Can/should readers influence your writing?

As a debut author, I’ve had both the joy and pain of dealing with those first reviews. Will readers like my story? Will they throw the book across the room in disgust (or less violently delete it from their ereader)? The answer of course, to any hoped for or dreaded answer, is yes. You are pretty much guaranteed to get every possible answer. Which is why you can’t ever worry about the bad reviews. There isn’t a damn thing you can do about them. Or is there?

While it is definitely wise to ignore any and all personal attacks on you or your writing in reviews, there is still constructive feedback to be gained if one is willing to look. With Deadworld, I noticed a recurring theme in some of the reviews. People were missing the lack of detail on the hero’s backstory.  It impacted the motivations of the villain. Some readers didn’t miss it at all. So, should I care about this? I can’t please everyone obviously, it would make writing next to impossible. However, without readers the book will not achieve any success, and my goal is to build readership so that I can continue to write this series.  I have a fairly big story to tell, and if the sequels don’t sell, my publisher won’t hold much interest in continuing to pay me for my services.

Some aspects of writing can’t and shouldn’t be stressed over when it comes to readers. For instance, you can’t do much for voice. If a reader doesn’t care for your authorial voice, they won’t be picking up your next book. Your storytelling just didn’t do it for them. I’m good with this. That’s just the way it is, but something like backstory? This is an element of the story that already exists. In my case, I just didn’t flesh it out in much detail on the page. As a writer, you can do something about this. In my case, the sequel was already done when Deadworld came out. I could not go in and see if this element could be added. So, in an effort to maintain and build readership, I’ll be fleshing out this backstory and offering it up as some added content for readers. It is a way for me to get more readers vested in the story. The more readers I have, the greater my chances are they will talk to others about it and get more people reading it. It’s a win-win situation. Many authors do this kind of thing, for example, when a future story involves an interesting minor character from a previous book that readers were really interested in.

The author and reader are in this process together. I don’t believe it’s a “take it or leave it” ball game, though I’m sure there are a number of authors out there who have the “tough shit” attitude about their work, or the feeling of “I don’t care if you like it or not.” If you didn’t actually care, you wouldn’t try to sell in the first place. The moment you put your work out there for public consumption, they become involved, and it’s not a one-way street. While I’m certainly not trying to say that writers should compromise their writing to please readers, I do believe what the reader thinks/feels about your writing matters. They can inform you about what works and what doesn’t for them. If it’s something that coincides with your own vision of your writing/story, then in essence, work with your readers. They will value you more if you do, and as an author interested in a career in writing, I can’t afford not to value my reader’s feedback, whether it be positive or negative.

So, question to you. As a reader, do you like writers more who interact with reader feedback and take that into account with their stories?

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4 responses to “Can/should readers influence your writing?

  1. I’m not sure I’d want authors to change their story to suit me… but I LOVE the idea of extra information, scenes, details available online.

    When I love characters I can’t get enough. To be able to read extra goodies for free would make my day.

  2. Actually, I don’t want writers to take my opinion into account any more than I would a songwriter. Seems to me that it’s a pretty similar situation. You are spinning out a work that is internal to you, much like any artist. I don’t think it’s collaborative. Sculpture, quilting, painting, writing – it’s all the same to me. As consumers, we buy it, and either like it or we don’t.

    Haven’t written anything, though, so can’t see your side of it.

    • Priscilla, I understand your point with a single work. I’m really speaking more about ongoing work, a series, where the world continues to grow, new characters come into play, plots turn in other directions, and so forth. While the vision is certainly mine and mine alone, I’m totally interested in what the readers are seeing/wanting/liking as a whole and what they hope to see. My decision in the end of course as to what I put on paper, but I put value on what readers like about my stories, the questions they have, and such, and can see myself, for example, working in a character more that readers fall in love with, that I might have not given any more thought to, or delving into an aspect of the overall story that I had given little weight to, but readers seem to clearly be curious about.

      • Kind of like a focus group…? A novel concept, admirable in it’s sweep. Not a concept I’m used to, except in the world of fan fiction, which I never got into.

        I really like the extra added value, like Ilona Douglas and some others do on occasion, with free stories, sometimes not much other than notes.

        I enjoyed the SIM portrayal of Nick’s library, and think that could be leveraged in this concept. God I hate using words like leveraged.

        So yeh, give me free stuff, and the posting could lead to feedback, if structured properly..