Hello everybody! Welcome to another discussion post by yours truly. This week I thought I’d discuss delayed releases- something none of us in the book community are strangers to. At the end of the discussion, I’ll pose a question- my intentions in these posts are to engage my audience, to have an open conversation despite disagreements or reservations. So please feel free to respond to the question, or anything else you read in the post!
Sidenote: Jess gave me this awesome opening line, but I simply couldn’t post it without giving her the well-deserved credit XD
We all love series
They give us the opportunity to engage with a world, a plot, a cast of characters and an author for longer periods of time over multiple books. Annual releases of books in a series give us something to look forward to, and I, along with many other bookworms, make it a habit to rush to the bookstore and buy a sequel. Series are a special kind of magic. Often when turning the last page of the last book, we are left simultaneously elated and devastated: elated because everything has been answered (hopefully) and tied up properly (… hopefully), and devastated because it often feels like we lost friends. I recently finished reading the Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater and I was hit with this strange sense of loss after the last page. I didn’t want to leave these people behind. With series, sometimes it becomes hard to remember that the people you are reading about are not real.
But there’s also the problem of the dreaded cliff-hanger. You’re propped up on pillows late at night, chewing on your nails, your eyes whizzing across a page, your heart thumping inside your chest because everything seems to be going crazy and then boom, you reach the end. Frantically, you look around, flip the pages back and forth in full denial that the book ends there and that you probably won’t get to know what happens next until the next year. You resist the temptation to throw the book out the window even though that’s all you want to do while screaming at it for being so cruel.
Oh trust me, I have experience
You may have heard of a certain author named George R. R. Martin, the Creator of Hopes, the Destroyer of character-loving hearts, King of fantasy, Protector of storytelling, Crusher of dreams. The fifth book in his legendary A Song of Ice and Fire came out in 2011- granted, I didn’t start reading the books until 2012 but it’s still been a good three-and-a-half or four years since I read A Dance with Dragons. If you’re unfamiliar, it ends with a certain beloved character getting stabbed two million times- and though I know what happens with the TV show and all, it doesn’t change the fact that the book left off on a huge cliffhanger and I’ve been waiting to see what happens next in the author’s head for the past few years. Oh, it’s not easy, especially since the release date and release news is so conflicting and muddy. It was supposed to come out in fall 2015, but it got pushed to March 2016. From March, it got pushed to October. Now some news outlets are saying it’ll release in January 2017. Not getting any concrete news and relying solely on rumors is aggravating, and I can’t believe fans of the series – who have been reading it since the 1990s – have had to go through this with every single sequel.
Another fairly new series that is slowly ruining my life is The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon. I read the first book a couple of months before its sequel The Mime Order was due to release. Sure enough, The Mime Order came out in February 2015. The third book was due to release in February 2016, but it got pushed to November. Now I believe it’s been pushed even further to March 2017.
Both series have ended on such incredible cliff-hangers; game-changing moments that can transform the entire direction of the future of the story. But I’m not getting my hands on them any time soon. And I’ll admit- it can get frustrating, especially if the series is as dense and complicated as the ones I mentioned above. I have virtually forgotten everything that happened in The Mime Order and A Dance with Dragons– and they’re such big books that I’m not sure I want to read them, especially since I’m not a re-reader in general. The only book I’ve ever re-read is one or the other Harry Potter book. This is obviously an issue that many series’ readers face. Sure you can go on Recaptains.com and read the summaries of the previous books, but it’s just not the same.
It’s frustrating, but is criticism justified?
I’m going to use George R. R. Martin as an example. The amount of hatred that man gets for delayed releases is astounding- something I wasn’t fully aware of until I became fully involved in the book-fandom for the series. People asking him to finish the series before he dies, people being worried that he won’t finish the series because he’s overweight and will probably pass away before writing the last book- I mean, how do these people look at themselves in the mirror? In what world is it okay to remind someone of how close or far they are to their death every time they log onto the Internet? It’s so morbid for me as a casual observer- I can’t even imagine the stress and anxiety it induces in the person who these statements are directed towards.
