How much do authors owe their fans?

A few years ago I really became aware of how weirdly obsessive (and possessive) fans can be towards the authors of books they love.  Laurell K. Hamilton and Stephanie Meyers are a couple who come to mind.  Don’t you dare insult them or the books they write or else you risk hordes of angry fans leaving abusive messages and accusing you of being jealous.  Of course, Hamilton doesn’t seem to mind that since I’ve seen instances of her actually sending her fans out in the world to wreak havoc, but still… weird.

Recently Amanda Hocking posted that she was considering an offer she received from a major publisher.  In some respects it would be a great thing for her career.  They’d be able to give her marketing support that she just wouldn’t be able to manage on her own for starters.  I don’t know what kind of advance they had on the table, but for whatever reason she decided that it wasn’t in her best interests to take the deal.

Some of her fans posted responses to the proposed change that really shocked me.  I get that people feel invested in the stories you create, but at what point do you draw the line and say, “You know what?  This might be entertainment that you are passionate about, but this is my life.”

It makes me wonder if being too accessible to your fans is a bad thing?  Stephen King has fans.  He might be one of the most well known and well read modern authors alive today.  To the best of my knowledge he doesn’t blog or mess with social networking.  He writes his books and submits them to his publisher, who then publishes them according to a pre determined schedule.  Nobody cries about waiting for the next book because it wouldn’t do any good anyway.

George R. R. Martin has addressed frustrations  in the past about over eager fans badgering him about taking so long between books.  It seems that any time he does anything that isn’t writing, someone feels the need to remind him that it’s time that he could be spending working on the next novel.

Every author wants fans.  People who care about the worlds they create and the people who inhabit them as much as the author does.  But I think it’s important for readers to remember that what it takes us a few hours or days to read took someone weeks or months or even years to write.  Some writers work around day jobs or families or through circumstances we can’t even imagine.  It’s as unfair to expect them to spend their every waking hour writing as it would be to expect someone to spend that much time at any other job.

And that’s what it is, a job.  Every hour they spend writing is an hour they could have spent doing something else.  I love working on my novel, but I can tell you that it’s far from the only thing I do with my time.  As much as I enjoy it, I need time away from it or risk burn out.  I imagine it’s much the same for everyone else.

So that begs the question, how much does an author owe their readers?  Sure, readers are the ones who pay the bills and allow them to make a living at writing (hopefully), but does that mean that fans are then entitled to dictate how their favorite authors spend their time or whether or not they sign with a big publisher if it means pushing back the release date of an upcoming sequel? 

While I think it’s important to be considerate of your readers as much as you can, I don’t think that at a few dollars a book they’ve paid enough to own an author’s soul.  If I ever find myself in a situation where I’m given a possibly life altering choice to make I will have to go with whatever is best for myself and my family.  To expect anything else is unreasonable.  Besides, a happier me would surely show itself in the quality of the books I wrote thereafter.

Just something for you to consider the next time you’re annoyed by the length between sequels.

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