Log in

15 January 2007 @ 03:34 pm
Here's a sample of what's being said in the blogosphere:









It's being compared to the earlier fiasco of Anne Rice lashing out at her own upset readers. There are many factors in common. Both authors are known for writing about vampires. Both authors are hugely bestselling. Both authors wrote a bunch of highly acclaimed books, then stopped taking editorial direction at all. Both authors changed the tone, feel and plot pattern of their most famous series in drastic ways.

There are several lessons in this:

1) Nearly all writers (as in 99.99999999% of them) need editorial direction, and if you ever assume you don't need it, you're likely to suffer. Thinking that every word you write is perfect is called Golden Word Syndrome and it is a common affliction among beginning writers. When established writers develop Golden Word Syndrome as an after-effect of extreme fame, it tends to lower their reputation, alienates the publishing world and does not win them new fans.

2) Readers fall in love with a series for particular reasons. If you make drastic changes mid-series, you are likely to upset your fan base in major ways. If you want to completely abandon the style, plot ideas and unique features you've made your reputation on so far, it's probably best to start over with a new series instead of warping your fans' beloved characters. It's kind of like Superman porn. Even if it were made by the people who hold the character rights, it still wouldn't be seen as canon. If you change a series and step far outside what fans have considered your canon, they'll rebel in hordes.

3) No matter how good you are, it is always possible to experience a drop in quality. Just as every good writer once started as a bad writer, every good writer can slip back into bad writing by forgetting to strive for excellence.

4) If people don't like your books, they don't like them. You can't tell them that they're wrong for not liking them any more than you can tell them they're wrong if they say they don't like pumpkin pie. Trying to argue like this just makes the author look stupid.

5) If people don't like your books, and they keep giving the same set of reasons, it's futile to tell them that the real reasons they don't like your books are because your books are too high-brow or too exciting or because they just don't understand how much greater your words are once you got rid of that nasty editorial control. It's a pretty good bet that a bunch of fans with exactly the same complaints really do dislike the elements that they're complaining about, and not some other elements. Once again, getting into these sorts of arguments doesn't change the minds of detractors and only makes the author look stupid.

6) There are only a handful of situations in which you as an author can answer detractors without automatically dirtying yourself:
(A) A real book reviewer (not just an Internet troll, which should never be fed anyway) gives a bad review in a way that is completely unethical (see Reviewer slams book that was never written for one of the rare examples of this sort of thing).
(B) A mistake in actual facts can be politely corrected (i.e. the reviewer claims that your book is written by an idiot because it doesn't place Scotland Yard in Scotland, but you reply with the fact that Scotland Yard is actually located in London). This does NOT extend to "mistakes" in opinion.
(C) An unwarranted criminal or quasi-criminal accusation is made as to plagiarism, libel, funds from the book being donated to a terrorist organization, or some other totally nasty accusation. Whining about book quality, regardless of how virulent the language used is, does not count as this caliber of nasty accusation.

I feel sad for Laurell K. Hamilton. I really do like her earlier books, and I understand how easy it is for fame to make you feel like you can say anything without the usual consequences coming home to roost. Just look at what fame does to some Hollywood actors. And, even when you aren't famous, the natural desire of any author is to answer detractors with something less neutral than a statement such as Sorry you didn't like it, I hope you'll like the next one. Yet, except in cases such as 6A, 6B and 6C listed above, you are pretty much required to stick to neutral statements instead of tearing into critics the way they tear into you.

I also cringe at the widespread reaction. Though I understand why this story is spreading through the blogosphere like wildfire, and I have no problem writing about it on my own blog, I do feel for anyone who ends up suffering humiliation this publicly. It must really hurt. I would really NOT want to be Laurell K. Hamilton right now.

Yet, I have to agree with many of the bad things being said about her. When fans turn away from you, there is a right way and a wrong way to respond. She really went the wrong way. Like many other fans, I hope that her writing style will return to her previous brilliance, but I cannot, and should not, force her to write a certain way. It is entirely her choice how she writes (she has made it clear that she changed deliberately, and that she likes it). Likewise, just as fans cannot compel a writer, a writer cannot compel fans. If she loses fans because of choices she made, then it does her no good to do an imitation of an 8-year-old's hissy fit in an attempt to get them back. It just makes her look bad.

Sometimes I wonder where these things will lead over the long term. It's a saying in the publishing industry that authors don't have the right to be rude until they've sold a million copies. If you act like a snotty star and constantly make a pain of yourself before selling somewhere in the range of a million copies, publishers will get tired of dealing with you and simply squash your career. Publishing is a small, close-knit world where everybody knows about everyone, and overworked editors know that a similarly-qualified author is ready to step into your place the moment you disappear.

But the big bestselling authors are in a different category. Publishers literally can't shut down the careers of the biggest authors. Money talks. As long as fans keep buying, publishers know that they would be shooting themselves in the foot if they pissed off Ms. or Mr. Bestseller. Everything must be tolerated, even Golden Word Syndrome. Fans are the only people who can shut down the careers of such big authors. Publishers will only lose interest if the reading public does.

It's also common knowledge that once you become a mega-bestselling author, your fame alone will carry nearly anything to publication. But, what happens if such an author keeps pushing the envelope? Obviously the older books will remain in print just about forever, but is there a point at which new books will no longer be accepted by publishers because fans just won't buy the new books anymore?

Sadly, I think that Laurell K. Hamilton could be testing that idea in another 5-10 years if she continues writing at her present quality level and being rude to fans. It takes time to lose a fan base that large, but I think that it could eventually happen, if the quality declines enough.