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Acts of faith & entitlement issues

jessicac posted the following in the previous thread, and I wanted to say a little bit about it, so I broke it out here.

 I don't know if you have seen this, but as a writer who sometimes does not have novels magically shooting out your eye sockets and onto bookstore shelves Lo-Pan style every six months, I thought you might find it amusing:

George R.R. Martin does not work for you

I did -- and I both loved it and have some reservations with it, oddly enough. Well, no, not reservations with what was said, because I feel that what was said is all true.

But: While it would be nice if readers understood that we are actually just normal people, with the usual financial and household stresses, and a host of other obligations, many of which will never be made public, I do personally feel as if I'm letting my readers down when I miss deadlines, etc. I do know that my readers will wait. I don't have as large an audience as GRRM or Pat Rothfuss -- so I have never once in my life received email of the type they get from furious and entitled readers, and if I had, I would probably feel differently.

Nor am I claiming anything for any other writer; this is, as usual, my opinion, and it reflects the way I think of my own work, just as my process reflects my individual approach.

So: Buying into the start of a multi-volume* story is an act of faith on the part of a reader. They are trusting me to finish the story.

This is not the same as trusting me to write a sequel to a story that doesn't need it, or trusting me to write a second book with characters they loved when the first book is clearly complete and I have already said there will be no sequel. Those, I think, are separate issues.

In the latter case, they're telling me what to write based solely on what they want to read. In theory I can't actually make a living as a writer if I'm not writing books that people want to read, but in practice, the vocal minority is frequently just that: a minority. I've told the story. I've finished the story. Getting angry at me because you want more of the same thing is, imho, unreasonable, because in all likelihood I have run out of the emotional verve that would make it good, and what I would write instead...

In the former case, though, while it's true that a reader is putting down their 10.00 (or more or less) for the book they now have in their hands, they are also buying into the promise of the rest of the story. Because I know of zero readers who would be willing to pick up book 1 of a series which they know for a fact will never be finished or published. (Unless the author is dead and the book is posthumous, which is a slightly different kettle of fish.)

It is that act of initial faith -- the buying of the first book -- that allowed me to write the rest of the books in the Sun Sword series. If every reader, feeling burned by authors who have not -- for whatever reason -- finished their multi-volume series, had refused to buy my first novel, a totally partial story, until they had proof that the whole thing would be finished, the rest of the books would never have been published. This is a simple fact.

I obviously want to write that multi-volume story. I know where it ends. I know I can get there. (I also know it's 2 books, at least at the start, but that's a different thing *rueful g*). So... I need readers who are willing to make the initial investment. Those readers make that investment of both money and reading time because they think I'll finish the story. Which is the faith part.

I need reader faith and confidence if I'm to write the books at all. Because, as I said up above: No one will buy Book One if they are certain there will be no further books. They'll buy something self-contained, instead. So...

There are all kinds of things that come between me and finishing the book. There are all kinds of things that come between me and finishing a book on time.

And I feel guilty when I miss deadlines for whatever reason, because I'm aware that without the initial act of faith, I wouldn't have a meaningful deadline; I wouldn't be able to write these books, which I love and want to write.

So... it is true that I do not work for you. But it is also true that without enough of you, I would not be able to do this work at all.

I define multi-volume story as an -ology. In my case, it's the West DAW books. The Sun Sword. House War. It's a story that isn't finished until the last book is completed. The series novels--which would be, for me, the Sagara Luna novels, are more like Mystery novels to me, in the sense that each story has the more traditional beginning/middle/end within one set of covers.

ETA: proper lj-cut tags. Sigh.


( 34 comments — Leave a comment )
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May. 14th, 2009 11:58 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I feel the same. I have full sympathies for the writers, but I also do for readers . . . I guess I have never forgotten hearing about Mary Renault trying to hang on as she was dying of cancer, hoping that she'd get to read the last Patrick O'Brian book.
May. 15th, 2009 12:05 am (UTC)
What I try to do these days, is to buy into a story/series and wait with reading it until the series is complete.

And meanwhile hoping the books doing actually suck.

May. 15th, 2009 12:07 am (UTC)
Oooh, well-said. I agree that there's a difference in expectation between the categories, of stand-alone works vs continuing series vs -ologies. And it's not an unreasonable difference of expectation. That said, harassing writers is still always bad.
May. 15th, 2009 12:12 am (UTC)
That said, harassing writers is still always bad.

