what’s a reader, exactly?

One of the charges that’s been levelled at short fiction, and especially semipro zines, is that they’re venues kept alive by wannabe writers, that they fail to attract the highly elusive and amorphous being that is called a ‘reader’. A reader, by this definition, is a passive creature who does nothing except sit back and be taken for a ride.

A poll in my local rag last weekend raised the subject of readers being writers. The exact details don’t matter much for the sake of the argument (besides, I can’t find the reference) except to say that a high percentage of avid readers also write, or have dreams of doing so.

Humans are artful creatures. We like to express ourselves and our thoughts and dreams in what’s broadly termed ‘art’. Some art is fairly inaccessible. If you want to make films, you need a fair amount of money, a number of very good friends and a lot of time in large blocks, and I’m just talking about the backyard movie.

In contrast, writing requires no more than pen and paper, or a computer and a word processing program. It’s cheap, it’s easy. Writing is a highly participatory art. Hence, I think it’s only natural that you’ll see a lot of avid readers dabbling in writing. Ditto with music. Instruments are not very expensive, and there are plenty of venues for lessons. There is a large body of musicians, including myself, who have no aspirations of becoming professionals, but enjoy (and buy) music. Enjoyment and participation encourages consumption of the finished product, CDs, or books.

What then is so wrong with a magazine by writers for readers, a large percentage of whom are also writers? What is this amorphous, passive, largely unknown ‘reader’ anyway?

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7 comments on “what’s a reader, exactly?

    • that’s a fair point, I suppose. However, I can’t believe how writers can think they’ll be able to write without reading. You can virtually tell the moment you open a document, that it’s been a very long time since the writer has read a recently-written piece of published fiction. Suppose that’s a subject for another blog post 😉

      • You would be pretty amazed at the sheer number of peers I had in college who felt that they shouldn’t have to be “subjected to all of those bullshit, useless literary classes” because they supposedly already knew how to write and shouldn’t have to waste their time on reading. I know I was amazed by how many times I got to hear that sentiment…

  1. Or folks who only read novels, but try to write flash (because it’s easier to say you’ve finished a flash piece).

    Then there’s the folks who do read the sort of fiction they write in terms of keeping up with *one* of the major magazines, say; but don’t get a single copy of any of the places they’re submitting to. (or maybe they only get one of the best-of anthologies).

    It’s a very odd industry.

    • I have to admit I’m partly guilty of that as well, and I dare any short story writer to stand up and say that they always subscribe to places where they submit, because I won’t believe them. It’s logistically impossible to keep up with every magazine you submit to. Some are hard to get (see my struggle to subscribe to Asimov’s – this will be worthy of another blog post some time), others are not, but after I’ve paid for and supported a number of yearly subscriptions/donations, the money has simply run out.

      • Partly guilty of that’s completely understandable. Even mostly guilty of that. I’ve probably become a lot more conscious of it as a publisher, but I made my first inroads to “needing to get to know the markets I was submitting to” by getting accepted a few places I was later very embarrassed to be in (just poor quality–the acceptance meant very, very little).

        I don’t by any stretch of the imagine subscribe to every magazine I submit to (hey, some of them are free anyway; though I have donated to a few like that as well). But at this point I think I’ve gotten one issue of _most_ of the places I’d really like to be accepted by. 🙂

        You know what else would be awesome? Getting more of a dialog going, either between “readers”, or between “readers and publications” (or “readers and publications and writers”). But it seems really hard to get such a thing going.

      • I find dialogue about magazines really hard, because it deals with opinions, and they’re all different. I tend to say good things about things I’ve enjoyed, and say nothing if I thought the quality was so-so or less. I get the ’embarrassed’ part, probably been in a similar situation, but I honestly think that all the small zines out there, even the not-so-good (in my opinion) ones fulfil a function. Yes, they’re probably only read by writers, but as such, they’re part of the writer education community, and I don’t see a problem with that.

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