Recently on my Facebook fan page ( Monster Hunter International: Hunters Unite. It’s a 7,500+ person gun club with a book problem, or book club with a gun problem… I don’t know. Either way it is usually Cookie Monster memes and people shouting Hoon!) somebody posted an article about how author Pat Rothfuss is tired of being bugged by fans about when his next book is going to be out, and he got rude about it.
For those of you who don’t know, Rothfuss wrote his first book over a decade ago, and it blew up into a super huge mega hit. It was supposed to be book one of a trilogy. Then like five years later he published the sequel. And I think it is six years later now and people are still waiting for his third book. Both of his books are still selling extremely well, but a lot of fans are really pissed at Rothfuss for being so slow. There wound up being a great big discussion on my fan page about it.
I stayed out of the debate at first because I’ve got no dog in that fight. I’ve not read his books. I don’t know the guy. Personally, as a prolific professional who has averaged two books a year for the last nine years, I find six years to get a single book out to be silly, but that’s just my opinion. As fans were annoyed and bitching, I found myself nodding along, like okay, I can see your point.
But then some of his fans started talking about how Rothfuss OWED them a book. Or how he had a MORAL OBLIGATION to write for them. Or how it was an UNWRITTEN CONTRACT to finish what was started.
Oh, hell no.
At that point I had to jump in. It got pretty ugly, and it got really long. It went on for a few days and several hundred posts. After a while I shut it down because I got really sick of hearing entitled fans trying to rephrase their arguments to find a politer way to say that they own me.
(and I’m a workaholic writer who likes to fight, imagine how much this topic annoys the slow sensitive types, but I’ll get to that later)
For this post I’m going to condense down my arguments and try to show authors how that attitude about unwritten moral obligations is the kiss of death, and to pushy fans how they really aren’t helping, and I’m going to try and explain all of this through the glorious power of Capitalism. (because Capitalism makes you ripped).
The Free Market Is Your Friend
Why am I talking about capitalism? Everybody knows that writing is all about the art, and muses, and shit.
Nope. First and foremost, writing is a job. Writing is just a job like any other job. It’s your career. Newbie writers and artsy fartsy writers, get that through your heads as fast as you can and you will be far better off for it.
We produce an entertainment product. That’s all we do. A lot of artistes get offended whenever I say that, but it’s true. If you want to just produce art for art’s sake, nobody is stopping you. Go have fun. But also, nobody owes you a living just because you are doing something that makes you happy.
So as writers, we produce a product which we hope to sell to customers. We then take that product to market. Whether it is through traditional publishing, or indy, doesn’t matter. The product competes with other products in the market for the customer’s entertainment dollars.
The consumers look at the available products and purchase whatever they want. If they like your product, and you continue to offer new product, then hopefully they will continue to purchase those too. You get paid. They get entertained. Everybody is happy.
However, when the customer buys that product, they are only buying it, not a lease or deposit on any future products. Their $8 is purchasing this one mass market paperback. Hopefully they will get more than $8 worth of entertainment out of it, and they will wish to purchase more products from you when they are available.
This is where the basic misunderstanding comes in. The customer bought this one product. The customer did not buy the author.
Now, as a professional writer, it behooves you to continue producing new products for these satisfied customers to purchase. This enables us writers to do stuff like live in houses, and buy food, which is awesome.
Sometimes writers fail to produce new products in a timely manner. Or they turn out an inferior product that causes the customer to lose faith in their quality. These things make customers more likely to take their entertainment dollars elsewhere. That’s fine. They are free to do so. It is a free market.
If a customer decides that they will not purchase a product until the series of products is finished, that is fine. The customer does not owe the author anything. He might miss out on some enjoyment in the meantime, but that is his call.
The wonderful thing about the free market is that people are free to do whatever they want. Outside of written contracts willingly entered into by both parties, nobody owes anybody anything. Customers are free to purchase, or not purchase, products for whatever reason they come up with. Producers are free to make, or not make, any product for whatever reason they come up with.
Isn’t freedom great?
