The Humanist Dilemma: Why Don’t My Friends Read My Publications?

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Unread = Unloved? I write a regular column for a local paper; it also appears on the paper’s website. Although whenever people ask me what I do, I tell them about the column and how they can read it, it doesn’t seem like anyone ever does. People will ask me to send it to them, and I do, but they don’t take the simple effort to subscribe, which is easy and free. Often, the same people ask me to send them my column all over again or claim that I had never sent them my column before. I will even locate the old e-mail and resend it, but even if they acknowledge receiving it, they don’t show any evidence of having read it.

I’m not sure whether to be offended because of their apathy or take it to mean they looked at one issue and had no interest in reading any more. Even my mother doesn’t read it! I feel insulted and discouraged. Shouldn’t my friends and family make an effort to read my writing? How should I express this whenever it comes up again?

—Fit to Print and Having a Fit

Dear Fit,

When I was in college, a friend decided to write a novel based on everyone in our group—and it was so tedious (long-winded, convoluted, self-indulgent and boring) that no one could bear even to skim it to find the parts about themselves. That friend became an actuary instead of a novelist. I’m not suggesting that your writing is like that, just that it takes a lot to get people interested in reading anything. It has to appeal to them, and nothing appeals to everyone.

Aside from your mother, do you recall the occupations of each of these people you expect to follow you? Do you ask these friends to show you their work? Do want your stock- and real-estate broker buddies to regale you with the ups and downs of their respective markets? Are you also interested in a regular stream of workplace anecdotes from those who are plumbers, shop-keepers, waiters, teachers, computer programmers, etc.?

In some circles, it’s actually considered rude to discuss one’s occupation in social settings. But while your writing may be extremely interesting to you (and to the readers of your paper), you can’t expect everyone you meet to be fascinated with it any more than you are fascinated with what they do. (If you are, you are the exceptional person who is genuinely interested in the nitty gritty of other people’s occupations).

For some reason, writers tend to think everyone should hang on their every written word, yet almost no other professionals seem to think that. You are competing for time and attention not only with myriad other written pieces, but also with everything on the Internet that comes to people or that they seek out or just stumble across (not to mention everything else they might want to do with their spare time). Why would, or should, they want to spend their time reading your bylines when they could be reading best-selling authors, or things they are motivated to read regardless of who wrote them?

Feel flattered and pleased when someone you know does take the time to look at one of your pieces and even to comment on it, but refrain from resenting or laying a guilt trip on those who don’t. You may find out an honest truth: either they don’t care enough about you and your feelings to do the “homework” you are assigning, or they may have read enough to know they have nothing nice to say or interest in reading more of your writings.

The most successful authors rack up piles of rejection letters, but they don’t allow that to stop them from seeking receptive audiences for their work. You are fortunate to have a job writing for your paper’s readers. But don’t impose on your friends’ time and interest, presuming they want to read something just because you wrote it.