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Readers and writers are different sides of the same coin—we need each other. Every time someone opens a book and begins to read, a synergy between the reader and the writer occurs across time and space.
Writers need readers
“A writer only begins a book; a reader finishes it.” Samuel Johnson, Works of Samuel Johnson
And readers need writers
“A writer creates wings of words and lets them fly in the sky of readers' minds.” Debasish Mridha
We can view this relationship as almost mystical. We browse in bookshops and libraries, run our fingers over the covers, take the book home and are transported to another world. It’s not often we meet the writer of these words; the book and the characters within it are more real to us than the author. I think sometimes that is true of the first author, God – sometimes the world He spoke into being seems more real to us than He is (though of course, it is really the other way round).
Yet without the author, there would be no book. Without the Creator, there would be no world and no us in it. Sometimes, we can take the source of the good things we enjoy for granted.
Funnily enough writers are not ethereal beings who live on air, sunshine and imagination.
“Writers build castles in the air, the reader lives inside, and the publisher inns the rent.” Maxim Gorky
Readers don’t ‘owe’ writers, and I know readers often hate authors telling what they should or shouldn’t be doing (especially when it comes to reviews, but that’s another story). But, if you, like me, value a vibrant, creative literary culture—then maybe it’s worth being aware of the realities most writers face and of ways you as a reader can support them.
Few authors are rich.
In fact most need another source of income to survive. The average income from writing in Australia is about $12,000 and few make a full time living from fiction writing. Writers are generally passionate about what they write—so they keep writing anyway— but writing time is usually squeezed in between the rest of their lives—which means it takes a lot longer to write that next book. And sometimes, it just becomes too hard to continue. Even prize winning writers and genuine best-selling authors may not be in the position to give up their day job.
It takes a lot longer to write a book than to read it.
That book you downloaded for 99c and read in two days may have taken years of research and writing. At the very least, it will have taken three or more months to reach the first draft. Then there is several rounds of editing, proofing, the book cover, formatting etc. The author (and publisher) may receive only a fraction of the cost of each book, may never even cover costs, let alone be recompensed for the time, skill and love they put into writing the book.
It takes time (and a godsend) to be noticed
There are just so many books out there, it’s hard for a manuscript to rise above the slush pile or for a book to be noticed on the bookshelf. Most pundits are saying it takes 5 -10 books before an author has enough visibility. It may take a decade or more for an author to begins to get some traction. This is particularly true for local authors and for Christian authors (due to the smaller size of the market).
So, what can you do if, as a reader, you wish to encourage writers?
1. Don’ be scared to read new authors, even debut authors. You can always look at reviews on Goodreads or Amazon or the recommendation of friends to help make your choices.
2. Support local authors as well as the big name authors from overseas.
3. Buy (or borrow) their books and read them.
(I get that sometimes the budget can be tight. Buying a print book can be a significant outlay—but e-books are often more affordable—or you can borrow the book from your local library. But remember when you complain about an e-book being $5, even at that price, the writer (and publisher) may barely cover costs—or not even that.)
4. Review the books you read and enjoy—on Amazon, Goodreads, Booklikes – or your blog, if you have one. It doesn’t have to be long, though it should be fair and honest. Reviews raise the visibility of a book and may encourage others to read it.
5. Recommend the books you love to your friends, family, neighbours, work colleagues, the postman (only joking about the last one).
6. Suggest (or gift) your favourite books to the local library, maybe your children’s school, church library or book club.
7. Invite a local author to speak and to showcase his or her work.
Two other things I might suggest:
Australian writers have been aghast at recent suggestions by the Productivity Commission about changes to copyright, fair use and necessary protection from dumping of books published overseas in the Australian market. It would be fantastic if readers could be as concerned as writers were about this. Here’s a link to an ongoing petition.
If you live in or around Brisbane, please mark your diaries for Saturday, 3rd September for the Omega Christian Book Fair—where the work of many Australasian Christian writers will be on display and you will have the opportunity to meet local Christian authors. There will be readings, workshops, giveaways. And if you can’t come, we would appreciate you spreading the word--and your prayers J
I wonder, do you have any suggestions about how to support writers?
Jeanette O’Hagan enjoys writing fiction, poetry, blogging and editing. She is writing her Akrad’s Legacy Series—a Young Adult secondary world fantasy fiction with adventure, courtly intrigue and romantic elements. Her short stories and poems are published in a number of anthologies including Glimpses of Light, Another Time Another Place and Like a Girl.
Jeanette has practised medicine, studied communication, history, theology and, more recently, a Master’s in writing. She loves reading, painting, travel, catching up for coffee with friends, pondering the meaning of life and communicating God’s great love. She lives in Brisbane with her husband and children.