What Did I Just Read?

The other day, I followed a viral twitter thread over to a discussion about a NYT’s best selling author’s latest book. For the most part, the thread was exactly what I expected. Fans talking about the book and letting the author know how much they appreciated the story. Then along came Debra (whose name really should be Karen) to throw a wrench in the works. She just loved the book but how dare the author release it without having the other books in the trilogy written and ready to be released all within a year! Bad author and bad publisher. She wanted the other books NOW! And, because the customer is always right, everything should be changed to fit her demands.

Now, that only kind of oversimplifies her arguments. You can see the thread here. I recommend if you go over there, you have a cup of coffee and time on your hands. Once the story hit twitter, readers of all genres, including a number who never read a Nora Roberts book in their lives, came over to support Ms. Roberts. They came in such numbers I understand the site crashed for a time.

Debra’s complaint boiled down to basically this: if an author is writing a trilogy (and I assume any sort of series), she should have all of it written and ready to go before the first book comes out. The publisher should then schedule the trilogy so that all books come out within a year or so of the first book.

On the surface, this doesn’t seem like such an unreasonable “request”. In fact, when I read Debra’s first few omments, I found myself wondering if she wasn’t someone who reads a lot of indie books. Why? Because we can put out books more often than trad published authors can. After all, we are in control of our own publishing schedule. We don’t have to worry about other titles written by other authors also needing to be slotted into the schedule.

But then she dug in, even after Ms. Roberts responded.

So here’s the thing. Like it or not, traditional publishers are in the business of making money. They are concerned first and foremost with making money for the house and for the corporation that owns it. Authors fall well down the ladder. They also operate under the business model that if you release books by an author too close together, you dilute the brand and that will negatively impact the bottom dollar.

They are also having the juggle the publishing schedule of dozens, even hundreds, of authors. And, folks, there are only so many slots they can fill each month. Part of this is because they don’t want to release their best sellers too close to one another. Better to space them out so they don’t compete with one another. That’s especailly true right now when disposable dollars are limited for many of us.

Then there’s the fact trad publishers are still holding onto the fiction that bookstores are where most people buy books. Bookstores have only so much shelf space. They can only stock so many books at any one time. They also want to know they have those best sellers coming in on a regular basis throughout the year instead of all coming in at one time.

And here is my question for Debra, one of many: what books do you want the publisher pushing back on the schedule and removing from bookstore shelves in order to get your choices when you want them? What author are you willing to take money away from just so you get your reading fix? Why should they consider your choice over that of another reader? (Okay, more than one question but all related)

Then there’s the creative side she didn’t take into account. She assumed Ms. Roberts had already written the second, and possibly the third, book of the trilogy and turned them into the her publlisher. That meant, in Debra’s world, the books could come out pretty much immediately. Apparently, she doesn’t think any real time is needed for a book to go through the editorial process, covers to be created, marketing to be done, etc. Oh, she also seems to be operating under the illusion that Ms. Roberts can dictate to her publisher when to release the books.

Yes, by this point, I was beating my head against my desk. Ms. Roberts once again came into the fray and explained–again–that publishing doesn’t work that way. You could read her frustration, but she remained professional as she addressed Debra’s complaints. Even when Debra pulled out “the customer is always right”, Ms. Roberts didn’t rip her a new one (which I would have been sorely tempted to do).

What she did admit was that Debra’s attacks not only took time away from her family and her writing but it made her regret ever having written the book. (I’m paraphrasing here.) I get that. What I hope Ms. Roberts took away from the thread isn’t the vitriol from Debra but the respect, and even love, shown by her other commenters. That’s especially true when it comes to those who came over from Twitter to support her even though they’d never read any of her books.

Like most of us here, there are authors I’d love to read new material from more often than I get to. There are series I wish they’d go back to or, you know, finish. But I also understand not only the creative process but publishing. You can’t rush the creative end of it, not if you want to get a quality product. I’d rather an author take years between a book to give me the best book possible than to rush it out and not be personally invested in the book. I can almost always tell when a book has been phoned in.

