What does an author owe her reader?

Good morning, friends. Let me say right off that the thoughts in this piece were written in a grumpy and resentful frame of mind. I guess that’s called a disclaimer.


I read about two novels a week, sometimes more. I read to escape and to immerse myself in intense realism, to give my imagination a high, to live vicariously. I read across almost all genres from the extremes of the obscurely literary to pot-boiling adventures deep in the Amazon. What I am always looking for is a well-told story with characters I can identify as deeply human and, through the peephole of that truth, come to care about.


One of my favorite novels is WAY STATION by Clifford Simak. It’s the story of a man who lives not far from the Mississippi in a house that is a way station for interstellar travelers, creatures of all sizes and shapes and intentions. Pretty far out, but I’ve read the book at least three times and each time I do, the honesty of the writing hits me more profoundly. WAY STATION is a short book, simply written, fantastical and entertaining, but at the same time it speaks to what it means to be human in a powerful way. The book resolves beautifully, like the final chord of a symphony. I believe that authors owe their readers that feeling of satisfaction at the end. But a book has to be crafted toward this, starting on page one, paragraph one.


Now, to the point of this rant.


I have long been a fan of a particular book series, and I put in my order for the final installment almost a year ago. There were so many unfinished storylines from previous books in the series, I knew this one would be long. I set aside a week to read it. At the time I ordered it, there were no reviews to make me reconsider. I’m really glad I bought the electronic version and saved myself a little money.


However, I would like to have the actual book in hand so I could heave it across the room.


I never want a reader to feel that way about a book I’ve written. This is one of the reasons I value the guidance of my editor. I want his or her help in achieving that resonant chord of satisfaction. All the writers I know feel the same. But my disappointing experience has left me wondering.


What were the author and the publishing company thinking when they decided that this book was ready for millions of eager fans? Did they not care about us? Had they forgotten that when someone buys a book with the intention of reading it, he or she is honoring the writer with both time and treasure? Where were the editors when they were desperately needed? Dead of overwork and underpayment? Fired because they aren’t young anymore? Sick of working in an industry that pays 90% of its attention to the bottom line? There’s got to be a logical answer to why this book got published in this form. Maybe the publisher didn’t care about the end product because they knew the book would sell to gullible readers like yours truly, sitting at the computer in her pajamas, gnashing her teeth?


It makes me wonder if there were editorial conferences and sale and promotion webinars in which people said things like this.


“Holy crap, this is a terrible book. I fell asleep after page ten.”


“Who plotted this thing? The family dog?”


“Hey, I love my dog!”


“Let’s just get this thing over with.”


“The reviews are gonna kill us.”


“There’s no story –“


“It’s so repetitive.”


“What about the backstory?”


“And reader loyalty –“


“Loyalty-shmoialty. Who cares? This is the last book in the series. If they hate it, so what?”



I know many hardworking people in this business: writers, agents, editors, designers, promoters. They’re talented, love literature and they work long hours to produce terrific books. I’m just saying none of them worked on this one. Apparently.


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There is one thing novels do better than any other low or high art form. They open a door into what it means to be human. Good novels give us a 360 degree, Marianna Trench view of the human condition, but if the industry wants anyone to make the effort to read them, they need to respect us – the readers who buy the books – by giving us stories that deserve to be read.

So that’s it, my friends, that’s why I’m in a bad mood this morning. The book in question did not deserve to be read. I got into it about fifty pages and now I’m done. Lucky for me, Elle Newmark’s THE SANDALWOOD TREE was delivered to my door only a few days ago.

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EPIGRAPH

This year the mourning doves and mocking birds have been copulating like crazy and the result is birds all over our garden. A bit ago I took a breather from this diatribe to watch a mourning dove fledgling learn to balance on the phone wire outside my office window. That five minutes had more suspense and emotional impact and in an odd way, more humanity, than fifty pages of the book I’ve just gone off on. So maybe the point of this is to remind you to go outside and enjoy this beautiful spring after an astonishingly difficult winter. Take a book with you.

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2 Responses to “What does an author owe her reader?”

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  1. Julie D. says:

    Well said, Drusilla. What to say that you haven’t already? I am grateful that people buy my book, and my hope is that it touched them in some way. To write one with the (to me) obvious intention to do the opposite is mind-boggling. Keep doing what you do. No heaving across the room, just pure enjoyment.

    Thank you.

    J

  2. […] I’ve written previously, Twenty-first Century novel writing is a collaborative effort. Occasionally I bitch and moan about […]

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