Handling Readers: Expectations and Disappointments

by Jami Gold on November 12, 2013

in Writing Stuff

Angry bear with text: When Readers Get Angry

Most of us suffer from self-doubt in some way. Those of us doing NaNoWriMo might have reached a point in our story where events aren’t playing out as cool as they seemed in our head. Or maybe NaNo’s going great, but we’re not sure we can keep up the quality.

In our blogs, we worry about writing “duds” that will lead to mass unsubscriptions. If we’ve successfully written one book, we worry about being able to repeat the feat. If we’ve released a popular story, we worry the next one will disappoint readers.

I’ve talked before about how success raises the stakes. Two stories in the news lately reiterate the dangers of reader expectations.

The release of Allegiant by Veronica Roth led to protests and anger from some disappointed readers. The release of the movie Ender’s Game based on the book by Orson Scott Card led to protests and boycotts by some people.

Events like these can flame our feelings of self-doubt. As a post (no longer online) by Tessa Gratton shared:

“I can’t stop myself from disappointing people. Not only because that’s the nature of writing and story-telling, but because I’m opinionated and political and loud. If you ask me what I think about something I will probably tell you.”

She’s right. We will disappoint some readers at some time. Whether we’re at the contesting, querying, submission, or published stage, we know that writing and reading enjoyment are subjective.

Every great story out there has one-star reviews. Many movies that critics love, viewers hate (and vice versa). We can’t please everyone.

That can be a depressing thought. Or we can accept it as a fact and shrug and move on. However, I also like digging into examples to figure out if any lessons can be learned.

Lessons from Allegiant

Note: I have not yet read Allegiant, so I’m speaking merely of the reaction to the book, not anything about the story itself. Given all the discussion, I’ve been spoiled about the ending, but I won’t reveal specifics here.

Allegiant is the final book of the Divergent series. Series are always tricky to wrap up. Stand-alone stories need to wrap up a book’s worth of loose ends, hints, expectations, themes, bad guys, subplots, possibilities, etc. That’s hard enough as it is, but series often have to wrap up many books’ worth of loose ends.

A Mismatch between Expectations and Reality

In the case of Allegiant, many readers’ reactions to the book seem to be a mismatch between expectations and reality. Many readers expected an X type of ending for the series, and the story instead delivered a Y type of ending.

I read an article by the author on why the story ended the way it did (which was planned from the beginning). She made a clear case for how the ending fit the character arc and themes she wanted to explore.

So where did things go wrong? Did she succeed in hinting enough at the path of that arc through the series? Did she focus on that theme over the other themes? Or did unintended character interactions or themes emerge that misled reader expectations?

Expectations from Unintended Themes

As I haven’t read the book, I don’t know enough about where things might have gone wrong. However, in many cases like this, unintended themes are partially to blame. We often don’t realize all the themes we’re hinting at in our stories.

If a series seems to have a recurrent theme of hope, a reader would expect it to end on a hopeful note. Or if a book seems to focus on the power of love, a reader would expect it to incorporate a “love is stronger than anything” ending.

These subtextual promises can be tricky to fulfill, especially if the author doesn’t know they’ve created them. Or maybe the author thinks they fulfilled the promise, but maybe they didn’t fulfill it enough for readers. One person’s bittersweet “hopeful” can be another person’s “depressing.”

Expectations from Genre Labels

Sometimes, marketing decisions can cause problems for an author’s intentions. From what I’ve been able to see, Allegiant was marketed and labeled “Young Adult Romance.”

That label leads to definite reader expectations. A story that ends satisfyingly—but not “fairy tale happily-ever-after” or at least “happily-for-now”—should not be labeled a romance unless disappointed readers is the goal.

Nicholas Sparks doesn’t call his cancer-patient-falling-in-love-before-dying stories romances. He calls them love stories. (Which is partially intended as a dig against romances, but I won’t go there. *grin*) That’s the right call for the marketing of his stories. By using a romance label, the marketing people behind Allegiant set expectations among readers—expectations that might not be met.

Lessons Learned:

  • Use beta readers and ask questions. Like I mentioned in my post last week about reader-character connections, we can ask our beta readers what they thought the story was about, or what the message of the story was. We can write up our themes and big ideas and ask our readers (post-reading) if they picked up on those or if they thought the story was about a different idea.
  • Be careful with our marketing. Our covers, back-cover blurbs, and story openings all contribute to expectations for the type of story. In the case of genre stories, the label implies an ending as well.

Lessons from Ender’s Game

The book Ender’s Game is a classic science fiction story. Many, many readers loved the book. (I count myself among them.) The fact that the huge twist ending has managed to be unspoiled in the general consciousness for close to thirty years is a testament to how much the readers respected the story.

Respect. That’s really the issue behind the protests of the movie.

Orson Scott Card has come out strongly against gays and LGBT issues in general. Many readers feel differently, and they have a hard time balancing their love of the story with their dislike of the author’s beliefs.

Those readers who disagree with his stand (which goes beyond words and into time, money, and effort) feel disrespected. They’ve lost trust in the connection they felt with him for writing one of their favorite stories. His stand hurt people.

The Power of the Author-Reader Connection

This isn’t about whether his stand is right or wrong. This isn’t about the right of people to take a stand. This isn’t about anyone’s right to disagree. However, it is about the power we authors have with those connections we form with readers and the damage that can occur within that connection.

Like the readers’ reactions to Allegiant, people’s reactions to Orson Scott Card comes down to what artists owe their audience and what the audience owes artists. That can be a tricky question.

I don’t think Veronica Roth owed her readers a happy-joy ending, and I don’t think her readers owed her a happy-joy reaction to an ending many didn’t find satisfying. Likewise, I don’t think Orson Scott Card owed his readers a renouncing of his beliefs, and I don’t think his readers owed him acceptance despite their differing beliefs.

