Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Soapboxing: Readers’ rights

Soapboxing on Tynga's Reviews

I had every intention of kicking off our new Soapboxing feature with a different post but this seemed a lot more timely in the wake of the brouhaha around the final Sookie Stackhouse novel. I’m sure most of you know what I’m talking about but here’s the Coles Notes version for those of you who have managed to avoid it: Someone in Germany got their hands on a copy of DEAD EVER AFTER early and didn’t like it. S/he then proceeded to post spoilers about who Sookie ends up with and, I believe, even copied some of the text out. Now, I haven’t gone looking to find out what was actually shared because I don’t want it to be spoiled (I’ll find out once my copy arrives in the mail) but the furor around this really got me thinking:

What rights do we have as readers? What kind of relationships should we have with authors?

Stock photo: stop 1 (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1197499)

I’m going to say right off the bat, readers DO NOT have the right to dictate to authors. We have the right to buy — or not buy — a book. (And by book I mean book/novella/novellette/etc. Pretty much any work of fiction). We have the right to read — or not read — a book. We have the right to our opinions about what happens in a book and the right to share those opinions, hopefully not by flaming the author, but freedom of speech is a right many of us have and exercise. But you can’t legitimately argue that readers should decide how a story goes. If that’s what you’re looking for, you either need to invest in some Choose Your Own Adventure books or become an author yourself because there is no way that readers should be able to command authors or make big (or small) decisions about storylines. As readers, our primary job is to read the book. As authors, writers are supposed to create stories and can spend months or years crafting something that we spend a few hours reading. There’s no contract that says an author has to write a book everyone loves. There’s no law that says writing a book should be based on collective opinion. Unless you’re the one writing the book, you don’t get to choose how things go. As a reader, you’re there for the ride.

Dime Store Magic by Kelley Armstrong (Otherworld #3)Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I’ve really disliked decisions that have been made by authors. The Sookie Stackhouse books have gone downhill for me and I definitely think that the early books in the series are better than the last two or three. And that’s my right. I am entitled to this opinion, just like someone else can think that DEADLOCKED is the bee’s knees and shout that from the skies. I’m allowed to say that I think that Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires books went downhill once she resurrected Ethan. But this doesn’t give me license to spew hate at the author, or post gigantic spoilers, or pirate books. All it means is I get to offer my two cents on the blog or to my friends or almost anywhere else and, as a decent human being, I should be doing it in a constructive way. And sometimes things that I really don’t like end up being great for a series. I was so brokenhearted when Kelley Armstrong switched her narrator from Elena to Paige in her Otherworld series. After two books, all I wanted was more Elena and Paige was such a different character that I was totally bummed out by DIME STORE MAGIC. But you know what? Having revolving narrators made the series more interesting because you see so much more of the universe. And while the Elena-narrated stories are my favourites, I can understand why, as an author, Armstrong made this creative decision, and appreciate what it gives me as a reader.

On some levels, this all boils down to respect, freedom, and decency. If I spent a year or more working on something and then hundreds of strangers decided it was okay to tell me all the reasons why they hate me and my work, I’d be hurt, especially given the kind of language people sometimes use in these diatribes. And a lot of people turn their dislike about a plot point or a character into flat-out hatred for an author and it can get ugly. (Sidebar: Authors can also get ugly with their readers so I’m not saying that this is a one-way street. Decency and respect go both ways.)

If you go to Charlaine Harris’ Facebook page, for example, you’ll see she posts a response to the news about spoilers and even opens up the thread for positive and negative comments. She is one classy lady. I don’t think I’d be this open or brave:

Charlaine Harris Facebook response to German spoiler

What I didn’t copy were the 1,600+ comments mostly because of privacy and space but also because there are some damn hateful things in there. It’s been said before but I’m saying it again: the Internet can bring out the worst in people because of the anonymity it provides. I’m pretty sure that most of the people on this thread wouldn’t walk up to Charlaine Harris and say these extreme things to her face.At least I hope not. I heard that Jennifer Estep was receptive to some bloggers at RT discussing why they don’t like Owen with her, which is very cool of her, but I don’t think she should change the overall story arcs she has planned just because some people don’t like Owen anymore. I also assume that these bloggers were voicing an opinion, not throwing insults or trying to get Estep to change her planned course of action. (I wasn’t there so I can’t say for sure but I’m a big fan of some of the people involved in that discussion and I can’t imagine them being hateful.) Savvy authors go into things knowing that not everyone is going to love everything about their books but no one should be on the receiving end of the kind of vitriolic stuff I’ve seen lately online, not just around DEAD EVER AFTER but also about other books.

Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire #13)It’s your right as a reader to break up with a series. It’s your right as a reader to voice your thoughts. It’s not your right as a reader to throw common decency out the window because one fictional characters ends up with “the wrong” fictional boyfriend. In the grand scheme of things, this is not the end of the world. No matter how attached you are to a character, life goes on. You can always imagine them ending up differently if it bothers you that much. Many an individual has done just that with fan fiction.

If artists listened to all of the haters in the world, we probably wouldn’t have all the great works of art, music, and literature that exist today. I’m not saying the Sookie Stackhouse books are on the same level as a Picasso but I am saying this: writing is a creative pursuit and it’s the nature of creative works not to appeal to everyone. Art in all its forms is subjective and not liking something doesn’t mean you should slander another human being. Readers should read. Readers should feel so passionately about a book or a character that they get emotionally invested. That’s how you know an author has done a great job. Readers should feel free to have their say and share their feelings about a story. Readers should not try to tell an author what to do or rage at an author because they don’t like how a story is going.

What do you think? I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Please share in the comments!

Soapboxing is our platform for talking about books and book-related topics that matter to us. Soapboxing posts may be rants, they may highlight awesome or terrifying trends, or they might tackle bookish issues on our minds…
The content will vary but the posts will (hopefully) never be boring!

Jenn

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Born and raised in the Toronto area, Jenn is now in northeast England after a 10 year stop in St. John's, Newfoundland.

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12 People left their mark on “Soapboxing: Readers’ rights”

  1. Tina

    Very interesting topic. I have never read the books you mentioned so I won’t speak on that – however, I do agree with 95% of what you stated.

    The only caveat – and this is MY opinion only. If, as authors, you write a book or go in a direction that a good majority of your readers don’t like (even if you have an arc for the series already detailed) then it might be time to rethink your changes.

    While readers cannot (and should not) believe they are entitled to ‘make’ the author change direction, they certainly have a say (and I don’t mean in a bossy or rude way).

    Then, its up to the author. However, if you haven’t got any readers – then you are not going to sell any books – just sayin’.

    As always two sides to a situation.

    • jenn

      You’ve made a good point. If the readership hates something, it might be worth thinking about it but I don’t like it when readers are aggressive with authors. If an author wants to change directions and they listen to reader thoughts, that’s their prerogative, just like it’s their prerogative not to listen to the buzz.

  2. Helen

    Interesting topic! Really makes you wonder who an author should be writing for… I’ve read so many interviews with authors giving advice to others saying ‘write for you – write what you like, not what you think other people want to read’, etc. And yet it seems like once you’ve actually ‘made’ it in the writing world and are published, the public gets a sense of entitlement and expects you to change your whole philosophy and begin writing for them and based on what they want and what they expect.

    I hate to see authors getting attacked on a personal level by readers. It shows that sometimes it’s far too easy to forget just how deep and personal writing is for most authors. If Harris is ready to say goodbye to Sookie – that’s her right. The series started fizzling for me around book 6 or 7 – but I know that just because I wasn’t personally invested past that point doesn’t mean that I have any right to make attacks on the author or her characters. At the end of the day, Harris knows Sookie better than any of us, and we gotta respect that.

    • jenn

      Nicely put, Helen, and thanks for your comments! There’s definitely an interesting push-pull going on that never used to be here years ago. I don’t remember my parents ever interacting with their favourite (or least favourite) authors, or having these types of opportunities myself when I was younger.

  3. BLHmistress

    I unfortunately found a review on youtube and I shouldn’t have never watched because I don’t want to buy the book now and this was long before the release date as well. IT did spoil it for me. That being said there is no reason what’s so ever to be as nasty as I heard some of the comments have been. True I am not happy who Sookie ended up with but I am not going to hate on Charlaine Harris for writing it the way she did. These are her characters, her story and had every right to end it the way she wanted.

