I’m not just your seventeenth favorite horror author, I’m also a performing musician (or was, before the coronapocalypse).
When I play a song on stage, I see how it impacts the audience based on their smiles, frowns, or tapping feet, whether they’ve got their phones out or are talking to their friends, if they stay in their seats or walk out of the venue.
After the song’s over, applause lets me know who at least heard me, with raucous clapping and whistling meaning folks were really into it vs. a quiet smattering of obligatory politeness. Once I’m off stage, people sometimes even come up to me to tell me what they thought.
While I’m, of course, only interested in making art that means something to me, I also want to put stuff out there that resonates with others. And that’s pretty easy to determine as a performing musician.
But when writing fiction, there’s a wall between authors and our audience. Aside from a rare in-person reading, we obviously can’t see readers enjoying, tolerating, or downright hating our work. It’s a strange thing to fill hours of someone’s life with images, ideas, characters, and experiences we’ve created yet never have any clue how it may have touched them (aside from the manna from heaven that is a review).
The life of an author is like that of an architect. You can spend a year designing a house, sell it, and still never know the first thing about how its occupants might be using the space…unless you peek in their windows (which IS something I do with my readers!)
One of the up sides of the author-reader wall is that it keeps the writer humble. Pop stars often devolve into megalomania from bathing in the real time praise of up to tens of thousands of people at a time, to the point where they not only expect the adoration but need it to feel good about themselves.
The downside of the author-reader wall is not simply the lack of connection, it’s that authors never get that sense of fulfillment that comes from seeing your target audience enjoying your work. Because the only thing that feels better than getting a gift during the holidays is watching someone you care about opening the present you picked out for them.
So, dark reader, what do you think? Is fiction simply meant to be appreciated the way it was created, alone in a dark room? Should we try to figure out ways to tear down the wall between us?
Or could it be the wall is there for a damned good reason: the reader’s safety.