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Is Waiting The Hardest Part or The Most Harmful?

Easier to Run by Silencio fragmentadoEvery fantasy fan can remember that moment when they discover a great new series. We pick up an author’s first book, tear though it, and fall more in love with it with each page. And when we put it down, and we start waiting for that next volume. And waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Whether it’s Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, Scott Lynch, or Patrick Rothfuss, we’ve all been there.

But the longer we wait, the more our excitement and expectations build. So we reread, we go online to discuss our favorite moments, and we wonder what the next book will have in store for us. There’s a pleasure in that delayed gratification. Until we read the book, that is, and that’s when we discover, to our horror, that it’s still good, but maybe not as good as that first one. What happened?

Well, two things. On the one hand, it might be a matter of perception on the part of the reader. The longer we wait for a story, the higher our expectations rise, and at some point, no book can live up to those expectations. Repeat this cycle a few times over the course of an epic fantasy series, and it’s no wonder ratings tend to fall with each successive volume in a series. Our own love for a story sours our experience.

The author by alexandreevOn the other hand, it might be a matter of publishing schedules. An author can spend years working on that first book: tweaking it, improving it, and rewriting whole swathes of text. It’s not uncommon to hear authors spending five, seven, or more years working on that first novel. But when it’s a big hit, the publisher will typically want a second one much sooner. So not only does the author have much less time to write a novel, but he or she also has far more pressure to create a great book (and I haven’t even touched on the pressures of marketing, publicity, and all the other non-writing things a new author also must do…not to mention their day job, their family, and so on). It’s no wonder the “sophomore slump” exists in so many artistic industries. I’m sure it’s quite an adjustment and quite a lot of pressure.

So if that waiting—that clamoring—for another book not only harms fans, but also harms writers, what are we to do? I’ve heard of some fans that will wait until a series is complete before they start reading it. While this might avoid the “high expectations” problem, if enough of us do it, it will lead to some serious consequences: without people pre-ordering books or waiting in line at midnight releases, there are fewer bestsellers, which mean smaller profits for publishers, which mean fewer books for fans to enjoy. So I tend to think this response a little extreme. I prefer a different plan.

A Stack Of Books Meant To Be Read Aloud by Joel RobisonAnd that plan is “relax and be patient”. I know, I know. It’s a lame bit of advice. It’s something you’d probably hear from a relative far older than me. And it’s certainly not as catchy as Neil Gaiman’s admonishment, “George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.” But if we were all a little more patient, I think we might enjoy books more, and authors might produce better books.

After all, don’t we all have “to be read” piles of books that are in danger of toppling over and burying a pet? Just me? Er…anyway, what I’m trying to say is that instead of complaining about how long it’s taking for a new book to come out, pick up another book. If we have plenty to read, we won’t be so fixated on that next book. Our expectations can still be high, but not dangerously high. And if you’re lacking a pile (and you call yourself a fan!), go visit the Fantasy-Faction forum to learn of at least six new series you can start.

And I love that authors and fans can communicate via blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. But I’m pretty sure authors hate being pestered about that next book. Just ask Peter V. Brett:

Pro-tip: Responding to author tweets about non-writing aspects of their life/career with “stop doing that & WRITE” will never endear you.

— Peter V. Brett (@PVBrett) October 15, 2013

So tell authors how much you love their books. Tell them you can’t wait until the next one. But don’t bother them. Just relax a bit and let authors write. And who knows? With maybe just a little less pressure, fans will ultimately receive better books. (And besides, I’m sure their agents, publishers, editors, etc. are providing enough pressure as it is.)

Like me, I’m sure you’re already looking forward to several books that are coming out in 2014 and beyond. But if we just relax and enjoy the time between now and then—instead of letting that time drive us, and our favorite authors, nuts—the waiting won’t be as harmful any more.

Title image by Silencio fragmentado.

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15 Comments

  1. Avatar Bibliotropic says:

    There are definitely books that I’m excited about that haven’t even been submitted to their respective publishers yet, let alone ones where I’m just anxiously counting down the days until the release date. In many ways, I like this feeling. It gives me something awesome to look forward to, and a nice thrill when I finally, FINALLY get my hands on the book I’ve been waiting for all this time. On the other hand, if that time periods drags on too long, the excitement can get worn down and in the end I’m just all, “Oh good, now I can read it,” and instead of loving the book the way I wanted, it comes across as just relief that it’s over. That doesn’t happen often with me. I think there’ve maybe been only a handful of series I’ve felt that about. Most of the time, it’s just excitement, which is doubled if I have someone to talk about it all with.

