The Way of the Word

26. February 2011

Mutually Assured Entitlement

In his blog post of May 12, 2009, Neil Gaiman writes about entitlement issues. In case you’re wondering, I talk about this now because it has only now been brought to my attention. I don’t usually read Neil Gaiman’s blog.

In this one, he talks about how creators do what they want because the readers are not the creators’s employers and therefore have no right to expect anything but what the creators deign to give them. Which includes a completed story.

I’m sure that Neil is very happy with the Red Riding Hood movie novelization. You might have heard of it: the one that is published without an ending; the ending will be revealed online after the movie has been released. You still get to pay full price for the novelization, though.

I’m also not going to linger on the irony of that blog post: on the one hand, Neil condemns reader entitlement, while complaining about how American Airlines doesn’t provide the kind of power outlet to which he feels entitled.

Frankly, I can understand both sides in this ongoing debate. I can understand that for a creator, life sometimes gets in the way of doing your job: creating stories. It has happened to me too. Frak it, it’s happening to me right now. The only difference is that I’m not in the middle of a major saga of which half the books have already been published. You know, like A Song of Fire And Ice.  So yes, I can understand the side of the creators, who don’t want to feel bossed around by their readers.

The problem with that is that the creators fail to see what they do as work, as a job. They see themselves as artists. I mean, imagine if you, the regular joe, showed up at work with that attitude. How long would you keep your job?

On the other hand, the readers aren’t entitled to tell the creators what the creators should be doing. Yet I am a reader too, and as such I do believe that if I invest my time and money into a story, the creator of said story owes me an ending. If I as a creator don’t want to spend several years working of multi-volume sagas, then perhaps I shouldn’t launch multi-volume sagas.

In short, I think that while readers should exercise more patience while waiting for the next chapter of the multi-volume epic they invest themselves in, the creators should remember that it without those readers, they would have to go to a day job every morning, where the “I do what I want when I feel like it” attitude would only get them a pink slip.

Until then, I suggest that the readers apply the same solution to the problem that I do: if something is billed as “Book X of Y,” leave it on the shelf until the creator has actually finished the series. That way, the creators can indulge themselves and only work on their multi-volume epic when they feel like it, and the readers don’t need to worry that the multi-volume epic they enjoy will never be completed, because it’s already complete.


  1. The problem with your solution to multi-volume epics is that there won’t be any, since the first part wouldn’t sell at all.

    Comment by Anders Gabrielsson — 26. February 2011 @ 10:21

  2. I honestly don’t see that as a problem.

    Comment by jensaltmann — 26. February 2011 @ 10:29

  3. But then your real problem is that there are multi-volume epics and your solution should be that nobody should write them or publish them. You’re not solving the problem for those who do like them.

    Comment by Anders Gabrielsson — 26. February 2011 @ 11:20

  4. And there are those of us who enjoy such tales.

    Would seeing the existence of such an audience as also being part of the problem preclude addressing it to our satisfaction?

    Comment by Dwight Williams — 26. February 2011 @ 15:23

  5. What’s funny is that both the readers and the writers are relatively lucky if late novels are the worst “sins” being committed by the writers, because that indicates that the readers still trust the writers’ storytelling skills and actually want to read what they write. In many other media, I see that trust as having become virtually nonexistent, which is why those audiences and storytellers are far more abusive in their expressions of mutual entitlement. Still, this is a good piece.

    Comment by K-Box — 26. February 2011 @ 20:55

  6. If you look at what I wrote, you’ll see that I’m not saying that nobody should write multi-volume epics. I’m just applying the comics solution to the problem of late miniseries to prose: don’t publish until you have it in the can. That way, the reader can be reassured that yes, the story will be concluded. And the creators only have themselves to blame if their work isn’t brought before the public.

    Comment by jensaltmann — 27. February 2011 @ 00:46

  7. I’ve actually been thinking about it this afternoon, while I was out. (Further proof that I’m weird, that this is the kind of stuff I ponder in my free time.) I’ve come to the conclusion that both sides are wrong. It’s not an entitlement issue. Instead, the relationship between audience and creators can be considered almost symbiotic in nature: neither can exist without the other. However, in this relationship, the true power lies with the audience. If a creator decides to stop creating, the audience will simply turn their attention elsewhere. While if people stop paying attention to a creator, that creator’s career is finished. In which case the creator needs to get a day job, and I’d love to see the reactions of their boss if they bring their “I’ll do this if and when I please” attitude to “Do you want fries with that.”

    Comment by jensaltmann — 27. February 2011 @ 00:50

  8. You should really read that Neil Gaiman blog post to which I link. It reads to me as if his attitude is that the audience should be grateful if the creators decide to favor them with their product. I really think that creators in all media need a reminder where the true power in this relationship lies.

    Comment by jensaltmann — 27. February 2011 @ 00:53

  9. That post was more of a reaction to your reply that you didn’t see a problem if there were no multi-volume epics which made it seem like their existence was the main issue. If that’s not the case, I’m more in agreement.

    Comment by Anders Gabrielsson — 27. February 2011 @ 07:58

  10. Whether or not multi-volume epics exist makes no difference to me at all. If they are well-written and completed, I enjoy them too. If they went away, there is so much other good stuff out there that I probably wouldn’t even notice.

    No, the only issue is that a multi-volume epic is a commitment on the creator’s side. The creators may think they don’t have to finish it, but if they don’t, they shouldn’t start them. One of Heinlein’s rules of writing applies here: “Finish what you start.”

    Comment by jensaltmann — 27. February 2011 @ 12:14

  11. It’s interesting to see this point of view. I can’t say fore sure if I agree or not, but it is something I will think about now.

    Comment by Minecraft — 8. March 2011 @ 20:59

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