Honesty, Integrity, and Compassion

Tessa Gratton’s post summed up these issues well:

“I believe the only thing I, as an author, owe readers is what I also owe to myself: honesty, integrity, and compassion. And the only thing readers owe me is the same. …

Books are real. I can destroy the world – and aliens – and readers – with only my imagination. And that’s power. That’s responsibility.”

She doesn’t have an answer to this issue and neither do I. Many feel Orson Scott Card’s stand lacks compassion, but if he renounced his beliefs now, many would suspect he was being dishonest. On the other side, I’ve seen some imply they’re boycotting the movie not because of their integrity, but because it’s the trendy thing to do. Three approaches, three problems.

If I refused to consume a product every time I disagreed with an artist or company, I probably wouldn’t have anything to eat, wear, live in, or do. *smile* But there are times when we feel passionate enough about something that we want to take a stand.

Lessons Learned:

Maybe the best we can do is ensure that whenever we take a stand, whether we’re on the artist side or the audience side, we’re taking that stand with honesty, integrity, and compassion. We can disagree with others and still be respectful.

All We Can Do Is Our Best—and That’s Not Something to Doubt

We can’t avoid disappointing people. The world is filled with individuals with unique goals, desires, and beliefs, and we can’t be all things to all people.

However, if we’re honest with our marketing, readers’ expectations will be a better match. If we maintain integrity with our story, the pieces will better add up to the whole we intend. And if we have compassion with our readers, we’re less likely to damage that connection.

All of those added together mean we’re doing the best we can. And that’s all we should expect from ourselves—no matter what our self-doubt says. *smile*

Have you followed the Allegiant or Orson Scott Card debates? Do you think the authors could have acted differently to avoid the issues? What do you think authors owe readers? What do you think readers owe authors?

Pin It
36 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Serena Yung November 12, 2013 at 7:26 am

Darn it. I was going to read Allegiant soon. 🙁 I think I’ll still like the series though, no matter how it ends. I was going to watch Ender’s Game later too, though I haven’t yet read the book.

Yes, it’s very annoying when we raise expectations that we don’t realize, and it can be irritating to the author that he or she can’t do certain things for fear of generating unwanted expectations, because we want the freedom to experiment, though we do understand why the readers would feel that way.

There’s also the problem of different readers interpreting the same thing differently and therefore expecting different things, lol. But as you said, you won’t be able to please everyone, so we’ll just have to try our best to meet expectations in the story. For one of my novellas, one friend said she had high expectations for the ending and feared that her expectations wouldn’t be met, but they were. :D. So she was happy. On the other hand, another friend was disappointed with my story because it didn’t meet HER expectations. XD. One size cannot fit all. But in this case, fortunately, I think I can change it to satisfy both of these friends. But it’s not always the case that we can satisfy more people by adjusting things like this, lol.

Ah the problem with holding opinions that the reader doesn’t like…eek. There’s the delicate balance of wanting to be honest yet not wanting to make the readers hate you. XD. That’s why I’m hesitant about including homosexual themes in my stories, because no matter how positively I intend to portray homosexuals, some people would still BELIEVE that I portrayed them negatively. And if I do portray them positively, some of my Christian friends who ARE antigay wouldn’t be too happy about my stance. Sigh.

Reply

Jami Gold November 12, 2013 at 9:47 am

Hi Serena,

Not everyone dislikes the ending to Allegiant. 🙂 Like I said, I read an article by Veronica Roth (I didn’t want to include the link in the post because it’s VERY spoilery, but it’s on her blog), and she made a great case for the ending. If I was trying to explore the same themes and ideas and character arc, I probably would have ended the series the same way she did. So in no way do I think the ending is “bad.”

However, I don’t know how well that case she made for it translates into the actual story, or if the reaction is just some readers wanting an X kind of story when it was clear from the beginning that it was a Y kind of story. Only someone who’s read the books could make that analysis.

The only misstep I know she (or more accurately, the marketing people) did was the genre labeling issue. I don’t know if she had any say in that at all. The books are still on my virtual To-Be-Read pile (I think the only one I’ve gotten so far is Divergent), but they’re not at the top of my list despite the upcoming movie.

Likewise, I’m planning on seeing the Ender’s Game movie. (Although knowing me, it will be out of the theaters before I have time. LOL! <--And now that I think about it, doesn't that fact reflect something about how I'm not "Oh my gosh, I must MAKE time to see it!" about this story I love? 🙂 ) As far as holding unpopular opinions... Yes, that's why that "honesty, integrity, compassion" idea of Tessa's struck such a chord with me. We want to be honest and have integrity, so our stories don't glorify ideas we disagree with, but we can still present our ideas in a compassionate way. In the U.S., both political sides buy all kinds of genres, so writing our worldview in a disrespectful way (implying those on the other side are all stupid cows who would agree with you if they had any brains, for example--and yes, I've seen that attitude from authors) in a genre story only eliminates half of our readers for no reason. I think there's a happy medium between glorifying and disrespecting, and that's what I aim for when I present ideas I disagree with. I have to be honest to the characters, in that case. Many of my characters disagree with me, and I have to present their side of the story with integrity or else I'm being disrespectful to them. 🙂 Interesting thoughts--thanks for the comment! 🙂

Reply

Serena Yung November 12, 2013 at 5:49 pm

True. It is unfair to be labeled a romance. To be honest, I saw it as a fantasy/ action/ adventure, not a romance XD, so maybe I’d like the ending more.