  2. Avatar Jenny says:

    But… but… George R.R. Martin is causing me emotional pain by making me wait. When A Dance with Dragons came out, I made myself savor it for over a year. I would read two or three chapters here or there in hopes that in stretching it out as long as possible, I would be closer to the next book in the series by the time I finished. I’ve been done with that book now for over a year, and I still get anxiety whenever I realize there’s still no release date for the next book in the series.

    Ah well, it’s a testament to his greatness, that so many people wait feverishly for the next installment.

    Great post.

  3. So the way publishing usually works is a publisher will give a multiple book deal even thought the first is the only one written. Then they’ll schedule the other books (usually a year out) and the author is “under the gun” to produce those books. If they get up against a deadline – they sometimes have to put out what is done which may not be what they want it to be.

    I’ve adopted a way of preventing this..but it’s not easy. I don’t submit any books to the publisher until all of them are done. That way I….

    * don’t have to worry about deadlines (except for copy edits which are easy to deal with
    * get the books 100% the way I want
    * don’t have to worry about a series that fizzles out because I don’t know how to to take it to conclusion
    * don’t have to worry about a series being cancelled due to small sales on book #1
    * can weave threads across the series as I can modify earlier books when some great idea comes up in a later one.

    So far I did this twice: The Riyria Revelations (6 books) and The Riyria Chronicles (2 books) and I’m currently on book #2 of a a three book series (The First Empire).

    As I said this isn’t an easy way to go. It means big delays between paychecks and a lot of planning – before starting The First Empire I made sure I had 4 books (a series and 2 standalones) “in the can” so they could come out while I was working on the longer series. But to me this is a much preferred method then being under a deadline gun – and I’ll do everything I can to continue working int his way.

  4. I think this phenomenon is also related to the readers who wait until an entire series is published before reading the first book. This protects against several phenomena:

    * Interminable waits between books (6mo.-1yr is generally considered reasonable, 3+ causes gnashed teeth and hair pulling)
    * Suffering those sophomore slumps and being disappointed by the second book
    * Awful or unsatisfying series endings (you can get that info from reviews without spoilers, usually)
    * Discontinuity from reading the series at wide intervals, or having to go back and re-read each time a new book comes out.

    Of course, there are downsides to this approach:
    * You aren’t reading it along with your friends who are keeping pace with the author
    * You are at greater risk for spoilers, the longer information is out there
    * You may end up being exposed to the story on-screen and abandoning the books altogether (I’ve heard of this one multiple times from GoT TV fans)

    I generally have enough overlap in the cycle between editing one book and writing the next that it smooths over transitions from one to the next. It also helps avoid sudden drops in quality because you’re not spacing them out widely; everything is still fresh. I’ve heard from my readers that my own books get better the further into the series, which I take as a compliment, since it’s not the norm.

  5. George R.R. Martin may not be “our bitch”, as Neil Gaiman asserts, but it is a bit disingenuous for him to suggest that reader dissatisfaction with his lack of output is unwarranted criticism. He, Martin and any author are well within their rights to ignore fan criticism, but not to be insulated from it.

    I think a lot of fans of fantasy series voice these concerns due to the example of Robert Jordan, who let his Wheel of Time series balloon into a saga that he was unable to finish before his death.

    Martin is not a young man, and many of us fans look forward to both his bringing the series back under control and (lets be honest here) finishing the damn thing before he dies.

    • Avatar Dan J. says:

      Agreed. Being a fan and a customer doesn’t give you the right to be rude or offensive and I’ve seen examples of comments and tweets that clearly crossed the line. Gaiman is within his right to protest that behavior. But it’s deeply disingenuous to say “Please pay money for my books so I can have a good income” and then turn around and disavow any responsibility to the fans that made you a success.

    • I think when an author starts a series – there is an implied covenant that they must complete what they started. Another reason why I write an entire series first, and then submit – that way I know I’m not going to let my fans down by leaving the series uncompleted.

      When I was writing my own work – I did feel a sense that I didn’t want to die with it not completed. So yes, I think mortality is a reasonable concern.

      • ““Please pay money for my books so I can have a good income” and then turn around and disavow any responsibility to the fans that made you a success.”

        Agreed. Readers provide us (writers) with our income – you are our patrons and we need to remember that it is the reader’s generosity that puts food on our tables and pay the mortgages.

