Entitlement

I’ve been staying offline a bit the last few weeks for various reasons, but on twitter yesterday I noticed a bit of buzz going on about what happens when a reader releases spoilers of a book before the book has been released.

Now, the actual thing is that the latest Sookie Stackhouse book is due to be released on May 7th – but it’s not just the latest book in the series – it’s the LAST book. For readers who have been heavily invested in these stories (this fandom, let’s call it) – it’s a pretty big deal.  Long-awaited answers should be revealed, plots lines should be wrapped up…in short, we want to know what happens to our favorite waitress and her vampire suitors.

Here’s the thing though. A German reader ended up with a copy of the book and released the last chapter spoilers.

And people are angry.

Not because the spoilers were released…but because of who Sookie ends up with. Or doesn’t end up with. Or whatever.

Now, I’m a Sookie fan, so I found said spoilers and frankly, it was something I’d figured was going to happen about two books ago. Would I maybe have preferred a different ending? Maybe…but guess what? It’s NOT my story to tell.  And yes. I’m still buying the book…because books are the sum of their parts – not just the endings.

However, there are a great many readers who don’t feel that way. If the Facebook messages on Charlaine’s wall or Amazon forums are anything to measure against, there are some extremely disgruntled people out there. Many expressed dismay at the way the series ends, as well as made statements at “feeling duped” for having wasted their time/money/investment on a series that didn’t end the way they felt it should.  Many are canceling their orders.

Here’s the thing. I’m not going to tell people they don’t have a right to feel a certain way. I completely understand fandoms and the obsessiveness with which they exist. That’s part of what makes them fandoms.   But I do think there is a point where it stops becoming a legitimate expression of anger and starts moving into abuse.

And I’m certainly no stranger to it. After all, one only has to look at the Mass Effect 3 mesoshubbub last year. There were a LOT of extremely angry people about how the series ended – and a lot of articles posted about what a gaming company owes or doesn’t owe its players. I stayed out of it, for the most part…except to completely poke fun at it in A Trace of Moonlight.

Where does the line get drawn?

Controversy is nothing new. But when does a character or a piece of media stop becoming the creator’s and start being owned by the consumer? In the case of Mass Effect, it makes more sense. After all, you create a player character and you spend years making choices and questing and building up a legacy in this world…so when the last game doesn’t deliver the way it was promised it would, then it’s easy to see where the disappointment comes from.

With books or series I’m not sure it’s so cut and dried. How many books does it take before a reader is so invested that they feel they are “owed” by the author? What exactly are they owed? I’m not really expecting an answer to that, because it’s going to be different for everyone. Though I’m still going to point people in the direction of Neil Gaiman’s “GRRM is not your bitch” post, because he puts it out there much better than I could.

Now, what about the reader mentioned above who did the spoiling? What role do readers play in these fandoms? Certainly there are spoilers and speculation that abound everywhere. That’s part of the deal. But in this case, the reader had the actual book in hand and decided to disseminate that ending out onto the internet.

As an author myself, yeah – I’d be pissed. Once the cat’s out of the bag, there probably isn’t much that can be done, but if I’ve spent years crafting a story, it’s going to be completely awful to realize that it’s undone in a matter of moments.  (And being judged on one part, that MIGHT be taken out of context. It also might not, but still.)

From a reader perspective? I have no idea if it was done maliciously or if it the person thought they were doing other fans a service by letting them know. I’m not sure it matters.      (And honestly, massive spoilers for a lot of fandoms are everywhere – there’s no way to really stop it from happening. Shit, sometimes I read the end of a book first, for the exact same reason. I want to know NOW.)

The thing is? Creators are still people. I don’t for a minute think any legitimate author or artist or musician or game developer is sitting there behind the scenes tugging their mustaches in glee over the idea of being able to fuck their fans over. (Or at least, not most of them.) Most of create because we love to create and we want to share our creations with the world.

Sometimes things are out of our control. There are often creative decisions that are made behind the scenes that consumers aren’t privy to, and that’s probably the most frustrating thing of all – because they can’t always be shared, nor should they be.

Speaking for myself, I totally admit getting bummed if a reader is disappointed in my work. But it’s always a given that I can’t make everyone happy. I still like to read reviews that are negative because it helps me to sometimes understand if there was something I could have written better or made more clear – but there’s a line between someone expressing disappointment or anger in a rational way (e.g. I didn’t like the ending because of X) vs someone spouting a 20 foot rageboner that devolves into calling me a cunt because Y.

TL;DR  ;3;

I realize there’s no exact answer here. I can see both sides of the argument but at the end of the day, I am writer. The only thing I owe my readers is the best written story I can tell.

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8 Responses to Entitlement

  1. Darchala says:

    I don’t know why it’s so hard for people to just, you know, not make assumptions about where a story is going to go, or ‘should’ go. If you want to do that, might as well just write your own.

