The Crushing Weight of Expectations
Ihave to confess that I have had a hard time constructing this post. If my thoughts seem muddled and my position incoherent, it is because I am having difficulty articulating this topic myself. I will be anxious to read the comments to see how I can flesh out my feelings on this matter.
Essentially, I am conflicted as to whether I am being hypocritical about this. I don’t think I am. I want the romance community to be robust. I want us to debate and dissect without repercussions. Maybe that is an illusory construct.
As I read more comments by authors both at this blog and in blog posts and comments to other blog posts over the last couple of years, I am amazed at the pressure that authors assume upon themselves from readers. Authors feel pressure to promote their books in a constant fashion whether it be blogging, making book trailers, networking, or even maintaining a website. Authors feel pressure to write more books faster or perhaps to write in a different genre or to write like they did in the past.
I’ve leveled some of these complaints at authors but many times in good fun or excitement. I.e., “good lord, this book was so good I want the next one tomorrow.” But yes, sometimes, I’m more serious with my complaints and observations like “I’m tired of the infantalization of heroines” or “I don’t understand why more authors don’t speak out against plagiarism” (this latter sentiment got me into a lot of hot water).
A couple weeks ago, I blogged about how I hoped that female authors would blog about what they wanted and in the voice that most appealed to them. This was taken by some to be a charge that they must a) blog and b) must do so in a strident way so as to be called a fucktard at least once a month. Okay b) is kind of an exaggeration, but I admit to being surprised by some of the response.
When readers express an opinion, it is just that – a reader’s expression of her thoughts and feelings. While I can’t speak for all readers, everywhere, I can speak for myself. I blog about things that are meaningful to me within the genre that I love. Some of you might find this an unfair statement coming from me, given that I am outspoken about things I find unlikeable within the genre.
It’s true that I want the liberty to say what I want about the genre I love. The more that I write about the genre and the more that I analyze books, the more that I appreciate books that reward readers because the authors are thoughtful and deliberate in their choices. The more that I write about the genre, the better able I am to articulate why I think it’s great and why I’m not ashamed of my love for it.
I feel like it is important for readers to be able to express themselves. I know that this is self serving but my belief is that the romance community has been ill served in the past by not encouraging critical analysis of the genre. But even positive articulations from readers have had negative impacts, or alleged negative impacts. For example, I know that many authors feel the pressure to publish not just one book a year but two books a year. This pressure comes, ostensibly, from readers.
It is true that readers are a greedy, grabby, contradictory group. We want more of what we want and we want it now but we also want the books to be fresh and exciting but still within the same sub genre. I.e., Jia and I read Hunger Games and loved it. Now we want more dystopian books but I can guarantee you that after the 20th or so dystopian book we’ll be calling for something else. We readers fell in love with Navy Seals, Regency historicals, Vhampires and demanded more but then complain when that is what we are given. We want kick ass heroines, but not those leather clad kick ass heroines. We want heroes to be strong and caring but not effete. We want it all and we want it now and some authors seem to believe that they need to deliver on those wants. The truth is that no author will ever be able to please every reader. For every book we’ve ever given a bad grade to, there has been a reader who has loved it from Carol Lynne (she’s a bestseller) to Karen Tabke (she’s writing two series)
I guess my end point is this. If an author is unable to separate herself from the expectations of her readers, then perhaps she needs to disengage. I don’t mean that the author should withdraw from the online romance community but she needs to stop internalizing everything. One thing that other authors, editors, and agents talk about is learning what critique to take to heart and what to throw away. As with anything, opinions from readers must be treated the same way. This allows the free flow exchange of opinions and encourages debate and internal inspection. To thine own self be true is a maxim that still holds water.