From the business standpoint, I don’t want one author trying to pull strings with their publisher to get their books published before originally scheduled. Why? Because doing so means they are pushing another author out of a slot already given to them. I’ve seen it happen before. Usually, when it does, the book being pushed isn’t nearly as good as the author thinks and the book being pushed back is damaged sales-wise because pre-orders were canceled and promo was dropped.

So, Debra, grow up. Learn to read the cover. If it is book one of a trilogy and you want to read all the books at one time, sit on your impatience and wait for the last book to be published. In the meantime, go out and read something else. Who knows, you might find another author you love as much as Ms. Roberts. Just don’t expect them to be as patient as she was if you start your bitching and moaning over there.

Ms. Roberts, thank you. Thank you for writing books your readers enjoy. thank you for dealing with folks like Debra and doing so with grace and style. Most of all, thank you for taking the time to explain the process so your fans and everyone who came over to see the thread understand what goes into the traditional publishing route.

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29 thoughts on “What Did I Just Read?

  1. The sheer, unmitigated stupidity of a supposed fan of Nora Roberts complaining about her publishing schedule is amazing. The woman is a writing fiend. I only read one of her series (In Death) and that’s at least 2 books a year.

    But she is also gracious enough that she will not tell an entitled reader where to stuff it, although the temptation to link to the ILOH’s bog on that topic is almost overwhelming. I follow one of her fan pages on the Book of Faces, and it can be a shit show when someone shows up who “knows the characters” better than the author.

    1. I know, right? I rarely read anything more than her In Death series. But, after reading that particular thread, I’m tempted to buy that book just to support her. As for her fan page, I can just imagine. I remember what it used to be like on an old pre-FB fan page I followed.

    2. I don’t even (knowingly) read the lady, and even I know how famous she is for churning out massive amounts of what her many, many fans want!

    3. Fans.

      I’ve heard of a writer who gave up a series because the books were pirated, and soon as that happened, the sales STOPPED. And so the fans barraged him with hate mail.

  2. I haven’t read the thread, so my thoughts are probably not all that similar to Debra’s, but I do admit to a similar feeling. The issue isn’t, “OMG! I’m so impatient, I can’t wait two or three years for the next book.” It’s more, “Well, that was a good beginning, but is there an ending? Or am I going to be left hanging forever?” I’m sure everyone can guess the author that I’m thinking of primarily here, but there’s also the many authors that support that view: he’s got your money for the first book, so he doesn’t owe it to you to put out a second one and resolve the story.

    Given that, it seems that a lot of readers would take the solution Amanda offers: if a book is part of a saga, ignore it until you know that the saga is complete. The problem is that if enough readers take that solution, the saga definitely WON’T get completed–certainly not in Trad, but even in Indie to a certain extent, writers aren’t going to keep working on something no one is buying. It seems Debra’s suggestion might be the only way to save the multi book epic: the publisher assures the readers that yes, the full story exists in written form, it’s in the pipeline, and it will be coming out…sometime. Maybe not within a year, but not over the course of three decades either.

    1. Most readers seem to do what I do–wait impatiently for the next book, but read others in between. There simply isn’t any way to speed the creative process and publishers have been burned, often badly, by scheduling books they don’t have in hand. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. That’s especially true when an author writes multiple series and possibly even under multiple pen names. Each set of fans want their next fix NOW.

      1. I think you’re missing my point: I’m not worried about getting my fix NOW, I’m worried about getting my fix ever. If I could talk to my future self and hear, “It’s a great series, but you’re going to have to wait 3 years after Book 2 to get Book 3,” then I’m…well, not “fine” precisely, because I do want my books ASAP, but I’ll take that bargain. However, if my future self says, “I was really into Book 2, but it didn’t actually resolve any of its plot threads, and ten years later, Book 3 still hasn’t come out,” then I’ll regret having started. “Read other stuff in between” doesn’t really help with that.

