Whose Story is it Anyways?

Raythe says: First, before you read further, I want to say that this blog post may contain potential spoilers for the book Dead Ever After: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel (“DEA”) by Charlaine Harris so if you are avoiding knowing anything about this particular book, don’t read more!

That being said, this blog post really isn’t about the Southern Vampire/True Blood series exactly.  But when I heard about the massive bad reviews and many readers’ great unhappiness with the last volume, I had to check out what was going on.

It confirmed something:

  • When an author releases books into the wild, they become more than author’s.  They become the readers’ as well.

 

But what happens when an author doesn’t believe that or forgets it?

Well, let’s look at the craziness going on in the Amazon reviews of DEA:

As of this moment (though the way things are going these numbers will grow exponentially by the time you read this), DEA, the 13th and final book in the Southern Vampire/True Blood series, has over 300 1-star reviews on Amazon out of over 600. These reviews are full of anger, disgust and anguish by long-time readers of the series.

You don’t need to know anything about the series (in fact, I’ve never read it and have no personal opinion on it) to understand why this particular book is being shredded by many of its readers.

Here are the overarching complaints:

  • The writing itself is bad: rushed, without passion, boring, feels like it was written just to make money and please publisher.
  • The characters are OOC (out of character) in the extreme.
  • The “rules” of the past 12 books are broken right and left to accommodate an “ending” that the  author had before she’d actually written many of the books and set up those very “rules”.
  • The most popular of the romantic partners was made into a complete bastard, and then enslaved. Yes,  you read that right, he was enslaved.
  • The final “partnering” of the main character with a love interest failed as the “love interest” was never actually a valid contender throughout the 12 previous books yet suddenly is the love of the main character’s life.  The love interest that most people wanted was the character that Ms. Harris enslaved.

 

Are these reviews legit?  I don’t know. I haven’t read the books (and, quite frankly, even if I had, my opinion is no more valid than anyone else’s).  However, when you hear the same things over and over in reviews, there’s normally a core of truth there.

Are readers always right?  No, of course not.  But they often are (to the writer’s dismay) … So listening to them, reacting to them, evaluating what they’re saying is a good idea.

Ah, but you might say: Raythe, you write serially!  Your readers see the stories as they are being written and get to comment on each and every chapter, which is different than a finished book.  You WANT and ENJOY that kind of feedback.  But not a lot of authors do.

Not to mention, once the author has the “final” book out for sale though, the author cannot actually alter it. They have to live with what they’ve written in the past.  There are “rules” that the author set up that the readers have accepted.

Reviews on final books are like beating against a panel of bullet-proof glass.  The book can never be reached by a reviewer’s criticisms.  The book is done.

But authors with series out, like Ms. Harris, do have an opportunity at least to listen to reader likes, dislikes, wants and do not wants for future books at least. And she did!  But, in her own words, she decided to write the book she wanted even though she was sure that it would “disappoint” many of her readers …

Does Ms. Harris have to write her books exactly like the readers want? No, most definitely not.

Should she?  Readers respond the harshest when an author breaks the “rules” they’ve set out, especially, when it involves destroying a particular favorite character … You’re breaking trust with a reader if you set up something then demolish it with no regard for what you created.

Did Ms. Harris do this?  Again, I don’t know.  But many of the reviewers think so.

Could she have done to have avoided this reaction?    The perception that some of her readers had was that, as the author, Ms. Harris got to make the ultimate decisions on how the series went.  They are her characters after all. But they felt she completely ignored them, or worse, chose an ending because it aggravated them, and placed an ending on a huge series that didn’t even make sense (and wasn’t well-written …).

Many of the reviewers said that they would never read another book by Ms. Harris again.  So while it appears that despite the bad reviews, this book is still selling well, there might be a reason to believe that many readers won’t pick up her new books, because they don’t trust her to honor the pact.

What is this pact?

