Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What Do Authors Owe Their Readers?

Josephine Damian passed along a pretty interesting article from The Globe and Mail about the rise of author websites and specifically fantasy author George R.R. Martin's. You see, fans are waiting on the next installment of Martin's series, which has been a bit delayed, and some are rather impatient, to the point that they are begrudging him his vacations and trips to football games (which he blogs about).

The article then goes on to assess the impact of legions of fans/detractors as they interact with authors through websites and reviews. Clearly the era of sending a book into the ether is over. Everything is public, and authors especially.

But this got me thinking. Is there an implied contract between an author and their readers? Does an author owe their readers, whether that's a timely delivered manuscript or a certain quality threshold?

And yes, would that we all be authors who are getting assailed because readers can't bear to wait another day to read our books.


RW said...

Writers owe their readers authenticity--their best sincere effort.

Bane of Anubis said...

As a fan of Martin's I can definitely understand reader's anxiety in waiting for the next installment (perhaps why my brother always waits until a series is finished before he starts reading it), but in terms of what an author owes, I don't think he owes too much.

Timeliness/promptness is nice, but not at the expense of the story. And, in terms of story, the author should never pander to fans (as I've heard was done in the most recent Meyer book), although given the internet's far-reaching and all-encompassing power, it's hard not to imagine fan infiltration (particularly for bloggers like Mr. RRM).

WV - slybat (damn skippy)

Justus M. Bowman said...

I don't expect much from authors, but if I become a super author, I will prefer happy fans over angry fanatics.

T. Anne said...

I find this fascinating. Of course if there is a tease of more to come, the author by all means should oblige his readers.

I've found myself on occasion reaching the end of a book and wanting to know more. I think it's hopelessly frustrating to dedicate yourself to a novel only find yourself left hanging by the author, esp. if the novel is not a part of a series.

I'm not familiar with the author you've mentioned but I'm going to look him up,his blog too. I've written a series, still shopping a home for publication but I would be ever so grateful if there was a demand for more. ;)

Dara said...

I don't expect much from authors either--they have lives too--but that being said, it would be nice to have a brief update once in awhile (maybe once or twice a year) if they are progressing on a novel (mainly if it's a novel in a series since the readers are waiting to see what happens next in the story).

Stephanie Reed said...

I love your blog, but hey, listen, I'm awake like three hours earlier than you. Can you post with EST in mind? 'Cause that three hour time difference is really inconvenient for me, your reader, whom you owe, haha.

When I talk to classes about my books (which feature guy main characters), a girl will usually ask when I'm going to write a girl story. That's a valid request that I will consider. Would I want kids to berate me for not writing faster? No, but what a compliment. I mostly blog about book-related news rather than my personal life, but that's my style.

Gary James said...

Writers owe their readers a story. He should just keep stalling, but in a charming and captivating way that keeps the nutters and bunny boilers happy.

I'm kidding. He should maybe stop whinging about it though. Either that or stop blogging. It's not a difficult choice in the end.

Vegas Linda Lou said...

I think authors need to meet the expectations we set up for our readers. Books promoted as humorous should be funny, self-help books should be helpful, etc.

I will soon be looking prospective readers in the eye (even virtually) saying, “Bastard Husband: A Love Story will both empower and entertain you. You will laugh out loud. As you learn about my life, you will gain new insights into your own.” I owe it to my readers to deliver on that promise. And with a title like that, they’ll expect some good old fashioned cursing--I’ll deliver on that, too!

Cat Moleski said...

I think authors owe their readers good books. While I love it when my favorite authors push out a book a year, I am disappointed if they are not well done.

I'd rather see an author wait and produce a good book, than rush to publish too soon.

Elissa M said...

I don't believe authors "owe" me anything, but if their work disappoints me, I will read nothing more from them. By "disappoints" I mean a major drop off in quality.

I also hate books that don't end, so I usually don't follow series unless they're already finished (much like Bane of Anubis's brother). A series where each novel has some resolution, even if the main conflict isn't completed, is okay (Harry Potter).

There are lots of books out there for me to read, so I don't stress out too bad if a favorite author fails to deliver. My funds are limited though, so it behooves authors to stay in my good graces (so to speak) if they wish to sell to me. ;)

Ink said...

I think fans have the right to be frustrated. That's an honest reaction. But I don't necessarily feel they have a right to have their expectations met merely because they expect it. Writing a book is an odd and illogical process, one that's hard to predict and schedule. As long as a writer is doing his best, both to write a good book and meet his deadlines, I think that's all you can expect. That sense of entitlement readers seem to feel reminds me of that sense of entitlement I sometimes stumble across in writers: I should be published and coddled because the world owes it to me. I did my job and wrote the book and now expect my just rewards.

For readers... well, you paid money for earlier books. You read and enjoyed them (otherwise you wouldn't be waiting for the next one), and so you've got your money's worth out of the investment. If you're hoping to make a similar future investment it seems wiser to support the writer who can provide the desired product rather than lash out at him. Writers are human. Mostly. And a bit of peace usually helps with productivity.

I sympathize with the frustration. I mean, writers are readers first. I remember reading a series by Melanie Rawn years ago which she left unfinished... and the series is still unfinished, and people are still complaining about it. Yes, back then I wished the series was completed. But I don't feel she "owes" me a story. If you don't like waiting... well, don't wait. Lots of other books out there.

Ah, tough love... ain't it grand.

My best, as always,
Bryan Russell

Josephine Damian said...

OOh, a nice linky-shout out from Nathan.

I think the writer owes the reader a good story, well told. That's it.

How long between books? I keep thinking about that old Orson Welles commercial: We will serve no wine before it's time.

Great books are not written in haste, and are worth waiting for.

Fan access? I keep thinking about the advice of James Joyce that writers like Don DeLilo and Cormac McCarthy certainly take to heart: Silence, exile and cunning.

I don't believe a writer owes any fan personal access.

I also like this quote: The author should shut his mouth when his work begins to speak. (Friedrich Nietzsche).

Anonymous said...

When you write a good mystery or suspense story you owe the reader resolution. You give them hints and teases along the way so that they are reward for their diligence in reading on and then aren't completely side swiped during the finale when you unmask the villian. If you don't deliver these things to the reader then you don't have a very good book.

If you are writing a series you must apply this to each book and the series as a whole. The readers are waiting for more and you owe them some small reward for their patience If the book ends with "to be continued" then you probably should have the sequel out pretty soon. If a television show has a season finale cliff hanger then you expect them to be back next season, not 2 or 3 seasons later.

Of course things can get in the way of writing, life happens. But it would be nice if you could give the reader some reward for their patience. Maybe release a related short story, or even serialize the first few chapters before publishing the full novel.

LawStudent said...

Nope. No implied contract because the readers have offered no consideration. Now, if reader purchase books before they are written, then yes, contract theory should be applied.

L.C. Gant said...

If authors "owe" their readers anything, it is simply the best story that is in them at the time. Once an author begins writing to please his readers, he risks losing the authenticity that drew them to his work in the first place.

Guy Gavriel Kay makes a fantastic point in his article. While I certainly understand George R.R. Martin's perspective, he set himself up for attack by opening his life up to public perception through a blog.

Even if Martin is hard at work on the next installment in his series, blogging about football games and vacations gives readers the IMPRESSION that he's taking his sweet time. If his novel wasn't highly anticipated, he could probably get away with that, but since it is, he needs to keep those kind of posts few and far between.

Instead, I'd recommend Martin blog about what his readers want to read about most right now--his writing process. Sharing his thoughts about the joys and challenges of writing (as in "Wrote 3,000 words today, yay!" or "Boy, I'm stuck on this chapter" is a great way to provide a behind-the-scenes look at what really goes into creating a novel. That would give him the time he needs while appeasing his fans.

Felicity said...

I read about a song writer a few years ago who said she wished she lived in a different era. Although a very private person, her fans wanted blogs and pictures and basically to know EVERYTHING about her. She just wanted to write songs. I think many classic writers would similarly despise the kind of privacy invasion that happens with celebrity today.

A said...

As others have already stated, first and foremost, writers owe their readers a good, well-written story. But, I have to disagree, and say that an author who is writing a series has made a commitment to that series. They owe their reader an ending, no matter where it goes. Though, not at the expense of quality. If the last book is going to be crap, then I'd rather the series just hang open-ended.

I also think writers owe their readers consistency with quality. If books A-C were phenomenal, books D-E (series or not) should be just as good. I would argue that they should even be better. We should always be growing as writers, always be challenging ourselves. Complacency breeds mediocrity.

Perhaps, that's more what we owe ourselves...

PurpleClover said...

I think the author owes a reader a great ending.

Mira said...

Law Student, that was funny.

This is facinating! Thanks for the topic, Nathan.

This is sort of what I think, but it may change as I read the discussion.

I'm really not surprised that Martin is endlessly teasing his readers. Martin's books span an enormous tapestry. Enormous. The books themselves as almost teases, because they barely scratch the surfac.

