Sunday, January 07, 2007

Owesies

A quote from James Nicoll's LJ post What readers are not owed by writers* caught my eye the other day, so naturally I had to hunt it down and wade through the accompanying comments to see what the verdict was. Looks like the jury is still out.

Readers sometimes relay what they believe that I owe them via the letters and e-mails they send. Some are interesting, some are funny, some are flat-out hostile, but all of them make the same basic demand: "[Book title] made me very unhappy. You owe me. I want you to write this: [reader demand.] That will make me happy."

I'm not a Shahrazade, but if I did write to settle up with just a fraction of these folks, Duncan Reever would have died a horrible death in Beyond Varallan or Endurance, Jadaira would have had the baby in Afterburn, Caine would have ended up with Terri in Heat of the Moment, no one would ever suffer or die in my novels, Cherijo would be a compassionate, sweet-tempered, lovable character, I'd only write Christian fiction, I'd quit writing and make room for the more superior writers whose rightful shelf space I'm polluting with my schlock, Liam and Brooke from the White Tiger trilogy would have their own novel, all of my protagonists would ride off together on Without a Care the Wonderhorse into the Sunset of Supreme Happiness, John Keller from the Darkyn novels would not exist, I'd only write nice books, everything I wrote after Eternity Row would have been a clone of the first five StarDoc novels, etc.

It's strange stuff. And I still can't get over the one about Caine and Terri. They're first cousins. Euw.

I don't know what, if anything, writers actually "owe" readers. I always feel a responsibility to do my best work for the reader; that goes without saying. No one can write something that makes everyone happy. As to what ends up in print, I generally only sell what has (in the publisher's opinion) the greatest chance of selling well, or what has already sold well in the past.

What happened with StarDoc is a good example of when what the readers want does make a difference. Upon the publication of book five, the publisher announced that the series was over (quite a surprise for me.) I was told to write something else, and because I like paying the bills, I did. No publicity or promo was done by the publisher for StarDoc after that; StarDoc was finished. Over. Done with. Move along, lady.

Only it wasn't. The entire series kept selling for three years after the publisher decided to end it, and never went out of print. Now, I may have helped the cause a little with the freebie StarDoc novellas and short stories I wrote during the long gap between book five and six, but that was all I did. The readers and their word-of-mouth advertising are what kept the books selling. Eventually the publisher asked me to write new books for the series, and Cherijo was back in business. That's the real power that readers as a group have over any writer's work.

I'm curious to hear what other writers and readers think. Do you believe the writer owes the reader anything? If so, what, and why?

*Rifled from Jaquandor's Sentential Links #81

49 comments:

  1. I've received similar emails. I've gotten emails from readers who felt I had gone too far in a novel and from those who felt I hadn't gone far enough; from those who wanted a different novel than the one I wrote; readers who wrote to tell me that only Stephen King could write horror, and only Anne Rice could write vampire fiction and that no one else should even try; readers who told me that I had personally disappointed them by not creating a happy ending for a book, or an unhappy one for another book. I just assume these are people who have very fixed ideas about what a story should and shouldn't be and spend a lot of time letting people know that opinion.

    I write the story I want to experience and then read. A writer owes the book everything. I believe a novel has a life of its own. But to the reader, the writer owes a good story, well-told.

    I also get a lot of wonderful notes from readers who love the books or just like them or enjoy them. Those are the readers I write back to, when I can. I appreciate when someone connects to what I'm writing.

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  2. I'm not published or anything, so my opinion as a writer might not mean squat, but I think that the writer owes one thing to the readers: a good story. No one knows the characters better than the writer, and so the story is the writer's to decide what to do with.

    As a reader, I expect a good story. I deliver what I write. I write what I'd like to read, and what I'd expect to happen.

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  3. LesleyW5:24 AM

    As Jason and Douglas have already said, :). As a reader the main thing I expect from a writer that I support (by this I mean buy their books, persuade other people to buy their books) is that they will write good stories and be true to the characters/the universe they have created.

    One of the things I most dislike reading on the author message boards I frequent are the following complaints. Why aren't there any gay / black / disabled / insert your minority of choice / characters in your stories you should have some. Countered by Why have you got gay / black / disabled / ...characters in your stories. A small minority of fans seem to have a tendency to follow this up with "If you don't do this...(insert fan's idea of where the story should go or where it shouldn't go) then I'm not going to buy your books any more. How on earth can threatening someone make the creative process easier.