        1. ACtually, I’m not. But you are missing a very important step in the traditional publishing process. Publishers don’t necessarily buy all books in a proposed trilogy or series. They will buy the first and option the others. If sales aren’t where the publisher thinks they should be, they will cancel the series. (This applies even if they have “bought” the entire trilogy.) Depending on how the contract is written, that may mean the author can continue the trilogy/series on their own or not. Publishers also go out of business, close down the “houses” or lines under their umbrella or sell to another house. Unless there is money in hand, why would an author write all three books at once and submit them to a publisher? Why take the time away from work they are getting paid for to do so?

          In this case, the author has another ongoing series that publishes two books a year. She is contracted for a free-standing book each year as well. that gives her time to do one other series or free standing book a year–in accordance with her own writing schedule and her publisher’s schedule. What book(s) is she supposed to not write in order to write the entire trilogy before the first book is published? And what book or books should the publisher move further back in the schedule in order to allow for the three books to be published in fairly short order?

          1. Very true about publishers not buying the rest of the series if the first (or second!) book doesn’t sell well enough. Robert Don Hughes wrote the first two books of the ‘Wizard and Dragon’ trilogy. Book two came out in 1992. He’s still alive. I’m still waiting. I guess the books didn’t sell well enough.

            But if the series doesn’t sell when the writer has published other books that did, why should a publisher pour money into the ground?

            1. Doyle and McDonnald. Got the first book in the prequel trilogy out and then . . . Nothing from that publisher. Grrrrr.

    2. I’m one of those readers who wants the whole thing before I start. (Been burned too often. And before e-books, if you missed the release of the next book before “returns” were sent back by the book store to be pulped you were just SOL.)

      But the point that if you don’t buy the first book when it comes out planning to wait for the whole thing to be done the second book won’t be written, that’s a very valid point. Those first-book sales determine if the rest get purchased at all, and probably if they even get written.

    3. I wonder if feedback from early books can have an impact (good or bad) on later books – might not feedback from readers be useful at times?

      Also, I would think there’s a difference between a goat gagger that’s split into 3 volumes (so it’s really one book, like TLOTR) and a three books that are related (part of a larger story arc), but can be read separately.

  3. > publishers are still holding onto the fiction that bookstores are where most people buy books.

    The last bookstore in my town closed several years ago. Same for the next town to the north. There are still a couple in the next town to the south, one “new books” store that seems to specialize in old warehouse inventory (“Mastering Windows 95!”) and a used book store that is 90% romances.

    Any business model that involves “bookstore” needs to be examined carefully. I would guess about half the population is now further from a book store than they choose to drive.

    1. Exactly. It wasn’t that long ago when I could count 10 or more chain bookstores within half an hour or so of my house. Now? I think there is one B&N. Correction, two. But the second one is not easy to get to and at both parking sucks big time. There might be another one or two in the 30-45 minute drive time, assuming there’s no traffic which, in this area, happens once in a blue moon. So I’m not going to just jump into my car to go browse a bookstore that probably won’t have anything I’m interested in anyway. There are a few indie bookstores in Dallas I visit when I’m in the area but, again, it’s not something I do on a whim.

      Why trads haven’t figured out they need to drag themselves out of the old marketing plan, I don’t know. But they are doing no one any favors by sticking to the old model.

  4. > read the cover. If it is book one of a trilogy

    Not all of them are marked as such. In my experience, all-too-often not marked. I read something that’s moderately interesting, though usually a bit slow, and when it doesn’t seem to be working toward a conclusion by the latter quarter of the book, feel a twinge of suspicion. And then I get to the end, and major plot lines or conflicts are unresolved, and I’m irritated. Bad writing? Bad editing? “Art?” Sometimes I’ll see a “VOLUME TWO OF….!” on a cover later, and the blurb on the back shows it’s related to the first book. A sequel? An unrelated book, but sharing the same characters, so marketed as part of a series?

    Sometimes the cover or back blurb have certain keywords – “epic” is a common one – that strongly suggest that the book may be part of a series. In which case, I’ll probably put it back on the shelf. I’m not really interested in waiting years before I get to the end of a story.