I've stopped reading Martin, because he's so damn bloody and - at times - cruel. Anyone who loves Martin, though, should figure that's it's pretty much his style to take his very long, damn time.

Does Martin owe his readers anything different? Nope. That's who he is. Will readers choose to participate in the relationship? That's up to them.

But putting pressure on an author to hurry a book, or change the contents is just plain dumb. Creativity happens when it happens. Trying to force it, just because you want to be entertained, is not a good thing. It will inevitably lower the quality of the work.

Which brings up the reverse question. Do readers owe the author anything?

Respect? Patience?

Just a thought.

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

well, if a writer launches a series of books and announces that s/he is going to write another book, then yeah the writer owes that to the readers.

if you're just a novelist who write novels (but not a series), you owe nothing to anybody.

Luisa Perkins said...

I get totally miffed when I hear GRRM isn't chained to his desk 10 hours per day. But this is because I love his world and his writing. Love forces me to be patient.

Kristi said...

Absolutely the author owes his readers, his agent, editor, etc. timely manuscripts that are also of good quality. If you think about it, the readers are the writer's employer - if they're not buying the books, there will be no need for a deadline. I understand not putting out something of poor quality BUT...

From a business perspective, if an employer asked his employee to write up a proposal for the budget meeting on Thursday, the employee can't say that he's just not "feeling it," or do a crappy job (if he wants to keep his job). You stay up late, you write it, and you write it well. If I am ever blessed to have such eager readers, it will be my pleasure to keep them happy! :)

Martin Willoughby said...

The author owes the reader a good book that doesn't waste the reader's time and money. Beyond that...I'm unsure.

We do have the example of actors and musicians who the public feel they own, but is that the kind of art authors are creating? Is that the kind of exposure that we are being readied for?

Why not reverse the question as well and ask what does the reader owe the author?

Marilyn Peake said...

Wow, fascinating article. Really interesting stuff. I can hardly believe how George R.R. Martin is being hounded. Hope he doesn’t end up on some reality show to lose weight and buff up like a movie star.

As to what an author owes their readers, I think it depends on how a society views the purpose of books. Personally, I miss the gool ol' days that appear to have come to an end within the past few years when books were considered intellectually valuable, some written for actual intellectual content, others written primarily for entertainment. An author was expected to be creative, to daydream, to think, to ponder, to live life fully before writing about...ummm, insights into life...and there seemed to be a general understanding that all of that takes time. It took Barbara Kingsolver ten years to write The Poisonwood Bible, and that was O.K. Newspapers and TV news wouldn’t report stories until they had at least two credible sources, and that was O.K., too.

In today’s world of instant communication, the news is not only allowed to report rumors and verify them later, they’re expected to do that in order to get the story out. With books, popular authors are expected to pump out books and chat on the Internet in the meantime. That isn’t always a bad thing. Blog writing seems to actually sharpen the writing skills of many authors, and certainly helps them break free of the reclusive lifestyle required when writing.

Authors determined to write without blogging, e.g. J.K. Rowling and Cormac McCarthy, certainly seem able to avoid it. On the other hand, some highly intellectual authors, including Paulo Coelho, seem to relish comprehensive websites, blog-writing, YouTube interviews, etc.

I would say that an author only "owes" readers interaction if they enter into a contract where their work is clearly viewed as more "product" than intellectual endeavor, and they’re expected to undertake massive book promotion in order to make large sums of money- -which sorta defines book publishing today.

Scott said...

As many have said, authors simply owe readers their best work.

I think people, fans, lose perspective. A story is just a story!

I'll never forget the time I went to a Star Trek movie. It was one of the Next Generation flicks. This young woman sitting near the front row clapped loudly each and every time a new actor's name was flashed on the screen. As in, "yeah, Jean-Luc!!!"

My reaction is, get a LIFE! If the delay of reading about a fictional character is going to cause that much grief in your life, you should seek help and lots of it.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I owe my readers the best I can give them. Always. Deadlines be damned (and thank God I don't have any).

As a reader, I want the best fiction that particular author can give me. Deadlines be damned.

Yep, I'd rather wait nine months instead of six if it means a better book. I'd rather wait two years if it means a brilliant entry into a favorite series.

Just maybe, while I'm waiting for that release, I'll get caught up on some of the other series I'm drowning in.

But back to your question: always the best.

Thomas Burchfield said...

What do I, as a 2riter, owe a reader? -- the best shot I have in me. This is understanding that not everything I write will attain my own lofty, high-nosed standards, though I will try. Judgment is always soft and fallible, in a worn pillow-like way. But the effort should always be there.

Writers are under obligation not to be *boring* in the sense that a phone book is boring (Okay okay, yes, you love to read the phone book I'm sorry I offended you . . . .)

Right now, my "fan base" numbers my fingers and toes (if I had an extra hand or two). My "essay site" I used mostly to publicize my unfinished book (I refuse to call what I do there a "blog." To my mind, to "blog" means to provide a minute-by-minute account of events best not described (" . . . and then I closed the bathroom door and ... wow! It happened again!")Unless George R.R. Martin has some unique Roger Angell-like insight into football, maybe he shouldn't bother.

Justus: I'm afraid that whoever of us becomes famous, we will get both.

Vieva said...

I think that authors owe their readers what they promise in the first place. If that's a book a year, they need to do that - but if they get it done a few months early two years in a row, that does NOT mean that third year they deserve the book early.

I have friends that I email my daily pages to - I'm using this as comparison. Do I *owe* them my fiction? No - it is mine and they get it because I choose to share it. That said, were I to randomly decide to leave the stories in the middle and take up basket weaving, that would be unfair to them. I've given them the beginning, I should at least TRY to give them a middle and an ending.

But I don't owe new friends those daily pages. Only those I make the contract with in the first place.

An author has a right to take care of himself as well. Not just his readers. If an author does NOTHING but sit at the keyboard and write all day, that fiction is going to turn to suck really fast.

If they want a GOOD story, they should be glad he's getting out and doing stuff. If they want the same old same old - just reread the last book already! :D

m clement hall said...

He owes nothing to the reader beyond representing his work correctly.
On the other hand, if he is a professional he owes to himself the effort of obtaining the continuing support of his readers

lynnrush said...

Yeah, I'd have to agree. The writer owes his/her readers a conclusion that is satisfying.....but how long between those books...not so sure.

I'm sure authors write and work as fast as they can, but it's a long process sometimes.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the relationship between writer and reader should include the sort of indebtedness that the word "owe" implies. A writer feels compelled to put down in words her/his thoughts and experiences, and the reader brings those words to life in the act of reading. This relationship is an intimate, one-on-one interchange between two strangers, mediated by words. So the idea that a writer might "owe" readers future books is foreign to me.

bryngreenwood said...

For any given book I buy, I feel that the author owes me a good story, but beyond that Just as the reader is under no obligation to buy the writer's next book, the writer is under no obligation to put out a next book at all, let alone on your timeline.

Anita said...

Best work only...if they're really successful, they can hire legions to take over the website and all the extras...just interviewed Jodi Picoult for my column...her team does a fantastic job of maintaining her site and (by all appearances) her schedule.

Josh said...

I have been watching what has happened with George RR Martin and to Patrick Rothfuss and think that the biggest part of the problem stems from projected release dates. I think that release dates shouldn’t be published to the public until the book is in the Publisher’s hand – but maybe I’m being naïve.

In my opinion,authors owe their readers effort and that is about it. I think Martin and Rothfuss are trying to get their books done and written as well as possible. I think the general reading public doesn’t really recognize that what authors do is just like any other job, which I think is evident in how many people I see who are shocked at how much stuff authors have to do other than just writing their books – tours, marketing, websites, contracts, etc.

Authors need to go be with their family, relax, have vacations, but fans don’t want to hear about excuses, they want that book in their hands. Fan is short for fanatic.

I have wondered, though, if Martin and Rothfuss would calm some people down if maybe they had 6 or 7 short stories or some kind of exclusive material that they could just throw out onto their sites to give the fans something while they wait for the next book.

MaLanie said...

Wow! Talk about entertainment addicts! I think people need to get a life, and get a grip on reality!

It is a freaking book- there are much bigger issues in this world to deal with than worrying over the release date of a book.

If he has a commitment date to his publisher then it is between the two of them.

As a reader no, I do not feel an author owes me anything other than a good story for the book I purchased.

As a writer I would be working everyday on my project just because I am a workaholic.

Julie Weathers said...

Odd you should post this because I was thinking about this yesterday and planned on blogging about it today. Unfortunately, I decided to rant instead.

You did it better anyway, so it all works out.

I have no problem with authors taking vacations, enjoying their families, going to ballgames etc. What I do have a problem with is when they establish an audience for a work, sometimes a huge audience, and then they flit off like a butterfly to pursue another project. A writer who has two or three writing projects going at once when they have a fan base for a series frustrates me. I will finish the Ice and Fire series, but I doubt I will start any more of his books unless it's a complete series.

If you're going to write a series, keep to your schedule on it. If you don't have the commitment and responsibility to do this then either don't write a series or let your readers know it will be years in between books so they should wait until you get done, if you ever do.