    It’s one thing if the creator states that things will be a certain way and then goes back on it (which I think was the thing with the ME3 cluster?). It’s another entirely if the fan spins up a personal fantasy about how things should go and then loses their shit when they turn out to be wrong.

    • allison says:

      This.

      I think you and I have the advantage of seeing it though. (Or really, anyone from a fandom with a rabid fanbase – after a while you notice there’s an ebb and flow of fanwank that occurs on a regular basis. I don’t think it happens with books quite as often, so for an author to suddenly be thrust into it like that is probably very overwhelming. (As it may be for fans who haven’t seen some of the ugliness on the interwebs.)

  2. Well said.

    “The only thing I owe my readers is the best written story I can tell.” – and that’s really all any of us readers can ask for. (But so many of them ask for so much more.)

  3. Shades says:

    With the ME3 thing… I felt there was more reason for it because specific things were promised and they didn’t deliver on them.

    With the case you mentioned I wonder how that reader got the book. If it was through legal means shouldn’t they have had to sign some sort of non-disclosure agreement? If it was illegally then shouldn’t they be prosecuted? Either way it’s extremely disrespectful to the author.

    Opinions do tend to get quite extreme in fandoms. I think it’s the internet as a whole though. People seem to feel that they can just lash out and do things that they wouldn’t normally do in person, simply because they have the protection of anonymity. This also seems to encourage drastically overeating to things.

    Personally, if I’m reading a book series and things seem to be pointing to it going a certain way, and I’d rather it went a different way I would just finish the damn series to get it over with (and then just reinvent how things went in my head, after all this is why we have fanfiction, and if there was decent fanfiction that went along with what I thought, I would read that). If it was something that really bugged me I would go and find a wiki for the book, then spoil myself for how things end and decide whether or not I want to get the next books in the series.

    As an example I read the Death Note manga years ago, and I can’t stand smartass little kid characters in things. Now I read the whole manga, but when watching the anime I knew that I hated it after a certain point (where lots of smartass little kid characters pop up) and so I just stopped watching after it got to that point and pretended that it ended just before it.

    I really can’t see the point in people spewing hate directly at the author or writer of something. They don’t need it, I don’t need to waste my time doing it, and I’d much rather go and read fanfiction or think about stuff I did like from whatever it was. Or just move onto something else. Chances are I’ll also be a lot happier doing those things instead of getting myself worked up spewing hate at someone too. It’s ridiculous to think that the author is going to even read what you’re sending them if it’s extremely hostile too. Seems to me that if you want them to continue writing and you’d like to share your opinion simply laying out what you did and didn’t like about the series and the reasons why might work better (but as you say, there should be no expectation that they’re going to change things. Someone is always going to hate something, they can’t please everyone and it is their story).

    In the end books, movies, tv series and games are all forms of entertainment, they’re meant to entertain you. If you’re not being entertained then you can find a way to make it entertaining (fanfiction, fanart, mods for games), and/or focus on what you do like, or just move onto another series.

    • allison says:

      The book might not have been received illegally. Author copies and advanced reader copies are often sent out to reviewers, etc – it’s pretty common to have books floating around before they’re officially out.

      That being said, it can be ugly when spoilers are released and this is one of those times.

  4. Tanya says:

    From a readers perspective… A writer may not “owe” us. But don’t pretend that you ( the writer Charlene in this case)…pimped a fan base for 11 books and then does a 18o in the last 1.5 books. By going that long with the Sookie/Eric relationship…there is a promise and she broke it. We buy book after book for that fulfilled promise and she didn’t keep her end of the deal. We go to conventions to see her, etc. it is an investment in that world. That is what has everyone so mad.

    I stopped reading at book 11 as I could see the writing on the wall, figured it would be x while hoping it wouldn’t be the rapist.

    I see a lot of comments like let it go, chill etc. But Charlene fed that fandom for 11 books how do you think they are going to react to such a story rewrite…

    There is another series out there that made me madder. The writer tried during the entire series to get us to not like the original hea and she succeeded. And didn’t seem to understand why so many of us got mad he ended up being the hea at the end. To this day…I still hate that ending and pretend the series ended one chapter in.

    • allison says:

      I personally am more of an Erik fan myself, I have to admit I wasn’t seeing much actual love between him and Sookie over the last several books. I actually thought Sookie was going to break ties with everyone by the last book and just move on with her life w/out anyone. It certainly seemed to me that no one was really capable of making her truly happy – e.g. everyone had an ulterior motive in some fashion. Seems really sad to base a long term relationship on that.

      While I understand your (and other readers) disappointment, I still think there’s a pretty sharp line that’s been crossed. It’s one thing to express your anger/hurt/disappointment with something an author has/hasn’t done. I think a dialogue can certainly be had in that respect, with arguments pro and con. As long as it’s civil, then it makes sense and media consumers are certainly within their rights to talk about it.

      It’s another thing entirely for members of a fanbase to make death or rape threats to the creator of that world. (Which is what has happened on her Facebook page, among other places.) Once a “fan” crosses into that territory, there isn’t any point in engaging.

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