It’s Okay Not to Read Me
I noted this briefly on Twitter last night but I think it’s worth expanding just a little bit. Last night I read a mostly vaguely negative review of Redshirts on a personal blog in which the reviewer basically admitted, in somewhat different words, that they’re just not an enthusiast of most of my books. This is of course perfectly fine, because I’m like that too — there are many writers out there for whom I am not the perfect audience, including some for whom it would seem I should be the perfect reader. People are quirky and don’t always work the way they’re supposed to. Likewise, I have no beef with the (mostly vaguely) negative review; as I’ve said before, a good (i.e., well thought-out) negative review can be better and more interesting than a positive review, and anyway I’m generally of the opinion that the books I write are good enough to release. So there’s that.
What the review made me feel, paradoxically enough, was a bit of sympathy for the reviewer, who (I imagine), once confronted with yet another of my books, sighed heavily and then set themself down to the mostly unpleasant task of reading an author they have regularly found unsatisfactory. And along with that sympathy, a bit of befuddlement, because, well. They’re reading that author (namely: me) why, exactly? This particular reviewer was not assigned the book for a gig; they were reading it on their own recognizance. So I suppose that my own thought on the matter is, why would you do that to yourself? Life is often unpleasant enough without choosing to fill your recreational hours pursuing a book from an author with whom ample previous readings have shown you have little rapport.
Here’s my thing about my own writing, which I’ve noted before: I write to make my books to be generally accessible, and generally enjoyable, for just about anyone. I cast a wide net, as it were. But within that general intention for a general audience, there will always be particular people who will discover I am not their ideal writer. For whatever reason: Perhaps they don’t like how I write dialogue, or plot the stories, or feel like I should be writing the book differently from how I am actually writing, or so on. Yes, it’s sad, for both of us; I like to sell books, and I assume these particular readers like to read books. When a writer and a reader find their respective books and tastes don’t match, there’s always a sad little moue of the mind, a wistful wish for what could have been. But then you both go on with your lives. For the writer, there are other readers. For the reader, there are other writers. That’s how it works.
As a writer, I’d like readers to give me my work a fair shake — to try what I write to see if we’re a good fit. But if they try it and after a couple of fair-minded attempts they decide I’m just not the writer for them, then from my point of view the obvious solution is to acknowledge the fact and thereby avoid the task of grimly tromping through my future books. Because clearly I am not making them happy, and I have to admit that as a writer I don’t enjoy the idea of someone joylessly hauling themselves through my prose for whatever reason they determine that they absolutely must. I really don’t write books to be joyless slogs. Unless it’s your job (or, in the highly specialized case of awards like the Hugos and Nebulas, you’re reading a slate to determine your voting), there’s probably not a good enough reason to do that to yourself.
I mean, if you’ve determined I’m not the writer for you, it’s okay to check in every three or four books and see if I’m still not working for you. Who knows? Maybe I’ll have changed my writing and/or something about you will have changed, and then suddenly what I write will work for you. Groovy. But otherwise I really would suggest taking the time you’re using to unenthusiastically trudge one of my books and devote it instead either to writers you know you love or (even better!) in the pursuit of newer authors who are looking for their audiences. You could be that audience! It’s worth giving them a fair shake, rather than looking at one of my books and thinking to yourself, oh, crap, another Scalzi book. Here we go.
Don’t go. You don’t have to go. If you don’t really enjoy what I write, stop reading it. Read something else, from someone else. If for some reason you need my permission and blessing to do so, here it is. I sincerely hope you find another writer whose work you like better.