I read a book by a new author some years ago. It was good and I liked the characters. I kept looking for the sequel and it arrived three years later. I bought it so I could have closure. Then I found there was another book.

I threw both of them away and I never throw books away. I will never, ever again buy something by her. Ever. Did I say never?

It doesn't take three years to write 300 pages.

Michael Pickett said...

I think the author does have a contract with the reader when it comes to content of their books. People are shelling out hard earned money for their books, so they had better put everything they got into every single one of them. That book better be the best the author can make it.

As far as hitting deadlines go, I think the author decides if he has a contract with the reader. That contract will do nothing but benefit the author because letting his readers know when a book will be released will only increase anticipation and boost sales when the book comes out. If an author is not forthcoming with this information, he risks losing the reader's interest, and thus a loyal fan. So, giving the fans the inside scoop on what's going on is good for the author, in my opinion, but if he doesn't want to do it, that's up to him.

Anna said...

I think the instantaneous aspect that is internet communication (blogging, Facebook, etc.) does present a previously unexplored aspect of this issue, one I certainly haven't considered towards the authors I read.

and now as a published author, what does that mean to me?

I suppose it depends upon, speaking as an author, how much of my life do I choose to expose, therefore allowing criticisms in. equally, wearing my reader hat, how demanding am I in my quest for entertainment?

I wait for football season each year, September rolling in with baited breath, eager for weeks of Sunday delights...

is it the same with waiting for a book to be written?

honestly, it's not. not sure why.

anyways, if as an author I'm going to gab about every little holiday I take, every break from work noted in great detail, then yeah, I should expect some flack. or I should refrain from leaking my entire life on a site, and let fans assume I'm typing those fingers to the bone.

is there a point an author needs to refrain from crossing? or is it because our computers put so much at our brains with so little effort expended we assume it's the same for writers... it's all just going to pour right out onto the screen, easy as updating a status...

good grief... too much pondering. I need some tea...

faerie-writer said...

Back in August when all the brohaha over 'Breaking Dawn' was happening, Justine Larbalestier and Diana Peterfreund had this very conversation. Justine felt that, no, writers didn't owe their readers anything - - and Diana came up with the 4 Cs of a Writer's Contract with the Reader. My favourite blog on the topic, though, was Shannon Hale's on How to be a Reader -

StirlingEditor said...

I believe series writers are obligated to get the next book out every 1-2 years. Besides, the writer wouldn't want to lose out on the momentum of their first book.

Those who've written standalone works have more leeway, IMO.


Roland said...

Obviously, there's nothing owed to the reader, either implied or expressed, but I do think it's a massive failure on Martin's part to not maintain the momentum of rising interest his series has gained over the years. It's good news for him that his fans are ravenous for more, and he's what, two years over the time he told his fans he'd be finished with the new book. All the while he's been very prolific in other genres, writing his heart out. Just not writing what his fans want him to write, what he's become best known for.

With interest from a major TV network, you'd think he'd be that much more determined to prove that a satisfying end to the series will be forthcoming in our lifetimes.

But of course, none of this is owed, and good for him if he decided to go sideways and write whatever he feels like writing, fans be damned. Besides, it would be folly to rush lamprey pie.

lotusgirl said...

I think an author owes their readers a well written book. It's nice, if they write a series, to get the follow-up books in a timely manner, but not a crime if they don't. They still deserve a life and some things are better not to be overly rushed. That said, I think it's not in the author's best interest to take more than 3 years for the next book in a series. Personally, I don't want to wait a week if it's a book I love, but I expect to have to wait a year. I accept 2 years. By 3 years I'm getting downright annoyed and impatient. Longer than that I think the author doesn't care about the reader (me) and I may lose interest in the story.

nomadshan said...

Authors owe their readers honesty, in writing and correspondence. Once a level of quality and scope has been set by a book, I think authors owe it to their readers (and themselves) to meet or exceed that level in subsequent books.

Anthony said...

I suggest a fresh look at what is happening here. Yes, there is a certain "carefulness" one must use in what is said on a blog.

Somethings, however, are timeless, and are only exposed, not caused, by blogging. Such as doing what you said when you said you would do it.

Instead of accountability, we now have Accountability Plus Plus.

Steve Fuller said...

I may never forgive Dean Koontz for never finishing his "Frankenstein" series. Seems very unprofessional to leave your readers hanging.

Sooki Scott said...

Personally, I feel the high road has the least amount of detours.

It's not right to create a need, and then be remiss in satisfying it. Of course, defining the term satisfying is a dangerous game since everyone has a different definition.

The simple truth is, give your hard-earned readership a book at reasonable intervals. Be honest about your personal goals and be consistent in your delivery.

We may want more books, but we'll respect your honesty and keep reading.

Confucius say; man who drive like hell, bound to get there

kalany said...

I think a commercial writer owes their readers exactly what they promise their readers.

If I get to the end of a book, and it says "The story will continue in blah blah blah out next June", then by God I expect it to be out next June (or maybe July) unless some tragedy befalls the writer (severe car accident, six deaths in the family, etc).

Furthermore, I think leaving a story "hanging" at the end of a book is an implicit promise from the writer that they will continue the story in some reasonable time frame. Reasonable is here defined by their previous output: if they've put out a story a year for the last ten years, then I think it's reasonable to expect a new story in a year, or a very good explanation why there isn't one.

In other words, don't make promises you can't keep.

Note that I said commercial writers. I am, I will admit, active in several fandoms' fic communities. There, life is very different, although I would argue we are no less writers. There's the understanding there that your paid work comes first, and probably even your other leisure activities. But for a commercial writer, this is their job, and should come first, or like anyone else in an industry, they should risk losing it.

Anonymous said...

I would never consider sending an author negative comments because they went to a football game or took a vacation. That's certainly their right! I do get impatient for the next book in a series, and sometimes have wished that a certain author could write faster simply for the selfish motives of reading it sooner. BUT I would never expect that an author is busy working 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. They have as much right to a life as anyone else, and hey if those readers are reading the blog, then they certainly aren't working every minute of the day!

The author owes the reader nothing until the book is published and the reader has bought it - the reader is owed a book that is written to the best of the author's ability.

Holly West said...

Authors owe their readers a good book and an honest representation of their work. That's it. But of course, that's not it.

Another example: Musicians. Do musicians "owe" their fans a tour when a new CD comes out? No. But a lot of fans get bent out of shape when an artist doesn't tour, and it is often in the musicians best interest to do so.

One more example: The "celebrity as role model." Charles Barkley used to say he wasn't a role model--didn't want to be one. His job was to play basketball well, which is what he did. But for better or worse (usually worse), he was also a role model, whether he wanted to be one or not. He might be still.

The reality is that with certain high profile jobs, i.e. an author, there is an implied contract that needs to at least be acknowledged if not accepted. If a person has fans/followers, and especially, seeks them out and interacts with them, then that implied contract becomes even less implied and more real, at least to the fans.

So even though the author owes nothing more than the single "book" they have put out at any given time (for which, presumeably, the fan has paid a fee), the reality is that there is relationship created between the author and his/her readers and that relationship carries implied responsibilities.

But in Martin's case, it might be a little different--since this is a series, and his fans know there are more books to come, some of their motivation for buying might be at least partly based on this. In that case, the contract becomes less implied and a more tangible responsibility, I think.

Ulysses said...

Um... "Everything is public, and authors are..." What? It seems Blogger ate the end of that sentence, and I'm kind of wondering what you were going to say.

It's about expectations, I think. When I buy a book, I expect the writer to give me a good, complete story. When I buy the first book in a series, I expect the same thing.

If the author has written a book and has publicized that the sequel will be of comparable quality (a promise implicit in any subsequent publication) and on store shelves by a certain date, then he or she has made a commitment and I set my expectations accordingly: I expect to see that book on store shelves on that date. I expect people who make commitments to meet them. If they're unable to do so, well I believe I have the right to be disappointed and to voice my disappointment regardless of the reason (NOTE: I don't have the right to be rude or violent. C'mon, people, it's a BOOK, an entertainment. Save your rage for AIG, whose failure to meet commitments cost you something IMPORTANT).

Scott said...

The best book possible.

With that said - George R. R. Martin had a major delay with the last book in the series because it was too long and he decided to split the book in two. IMO, it wasn't split very well. It was a very disconcerting read, probably because you could see where the "missing" (i.e., the ones he pulled to go into the book he's currently working on) chapters should have been.

Melanie Rawn - I have been waiting over ten years for her to write the third book in the Exiles series. She's written numerous books in between (numerous, numerous, numerous).

In the end, ever writer needs a reader, and every reader needs a writer. It's sort of a symbiotic relationship. Without writers, there is nothing for the readers to read, and without readers, what's the point of writing. I think by having the massive delays (as in Martin and Rawn's case) the writer risks losing part of their readership. I'm really not sure at this point that I'll continue reading either series since so much time has passed. Ah, the fickle finger of fate.

