The question of what readers “owe” authors arises periodically in the book blogosphere. Often, strangely enough, this conversation is driven by book bloggers and reviewers themselves, many of whom believe that their purpose in life is to promote authors through their unpaid labor by posting reviews, participating in blog tours, Tweeting release dates, and convincing all and sundry to buy certain books. Some reviewers will even argue that readers “owe” it to authors to read a book in full, or to never post a negative review. This is because their primary goal is to “support authors” rather than to engage in discourse about the book or assist potential readers in deciding whether the book is right for them. Lately, however, the conversation on Twitter has taken a bit of a new turn, as authors jump in with the expectation that readers–all readers–“owe” them certain types of reviews and online engagement.
Previously, the discourse seemed to be driven mainly by individuals who presumably see themselves as bookish influencers. They run blogs, post on Bookstagram, make BookTook videos, engage on Book Twitter, and probably promote titles on Amazon and Goodreads in addition. They keep up with the book industry and maybe even have jobs in it or tangential to it (publishing, libraries, schools, etc.) Their presence on online platforms seems to have made authors forget, however, that not all readers are bookish influencers or want to be. Some authors are now on Twitter demanding that all readers review their books online and that, when they do, they review it in a certain “appropriate” way. For instance, according to some, no reader should leave a star rating on Amazon or Goodreads without a review. Any star rating seen to be negative is apparently especially egregious if the reader does not leave a review justifying their low rating to the author. Authors have forgotten that some readers…are just readers. They do not exist to market the book online. They just want to read it.
For years, authors and the publishing industry has treated book bloggers and bookish influences are their unofficial unpaid marketing team. They expected book bloggers to read and promote their books free–maybe for an ARC, if they were lucky–and felt empowered to make demands that book bloggers do things like not only review the book, but also do it by a certain date (maybe withholding the review till after publication, if it was negative) and then cross-post the review to several platforms like Amazon, Goodreads, and Instagram, in addition to the blog. Book bloggers may have grumbled a bit about their time, talent and labor being unappreciated, but many did it. Perhaps this acquiescence has helped authors forget that the public does not, actually, exist to work as their unpaid laborers.
Goodreads, one might recall, started out as a social media site for book lovers to connect with their friends and see what they were reading. Others joined simply to use Goodreads for themselves so they could keep track of what they were reading and how they felt about it. The vast majority of people who use Goodreads presumably do not see themselves as bookish influencers and feel no obligation to support authors with high ratings and in-depth justifications of their feelings on a title. They just want to read a book! Reading is, one might also recall, a hobby. It is something people do for fun, to relax and enjoy themselves. The vast majority of the public has no idea that there are authors out there who think they are “owed” free marketing by their readers. They bought the book. They paid for it. That was where their obligation to the author ended. Now, they get to enjoy the product they bought as they see fit.
And Amazon reviews? Most people, presumably, see reviews as intended for the potential consumer of a product and not for the author. Reviews typically tell people what they can expect from the item in question, so they can make an informed opinion as to whether it will suit their needs. Reviews are separate from marketing copy because their purpose is actually not to sell the product. Or, not necessarily. A positive review could help sell the product. But, again, the review is to help the consumer to decide. A really good review will share pros and cons of how the product might be effective and how it might not. Some people will find its function satisfactory for their specific situation and others won’t. That’s okay. The review is functioning as it ought.
Readers should not be expected to provide automatic positive reviews on behalf of the author because then the review becomes meaningless. It’s just marketing copy. And readers, frankly, should not be expected to provide reviews at all. Some people do because they want to be useful or they like sharing their opinions. That is kind of them and could be considered going above and beyond. But if they don’t want to, that’s fine. The author isn’t paying them to write a review and they don’t owe the author their time to do it. And if they just want to leave a star rating with no review, that is also fine. Is a mere rating less useful to consumers than explaining the rating? Probably. But readers do not owe the author a justification of their reaction to a title. Readers are not the unpaid marketing team for authors.
Let us remember that reading is a hobby. Reading is something people do for pleasure. The vast majority of readers simply want to read a book and that’s it. They are not obligated to work for the author to promote the book online. They are not obligated to spend their time writing a review. The reader’s obligation to the author includes two things only: obtaining the book legally and being courteous to the author by not tagging them in negative reviews or personally insulting them. Let readers be readers, and stop expecting the world to do unpaid marketing.