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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.


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. :)