    The main reason I stop reading an author is when they stop being true to the characters / story. They lose the plot. I'm not talking about one book in a series that I didn't like. I read a lot of series and I'm aware that every so often there are slower books (I think of them as bridges) that have to get you from the end of plot A to the beginning of plot b.

    Some authors seem to reach a point where they either take their readership for granted, or they've taken on too much and the quality of their writing falls. Seems to be characterised by the books getting longer and the editing process no longer appearing to take place; characters behaving in inconsistent ways not because of the plot but because the author needs them to behave in that way; repetition of the same events with just the names of the characters changed.

    I have never written to an author and told them what to write. I have written to an author to ask them to explain to me why something happened in a book because I didn't understand (from the storyline) why it happened. I've also never threatened an author that I'd stop reading or buying their books if they didn't start writing in a certain way. I've just stopped buying them.

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  4. I'm another unpubbed, but I totally agree.

    The way I see it, I wrote it, it belongs to me, and I can do any damn thing I want to the characters--or rather, they can do anything damn thing they want to do.

    With readers complaining that you're not writing more books in a series or more of the same kind of books, I think that I paid for one book, and that's all I get. If we're lucky, the author is able to write more of them.

    Also, the Caine and Terri thing is Disgusting.

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  5. No. The author owes the reader nothing. Not even a well written book. Readers pay for the priviledge to see worlds and characters from writers' imaginations. Sometimes we pay too much. (If this happens, we don't come back.) Other times it's as if we've stolen treasure. (In this case, we line up in droves. We also bring friends.)

    But neither does the reader owe the author anything in return for their creation except the price of admission. Just because the author has written a book the author wants to read doesn't make it a book the readers want to read.

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  6. Huh. Interesting question. Not sure what the answer is. Madeleine L'Engle believes writers owe the work and I think she might be onto something. In other words, I owe it to the story to give it my best. If you do this, then it stands to reason that readers benefit because you've written the story as well and truly as you could. What more can a writer offer? Food for thought.

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  7. I don't think it's possible for a writer to owe a reader a 'well-written book' simply because different people perceive 'well-written' differently. What writers believe is good writing is sometimes different from what readers believe is good writing. For that matter, different writers perceive good writing differently too - e.g. 'literary' writers vs genre writers. I agree with Charlene - writers owe it to the story to give it their best. That's all.

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  8. Our best shot. Period.
    Do different parameters come into play with a series?

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  9. fionaphoenix8:57 AM

    Meh. I had a whole thing written out, but I was confusing myself so I scrapped it. I think it all boils down to personal taste. A writer writes the story as they see it. If that story interests enough readers, the writer gets asked by the publisher to write more. That's probably way oversimplified, but that is how my non-published mind works.

    For what it's worth, I probably wouldn't have read any more of the Stardoc series if you had killed off Duncan early on, so there is a "vote" to counter at least one of those you comments you listed.

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  10. Courtesy. Respect. The best book you can write. Appreciation.

    The courtesy and respect and admiration thing comes into play after many of the trainwrecks we've seen online after an author put both feet in their mouth, being rude to readers about ARCS, postage, etc etc etc. A reader buys my book the least I can do is appreciate it. If they didn't like it, they didn't it. The world won't end. Thanks for buying it, nonetheless.

    As to a well written book, yes, everybody has a different opinion of what well written means. But you need to put your best into the book. If you half ass your way through it, you're shortchanging yourself and your readers. Both deserve better.

    On series? I know personally how much it sucks to want more out of a series. I'm a huge stardoc fan and I screamed bloody murder that it was supposedly over. But sometimes a writer just can't finish a series.

    The publisher isn't interested. Maybe time, and readers, can change that.

    Maybe the series just ended in the author's mind. In that case, there isn't much that can be done. If the stories are done in the author's head, that's it.

    And I would have cried if Duncan turned out to be a bad guy.

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  11. I agree with Shiloh but as Fiona said, personal taste comes into play!

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  12. I was bloody outraged when Sara Paretsky bought back a book from an outraged reader. My response would have been "Do you know how much I'VE spent on books I didn't like? Do you know how much time I've spent reading them? Do you think those authors are going to reimburse ME for MY time and money?"

    And that would be the end of my career, which is rather stalled at the moment anyway.

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  13. Anonymous9:58 AM

    From a relatively new lurker/reader/non-published-sometime-writer/curmudgeon,

    I read the post you reference and mostly agreed. Basically, you don't owe me squat. I enjoyed Stardoc. I'd love to see more. But do you OWE me more? No.

    And you know what? If there aren't more, I'll get over it. Likewise, I don't owe it to you to read your Christian fiction. It's not my thing.