Like I said, when an author releases books into the wild, they become more than author’s.  They become the readers as well.  Ending a huge series is tough. An author’s ideas about how such a series should go are undoubtedly complex and one would hope that the author did his or her best.

But an author ignores the readers’ investment in the story at his or her peril … and may write a weaker story than what would have been produced had the writer listened more closely to readers’ concerns.

If Ms. Harris had listened to her readers’ passions, would she have written a better ending to her series?  Or would it have merely been a different ending?  What role do/should readers play when an author writes a book?

21 Responses to Whose Story is it Anyways?

  1. Jessi May 10, 2013 at 11:31 pm #

    I’ve never read her books, and with reviews like what you have posted here, I do want to read the series just to see how she failed, and do not want to read a single book of hers simply because I don’t want to feel cheated. Readers are in a hard position, as they sometimes feel they aren’t able to reach the author. But when they are able to reach the author, I think the readers should at least have their opinions heard, and not completely ignored.

    As a writer, myself, I know that in order to make a good story, you have to write what you love. But, part of that is striving to write what your readers love, as well. It is a tough balancing act. When it is your first book, you have absolute say, as you most likely have no readers at that point. You get to write what you love without any other input, unless you have beta readers. After that first book, when you have a fan base, you still get to write what you love, but the fans need to be considered as well. Writing what you want, knowing that it is going to infuriate your readers is just bad for business, in my opinion. Breaking ‘rules’ you had set up in your own work just because you can is also bad for business.

    I don’t know if Ms. Harris would have written a better ending if she had listened to her readers. I can’t tell, as I haven’t read the series. However, it definitely couldn’t have hurt the story worse than ignoring them, I think. It makes me wonder if she was just tired of the series and wanted to do something different. However, if that was the case, she may have ruined her chances of getting something different read by her dwindling fan base.

    • admin May 10, 2013 at 11:43 pm #

      Train wreck – I admit that I was shocked when I heard about the bad reviews and had to go see. My understanding is that the books in the beginning were really awesome. I thought it might just be her picking one of the lovers from a triangle (meaning that the other is out of luck) but instead what I found was something far more than that.

      Maybe she was tired of writing it. There are indications that she didn’t wish to write beyond a certain book but felt pressured to do so. Maybe this was her revenge in a way. Though honestly, why not just write what you like? Maybe its the money, but still, she can write other stuff that will make money.

      Re beginning writers – a lot of people also start posting their work on WattPad and Fictionpress to get feedback. Also, a writer’s group does wonders.

      But writing what YOU love is way important. Otherwise you won’t be able to stand it. It’s fine to make an unpopular ending IF you actually support it.

      And good point about the readers not carrying on …

      • thestarfly May 11, 2013 at 12:37 am #

        Speaking of writers’ groups; do you recommend any? I’ve been thinking about maybe joining one, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin looking.

        This is open to anybody, if they have any recommendations!

        • admin May 11, 2013 at 12:39 am #

          I know there are good ones online (kboards.com will have actual names and links though). I have a writer’s group that actually meets IRL. I met them originally 10 years ago through Continuing Education writing classes. That’s also a good place to go.

          Anyone have any suggestions, please shout them out!

        • Jessi May 11, 2013 at 1:36 am #

          Forward Motion is a pretty neat writer’s forum and chat. It is hosted by a published writer, and it is very writer friendly. The link is: http://www.fmwriters.com/zoomfm/index.php/home

          I’ve been a member there for a few years now. Your forums registration is used as your chat login, just to alleviate some confusion. 🙂

  2. Rayif May 10, 2013 at 11:35 pm #

    I agree to most of everything covered here, but I can’t fully comment on the books, but if an author listened to very want and complaint a reader has, the book would a massive mess up. Characters would be hooking up with who knows what, so some readers or reviews should be ignored, to a degree. HOWEVER! Breaking your own rules just to get an ending is a “no no” and if the book has lost its flare to the readers, then that’s on the author’s shoulders. You don’t have to read it people. I’ve come across my share in really good books gone bad, but then I put it down with that great feel of disappointment and go on the haunt for the next great read.