So, while the writer should write the best story possible (and not force out a crappy story because the audience is suddenly diminishing), the writer should also recognize the symbiotic relationship.


T.D. Newton said...

No and, frankly, this delay backlash scares me a bit (as a writer).

Lupina said...

I think a fiction author owes the reader full development and resolution of every premise that has been set up.

I do have readers contacting me constantly for the third in a series of NF books, even though they aren't the type of books with final conclusions. I don't mind it but it does create stress that doesn't help my writing process. I do fight guilt sometimes when I take a frivolous day off. But in the end, I feel I owe them quality more than anything else, and would rather have them feel it was worth the wait than be disappointed in something I just forced through the meat grinder.

Nikki Hootman said...

When I saw the title of this post, I KNEW it was going to be about GRRM.

I don't think he technically "owes" anyone anything, but if he's going to screw around with his fans then he should expect to live with the negative backlash. I think the main reason people are upset is because he keeps SAYING he will have the next book done in 200X, and then it ISN'T done. As a writer, I know things can't always be cranked out on schedule, but he should know his own process well enough to give a reasonable estimate. Being several years over his own due date is not reasonable.

As a fan, I think what ticks me off about the whole thing is that there is a sort of implied contract when you start into a series. I bought the first three or four books because I assumed that I would eventually be allowed to purchase a conclusion. In fact, the last book I bought in the series was NOT a whole book - it turned out to be only HALF of a book, because he had decided only to include the viewpoints of half of the characters. So now we're stuck waiting for the other half of an unfinished product.

An analogy might be going into a car dealership and having them say, "Well, we can sell you the car but the engine is missing. If you buy just the car now we can order the engine and you can come in and buy them on such-and-such a date." Only when that date comes, there's no engine. They promise another date - still no engine. I'm a consumer waiting to be provided with a product which I WILL pay money for... so where's the supply? Yes, writing is an art, but it's also a business.

And what's the number one rule in business? The customer is always right.

If GRRM is guilty of anything, it's really bad business sense.

Rick Daley said...

Authors owe their readers thanks and appreciation.

How do they best express that thanks and appreciation? Maybe that's a good question for next week.

ryan field said...

It's all about the reader. They are the only ones I'm thinking about when I'm writing.

Whirlochre said...

Like any pro, writers have to be unashamedly mercenary with their time.

Rick Chesler said...

Interesting article--thanks for posting.

Jen C said...

Hmmm when I started working for a supermarket when I was 18 the first thing they told me was "the customer is NEVER right. They have no idea what they're talking about" ahahahha (and true! 10 years in customer service has made me so jaded!).

What do authors owe their readers.... I think all they owe is to follow through on what they promise. So if they start with 4 good books, then the 5th book should not degenerate into preachiness and politicism out of nowhere (ahem.. not talking about any author in particular, of course).

If they say that the next is going to be out in 2009 then that's when it should be out, unless there is a serious problem such as a death in the family.

If they say that your favourite character is going to be back next book, then they should be back.

I think the point is, you probably shouldn't promise it if you think you might not be able to deliver it. The best business advice I've had is to under-promise and over-deliver, and never the other way around.

Personally though, I like GRRM, although I'm only up to the second book. I think if I was up to the end and waiting I'd just move on and start on another series.

Justus M. Bowman said...

I don't expect much from authors, but if I become a super author, I will prefer happy fans over angry fanatics.

Super Author = best new term of the week! I'm imagining an Americas Next Top Super Author-type reality show...

jimnduncan said...

This is a fun one. It only really seems to come into effect though for best-selling authors. I'm curious of Martin initally said the next book would be done in 2006 or if that was a publisher decision to 'guesstimate' when it would be done. If that was Martin's choice to say it, then there is some implied responsibilty if a deadline has been imposed. Mistake obviously if he was the one who made that decision. Still, readers need to take a chill pill. The book gets done when it gets done, and I wouldn't want the author short changing anything just to get it on the shelves quicker. Given all this brew-ha-ha, authors would apparently be wise to never, ever give a deadline to readers.

On the other side, the whole 'rallying the readers' thing that was spoken of in Kay's article, strikes me as a bit odd. Why do best-selling authors give a crap about some people who want to flame their latest book? There are bloggers out there who like to flame just for the sake of flaming. Those reader reviews have no impact on sales. Whole other story mind you if you are talking about a debut author is is fighting tooth and nail to get positive publicity out there for their book.

I only expect authors to be putting out the best work they can. I may not like it, but that's my problem, not theirs.

Nikki Hootman said...

Just for reference:

I am holding my copy of A Feast For Crows, which I purchased in 2005. At the end of this book, there is an advertisement for the next book, A Dance with Dragons. It says "Coming soon."

Is four years and counting anybody's definition of "soon?" God's, maybe.

Anonymous said...

I don't think a writer owes their readers anything, really. BUT, why do authors feel compelled to share the intimate details of their lives with "fans" (read, total strangers)? You can't have it both ways. You can't blog about personal stuff and then expect fans to keep some sort of distance from you.

Stop blogging about your damn self. Problem solved.

I had a MS with an editor a year or so ago. It went to acquisitions -- and it passed inso much as it was her call as to if she wanted to aquire it. She kept saying she was on the fence. She needed more time. The office was hectic. She was overwhelmed with work. It was one pitiful tale after another. I felt bad for her, thinking she had to be the most overworked person in all of publishing. Then I found her blog. Lo and behold, every single post was some version of "I took half the week off to go here and there." "I took a three hour lunch and somehow ended up hanging out with Author X the rest of the afternoon." And, "I'm leaving for a month long vacation next week (literally)," And, then, "I'm taking three weeks off." Then she'd make a few snide comments like, Gee, I should really get some work done one of these days. Her reality was hardly the sob story she was making it out to be to my agent. She passed on the MS. after keeping me waiting with, "I just need to get another read -- I'm so busy," for over six months.

My point is, if you don't want people to have an opinion about your work habits, then stop advertising them.

Nathan Bransford said...


Would you mind e-mailing me who that was? I plan on keeping it confidential, but I don't want any of my clients going through what you went through.

Kate H said...

I agree with RW in the #1 slot. Writers owe their readers their very best work, in terms of both craftsmanship and authenticity. By the same token, writers do NOT owe readers a new book every six months, because very few of us can produce our best authentic work in six months, or even a year.

Writers do not owe readers access to their personal lives. Period. I abhor Nietzsche's philosophy, but he was right about that.

prozac piggie said...

I don't think a publisher should publish a series that doesn't arc at the end of each book.

It is very unsatisfactory in the movies too.

This is not soap opera or prime tv.
(Stay tuned, folks, see what happens next week, Note: and,fyi, the "next week" will be a rerun for the next thirteen weeks.)

It doesn't make sense marketing wise to develop a following and then not follow through.

Likewise, an author should not deliver a segment in a series to a publisher who may not want to bank on the sequels. (wow I didn't think I could spell that!)

TTTTThhhat's all, folk!

Anonymous said...

Blogs, websites, twitters, myspace, facebook, youtube... is it really in any professional's best interest to spend so much of their time and divulge so much of their personal life in this manner? Martin's problem is certainly not unique, and probably an omen of things to come.

I understand the need to connect with old fans and reach out to new ones, but in my opinion, our culture has taken this too far. It doesn't matter how connected you feel with your fans, or how much they feel "like they know you." Most of them don't, and by opening their lives in this manner, celebrities are endangering themselves and those they care about.

Martin could have avoided this situation if he kept his personal life personal. His promises would have been to his editor, not his fans. His time would have been spent writing, not blogging. His sporting events, vacations, and afternoon naps are his business. Why would he want complete strangers so informed about the details of his life anyway?

Brian Buckley said...

I'll echo what some others have said here: authors don't owe their readers anything more than what they promise. So if they say they'll write a sequel, they owe a sequel because that's what they've promised.

Authors certainly don't owe their readers a new book every 1-2 years...unless they've promised that, too. Nor do authors owe their readers the very best writing they can deliver, although anything less will (and should) shrink their fan base.

Marilyn Peake said...

Kate H said:
Writers owe their readers their very best work, in terms of both craftsmanship and authenticity. By the same token, writers do NOT owe readers a new book every six months, because very few of us can produce our best authentic work in six months, or even a year.

I agree with that. In quite a few popular book series in recent years, it seemed to me like the ending of each volume was kind of slapped together and parts of the book not edited very well. The books were completed on or very nearly on time, but the iffy parts left in. Since the books as a whole were basically good, I sometimes wonder if they'll be revised later on and become classics.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:35:

My condolences.

I once had a licensing pre-deal, even a letter stating the company was "planning" to license my artwork.

Then the market shifted. They didn't tell me they had changed their mind for a year while I waited it out.

A little communication is always in order. It's only fair.

(So, in the name of fairness, I just had five galleries close on me or turn into other kinds of businesses - but they told me right away - right after I had spent my last dime framing and shipping works across the country. Boo!)

What times we are living in.

Still, ethics and manners, I still believe, are and will continue to be our saving grace.

Conjurae said...