    If anyone owes anyone anything, it's your publisher/marketers. Give me a reasonably accurate description of the book. Don't re-package an older book and make it look like something new to make me buy it again. If those things are done and I don't like what I've bought, I'm the one to blame. And I won't lose a lot of sleep over it.

    And if a series starts to disappoint me? Well, Robert Jordan only takes up so much space on my shelves. He and I are done, but we had an amicable divorce.

    -Nathan

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  14. He and I are done, but we had an amicable divorce.

    lol, i like this description. I've had several amicable divorces.

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  15. Writers don't owe readers anything. They owe it to themselves to write the best story they can, and, hopefully, that will be rewarded both financially and in other ways.

    Finding a writer we enjoy is like finding unexpected gold or other treasure. We keep going back for more, but sometimes the treasure changes or dries up, and that makes us sad. Our sadness shouldn't be taken out on the writer we've discovered (although we may believe asking for what we want may magically make it appear).

    Anything from the writer after the story is unexpected pleasure (I'd say gravy, but I'm not that fond of gravy). I certainly appreciate an opportunity to interact with or get to know a writer better, but that's not usually the only reason I read their books.

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  16. *has to get this out of my system*

    Duncan can't die! He can't, he can't, he can't! I *love* that character. I really, really do.

    Anyway.

    I've always felt that writers are a blessing and books are gifts. Without writers, I wouldn't have any fun in many years of my life. And I am more grateful than anything for their existence. So... I never to demand writers to do stuff. At the most I would offer my review, my opinion, or my thoughts. I would not threaten not to read/buy those books, or to demand something to happen. So I would say that "I adore Duncan and I really don't want him to die." But I wouldn't say "kill him and suffer the unspeakable consequence of one less sale", or demand his survival.

    So it all comes down to a question of attitude. I'm grateful to writers, and I idolize a couple of them. I respect their choices because in the end, the story and the characters belong to them. As a writer, it is their choice and right to write it however them want it. As a reader, it is my choice and right to read it or not. It should be a mutually respectful attitude, IMO.

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  17. When a book gets to me enough that I'm mad at the writer, I know that's a damn fine writer. I've just recently been through Stardoc 1-5, and I know I mentioned here at the end of one of the books that I was ticked at you. Coming from me, that's a compliment. If you'd backed off, the story would have been weaker--- I wouldn't have cared as much. And that's the whole damn point, isn't it?

    Looking at it from that direction, every piece of mail that shows how involved the reader got in the story, enough to be upset--- those are people that were affected enough to write and tell you so.

    Make me laugh, make me worry, make me cry... but if you make me cry, you'd better have something good to follow it up with, because for sure, I'm going to keep reading to see how the lemonade turns out.

    As for Cherijo being a bitch... well, if she was any weaker, she'd have caved in and acted like a victim a long time ago... given the amount of crap you've thrown at her, she'd have every right to. But she doesn't... and we like that, too.

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  18. As a writer, I feel I owe any reader my best work, using my full abilities at the time. (Granted, I'm unpubbed, so insert grain of salt here) That goes for any piece of work to which I set my hand.
    As a reader, I expect the same thing. Give me your best. That's it. If I don't like your story, I don't have to buy it. Period. That's the way the system works. Hopefully, I've written a story you want to read (and read more of after that one). We don't owe each other anything beyond that.

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  19. I'm with Rowan. I feel I owe my readers the best story I can give them at the time. And that's what I'm looking for as a reader.

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  20. Doug wrote: A writer owes the book everything.

    There you go -- you said it way better than I did.

    Jason wrote: I'm not published or anything, so my opinion as a writer might not mean squat, but I think that the writer owes one thing to the readers: a good story.

    Agreed. And your opinion counts here, Jason. Being published is just getting to a certain point on the writing road, the fact that you haven't arrived there yet doesn't make you less of a traveler.

    lesleyw wrote: Some authors seem to reach a point where they either take their readership for granted, or they've taken on too much and the quality of their writing falls.

    A common malady among authors, I'm sorry to say. It's like God's way of telling you that your advances have gotten too big for your britches.

    Seems to be characterised by the books getting longer and the editing process no longer appearing to take place

    I always wonder why some authors who go Big Name subsequently demand a no-edit clause. If an editor helped you up until that point, and contributed to your success, why on earth would you ditch them?

    May wrote: The way I see it, I wrote it, it belongs to me, and I can do any damn thing I want to the characters--or rather, they can do anything damn thing they want to do.

