging.
The thing is--we kinda have expectations of readers and quite often are reluctant to spell that out, ask, specify, beg for what we need, because *Heaven Forbid* we ask the Wrong reader to do something and inadvertently release the hellspawn trolls. We are already intimidated by the sheer fact that we have released our baby to the world and we WANT you to just LOVE it as much as we do--just hitting UPLOAD takes the kind of guts most people don't have. We work hard. Long hours. Unpaid. Spend our own money for editing, an awesome cover, promo...and all we want is...
See this is where the problem is. Authors, by far, are an incredibly introverted group who don't like going "out there"--just above the gamers still living in mom and dad's basement. We don't like the limelight, but know we have no choice but to pimp ourselves 24/7, we have anxiety attacks at every not so nice word and one star review--even though we are told NOT to read them, we do suffer for our art as truly and deeply as any artist out there. Yet, even though we EXCEL at words, we really kinda suck at knowing how to ask the right question to the right people.
So, dear, lovely, we-can't-do-this-without-you READERS, this is a grouping of the kinds of readers most authors have--or would love to have--or desperately need to have--along with EXACTLY what we NEED you to do for us. And, truly, this isn't just "Julie the Author" stating this, we authors talk to each other, give ideas, support, shoulders to cry on...without fail we ALL need these kinds of reader to do these things for us.
*a caveat...I'm sure I've forgotten things, so feel free to weigh in*
Family & Friends
I lump these two groups together because some of us have supportive family but our friends are clueless, or vice versa--just cuz there's blood relation...
Those who are closest to us IRL, and who KNOW what we are up to and listen, help, whatever. You are literally the first gatekeeper of our ideas, dreams, thoughts, and storylines. Chances are we have talked, incessantly, to you about our characters or plots. This--THIS--is the time for you to be forward and ask if you can read a few chapters as we are working on it. I know some of us are incredibly secretive...it isn't you, it's us. We are terrified of your judgment.
But the sad fact is, that is exactly what we need from you. Not judgment in the sense of "You suck" but judgment in the sense of, is this good writing? Even if you are a friend or a family member who is not really a reader--OK, you'd rather have your arm gnawed off by rats than read--EVERYONE knows what makes up a good story. Just think of it like watching a movie--are you lost, can you tell who is who, does the plot have open holes, is it interesting--you know how to answer those questions when watching the latest TV episode or movie release. A book is truly no different than that.
A lot also depends upon why your family member or close friend wants to write. To simply say, "I Did It!", then you may not need to be completely honest cuz this is just a whim. But if it's to become the next "thing" in writing and hit Best Seller Lists...you need to be honest with what you think. Brutally honest.
Some would-be authors can weave unbelievable stories and capture an audience--when TELLING a story. It is a gift to be able to translate that into words that are well formed. At a recent conference, I had lunch with a Sr. Editor at a MASSIVE traditional publishing house, and we talked about bad books, editing, crazy authors...and one thing she touched on was accepting stories based on the amazing verbal pitch she heard, only to find that the author couldn't write worth a damn.
Just because your family member or friends WANTS to be an author does not mean it's the best life choice that can be made. I am 150% positive that if the authors of all the crap, can't finish, please-shoot-me-now books had had even ONE close family member or friend be KINDLY truthful or questioning, maybe those authors would have written a better book. Or found a better content editor.
It absolutely hurts to have someone close say, "This may not be your best idea...You need to work on it more...Do you have a content editor..." but, Believe Me, it is sooooo much more painful to hear that from total strangers, professional reviewers, or bloggers... people in the industry who KNOW good writing. If you, the family and friends of authors who probably shouldn't publish the book, do nothing but back up the bad story with "This is Amazing!" then you may be a part of creating an ego-driven monster.
(And I mean that literally. My magazine and I were threatened with a law suit for a review I wrote on a book that should never have seen the light of day. I should have stopped reading and labeled it a CNF-could not finish-but because I plowed through, it was a One star only cuz I am not allowed to give negative numbers. That author's family and friends were absolutely aware it was crap--and for all involved, I wish they'd said something. I hate, HATE, giving bad reviews--I know how much work writing is.)