Apart from this much-too-often remark, Martin is often called lazy. Every time he writes a blog post, it is shared on websites like Reddit for the A Song of Ice and Fire fandom to devour, and there are a plethora of comments down below which speculate on Martin’s laziness. “He should be writing the books, not blogging.”
Authors do not owe you their work
In an infamous blog post, Neil Gaiman answered a fan question that asked, “When writing a series of books, like Martin is with “A Song of Ice and Fire” what responsibility does he have to finish the story? Is it unrealistic to think that by not writing the next chapter Martin is letting me down…” (Source).
To which Gaiman replied, “Look, this may not be palatable, Gareth, and I keep trying to come up with a better way to put it, but the simplicity of things, at least from my perspective is this: George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.” Gaiman goes on to say that authors are not machines, and that they cannot be rushed by their readers to produce work. We, as readers buy these authors’ books of our own choice. We do not, as Neil explains, sign a contract that says that we will pay this much money for the author to release a book in a ‘timely’ manner. We should be the last people to complain about authors not producing work according to our schedule- these people are human beings who have lives outside of their jobs. You spent 9-5 days in an office- the rest of the day is yours. You go on an 8 hour shift? The rest of the day is yours. It is unfair to expect authors to put their lives on hold so they can satisfy our impatience.
Writing is an art, authors are artists
In my opinion, art cannot be rushed. You cannot urge your brain to create faster, to think faster when what you’re working on is not so concrete like Mathematics or Physics. Authors have ideas, and they need to hone these ideas, polish them and write them down on paper or computer working with nothing else but their own mind. Heck, I can’t even imagine what sort of pressure professional authors are under, knowing that there are readers out there who love their work and their story, who are expecting a masterpiece and nothing else. I find it difficult enough to write an 8-page short story without screaming at my laptop at least five times; who the hell am I to ask another person to write faster to please ME?! They don’t know me, and yes, I buy their books. I ‘pay their bills’ as they say.
But if the work did not exist, I would not have the story. It’s not like we are doing authors any FAVORS BY BUYING THEIR BOOKS. We are doing ourselves a favor by reading, by immersing ourselves in brilliant stories, by creating friends even if they do only exist on ink and paper. Authors are doing enough for us as it is by giving us stories worth cherishing, worth loving, worth caring so deeply about. We give them our money because of their stories, not because we have set deadlines for them that they must meet.
That is between an author and a publisher, no? Deadlines shouldn’t mean anything to us- we have no idea what’s going on in a person’s mind. Am I saying missing deadlines is okay? No. I’m saying that WE AS READERS should not have expectations for authors to meet these deadlines. That is none of our business.
But I get it. It’s frustrating
I said it before, and I’ll say it again- we are impatient creatures who want gratification all the time, and that’s understandable. But be respectful. Have a conversation with other readers. Keep yourselves updated with the series, engage respectfully and appreciatively with the author and perhaps seeing their readers’ patience and respect will inspire them to quicken their writing process. Just like any other medium of art, sometimes you get a burst of inspiration and you can write six chapters in a day. Other times, nothing. I think it’s important to understand that.
This is what it comes down to, after all. Understanding is key. On both sides. I do not believe in extremes, whether in religion, politics, whatever. Extremes are called ‘extremes’ for a reason- nuance and balance are supremely important. Although this post was geared towards readers, asking them to understand a writer’s position, I think it’s equally important for a writer to understand a reader’s position. And most of them do because most of them are avid readers themselves. Martin has apologized profusely for the delay in release, constantly assuring his readers that he knows it’s frustrating but he’s trying his best. We, as lovers of his art, owe it to the artist to accept that.
This entire post is largely my take on this entire issue, and of course there are bound to be people who disagree with me. I have engaged in discussions in the past where the opposing viewpoint has told me that authors are in the industry now, and they will lose readers unless they can retain an audience by releasing content regularly. To which I say: are authors writing because they love it, or do they write to sell? I’d like to think my favorite authors write because they genuinely enjoy it- after all, if they didn’t, would we really enjoy their stories?
In the end, think of your favorite unfinished series…
Would you rather have a rather average attempt at the next book in your hands right now? Or a masterpiece later?