Lately I’ve been thinking about readers, and a writer’s proper relationship with them.
Actually, I’m not thinking about it. I’m entertaining several opposing ideas and trying unsuccessfully to mash them together. And I hope you can help.
Here are the ideas:
• Larry Ragan once wrote at loving length about the exquisite pleasure he felt upon having a stranger walk up and say he enjoyed an obscure magazine Larry edited. I think Larry saw this as the empirical evidence writers need every once in a while that we are having a larger effect on the world than we know.
• My dad and I had a conversation recently where we agreed it’s more rewarding to write for a small audience that understands you—in his case, readers of his hometown Middletown Journal, in my case corporate communicators—than a large one that doesn’t. This was born out by the conversation I sparked on Huffington Post last week, about Tiger Woods and Barack Obama. It’s nice to inspire comments from 30 strangers, I guess. But really, what do I care that someone named luvangelHussein330 says, “I think this article would have made better since to me if you compared him to African American politicians before him”? Often, the bigger the circulation of the publication you get published in, the lower the quality—and often, the quantity, too—of the reader response.
• And yet it does seem silly that so many good writers are devoting so much energy to blogs that give them the sphere of influence similar to that of the unpaid mayor of a one-horse town. And then there’s the miserly business that I know writers shouldn’t be in, of counting unique visitors and compulsively checking for comments. It all makes me admire Larry’s method, however pathetically serendipitous it was: Write, then go on about your business in the vague hope someone’s reading your stuff.
As I said, I can’t get these ideas to come together. Can you?