We were readers before we were writers, and we continue to read voraciously, as every writer—nay, every human—should. So we know what it feels like to become emotionally attached to fictional characters and their plights. We know how it feels to read something that makes us angry, sad or despondent. We also know how it feels to read something that makes us cringe and wish we could rewrite it with a different ending.
And so we write our own stories the way we would tell them. The way the people in our heads dictate them. We write for us first, and then we hope you, dear readers, also love the people who have created themselves in our minds.
It used to be, before the interwebs, that this was enough. A writer would write and a reader would read and never the two shall meet. Now, not so. Now, social media, and online reviews and the internet have given readers a voice to not only meet and engage in dialogue with their favorite authors (Kimberly still has the tweets starred that she and Neil Gaiman exchanged), but readers can voice their opinions about the books they read. They can take those emotional journeys online and en masse.
This has some real perks. Those connections, making reading a group experience to share with friends and family, getting to know your favorite author more personally, sharing your favorite books far and wide—all awesome!
But there is one trend we noticed first with video games, and now with books, that we have to wonder about.
Recently, we’ve seen a few popular authors receive major heat for the way they ended their popular series. (And in one case, the criticism is for choices the author has made in the series as it progresses.)
Laurell K. Hamilton, popular, bestselling author of the Anita Blake books, wrote a post years ago about her negative readers. The ones who would wait in line for hours during a signing just to tell her they hate her books.
We are scratching our heads at people who would spend SO MUCH TIME and ENERGY to hate on something. Don’t like it? DON’T READ IT!
So obviously, getting passionately…. Er… passionate about a series isn’t new. What’s new (at least what SEEMS new-ish) is this tendency to blacklist authors because of a choice they make in their books, or even because of the style of book they write.
Fans of Veronica Roth are livid over the ending of the Divergent series. Allegiant just launched and already it has a 2.5 rating with over 177 1 star reviews. Many are saying they will never read anything by this author again, because of how she ended the series.
Fans of the Sookie Stackhouse series went crazy when Charlaine Harris gave Sookie the ‘wrong’ happily ever after, going so far as to send death threats, suicide notes and more to the author, who canceled her book tour.
We understand that the characters in books become real to readers. WE ARE READERS and WRITERS. The characters we read and write are all real to us. But there has to be a line drawn somewhere.
At the end of the day, the author is THE AUTHOR. They, and only they, have exclusive access to the voice of their characters and storyline. Both Harris and Roth said in interviews that the ending for their series were known from the beginning, because sometimes that’s the way the muse speaks.
I, as the reader, may not like it, but it’s not my book to write.
But it’s not only the endings that are getting authors blacklisted by readers these days. H.M. Ward, author of the New York Times Best Selling serial novel, The Arrangement, has garnered a lot of criticism from fans for her serial approach to this series, many of whom have threatened to ‘never read this author again.’
That’s of course their decision, but that seems harsh and a little alarming.
Firstly, Ward has other books out, full length books that are not serials. Secondly, her serial is clearly marked as such, with word count and everything, so if serials aren’t your thing, DON’T BUY THEM!
Which brings us to the third point. There is a DANGER to this way of thinking from fans.
Let’s say authors listen to this craziness and start changing their writing style and book endings and formats to appease the most negative vocal readership they have. What would happen?
The death of innovative literature. THAT is what would happen.
Perhaps you think we’re being alarmist, but hear us out. We, as authors, need freedom to tell the stories that are in us to tell. We may write in different genres, different lengths and story types, with different kinds of endings. We may experiment with dark characters or fun characters or a blend of both. We might push the envelope on topics that make you uncomfortable. We might *gasp* have endings that are more tragic than happy. We might write books that are just not for you.
And that’s okay. We don’t expect every fan we have to read every book we write.
But if we as authors (in the larger sense of the word), listened to this kind of criticism, and started writing for the vocally negative, then all that innovation would stop. We would start to write in ruts, only content to repeat the tried and true story ideas, lengths and formats that received the least amount of criticism.
We wouldn’t venture forth with new ideas.
We wouldn’t innovate.
We wouldn’t try new things.
And we would become stale.
Trust us when we say that nobody wants to live in a world where this kind of writer is the only one writing.
So might we make a suggestion? Instead of shaming authors in reviews, instead of threating to ‘never read this author again’ because they violated something in the length of their story or ending of a series that was important to you, perhaps take each story as its own, each book as its own.
It’s okay to hate a book, or hate serial novels, even, but unless that is the ONLY THING the author has ever written and ever will write, why vow off the author forever and always? Why not support the author in making different choices for different books, depending on what they feel the story calls for?
Why not allow the author’s muse to speak to them, and decide based on each book whether it’s something you’ll enjoy or not?
Because the last thing we want to do is create a society of writers who stop listening to their muse and start listening to the angriest, most vocal of their readers.