Michelle (msagara) wrote,
Michelle
msagara

Questions I'm asked at the store: Entitlement thoughts part I

Before I start, I want to point out that I've touched on reader-entitlement before. Everything I've said there is still true, but everything I said there was very relevant to the way I feel as a writer of a multi-volume story.

This post is more general: it's about things I've heard--frequently--in the bookstore from customers. Not from every customer, but often enough that it warrants some thought. I don't argue (much) with customers who evince these opinions or have these reactions, because that's not my job (I will, however, argue with them about why I should love or hate a book, because as a reader, I have my own opinions about this; I consider that part of my job as well. Ahem). My job is to find them books they'll enjoy reading. I'm not in the bookstore as an author; I'm in the bookstore as a bookseller.

So I have two distinct reactions to every single complaint: the bookseller reaction and the author reaction. Actually, I have a third reaction: the reader reaction. It's mostly, but not entirely, folded into the bookseller reaction for the purposes of this discussion.

The not entirely part is this: As I said in a previous post: Readers engage with their reading. It's not reasonable--not desirable, really--to expect readers to be distant, polite, and dispassionate in their response to books they either loved or hated.

It's perfectly reasonable, on the other hand, to expect them to be distant, polite or dispassionate when they're interacting with the authors of works they hated; most authors I know (myself included) are delighted when readers are not dispassionate or distant about books they loved - although polite is always good.

It's hard to maintain distance, however, when the author and the book are so closely entwined in a reader's mind. I know this because as a reader, I've sometimes failed to make this distinction: when I read a book that moves me, that speaks to parts of me that most books fail to even touch, there's some part of my reader mind that feels as if I'm not alone; that someone, somewhere, has gone through exactly what I've gone through, and they've captured it so perfectly it makes me almost feel I know something about them.

This is an emotional response; it's not a rational one. And I realize on an intellectual level that I, in fact, know nothing about them and they wrote this book knowing nothing about me -- but. Well.

Let me start with the most common thing I've been told.

I hate George Martin/Melanie Rawn/insert author name here for not finishing their series. Why the hell are they working on something else when they haven't finished their series yet?

I think, if you read on-line at all, you've run across this in many different venues. My writer self cringes. Why? Because I am working, notably, on two different series, and one of them is the multi-volume story. It's a question that could have been easily asked of me during the gap between Sun Sword and Hidden City, since I was demonstrably doing work on other books.

(Quick PSA insert: I'm not looking for reassurance in this post. I'm pointing out the internal author viewpoint to make clear where I'm coming from.)

It's a question that in theory could be asked now, because I'm still working on both. I'm sensitive to it for that reason, and sometimes I want to hide behind the nearest large object when I hear this come up.

I know what my reasons are. I know how much of an ulcer it causes me to miss deadlines or write books that are too damn long, or otherwise stumble in the writing. I know that staring at a computer screen while bound to a desk and working on a book that isn't working is its own special brand of hell, and I know that when my kids were sick, and young, so much working time would just fly out the window, never to reappear. I didn't write a single word when my youngest, at 3 (he's 12 now) was in the hospital for nine days.

But, vastly less expected (by me): I also didn't write a word for three months after he was released. I simply couldn't write at all. This had never happened to me before, in any of my other life crises; once any previous crisis had passed, and I could focus on something other than crisis again, I got right back down to words. This is, by the way, one of the reasons that Sea of Sorrows was so late.

I can therefore extend a similar certainty that the authors in question have reasons for not doing what readers would like them to do, because I have been in situations in which I couldn't.

Having said that, if writing is a vocation, it is also a job, and some companies will fire you if you cannot show up to work on time, or if you miss six months, regardless of your explanation. Some readers will also do the same: they will fire you, because they're disgusted with the lack of a book. That's the extreme; many readers, if they're aware of the difficulty, will wait patiently; some, however, will not.

I don't feel there's much cause to argue with them about this: readers are angry because the book has not been written. The book has not been written. Therefore, their anger and the facts are aligned.

Could their anger be mitigated? Yes, absolutely: Authors can explain exactly why they've been absent, why they've been unproductive. Silence is not a very good mitigation in these days of internet instant-communication. It does require that said authors open up some aspects of their personal or private lives to do this, however. And I don't actually think an author owes an explanation that they simply do not feel comfortable giving. When I lost months post-hospital, did I rush to my blog to post about it and apologize? No, I didn't. At the time, I could not talk about it publicly; I just couldn't. I can now because it's almost ten years in the past.

In the absence of communication, however, readers will make their own assumptions.

Explanation or excuse aside, a reader doesn't have to keep reading, period. If they choose to take their money elsewhere as a consequence of the long, long gaps between books, that's fine. I wish that those readers didn't attribute causes to the lack of book (the writer is lazy; the writer is having too much fun doing other stuff; the writer has no clue where he or she is going, etc.), and that they didn't take it personally, but books are personal for readers.

And also? It's almost impossible for some people not to attempt to come up with explanations for the behaviours of other people. In an attempt to explain--to ourselves--why a situation that frustrates us so much exists, it's almost compelling to create a narrative. Narrative however is frequently a fictional device.

When a reader says the above comment re: unfinished series to me, I don't actually know the reasons why the book has failed to make an appearance, beyond "it's not written yet". I don't claim to speak on behalf of any author that isn't me. I don't try to publicly pinpoint why the authors in question haven't finished their books. If I knew them well enough, and if the circumstances were right, I might ask--but if I did receive an answer, and that answer wasn't one that the author in question had chosen to make public, I wouldn't either.

However. When it comes down to brass tacks? A reader is not actually required to care about the reasons. They're simply not. They aren't buying the author's life or friendship; they're buying a book. At base, they are trying to find books they love, and if they are so annoyed by the absence of future books that they're unwilling to buy anything else from that author, that's their prerogative, in its entirety. They are not required to continue to support an author who's disappointed them for any reason.

So in the main, this reader response isn't one that really pushes my entitlement buttons.

The next one (which I'm working on now and will probably have ready to go tomorrow), however, does.

Edited because -ing and -ed are not the same
Tags: in the bookstore, readers
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