Fan entitlement – The sequel

Yes, yes, I know I already did a blog on this a few days ago but unfortunately I went searching to see if there had been any follow up to Linda Holmes’s blog and stumbled across a furore from last year instead on fan entitlement not related to TV shows but to books, specifically to George RR Martin’s The Song of Ice and Fire series.

Similarly as with Chuck, I’m not a fan of Martin’s.  I’ve heard good things but I stopped reading “epic” fantasy a while ago on the basis that it took too much effort.  Short trilogies or stand alones or even a series of stand alones using the same characters/world are OK but I’ve definitely lost my appetite for endless 500 page novels that, while very well written, ultimately go nowhere but to the next in the series.

However, that’s beside the point.  The point is that I stumbled across the furore from 2009 where Martin’s fans had become vocal in their displeasure of waiting on the next book in the series (which apparently he’d actually promised them at the end of the previous book along with giving the impression that it was mostly written).  Two years on without said book appearing and with Martin looking as though he was moving onto other projects, the fans got shirty.  Some of it got downright nasty. Martin then quite rightly blogged on his LJ basically telling the fans wanting him to work only on Dances with Dragons and not have a life, well, tough luck.

I think Martin’s response was actually very moderate given the tone of some of the emails he alludes to his blog (some of which seem to have pointed out that they’d like the book before Martin popped his clogs which is just downright disrespectful and just wrong).   And my issue isn’t with Martin – his blog is clearly aimed at the extreme fans demanding unreasonable things.

However, one of the follow-up blogs to Martin surprised me.  Specifically, John Scalzi’s (here).  Seeing the name pop up on goggle, I was intrigued because Scalzi is currently acting as a creative consultant to Stargate Universe.  Scalzi’s position was very supportive of Martin but went further in basically saying fans are not owed anything by an author they follow except that the next book is as good as they can make it.

Neil Gaiman’s response to a fan on the Martin furore also takes a similar position to Scalzi; Martin – or any author – doesn’t work for the fans, authors are not machines, be content with a quality read.

It’s an interesting argument. 

Frankly, I find it bizarre that an author doesn’t recognise that they do indeed work for their fans (and possibly its my corporate background rearing its head as one of the first things they teach you is to identity your customer).  It’s the fans who buy their products; who are their consumers.  Isn’t the point of getting something published to hope someone reads it, likes it and wants you to write more?  Aren’t you as a professional writer reliant on the money fans spend, on fans turning up to book signings, to guarantee you a continuing contract with a publisher?  I will agree that writing can’t be done to order and every author has a different creative process but then, I think the lesson with Martin is not to set expectations in the first place (as it seems to me the furore over Martin’s book stems from a basic failure to deliver to expectations the author had set). 

Fans are entitled to being recognised as the consumer and being treated as such.  Quality is only one component of that; delivering to your promises (if you’ve made any) is another.  Nobody, for example, thinks a passenger politely complaining that their flight has been delayed is unreasonable.  So, why should a fan politely complaining at the delay in a promised book be considered unreasonable?     

Yes, the extreme overreaction by some of Martin’s fans was out of line and unacceptable (just as unacceptable as it would be for our delayed passenger throwing a hissy fit and yelling at the customer service staff at the airport).  But stating fans aren’t owed anything but a quality book seems to me to be a touch arrogant.  

As a couple of writers on Scalzi’s blog joked; some can only aspire to having pissy fans because at least then they’d have fans.