I take my responsibility as a reader pretty seriously. Now, I don’t mean that in the sense of analyzing every sentence that crosses my path for proper grammar and creative use of metaphor. I mean it in the sense of supporting the authors whose work I read.
And I mean “supporting” in the fiscal sense.
As someone who reads quickly and ravenously, and who sadly, does not have enough money to buy every book she wants to read, or even just the books she wants to own, (as a life-long book collector, this number is smaller, but not by much) I find this responsibility weighs heavily on me at times.
A large number of the books I consume, I acquire in ways that do not directly fiscally support the author. Before you start having visions of me sneaking into bookstores in the dead of night and carrying out sackfuls of books, you should know that the means by which I consume these books are legal and often, intended or even encouraged by the authors. I check books out from libraries. I participate in book swaps on sites such as Bookmooch.com, and purchase used copies of books that look interesting at yard sales and thrift shops. I listen to podcast novels via sites like Podiobooks.com.
Because I do all of the above, I take my responsibility as a purchaser very seriously when I walk into a bookstore to buy a brand new copy of a book. When trying to decide which of the dozens of books that I’d like to take home with me, actually will come home with me, I’ve developed a loose set of rules that help me make my decision.
- First, I rarely buy a book by an author that I haven’t read before. I will admit, this is probably the rule that gets broken the most.
- Second, I try to only buy books by authors that aren’t already huge bestsellers. I figure that if you’re a household name, my purchase of your book will not matter as much to you as it would to someone who’s just starting out. (I know that unfortunately, just because you’re widely known or a bestseller doesn’t guarantee success in your career. However, I know that the chances, however slim, are better for you than for most of the other authors who have their books on the shelves.)
- Third, I try to buy books by authors that I like and want to support as soon as possible after their initial release. The sales numbers within the first week after release are the most important numbers.
These rules are not for everyone. I’m not trying to say that they should be. However, I feel that it’s my duty to walk into a bookstore, and put my money to the best use I possibly can, supporting authors that I like and want to see more of. These rules make some decisions easier for me, because it really just comes down to two questions: will my purchase make a difference to this author, and if so, is the author someone I want to support?
Why am I mentioning all this now? Well, a couple of days ago, I was led to a blog post written by the inimitable J.C. Hutchins, in which he explains his reasons for deciding not to continue to put out his fiction for free over the internet.
(A digression. I found J.C. Hutchins through the SF podcasting community back when he was podcasting the first novel of his 7th Son trilogy. I’ve been known to curse his name a time or two, such as when he ended book 2 with a massive cliffhanger, but wow, what a great storyteller! I almost don’t know whether to love him, or just be massively jealous.)
His post is impossible to summarize, but a central point is that the two books that he had published, which includes Book 1 of the 7th Son trilogy, underperformed to the point that his publisher has decided not to publish Books 2 and 3.
And that brings me back to my sense of personal responsibility. Because just a week ago, I’d listened to a couple of interviews that Hutchins gave to Mike and Mike at the Dragon Page Cover to Cover podcast in which he talked about the 7th Son novels and everything he was doing to promote the print version. The interviews were several months old (I’m perpetually behind in my podcast listening), but as I listened, I thought to myself, “Wow, has time passed that fast? I didn’t realize the book was out already. I really need to make sure I pick up my copy.” A couple of days later, I went to my local bookstore, and actually searched for the book, hoping to find it. They didn’t have it. I was a little bit concerned, and definitely disappointed, but decided I would purchase it on Amazon when I got home.
Reading Hutchins’ blog post was like a blow to my gut. I felt that as a reader, I let him down. I loved the novels when he so generously shared them for free–I’d had every intention of purchasing the novel when it was available. On a rational level, I know that the one copy I’d have purchased would not have made the difference in St. Martin’s press deciding not to publish the subsequent 7th Son books. But every drop in a bucket does make a difference.
Writers and readers depend on each other. Readers depend on writers for the raw materials that they turn into words and sentences and characters and story that keep us entertained. Writers depend on readers to support them, to allow them the time and the opportunity to create and to share their creations.
You could call it a reader’s responsibility, but it’s entirely selfish, really. I want to be able to keep reading J.C. Hutchins’ writing. In order to do so, what do I have to offer in return? Believe me, next time he has a book coming out, I’m marking that sucker’s release date on my calendar in flashing neon. First week’s numbers, and all.