Hmm. Reminds me of that great Tool lyric, "...All you know about me is what I've sold you..."

A relationship exists between reader and author...A contract exists between author and publisher. Confusing the two is engaging in a misplaced sense of entitlement.

thinwed said...

To my readers:

Thank you for reading my work.

Thank you for appreciating my work.

Thank you for not trashtalking me on Amazon.

Thank you for not making me have to twitter or facebook all day.

Thank you for buying my work if it's ever published.

Thankyou for caring about the characters so much and making them even more fun and more "Alive!"

And I will promise to have fun and give you my arty or entertainment babies IF they get an agent and the right publisher, etc.

It's not all in my hands.

Oh, yeah, and I am juggling this with diapers, a dayjob, and trying to have a life, so thanks for waiting.And while you are, please have a life yourself too. It's hard out there to do that I know. We all need support in that.

And if I take a little too long, thanks for welcoming me back in the room if I get to the party again.

the writer

allegory19 said...

I agree with Ink's comment:
As long as a writer is doing his best, both to write a good book and meet his deadlines, I think that's all you can expect.

We live in an age where we want everything NOW - but that just doesn't work with books. If the author takes his job seriously, then he'll learn to balance life and work, which results in a good book... at least that sounds right in theory.

Marilyn Peake said...

Something HILARIOUS, related to the discussion here: "Publishing 911".

Mel Skinner said...

I wouldn't say that, as a writer, I 'owe' the readers. I don't know if that is the right word, owe. However, I do feel the pressure that comes from readers' loyalty. By that I mean, readers who have been with me for years despite my delays due to illness, obstacles, and basically the long wait for the my series to find a home.

So, to some degree there is a perceived debt to them, but I think that adjusts as your writing career evolves. Perhaps, it even becomes something else entirely.

Undoubtedly, by simply being a published writer and wanting to continue in that vein there is something to be owed. The question then becomes, how much? And that can only be answered by a writer's conscience, the limits of their abilities, and their professional obligations.

Therefore, an Author owes his or her readers the promise given in every book they have put in the public eye, and only what is reasonable given the factors involved.

Hope that made sense.


Neil said...

As authors we owe readers the most satisfying, thought-provoking, electrifying and entertaining book we can possibly write. If we can come up with that - a tall order - then all we owe the readership is an implied pledge that we will commit our all to making the next one as good, if not better, and that we will always be moving forward and evolving as an artist. Other than that, I think there's something to be said for an artist staying relatively quiet between their works.

Meanwhile, what I want out of my favourite authors as a reader is nothing more than another great book, delivered at some stage in the future when they're ready.

Anonymous said...

When, as a visual artist, I start to think what do "I" owe my collectors...

My answer is this:

to keep my prices consistent or improving (maintaining value or improved value)

not to act like an amateur artist
(which if I hang in museums or collections, I don't just revert to stick figures or paint by numbers antics)

beyond that, I may move to a different body of work over time and will follow my own impulses creatively and hope they will appreciate and collect that too, but if not, I still will stand by the work they did appreciate and collect.

what does a musician owe their fan?

What happens when your serious actor takes up comedy?

Anonymous said...

Of course authors owe their readers timely and well crafted novels. The commitment is implied as soon as the author publishes his/her first novel with the intent to attract an audience. This is especially true for series.

As authors, we owe our past and future success to our readers. To take that obligation lightly is unprofessional, and I think it means that the author does not have a sense of a relationship with their readers.

I am not published, but I will be, and I will respect my ‘unspoken’ but very real responsibility to deliver quality and yes, timely novels or I won’t deserve to keep my audience.

This is a job, a creative job, but a job - and like any other, we should be expected to do it with quality and within a reasonable time frame.

Anonymous said...

oh yes, and what an author owes his readers is this:

please, authors,

Do not leave when you are at a signing that people have waited hours in line for and driven to from all points the hell away. Do. Not. Leave.
while we are still in line! Please.

(how to break our hearts and alienate us all in one blow)

Note to booksellers: this is your turf too. Do not let more people in that long line than the author can handle. Do. Not.

Litgirl01 said...

I've sent emails to authors whose books I liked. I would never be pushy though. It's nice of them to even have a website and contact information. People should be respectful. On one hand, you should keep the readers happy. On the other hand... not at your own peril.

I wish Kathleen Windsor would have written a sequel to 'Forever Amber'. :-(

Anonymous said...

As for quality, that's really up to the publisher. Their reputation is for choosing, editing, fine tuning,
giving us the "goods" not the bads.

A lot of authors don't know how to edit themselves or write, but they don't know it.

CindaChima said...

I have mixed feelings. As an author of two YA fantasy series(es?)I know that it's difficult to predict how long it will take to write a novel, especially something as ambitious as GRRM's Song. GRRM's books are such a pleasure to read that maybe readers should just bask in the joy of the current read, rather than obsessing about books of the future.

That said, I'm concerned when readers' expectations aren't met, especially when people take the attitude, "well, i just won't read any series books until the series is complete." Guess what--if nobody reads the first two books, there won't be any more!

I think authors of a series should have a plan for completing the series and make their best effort to do so. That's all.

I am impatiently waiting for GRRM's next installment, but in the meantime, there are plenty of other books to read.
cinda williams chima

LCS249 said...

As a writer, I always try to think about the reader. I'm writing to be read, not to keep a diary or a journal. If my objective is to be read, then I have to be aware of why I'm being read. Sounds like Martin is more into journal writing than authoring ... but I've never heard of him before.

How about you, Nathan? What do you think? Self-publishing seems self-defeating if one ultimately wants to be published.

Angie said...

I know I feel guilty if I have people reading along and something goes sproing and there are suddenly long delays. I feel horrible about it, like I've set people up to expect something and then failed to deliver. And to a certain point I think this is healthy guilt; if I didn't care, I'd probably do it more often, or work less hard to overcome it. And if that were the case, then I imagine I'd have a lot fewer readers fidgeting with impatience waiting for my next offering, or caring at all whether I ever wrote anything else ever again.

At the same time, though, I think having more transparency into the authorial process can help readers (if they care enough to pay attention) see that sometimes things do go wrong, whether it's with the writing itself or with other issues going on in the writer's life, and that delays don't necessarily mean the writer is flaking off.


Bethanne said...

I like everything J.Damian said...

I also like series to be completed. I like hints in one book to be followed up on at some point. But, no. I don't think an author owes me anything but a good book, which btw, happens only about 80 percent of the time.

So, what can you do? Reading is a crap shoot. It's Russian Roulette. It's pie in the sky. Half the people who read a book will like it, the other half won't... but that's another topic altogether.

If Martin wrote the implication of another story, he should follow through if at all possible. If he can't, I'm sure there's a valid reason. Most authors are extremely interested in selling another book.

Tara Maya said...

To be honest, I'm a little frightened to live in an era where writers are treated like movie stars. The whole reason I decided to become a writer rather than an actress is my hermit-like nature. And now writers have to deal with paparatzi too?

Lucinda said...

"...What do authors owe their readers?"

Honesty. Pureness of purpose in why they write in the first place.

Consistency. Familiarity laced with mystery.

Human Connection. Even if private lives are kept private, most readers want to know where an author is coming from, or been in life. This connection helps the reader have more than just escape time.

After reading Stephen King's book, On Writing, I was able to see a side of him that I could not see before. Now I wonder if he could write romantic comedy.

kdrausin said...

George R.R. Martin! Do you know how many years I have listened to what an incredible writer he is? My husband is a huge fan! My husband may tell me I'm prettier than anyone on America's Top Model (I'm not) but he has never said that I'm a better writer than George RR Martin. (not jelous at all)

So, he walked in the room as I was reading your question and I mistakenly asked... "Have you been waiting for one of Mr. Martin's books to come out?" Oh my,I had to listen to Mr. Martin praises all over again, and see all the interesting book covers posted on his website. As if I haven't heard enough about Mr. Martin in our nineteen years together.

I don't think it matters how long George R.R. Martin takes to write his next book. My husband will buy it as soon as it comes out. Authors are artists and readers who appreciate their work will wait and understand-like my husband.

Deborah Blake Dempsey said...

I am a huge Karen Marie Moning fan and with her current Fever series, the books are coming out once a year. I AGONIZE as I wait for the next installment. But, as painful as it is for me to have to wait for another story, I would rather wait and know I’m getting a fantabulous story where I will feel fully satisfied after I've read the book, than have a book I throw across the room because I'm massively disappointed.

I do not believe a writer owes the reader anything other than a really good read. To have a writer try to rush though a book only sets them and the readers up for disappointment. As a “working on being a published” writer, I know it’s a tough endeavor and I don’t have anyone I’m actively disappointing.


Karen said...

An author certainly doesn't "owe" anything to his or her audience. HOWEVER, where would the author BE without said audience? It really becomes a matter of how much the author wants to respect and show gratitude to that audience. I recently had the chance to listen to author Katherine Neville talk, and she made a point of mentioning that FOR HER, it was important to let her audience know how grateful she was for their patronage.
If you open a door for someone, do they owe you a "thank you"? No, but you're going to have a higher affinity for the person who does say thank you, and are probably far more likely to open the door for them again, aren't you?
That's how I sees it.

