They Don’t Owe Us

So if you have not seen it there is a great moment from San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) when Paul and Storm are singing their song “Write Like the Wind” about the fact that George RR Martin (GRRM) needs to write faster so he finishes the Song of Ice and Fire series before he dies. Well during the performance of the song who walks on to the stage, but GRRM himself. The crowd goes wild when GRRM walks onto the stage and Paul and Storm slowly stop singing as they notice that he is on stage. Then GRRM walks over and smashes the guitar. The grand finale is that Neil Gaiman comes on to the stage and makes Paul and Storm say that “GRRM is not our bitch”. (The reason this is particularly telling is a blog post Gaiman wrote)

It is a fantastic moment and everyone needs to watch it. At the same time it brings in to question whether an author has a responsibility to the fans of a series.

So my personal opinion is that an author does not owe you anything. The people they owe is actually their publishing company and they really are the only ones who can make them do anything because they have signed some sort of contract with them. At the same time they want to make sure they get good product out of the author. As a reader when you buy a book you are not creating some form of agreement that the author will complete the story.

I have a friend who will not start a series unless she knows it is completed because she does not like the wait between stories and does not want to get stuck without an ending.  We as readers do not have to start reading a book that is a part of a series. This would probably mean less series would be written or they would rework how they release series, but part of that would be how we as consumers react.

In the end we are going to buy the books whether it takes 2 years or 7 years. Personally I would rather have the story be good than rushed. At the same time David and I definitely spend time discussing how we wish the story would be out quicker and worrying about another Wheel of Time situation, but that does not mean I will bitch to GRRM himself. Partly because I know it is a totally selfish desire, it is all about what I want.

Patrick Rothfuss had a great discussion about this recently. He had told fans that the next book in the Kingkiller Chronicles would be out in 3 years and he stuck to that date, but he learned something. The final book in the trilogy Rothfuss did not give an estimate on because with the second book he felt like he basically had to not spend time with his family and stress himself out to get the book out. He could not live his life like that again for the sake of his sanity and his family.

I really appreciated his perspective because his family is his priority, as in my opinion it should be. My desire for the story is my desire, but he needs to do what is good for him and his family. At the same time I think as a writer you want to finish the story. You have invested years in these characters. Many, not all, authors have mapped out the story, over and over again until the details are probably second nature. They know where this is going and how things need to fit together.

The investment that the author has made to the story is much more than what any individual reader makes by buying and reading the books in the series. An example of this is the Dark Tower series by Stephen King. King actually got hit by a car and survived. One of the things that he realized was that he could have died without finishing the series and ended up pounding out the last three books so he could get the series wrapped up. Someone might face a near death and want to do other things, but an author who has invested so much time does not want to leave a series hanging they want to finish the story.

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5 responses to “They Don’t Owe Us

  1. Excellent post! I think authors do owe their fans when it comes to a series. It’s one thing to tell a writer to ‘write faster’ when it comes to individual stand-alone books, but as a creator, when you start a series you’re honor bound to keep it going and do so on a regular basis (unless the early books bomb and it’s a matter of economics, where the writer can’t justify continuing it).

    That’s the whole point, that it’s going to be a continuing series of adventures, and yeah, if you don’t establish some sort of schedule with it, people are going to complain — and that should be a compliment to a writer that fans are anxious to read more. Granted, there’s always the uber-fans who want the next book in a week or so after they’ve finished the last one, but I don’t think it’s unrealistic to get frustrated to be left hanging as a fan.

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    • Reading comments on some other stories a lot of people share your opinion. I get frustrated that an author is not finishing and I admit that every time I see George RR Martin’s name on another book I wonder about when the next Game of Thrones is going to be released. At the same time I think when you start sending hateful mail to the author I just think it is uncalled for. We do as fans become invested, but sometimes (as with real investments) the investment does not pan out the way we thought it would.

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  2. I am more fan however as a burgeoning writer I have a tremendous amount of respect for creators and their struggles. I remembered post after post of GRRM describing his troubles with book 4 and 5 when he was writing material he never originally meant intended to, but as the story evolved it made more sense to include those portions. I experienced this on a fraction of the scale while working on my WIP finding I couldn’t just time skip my way to the next major point, I needed to show the growth and development through a period that I had never meant to write. I knew what I meant to happen, but knowing and putting together the correct turn of phrase while maintaining the tension through a slower period of time in the book, its a multi-dimensional juggling act.

    Creativity takes time. The kinds of stories that I like to read, that I like to write, with depth, and layers, and re-readability, and rampant fan speculation because there are still mysteries, that takes time. I wouldn’t want it done under duress, time pressure will stifle that creativity, and perhaps make us lose something in the translation. In the new digital publishing folks say that now authors can change their works, it isn’t permanent, it isn’t on paper, its easier to make editions now. I say no. Once something is read, it cannot be unread, so you got to get it right the first time.

    And making something simple for your audience (one single cohesive book, no rereads or multiple references for additional material), means shifting the complexity to the producer. And that takes time.

    I have never read anything as complex yet satisfying as A Song of Ice and Fire. I look forward to finishing it, but I look forward to finishing it… on GRRM’s time.

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    • Thanks for the response. It would be interesting to see if there is any difference between people who are and are not writers for the opinion that the author owes us to get the books done on time. I have to say reading about the process writer’s go through just makes me respect the time that it can take. At the same time I recently learned that Neuromancer by William Gibson was written in a year. It sounds like it was a ridiculous year though to write that novel.

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  3. Pingback: I am Not Your Bitch, or On Audience Expectations when Writing a Series | The Fire In Our Heads

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