That’s how it is supposed to work. We create if we want, you buy it if you want, or don’t. Your call.
This wonderful system suffers when people act like entitled assholes. And note, that goes for fans and authors both. Basically, nobody likes an entitled asshole.
To the fans, authors don’t owe you shit. You don’t own them. You purchased one of their products in exchange for some money. That purchase does not give you the right to tell them what to do after this transaction, or how to do it. Now, this may hurt your feelings because you feel invested, but those are your feelings based upon stipulations you have created for yourself.
To the authors, the fans don’t owe you shit. Deal with it. If you want to act like a stuck up artiste and be all haughty and snooty, while not reliably providing them product, don’t be surprised when you finally do get off your lazy ass and discover that many of them have abandoned you. Now this may hurt your feelings because you feel invested, but those are your feelings based upon stipulations you have created for yourself.
The problem with “unwritten contracts” is that they are imaginary bullshit. A real contract represents a deal willingly entered into by the parties. If you just make up an obligation, and impose it on somebody else against their will, that’s slavery. We fought a big war about that.
I had one guy say that if you start a series, you have an “unwritten contract” with the fans to finish it. I asked him, since writing is a business and how we make our living, what if that series is an unpopular sales dud, and nobody is buying it? If I write another one of those, I’m wasting time that could have been better spent writing something more popular. I lose my house. My kids can’t afford shoes.
His response? Oh, well, that would be okay… But wait… What gives him the right to give that a pass? What if some other fan really really loves that series, even if it is a flop? Isn’t his “unwritten contract” just as important as yours?
In reality since both contracts are just made up impositions, they are worth jack shit. That’s why real contracts are written and willingly signed by the agreeing parties.
Since we are talking about publishing, the only written contracts are the ones between the publisher and the author. A dismal failure on the author’s part to hit contractual deadlines is between those two parties who have skin in the game. That’s the publisher’s problem to deal with, not yours.
The problem with invoking a “moral obligation” is that is also bullshit. That’s basically just you trying to shame somebody else into conforming to whatever you want. That’s basically no different than the bossy social justice types making up new rules about how to write books, and then demanding that authors conform or else.
All that said, it behooves an author to be a professional and to reliably produce. When an author works hard, constantly improves, and tries to turn in the best product possible, the fans usually reward them by buying their stuff. Ironically, that’s how most jobs work. You produce, you get paid, if not, pack your shit and get out.
People with normal jobs don’t work because of unwritten contracts and moral obligations. They work because you pay them to. And if they don’t work, you quit paying them. It’s pretty simple. But for some reason people feel the need to make this artistic crap all complicated.
To the Fans
I love my fans. I interact with my fans a whole lot more than just about any other author I know. I’ve been to forty something states and four foreign countries to meet thousands of you in person. You guys are awesome.
That said—and I say this with love—a small percentage of you can really be entitled dicks. Most fans are cool, but one asshole overpowers a hundred normal ones. If you want to know why most authors don’t interact with their fans, it’s because that pushy, entitled, demanding attitude gets tiring real fast. It is literally wearying.
And I know that as soon as I say that, some of you will be all, ooooh, poor baby, first world problems. Yeah, whatever, motherfucker, I come from a cow punching, back breaking manual labor, knee deep in shit, arm deep in blood, background, and I do not choose the word wearying lightly.
All that stuff I wrote above about you guys not owning authors? I’ve got rhino hide for skin and I love a good fight. I’ll tell somebody when I think they are full of crap. Most authors aren’t like that. Most authors tend to be sensitive and squishy.
When you start bludgeoning them over the head about their unwritten moral obligations, you mess them up. I’ve seen it happen many times. I’ve had them commiserate with me and tell me how bad they feel, and how much it sucks that they feel like a miserable failure who has let down their fans. You think the sensitive guy crying in his beer about what a miserable failure he is, will now write faster?
All those memes and jokes about writers having crippling self-doubt exist for a reason.
And yet, some of you guys really can’t get it through your thick heads that you ain’t helping!
Most writers don’t start a series with the intent to fail. Most of us intend to tell the best story possible.
