Readers Owe Writers Approximately Zip Nada Zero

Ah, memes.

I love you, memes, I do.

Surly pets! Tubby children chasing bubbles! Various hedgehogs!

I fucking love hedgehogs.

Which is different from “I love fucking hedgehogs,” by the way, so don’t get it twisted.


One such meme going around has appeared in multiple guises, the latest (and it’s really not that recent, but I see it pop up again and again) is The Care and Feeding of an Author, and you know, I totally appreciate the sentiment. We’re authors. It seems like we can barely take care of ourselves. (“Did you shower? Did you forget to eat today? Are you even wearing underpants? YOU NEED TO BREATHE, STUPID AUTHOR.”) And we are genuinely allowed to exist because of readers. Not publishers. Not distributors like Amazon. At the end of the day all that matters are that we have readers who support the hell out of us, helping us and our books find other readers. Like some kind of imaginary story virus that transmits via recommendation instead of sneeze.

I just want to clarify that, while we appreciate it, you don’t owe us anything.


You’re not obligated to care for us or feed us. That’s not the kind of relationship we have. I appreciate it. Certainly if you like a book I want you to be enlivened enough to share the book with others in whatever way you feel excites you best. But I want you to share it because you want to share it, not because of some idea that you’re obligated, that it’s your responsibility.

I mean, damn, the menu of actions you must undertake to do to care and feed us in that list is pretty intense. I don’t even do all those things and I love me some books and some authors. It’s like, by the time you’re done, your whole day is gone because you’ve spent hours clicking like buttons and +1s and copying links and taking out Craigslist ads and instituting sinister hallucinogenic meme viruses — that’s awfully punishing to you, the reader.

What’s next, you have to let me use your couch? Eat your food? Borrow your dog?

Warning: I will borrow your dog if you let me.

(The list is also very Amazon-specific. It assumes you buy all your books there. And, maybe you do, and that’s totally fine — you buy books however you like, by golly. But other folks buy them from bookstores or Wal-Mart or use these old things called “libraries,” which I hear are pretty awesome if you can find one OH WAIT THEY SHOULD BE EVERYWHERE.)

Seriously: fuck yeah, libraries.


All this is just to say, you don’t owe us anything.

Not a click, not a drink, not a buy, not a review, not a hand-job or butt-tickle or nipple-squeeze. We appreciate any attention you give us. We doubly appreciate any money you care to cart our way in trade for our storycraft. We triply appreciate you going beyond all that and using whatever means you like to share the book with other people. (Caution: please do not touch authors unless the authors ask to be touched. We’re like aquariums: don’t tap on the glass.)

You do not owe us anything.

It is we who owe you.

25 responses to “Readers Owe Writers Approximately Zip Nada Zero”

  1. Methinks your last line might need to be leavened, just a tad, by Neil Gaiman’s “writers do not work for you” sentiment — — but, yeah. I think it’s best anyway if both sides of the reader/writer equation recognize it as a relationship. Fun while it lasts. Either can dump the other whenever it’s time to move on. Sometimes that break-up is messy, sometimes it isn’t. And while the relationship’s going there are plenty of ways to make it more awesome or less awesome.

    • Yes, there may be some discussion about what exactly we owe readers — which is, put simply, the best story we can tell. And perhaps our gratitude for being there to read our imaginary piffle.

  2. Chuck, as always, 100% spot on. Those lists make me stabby every time I see them. And I hate the implication that anyone who has SPEND MONEY on my book is in ANY way obligated to do work after they read it. It’s not a job. I really, really hope people like my book because I want them to enjoy it- not because they need a damn chore. If they choose to write a review/tell their friends/skywrite BUY DEAN’S BOOK, I hope they do that because they enjoy doing those things too.

    • I don’t hate them nor do I want to stab anybody — like I said, I get the sentiment. You could argue that if you like reading you should support the entire reading environment so that it doesn’t become endangered, but there I don’t like the idea that we authors or our stories *are* endangered. I don’t like feeling the precious dodo (though I am, in many ways, a superlative dodo). At the end of the day, if people want to do those things: yay! I just hope nobody feels obligated.

  3. “It is we who owe you.” – Very well said. And I agree with fredhicks’ sentiment, too. The relationship shared between an audience and a creative bod (be it a writer, a poet, a musician, a painter, a mime *shudder*) is a very special one. It is the audience who create the success, not the writer. I think sometimes there is a very fine line to be walked, but ultimately, the relationship between writer and audience is unique to each writer/audience out there. I like to think that a decent fan will appreciate that writers are human too, and subject to the whims of serendipity and fate—it’s the writer’s onus to balance the expectation of the audience with the reality of their working life.

  4. I write because I like to write, not because you like to read. The reverse is just as true, with the possible personal exception of Ray Bradbury.

  5. Very well said, Chuck. I love my readers and each time someone buys a book I pray they love me back. I know that won’t always happen but it’s a nice relationship, tell a great story, gain a friend.

  6. Nicely said. I’m a writer who doesn’t yet have a book published, although have had a few articles etc, so I’ve never met/heard from any of my readers who aren’t friends or family. Maybe one or two blog comments, but that is it.
    However, I know that on the day I do get a book published, if I can possibly become invisible and hover around waiting for someone to buy my book, I will invisibly stalk them so that I can do something really nice for them, invisibly.
    Okay, maybe I won’t (I’m sure I’d have much cooler things to do if I became invisible), but I know I’m going to be really really excited about even having readers. I can’t imagine feeling like THEY owe ME anything lol.

  7. If I had a dog, I would totally let you borrow it. My mother has a dog – I’ll work on that.

    Seriously? +1,000,000 to this. Totally true. To the point that I find myself wanting to tell all the people who read my book “YOU DONT HAVE TO PIMP IT, I JUST HOPE YOU LIKE IT.” Which feels bizarre, but not nearly as bizarre as being afraid that people think I expect something from them with regard to my book. Makes me feel icky just thinking about it. It’s an honor to me that people read it. And I don’t even “expect” that. (well, except for my mom, she’s kind of obligated. Sorry mom.)

  8. Looking at readers/writers in general, I agree with this article completely – but I sort of want to take that list and use it to hit the close friends and families of authors over the head. Not that they owe their writer friend/family members anything either, but buying and reviewing a book is a lot more effective than assuring someone “you’ll be famous one day” or “you’re the best writer ever, exclamation mark, smiley face.”

  9. agreed. If an author starts giving me “detailed instructions” for properly honoring them as a good reader, I start looking for a new “job”. If I like your stuff, I’ll support it as best I can. On my terms. That’s implicit in the purchase price.

  10. Ever since deciding I needed to buy my first shelf for my books, I’ve had a certain lending habit. If a friend becomes interested in a book I’m talking about, I’ll lend it. If they don’t like it, they simply return it. If they do like it, I tell them, “Don’t give it back to me, give to somebody who hasn’t read it.” I like to think it spreads the book around.

    Also, when you and a friend have read the same book and loved it, it’s kind of a powerful shared experience. In a tangible way it brings friends closer. Much more than liking the same movie or song. Hell, with some books it can be like surviving a car crash together. Yesterday I went to visit my mom and I left her your Miriam Black books. She hasn’t called me since, so I know she’s reading them. Let’s see what happens.

    By the way, I don’t have a dog, but I have a cat. He’s a sable burmese. Interested?

  11. […] Readers Owe Writers Approximately Zip Nada Zero from Chuck (NSFW) Wendig. He’s totally right. I figure anyone who takes the plunge and takes the time to read one of my books or stories has already done a lot! Going any further is the reader being super awesome, but not in any way expected. […]

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