    Back in the bad old days, when there was a very limited local selection on paper, I might have bought it anyway if looked interesting and there was nothing else of note on the shelf. But this is 2020, and I’m not diving for pearls any more. It’s more like trying to take a sip from the firehose; I’m not limited to what’s on the local shelves, and there’s more stuff a few clicks away than I can ever read.

      1. There is a subtle, but critically important, difference between “cliff-hanger” and “plot threads left dangling”. I read a “book 1” with a review complaining about being cliff-hung. Other than some obvious “this will wrap up later” threads, which have to exist or it isn’t really a series, there was only ONE thing that wasn’t wrapped up at the end. In my review, in which I took issue with “cliff-hanger ending”, I predicted that thing would be in the prologue of book 2, because it just wasn’t important enough to roll into the main body of the next book.
        That was long enough ago that I no longer remember the title or the author and I have no idea if book 2 has come out or not. Oddly, I do remember the one thing: A girlfriends dinner with our hero’s grandfather. I’ll stumble on it, eventually, or not.

  5. It may have been said or implied, but an author writing for Trad Publishing may know what books two & three of a series will contain but would not start work on them until he/she knows that the publisher will purchase them which would only happen after the publisher see how book one sells.

    Why should a Working Author start a book if he/she doesn’t know if the publisher will purchase that book?

    The author would be better off working on other books until he/she (& the publisher) sees how Book One sold.

  6. Back when there was only trad pub, I routinely did save trilogies until all three volumes were out, so that I wouldn’t be left dangling. Then one of the authors I liked suckered me by deciding he would need a fourth volume… which I discovered at the end of book 3.

    1. I purchased the “whole trilogy” from you-know-who and started reading them. I’d finished book one when I found out that there were more and that it wasn’t done at five. (I think it’s five.) So book two and three are sitting there unread and at this point I suffer from a *profound* lack of interest.

      The author might not owe me, but I don’t owe him anything either.

      Usually, though, I don’t think it’s the authors so much as the publisher’s choices and decisions. But if I’m not informed of what I’m actually getting I tend to get sort of irritable because I feel like I’ve been suckered.

  7. She just loved the book but how dare the author release it without having the other books in the trilogy written and ready to be released all within a year! Bad author and bad publisher. She wanted the other books NOW! And, because the customer is always right, everything should be changed to fit her demands.

    I’ve said stuff like this– in jest. Because even when I was a teen, I knew there was a LOT more involved, and I can read WAY faster than someone could write, even if it was 100% already in their head and just needed to be put down. (Anybody who has written a high school English paper knows that it’s not that easy, too.)

  8. The other bottleneck for publishers is printing the books. Printers (a separate function from publishing) have schedules and they won’t rearrange their printing schedule and inconvenience everyone else without huge piles of money being tossed their way.

    Print on demand costs more per book but it does avoid this bottleneck. But it costs more per book than ordering 5,000 units at a time, waiting for delivery, and warehousing them ($$) as they’re sold. If they’re not sold, it’s remainder tables or pulping. Another cost to be considered.

  9. It’s seems to me that almost everything published these days is part of a series. I don’t have an issue with that, AS LONG AS (!!!!!) the initial volume DOES wrap up some plot points.
    I might be more aware of this than some, because my reading-for-review suffered such a hiatus, BUT take for example Jerry Boyd’s Bob and Nikki series. “Bob’s Saucer Repair,” the first volume is entirely adequate as one of the books you take with you on an extended vacation, when you won’t be able to get more books for maybe a month or so. Plenty of interesting plot lines resolved; basic premise extends. I just checked, and there are 13 episodes.
    A more radical example is Pam Uphoff’s “Wine of the Gods” series. First book in the series would make a GREAT single read, if you had to do that. And she publishes a new work every Thursday, I think. Up to 11,456 by now, or something.
    I could list a LOT more; the examples are all inside my head, rioting.
    Now, some authors are not the consummate artists that Uphoff and Boyd are; they may not be capable of formulating a story that closes enough windows without beginning the construction of a connected apartment house. (I, too, have the first five books of the unfinished trilogy, written by the elderly gent with superfluous initials; my first-born son gave them to me.) However, for DebraKaren, there is the story of the frog and the scorpion: the frog knew what the scorpion was before taking it for a ride. If she cannot abide cliff-hangers, perhaps she should go elsewhere.