So...family and friends, PLEASE ask to read the book. And when you do, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE be honest, 100% honest. Ask questions. You may not know about a three act plot structure, or how to place a climactic event--but you know crap when you read it and have a finger where you can point out problem areas.
You hold a special, and rather powerful, place in the heart of the author you read for. We trust you to pull things apart, point out all kinds of errors, cheer us when we do well, cry with us when things get tough...yeah, we love our beta readers. What you do, can be done by no one else. You should not be a family member or close friend--you may end up becoming a close friend, but you shouldn't be one to begin with. You may be another author, willing to be a set of eyeballs for other authors, or an editor who doesn't want to edit for you, but be a reader.
We need you to be part editor, part cheerleader, full time critic. When we have edited our story until our eyes are bleeding, and sent it to an editor, that's where you come in. You are our LAST line of defense before we upload. (Some of us may use you first, then send to editors, but I digress.) We need you to be even MORE brutally honest with us than our editors and family and friends. Why? Cuz you are READERS first and foremost. You have nothing to gain or lose with our success or failure. Editors get loads of blame for crap books if they are listed along with the authors, but beta readers aren't listed by name, except maybe in our "Thank You" inside the book.
Please PLEASE tell us the truth. All of it. In all it's ugliness. Editors are paid to fix errors. Content editors can be (and are) ignored. YOU are READERS who hold the power--or at least you should. If you find your advice constantly being ignored and see reviews that say the same thing, ask to not beta read for that author anymore. A "real" author is one who wants to learn and grow and get better--beta reader's advice should never be ignored All the time. Yeah, we have license to say, "No, that stays." but if bad reviews are backing you up, find a new author to read for. Trust me, we are Always looking for excellent beta readers.
Write the review. Write the review. Write the review. Write the review. Write the review. Write the review. Write the review. Write the review. Write the review. Write the review. Write the review.
ARC means Advance Reader Copy. This is the finished book we are giving you FOR FREE in exchange for posting an honest AND TIMELY review all OVER the interwebs. You got a FREE BOOK, promising to REVIEW it. So, PLEASE be honest and DO the review. Saying "Yes" then not doing it is theft. You have stolen from us. Agreeing to be an ARC reader is a barter system; you get a free book, we get a review. Simple as that.
If you cannot find time to do as you agreed to do, stop offering to be an ARC reader. This includes bloggers who may overstretch themselves with commitments. If you can't keep a comitment, let us know ahead of time. Many times we'll just say, "Then when CAN you get it done by?" Some of us want tons of reviews done on day one, other of us don't care about day one, but just want honest reviews.
But...WRITE THE REVIEW.
Reader Fans--YOU are the reason we write. We write what we love and pray someone else loves it too. And you DO! You really, really like us! You are our best weapon in the arsenal called "Word of Mouth". It is the Holy Grail of authorship--we want it--we hunt it--we rabidly go after it to the exclusion of all else, on occasion. First thing, WRITE A REVIEW on all our stories, on every platform you are able to access. Please!
You are the ones pimping on social media, getting friends and family to sign up for our email/newsletter lists, commenting and liking (disliking) reviews, posting about blogs our books are on, podcasts we do...THAT, our amazingly awesome fans...is what we NEED you to do. All the time. Round the clock.
Does that mean we expect you to sit in front of your monitor 24/7? *snort* No. But when you are online, please put up one, just ONE, post somewhere about our books you love, or about us, our email/newsletter. Even those of us would-be, newbie, or seasoned authors NEED our fans to fan the flames of love in our direction. So many books, so little time means our name and the titles of our books need to be out there as often as humanly possible.
You also are our on-the-ground eyes and ears. See a blog you think our stories would fit? Send us the info about them. Know about a conference near you, or near us, that we may not know about? Let us know! We go to as many things as we can afford and can fit into our schedules because we KNOW the in person meeting is so SO important to you.