  6. Avatar Dan J. says:

    I’m one of the ones who tends to wait for the series to be complete for longer series. However, for the series I’m waiting on, I buy the books as soon as they’re released. Then they sit on my bookshelf until I have them all. Like you, I have a tremendous pile of “To Be Read” books that includes many that aren’t part of a long series, so it’s not that difficult to wait.

    • I have done this too. I want to support the author (and ensure the series is finished) but that doens’t mean I have to start it yet. I was waiting on Doors of Stone for a long time having Wise Man’s Fear on my shelf. I recently gave in and started it, but I’m not actively reading as I still want to wait for book #3 to a large degree.

  7. Avatar domynoe says:

    I don’t mind waiting. Being a writer myself, I know these things can take time. I DO mind waiting then having an author not follow through. It has happened rarely, but it has happened when an author has a series I like and one or more of the books never gets written. I have stopped reading authors who do this.

  8. Avatar Stewart says:

    As a avid reader of series, I think the answer is – it depends. It depends on how long and the quality of the book. GRRM is a good example – i totally understand why it takes years to write his books because of the size of them but it can be frustrating to wait years and years for the next installment of a loved book. Its also hard in narrative terms as you have to go back and reread at least the previous book to pick up the threads of the story for the new book. (On a complete side note he’s never finishing that series in two more books, not even the doorstops he writes.) But as his books have been great people will wait.

    Patience is not a virtue of the digital world and the opportunities to whine have never been greater. its a toxic mix in some cases.

    Also if you waited a long time for the next installment and its rubbish, well that’s going to affect how you view the author. You are more likely to read something else by an author who hasn’t kept you waiting years for a turd despite the fact you didn’t enjoy the work. Keep me hanging on for ages and I didn’t enjoy it then you are likely to be off my mental list of authors to look out for by the time your next book comes along. Of course as a capricious reader neither do I want an author to rush something out which is not good enough just because I have limited patience.

    I like Michael Sullivan’s method above – but I can also understand why that could be difficult for other authors.

  9. Avatar SoulJynx says:

    I do realize that waiting for a book is part of being a fan of a particular series. However, i believe what aggravates me the most is that the authors put out other books, sometimes whole other series, while we are waiting for the next one. So if they could finish one or 2 (or more) why am i waiting 2-3 years for the next in this series? i believe the answer (as it so often is) is money. The longer they wait, the more appearances they are paid for, the more accessories and stand-alones they can sell based on that series, basically the more money they get. I have finally learned that authors do not care about the reader, not past our wallets anyway. It is a job, and they just want to be paid for writing, that is it. Fans and followers are tolerated, but we simply do not matter.

  10. Avatar Marj @whithernow says:

    As a great fan of reading complete series of books, I think I may have been guilty of “nagging” an author once or twice (now hanging my head in shame) for which I must apologize. I guess it’s because when I become so enthralled with a story line, it does sweep me off into the wide blue yonder and coming back down to earth is a blooming big thump and all I want is *more*!

    It is so hard when you can now speak to authors (on Twitter for example) to say how much one has enjoyed the book(s) *not* to tip over the line from fan to stalker and that I think is possibly our next learning curve in 21st century netiquette. The joy of being able to chat with said authors is that (sometimes) you can actually help them out and that, for me is the greatest privilege a fan can get. Please, do keep on writing. You know, we do love what you do.

  11. Avatar Jason C. says:

    I’m definitely satisfied by discovering an already completed series so there’s no wait. But for me, I think I prefer reading a series (and watching on tv) as it happens.

    For one, I enjoy sharing experiences with others who may be reading or watching. It enhances it considerably to be a part of conversations and guess-work about what’s happening or going to happen. You’re insulated from that or forced to sift through things to find it after the fact.

    Two, it takes an experience that you enjoy and extends it and prolongs it so you can enjoy it longer. Eric, you have shared about your experience with the Wheel of Time series. That series extends back into your childhood. Think of how different that series is in your experience vs what mine will be (I just started book 1) when I read it over the span of a year or two in my mid-30s. I’ll enjoy it. But it won’t have a place in my heart like your experience has created.

    But I also try to temper experiences by realizing each entry is a great story on it’s own. Yes, they obviously build, but something drew you to the first one and you’re getting a chance to read more about characters that you know and are invested in striving in a world you are familiar with. Yeah, maybe book 2 isn’t as good as book 1, and the conclusion of the series didn’t meet your expectations. But should that invalidate the entire journey? Enjoy the ride, love it for what it is. You’ll never get a first experience of that particular story again.

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