    Peace all

    • admin May 10, 2013 at 11:45 pm #

      Re listening to everyone – good point. Not all reader suggestions are equal. And not all can be taken into account without creating a big mess. But when you hear the same comments over and over again, that’s the clue to me that the writer’s made an error. Its not just, for example, choosing the “wrong” lover, but not setting up the final choice. Not giving any warning. People can be disappointed, but they won’t be shocked and hurt by it b/c the way its going will be obvious.

  3. Mandy Earles May 10, 2013 at 11:57 pm #

    Hm, well, I am currently reading the Sookie Stackhouse series. As far as the complaints on the ending, I don’t know if they are all valid.

    First of all I’m on book 10. I believe there are 12 or 13 in the series. After book 8, I got rather bored and haven’t finished it. Once Sookie got with the main love interest, I figured the series would be over, or Sookie would get a clue and they’d break up. Sookie, as a character, is setup as someone who loves the sun, wants to have kids and a family. With her current love interest, a vampire, none of that would be possible. So, I never really believed they’d end up together.

    If the readers main complaints were that she didn’t choose the person she was supposed to, I’d say that’s a dumb excuse to give a low rating on the book. Just because she doesn’t end up with the person you want doesn’t mean it is a bad book. However, the other complaints, like breaking the rules or having inconsistencies, that’s not excusable. If she really did break the rules in order to achieve this ending, that makes it a very sloppy ending, and only adds fuel to the readers’ complaints.

    So should she have ended the series like the readers wanted? No. A surprise ending or one the readers didn’t expect is not a bad thing. However, could she have executed this better? Probably. There probably could’ve been more hints, clues, that led to this ending. And no matter what, she should not have had any inconsistencies in the story line.

    So in all, from the very beginning, an author should know how they want to end their story. And most importantly, they should build up the story line so that it matches the ending. They can surprise their readers, but ultimately, it needs to be a believable ending, one they can accept without a doubt.

    • admin May 11, 2013 at 12:05 am #

      Good to hear from a reader of this series. I read repeatedly that people felt around Book 8 that it sort of became boring and they sensed Ms. Harris didn’t want to continue it. Most continued on hoping that it would get good again, but it never did for some of them.

      Re Leaving a bad review b/c of couple – I agree with you in this. I mean you can’t please everyone and in a love-triangle situation, someone is going to be pissed at the end.

      If that had been all I saw in those reviews it would have been predictable rather than interesting. But it seemed like these readers really felt she just shafted them.

      I agree that making sure the ending works, regardless of what it is, ends up being the big key to this.

    • thestarfly May 11, 2013 at 12:39 am #

      I think I agree with this, but at the same time I also want to tack on that while a writer should know what their ending is going to be from the very beginning, if where there writing is going changes, /their ending should, too/. Keeping to the same ending when you’ve ended up writing a completely different setup is a big no-no, and it seems to be what Ms. Harris has done, if reviewers are to be trusted.

      • admin May 11, 2013 at 12:57 am #

        I think you hit the nail on the head. She had an idea in mind I believe after book 4, but then she wrote all these books that wouldn’t allow that to happen yet she refused to change it. She had to really twist things to make it “work” even faintly. It didn’t seem to go over well.

  4. PJH May 11, 2013 at 1:54 am #

    While I agree that the author can write whatever they want, it is the reader who has the final say. If we do not like it, we do not have to buy it. I can name at least 5 big name authors without even thinking about it who wrote absolutely awesome books early in their career. At one point, I bought every one of their new releases in hardback as soon as they were available. Today, I will not even look at any of their new releases either because they no longer put any effort in their writing or they have “corrupted” the original premise of the character to the extent that I no longer like the character. Everyone including imaginary characters grow and change over the years. However, when the author changes the qualities that caused me to like them in the first place, it is my right to choose to buy someone else’s work. Why would I pay money to be annoyed?