Yes. And because I don't have the sheer size of a Martin or Rothfuss fan-base, the readers I do have have been absolutely fabulous about the delays or the book splits or the real life stuff. They don't try to make me feel guilty; I feel guilty.
(no subject) - rowyn - May. 15th, 2009 08:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 15th, 2009 12:17 am (UTC)
Don't waste valuable writing time feeling guilty; just do the best you can.
May. 15th, 2009 12:38 am (UTC)
I don't really notice deadlines, or at most I take them as hopeful estimates, never absolute promises. As long as the story will continue as promised, I'm cool.

Having been burned by two different authors who didn't ever finish their multi-volume series, although they kept writing other stuff, I only recently regained enough faith in writers in general to read any book of a multi-volume series that wasn't yet finished.

One of those two authors died without ever finishing the series I was reading (but wrote lots of other stuff in the 20+ years he had to finish it). The other is still alive, but making no promises at all as to when or if she'll finish one of her OLD was-to-be-a-trilogy. THAT bothers me.
May. 15th, 2009 12:58 am (UTC)
The second author wouldn't happen to have the initials MR, would she?
(no subject) - lyssabits - May. 15th, 2009 02:59 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - technomom - May. 15th, 2009 04:29 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mizkit - May. 15th, 2009 08:23 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - technomom - May. 15th, 2009 09:38 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mizkit - May. 15th, 2009 10:15 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - domynoe - May. 15th, 2009 11:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - technomom - May. 15th, 2009 04:31 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 15th, 2009 12:58 am (UTC)
I tend to try to wait until series are finished before I start reading them to avoid this sort of problem. I have such a backlog now that it seems to be working out pretty well, lol.
May. 15th, 2009 01:02 am (UTC)
Good post and very well said.

As a writer who has never finished a novel, I know what it is like to struggle with one. As a fan I know what it is like to patiently/impatiently wait for one.
May. 15th, 2009 01:20 am (UTC)
Two things pop into mind.

1. Screaming at someone already stressed out won't make them work faster. It'll seize them up even worse, and they're already having problems. Replace screaming at with begging, whining at, or bitching at, and get the same results.

2. There's an implicit contract between a multi-volume author and the audience. The author, by putting out a series, says "I'm going to keep telling this story." The audience's side of the contract is "We'll keep reading." But the author is the action in the contract; the audience can't act until the author does. When the audience has received multiple notices of an upcoming book, and then nothing materializes, then it's natural to feel the frustation of a broken contract.

So....yeah, there's issues on both sides. I've been wrestling this crocodile for a while; my natural story length is the epic format. (And yes, you inspire me. :D )
May. 15th, 2009 01:26 pm (UTC)
my natural story length is the epic format


The stories that turn up in my head are never going to fit into 100K volumes. Even though my WIP was planned as a standalone, I'm looking at the sheer depth of the story and thinking that no, it will never be done in one volume. I am trying to find good end points, but it's hard.

As a reader, don't like having to deal with brief snatches (or reset buttons where the main character does not evolve much, as is common in mysteries); I want to be able to immerse myself, I want the story to be complex.
May. 15th, 2009 01:32 am (UTC)
The difference is not only in your fans, but in the way you end a book. GRRM drives me up a tree because he'll end a book with the proverbial cliffhanger and make the readers wait years to find out what happens next. He begins actions shortly before the end of the book only to end them without completion as a whet for the next book, which leaves people (*raises hand*) foaming at the mouth. I don't gripe at him, because at the end of the day (..years..) I know I'll get the rest of that story and I can wait.

Your books don't end that way. Each book has.. well, a chapter of the saga ending. There are plot hooks throughout the book that may not have ended, because the overall story isn't finished, but that particular chapter has come to an end. Quite frequently, the next book will begin from a different perspective, or a new character, or somewhere else. You don't end a book with something like, "Jewel picked up a knife and crept forward, aligning her blow with the back of Teller's head." and then end the book and make us wait *mumble* years to complete, "Waiting until he'd caught sight of her shadow and startled, turning wide eyes to her over his shoulder, she burst into laughter and cried, 'You should see your face!'"

I don't have to re-read your entire series to know what the new book is starting with. I generally do, but that's a choice, not a necessity forced upon me by a book opening mid-action after a long enough time period that I've forgotten why the action is taking place. The reader could conceivably pick up any of your books anywhere along the story and begin, and in that book, get caught up on what's going on. Not so of GRRM.

For example. :)
May. 15th, 2009 02:17 am (UTC)
I still feel that Robert Jordan broke faith with his audience when he decided to sell out in his third book and keep writing the same book over and over. The fan base would keep buying books, but without a conclusion it just gets stale. His first two books were brilliant, but I stopped reading at book six. He died almost twenty years after he started writing this thing, so someone else will have to finish the series for whoever is still reading it.

Some writers write for their agents instead of their readers. All they end up with is money. I'm not going to harass a writer, I'll just stop reading if I don't think they know where they're going.