Being honest yet compassionate. That sounds good. Some of my works are Christian biased by mentioning God, but hopefully my atheist friends will forgive me for that. XD. There are a lot of stories out there that talk about how wonderful God is though, so at least it’s not an uncommon theme. As long as I don’t diss other religions, I guess. But I do have a character who insists that the many gods are false idols, that there is only one true God–another character does say something a bit more placating, that not everyone believes in our God/ not everyone is of our religion; it’s just their beliefs. Hopefully that doesn’t sound insulting to polytheistic religions…but on the other hand, if my characters really do fervently believe in their God and reject all others, then I can’t really distort their personalities to make them more open-minded towards other religions, can I? XD. I mean I could say something kinder towards other religions in the narrative, but…do you have a good suggestion on how to handle this religion issue?

Reply

Jami Gold November 12, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Hi Serena,

I think that would be a fine genre label for the series, so just keep that label in mind for the third book and you’ll do okay with it. 🙂

I don’t have an answer for you on the religious issue, mostly because I avoid bringing it up in my stories unless it’s necessary to the character or the plot. I mean, all of my stories so far involve made-up religions (my current series is mythology based), so none of them have religious beliefs that match mine. 🙂 My other series deals more with religious issues, but that one is on hold.

So I don’t have a good answer for you other than to not force discussion of it one way or another. This is yet another thing that I’ve done a show-not-tell with most of the time. If a character is bringing it up, just make sure they have a story reason for bringing it up, not just because they’re spouting off at the mouth. LOL!

Not sure if that helps or not. :/ But thanks for the comment!

Reply

Serena Yung November 13, 2013 at 7:33 pm

I think it does help. 🙂 Yeah come to think of it, my character only mentioned God very briefly in response to a discussion that mentioned polytheist beliefs. It wasn’t elaborated on, so hopefully readers will only see this as an emergence of my character’s personality– his caring about his own religion a lot. Guess if it doesn’t sound forced and is only a brief passing mention, maybe it’s okay…

Reply

Jami Gold November 13, 2013 at 10:18 pm

Hi Serena,

Exactly! As Carradee and I were just discussing in her comment here, it’s the feeling of beliefs being shoved down readers’ throats that’s offensive. (I hate spoon-feeding in writing so much that it bothers me even when I agree with the idea!) Something mentioned when it fits the story and isn’t forced at all shouldn’t be an issue. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Carradee November 14, 2013 at 10:21 am

Agreed. Let characters be true to themselves. Especially since you have a varied cast, the only readers who take offense would be looking for reasons to be offended, and there’s nothing you can do for that. 🙂

Reply

Jami Gold November 14, 2013 at 11:02 am

Hi Carradee,

So true! 🙂 Thanks for the fantastic conversation!

Reply

Serena Yung November 14, 2013 at 9:40 pm

Thanks Jami and Carradee. 🙂

Btw, Jami, this is off topic, but you know about writing characters’ backstories? I recently came up with the idea of writing the main characters’ “crush histories” XD. I literally think of the major crushes that they had during their lives. The kinds of people our characters had major crushes on really show something about the characters themselves. Like I have a male character who had a crush on this crazy girl when he was 11 (crazy as in having very weird and eccentric ideas and saying very weird things–so not quite “crazy”, I guess, from our standpoint), and a crush on this girl when he was 6 who was very nice and older sisterly to him when everybody else was mean to him. A female character of mine had a crush on a guy when she was 10 who was 2 years older than her and was the best student in her martial arts school, as well as the most diligent; she had an earlier crush when she was 8, on a guy who was very bookish and artistic and literary, but who was also very mean to her and very arrogant.

So from these examples of past /childhood crushes, we can already discern a little bit of what kind of people my characters are. Lol.

In fact, we could even have scenes where main characters who trust each other tell each other about their crush histories. Some characters may even want to LIE about some of their crushes or even make some crushes up. XD. If they lie, how they lie, and what lies they tell will also reveal a lot about the character.

Anyway, I’m having tremendous fun with this crush history thing for my characters! XD

Davonne Burns November 12, 2013 at 8:20 am

This is actually something I’ve worried over greatly with my science fiction series. I’m very hesitant to label it YA since the themes are much darker and the action more explicitly violent than any YA I’ve read. I’m afraid that labeling it YA will lead to certain expectations such as a romance or other popular YA tropes. I don’t want to mislead people into thinking this is a light fun read. Hunger Games was light in comparison.

The ending is not what most people expect and I’ve had quite a few people very upset with me over it. But, I’m not changing the ending. It has to end that way for the series to go forward. I foreshadowed it from the very first chapter and throughout the book.

In all honestly I write to please myself first and foremost. If other people like what I write that is awesome, if not it’s not my problem. I’m not going to be upset with them or try to convince them why they should like my novel.

I didn’t care for Divergent and won’t be reading the rest of the series. Ender’s Game is on my list of Top Ten All Time Favorites and even though I myself am a bi-sexual I don’t care what Card thinks. I still like his books and think he’s an exceptional writer. His opinion of me doesn’t change my opinion of his books. 🙂

Reply

Jami Gold November 12, 2013 at 10:02 am

Hi Davonne,

Ooo, interesting! And yes, if it’s darker and more violent than Hunger Games, I can understand your hesitation on labeling it YA.

To some extent, I agree with you about not convincing readers to like my stories. My genre (romance) is not for everyone. My subgenre (paranormal romance–PNR) is not for everyone. I’m not going to try to convince those people who know they don’t care for PNR otherwise. Even with those in my “target audience,” all I can do is try to convince them to try my stories–not that they should like them. 🙂

“His opinion of me doesn’t change my opinion of his books.”