    When I find a book that delights me, I let others know. Likewise, when a book significantly disappoints or annoys me I let others know.

    Given that the point of publishing is to sell books, it strikes me as very short sighted to choose to publish something that disappoints or angers many of your readers. There are many many choices and once you have lost your readers loyalty, it is much harder to entice them to buy again.

    • admin May 11, 2013 at 4:16 am #

      Re letting series go – I’ve done the same thing. Sometimes it feels like whatever intrigued and delighted me about the series dies. If that’s just b/c the author is growing the character legitimately in a way I don’t like, I chalk it up to the way things go and leave it at that.

      But if authors stop caring and just put out dreck … first, WHY THE HELL WOULD THEY DO THAT? I write b/c I love it. The characters mean a ton to me. The readers mean just as much. Now I’m no Charlaine Harris, et al., but my desire to put out good work has GROWN since I’ve been selling it. Why would any author wish to destroy the work people love? I know it happens. I just can’t fathom it. And I’m all for you to tell people that. I’m not as quick to tell people I like or don’t like something b/c I know how particular books/movies/songs can be.

      I deleted a large part of this post that dealt with the fact that writers are creating stories for more than just themselves. Why ignore the people who are reading your stories and making them come alive?

      Sometimes readers get it wrong, but sometimes they don’t.

      I guess I’m a little odd as I open myself up to criticism but seriously … readers have a point when they don’t like things!

  5. Talenyn01 May 11, 2013 at 2:41 am #

    Reading this post gave me flashbacks to the epilogue in the 7th Harry Potter book. The author should NEVER use an ending that they wrote before the rest of the series! It’s like writing a phd dissertation and then tacking on a conclusion that you wrote as a Freshman undergrad.

    • admin May 11, 2013 at 4:17 am #

      I actually stopped reading myself in Book 6 as suddenly the books took this turn that, for me, I just wasn’t interested in following. I saw the movies and enjoyed them. I think JK Rowling was true to her vision. Could it have been better if she hadn’t been so determined to end it as she originally thought? Again, don’t know. But I can say from personal experience that you need to let your characters guide you.

  6. Vamp May 11, 2013 at 3:28 am #

    I don’t think the Author needs to consider the fans at all to be honest, when a story is in play an Author must either follow the plan she / he had for the books, or follow the story however it plays out as it’s written.
    Why should an author as she’s writing think… oh no I better not have this pairing or else my fans will bitch at me!? No matter what you write, there is going to be a section of the fans that will be unhappy with the outcome. And generally they will be the vocal ones, so though they may be a smaller percentage compared to the happy readers, they will be the ones that get noticed.
    People live to complain about things, it’s a fact of life.
    I don’t believe a writer should compromise her vision of her story just to placate that percentage.
    I love the Southern Vampire series and have yet to read the final book, so I’m not sure how I will feel about it yet, but regardless it’s how Ms Harris saw the finale and I will enjoy it for that.

    • admin May 11, 2013 at 4:20 am #

      You are absolutely right that a writer shouldn’t and CAN’T please everyone. The best you can hope to do is have your critics say that at least you were consistent and played it through to the end.

      People do like to complain and it can be like *headdesk* I’ve experienced that and simply allow that myself and a reader will have to agree to disagree. But I fear that it was more than that here.

      However, I sincerely hope that you enjoy the last of this series and feel good about it.

      BTW – many authors are probably swooning at your acceptance. But I still say gentle, legit criticism is awesome and I’m sure you give it when warranted. If you read the book anytime soon, let us know what you think!

  7. Beth May 11, 2013 at 7:15 am #

    First, I’ve never read this series (and probably won’t ever read it), but I still wanted to put in my-2-cents worth lol.

    One of the main reasons I don’t usually read series is, most of the time, I just don’t like the way the character grows. And it angers me because I really did like the main character at the beginning, then something happens and the character changes in some way that I just don’t like, or that just doesn’t seem to fit with the characters personality. But then that’s just me.

