Michelle (msagara) wrote,

Questions I'm asked at the store: Entitlement thoughts part 2

Having covered probably the most common reader complaint I've heard over the years in the bookstore, I'm now going to move directly to one of the next most common.

I hate LKH for turning Anita Blake into such an oversexed solipsist. Doesn't she realize that she's losing all her fans?

This one, oddly enough, I have more problems with, for a variety of reasons. And this one follows more clearly amber_fool's question, which spawned the previous two posts indirectly.

The first problem would be: LKH regularly hits NYT #1 with her later books. She is clearly not losing all her fans. The argument made here isn't based on what I can see as objective fact, unlike the previous argument downstream; in the previous post the base fact is: Book 5 or book 3 do not exist, which is immutable.

In this case, however, it's clear to me that LKH's writing choices are not losing her all her fans. An author doesn't climb to #1 on the NYT bestseller list consistently without any fans.

When it comes down to brass tacks (and where does that phrase come from?), what's being said here is: I hate what she's done with the series I used to love. Hate it. Hate it.

And I have no problems with that. But that's not how it's worded (let me just add: I get a lot of the flat-out Hate it comments, and those don't push entitlement buttons for me because there's no point for discussion; the reader hates the book. I can't very well say "no you don't!" and not seem insane or inattentive).

Did I read the early books? Yes. And I enjoyed them. Do I like the direction she chose to go in? No. No, I don't. Did I stop reading them? Yes, because I didn't like what she was doing. Do I hate her? Well, no. Do I make dire predictions for her future career based on the fact that I didn't like where she was going? No. I can see that if I didn't care for the direction Anita was taking, a lot of other people did; she's selling. She has a lot of fans; some people clearly did enjoy where she took her characters, and they wanted to go along for that ride.

I got off the bus.

It's her right as an author to write what she feels compelled to write as long as she has a publisher who agrees that it's viable; hell, it's her right to do so even if she doesn't. It's my right as a reader to stop reading when I don't care for what she feels compelled to write.

What I don't understand are the readers who still read those books, while hating on them so ferociously. The hate-on isn't going to change what she chooses to write because if you read her blog, she's clearly dedicated to her vision. I admire the dedication; I don't admire the results.

So, bottom line for me here is: I don't like where this book is going, and I'm not willing to shed money to get it there.

This, however, is the bookseller and reader response. The author response is different. So I'm now going to talk a little about me-in-my-writer-hat response, because in this case, the author response is a little more visceral.

I write a series of novels, which I distinguish from a multi-volume single story in a variety of structural ways. I try to keep the books as self-contained as possible, while allowing the characters the room to grow or change. I haven't been entirely successful at self-contained writing--but I'm continuing to reach for that in the Cast novels. As I write, and continue to write them, the world does change as consequences of previous actions come to the fore; the characters change as they grow. And here's the thing about that: some of the changes will not be the ones that some of the readers are hoping for. Do I know which changes those are? No, actually, I don't. But I do know it will happen, because it seems almost inevitable.

Am I aware that I, like LKH, will lose readers for making choices that seem natural to me--and don't to some readers--within a series? Yes. Yes, I am.

Does this fill me with joy? Why, no, now that you ask, it really doesn't. No one wants to disappoint their readers. And not just for mercenary reasons, although those exist. It's hard, when you put the time and work into a book. to have it fall flat or fail with readers, especially with readers who liked and supported the previous volumes in a series. They feel angry, or even betrayed, because the characters they loved are wandering off in a direction they didn't anticipate when they started reading the series. And as a writer, I feel insecure and worried because I did somehow have their attention, and I failed to maintain it. I failed to write something that could sell the changes and the story I was telling to that segment of readership so that said changes naturally seemed the only possible outcome.

What I hope is that those readers don't then assume that I'm writing a book that disappoints and annoys them with the intent of doing either; I'm not.

But, like LKH, I have stories I want to tell, and on some base level, they're my stories. I want to write them well enough that they're clear to the readers who read them; I want to make them compelling enough that the story I'm trying to tell works for them.

That's the important phrase for me: the story I'm trying to tell. There are hundreds of ways to fail the story I'm trying to tell. When I see reviews which point some of these things out, it's clear to me that I did fail, and it's clear to me how. Not all of the choices that seem clear to me while I'm writing are as clear to readers who don't have my brain.

But when readers don't care for the book because it's not the book they wanted, as opposed to not a well-executed book, it's trickier. When they are angry--as they are with LKH--about the fact that the books are not the books they wanted to read, it does push my buttons on the writer side, in a way that the reader/bookseller side fails entirely to notice.

I think it's ultimately a losing game to attempt to write novels--or TV shows--to a vocal subset of the readers a writer does have. Because while I understand what some readers want to see, I'm not at all convinced that a story that comes solely from a desire to placate readers, and not as a consequence of a writer's deep investment, is going to work for anyone.

I think a writer has a responsibility to their story.

I think a writer has a responsibility to write that story to the best of their ability.

I think a reader has the right to react to that story in whatever way they react: love it, hate it, fall asleep half-way through it. Throw it against the wall. Refuse to buy anything else by that author Ever Again. Tell people how much they hated the book, and why.

But. I don't think a reader has the right to expect or demand that the story be something entirely different; I don't think they have the right to demand that a writer's responsibility to them is much, much larger than it is to their story, because while a given reader may hate the story, not every reader will or does.

I can tell you what I hated about the LKH books. I can tell you exactly where I stopped. I can complain bitterly about what the books had become. But I don't hate LKH for not writing the books that I wanted to read. I don't, in my anger and disappointment, assume that because I didn't like the books, she should understand what she should have written instead, because it is not, in fact, all about me. I know that she feels strongly about the story she needs to tell. And it's clear to me that there are readers who want to read the story she feels she has to tell.
Tags: in the bookstore, readers
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