    My feeling, too, up until the book reaches the editing stage. I never had anyone tell me what to do with the work until after I signed my first contract, so it was quite an adjustment to have total strangers tell me to change something in a book. Still, they pay me for the privilege, so I feel like it works out okay. ;)

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  21. Mary wrote about readers: Sometimes we pay too much. (If this happens, we don't come back.) Other times it's as if we've stolen treasure. (In this case, we line up in droves. We also bring friends.)

    Not only do you guys line up in droves and bring friends, but you also create fan sites, discussion boards and loops, serve as unpaid marketing and publicity agents, distributors, chainstore buyer and library lobbyists, cheerleaders for the author, etc.

    Whatever harm publishing does to us, you guys always make up for it a hundred times over.

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  22. Charlene wrote: In other words, I owe it to the story to give it my best. If you do this, then it stands to reason that readers benefit because you've written the story as well and truly as you could. What more can a writer offer?

    I really don't know the answer to that. Some writers are good at other things -- marketing, self-promo, public speaking, etc. -- but we're not paid to do that. We're paid to write. I've always thought that should be the primary part of the job (but I have been told that writers no longer have to write to make a living in this business, so I could be wrong.)

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  23. Dawn wrote: What writers believe is good writing is sometimes different from what readers believe is good writing. For that matter, different writers perceive good writing differently too

    You're right, it's definitely up to individual taste> What some writers consider art, I consider an excellent non-narcotic sleep-aid. :)

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  24. Bernita wrote: Do different parameters come into play with a series?

    Series writers tend to be viewed more as property of the reader, I think, because of the nature of series writing. We're giving you a very long story that is going to take years to tell. I've had marriages that didn't last as long as some of my series.

    I think reader loyalty to a series author they follow is much more focused than that of a casual reader's one-book committment to a non-series writer. The series reader spends years reading our work, coming along for the ride as we grow as writers, and often develops deep, enduring emotional bonds with our characters.

    This devotion is wonderful, but the downside is series reader backlash. Long-term readers have expectations and God help the series writer who doesn't deliver.

    We've all seen it happen -- a writer who kills off a popular character, ends a series abruptly, changes a plot line dramatically, or dies before they can finish the series is often stomped on as being heartless and disloyal to their readers. Writers who changed genres after many years of writing in one also get slammed with a modified version of this.

    Reader opinions are not what navigate my series writing, and I don't think they should, but they are something the writer needs to consider before diving into writing a lengthy series.

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  25. I like Mary's comments.

    In an ideal world every author ought to be able to write how and what they want and either flurish or die with what they wrote. I think the books that have survived over time are usually the books written this way.

    Unfortunately publishers/marketers are probably necessary evils. They can help or hinder.

    Readers learn early on when an author is writing the "in" kind of book because they're what the publishers are saying are selling and not necessarily what the author "should" be writing.

    The only letters I've ever written an author are about books that I've thoroughly enjoyed. I don't think anyone should tell anyone what to write.

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  26. fionaphoenix wrote: A writer writes the story as they see it. If that story interests enough readers, the writer gets asked by the publisher to write more.

    That's it in a nutshell.

    Shiloh wrote: The courtesy and respect and admiration thing comes into play after many of the trainwrecks we've seen online after an author put both feet in their mouth, being rude to readers about ARCS, postage, etc etc etc.

    I don't consider the word reader as a synonym for the word reviewer, so let me pass on commenting on this one before I write something that throws all the hen parties into hysterics again. :)

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  27. Amie with the very hot comment icon wrote: I agree with Shiloh but as Fiona said, personal taste comes into play!

    I'm thinking of a book I read a few months ago that left a very bad taste in my mouth, and nodding. :)

    Jim wrote: I was bloody outraged when Sara Paretsky bought back a book from an outraged reader. My response would have been "Do you know how much I'VE spent on books I didn't like? Do you know how much time I've spent reading them? Do you think those authors are going to reimburse ME for MY time and money?"

    I've never bought back one of my books, or returned a book by another author to the store unless it had torn or missing pages. I have deliberately maimed and destroyed a couple, but I try not to so I can donate them to the library.

    When I was a rookie, I had a reader write to me and blow his spleen over the simple fact that my first book was a series novel. I politely suggested he return it to the store for a refund, and not buy any more of my novels, as I wasn't planning to write many standalones. He forgave me for my sins in a subsequent e-mail.

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  28. Nathan wrote: If anyone owes anyone anything, it's your publisher/marketers. Give me a reasonably accurate description of the book. Don't re-package an older book and make it look like something new to make me buy it again.