Vic said...

I'm with Anon 1:35 am on this one;

'You can't blog about personal stuff and then expect fans to keep some sort of distance from you.'

If you invite them into your life, you are also inviting the good, the bad and the ugly to share their opinion with you and what you're doing, how you're doing it and when you should be doing it.

No it isn't fair, but it is how it works in the search for (and in the service of) fans.

I don't read GRRM myself, but I imagine all will be forgiven if he writes an incredible book. Let's hope he does.

RainSplats said...

Readers will always want more from their favorite authors. Authors should live their lives. Spoiling the minions doesn't help anybody.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I feel for GRRM! I can't imagine what it must feel like to have the entire world waiting and watching you miss one deadline after another.

The pressure alone must have an enormous influence on his writing.

Why publicize the delivery date as 2006 and then keep moving it?
Does he have a contract with the publisher?

Do authors of series have such agreements that impact them financially when they miss deadlines?

Taire said...

Of course authors owe their readers, they owe them what they want to read, and if authors do not deliver, readers read something else.

Celebrities? They owe their fans a show.

Author/Celebrities? They owe books their readers want to read and a show. (But no dinner.)

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

What do authors owe their readers: Nothing, nada, zip.

That sounds harsh.

"I'm a writer, not Burger King." That sounds flippant.

I don't know how someone could have the mental energy to blog AND write novels. I know people do it, but it seems like if you are mid-series, ALL your writerly mental energy should go toward your novel. I mean, maybe if you blog once a month or something, but every day? (Yes I know people do it.)

But if you have fans coming to your blog, you are giving yourself an instant hit of fan attention - why bother finishing that novel and getting their attention that way, the HARD way?

Oh well. I feel creatively exhausted at the moment. I think of the poet Rilke, who was living in a CASTLE, and got inspired to write the Duino Elegies - which he didn't complete for another 10 years.

That's what we writers need: More castles (all expenses paid, isn't it nice to know wealthy royalty?) and less blogs.

Mira said...

This is a really interesting discussion to read.

I did have one more thought, though.

In terms of an implied contract, that's really an impossiblity, because the author really doesn't control the product.

My experience is that I can hope my 'muse' shows up. I can ask it nicely, I can demand it nastily, I can threaten to file a lawsuit on it, I can bribe it with cookies.

But it comes when it wants to come.

I can try to keep the channel clear and healthy, but that's all I can do.

I don't know what the muse is - what it is that authors tap into when they write - but it's not always accessible.

Martin has taken 5 years to write a book. Maybe he's blocked. Maybe the muse just won't come. Or maybe he's grown into a different person, and the 'muse' is going to write different books for him - not the old series. That can happen.

If that's true, it doesn't matter what anyone wants him to write, including him. He really doesn't get to choose. None of us do.

That's what I think, anyway.

Mira said...

Oh, I will add to my comment above, that if someone is blocked, going on fishing trips is a really good idea.

Get away, get fresh air, get perspective.

If I was a fan of Martin's, I might be sending him links to good fishing sites.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Writers' Retreats

I just got a free copy of a poetry anthology - the poems were all written at a particular "well-known" (whatever that means when it comes to poetry) poetry "retreat."

Has anyone here completed a novel at a retreat, or some place like Yaddo (I think novelists go there too, painters, all areas of the arts) - you know, you all get together and roast marshmallows around a roaring fire in the evening, after being creative all day...

Just wondering - maybe you have to be an academic writing a novel to get into places like that, with a "curriculum vita" etc...

Anonymous said...

It is an artist's prerogative when, where, and how to share their work.

Most fiction is an art form (notice I said most). Art can not be forced; it has to be inspired, it has to come from deep within.

With that said, blogging about what you are doing instead of writing (unless it is a really really good excuse for not writing) isn't smart. And if we want to keep our fans, we have to be smart.

PS writing while inspired is very difficult when you have a family, a day job, and have to worry about self-marketing.

Carolyn said...

Interesting question. I don't think authors owe readers anything but the story they wrote. (Past tense on purpose.)

It's quite possible to make a case for GRR Martin being one of the finest Fantasy writers of the 20-21st century. His current series is brilliant and is likely to stand the test of years. So, a hundred years from now when authors, critics, grad students and academics are discussing the genre, will they be hot under the collar about the time between books? No. They will not. What will matter is the merit of the work (and how many tropes can be made to dance on the head of a pin).

GRR Martin owes it to himself and his art to write his books in the time required to do so. Anything else is a compromise that I, as a reader, hope he does not make.

As an author myself, I feel a certain pressure to provide readers with a story they'll enjoy. But I don't owe them anything, at least not in the literal (hah! a pun!!!) sense. When I'm writing, I'm worried about what I owe the story I'm telling. That worry pretty much satisfies everything else.

Laura said...

I was a fan of Martin's and read the first three Fire and Ice books.

However, when he put out a publication date then went FIVE count 'em FIVE years PAST that, he lost me as a reader. And I'm not alone on that count.

I think there's a fine line between being able to take your time to do your best work (like Rowling did) and just taking advantage of your readers' patience.

I. M. Bitter said...

I think it comes down to two words.

Managing Expectations.

When Patrick Rothfuss's book came out, he told everyone repeatedly that the trilogy was finished. That we the reader could expect a new book each year, like clockwork.

Unfortunately, life happens, his books are delayed.

But he's not doing a good job of managing our expectations. He finally got it right when he announced this latest delay. He didn't give an ETA, just said he'd let us know when it was out.

Sarah Cypher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah Cypher said...

"Owing" seems to be an ethical question. On one hand, yes, finishing his book is something only he can do. (Unless the guy is blocked or going through a divorce or something equally horrible.) So, assuming it is in his power to finish his book, it would be professional for him to do it sooner rather than later.

However, I don't believe he has a debt to his readers. It is certainly bad form and a bit foolish if he takes them lightly, but on the scale of ethical issues, this question just doesn't register. It is interesting to think about, though.

Robert A Meacham said...

A certain quality threshold is paramount for your readers. Do not think for one minute your readers understand a story that is pushy ( wrody to meet word count,overly descriptive, or too much like your other writings in theme.) Readers want a plot that builds with believable characters. An author owes that much for his or her style as much as he or she owes it to the reader.

Bee said...

No. The writing process is quirkie, and completely different for everyone. There is a lot more to writing than actually sitting at the computer writing. Even fiction requires research, and some of my best writing happens when I'm nowhere near the computer, in fact in bed often. Don't go there!

I suspect readers think that a writer's life is monastic, that he or she should be spending 24/7/365 writing. Writers have a life just like everyone else and we should let them live it however they choose.

That said, I can understand readers' desires for the next installment, but let them wait a little--it just heightens the anticipation and book sales when it does come out. Give the guy a break!

Richard Lewis said...

Apart from the obvious, that readers deserve the best story you can tell, I think the problem of legions of pissed off readers mentioned in the original column is a novelty thing applicable to only a very few authors writing a continuing series with a very large and dedicated fan base.

Let me get to that stage first, and then I might have something more to say, but right now, sigh, my fan base doesn't even include my own children.

Horserider said...

I can understand being anxious for the next installment in a beloved series (I've been one of those crazed fans more than once), but on the other hand, I don't think it's fair to begrudge a writer his/her vacations and football games. I imagine some of us would go mad if we didn't have some away time from our writing. Or at least we'd get burned out.

Authors do owe their readers their best effort. After all, if it wasn't for the readers none of us would have a career in writing. And you wouldn't have a career as an agent. :D

Raethe said...

I'm a fan of both Rothfuss and Martin. I will be a very happy person when those books are done and in print. That said...

Someone, I believe it was John Scalzi, said recently that what authors owe their readers is their best effort, and not a second-rate product thrown on the shelves to quiet the masses. I have to agree.

The book will be done when it's done. It will probably be a better book for it. I'm okay with that.

crazy old woman said...

All those comments are well and good, but the author of this blog promised me more about conflict on Thursday and I'm not getting it so far.

Love your blog though and am not in a hurry to unsubscribe - just give me the rest of the stuff you promised 'cos the post about what characters want was really good and I want the next installment!!

Ginger Kenney said...

No, I don't think writers *owe* their fans anything, but it is a relationship. And as in all relationships, each side is not wrong to expect some give and take.

In Mr. Martin's case, (perhaps this has been rash, but) promises were made. Therefore, there is a real matter of integrity to deal with. This is compounded by the fact that his books are very, very good. And so we wait impatiently.

That some fans let their impatience (and perhaps their anger at repeatedly broken promises) get the better of them is most unfortunate.

Madison said...

Writers owe their readers a well written story that's engaging and worthy of remembrance. That's what we owe them whether it's our first book or 50th.

Vancouver Dame said...

Authors owe their readers a great story, and an experience of another world from the author's imagination. If the book finishes but leaves some open ends, then the reader can reasonably expect a followup in a certain amount of time. I lost interest in waiting for one author's next book, while she had personal problems lasting a few years.

