So today Neil Gaiman wrote a post called Entitlement issues… in which he answers a reader’s question about whether or not it is realistic for that reader to feel let down [an odd way to phrase things, but I’m just using that readers’ words] by the slow progress that George R R Martin is making on the next Song of Ice and Fire book. The reader asks what responsibility Martin has to finish the story.
Gaiman’s response: “George R. R. Martin is not your bitch.”
Teach that fan to respectfully ask a question, I guess. But anyway, Gaiman elaborates:
You’re complaining about George doing other things than writing the books you want to read as if your buying the first book in the series was a contract with him: that you would pay over your ten dollars, and George for his part would spend every waking hour until the series was done, writing the rest of the books for you.
No such contract existed. You were paying your ten dollars for the book you were reading, and I assume that you enjoyed it because you want to know what happens next.
To which I say, bullshit.
Now, before I go any farther, I’m not hating on Martin. I’m addressing the issue in more theoretical terms here.
So anyway, yeah, Gaiman’s answer is bullshit. There is most definitely a social contract in place here. When I buy book 1 of a series, it is not a stand-alone story. I’m buying the first part of the story with the understanding that the rest of the story will be forthcoming. Without the rest of the story, the first book is just unfinished business. Essentially, when I buy book 1 I’m investing in the author, helping him pay the bills so he can continue to work on finishing the story. My $10 for Book 1 is a down payment on the $30 story I’m intending to buy (assuming it takes 3 volumes to tell the story).
If someone can genuinely convince me that this isn’t the case…that I can’t in good faith expect a half-told story I’ve paid money for to eventually be finished, then I’ll make sure never to buy part of a series until the entire series is completed. And maybe that’s the answer. Maybe these books shouldn’t be published until the whole tale is told. But publishers won’t do that. Why? Because they need us “investing” in the story in order to finance the rest of it being written.
Gaiman finishes his post by re-phrasing his first line like this: “George R. R. Martin is not working for you.”
Oh really? If Martin, or any author making his living from writing books, isn’t working for me, who is he working for? When he puts dinner down in front of his family, where did the money for that dinner ultimately come from? I don’t see many ads in the pages of the novels I’m reading. I don’t see any indication of a corporate sponsor. As far as I can see, the only source of revenue comes from the people buying the books. The customers. He is absolutely working for me. So is Mr. Gaiman, for that matter.
I write code for a living. Other people design buildings, or write soundtracks for movies, or create balanced and delicious menus for charity dinners, or build custom cabinets… many, many people use the creative sides of their minds in order to do their job. And pretty much all of them have commitments and deadlines and manage to make their deadlines, regardless of whether they’ve fallen into or out of love recently (see Gaiman’s post for that reference).
This idea that writing is some kind of holy behavior that can’t be tainted by being held to deadlines is, in my opinion, bullshit. And frankly, 99% of fiction authors can’t get away with missing deadlines, either.
And the idea the an author will sell you part 1 of a story and just decide “Naa, I’ve decided I’m not going to write the rest of that story. You can just make up your own ending.” and that we should be OK with that, is ludicrous. And the reality is, any author that regularly pulled such a stunt would soon find him or herself without a readership.
Again, I’m not hating on Martin. Because for people in all walks of life, shit sometimes happens. Contracts get broken, deadlines get missed in spite of our best intentions, we bite off more than we can chew and get into trouble [which seems to be where Martin is]. That’s part of being human and it happens to everyone. I feel for Martin. He must feel completely trapped at this point.
But I’ve also decided not to buy any more pieces of A Song of Fire & Ice until he finishes it, because I’m not sure he’ll be able and willing to finish it, at least not in my lifetime. My choosing not to purchase his most recent piece of the story isn’t malice on my part. That’s me investing wisely. I work hard for my money and I have to be choosy about where I spend it. My time is also valuable, and I prefer devoting it to complete stories, or stories that I’m confident will be completed.
So yes, there is a contract in place, and in spite of the best intentions on everyone’s part, sometimes the contract will be broken. When that happens, the people who had entered into the contract have every right to be disappointed, every right to feel let down. Telling a reader that he has no right to feel let down is astonishingly disrespectful, in my opinion.
Gaiman should keep in mind that we readers aren’t his bitch, either. Authors who work for us should be mindful of the fact that if you let us down enough times, we’re going to stop reading your work. And if we all stop reading your work, you’re going to have to find a new job.