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Wherein I worry

Reader expectations are one of those minefields that, frankly, terrify me.

As an author, I have no say about my covers (well, beyond the usual pleading, begging, and generally undignified behaviour that I will spare you all), and none on the cover blurb; I have no say about what goes on the spine, and in the end, no say about where the book is actually shelved in the stores.

But as a reader, I know roughly what I want to read on any given day (the exception to this is Terry Pratchett, who I can read in any mood, at any time, and in any sleep-deprived state) and I tend to pick up a book according to that amorphous desire. And boy, if I pick up what I think is a Robin McKinley novel, and I end up with a Horror novel or a Military SF novel, I'm likely to be peeved beyond reason at the book I did get. Even when the book itself, as written, is entirely blameless.

Nothing new here.

But… wait, I'll get to the relevant part.
The relevant part, in the sense that my work is relevant to my LJCollapse )

Comments

( 46 comments — Leave a comment )
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_swallow
Apr. 3rd, 2007 06:37 pm (UTC)
I just wanted to mention that this is a fascinating post.
msagara
Apr. 4th, 2007 03:11 am (UTC)
Hello! It's great to see you. I want, of course, to know what about it is fascinating to you :)
suibhne
Apr. 3rd, 2007 07:52 pm (UTC)
For me the distinction between the names on the covers alerts me right off that this is a new style for you. Charles de Lint does something similar with using his alternate name for his more horror based books. You know picking them up that you may be predisposed to like the book because you like the author in one voice, but you are warned to approach with an open mind. I've really enjoyed both of your voices. I think if I hadn't had that clue, I might have been put off. That sense of not getting what you expect, which you mentioned. But with the difference in name I know to keep an open mind and see where this new approach takes me.
msagara
Apr. 4th, 2007 03:13 am (UTC)
For me the distinction between the names on the covers alerts me right off that this is a new style for you.

Yay! This was the biggest reason to keep the two names separate. It's hard because I don't want to give anyone the sense that I'm ashamed of the books, or that they're not somehow mine -- but at the same time, I think they're different enough that I also want to make that distinction somehow.

book_wench
Apr. 4th, 2007 04:25 am (UTC)
I think Jonquil had it right with the Nora Roberts/JD Robb comparison. I love both series, but I have to admit that until I read this post, I didn't realize that I treat the two differently when talking to customers. I had a lady in just the other day who wanted big and complex with as many characters as possible, and I gave her Broken Crown--it never occurred to me to say, "And if you like this, she's got another series." (Sorry, Michelle. Truly--I'll think of it next time.)

As someone else said, it all depends on what kind of reader you're talking to. I think most people would like both because both books have characters that reach up off the page and grab you by the throat. However, there's no denying I would never give a Sun Sword reader the Cast books without telling them not to expect the hugely complex plot and world of the Sun Sword. Vice versa, if I were asked about the Sun Sword series by a Cast reader, I would warn them that they are going to be in for the long haul.

For myself, the Sun Sword books are my soulmate, but I very much enjoy being unfaithful to them with the Cast books.
msagara
Apr. 4th, 2007 04:42 am (UTC)
it never occurred to me to say, "And if you like this, she's got another series." (Sorry, Michelle. Truly--I'll think of it next time.)

No, no, this is good -- this is what I do when I'm working in the bookstore (admittedly with other people's books). I really like trying to match people with books they'll like; I like the challenge (it took me 8 years to figure out one reader who came in every weekend, but when I finally did get it, it was great), and I really only think of the reader and the books when I'm doing this.

For myself, the Sun Sword books are my soulmate, but I very much enjoy being unfaithful to them with the Cast books.

And omg, I have to steal this :D
(no subject) - book_wench - Apr. 5th, 2007 04:24 am (UTC) - Expand
leighsala
Apr. 4th, 2007 06:52 am (UTC)
If I was describing the difference between the two, I'd have to say that I think of the Luna books as 'lighter' in terms of the number of characters, and the intricacies of plot, but (and especially in the case of Cast in Courtlight) sharing the same level of emotional complexity. And since its that emotional depth that *I'm* reading for, I like both series. I also have a real love for the sprawling epic, so the Sun Sword series are doubly dear to me. Now if only I could get the fourth book back on the shelves at my bookstore so I can recommend it to people again!
(Anonymous)
Apr. 6th, 2007 11:55 pm (UTC)
I first bought 'Broken Crown' at Jacks 99c store in Manhattan while on a 2 night layover there a few years ago. I am completely addicted to reading (anything from the classics to the cereal box at breakfast if there's no current book) and had forgotten the current book at home. I went back 4 days later on my next layover and bought another copy as a present for my brother in law for his birthday. Then I went looking for the rest of the series.

I shudder to think how long it may have taken me to discover those books if I had not seen that book at Jacks that day.

I want to ask you, please, to continue to allow your readers to exercise their minds. It is perhaps the trait that I most appreciate in your style of writing. "Clarify, clarify, clarify" is for textbooks! Case in point: the new Dune book, Hunters of Dune, clarified where Frank Herbert would have left the reader to work it out (IMHO) and succeeded in being just boring and disappointing.

