Reader-response criticism is a late 20th century literary phenomenon which concerns itself with the readers’ response to the literary work they read. The critics belonging to this school of criticism have as their subject not a literary work, but the response of the readers to the book they read.
It focuses on the reader or audience and their experiencing of a literary work. More specifically, reader-response criticism refers to a group of critics who study, not a literary work, but readers or audiences responding to a literary work. This school emerged in the 1960s and '70s, particularly in America and Germany, in work by Norman Holland, Stanley Fish, Wolfgang Iser, Hans-Robert Jauss, and others. Important predecessors were I.A. Richards and Louise Rosenblatt.
Reader-response theory recognizes the reader as an active agent who imparts "real existence" to the work and completes its meaning through interpretation. Reader-response criticism argues that literature should be viewed as a performing art in which each reader creates his or her own, possibly unique, text-related performance.
One can sort reader-response theorists into three groups: those who focus upon the individual reader's experience; those who conduct psychological experiments on a defined set of readers; and those who assume a fairly uniform response by all readers. One can therefore draw a distinction between reader-response theorists who see the individual reader driving the whole experience and others who think of literary experience as largely text-driven and uniform (with individual variations that can be ignored).