  10. Debra/Karen. Yet another example of “Interneticus Idioti,” the appalling creature who simply won’t shut up no matter what you say. A whole industry should rearrange itself to keep this one person happy? In a pandemic, no less.

    I actually know a person like this in Real Life. No matter the subject, this person has an -expert- opinion. Even if -you- are the expert and they are not, their opinion is far superior. No matter what your opinion is, this person’s will be opposite. If you agree with this person, they will still argue with you and try to be on the opposite side even as you agree. It would be funnier if the person wasn’t unrelentingly serious about all of it. If you say that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, they will argue.

    Never really figured out how to manage it, other than to have no opinion on anything when that person is present. Having no opinion means I have to listen to “Trump is evil!” stories, but since I have no opinion it is much easier. (Generally speaking, the older I get the easier it is to have no opinion around anyone. I still have them, obviously, but the need to share is rapidly shrinking.)

    On the whole I like Larry C’s approach. “Push off!” is a pretty good place to start with the likes of Debra/Karen, and leaves plenty of room for escalation through the various levels of increasing abuse. “Yes, it is nice that you liked the book. No, I’m not going to write faster just to keep you happy, please go bother someone else,” may be too polite to get his/her/it’s attention.

    That’s why when I comment at Larry’s I generally say something like: “PLEASE!!! [sob] TAKE MY MONEY!!!1!”

  11. Too long between books in a series? You kids have it so good these days, most series finish up in just a few years. Look how Larry Niven has treated us geezers.

    So 42, not only the answer to the everything, but to how long to the last book in the Ringworld series!
    Ringworld (1970)
    The Ringworld Engineers (1979)
    The Ringworld Throne (1996)
    Ringworld’s Children (2004)
    Fate of Worlds (2012)

    or at 36 for:
    The Mote in God’s Eye (1974)
    The Gripping Hand / The Moat Around Murcheson’s Eye (1993)
    Outies (By:Jennifer R. Pournelle) (2010)


    Makes C. J. Cherryh’s Foreigner books not so bad at 26 years so far.
    Foreigner (1994)
    (19 skipped)
    Divergence (2020)


    1. I can think of series with even longer gaps.
      Asimov’s “Foundation” series
      “And Now You Don’t” 1949
      Foundation’s Edge 1982
      Gap of 33 years.

      Smith’s “Skylark” series:
      Skylark of Valeron 1934
      Skylark Duquesne 1965
      Gap of 31 years.

      If you wanted to read all the “Tarzan” or “Sherlock Holmes” stories in one go, you had to out live the respective authors. 😦

  12. Well, Debra certainly seems like a pampered, entitled little witch. I’m guessing she’s quite young and doesn’t remember having to wait years for the next book in a series. Heck, I was happy when my favorite bands would put out a live album in the year between their studio albums even though it wasn’t new content. I see her as sitting at home, eating bon-bons and yelling at the servants that they didn’t wipe all the water off the floor within seconds when her suitor walks in from the thunderstorm. Those people are best left to stew in their own juices, completely ignored.

  13. I’ve debated the “wait until they’re all out” strategy. I rarely do it because:
    * It’s demotivational to the author; who is going to write book 2 – let alone book 5 – of a series if no one is buying book 1?
    * It’s often hopeless. These days, it’s hard to know when a series ends. I’d still be waiting to start Wine of the Gods if I were taking this approach.
    * If I like the first book(s) enough to want to read the next book(s), I’m perfectly happy re-reading the beginning when the end (finally) comes out. This does have limits (so move it along, Mr. Thorensen).
    * Indie authors tend to be FAST. My stable of authors (did y’all not know I was providing lodging?) write fast enough that there’s almost always something new to read while waiting for a particular “next book”.
    * Sometimes, I’m the one who gives up. I think Pam holds the record for most books read by a single author. I usually get bored with a series long before it reaches book 11,456.
    I highly doubt that Word Press will bullet-point that, but you get the idea.

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