When I gave that first West book to my brother in law, I told him that the only author I could compare you to was Frank Herbert, in how intricate the storyline was, and how the story stuck in my mind for days after I finished the book. In that sense I can say the same for the Luna books. The pace and language style is more contemporary, but how you weave the story, what keeps me reading when I should be eating or sleeping, remains the same. I used to reread Dune series whenever I ran out of something new to read, now I've added the Sun Sword series. Every reread of Dune I would see some new (to me) sub plot or deduce some new cause for a later event, making it a permanent resident of my bedside bookshelf.

I think most people who've read one series would enjoy the other and those who don't, well, you can't please everyone.

BTW, right after I finished the first West book, my 15 yr old (then) daughter started reading it. Luckily it was a weekend because she literally did not stop until the end. When I had to take it away to MAKE her go to sleep, her argument was that I should understand since I've already read the book! She has subsequently lent the series to some of her friends, all of whom then went out and bought their own copies ( in some cases, initially, because there was a waiting list and after the first book most couldn't wait for the next book to get to them). I find it hard to imagine any fantasy fan finding those books boring. Unless he/she didn't get beyond the first 2 chapters?

I am involved in a program to encourage adolescents and teens to read, I have consistently recommended the Hunter and Sun Sword series to the older teens and recently the Cast series as well and most like those books (both series/worlds) well enough to request a similar "standard" of fantasy writing (not quite in those words, but definitely that meaning).

I hope some of the above was helpful.

msagara
Apr. 10th, 2007 04:15 am (UTC)
I hope some of the above was helpful.

It was very, very encouraging, and thank you for posting it. I would never in a million years have thought of the Dune comparison -- and I loved those books beyond reason when I first encountered them at fifteen.

But I think that the reason some people find them boring is the pace, which is slow. I admire George R.R. Martin's ability to pace a huge, multi-viewpoint plot -- because those books just move.
parsnip_chan
Apr. 8th, 2007 11:10 pm (UTC)
I'm quite happy that I found your LJ through random searches. I've been following your novels for almost 6 years now and have often debated whether or not I'd write some fan mail to show my appreciation. But I'll save that for a more formal approach than simple e-mail/comments.

It looks like you've gotten quite a bit of useful advice from what I saw as I skimmed the above comments but I thought I'd lend my own perspective and say that I might have had lowered expectations when I first picked up Cast in Shadows when it was first released. Perhaps a better phrase would be that I had very few expectations because you have always made the disclaimer that the two pseudonyms each had a unique writing style. Because of this, I approached your novel with an open mind and loved it.

My only complaint about the Sagara novels is that I read through them to quickly, but that's a sign that your diligence in stripping word metaphors out of these novels worked because I got lost in the plot rather than the detail. The more detail you add, the more I look for subtleties in characterization.

So, in general, I think the approach you've been taking will continue to be effective for many of your fans and in keeping your fans rather than driving them away.

Other things that may be useful is to point out that each has a unique universe, one focuses on multiple POVs whereas one is almost exclusively a single POV, and one focuses on details and character subtleties (I.e. West Novels) versus the plot itself (i.e. Sagara). At least that's my interpretation because in your West Novels, I focus on the characters and how they grow rather than the plot itself like with the Sagara novels. I still love the characters, but the plot itself is what drives me to read it.

In general, I'd say keep your answers neutral when replying to a fan who wants to know if both stories will be equally enjoyable. Point out some of the differences as you did here in terms of what you focused on when writing the novels, and perhaps suggest that the answer is subjective to the readers since some like both and some prefer one series over the others. And perhaps the most diplomatic answer would be to tell them to read the first chapter of each before deciding if they want to give it a try. From that, they can make their own decision.

To the reader who wants a simple Yes and No answer, I'd almost be more inclined to believe they'd rather read the Sagara novels because the West novels open ending will drive them insane. Your Isladar still drives me insane every time I read him and I'd like to say I'm pretty patient and easygoing!

Hopefully, some of this was new and useful. Thank-you for your hard work!
msagara
Apr. 10th, 2007 04:18 am (UTC)
Your Isladar still drives me insane every time I read him and I'd like to say I'm pretty patient and easygoing!

Isladar plays the long game, and for keeps. I can't (obviously) say more -- but only one thing has happened in all of the books in which he's appeared that was not thought out, not planned. Most of the demons don't understand people all that well because, for the most part, they simply don't care; Isladar understands people sometimes better than they understand themselves, and this makes him probably the most dangerous of the kin.

