DR: A Writer's Relationship with Readers
When her first novel came out last year, Mary DeMuth posed this heartfelt question about a writer's relationship with the public and with her readers.
Q. I'm getting stressed about how much to share--how to be open, yet guarded. I
do believe Jesus works through our authenticity and shines through our
weaknesses. I'm not afraid to be open, but I worry that my transparency will
welcome criticism and, perhaps, a reader's false sense of friendship with me.
I'm worried about being so available to others that I'll be overwhelmed.
Sadly, Mary's fears are well-founded. When you become a published, promoted author, you become a publicly owned commodity. You not only risk losing some friends from your "old world" who can't handle your success and celebrity, but sadly, you also sometimes wonder if the new friends you make aren't just using you to further their own careers, or are only interested in you so they can drop your name.
Most difficult of all, when you become an author, readers begin to see you as an expert--and a counselor. Not only in matters of writing, but in psychology as well. I often get letters from readers pouring their hearts out to me about some tragedy of their life. The compassionate Christian Deb wants to hold their hands and ease their pain. But if I do that, I quickly find myself in an ongoing dialogue. And I simply can't be in a running correspondence with all my readers! There aren't enough hours in the day! I've learned that if I reply with much more than --my heart goes out to you and I'm praying for you-- I risk being seen as a confidante or counselor, and next thing I know, I'm hurting the person worse than they hurt before because I "drop" them or "ignore" them or worse, give bad advice.
It's so hard sometimes to find that perfect balance between warm-loving-genuine and professional-and-stand-offish-for-your-own-protection. When I try to nurture my readers too much, I invariably neglect my family and my in-person friends. When I care for my family and take time for my long-time friends, I must keep my readers at a bit of a distance. It's a constant struggle!
I think all any of us can do is minister where you are at any given time. If you're speaking to a group, it's fine to put an arm around someone, to cry and pray with them afterwards. What I try to avoid are e-mail relationships with readers. They are draining and you risk allowing the correspondent to become dependent on you, when they should be seeking face-to-face counsel with a friend, pastor or professional. My rule of thumb is that I respond personally to every reader mail or e-mail once. After that, unless there's a compelling reason, I don't enter into ongoing correspondence.
On the other hand, an e-mail friendship with writing peers can be the most refreshing and affirming thing in the world. Such relationships can keep you from draining your non-writing friends and family members, and from being disappointed when they don't "get" what you're about.
I wish someone had warned me of the struggles I'd face with this aspect of being published. It would have saved me a lot of false guilt had I known ahead of time that I simply cannot be all things to all people. I'm learning, day by day, how to keep things more in balance and not take on guilt I don't deserve. Good thing, because I've got more than enough I DO deserve.
Deborah Raney is the author of A Vow to Cherish (Steeple Hill June 2006). Coming in January: Remember to Forget for Howard Books, now an imprint of Simon & Schuster. http://www.deborahraney.com