Sure, there are some authors who are just flakes or assholes. I think GRRM is super rich and doesn’t give a crap anymore. I think David Gerrold is just a piece of human garbage, with his constant begging for donations to buy “writing time” for a series with delays measured in decades. That’s just fraud mooching for rent money. I don’t know Rothfuss, but six years a book, personally I would be embarrassed. But I don’t know what he’s got going on, or how he works. He still makes a ton of money off of just two books, so apparently lots of people really enjoy them.
But most authors aren’t flakes or assholes, they’re just trying to tell the best story they can, and sometimes life kicks them in the balls.
Most of the time you fans don’t know the whole story. You don’t know what we’ve got going on. I took a week off for the death of my father this summer. A week. I’m a workaholic who never really stops working, and I allowed myself a week before I got twitchy. And even then I had some fucker get all bitchy with me about how I should be writing. I said earlier I’ve got thick skin, but if I could have reached through the computer screen right then, somebody would’ve died.
So if you think I sound angry today, you should have seen me that day. Because fuck that guy.
That shit don’t help. Let me give you some more examples.
I’ve got a lot of crossover fans with Jim Butcher. I love Jim. He’s a good writer and a good dude. He’s also not some book a decade leisurely writer, but instead he’s reliably and consistently produced a bunch of really high quality books for about twenty years now. He’s got one super popular series, but he also likes to switch it up and write in different universes, so it hasn’t even been that long since his last book came out, it was just that it wasn’t from his most popular series. For the first time in his career he’s had a delay, but he’s had a bunch of recent changes and upheavals in his life. Jim’s a super busy dude who loves his fans, yet I see him constantly getting harassed to an absurd degree.
The other day another author friend of mine, who I won’t name because this is some personal stuff, was speaking about how he’d gone through a really low point, struggling with depression, even thinking of suicide, but discovering Jim’s writing really cheered him up. Jim’s books helped him get through a very dark time in his life and inspired him to become a writer. So now this author has his own career, life is good, and he was telling Jim thanks from the bottom of his heart.
And what immediately shows up in the comments? Entitled fucking assholes barking, “When’s the next Dresden Files! You should be working! IT’S BEEN SO LONG!”
The dude is thanking Jim for helping him struggle through depression, and you can’t even have the common decency to shut up for a minute? What is wrong with you?
I know people mean well. I know people think they are helping. I know that you think it is a compliment. Maybe the first couple hundred times, but then after that it becomes a continual droning whine.
If a writer still bothers to post on social media to interact with their fans, and they post about them doing anything, literally anything other than writing, somebody inevitably is going to jump in and say “YOU SHOULD BE WRITING!” Luckily for me, I’ve mocked this one so much that most of my fans know how dumb it is, and it’s turned into a running joke. Sadly, most authors don’t have as honest a relationship with their fans as I do, so they still put up with that nonsense.
Why is that so annoying? You meant it as a compliment! Oh, I know, because the first hundred people I had to explain this to, many of them told me that as they became exceedingly butt hurt. And I’m talking super butt hurt, like what do you mean I can’t just come in here and demand things from you? So mean. Such outrage! Because you have actual human feelings I’m not going to buy your books anymore.
Super helpful! But anyways, imagine that every time you posted anything on the internet about you doing anything other than your job, a bunch of well-meaning types showed up to tell you that you should be at work. Golf! You should be doctoring! A concert! You should be driving your bus! What are you doing commenting on a TV show you watched? You should be ejaculating hogs (I don’t know what the hell it is you people do!).
That would be super annoying, wouldn’t it? And you can pretend it wouldn’t be, and that you would take it as a compliment, but I promise you that’s a lie, because after the tenth person did that to you, you’d be annoyed too. Now multiply that by a thousand.
The really sad part you helpful entitled types don’t get is that other stuff non-writing stuff is a vital part of the creative process. Since most of what authors do is in their heads, they never really stop working. So when I’m shooting guns, or painting minis, that is the activity that I do to uncork my brain, so that I can go put in another day of creating imaginary stuff tomorrow.