Ha! Love it! 🙂 Yes, it’s only on very rare occasions that I can’t separate the art from the artist, and like I said, unless I’m extremely passionate about a stand, I will try to separate them, because I disagree with too many ideas to have anything left otherwise. LOL! Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Juli Page Morgan November 12, 2013 at 9:57 am

My daughter loved the first two books in Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, and was one of those who couldn’t wait to get a copy of Allegiant. When her husband surprised her by buying the book, she shut herself up in her bedroom and went on a reading marathon! I called her the next day to see how she liked it, and was surprised when she said it disappointed her more than any book she’d read. I had read Divergent on her recommendation, but it just wasn’t for me, you know? So I had my daughter tell me what happened in Allegiant since I wasn’t worried about knowing the ending. I must admit I had a “Whoa, really?” reaction, but as a writer, I realize that a story goes the way it wants to go, no matter how shocking it might be. My daughter understands that to a certain extent after listening to me go on about my own books (and bless her heart, she deserves a medal for that! LOL) so I was curious as to why Allegiant disappointed her so much. She told me that she felt she had been led a certain way throughout the first two books, only to have the rug yanked out from under her in Allegiant. It’s not that she wanted a pat ending, one she could have seen coming from, say, the middle of book two. But she felt the ending of Allegiant was done solely for shock value and sensationalism. She brought up the ending of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy; it didn’t have a sunny, And-They-Lived-Happily-Ever-After conclusion, but it made sense and she could understand why it ended the way it did. But to her as a reader, the end of Allegiant made no sense compared to the first two books and the bulk of Allegiant itself.

I think you’re spot on about the way the book was marketed and labeled. It seemed to have been targeted at readers who enjoyed Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy and Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy. As I mentioned before, I read Divergent, and the impression I got from it was that it would be similar to Collins and Condie, but without the love triangle trope.

Since I didn’t read the second book in the Divergent trilogy, I can’t say whether or not the books hinted at the theme Ms. Roth wanted to convey, but my daughter certainly didn’t feel they did. She felt that the author led her to feel a certain way, only to say, “Ha! Take that!” at the end, a “take that” moment my daughter felt was unnecessary and, in her words, “cheap.” Now she’s left with the feeling that she wasted her time on the books, and she’s really ticked off that her husband spent money on a book that she could have checked out from the library since she’ll never read it again.

As an author, I feel Ms. Roth wrote the story the way it wanted to be written, no matter how jarring the outcome. But as a reader, I can see how my daughter feels cheated by the ending. It’s a conundrum!

Reply

Jami Gold November 12, 2013 at 10:31 am

Hi Juli,

Interesting! Thanks for the insight. I’m more tempted to read these books now, just so I can do the theme and character arc analysis. 🙂

Yes, I’ve seen these books compared to those other series. And the POV choices in the third book could have reinforced the idea that this series will have a certain ending as well.

I talked about the idea of subtext leading to expectations back when discussing the non-kiss ending of Pacific Rim. The director made several choices that implied an eventual relationship between the characters, but then didn’t deliver a kiss at the end, despite being a perfect moment.

To me, it felt like the director was trying to have his cake and eat it too. 🙁 Like, “I’ll throw these things in here because those who like the idea of a relationship will pick up on that subtext and be tickled by these details, but I won’t do anything obvious so as not to offend the ‘no kissing movies’ fan boys.” *shrug* In my head, they kissed right after the camera cut away. LOL!

(Ooo, I wonder if Allegiant will have more fanfic written, as fans give the story a different ending?)

As for your daughter’s copy, she could exchange it through PaperBack Swap, donate to a library, or donate it to me. 😉 (Just kidding about the last one–mostly. LOL!) Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Kathryn Jankowski November 12, 2013 at 12:55 pm

The issue of reader expectations is one I’ve discussed with my editor. I don’t have a happily-ever-after ending, though I do make it clear there’s room for hope in the book(s) to follow. So, it’s very important to approach my story with a very keen eye for not building expectations that will be dashed and lead to reader disappointment.

I’ve read DIVERGENT but nothing more. It might be interesting to read the trilogy and see what–if anything–was misleading.

Reply

Jami Gold November 12, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Hi Kathryn,

Yes, one of my stories has a bittersweet happy-for-now with a hint of a happily-ever-after in the future. That story is currently on hold because I don’t trust that I did it right. 🙂

Sometimes with series, readers are willing to endure cliffhanger or less-than-happy endings if they think it will pay off later. Then the issue is paying off big enough to make the series as a whole “worth it” for the reader. 🙂

It’s not an easy thing–that’s for sure. Good luck with yours and thanks for the comment!

Reply

Taurean Watkins November 12, 2013 at 1:35 pm

I haven’t been following either author example in the post above, but the internet being the internet, you can’t help but see some pieces of the outcry…

While I can’t comment too much on the Roth situation (As I’ve never read the series, but I remember the HUGE buzz when the first book came out) I will say I never thought it was (Primarily) a romance, as while I haven’t read the series, I know from the blurbs on the book, and (Since we count covers that the author may or MAY NOT have had say in) they didn’t scream “Romance” to me, either.

I can’t speak to OSC, because aside from not having read him, I have more personal things regarding his demeanor and some of his views (Beyond the obvious) and I don’t want to get caught in the drama however tangentially.

As far as the movie of “Ender’s Game” goes, I don’t get the angst regarding that, it was (And continues to be) a popular book, in spite of the movie, no different than “The Book Thief” being a popular book in spite of how the film version goes down. I hope good for the author and fans, but we still have the book.

I can understand a reader’s mixed feelings when an author who may have politics (BEYOND raw government) that clash with yours but still wrote a book you LOVED. But I do feel fans take that WAY TOO FAR sometimes.

Authors aren’t the only ones who could stand to take a “Cool Off” period.

My debut novel isn’t a romance (It’s a children’s book, but novel-length for middle grade readers), but there is a love story in it, and not to spoil the ending (especially since my book isn’t out yet, at the time I write this) but I chose not to do a video about my protagonist’s love interest, because while she contributes to the story beyond her feelings for the protagonist, that might give some potential readers the wrong idea. Because while the love story is naturally part of the story, it’s not the WHOLE story, as is the case in romance, although many of my favorite romance novels have a strong secondary cast and subplots BEYOND the hero and heroine getting together.