We NEED you to be our cheerleaders!
You lovelies are our rabid fans. The ones who forms clubs and groups surrounding our characters and our worlds. We love you and absolutely adore you. We need you to do everything a normal fan does--but on crack. *snicker* Seriously, Super Fans are the reason the "Twilight" books became movies. Same with "50 Shades". Love them or hate them, super fans are responsible for nearly all book-to-movie adaptations.
*a for example caveat - once movie makers realized the insane brilliance of Michael Crichton, simply his ideas became marked for moviedom--some authors are That big. However, sales and super fans, even before the interwebs, is what drove Hollywood to even eyeball many books as movie possibilities--an actor/director/producer finds a book, super fans over it, and now it's a movie*
You readers are who keeps us safe from troll attacks by warning us. You are the ones who notice when our books seem to have been plagiarized. You tell us about pirating sites--you may even go after those yourself too. :) You run fan clubs, FB groups, arrange meet and greets, pimp our non-book swag, buy the Tshirt...in short, you aren't just a cheerleader, you're a freaking glee club all by yourself. We NEED you to be our biggest fan, the one who is ALWAYS talking about us. All. The. Time.
Here is the dark side of super fans that we authors don't like to admit is a reality. Many, many, MANY trolls are super fans for a "competing" author--the flying monkeys for the wicked witch. Honestly, most of us don't believe other authors are competition. Those within our genres write their versions, we write ours...there's room for all. And readers have time to make room for amazing stories. That being said, there are authors who are arrogant enough to believe that they, and only they, are God/Goddess of the genre and no one is bigger. I fell sorry for authors like that...must be lonely inside the delusions...and I imagine it would make for a pretty miserable existence, trolling and attacking others all the time.
Let me make this clear--no REAL author will EVER condone or accept trolling on her (his) behalf. EVER. There are MORE than enough readers to share amongst ALL the genres and readers who crossover are gold. Those of us who know we are lucky to be included in such an amazing group of individuals called writers, are horrified if we find out our super fans are attacking another author. Just like in music, super fans can be...obsessive...OK, crazy...but I'm saying that ANY author who intentionally, behind the scenes or in public, fans the flames of ANY kind of hatred aimed at a "competitor" is not worthy of super fans. Bullying of any kind is NOT OK, and an author with an audience who does it for her (him) does not deserve to be a part of our community.
Be amazing for us--but do not start wars in our names.
We love our family and friends. We love our beta and ARC readers. We love our fans and super fans. But YOU, the readers who hear us talked about, see our amazing covers, read a blurb that strikes your interest, meet us in person and are impressed, or throw a dart and buy our books...YOU are the ones we look for, aim to please, and want. The first impression of any of our books, but especially of our latest book, is what is foremost on our minds. Yes, family, friends, and fans may love us--but do you? The ones who are new to our worlds. The ones who just spent money on a name you are not familiar with. Are you impressed?
We NEED you to be honest when you Leave A Review. Good or bad, be specific. Our family, friends and fans overlook the bad cuz they love us. Please don't gloss over issues, if you find some. Don't aim to hurt, bully, or make it a personal attack--but if there are problems, please tell us, nicely, in the review, exactly where they are. You see, by the time we hit upload, we kinda hate our story. We have seen it, edited it, read it, rewritten it probably a couple hundred times--and no, that's not hyperbole. We really do eyeball it that much...which is why mistakes can happen. We are SO tired of seeing the same words that we can no longer catch things we should be catching...and heaven help us if our editors didn't do their job...we pay them to see what we can't.
Even if you hate the book, please leave a review. That seems counterintuitive or masochistic, but it isn't. Most of us want to be better, want a career, want to be a GOOD writer not simply a published one. Bad reviews that Point Out Specifics are how we learn what our readers want, and what will catch and keep new readers. We live to find One Reader at a Time, and if we are letting readers down, we should be told why.
We NEED ALL readers, of ALL kinds. We only do what we do, because of you.