    I've been lucky in not having anything so far but mass market reprints of my hardcovers, but I know what you mean. Some authors are constantly having their old work reprinted, and a lot of those are retitled before they're rerelesed, so I always check the copyright date inside before I buy one.

    Packaging, genre labeling, cover art and copy is a real pain for me. I am allowed to see some of the copy that's written for a few of my books, and send in corrections for any inaccurare information contained therein. The decisions for that stuff are usually made by the publisher without consulting me, though, so I'm stuck with it as much as the reader.

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  29. No, of course not. I do write authors, because I know the first reader email (and every single subsequent email) just totally made my day. Really. But I don't get much, I'm just a little'un.

    I don't expect authors to write back to me, nor do I expect, really, anything.

    I don't much like authors who complain openly about how much they hate readers who email them. Seems ungrateful to me. Who are we writing for, if not readers?

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  30. Jean wrote: I certainly appreciate an opportunity to interact with or get to know a writer better, but that's not usually the only reason I read their books.

    Although I mostly meet writers via e-mail these days, it's always fascinating to talk to them. I usually start seeing or making better connections between the writer and the work after I meet them for some reason. Some writers talk exactly the same way they write; others are completely different. Their personalities can't be prejudged by their work, either. One brilliant scholar I know who writes very intellectual stuff is just a regular guy in real life, very down to earth and funnier than hell.

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  31. Crys wrote: in the end, the story and the characters belong to them. As a writer, it is their choice and right to write it however them want it. As a reader, it is my choice and right to read it or not. It should be a mutually respectful attitude, IMO.

    Some folks in the industry have suggested that authors not interact at all with readers because once a writer provides that kind of access, the reader loses respect for them. I don't think that's true in most cases, but I have a pretty terrific readership.

    I was raised to be courteous, and when I can't be, I try to say nothing at all. I no longer force myself to be coourteous to people who are deliberately rude to me (one of the perks of being an old crone writer) but I don't retaliate or hate them for it, either. There are a lot of unhappy people in the publishing world. Why contribute more to their woes?

    Respect, otoh, is something I think you either earn or lose, not as something you're owed -- no matter who you are.

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  32. Shawna wrote: Make me laugh, make me worry, make me cry... but if you make me cry, you'd better have something good to follow it up with, because for sure, I'm going to keep reading to see how the lemonade turns out.

    I definitely write to get a reaction from the reader, and no, not always a happy one. But expecting life to be only happiness and sunshine and hearts and flowers is ridiculous; life rarely hands them over. Stories about the lives of fictional characters should be the same.

    As a writer you can push the reader too far; I have ripped pages out of books by writers who have done that to me. Or you can not push hard enough, and the reader grows bored and abandons your book, which is worse. I'd rather risk pushing too hard than not at all.

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  33. As others have said before, I think that the only thing the writer owes the reader is to do the best job possible.

    When readers demand changes from the author it means they are engaged in the story, it has taken hold of their soul and is affecting them.

    This is naturally both good and bad.

    Engaging fiction is a form of wish fulfillment, and they are just trying to continue and feed that highly personal need as effectively as possible.

    If they can get YOU to write a happy ending they want maybe their dead-end job and lackluster life won't seem so grim. (Probably not, you'll just screw it up because you are ONLY the author)

    When it's good is those rare times when a reader gives a glimpse into a character that may not have seen before. It might even been a good idea...

    (My wife and I for example have completely different opinions of Duncan and when describing him it's as if we were talking about two completely different people.)

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  34. Rowan wrote: Give me your best. That's it. If I don't like your story, I don't have to buy it. Period. That's the way the system works.

    Darlene wrote: I feel I owe my readers the best story I can give them at the time. And that's what I'm looking for as a reader.

    Same here. And I think it's the only contract between the reader and the writer that can work, is completely unbiased, and doesn't depend on things that are beyond a writer's control.

    catslady wrote: Readers learn early on when an author is writing the "in" kind of book because they're what the publishers are saying are selling and not necessarily what the author "should" be writing.

    I sometimes wonder if readers understand how powerless writers are in regard to what gets published, though. Maybe they assume anything we write gets published, no matter what it is. I've had readers demand to know why I abandoned certain unfinished trilogies, like the JH books and the 'Zangian novels. I explain to them that it was the publisher, not me, who decided to dump them before I was finished, but then they ask, "Well, can't you find another publisher? The one you have is pissing me off."

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  35. spyscribbler wrote: I don't much like authors who complain openly about how much they hate readers who email them. Seems ungrateful to me. Who are we writing for, if not readers?