    BUT, to make “rules” for yourself in the books and then just disregard those “rules” to make an ending that might have been perfect at the beginning when you thought up the characters and their personalities. But then as the characters personalities changed in the books and you didn’t change the ending to fit, its never really going to work right. Especially if that ending doesn’t go with the way the characters have grown throughout the series.

    Not to mention that now she as probably lost a lot of her readers, and she might never get them back. Of course she could always get new readers, but that is an ‘unknown’ where as the readers she had were a ‘known’.

    Another thought is she could have finished the series the way the readers wanted, or the way the book grew, and THEN start another series that she really wanted to start, make grow, and end.

    ~Beth

    • admin May 11, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

      Re characters changing – I have a theory here and its that the authors don’t know why you liked their characters in the first place. Provocative thought. So they change them as they like to. Sometimes that works with the readers’ feelings, but just as often it doesn’t. And the author is flummoxed. Didn’t I create these characters that they loved in the first place? Why don’t they love them NOW?

      Re she should have at least finished the book how it naturally grew. I think that, more than anything else, disappointed people. She’s done this (a love interest out of no where) before. Once might be a fluke, but twice? I personally wouldn’t trust her not to do it again. And if a reader is cool with that they’ll continue on with her, but otherwise they might not.

  8. Cool Liz May 11, 2013 at 11:37 pm #

    Like Raythe, I myself never read the series let alone knew about it.
    As a writer myself, I believe that the stories I write when I write them are what I want to write they are my stories, my fantasies, my world. That I wish to share them with others is a risk in itself.
    Weather they sell or not is another matter and as they say, you cannot please all the people all the time but as long as it sells well tells you something;
    1. That there are more people who love the stories than hate it.
    3. That many people like myself would rather decide if a book is bad or good after I have read it not by the bad or good reviews.
    2. That maybe those who wrote negatively are either jealous of the work, are maliciously doing harm to the author or just don’t know what they are talking about.
    To Ms Harris I say “Keep on truck’n and just keep having fun writing and creating wonderful stories and just enjoy being you :)”
    When I write a story I don’t write for anyone but myself that others enjoy them is a plus.
    Good luck Ms Harris 🙂

  9. Izzi May 23, 2013 at 6:11 pm #

    As an author, I think “loyalty” to readers is important, but what does that mean?

    First, it does not mean an obligation to give fans fluff and rainbows, irrespective of my own vision for the story. Defining what loyalty does mean, though, entails an acknowledgement that once you put your work out there – and especially if you do so for profit – 2 findamental quid pro quos are established between you and the people who buy your books:

    (1) Readers fork out their hard-earned money to buy your product. Yes, the cost of a single copy isn’t likely to break anyone’s bank, but proceeds from book sales have made a huge difference in my life, and I have never failed to be grateful to every single person who clicked on the “buy” button. To lose sight of that, would be nothing short of arrogant.
    (2)When someone reads one of my books, they’re not just staring at print on a screen, they’re taking time out of their lives to immerse themselves in a world I created. They become acquainted with the people I put there and (hopefully) form attachments to them, however brief.

    I haven’t read Ms. Harris’ works, but I’ve seen references to the Harry Potter series in earlier comments, which I have read. My criticism of Ms. Rowling is not that she killed off important characters, but the way she glossed over their demise. Being loyal to readers – in my view – means respecting their emotional investment in my stories. If a key character dies, there should be a reason for it. Even if the point of the demise is to show that life can be pointlessly painful, Newton’s third law still applies, and the death still has to be acknowledged and grieved in some way. In short, a responsible author doesn’t take readers to places he/she isn’t willing to go. If I take my readers somewhere painful, I have to go there with them.

    To do otherwise, is just plain sloppy writing. To then go on and defend it as “my vision” or whatever, is just about the most disloyal thing an author can do.

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