Authors Don’t (Usually) Owe Fans Writing

Ryk tackles the question of if, and when, an author “owes” their readers and fans.

A common attitude encountered online – and, occasionally, in person – is that an author “owes” something to the fans. Most often, this is a sequel, a new book in a series that’s very popular, and one hears it more often the longer the interval is; George R.R. Martin has been commonly the target of such castigation, that he should write faster, that he owes his fans the next book, etc.

In general, I absolutely reject this idea. Authors do not owe their readers new work atop what’s already published, and the readers really shouldn’t act as though they do. There are a few – I count three, with an additional meta-category – situations in which I believe a reader/fan can seriously claim that the author “owes them” something. These are:

  1. At a convention, or similar public affair in which the author is part of the attraction: The author owes his fans politeness (as long as the fans don’t prove to be
    total assholes), attention when they are in conversation, and autographs, if asked for politely and conditions allow. An author attends conventions, at least in part, as
    professional promo events, and thus has committed to some level of participation with the people who came there to see them.
  2. If the readers have pre-paid: There are some conditions, such as Kickstarters, in which the readers (a particular subset of them, anyway) have ponied up their money
    IN ADVANCE to read a particular book (and probably for additional rewards too, in higher brackets). In that case, the author absolutely owes them the book (and other rewards) promised; they’ve taken the readers’ money for that book, they have to deliver. Even that does take time, though; my own Kickstarters assume it’ll be two years from conclusion of the Kickstarter to the time I actually start sending out the books.
  3. If the readers are Patrons: This is a bit different than the above in that a Patron has an ongoing agreement to pay something to the author. On platforms like Patreon, where I have my own Patreon set up, there is an explicit outline of what is owed to any of the Patrons based on their donation size. In old-fashioned Patron-Client arrangements, there might be an explicit or implicit agreement as to what work was expected to result from the arrangement. In either case, the author owes the patron(s) whatever they agreed to provide. For instance, in my own Patreon, all the $10-level patrons get special world and writing bonus material, in addition to getting what the 5 and 1 dollar patrons get (advance looks at what I’m writing, and unique little odds and ends). In general, though, they don’t get to say exactly what I’m writing – they just have a right to expect SOMETHING to be written.
  4. If the reader has performed some other significant service for the author, and the writing was an explicit or implied price for the service. This is a sort of catch-all
    for things I might not cover.

The author DOESN’T owe the reader a book they HAVEN’T paid for yet. Just as one simple illustration, you (the individual reader) have paid me (the author) maybe $3.00 for one book, if you bought a hardcover, about $0.60 if you bought a MMPB (assuming traditional publication; you’ll have given me more in small press/self-pub, but I’m likely selling less, too). I write about 1200 words per hour, and my per-hour rate runs around $80-$100, based on fully-loaded numbers from my regular job. So for three dollars, you’ve personally paid for about 12 to 15 words (leaving aside all the OTHER hours devoted to things like editing, proofing, etc.). For sixty cents, you get a word or two. And that’s on a book ALREADY written.

Whether an author writes the next book in a series or not isn’t entirely in their control, either; for instance, a publisher could say “well, it was a good run, but no more of this one.” You CAN go on to self-publish, or look for a smaller press that’d be happy to take it, but that’s effort, sometimes a LOT of effort, which equates to time and money. Authors only have so much time and money, and often they don’t have much of either to spare. Moreover, going that route usually means you’re losing reach. I don’t reach nearly as many people with my current books that I did with Baen, even though I wasn’t anything like a superstar at Baen.

The author may have personal issues that interrupt their writing (as has happened to me several times). The author may find that they’ve written themselves into a corner and be looking for a way out. In a bad-case scenario, the strident demands of fans that the thing be finished YESTERDAY! may be making it hard for the author to even contemplate writing in the universe. The author may have a new project they hope will take some pressure off in the future, or that simply demands most of their focus time NOW. For instance, if they’re involved in producing a TV series of their work, that’s an immediate demand that likely doesn’t go away unless they disassociate themselves from the entire production…something hard for a lot of people to do.

There are many reasons, in short, that an author might not produce the book you’re hoping for.

But basically, unless you’re going to walk up to the author and hand them a check that covers all their expenses for the entire time of writing the book, you have no call on their future production. There is no “implied contract” in writing a series. The author undoubtedly intended to write the rest, but the number of reasons they don’t write it, or publish it, are legion, and none of them are things the readers can generally address.

And while all authors are grateful for the support of their fans, it’s not support if it
becomes a demand.

(Editor’s Note:  This is author Ryk E. Spoor’s first post on Amazing Stories and it is based on a Facebook piece he recently published.  Please welcome him aboard.  Ryk will be contributing future posts as and when.  Please check him out on Facebook and his website and try out some of his fiction.)

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