    I'm going to defend the writers here, because after you've had enough readers ship you boxes of animal feces, or pieces of your novels that have been put through a wood chipper, or long hand-written tantrums about something your publisher did (especially after you begged the publisher not to do it), or the fact that they hate everything you've written, or threaten you because they know you're part of a conspiracy to beam alien mind control rays into their brain through the subliminal word implants your books, it's a little tough to feel grateful. And yes, I speak from personal experience.

    Certainly some authors could be more diplomatic, but every time I see an author blow their top these days, I wonder what provoked it, and how long they've been holding it in.

    Imagine for a minute if authors acted the same way some of their readers did. Let's say I shipped a box of my pup's poop to a reviewer who wrote something I didn't like -- would you expect that reviewer to shut up and say nothing about it, and feel grateful that I gave them that form of feedback? Of course not.

    I don't believe in having one set of standards for everyone else and a different standard for authors. It's not right. Yes, we should be grateful for our readers, as grateful as they are for us.

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  36. lear wrote: Engaging fiction is a form of wish fulfillment, and they are just trying to continue and feed that highly personal need as effectively as possible.

    If they can get YOU to write a happy ending they want maybe their dead-end job and lackluster life won't seem so grim. (Probably not, you'll just screw it up because you are ONLY the author)


    I screw up a lot that way. :) Very often the authors I admire take me away from the frustrations of my daily life, so I do understand how important that reader-fix can be.

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  37. I'm going to defend the writers here, because after you've had enough readers ship you boxes of animal feces, or pieces of your novels that have been put through a wood chipper, or long hand-written tantrums about something your publisher did (especially after you begged the publisher not to do it), or the fact that they hate everything you've written, or threaten you because they know you're part of a conspiracy to beam alien mind control rays into their brain through the subliminal word implants your books, it's a little tough to feel grateful. And yes, I speak from personal experience.

    this is just plain disturbing. but the mind control thing could explain my addiction. *G*

    This opens up a totally different door, IMO, though.

    Should I write the book to please a certain select group? No. I have to be true to my story.

    Should people who do that kind of disgusting, revolting, sick garbage be treated with the same respect of somebody who pens a short, I didn't care for this ? Nope. Even if they go on a diatribe why they didn't care for it. It's their opinion and I don't have to like it.

    I've gotten diatribes. I don't like them. I had one woman lecture me for daring to leave Ellora's Cave (which I haven't done) She warned me that I had lost her as a reader and she'd never read another book of mine unless I stopped writing for Berkley and went back to EC. And I'd lose many more, she told me.

    As much as I wanted to tell her to get bent, I simply told her I had to do what was best for my career and let it go at that. I hate being threatened as much as anybody else but getting into a pissing match over something like that isn't worth the hassle.

    If somebody goes off the deep end, I just delete it or trash it. But send me something gross and the gloves are off.

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  38. Generally speaking, I don't think authors owe the reader anything other than a damn fine read.

    Unless you're a certain writer (and I think we all know who I mean) who refuses to listen to the growing disquiet as to the direction of a particular series.

    If the quality of the writing is dropping, then why shouldn't a reader point that out?

    Writers cannot become lazy; if that happens, then kiss your career goodbye.

    I wonder how much the internet and messageboards have affected writers' work and the direction it takes.

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  39. o.O

    I don't think the writer "owes" the reader anything. Some people have said that the writer "owes" a good book, but that is impossible, because not everyone has the same definition of "good." Books I've loved, others have hated.

    As a reader, if I don't like the direction a writer's taking, I won't buy her books. Sometimes it's just because it's not my taste; sometimes it's because she's lost her proverbial marbles. Either way, I don't think she owes *me* anything.

    Speaking as a writer, I'm going to write what I want to. I can't please everyone. If people consistently mention something, then I'll consider it. Otherwise, I'm not going to change what I'm writing for a handful of readers who wish I would do something different, or wished I would've written the story a different way.

    If they want certain characters to behave differently, they can go write fanfic.

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  40. PBW said: I sometimes wonder if readers understand how powerless writers are in regard to what gets published, though. Maybe they assume anything we write gets published, no matter what it is.

    That's why I said in an ideal world - I realize authors have to make a living. Luckily I also think there's a great variety of books out there and there should be something for everyone. Not all books are going to turn into classics and I expect to read great ones and some not so great. If I get a book I don't care for then I expect that too sometimes. Maybe that's what keeps us reading too - looking for those spectacular books and never knowing when you'll find one :)

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  41. Would it make you smile to learn that on a 7 hour car trip back to my university town with my aunt, uncle and two cousins, that Kate and Emma (ages 8 and 10) demanded to know every detail about the Stardoc universe?

