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.