I don't think the author owes their fans any more than any other celebrity or professional entertainer who markets their product. Writers should be available to their fans in some form, like a blog or website, but they aren't obligated to devote their time to pleasing all the fans. If an author chooses to offer their work online to the 'masses' without a gatekeeper, then there may certain risks associated with that choice.

There should be the ability to block input if it becomes abusive.

I don't think an author should distance themselves too much, or the fans lose interest.

An author will always need an audience, but the amount of effort you expend for that audience/fans will vary by individual priorities.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

CRAZY OLD WOMAN...regarding conflict.

Google: Geo Polti's - The 36 dramatic situations.

Each *situation* boils with conflict!

Today's test question for creative writing... In his book, STORY, what does Robert McKee mean by - NEGATION of the NEGATION? (I'd like to know)!

Haste yee back ;-)

On todays topic...
I don't got to show nobody no stinkin' IOU's

Aaron Stephens said...

An easy question you give us today, sir.

The author owes the reader the following: quality, consistency, entertainment and/or knowledge, and inspiration.

It would be nice if the reader gave the author: honesty and motivation to continue writing.

That's all I got/ :D

Mira said...

I am glad I'm not in this situation, though.

I can't imagine the pressure. I think I would curl up in a little ball and be unable to write anything.

I admire J.K. Rowling. Martin's pressure is nothing compared to what she must have experienced - not in terms of delay, but in terms of expectations. That she was able to do put a book out, and not bend too much to fan preferences on plot, character, etc. is admirable.

I wouldn't begrudge Martin if he's partly reacting to the pressure. It must be enormous. The skill of writing, and the skill of handling that type of public pressure are very different skills.

In fact, they may be opposite skills. I imagine writers are more on the senstive, introverted spectrum.

Julie Weathers said...

I think a lot of people have missed the point. No one expects a writer to have no personal life. People expect a writer to keep to their deadlines. I suppose the publisher, in Mr. Martin's case, will let him go indefinitely because they are not going to take a chance of losing him.

I will state again, if you commit to writing a series, then you should also give a realistic expectation of when the next installments will be available. Five years is not a realistic expectation, even for Martin.

Even so, he would probably be forgiven if he wasn't busy on so many other writing projects. Now, if he's a prolific writer and can churn out his series book on time, plus various other projects, more power to him. BUT, neglecting a project readers have invested much time and interest in so you can flit around like a butterfly with other projects is irresponsible.

As for the muse being gone, well, if it's there for all the other projects, it will probably be there for the original one.

Sometimes, regardless of how talented a writer is, they have to harness it will a bit of focus. Frankly, I think some writers just lose interest in the series.

I worked for a horse racing magazine for seventeen years. We covered every sanctioned QH race in the US and Canada every week. Every week I wondered how I was going to write an interesting story about yet another horse race and then do it up to twenty more times for one issue.

My editor, Diane Ciarloni, not only covered races, but also wrote a weekly column that won awards every year. I once asked her how she did it.

"You can't wait on the muse to begin. You have to sit your butt down in a chair and just write. Once you start writing the muse comes to you."

Anonymous said...

The writer is becoming(and expected to be) a performing flea, as if their record was coming out next week.

Their blogs are a waste of precious writing-time, a daily consciousness of us, the audience .

Why don't they go off and just do some living, get away from the screen, walk down the street? Isn't it turning into showbiz? What would Fyodor Dostoevsky do?

Incidentally, I really appreciated the use of the subjunctive in your last sentence...would that it were...

Hat Man said...

Here's a post from my blog on the subject:

What Writers Owe Readers

What do writers owe readers? They owe readers what readers have always expected from writers. Good fiction entertains, informs, and moves. The reader should be different somehow when he or she finishes a good novel, short story, poem, or comes home from seeing a play or a movie. Anything short of that, the book is not living up to its end of the bargain.

As for writers selling their stuff directly to readers off their website, an incoming tide that will not ebb in the foreseeable future, they owe what any good business owes: value provided to the customer delivered in a timely fashion according or exceeding what was advertised.

What do you think? For this and other postings on my novel, The Case of The Kearney Music School Murders, post to my blog at

Writing is for me an entrepreneurial activity. For my entrepreneurship blog, to go and for entrepreneurial real estate go to

Jovanna said...

I think that writers owe their readers their best writing efforts; and readers owe their authors the patience to wait and not hurry the writer into writing what could be less than good just for the sake of writing to please fans.

WitLiz Today said...

I find the word 'owe' to be distasteful when used as it is apparently being used here. There's a sense of entitlement implied in it. As if readers are entitled to this, that and the other.

No. Readers aren't entitled to beg, grumble, mumble when they don't get what they want from an author. Not even in the case of Mr. Martin who's reaching out to his fans by blogging. Inherent in that blog, is the generosity of his time. He isn't perfect, and perhaps wanting to satisfy his readers, he made promises he couldn't keep. Ok, so what. So you have to wait five, ten more years? So what. Mr. Martin quite obviously wants to write a quality book, but he has to balance that with his personal life which is important to him. Maybe he's having a little trouble finding that balance. So then the reader needs to wait and not complain.

As to the question of whether an author owes a reader a quality book, no, not really. An author owes his publisher a quality book. The publisher paid an advance commensurate with those expectations. In this sense, the word 'owe' is fiduciary in nature and more properly used.

Imo, an author doesn't 'owe' their readers a thing. A reader who thinks that way, unconsciously shifts the responsibility for the failure of a book onto its author, who, I would imagine didn't deliberately didn't set out to defraud his readers by writing a bad book. So instead of blaming the author or publisher or agent, since taste is so subjective, anyway, I'd simply not buy another book written by this same author.

I do think a reader needs to take more responsibility for the books they buy, as in, be very careful to research a book before you buy it. Means taking the time to read a ton of reviews. When you find an author you really like, then be patient ... and be wary when the next book comes out. Not all books are created equally. I think that's pretty obvious.

That's why, if Mr. Martin is writing quality books consistently, its even more important for the reader to thank their lucky stars they found an author who cares enough about that kind of quality, he won't put out a bad book.

This is where the words, 'be grateful and forgiving' come into play. Unfortunately, the words, 'instant gratification, and grandiose sense of entitlement' are usurping them to some degree.

That needs to change imho. In all aspects of life.

Marilyn Peake said...

Haste yee back said:
Today's test question for creative writing... In his book, STORY, what does Robert McKee mean by - NEGATION of the NEGATION? (I'd like to know)!

I love test questions in creative writing. :) I believe that McKee's negation of the negation involves putting your fictional character through the most severe level of conflict. Earlier in the story, the character should face a conflict that's contrary to some value, then go through what's contradictory to that. In really great stories, the negation of the negation means the character is eventually pitted against the contradictory - the ultimate in conflict. For example, if your story revolves around the theme of justice, your character would be confronted with something unjust (something contrary to the value of justice) that they must fight against. To make a story better, however, it would turn out that they must also fight against a contradictory element, e.g. a corrupt official who on the surface is one of the good guys. To take a story to the ultimate level, however, your character must be tested to their fullest, as when evil is masquerading as good, e.g. injustice is actually the law. In this case, the law is actually a further negation - a negation of the character winning against injustice at an earlier stage. Only when the reader sees how a character passes through the ultimate test do they have a real understanding of that character. He or she must be observed standing up even to the negation of any earlier victory in the story.

Is that correct??

Anonymous said...

If the author is serious about marketing there is definitely an implied contract between author and readers. The author writes the books, the reader buys. If the author wants his readers to keep buying he had best write a compelling story and he needs to be delivering the product in a timely manner. It is a symbiotic relationship. You can't have one without the other and each needs to cater to the needs of the other in order for it to proper. To fail to do so means writerfail. Professionally and economically.

Nona said...

I don't mean to compare myself to John Lennon, by any means, but I've had occasion at art openings to have people coming at me with eyes like saucers and I know how it feels.

Here's an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry for "death of John Lennon:"

"On the night of 8 December 1980, at around 10:49 p.m., Mark David Chapman shot Lennon in the back four times in the entrance of the Dakota. Earlier that evening, Lennon had autographed a copy of Double Fantasy for Chapman who had been stalking Lennon since October . . .

Hours before his murder, Lennon told RKO Radio that he felt he could go out anywhere in New York City and feel safe. While still a Beatle, Lennon was asked how he might die. Lennon replied: 'I'll probably be popped off by some loony.'“

Anonymous said...

word verification:


Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Re: "What would Fyodor Dostoevsky do?"


I just found NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND online! Less than $5 at Maybe I'm the only one like this - but I have a whole list in my head of books I haven't read because...only TRULY literary people read those books. Like there's some litmus test you have to pass before you're allowed to read - kind of the literary version of Studio 54, or maybe a boutique on Rodeo Drive - I used to feel that way about Virginia Woolf - don't dream of reading Woolf unless you come from five generations of English professors!