I am ambivalent about him, myself.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 9th, 2007 02:35 am (UTC)
I picked up Cast in Shadow first. I saw all your sun sword books on the shelf every time I went to Barnes and noble all these years and never picked up to read. It took only that one book and I bought all your books and read in Chronological order, Sundered, Hunter's and sun sword. The point is, IMO, if reader likes your story telling style and depth of your writing, they would want to read all your books, like I did. There is one underlying theme that I find, exists in all your books. The deepening (Sorry,i don't even know if this word exist) relationship and interaction between dark and good characters. Therefore, if reader likes strong female character, magic, fantasy, character depth and growth, romance between dark and light, strong story and plot, they exist in both books. One of the comment was comparing your sun sword books with Guy Gavriel kay. I read two of his books (Tigana, Song of Arbonne)beacause I found out that you like to read his books. The ending of each books, made me depressed. I didn't go to any lengths and buy all his books and read. Your books gives hope and celebration of life. So, I read both your books because I find what I look for in both of your books. I tried to send it under my username it will not let me, so i am posting it under Anonymous. My user name is sandhya64
sandhya64
Apr. 9th, 2007 02:53 am (UTC)
I am just replying my own. I can post with my username now. I just need to load a picture now with my username. Sorry, I am new here as far as posting goes.
(Anonymous)
May. 29th, 2007 12:59 am (UTC)
Reader expectations
I'm one of your fans who has only read the "Cast" series, and I'll admit, I initially picked it up because I thought it was more what I expected from "urban" fantasy - our world, only different (usually because of the inclusion of magic and/or magical races).

I suspect if I'd known when I picked up the first book that it had more of a "typical" fantasy setting, I'd have passed it by - much to my loss! I am absolutely hooked on Kayla's story.

But I'm not a big fan of epic fantasy. I seldom read what I consider "true" fantasy. My first exposure to it was Tolkien's Hobbit (hated it). Then someone told me I *had* to read Donaldson's "Thomas Covenant" series. Absolutely loved it (and his second "Mordant" series). But my next foray into epic fantasy was Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series, almost 10 years later. And that series has definitely burned me out against committing to a multi-volume series with one main story ARC going on. It's almost 20 years later, still not finished, mired in detail and - some prior fans would say - ego.

The other thing I find difficult with most fantasy that I've picked up is the need for a glossary and/or index of characters. Those books were easier to spend time on when I was still in school and had time for re-reads with each new release. I could spend a week digesting a book, learning how to pronounce (or suffer through) the convoluted names and complicated politics. I just don't have the energy for these any more! Maybe when I retire...

So I could see where there might be a difference for at least some of your fans. You might ask how they came to find you...from epic fantasy or from urban fantasy (or even "paranormal romance"). Some may love both, but some may have to be coaxed to try the other, if it's not familiar.

Miki
(Anonymous)
Sep. 12th, 2007 03:09 am (UTC)
I think I was vaguely aware that Michelle Sagara and Michelle West were the same person when I picked up Cast in Courtlight at the library. I'm sorry to say that I'd read your 1st Sacred Hunt book at exactly the wrong time (ie, not really in the mood for Big Fat Fantasy), and then I had a run of bad-books-with-Jody-Lee-covers, so I'm afraid I shied away from everything else you wrote.

But being as I was desperate and remembered you as competent (it's been a bad month for picking out good books for me), I checked Courtlight out -- AND LOVED IT! Your plot was interesting! Your magic was interesting! Your characters were interesting and likeable! Your POV on life didn't make me want to slit my wrists! Also, I couldn't put it down.

So I made a point of immediately informing my romance/fantasy-loving best friend, and we are now planning to hit the rest of the series. I will probably go back and hit the Sacred Hunt books, too, but I may go looking for the Sun Sword books first. (Depends on what I find at the bookstore.)

Thank you again for writing Cast in Courtlight. Honestly, it was a breath of fresh air and good magic, too. :)

(I'm loving that new Jody Lee art style, too. Makes me happy to see an established artist stepping out of her comfort zone.)
msagara
Sep. 13th, 2007 07:32 am (UTC)
But being as I was desperate and remembered you as competent (it's been a
bad month for picking out good books for me), I checked Courtlight out --
AND LOVED IT! Your plot was interesting! Your magic was interesting! Your
characters were interesting and likeable! Your POV on life didn't make me
want to slit my wrists! Also, I couldn't put it down.


This made my day - and as I'm revising, it was very welcome.

But I have to ask (and hope that you actually see this response): Are there really many fantasy novels with a POV on life that makes readers want to slit their wrists? I can think of a few of them, but not all that many -- which would make it a very bad reading month.

But: I can suggest a whole bunch of books that don't do this, if you're interesting
rianax
Feb. 29th, 2008 10:33 pm (UTC)
I have to say my love of you came from your short stories. They were lyrical , unique and quietly haunting in ways that linger days afterward in my head.

As much as I enjoyed your series, that serene haunting quality is what made me buy anthology after anthology with your name in it.
msagara
Mar. 1st, 2008 09:02 pm (UTC)
I have to say my love of you came from your short stories. They were lyrical , unique and quietly haunting in ways that linger days afterward in my head.

I think you are the first person to ever say this. I get (some small amount of) email about the short stories -- but specific stories, rather than general comments.

Can I ask which stories, in particular? I tend to approach short stories -- which I haven't written in a few years because I've been so very behind in everything -- in a trust-your-subconscious-because-it's-due-now way, and sometimes what people say about them makes me re-examine what I've written in a different light.
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