Jami, while you always make the point of “Keeping things in perspective” to me, neither situation is a “Pleasing Everyone” problem on the part of the author.

I do feel that like with some Charlene Harris “Fans” to their disappointment of the Sookie series ending to callous extremes, this is the same only WORSE, and I already thought the “Sookie Fan Freak Outs” were bad enough.

These are instances that I feel readers are no less disgraceful as authors who play ego wars.

As a reader, there are many books I don’t like, or authors whose views on writing (More so than morals and/or ethics) that I don’t agree with.

Though there may be specific book exceptions, but I also don’t feel the need to “Witch Hunt” them either. I didn’t get into Twilight. I don’t have a vendetta against S. Meyer, either.

I’m too chicken to read “The Hunger Games” but I admire Suzanne Collins to at least attempt to something I cannot as a writer, and many people have mixed feelings about the movies.

I couldn’t get into Artemis Fowl (Which is popular amongst many MG and Early YA [pre-16] authors and readers) and I was still the target age for the series back when it started, but I have nothing bad to say about the author who got so many boys to read when they otherwise would not.

I respect authors and books I normally don’t gravitate to because for many readers, they were the gateway to reading as entertainment, and I don’t discount that, but I agree we’re getting to a point that we’re losing nuance in expressing anything less than “Happy-Joy” to borrow a term of yours, Jami. (Sigh…)

This post certainly gives me a lot to think about. It also best explains why I get annoyed with snarky narrators in general, because it can morph into spectacles like this, and I will say until I die, what’s fun to read in a book isn’t ALWAYS fun to live in real life. Period.

Reply

Jami Gold November 12, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Hi Taurean,

From what I’ve seen, the first books in the Roth series weren’t labeled romance, and it’s just this third one that was. That change also adds to the expectations–like “Oh, this book will be more about the relationship than the previous books!”

So you’re right about the earlier books. And in the case of the covers and back-cover blurbs, yes, they weren’t particularly “romance-y.” But the covers and blurbs of the series it was compared to weren’t romance-y either, yet the love triangles of those books led to a “Team Peeta/Team Gale” romantic impression anyway.

That aspect of comparisons has driven me crazy for a while, actually. 🙂 When authors or marketers say “It’s like X story,” what part are they saying is similar? The plot, the characters, the themes, the tone, the setting, etc.? In this case, comparing this series to the others led many people to think it referred to the romance–like Hunger Games but without the love triangle, as Juli mentioned above.

Was that the fault of the readers for jumping to the conclusion of what they had in common? Maybe. But again, the romance labeling and the choice of POV (including the love interest’s POV for the first time in the 3rd book) made that seem like a fair assumption.

In other words, like I said in the post, I don’t have an answer for this. I’m not sure if the author could have done anything different. I don’t think she could have made everyone happy, no matter what. All she maybe could have done was make the themes and character arcs clearer (if they were unclear at all in the subtext) and influence the marketing (if she had a say with the publisher). Those are both big ifs.

As far as the protests and boycotts, everyone has the right to protest what they feel passionate about, but as you said, sometimes people take offense too easily or take things too far. Everyone–whether in the public eye or not–is capable of those “ego wars” you mentioned (great term!). 🙂

In this case, it’s not clear how much any boycott would hurt OSC, as movies are often only marginally connected to the author (with an initial film rights one-time payment). Someone claimed his agreement would give him royalties as well, but even if that’s true, Hollywood accounting finds too many expenses for there to ever be net royalties and gross royalties are rare except at the Tom Cruise level. (Maybe not even then.) So it seems more like a personal statement than anything designed to hurt him. *shrug*

As you know, I see nuances in situations too much to attack things for one reason, but if others feel differently I won’t attack them for attacking–again, because I do see nuances on all sides. 🙂 Thanks for the insightful comment!

Reply

Taurean Watkins November 12, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Thanks for replying, Jami. (Do you know why some comments including mine are italics, I know it was nothing I did, is it?)

But while I agree that people have right to opinions, however negative, I feel readers shouldn’t be immune to matters of respect and integrity. No, we can’t control or police that, but we need to humanely discuss that side of the equation.

Jami, you talk on your blog all the time of author etiquette and how we can’t please everyone. I’m not disagreeing with you. But I do feel at times you see issues with authorial integrity from that mindset when there’s really a non-egomaniac extension to take away, too.

To me, this backlash from readers isn’t about “Pleasing Everyone.” This is about remembering that respect for authors isn’t the same as “Pretending they don’t make mistakes.” I feel some authors and readers confuse those two different things. Even if the feelings and/or issues expressed inherently have overlap.

Also, choosing not to speak to something doesn’t mean you’re “Denying” something either.

A recent example in my case is my initial reply on this blog post. I chose not share my views on O.S.C. because I don’t want do go there and I don’t want potential readers to take it out of context, which is easy to do online to begin with.

For the same reason you choose not to mention authors for things they write than you didn’t like or took actions you find distasteful and rude, while I don’t always agree silence is the right answer, in many cases it’s the better choice.

However…

There are times as a writer when you HAVE to speak to something, even if it’s not 100% positive, the problem comes from authors not always knowing what battles are worth fighting, and what to back off from.

Just like how when authors talk about marketing themselves and their work, many starting out don’t like marketing because they only know the sleazy, hard sell ways of doing it, but never experienced the ways to get exposure without coming off like “The Black Plague.”

Respect is often viewed as being soft, or wishy-washy, and that’s what I take issue with. Not that people protest, but how they do it, and that’s just as fair a point as authors rightly called out for being dishonest and ingenuine to readers.

