The relationship between “a writer and their readers should be based on mutual respect”, author Joanne Harris has said.
Speaking at the Manchester Literature Festival, Harris outlined her "Writer’s Manifesto". Introducing the 12-point plan, Harris said that the internet “has blurred the line between readers and writers almost to invisibility”.
The number of platforms from which people can “disseminate their opinions” is a good thing much of the time, said Harris, as it “allows a potential dialogue to exist between readers and creators…allows readers to get in touch with the authors of work they have enjoyed…allows writers to understand where and how they might have gone wrong, and how they can improve and grow”.
But the breaking down of barriers has also “created a false sense of entitlement, giving some readers the impression that artists and writers not only inhabit a privileged world, in which there are no bills to pay and in which time is infinitely flexible, but that they also exist primarily to serve the public, to be available night and day, and to cater for the personal needs of everyone who contacts them”.
Harris said: “On the internet I’ve seen a growing number of sites and blogs enumerating what readers expect of writers. Requests for increased diversity, increased awareness of current issues, requests for time and attention, gratis copies of books for review, interviews and guest blog posts - or simply demands to work faster. Readers have numerous spaces in which to discuss author behaviour, to analyse their politics, lifestyle and beliefs – sometimes, in extreme cases, to urge other readers to boycott the work of those authors whose themes are seen as too controversial, or whose ideas do not coincide with their own. Authors are expected to respect these reader spaces, whatever the nature of the discussion. To comment on a bad review – or even to be seen to notice it – is to risk being labelled an “author behaving badly”. Authors whose work is deemed to have problematic content are expected to analyse the cause – and in some cases, to apologize. There is an increasing call for trigger warnings; profanity warnings; age guidelines – in order to help the reader choose amidst a bewildering number of books. The demands on authors are numerous; often even daunting.”
Harris, who was joined for a discussion at the festival by writers Lemn Sissay and Geoff Ryman chaired by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, said authors wanted to make a living, and to have their work validated, and described her manifesto as a “promise” to the reader.
(From left) Joanne Harris, Lemn Sissay, Geoff Ryman and Ellah Wakatama Allfrey at Manchester Literature Festival.
“From you, I ask that you take it in good faith, respond in kind, and understand that, whatever I do, I do for the sake of something we both value - otherwise we wouldn’t be here,” she said.
Among the points in Harris’ manifesto is a promise “not to sell out”, and to “include people of all kinds in my stories, because people are infinitely fascinating and diverse”.
"A Writer’s Manifesto" was commissioned by Writers’ Centre Norwich as part of the National Conversation, a series of events exploring the ways in which people produce and engage with writing and how writers are treated. People can join in the discussion at #NatConv or at www.writerscentrenorwich.org.uk.
A Writer's Manifesto:
1. I promise to be honest, unafraid and true; but most of all, to be true to myself – because trying to be true to anyone else is not only impossible, but the sign of a fearful writer.
2. I promise not to sell out - not even if you ask me to.
3. You may not always like what I write, but know that it has always been the best I could make it at the time.
4. Know too that sometimes I will challenge you and pull you out of your comfort zone, because this is how we learn and grow. I can’t promise you’ll always feel safe or at ease – but we’ll be uneasy together.
5. I promise to follow my story wherever it leads me, even to the darkest of places.
6. I will not limit my audience to just one group or demographic. Stories are for everyone, and everyone is welcome here.
7. I will include people of all kinds in my stories, because people are infinitely fascinating and diverse.
8. I promise that I will never flinch from trying something different and new - even if the things I try are not always successful.
9. I will never let anyone else decide what I should write, or how - not the market, my publishers, my agent, or even you, the reader. And though you sometimes try to tell me otherwise, I don't think you really want me to.
10. I promise not to be aloof whenever you reach out to me – be that on social media or outside, in the real world. But remember that I’m human too – and some days I’m impatient, or tired, or sometimes I just run out of time.
11. I promise never to forget what I owe my readers. Without you, I’m just words on a page. Together, we make a dialogue.
12. But ultimately, you have the choice whether or not to follow me. I will open the door for you. But I will never blame you if you choose not to walk through it.