The Author/Reader Contract

For various reasons, today I’m thinking about the tacit agreement between an author and her readers. I’m thinking about that contract and what it means to both parties, and how important it is. It’s not even something either party is always aware of. But it exists -- it always exists. Though nothing is actually signed or written down, in some ways it’s as tangible as if it were.

The contract looks like this: a reader shells out dollars, sure. But even in a world where ten, 20 or even 30 bucks for a book is an investment worthy of note, there’s another investment being made that’s much more dear: that being time and, to a certain degree, heart. And that investment is one that’s expected to pay an emotional return.

See: I’m trusting you, as an author, to not shred my investment. And I expect to be entertained, sure. But that’s only a small part. I don’t need you just for entertainment: there’s television, video games. Social media. What I want is beyond entertainment. From you, the author, I expect an emotional return. I expect that you’ll take the precious six (or four or eight or ten...) hours I give you and you’ll treat them not only with respect, but you’ll make an effort to reach me on a level other forms of entertainment can not. And while you’re doing that, and you have me rapt and in a way, semi-conscious, you will take care not to abuse that trust.

I'm giving you honest attention -- I’m giving you my heart -- you must give me a story that has cost you emotionally, as well. I trust you won’t cheat or shortchange me. I trust you to treat me honestly, to not manipulate me but rather to create a world where things make the kind of sense you’ve promised in the early pages of your book (another contract, just as important).

Now clearly, there are good contracts in this world and there are not so good ones. That is to say that agreements don’t always work and they don’t always work for everyone. For this one to work on any level, though, it must be entered into with an open heart. We’re exchanging a piece of ourselves with this reader/author agreement. And when all things are right, everybody wins.


Very interesting, the idea of wanting something "beyond" mere entertainment. Something to mull.
I would say, not wanting to go beyond entertainment, but needing to. I don't think there's really room for anything else. Not in a world that has Twitter and Facebook. Grand Theft Auto. And 24. There's a lot of entertainment out there, most of it much easier to access than reading. For a book to really work at this point, there has to be more. Or, at least, the storyteller has to have bled enough while they tried to give more.
Clea Simon said…
I agree. I'm sick of slick, facile books (usually thrillers). I want to be engaged, on every level. Even in a light, fun book, this is possible, and it's what I want. In exchange, it's what I try to do for my readers. I don't always (often?) succeed, but I make the effort, and I expect the authors I read to do the same.

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