It’s not always obvious for the writer anymore than the reader, yet we instantly condemn the author for things they may not have been directly involved with, and that’s part of the reason many authors really take to alternate publishing avenues, not just for “Superficial” creative control, but because they better troubleshoot and isolate any marketing issues and deal with them more directly,

I mean, Charlene Harris had to cancel appearances because the “Fan” reactions to just her ending the series was homicidal. That’s when I feel readers are taking things too far, regardless of who the author is, you know?

Especially in this “Paranoid Extremist” moment in the world right right now, it’s just sad, and cruel, you can say you don’t like something without sending “Death Threats” to authors. Period.

I don’t just say that as a soon to be published author myself, but as a reader, who came to reading as entertainment, later than most.

Reply

Jami Gold November 12, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Hi Taurean,

Oh, I don’t disagree with you at all. The world in general could use a lot more honesty, integrity, and compassion. 🙂 I can’t stand most political discussions because of that lack of respect.

So you’re absolutely right that readers could use a lot more of those traits as well. If readers have more compassion for the fact that authors are human and will make mistakes, they’ll be less likely to jump all over them. It’s definitely a two-way street. And you rightly pointed out that the author can be attacked for things they have no control over (covers, pricing, marketing, foreign releases, etc.).

That’s not limited to the publishing world unfortunately. I’ve seen reviews all over Amazon (for non-books) that complain about the shipping quality, shipping time frame, 3rd party packaging, Amazon’s listing information, etc.–all things that the manufacturer has no control over.

So while I don’t like any of that from an author point of view, I also see that as a normal side effect of doing business, just because of the nature of people. Some people like to complain or vent, and they’ll do so even in inappropriate ways or places.

Again, I don’t disagree with you at all–and in the case of authors, the protests can become very person-oriented and add to the personal attack feel–but I also know that the world has a real problem with a lack of respect in general. And I certainly don’t have an answer to that. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

P.S. Sometimes the display of comments ignores the italics code (even if they’re in there correctly). I usually just have to go and delete the codes to get the display to reset. I have no idea why that happens, but thanks for letting me know. 🙁

Reply

Taurean Watkins November 12, 2013 at 9:30 pm

Glad we’re more on the same page than I first thought. I just want readers to remember that as

I can’t help the people that don’t care how they come off to people. That doesn’t mean I’m denying they exist.

I’m talking about people like you and me, who DO CARE, and that sometimes we have to make compromises to star our careers, and that not all issues with a book is s

That’s what you said in replying to comment on a previous post really got to me-

http://jamigold.com/2013/02/do-you-judge-books-by-their-covers/#comment-97717

For those who’d rather not comb the comments there, here’s a direct excerpt where first I said-

“Let’s not forget something, while most of the comments have been about self-published authors making sure cover design and blurbs are doing their job, in the traditional landscape, new authors especially don’t always get any say in these matters, so let’s not cast stones too harshly.

I don’t say that as an excuse, but a simple fact, so I do feel for them if the design the publisher uses is not reflective of their book, either at all, or in the right way, I know of some authors who had that experience, and these are NOT all new or small companies, but from commercial publishers most of us know.

For those of us who go the indie route, you can only afford what you can afford, and I’m not saying we (Writers or readers) should lower our standards, but we need to respect that there can be a big gap between lack of money vs. lack of will. That’s what I think is core to this whole discussion.”

Jami, you replied-

“Even traditionally published authors have control over who they sign with. So I guess my point was more about don’t sign with a publisher that always has crappy covers and then complain about a crappy cover. :)”

I REALLY meant what I said before you replied above in what you said here-

“In the cases where the publisher usually has great covers, and they get stuck with a lemon, I absolutely feel for those authors.”

THAT’S the context I’m speaking of.

I know what I said above is not limited to authors and publishing, but I’m practicing what I preach in that I stuck on-topic because I have problems sometimes talking all over the place (Even if I see throughlines to other things), and some of my comments on your blog are proof of that, remember? It wouldn’t make sense to go in other areas that aren’t on topic, right?

Maybe that’s why I misunderstand your stance sometimes. (Sigh…)

Even though this problem exists elsewhere, I stay within the realm of the post above to avoid digressing too off-topic, especially as chatty as most of my comments are, anyway.

All that said, take care.

Reply

Jami Gold November 12, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Hi Taurean,

Ah, yes, I get where you’re coming from. You’re absolutely right about how the publishing business requires compromises–on contracts, covers, marketing, you-name-it. Those who self-publish might need to compromise based on budget. So it is really hard to see authors beaten up over things they can’t control.

That said, I also want authors to approach issues (like getting editing) with a professional attitude. I know you don’t have a problem with that, but I’ve seen too many who make excuses for why their story didn’t go through editing before they self-published it.

Anyway, I guess this comes down to how it really is a two-way street. If we, as authors, do have a professional attitude, we’d like readers to have a similar respectful attitude toward us. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Taurean Watkins November 19, 2013 at 6:11 pm

So Jami,

What would you then say to someone who just can’t afford it? “Oh, just write another book and another until you produce one that’s least likely to be perceived as amateurish?”

I’m just asking because this part of your reply can be seen both ways-

“I also want authors to approach issues (like getting editing) with a professional attitude. I know you don’t have a problem with that, but I’ve seen too many who make excuses for why their story didn’t go through editing before they self-published it.”

But Jami, attitude isn’t everything.

Otherwise you and I would be in a more advantageous place. Sure, I found a publisher for my first book, but given some recent news I was given, I’ll need to make some important decisions, and if I could shoulder all the finnical issues myself I would, because I know the readers are out there, and I don’t want to settle because of the very points we’ve been discussing for months.

