Let’s Talk About Consistency, and Keeping Promises to Readers

I know we all hate the Guardian, but even the most terrible sources can put out something worthwhile, on occasion. In this case, it was a nicely balanced article about George R. R. Martin’s infamous lack of productivity.

It looks at both sides of the issue, from the one that states, “George R. R. Martin is not your bitch,” and those who criticize him (and Patrick Rothfuss, another infamously unproductive author) for not getting the books out.

I’m not going to go into depth on the debate here; I believe it’s been done to death at this point, but I wanted to give some quick thoughts of my own on what it means to be consistent as a writer, and about keeping the promises one makes to readers.

Most of the time, when the concept of keeping promises to readers is made, it’s in reference to narrative promises, i.e., if you promise the reader that a certain conflict will happen, you’d better not skimp on it. Today, however, I’m going to be bringing up a different sort of promise, that of finishing what you start.

Readers love series. This is a fairly well established fact at this point, as recently evidenced by the discussions on how book sales often spike once the third book in a series releases. Readers, myself included, love seeing a world or other setting further fleshed out and expanded, characters go through multiple arcs, and the stakes change and become larger as things progress.

However, readers do always have worries with series, especially long ones, also as evidenced by the fact that series sales often spike after several books are out. Readers want to see that the author will actually be completing the series they started in a timely manner. The George R. R. Martin situation, and Robert Jordan’s untimely passing before completing his Wheel of Time series, has likely only made readers more wary. Of course, most are willing to accept some delay, especially if it is clear that the author is, truly, working on the next book. Delays do happen, both in the area of writing itself and in life. It’s been a couple of years since the last Dresden Files book, but Jim Butcher has released some updates, and, unlike Martin or Rothfuss, he hasn’t had an issue in the past with keeping the series moving. If this one is giving him trouble, fans will give him time.

I personally will have to ask my readers to wait about 2 years (hopefully not longer) between books 2 and 3 of my first series if all goes to plan, because I hope to start a year and a half of army service in November, which will drastically reduce writing time. At the same time, however, I am preparing other books, already well on their way to completion, for publication during that time, so as to limit the dearth of content–while making the promise that as soon as I’m out, my # priority will be book 3, which will hopefully be out about 6 months after that.

Returning to Martin’s case, he of course has the right to do as he wishes, but if he continues to work on non-Winds of Winter projects, he cannot complain that fans keep asking what’s going to be with that book. It also bears mention that the last two books in the series, which took the longest to write (so far) were the weakest. With Rothfuss as well, Wise Man’s Fear was not as good as The Name of the Wind. I personally am not particularly excited for either, because the authors don’t seem to be, and, as mentioned, the quality of their work seems to be dropping.

The only reason these two authors can get away with this lack of productivity, and, some could say abandonment of their readers, if that they have been so wildly successful that they (and their publishers) know the books will make money whenever they hit. The rest of us don’t have that luxury, don’t have lucrative TV deals to fall back on, so we have no choice but to keep up the implied contract we make with our readers when we start something, both in terms of timing and book quality. And, I think that’s something we should be proud of.

Archived version of the article (since we don’t want to give the Guardian any more clicks): Let’s Just Say it: George R. R. Martin needs to get on with The Winds of Winter

 

And, as I hope I’ve instilled confidence that I will keep to a regular release schedule as best I can, check out my first book, A Greater Duty, to be ready when the sequel drops in the fall!

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