Authors either have a life outside of writing, or they burn out. Or, alternatively, they just check out and don’t interact with their fans anymore. Because even though there are a hundred cool fans for every entitled whiny douche, the entitled whiny douche is the one that sticks out.
So try not to be a douche.
To My Fellow Authors
Get your shit together.
Seriously, act like a professional. In any other job in the world, if you wasted all your time fucking around and didn’t get any work done, you’d get fired. Writer’s Block is a filthy lie. I couldn’t have Accountant’s Block. Oh, woe is me, I can’t make these spreadsheets because I’m just not feeling it today—FIRED.
But if you’re honestly working, and you’re doing the best you can with what you’ve got, you don’t have to take shit off of entitled douches.
I know some of you have a really hard time being direct. I know many of you have quit interacting with your fans entirely because that lone douche in the wilderness screwed you up.
I remember a couple years ago when I ran into a really successful author, dude was on top of the world, just got home from a successful book tour, latest book was a huge hit… and he was bummed. I’m talking super depressed. Why? Because Lone Douche in the Wilderness had just ripped him apart on Facebook, and that negativity was enough to screw up all his previous happiness.
Do not give douchebags power over you. Don’t ever let people impose their arbitrary and capricious rules onto you.
Whether it is somebody being “helpful” in a stupid, obnoxious way, or it is just a bully trying to boss you around, don’t let them grind you down. It’s the same with the negative reviews, or when you cross some invisible line and get an internet lynch mob after you. Screw those guys. Some people mean well, and some people are just jerks who delight in screwing you up. If you can’t handle them, bail out. There’s no “unwritten moral obligation” for you to put up with their shit.
Remember, most of them mean well. Usually, you can get those to stop once they get it through their heads that they’re messing you up.
Now I’ve got a great relationship with my fans. Many of them have gone above and beyond to do nice things for me, and I’ve gone above and beyond to do nice things for them. We’ve raised small fortunes for charity. We’ve accomplished really awesome things. They’ve supported me in a bunch of stuff, and I’ve supported many of them when possible. We’ve got a community.
But all of that stuff is voluntary, based on friendship and free agency. The minute I declare they owe me something, or one of them declares that I owe them something, down that road lies madness and fuckery.
Nobody owns you. They can’t tell you what to do. Being in demand is a good problem to have. Remember, be a pro and turn out the best product that you can, as fast as you can make it good. Some people will like it. Others will hate it. You’ll never make everybody happy.
And since most fans are really cool, they’ll be pretty understanding when stuff goes sideways in your life and you can’t give them their fix. But if you’re an entitled douche to them, they’ll remember that forever.
So try not to be a douche.
This isn’t an all or nothing, one side is right, the other is wrong thing. Like relative douchiness, it’s on a spectrum. So this is what this discussion looks like to me.
FAN: I am disappointed that author X has not finished his next book yet.
CORREIA: Yeah, buddy. I feel your pain.
FAN: I feel betrayed and will not buy any more of his X’s books!
CORREIA: I’m sorry you feel that way, but that’s your choice.
FAN: He owes me!
CORREIA: Whoa. Hang on now.
FAN: X has broken our unwritten moral contract that I have imposed on him!
CORREIA: Fuck that. Where’d I put my shotgun?
Or, let’s flip this around:
AUTHOR: I am behind schedule. Life is hard.
CORREIA: Yeah, buddy. I feel your pain.
AUTHOR: They will wait because my art must be brilliant perfection!
CORREIA: Now you are just full of crap.
AUTHOR: Let the peasants eat cake!
CORREIA: What? I wasn’t listening, I was too busy churning out another pulp action novel about a time travelling manatee and his insurance agent.
See what I mean? Spectrum of douchiness. At the beginning, everybody is cool, by the end, I want to bust out my baby seal club. So in conclusion, it’s okay to be impatient, but it is not okay to be an entitled douche. Be cool. And when authors are cool, they get paid. And when fans are cool, they get to hang out with their favorite authors. Everybody wins.