Still Jami, you should know sometimes it’s a matter of financial limitations.

Are you then saying people who can’t pay are just as full of themselves as those who don’t think it’s worth the money in the first place?!

We can’t very well get anywhere if only rich people can afford the fees a lot of freelance editors charge, and for argument’s sake I’m assuming we’re considering editors with the skills we need, okay?

Sorry if I’m reading you wrong, but I had to ask, and I wait a bit to be sure I’m not just spouting my mouth off blindly.

Reply

Jami Gold November 19, 2013 at 8:24 pm

Hi Taurean,

As we’ve talked about on other posts, there isn’t a clear-cut answer for that issue. Even without money though, authors can still be as professional as possible. They can borrow Self-Editing for Fiction Writers from the library. They can spend time in critique forums to build up critique partners/beta readers. (That is, replace pricey professional editing with LOTS of non-professional beta readers.) They can learn everything they can about what makes a cover look professional vs. amateur. Etc., etc.

Back when we talked about the “fast/cheap/good, pick two” issue, we talked about other options as well. Most of those require time, however. Time learning, time investing in contacts, etc. The problem comes when people aren’t willing to invest the time, which leaves them with fast and cheap–and not good. The point is that to be good, we have to invest something–either money, time, or both. 🙂

That investment is the professional level of dedication/attitude I was referring to here. I hope that makes sense. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

Taurean Watkins November 12, 2013 at 9:34 pm

I’m glad the italics thing wasn’t something I did by accident. I don’t like making more work for people.

Reply

Jami Gold November 12, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Hi Taurean,

Definitely not you! The times I’ve seen it happen are actually in MY comments, and yet I can see the coding is right. Grr. 🙂

Reply

Carradee November 13, 2013 at 1:54 pm

With Orson Scott Card, there’s some added drama in there because he’s regularly quoted out of context, so that people in general read something other than what he actually said. (Example: He’ll engage in “What if…?” extrapolations from reality—which is part and parcel of being a sci-fi/fantasy writer—and he’ll be quoted on the extrapolation as if that’s what he actually believes will happen, without the context of “This could happen”—which is all he’s saying to begin with. Or the quoter will omit significant phrases or clauses that completely change the tone.)

A lot of sci-fi and fantasy authors are Mormon. I frankly respect that OSC willing to stand for what he believes—which, from what I’ve seen, is something he brings up in theological essays. I’ve read a lot of his fiction, and none that I’ve read has been hateful or cruel to those with different stands than he has.

If you’re not interested in what an author believes or don’t want the author to disagree with you, why would you check out their theological essays or personal blog? *scratches head*

I fully expect authors I read to hold perspectives that I disagree with or find offensive. As long as the author doesn’t attempt to shove those things down my throat, I don’t care. Some things, if I encounter them, will cause me to avoid your work, but that’s because they’re hot buttons for me. I’m aware they’re hot buttons, and I do my best to avoid situations wherein I’ll get worked up.

(Example: If you think it impossible for any teen to get pregnant by rape and then to have the wherewithal to raise the kid on her lonesome without family support, kindly don’t say that around me, please. My mother did fine, and I like being alive rather than aborted—which is what her family wanted her to do.)

There’s one author who was raised with a background I’m familiar with (related to mine, but not the same), but her current beliefs differ quite a bit. She rarely talks about her beliefs on her blog, but when she does happen to mention something, I can follow her reasoning—which helps me pick up the jargon and go read others of her current religious beliefs with the meanings they intend.

With Allegiant, I’ve not read any of the series (yet?), but the gist of the complaint that I’ve seen is that readers feel blindsided. Perhaps it’s the marketing—shelving it in romance? really? just the covers call that a bad idea—but with all the complaints… I suspect what ended up on the page might not have been what the author was going for.

That’s likely the author’s fault, but not necessarily so, depending on what her publisher did with what she handed in. I know some publishers that would pressure or force an author to change significant details—big ones or little ones—that would influence the thematic arcs. Some publishers’s contracts mean they can even change details without the author’s consent. (I know one that specifically lists punctuation as what they can accept without author consent, but that can make a huge difference in meaning, yanno?)

Reply

Jami Gold November 13, 2013 at 10:15 pm

Hi Carradee,

Yes, I’ve seen one of those OSC “what if” essays, and the comments and tweets of that article were essentially, “Well, you know that he really believes that this is the way things are. He’s just couching it in ‘what if’ language to make it more believable.” *sigh*

I’ve heard other things that he’s done or said so I know what his beliefs are (in general), but people ascribing intent to others really bugs me. If people are going to pick on him, I’d rather they pick on him for the definite stuff, not for things they’re reading into. :/

Like you, I’ve read a lot of his work, and I never came away with the feeling that he was pushing his beliefs in his stories. In fact, I think that’s one reason why his beliefs hurt so many–because the themes of his stories are often about seeing both sides of issues.

But as you said, spoon-feeding of Big Issues and shoving beliefs down my throat bothers me far more as a passive consumer of art than what an artist believes that’s unrelated to their art. So I try not to get worked up about those unrelated things because if I did, I’d have nothing left for entertainment. 🙂

On Allegiant, I just saw the Divergent movie trailer today, and wouldn’t you know it–they have all kinds of romance touchstones (snippets of first touch, deep eye contact, shirtless guy, kissing, holding hands, etc.). So there’s not a doubt in my mind that marketing took the romance angle. That’s an easier sell maybe?

As you said, little things add up, and I’ve talked many times about subtextual impressions. All together, I understand how the readers came away with an impression different from what the author intended. Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Carradee November 14, 2013 at 7:22 am

people ascribing intent to others really bugs me. If people are going to pick on him, I’d rather they pick on him for the definite stuff, not for things they’re reading into. :/

Agreed.

