What Do You Do When Fans Hate Your New Direction?
No, I didn’t receive hate mail. Not everything’s about me, despite the evidence. I’m not sure Stories of the Wyrd has established its current direction, let alone gotten a new one.
I’ve never read Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. From what I understand, it’s been going for about two decades now with a huge number of titles. It’s extremely popular and has been going strong since—I don’t know—its start I guess.
But back around 2006, apparently things took a turn for the worst.
When it started, it fell more under the category of paranormal thriller, a detective novel featuring murder and Blake’s attempts to understand the supernatural. People loved the characters and the underlying tone of romance. It was fairly popular.
Then Hamilton wrote the book Narcissus in Chains. The protagonist received a powerful boost to her supernatural talents called the ardeur. While it grants her great abilities, it requires her to have sex daily, sometimes even several times a day.
People had been complaining of the ease in which characters fall for Blake on a constant basis. It started to feel, according to them, that the author had fallen too deep in love with her protagonist and was flopping men her way left and right. Now with the ardeur, the books became more erotica than thrillers and it pissed off a great deal of fans.
Whenever anyone brings up the series now, it seems to be to discuss this change in direction. The people who want to talk about the books tend to be those who want to bitch.
However, the sales of the series—even though about ten years have passed since the decision—have not waned, or at least much, and there are many fans on Goodreads and in Hamilton’s presence that compliment the story line with great love.
One day the author gets onto a forum discussing her books, which she claims never to have done, and finds people bitching heavily about the change since Narcissus. Obviously hurt, she goes to her blog and posts “Dear Negative Reader,” a letter to those who hate the series new direction, telling them that she is sorry, but they shouldn’t waste their time reading something they don’t like. There are plenty of books in the sea.
This, not surprisingly, served to piss readers off even more.
However, despite the adamant hatred of the new plotline some people have, it doesn’t seem to have damaged the books’ ability to be published, sold, and enjoyed. In fact, many people joked that they weren’t at all interested in the series until after it changed towards a more erotic world.
Hamilton was clearly in a controversial situation and, I feel, any wrong move at that juncture could have destroyed her career.
Refusing to acknowledge a choice wasn’t successful for fans can lead to them abandoning ship. Like Hamilton says in her letter, the fact that these readers had more fodder to bitch about from the books after Narcissus suggested that they were still reading, and she reminds us her sales haven’t dropped. What would have happened, however, if it did cause her readers to stop reading? Would she have felt differently if, upon first receiving Narcissus, everyone refused to buy a new book? Would she have gone back to the way it was?
It also begs the question of writing for the writer versus for the readers. We know that books that just cater to readers tend to be, well, terrible. But it is still, in many ways about them. When I read about this conflict, I began to wonder what I would have done if in Hamilton’s shoes, especially if it proved to lose me fans. Is doing just what people want a good choice? Is being stubborn and headstrong any better? Obviously, like everything, so what is that balance?
I decided a few things then and there.
1. Writing is for the me, publishing is for the readers.
While I get reward from having written, and I write to enjoy myself, I produce work because I want people the feel the same way that I did when I was touched by a piece of literature. I don’t write just for me, I write to get published, and I published to make people feel, to think, to care.
Also, because it would be nice to get some sort of financial support.
The way I see it, if I want you to be affected by it and if I’m going to ask for your money, I have to take my reader’s desires into consideration. Their criticisms are important to determine how to make something that will influence them in the way desired. I don’t believe in writing off their concerns just because I want to do things my way. However…
2. I don’t believe in sacrificing fans for my enemies.
When it comes to bad reviews, books that have taken their naysayers too seriously tend to destroy the series. Clockwork Angel attempted to legitimize the love interest’s sarcasm, arrogance, and anti-social behavior through a plot point, explaining he wasn’t really that way, he just had to act that way. On speculation, I believed that the idea was put in because of the criticism in the author’s more famous books, The Mortal Instruments, in which the love interest—also sarcastic and narcissistic—was accused of being a jerk and a misogynist. Well, I loved Angel because of Will, and when I was told the things I loved about him wasn’t really who he was, a little part of my love died. From the reviews of the later books, I believe that this plot point didn’t make anyone who didn’t already love Will like him any better, and those who did like him were just sort of disappointed by the new information.
But what do you do if your enemies are your fans? What do you do if a choice you made polarizes your fans into two groups?
You might have to choose one or the other, or maybe you might try to compromise. Trying to make both parties happy will force you to challenge yourself and be your most creative. On the other hand…
3. Pandering to readers never works.
I believe that fiction is preferable to daydreams because of the concreteness of the world. Unlike flights of fancy, we can’t change the world to suit us. We are more able to experience intense, negative, and undesirable emotions, which allows our pleasure to be greater. Hamilton has a point in saying books should make you a little uncomfortable, because if we just wanted to be in a safe place, we’d stay in our minds.
If readers realize that loud criticism can affect the books, it makes that world a little less real. You can’t just make changes to make readers happy. They want those absolute rules to push against. Taking their criticism, I believe, should be done subtly and in secret. If applied correctly, all they should know is that they’re enjoying the story more.
Also, sometimes readers don’t know what they want. Like the child who asks for a cookie before dinner, the writer often has to deny her audience what they ask for a more fulfilled and maybe even satisfying payoff later. The things we hate most about our stories is often what makes us love it. I realized after watching the principle get eaten alive by possessed students on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a moment that upset me to physical illness, that because things like that could happen, and because things like that did happen, when things ended well, when things were happy and calm, it was so much better.
4. You shouldn’t write ideas you’re tired of.
Even if you want to write for the readers, writing something hackneyed, something you have no ideas for, something you’re just not interested in doesn’t benefit anyone.
She had been doing the series for many years by that point, probably over ten books in it. Her trying to only write what people liked about the prior books, especially when she wanted to be writing something else, it would directly affect what came out. It’s a part of artistic integrity to not just do what you know works.
5. You’ll get nowhere if you don’t take risks.
There’s a place for tried and true method of writing, but that is mostly for the author to determine if he wants to be there. He’ll never be taken seriously if he follows all the rules, writes the standard perfect plot structure, features a white, male protagonist, and never pushes the envelope, but there are those who would like to read him.
Taking a chance is the only thing that will make writing pop. And you know people will reject it at first. Sometimes you have to stand your ground and keep at it until people stop balking at change. Sometimes you were wrong, and it’s hard to tell the difference.
Let’s face it, the different direction may have lost her fans, and many people feel her writing is less “serious” and more pulp fictiony now, but I think it’s up to her to determine what she cares about. While I believe, from what I’ve heard, Hamilton has fallen in love with her characters, given her protagonist a silver spoon, and cares more about the people in her story than the story itself, I think she made the right decision in going in a direction she was interested in and then standing her ground. She had a hard decision to make, and while her fans are pissed, I think there is something to be respected for it.