I might question some of George Martin's artistic choices, but I do not doubt that they are artistic choices, not just commercial ones.
May. 15th, 2009 06:38 am (UTC)
That's a pretty cynical point of view, and not really even close to reality. I always get irritated when readers ascribe meta-reasoning to authors behind writing choices they may not like.

That being said, I'm fairly reluctant these days to pick up an unfinished series without a lot of excellent recommendation from people I know; partly because of series like WoT and The Dark Tower that I started reading in the late 80's, and partly because I just enjoy reading a series all at once more than I Do reading it spaced out over years.

But, if I have the choice, I will always take waiting for an author to write the book that they want to write versus a rushed piece of junk created to meet an artificial deadline (anyone remember the last book of The Deathgate Cycle?)
May. 15th, 2009 02:17 am (UTC)
In my experience, most authors try their best to finish a series. It's usually the publishers who may pull the plug before something is finished (that's happened to me as a reader, several times). Or the author actually passes away before finishing! I can't actually recall an author who has just stopped in the middle of a series of their own volition.
May. 15th, 2009 02:27 am (UTC)
Yes, I would like certain authors to produce their books faster. If they did that I would forever be reading the same authors. I take the time between favourite authors to discover new favourites. If I have to wait, doesn't the anticipation make getting the book that much nicer? It often does for me. Please take your time to craft the story you need to tell. (Note that I said need, not want.) Your track record shows me that any wait will be well worth it.
May. 15th, 2009 10:22 am (UTC)
I have to say how I feel about waiting on a book depends on how long I have to wait. 3 or 4 years? Somehow that doesn't bother me. I know it takes time, and I know sometimes other stories take precedence for whatever reason.

But I know of one author who is now in her...twelfth year between book 2 and the final book of a series. And that is just too long. I've given up going to her website and pretty much given up on the book itself. I'm not interested in reading any of her other series that she has put out because what if she does the same thing and just drops it for other books or whatever. Heck, if it ever does come out, and I reread the other books to prepare for it, I may find myself in a place where I'm no longer into that story. I know some life things got in the way, but she's written other books since then. Note the plural.

So, I think there's a balance: take a break if you need one, but don't leave your readers hanging. And if the publisher pulls the plug, let the readers know. If you've given up on the story, let your readers know.

And yes, I used to be frustrated about this particular book. Now? I don't even know if I'd bother to buy it. Probably would, but I'm to the point of whatever about it. (And since I've moved not once, but TWICE since waiting for this book, I'd probably have to buy at least one of the other books again because things get lost in the shuffle, which also will influence my decision if it ever comes out.) And you're right: if I had known it would be this long between those books, I would NOT have bought the first one until #3 at least had a pending publication date, which we still don't have (and I suspect we'll never have for whatever reason). And now I'm not buying her other books either. I just don't want to be left hanging like this again.

Edited at 2009-05-15 10:26 am (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
May. 15th, 2009 05:41 pm (UTC)
Is that a Dead Like Me icon? Squeee.
(no subject) - rowyn - May. 15th, 2009 09:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 16th, 2009 03:47 am (UTC)
You're really not letting us down. I recognize that my own sense of entitlement only exists in my head.

I will wait as long as is necessary for new Kaylin. A new book to me is better than being six, and waking up early the only day of the year I didn't have to be awakened. I also have that same sense of time passing so slowly in waiting for a new book that a child does. The unfortunate thing, for me, is that it only takes me an hour or two to consume the book I have been dying to read. Then I have weeks and weeks and even years to wait for new. I even try to make myself wait - I preorder or purchase on the day of release, and just look at the pretty cover. I pick it up and put it down, learning the cover by heart so I can see every bit of it, including the words on the jacket, behind my eyelids. When I finally cannot stand it any longer, I read all of the other books in the series again, finally coming to the new chapter in a few hours, depending upon how many books there were. After an hour or two, the new has been finished. Usually I read it again, so that I can make the book a part of me, to make sure I haven't forgotten anything, to make sure I haven't missed learning something, and relive my favorite parts. After that, I have to wait. Then a few weeks later, as I am still consumed by my favorite characters, I will read the book again. When I find the suspense is overwhelming, I will slowly read the series again - meaning no more than one book in the series in one day, spreading it out as much as possible. For the year or so, or more that I wait for a new entry, many permutations of this routine are observed, even though Kaylin is already a part of me, and I really haven't forgotten anything.

Oh, and I am making myself wait for 'new' because I will read all of your books, eventually. I know that when I start other books, I will not be able to stop.

So while the 'new' is short, that is my issue and not the author's, although I appreciate your feelings. /ramble

So, thank you.
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