It’s All about the Readers

When the wonderful folks here at Mulholland asked me if I would contribute a small post to their website, I found myself filled with a sense of pride at being asked and of panic at having to create the content.

It was similar to the panic I suffer from on a weekly basis at (excuse the plug) the group blog, Do Some Damage (, where seven hardy crime-writing souls — and yours truly — post daily on whatever strikes their fancy. But here, at the birth of a great-looking imprint like Mulholland, I figured I wanted to say something about reading and writing and what they mean to me.

But at first, I couldn’t figure it.

Couldn’t get a handle on what I wanted to say.

What is important to me about this business?

What is it that makes me stick things out as a writer (and a bookseller — my day job is working for a national chain here in the UK), despite all the doom and gloom that is being broadcast about the industry from so many quarters?

And then I realized:

It’s all about the readers.

All writers — all truly dedicated writers — have to start out as readers. The only way you can really understand this gig is if you know who you are writing for. And you can’t just understand a reader as some abstract thing. You have to be able to know them inside and out, understand that every reader is unique, that every readers loves and loathes literature in equal measure, because it’s all about that fragile connection that occurs between the words on the page and what happens in your mind.

Readers are who we are all writing for. Not other writers. But readers. Those who devour our words, who are thrilled, intrigued, and stimulated by these seemingly random collections of lines and squiggles. Because that’s what it’s all about.

It’s all about the readers.

And sometimes writers can forget that. Sometimes writers can forget about the readers they used to be before they started scribbling their own narratives, their own characters. You can tell, as a reader, when this has happened. The connection goes between your work and theirs. They are no longer writing for readers.

At crime conventions — and I love these conventions, have loved ’em as a fan and love ’ em as a writer — people often differentiate themselves as writers and readers. Ask a reader what they do, the response can be an “aw shucks” shrug and an “Oh, I’m just a reader.”

There’s no “just” about being a reader. If the only other people at these events were other writers, it would be a pathetic state of affairs. And there’s no need to feel that if you’re a reader, you have to want to be a writer. Again, if everyone was writing, then who would be reading? The whole point of writing is to find an audience of readers. They are the lifeblood of this industry. The reason any of us writers, booksellers, editors, publishers, do what we do.

The readers.

It’s all about the readers.

Russel D McLean is the author of the Scots noir novels The Good Son (St. Martin’s, 2009) and The Lost Sister (St. Martin’s, forthcoming). His short stories have been published on both sides of the Atlantic in a variety of publications. You can find out more at