    They were reading comic books in the back of the van and I took out Plague of Memory and they just took one look at the cover and were hooked. They asked me to read the first chapter (with lots of background info before that) and when I got to the part about Sqillyp and admitted that I had a hard time picturing an Omorr, Kate offered to draw one for me because she had a perfect picture in her mind.

    So there ya go, I've hooked you two new (very young) fans without even trying, and all I ask in return is that you keep writing what you love, and if you don't mind me, I'm just along for the ride. ^_~

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  42. A very interesting thread.

    It struck home to me because of once hearing a playwright talk about owing the audience nothing, in an interview that put my hackles up (not just because I saw and disliked the play). I think as an author I do owe my readers something, because books are not a soliloquy in an empty theatre (to continue the theatrical metaphor) but a series of performances for a (hopefully) large audience, albeit an audience that sees the performance one member at a time.

    I'm also a professional actor. Live theatre is a much more collaborative art form than writing, but one part of its collaborative nature is very similar to the act of writing: the collaboration with the audience. Especially at the level of theatre I peform in, the audience must invest a great deal of their own imaginations into the play for it to work. They must look at a black-painted, scuffed-up stage and a few curtains, and from a box here and a flat there, a touch of light there and a funny hat over there, conjure up in their own minds a believable, fully fleshed world. It's my job as an actor to perform to the best of my ability so that they are able to make that imaginative leap.

    Now, as an actor I have the benefit of hearing audience response as I perform. (I once spoke to a film actress who said she hated acting in front of an audience because "they interfere with my performance." This is so alien to the way a stage actor thinks that it boggled my mind. Audiences don't interfere with your performance--they're the reason for the performance, and they give you feedback. If the audience isn't responding, you work hard--and there's no work harder than acting in front of an unappreciative audience). Writing isn't identical, of course, because we don't see the audience in front of us, unless it's at a reading, where the two art forms overlap. Yet that collaboration with the audience still exists. A book without a reader is just a stack of paper. Our words are just flecks of ink on dead trees until they enter the mind of a reader--our audience--where they take form. Just as actors conjure up whole bloody battlefields in the minds of the audience with two guys in fiberglass armor and a couple of spotlights covered with red cellophane, so we conjure up whole worlds in the minds of our readers with 26 black marks arranged in various ways.

    If readers sometimes react strongly to our story in ways we didn't expect, then it means we have done our job well. The story, which is really improvised by their own imaginations from the chart (slipping from a theatrical metaphor to a jazz one) provided by the author, has become something they have also invested time and effort into creating, just as the writer did, and thus they feel it belongs to them, in a sense, as much as it does to its putative creator.

    No, I don't believe I owe the reader--the audience--anything specific with regard to the content of my performance: the plot of the book, the characters, whether it is a tragedy or a comedy. But I do owe them the best performance I can muster, a performance that strives to kindle their own imaginations and allows them to bring the story to life in their own way.

    I owe him/her a darn good read. I owe him the sure knowledge that he is in the hands of someone who knows what he's doing, that I won't disappoint him with characters that act illogically, or afflict him with bad plotting, bad grammar,or bad speling...er, spelling. I owe the reader the best book I am capable of writing--a good book as I understand good to be. I am not shouting into an empty auditorium--I am speaking to someone.

    In fact, as I write this, I'm speaking to someone. YOU, whoever is reading this comment. You have given me your time and I owe it to you to be as interesting and entertaining and thought-provoking as I can be.

    I won't always succeed. Maybe I didn't succeed with this post, and maybe I don't succeed with my novels. Maybe you feel let down, that I owed you more for your time and barely made a down-payment, or that I reneged on my debt entirely. But when I first set word to computer screen, I was in your debt, and owed you the best writing and thinking I could muster.

    So close the curtain; my comment is done. I bow, and exit stage right, and hope you have found my short performance worthwhile...as I hope the readers of my novels find those much longer performances worth the price of admission.

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  43. I dithered about whether to respond to this one or not, but here it goes, my two cents :).

    I believe a writer does owe readers something, but it's not the personal preference type of something. Writers owe readers a good story that makes sense. It might not be the type of story every reader likes, but the threads should tie (or dangle deliberately), the events should be seeded so the reader doesn't sit back at the end and say *huh?*, and the characters should be interesting. Now some of these could end up subjective, but it is for the writer to decide whether he or she has achieved that much or whether the choice not to edit, to rush the deadline, or whatever has resulted in a book that doesn't hang together as well as it should.

