Readers: You Do Not Own Other Writers’ Stories

It’s not your story. It never has been.


I think there’s a big difference between reviewing a book – saying what you did and didn’t like about a story – and tearing apart a novel to highlight all the awful things about it. Criticizing a story is understandable. People do it all the time. It’s a story; it doesn’t have feelings. But when people turn to the writer of that story and start tearing them down for writing a story they did not like … I don’t know about you, but I have a problem with that.

As attached to her stories as a writer may become, a story does not tell you everything about its writer. They are still separate. I have a few words to share with readers who seem to think they know more about other writers’ stories than the writers themselves. Because as much as it might feel like it, a story that someone else has written is not your story. You do not own it. You cannot change it – not exactly.

Quality writing, rewriting and editing cannot be rushed.

I honestly don’t think enough readers realize how long it takes to write the first draft of a book. And the first draft is only the first draft. A writer will often scrap the majority of their first draft, gradually, during the revision process. And then there’s editing all those layers of revisions, refining and piecing together a book until there’s something there an author is proud of and mostly satisfied with.

I can think of a few writers on my radar who have gone at least a few years without publishing anything. Am I excited for new books, whenever those might come out? Of course. Am I constantly on Twitter nagging them about when they’re finally going to finish writing their books? Um, no. Don’t do that. Writers are already under enough pressure. Begging them to “write faster” pretty much makes them not want to write at all. They still do, because it’s their job and it takes time to write well, but your whining isn’t making it any easier or more enjoyable.

It’s not just about the readers.

Yes, as a business, writing has to cater to what readers want … to a point. First of all, a writer is not going to end a book or series of books a certain way because readers want them to. It’s their story, not yours. Second of all, complaining about how a book “should have ended” doesn’t actually change how the book ends. Once a writer publishes a book, that’s it. They’re done writing it. They aren’t going to – and they can’t – go back and change something because it displeases you.

And phrases like, “I’m not going to finish the book if so-and-so dies” or “I’m going to be angry if so-and-so don’t get together” – why? Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinions and emotions, and if you don’t want to finish reading a book, that’s up to you. But not getting what you want out of a story, and throwing a public tantrum because of it, has never made sense to me. I don’t understand. Like the book or hate the book, it really makes no difference once you spend your money to purchase a copy. But don’t go telling all your friends, “This is the worst book I’ve ever read, don’t bother,” just because one thing happened that you didn’t like. Let them decide for themselves. Your negative opinion about a book does not automatically make it a bad book.

If you’re looking for a book that doesn’t exist, there’s a solution.

Write the book yourself. If you’re that upset about a book not turning out to your liking, and you’re tired of never being able to find a book that suits all your needs, then sit down and write the kind of story you want to read. Some of the best books ever written are good because they are written by people who had the courage and discipline to write the story they wished they could have read in a book.

Is writing hard? Yes. Time-consuming? Absolutely. If you can’t handle it, then don’t complain about other writers not being able to write a perfect book, because half the time, they can’t handle it either. They’re doing their best. For very little money, they are spending countless hours trying to write a book from start to finish. They then work with an editor that asks them to make changes, which can be even more draining. They’re just trying to tell a story. It’s not always going to be the fairytale ending you prefer. It’s not always going to be worthy of an award. But it’s still a book someone worked very hard on. Is that not enough for you? And if it isn’t – tell me – how’s your 80,000-word novel coming along?

The benefit to readers wanting to influence or change a book that has already been written is, regardless of how you “feel” about it, fanfiction. I love the idea of fanfiction because it encourages people to write, even if characters and settings aren’t necessarily their original ideas. I’m sure some great writers out there have started out writing fanfiction before moving on to creating their own stories. It’s a great way to practice character and plot development. I have nothing against it. If writers want to use fanfiction to develop their skills, I’m all for it.

But that doesn’t mean that an author’s original book is of any lesser value. It’s understandable that you aren’t going to like every single book you read. I’ve read plenty of books I didn’t particularly like. But it’s not my job to tell the author what he or she could have done to make the book better. And it’s not yours either. Book reviews are one thing, but think twice before you start critiquing a published work of fiction. Don’t criticize the writer for writing something you might not have been able to write yourself. And if you do want to write something yourself – focus on that, not on telling a writer how you would have done it if you’d been the one to complete the first draft. It’s not about you. It’s about the story. It’s OK not to like something. But be respectful and considerate.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

5 thoughts on “Readers: You Do Not Own Other Writers’ Stories

  1. This was a great post! I often feel that way when I read reviews for books on Goodreads. Some readers don’t know how hard it is to write a book. It’s not easy, and even when a writer does publish, all their hard work may only amount to a $1 (Book price).

  2. Good point. A lot goes into writing, revising, editing and publishing a book. A reader/reviewer can not like a book without totally trashing the author’s work.

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