And then I was working in a fast food restaurant, and it was then that I took Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway" out from the library. And I love that book!

Re: Lennon - a fireplayer - as in, sometimes when you play with fire, you get burned. I don't mean that as a criticism - I just mean, sometimes you make a middling kind of art, right smack dab in the middle of a genre or art form - you aren't the best and you aren't the worst - and you generate a middling response - and other times, an artist is all over the place, sometimes right on it!, exemplary work in a well-established you get tons of fans...then you move out of it...way out of, there...your work is offensive, off-putting, just plain bad and even mediocre! Then maybe you do something really great again in a well-established genre that is accessible to one and all!

I'm obviously going overboard on the explanation points today. But I knew a woman, a museum curator, who wore unique clothing - strange, why-is-that-person-wearing-that? kind of clothes. She said, "I feel like everybody dresses the same nowadays."

I don't know. Maybe I feel that way about the arts (including fiction). Please, where are the fireplayers? Besides those Wall Street physicists who dreamed up credit derivatives? Talk about great fiction...the story of the electromonetary Finnegans Wake...

Bummer mood today...a bit late for negativity week, I know.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Marilyn... re: Negation of the Negation. I personally doubt there's a "correct" answer, but certainly a worthy character building story question for discussion.

My take... N of N is discussed in the vein of - how bad is your bad guy? McKee's advice, as I see it, is writing your Antagonist to the most degraded level of humanity. Why? Because, for your story to transcend mediocrity, your Protagonist must be challenged to defeat the absolute worst of, or in, human nature. This battle fully explores the character traits your Protag brings to the task, increasing audience interest and identity BTW, - and when all seems lost - your Hero summons the strength/wits/cunning/, (perhaps newly discovered by our Protag), buried somewhere in the depths of his/her human spirit to overcome the Antagonist, win the day and lift the audience to a sublimely satisfactory ending.

My problem... I see clearly how a protagonist must struggle through conflicts inherent in the declension of a plot centered on JUSTICE, where you find its' middle ground vileness, the contrary, UNFAIRNESS, and then proceed to write the character value battle to the contradictory, INJUSTICE and then on to the worst case scenario, the NEGATION OF NEGATION of INJUSTICE, to wind up with a face off of Protag vs Antag at TYRANNY. Tyranny being the N of N of the plot value JUSTICE. Why is Tyranny the NEGATION of the NEGATION... because the characters in control, (your antagonists), can pass out JUSTICE on a willy-nilly basis, apprehending, adjudicating and executing as they please leaving chaos in their wake.
It would take an extremely well written Protagonist to overcome amongst these circumstances, and that's what McKee wants writers to do. Too many scribes simply stop at conflict centered on the contrary, UNFAIRNESS, neglecting to dig deeper into human squalor thereby truly fleshing out a memorable character/Story!

Oh, my problem? In considering McKee's value declensions, I don't necessarily come to the same NEGATION of the NEGATION. And that's why literature is Art and not Science!

Clear as mud?

Haste yee back ;-)

Marilyn Peake said...

Haste yee back,

I think you're absolutely right. Stories are most riveting when they explore multiple levels of the human condition, including good vs. evil at both the individual and societal levels. And characters, like people, grow most when they're tested. I think that's what McKee was getting at - literature works best when the reader learns from a character who grows after confronting great obstacles. The obstacles set the stage for the character arcs that need to take place in a story. As an example, the TV series Lost does a fantastic job of creating conflicts at multiple levels for every character, and all the characters experience tremendous character arcs.

Mira said...

Marilyn and Haste,

Interesting discussion, but I don't know. Everyone has heros struggling against great odds and negating the negative baddies.

I think a more original way to do it is to have the hero struggling against really minor odds, where the outcome really doesn't matter, and no one could care less.

Try to write a book like that. Now THAT would be a challenge.

Just a thought.

Marilyn Peake said...


When an exception to the rules is done well, it has a great chance of success. On TV, the Seinfeld show was a perfect example - a show about characters doing nothing special, but the humor was great.

Mira said...

Whoa - Marilyn, major points to you. I was making a joke, and you came up with something real.

I wonder if you could do it in novel form, though. The benefit of television is the characters are attractive and it's easier to identify with them. Therefore you care about the outcome - even if it's about what's on a bagel.

I'm not joking this time - I wonder if it could be done.

I've sometimes fantasized about a story where the 'spear-holder' was the MC. You know the one who holds the spear that the hero grabs.

Although even that might be an important contribution - so maybe it's a bad example.

Marilyn Peake said...


I wonder if it's been done in a novel already. If it was done well, might be fun to read - no conflict, ahhhhhh.

Mira said...

I agree. :-)

Alex said...

This is a really difficult question, and I'm not sure that 'owe' is the right word to have in play.

But I believe that both authors and readers need to remember two things: 1. Authors have lives too. And sometimes things happen, like moving, or a death in the family, or publishers going under, changing agents, or any number of events, and that will affect the author's ability to produce, and the reader has to accept that. Admittedly if you are the kind of author who blogs or has some kind of networking platform, letting your readers know (as briefly as you are comfortable with) will always be appreciated, and as these are the people paying the bills it doesn't hurt.

Onto point le second: I don't believe in the whole 'itttt's aaaaarrrrrttt, they neeeeed the spaaace to be aabbbllee to creeeaaaate'. The exuse of the tortured artist is infuriating. When I'm applying for a job, it behooves me to consider not just if my employer is what I want, but if I fit into the requirements of my employer. If I lie about my ability to speak Japanese on my resume, and that's part of why they hire me, it will come back to bite me later. In a similar way an author needs to be honest with their publishers, agents, readers and themselves as to their ability to produce. (I would like to point out that this really only applies to a series.) If they can't produce, or they know that they're precious about their muse or the precise conditions which are only formed once a month but if the moon isn't three days before the full and two inches above the skyline they just can't write! ... If they can't stick to basic deadlines, perhaps they should consider the possibility that commercial writing is not for them. Commercial writing is, despite it's creative element, still a job. It gets tough sometimes. Ride it out.

And I know that sounds really cruel and omigod what about their art! And the reader is only paying for the product they've already finished anyway! But that's why I said this attitude applies to series only. Because an author is asking for an investment from an author, and not just in the emotional sense. It is the reader buying those first two, four, eight books that convinces the publisher to invest in the author and pay out an advance for the next novel in the series. If its reasonable for an author to take ten years between writing novels in their series, then it's reasonable for the reader not to buy any books until they're all finished. But that's not how publishing works. The author needs the reader to buy before they're finished, and so they make promises to the reader, and it's a dangerous thing to break that trust.

Also remember readers can be fantastic publicity. You don't want to be the author *coughIsobelleCarmodycough* who has readers telling everyone they know not to read them because they have not one but three unfinished series. Once trust is lost it's almost impossible to regain.

/rant :)

Anonymous said...

His fans should get a life. Seriously.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Re: "The excuse of the tortured artist is infuriating."

But there are people who are tortured artists - not all of them, but sometimes artists are tortured - just like regular people - plenty of people who don't write are "tortured" also. It's life on planet earth, unfortunately.

I know when it comes to poetry, plenty of "tortured" poets were heavy drinkers - so there's the whole substance abuse angle to it (although "substance abusing writer" isn't as romantic-sounding as "tortured writer.")

I think in the instance of Martin, he wasn't making the claim to being "tortured," just from the sounds of it, busy doing other fun stuff besides writing!

Alex said...

I think in the instance of Martin, he wasn't making the claim to being "tortured," just from the sounds of it, busy doing other fun stuff besides writing!

I, uh. Oh yeah. Sorry, I wasn't actually talking about GRRM at all. Just venting in response to the original question. ^^ (Will people hurt me if I admit to never having read his books?)

Also, a big YES to the 'well, some people are just tortured, experience is wildly varied throughout the range of human lives in existance'. Totally agree. Was more just trying to point out that there seems to be a willingness to let people slide when it comes to creative endeavours and that this seems to be because there is a lingering myth of the tortured artist (caused in part by those very substance abusers! ^^) However this isn't always the case, and it would be nice if occaisionally people would see that standard business practices and art don't have to be mutually exclusive, instead of coddling 'the talent'.

Sharon A. Lavy said...

Good discussion going here.

Lisa Lane said...

I think this is an issue that involves entertainers and artists of all kinds.

If one creates a work worthy of anay decent readership, I believe that author owes it to his/her readers to follow through with whatever is necessary to repay the readers for being there, in the first place.

Without the readers, an author is no longer an author.

Beth said...

Scott said: Melanie Rawn - I have been waiting over ten years for her to write the third book in the Exiles series. She's written numerous books in between (numerous, numerous, numerous).

Actually, she hasn't. There was a nearly ten-year gap between the second Exiles novel and Spellbinder, the first in her new urban fantasy series.

I believe there were personal reasons why she didn't publish anything during those years.

As to the subject under discussion--whoever said that authors who blog about their extracurricular activities are setting themselves up for criticism is right.

That said, I'd prefer an author take five years to write a great book, than two to write a mediocre one.

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