    That said, I would never confront a writer about what to do in their books. That concept seems bizarre to me. I might state my own personal preference when asked or in a review, but the book doesn't belong to me, the story and characters don't belong to me. People are weird.

    But may I say I'm really, really, really glad Reever isn't dead? I would have been sad at the waste of such a character, but I can't see the priorities the way you can.

    Oh, and yeah, I've learned enough from Holly to know the author rarely has control over the presence or absence of a series. Sometimes authors are pushed to keep writing when the spark is lost and other times whole worlds are wasted. But as a reader, I just have to sigh and carry on to the next world. Going back to the owe bit though, I'll give an author I trust one or two books that fail to offer the basics of the put-together story, then I'll wander off and find someone who is willing. Doesn't mean I won't eventually come back, but there's a level of trust that's broken.

    I really shouldn't write this late at night, but I hope that made some kind of sense :).

    Cheers,
    Margaret

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  44. Oral storytelling is much more like live theater... and perhaps some readers would be happier with that format:

    "Tell us more about the ghost! Describe it in more detail!"

    "Cut to the chase! We don't want to hear about the boring journey."

    Maybe the readers who make demands are simply thinking in terms of "stories told by the campfire"?

    I could imagine doing live storytelling. It would be very different from writing in "document" form -- but livelier!

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  45. Only first cousins? Hey, if you're not good enough for your own family...

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  46. Without a Care the Wonderhorse? oh my

    Gotta get me one of those!

    What I might want from a writer and what they might "owe" me are two different things, I think. If I don't like their book, then we go our separate ways (after the yelling-and-throwing-the-book-at-the-wall ritual is complete). I probably won't even ask for my money back.

    I think I'd like them not to cheat. There's a book I read last year where there's a very exciting action scene with loads of tension and I'm thinking, "how will they ever get out of this?" and then...oh, it's just a simulation, ha ha, gotcha. I was so mad that my feelings had been played with that way. I'll never read another book by that writer. I can't enjoy reading if I'm constantly wondering if I'm being cheated--it leads to detachment from the narrative, and I love to get involved.

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  47. I am a reader only. Have never written anything except a story in Junior High. I have never thought that a writer owes something to a reader. That was a new thought for me.

    I have read lots of genres (sp?) and if I don't like the way the writer tells the story, I don't read/buy them again. I read to be entertained or for self improvement.

    If you were to ask me this question, now that I have entertained the thought of being owed something, the answer would be a good story or something new that I can use. But I seriously am so thankful that there are authors out there that write such good stories, that I really don't think I am owed anything. After reading Sheila's blog for as long as it has been available, all writers need a huge thankyou from all readers because you are writing, period! The struggle to get published and put up with the negatives means most are amazing people with back bones made of the strongest stuff there is in the universe.

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  48. "And I still can't get over the one about Caine and Terri. They're first cousins. Euw."

    This is completely legal under Canadian law. Actually, I think the US is something of an exception regarding cousin marriages in the First World.

    Interestingly, while Canada's age of consent can be as low as 12 [1], you aren't allowed to get married in Ontario until one is at least 16 [2](Other provinces have lower ages if the bride-to-be is pregnant or already a mother of a living child). I had no idea that there was that two to four year gap between being able to have sex and being able to marry until I did some research related to FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE.

    Oddly, although the national film board loves to do inspirational short works on various unique elements of Canadian culture, I cannot recall a single one on the theme of Canada: Nation of Under-Age Cousin Marriers. I think will go write them.

    [Considers sharing slanderous myths about various small and closely-related religious groups out west but decides better]

    1: If the other person is no more than two years older and not in a position of authority over the younger person.

    2: You will need a note from your parents if you plan to use your brand new driver's license to drive to the chapel, at least until you are 18. Even then, you won't be able to buy booze for the reception for another year if you live in Ontario.

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  49. It occurs to me (because of what led to the What Readers Aren't Owed by Writers and the What Writers Aren't Owed by Readers) that there's at least two other What [ ] Aren't Owed by [ ]
    and that is [reviewers] and [writers].

    I suspect writers may have fairly concrete ideas on this subject so I will leave it to them but I'll start off with one that I think most people will agree is reasonable: Reviewers should actually read the book they are reviewing. (Watching a movie based on the book or listening to a concept album inspired by it doesn't count [1]).

    1: Why, yes. I do have some specific examples in mind.

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