In fact, I think that’s one reason why his beliefs hurt so many–because the themes of his stories are often about seeing both sides of issues.

Perhaps, but wouldn’t that then make the hurt the reader’s problem rather than the author’s? Because that’s the hurt person assuming that someone can’t possibly look at both sides of an issue and come to the conclusion that the hurt/offended person is wrong. Which is a personal issue (insecurity, selfishness, pride, w/e) that someone with an opposing opinion can’t do anything about—unless they refuse to take a stand for what they believe.

I personally hold some generally unpopular beliefs. (Whoop-de-do. Don’t we all?) But I can see how/why others would disagree with me.

As a Christian, I am admittedly concerned for the eternal destination of a lot of people, but I’m not going to expect someone with different religious affiliations than I have to adhere by my beliefs or standards. Even people with my selfsame religious affiliations have divergent beliefs about certain things. Depending on whom you ask, I could be called conservative, moderate, or liberal—it all depends on what, specifically, you mean by those labels.

As my convictions stand right now, I’ll never let a character blaspheme/misuse God’s names (and I endeavor to avoid abuse of other religions), and that’s something fans appreciate. (I know many Christians who are okay with cursing but not with blasphemy.) But I realize a lot of people don’t share that conviction, and I don’t expect everything I read to be “clean” in that sense. Especially not as a reader of dark fantasy and space opera.

I do my best to portray a spread of characters. I haven’t even written a story featuring my personal religious affiliation, as yet. (I want to. I have one planned. But it’ll be kinda complicated, especially because there will be a variety of church politics and practices involved…in a MG/YA werewolf novel. How do I come up with these things?)

I’m pretty comfortable writing characters with different beliefs or priorities than I myself have. In fact, my easiest narrator to write is an agnostic who likes salty language. (I’ve timed it.) It’s so much more interesting—and realistic—than giving everyone my selfsame beliefs.

But some people don’t care what others believe or why. I’ve actually been told that it doesn’t matter why others believe what they do, if they’re wrong. I’ve tried pointing out that understanding why people believe what they do allows you to have a meaningful discussion about your differences, but *shrug*.

Reply

Jami Gold November 14, 2013 at 9:19 am

Hi Carradee,

“wouldn’t that then make the hurt the reader’s problem rather than the author’s?”

True. And that’s why I didn’t go into the issue of whether anyone was “in the wrong” here, but rather, was there anything the authors could have done differently? There are too many sides to these stories and much of it comes down to personal perceptions.

No matter how much I disagree with someone’s stand, if I can understand why they hold that position, I can see both sides to some extent. I like to think that ability to see nuances makes me a better character writer. 🙂 So I’ll just say ditto to your last couple of paragraphs. LOL! Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Carradee February 23, 2016 at 1:29 pm

Just an update, years down the road: My mother’s family allegedly wanted her to abort me. I don’t know if that was true. My mother “did fine” in the sense that my origins were irrelevant to how she treated me.

And, now that I’ve read Allegiant, I do believe the complaints stem from the series getting branded with the incorrect genre.

Reply

Jami Gold February 24, 2016 at 6:54 am

Hi Carradee,

Thanks for the update! And I’ve been slowly making my way through the series as the movies have come out, and there’s definitely a romance aspect to the story, but the movies have been emphasizing it more, it seems.

Reply

Jami Gold November 15, 2013 at 9:00 am

Hi Serena,

LOL! That does sound like fun to figure out. Although I’m not convinced a crush history says that much about who people become, but maybe that’s my own experience talking. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Serena Yung November 16, 2013 at 10:49 am

Haha yeah I don’t think it would indicate who people would become either, but it might say something about your preferences and interests–though it wouldn’t say EVERYTHING about your interests, of course. I have a friend where this may apply well. He has specific criteria for girls he falls in love with. Apart from beauty (which is subjective, as we don’t even agree on what faces are most attractive from that Hot or Not link I showed you before), he also wants kindness, intelligence, innocence (being able to stick to her ideals despite the realities we encounter), and adventurousness. And the four crushes he told me about had all of these traits. So, the intelligence, innocence, and kindness traits do reflect what he values in himself and in others, from what I know about him.

A crush history from someone like me may be less reflective of my values and interests though. XD All three of my crushes I’ve ever had were way above average in confidence, and were also quite arrogant. Now, I don’t appreciate arrogance at all, but I guess I value confidence in myself, lol. My third crush does show my interests and loves, however. He loves art and writing more than anything else in the world like me, and he is full of the personality quality I most treasure in others–empathy, the ability to feel others’ pain and joy and be able to cry with them and laugh with them. 🙂

That was fun to talk about, lol.

Reply

Serena Yung November 16, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Hey it’s me again–I just came back from watching Ender’s Game and I LOVED it! 😀 I liked it even more than Thor (Loki’s so cool ^^), probably because of the deep character development in the former. It’s not that there wasn’t any character development in Thor; it’s just that Thor seemed more action-focused, and Ender’s Game more Ender-focused, lol. I like this little dude’s name, by the way: Ender. 😀 I also really loved the questions on morality in the movie.

Hmm, I guess the movie must have removed the LGBT themes originally in the book? Because I didn’t see anything mentioned in the movie on those topics…

Reply

Jami Gold November 18, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Hi Serena,

LOL! Yeah, I’ve heard lots of woman talk about their celebrity crushes and know they wouldn’t like them in real life. Probably that too arrogant or whatever problem. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Jami Gold November 18, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Hi Serena,

No, Orson Scott Card generally doesn’t address LGBT themes in his books (not that I’ve seen in the ones I’ve read anyway). Some people have a problem with him professing and acting on his beliefs in his real life. Their issue isn’t with his art (books), but his personal beliefs. Thanks for the comment!

Reply

What do you think?

Previous post:

Next post: