Which Came First, the Writer or the Reader?
by Kiersten Hallie Krum
Yesterday, Lady Smut blogger Alexa Day talked about the dreaded DNF–that book that you just could not finish–in her post The Bitter End: Pushing Ourselves to Finish Reading. It takes a lot for me to not finish a book, but I recently had to give up on a new release from a major paranormal romance writer whose books I’ve glommed for years. It was a real disappointment in writing, character, and story, and the fact that I walked away from it has been bugging me for weeks. First because I wondered, after reading effusive fan praise in reader reviews, if it was just me and I simply grew out of the series and that writer for the nonce. And second because if it’s not just me, then what the hell happened?
DNF books always make me follow the bouncing ball to books that haven’t satisfied, like that one book from that favorite author for a beloved secondary character that I waited and waited and waited for only to find when if finally came out that it was…meh.
The one that stands out most in my mind will always be Gone Too Far by Suzanne Brockmann. I loved Sam Starrett and Alyssa Locke since they first showed up as bickering adversaries in The Unsung Hero through The Defiant Hero where they because unexpected friends through Over the Edge and Out of Control when they became smoking hot lovers and Into the Night where they were brokenhearted exes. I Could Not Wait for their book Gone Too Far to arrive and read it through in one sitting only to be…underwhelmed. It just didn’t feel like Sam and Alyssa and somehow, the back story for Sam particularly didn’t quite gibed with the character he’d been for five books. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good romantic suspense book with SEAL hero, sharpshooter heroine, emotional angst, all kinds of good, good stuff. It just didn’t live up to my long-held expectations.
Those books, the ones we as readers have waited a long time for only for them to piffle out, were on my mind this weekend as I brainstormed with a friend who is doing just that, creating a new book series around a fan-favorite secondary character from a previous series. I can’t imagine the kind of pressure that must involved, the need to do right by the character just as strong as the desire to fulfill reader expectations. In a publishing landscape that loves a series (as do I), getting readers invested in that series and those characters is key to them being successful both as a book and a product.
Which brings up the question of entitlement. Fans who invest in a product, be it a book or a show or a vegetable, increasingly feel a sense of entitlement, that they have a voice in how that product should play out. Who should be with whom. And when an author doesn’t fulfill those expectations? Well, cue the pitchforks.
Where do we draw the line between what the reader wants to see and what the author as creator feels compelled to write? How do we stay true to story and character and yet keep the fans happy? What do we do when there are fans of multiple options? Do we let that fandom drive our creative decisions? Do we risk the witch hunt when we don’t? Writers do depend on readers to read (and buy) their books, but does that give readers the right to expect a return on their investment that suits their own desires? Which responsibility is greater, the one to our creative process or the one to the fans who pay for the results?
These questions are top of mind for me personally as well as I work through writing and planning my three-book series, especially now that I’ve added a novella to the tally. I suspect because I’m a glutton for punishment. The novella is a surprise based on a secondary character who I think really (and, believe me, unexpectedly) pops from the page. Will she pop for readers too? I don’t know. But in a publishing landscape where series are increasingly published quickly to build readership and sales, which means the whole dang thing may have to be written before anything hits the shelves, it’s a gamble I, and many other writers, have to take. Are we doing our characters justice? Or should we wait for reader feedback before we decide their fates?
Is there a series book you waited for that fail to live up to expectations? Do you think readers are entitled to weigh in on the fates of their favorites? Do you like when secondary characters in a series finally get the limelight or would you prefer for them to remain in their glory on the sidelines?
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