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Authors as victims


I was incredibly disturbed when I saw a conversation on twitter this morning between three authors, two of whom were saying they felt the author/reader relationship was abusive.  It appeared these authors – these people who chose writing as a career – feel they are being victimised in an abusive relationship with their readers, the perpetrators.

My head is still spinning on this one.

When I was a Community Health Worker for the department of health in South Australia, and before that in private practice as a counsellor, I counselled many women who were adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse and survivors of domestic violence.  I helped them explore their relationships, to more fully realise the futility of staying in abusive relationships, to keep themselves safe and to move on.  I’m still trying to figure out why two of these three authors felt that their relationship with their readers is abusive.

The conversation began with an award-winning US author telling people to feel free to write fan-fic of her work.  She said she couldn’t read fan-fic of her own work, but even so, it was flattering that people cared enough to mess with her work in this way.  Another author (Australian) challenged her and asked how she’d feel if her gay characters were rewritten as straight, to which the first author responded that she’d be ok with that because it’s better to ‘fuck with it’ than not to care.  The Aussie author went on to say that authors are told to be grateful for any attention but, to her, that sounds like an abusive relationship.  Shortly afterwards, another author joined the conversation who seemed to agree.

I admired the comments from the American author: comments about how the author/reader relationship is a business relationship not a romantic relationship.  Also, how her goal is to quit her dayjob, which is why she has published but is not why she writes.

It seems to me that the crux of this discussion and the reason for allegations of abuse by the Aussie authors, was because they need attention from readers in order to be successful, allowing them to quit their dayjobs to write full-time.  The American author seemed to see this as part of the job for which she’s getting paid, so it’s part of a business relationship.  The two Australian authors seemed to see the author/reader relationship as a romantic relationship with an emotionally unavailable person.  Courting readers, these authors then accuse readers of abuse.

Real abuse involves actions by the perpetrator seeking to control or dominate the victim, usually stemming from feelings of superior entitlement.  Abuse can include violence, threats, stalking, rape, removal of human rights such as imprisonment and so on.  Abuse does not include not reading your fucking book.

If authors feel put upon by having a relationship with their readers on social media in order to raise their profiles to increase sales, then guess what?  You can lock your accounts or get off social media altogether.  Use of social media is part of the unwritten job description these days, but if authors’ contracts don’t specify this aspect of the job, then authors don’t have to do it.  If authors’ contracts do specify this aspect of the job, then guess what? If you feel you’re being abused, you are free to quit.  QED.

Kudos to the American who said the author/reader relationship is a business relationship, who has a balanced, healthy view and who, I might add, works as a counsellor in her day job.

UPDATE:  On twitter I was just asked if someone claimed readers not reading books is abuse: to clarify, no-one said that.  I was interpreting and extrapolating a comment from an author about wanting to lose the day job, which requires readers buying books.  What that particular author was talking about – he’s since clarified – is being told to be grateful for any attention, which is a different dynamic altogether.

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Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


  1. I weary of dramatic people who throw the term “abuse” around so frivolously. I don’t know how someone can be a writer for any length of time and be thin-skinned.

  2. O, that’s almost as good as the fanfic storm on Live Journal last year when a writer equated writing fanfic with raping a child. Another one more moderately just equated it with Paint By Numbers. Epic Fail!

    • I strongly object to the analogy of raping a child: that writer obviously has no sense of perspective nor empathy. I assume that writer’s work is lacking in depth and emotional resonance, and if I knew who that author was, I’d put him/her on my ‘never to be read’ list.

      I don’t object to the paint by numbers analogy, although some fan fic can be more creative than that.

      As it is, I’m actually part-way through reading books by both the authors who felt the author/reader relationship is abusive: guess how inclined I am to finish those books? I feel that if I do finish reading those books I am participating in an unhealthy relationship – the authors have said the author/reader relationship is abusive, therefore they don’t feel good about this relationship – so the safest course is to walk away.

      On the other hand, I have review books by the American author whose view was a marked contrast; every time I hear anything substantial about her or her books, I’m more inclined to read her works. The only reason I haven’t is because I’m flying by the seat of my pants here, juggling review books on the basis of interviews and trying to keep up. Plus I’ll probably have to use disability access to read her books because the review copies came in mass market paperback format, or I’ll have to buy electronic copies, but that takes $$ I don’t have.

      • If you choose not to read or review people’s books cause they said something offensive at some point, your reading list is gonna be pretty short;-)

        • You’re right, but it’s a matter of content and degree. If an author makes comments that show a lack of understanding or empathy, then the work isn’t going to be very good. I’ll save myself hours of reading mediocre work. If an author feels that they’re being abused in the author/reader relationship, I don’t want to participate in that relationship. If an author has a go at me – for example, attacks me on the internet or puts down Dark Matter – then I do not read his or her books and I definitely don’t review them. There are a huge number of great books out there to read, I don’t need to waste my life on poorly written books or navigating a virtual minefield.

          If you saw my TBR piles lying around the house including unsolicited books, and the number of approaches I receive from authors and publishers, you’d understand that I have to be selective – and I can afford to avoid reading books by the above-mentioned authors.

  3. I have to say I agree with this post after observing the same conversation. The only way I could see the author as being in an ‘abusive’ relationship with readers is if those readers are actually bullying or harassing those authors (either directly or indirectly, eg. posting unjustified negative reviews), or vice versa. I had always assumed that authors liked attention from readers rather than being threatened by it; otherwise, they wouldn’t be trying to get published, and would just keep manuscripts in a shoebox somewhere and would find another way to earn a living.

    I can understand an author’s frustration/irritation if someone wrote fan-fiction of their work in which characters were changed on some fundamental level (if they even read it, and I’m guessing most authors wouldn’t read fan-fiction of their own work), but every reader takes something different from a book. I’ve never written fan-fiction myself, but I’ve always just seen it as a way for readers to interact with the story; even if it’s not quite in the way the author intended, it might be what makes more sense to them or suits their emotional needs, for lack of a better phrase (sort of like how I buy a fishing tackle box and then use it to store art supplies; not its intended use, but it doesn’t hurt the manufacturers of the tackle box). Also fan-fiction wouldn’t have any effect on how the original author will write future novels or change the story for the general public, so it’s not like any real damage is done in most cases.

    Then again, I’m just an unpublished writer noodling away at a first draft of her own novel, so what do I know? 😀


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