I love authors. Let me say that right up front. I'm privileged to know so many wonderful people who love words and stories as much as I do. I love knowing people who are as neurotic as I am; who live in their heads much of the time, so that when we do all get together, it sometimes resembles a gathering of shy woodland creatures. Until the alcohol gets flowing, that is; then those shy woodland creatures start singing Karaoke and telling dirty stories about Stephen King.
(I personally don't know any dirty stories about Mr. King. In case you were wondering.)
But there's a pressure that comes with knowing an author -- or two or three. And that's the pressure, at some point or another, to read his book.
Now, of course writers are great readers. Or at least, we should be. And so we love to discover wonderful new writers and books, and are in a unique position of being able to do so.
It seems to me, however, that as publishing is becoming less and less certain, there's enormous pressure on authors, collectively, to try to save the industry. We MUST BUY EACH OTHER'S BOOKS! If we don't, all our futures are at stake. So we get email blasts; we're invited to join Facebook groups and use Twitter hashtags and write for group blogs, all for the purpose of talking up a bunch of authors' books. And that's great -- I will happily Tweet or Facebook a buy link, a launch date, a title.
But I will not read every book written by every author I know. And I don't want to feel guilty about that. Yet sometimes, I do.
It sometimes feels as if there's an incestuous nature about all these Facebook movements and group blogs and other online promotion. It seems that authors are mainly talking only to other authors on places like Twitter. A lot of online marketing is targeted only to those of us in the industry, and not, you know -- all those other lovely people you need to read your book if you want to be a success. And that's the problem; publishing professionals simply don't always know how to reach those other lovely people.
But they do know how to reach other authors and industry professionals, because we're all on Twitter and Facebook and blogging because we're told we have to ... and round and round it goes!
But here's the thing. I don't happen to like every book written by every author I know. I don't happen to read all their genres; I'm not drawn to every story or subject. There are so many books out there written by people I don't know that I long to read; I'm not going to spend my limited time reading books out of obligation.
And I don't want anyone to read my book out of obligation, either. I can't think of a worst reason for someone to pick up your book.
At a recent neighborhood gathering, a friend of mine, whom I hadn't seen in a few months, caught my eye and started to wave. Then, all of a sudden, she dropped her hand; a sheepish look came over her face, and she actually turned and started to walk away from me. Puzzled, I ran after her, wondering what I'd done, if I had spinach in my teeth, was my deodorant still working?
But no, it wasn't anything so dramatic. "I haven't read your book yet!" she blurted out, after I caught up with her. "I'm so sorry!"
I had to laugh. And reassure her that I could care less whether or not she had read my book; I simply wanted to talk to her, as I hadn't seen her in so long. That's when I came up with my new mantra, one I want to have made up into buttons, plastered all over my website. And that is --
You don't have to read my book to be my friend.
I really mean that. I love all you wonderful authors out there. I hope you love me. But I don't want to feel obligated to read all your books unless I really, really want to. And I don't want you to feel obligated to read mine. Unless you really, really want to.
(Sometimes I wonder if other artists feel the same way. Does someone like Julia Roberts refuse to be your friend if you admit, under pressure, that you never saw Sleeping With the Enemy?)
This is a tough industry and we should support each other, if only by providing a sympathetic shoulder to cry upon when necessary. And it's always a deeply satisfying experience when we do read a wonderful book that touches us, and it happens to have been written by a friend of ours.
But writers alone cannot keep the publishing industry afloat with our book buying dollars, and we have to stop thinking that we can. There's pressure enough on all of us these days; reading is really the last relaxing, comforting thing many of us have to look forward to. Reading for pleasure, that is.
Not reading out of obligation.
So I repeat. You don't have to read my book to be my friend.
And I don't have to read yours, either. But I might just recommend it to my cousin who likes science fiction (because I don't); I might buy that YA (that I don't particularly want to read because, unlike the rest of the world, vampires give me the creeps) for my cousin's birthday.
And then I'll retire to my comfy chair with that book that I've been dying to read, pausing occasionally to make up dirty stories about Stephen King.
Follow Melanie Benjamin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MelanieBen