    I may change my mind and read it later on but I did love all these characters and regardless how she ended it . I will miss them it is sad it is now over.

    • jenn

      I haven’t actually bought the book yet since the series has been waning for me, but I’m very sad to hear that you got spoiled. 🙁

  4. ahz1

    I really like this feature. I think that authors should write whatever they want, however, if they make a change in their series they can expect some unhappy readers. It’s just too bad that people can not be civil in their comments. I’m not really invested in the Sookie Stackhouse series. I loved the earlier books and lost interest in the later ones. So for me, the spoiler just sealed the deal. I don’t need to read the last book now. I can think of other series that got people very angry – I’ve seen the horrible comments.

  5. Steph from fangswandsandfairydust.com

    As readers we have the right to read or not read a book. We also can say that we believe a writer has erred in his or her decisions with a series. There is however a WIDE divider between being a critic and just being a jerk.

    I think when something becomes a franchise: written, published & marketed w/ the goal of getting us to invest emotionally it changes the equation a bit. Once a writer or the other parties involved get us invested in the series maybe we have a role similar to investors in anything else. That being said, we are human and where emotion is involved some form of stupid behavior is sure to follow.

    Discussed this w/ a friend about our right to discuss the behavior of public figures, then Tiger Wood, whose very lives become a conduit for their financial gain, she said when someone makes $ through their image, the audience which has emotionally invested in the cultivated persona, admired them & bought their products has a right to see how they are behaving & add or withdraw approval, sometimes vocally.

    Book series that become franchises via multiple outlets, make money from the emotional investment of people. When you do that you have to expect people to behave emotionally. To expect otherwise is like posing for Playboy and then complaining about being sexually objectified.

    You can’t substitute salt for sugar in a cake & not expect people who buy it won’t spit it out & say, “that was awful cake, did you make a mistake or are you just a terrible baker?” You can even expect people to say “don’t buy that cake – it is awful.” Some may even say, “Not only was it awful, but the baker is stupid in trying to pass it off as cake.” That is over simplifying, but not all analogy is perfect.

    I heard, btw, DEA released early in Germany. People post spoilers every day & quote paragraphs. We have the right to free speech as long as it is not slanderous, libelous, in direct violation of immediate public safety. If you attribute a quote & don’t represent it as your own, in the course of a review it is generally accepted practice. Having a right doesn’t mean we have to exercise it. in fact doing so often shows people we are nasty.
    That blogger could have given a spoiler warning. It’s possible their personal blogging mission is one of flaming- the only solution is for people stop paying attention to them. Being nasty is stupid, poor decision making, bad karma. And, I’ll bet that that stupid blogger w/ her poor decision making & bad karma sold a lotta books.

    Is it possible that had no one on the book side said anything it would have just gone away? Honestly, I don’t know anyone who read the post but I know a lot who read the book tho’ – incl. me. I have a review up of said book today.

    How much of the thing was hyped? After all neither of us sought out the post but here we are talking about it. We sympathize w/Charlaine; a lovely person who is used to this. We think the blogger is a big doo-doo head. We just sold five more books because controversy = interest = sales.

    Does anyone know if books advertised as the last in the series have lower sales in general? Because then hyping it would make sense.

    I am long-winded. What it boils down to people have the right to free speech but having the right to exercise it doesn’t mean we’re required to. When humans get emotionally invested they may behave stupidly. If you are making money on that emotional investment you must expect that. You may even make more money from it. The stupid person is able to hide behind the internet & accumulate bad karma.

    Love this feature! Not saying the blogger was right I am just sayin’

    • jenn

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Steph, and glad you like the feature. You’ve mentioned some stuff I hadn’t thought of. I hope it wasn’t all done for publicity’s sake!

    • jenn

      I should also add, you’re right about adding a spoiler warning. I haven’t looked for the post because I don’t want to be spoiled, and I often avoid reviews of books I’m anticipating for fear of spoilers. It’s unkind to post something rife with spoilers, especially a major one like who Sookie ends up with at the end of the series, and not make it clear for readers.

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