The author is not your bitch
The fans are all upset. They’re always going to be upset. Why did he do it like this? And why didn’t he do it like this? They write their own movie, and then, if you don’t do their movie, they get upset about it.
- George Lucas On Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, VanityFair.com “Keys to the Kingdom”
This quote was very much on my mind today as I read reviews and comments on the newest issue of GI Joe: A Real American Hero. You see, a major character was just killed off. Fans have known for months he was going to be killed off because in one of the dumbest marketing moves ever the arc is titled “The Death of Snake Eyes.” (Sorry if that’s a spoiler for anyone, but I assume the overlap in my readership and Real American Hero fans is myself. It’s not exactly a popular comic.) Fans have, of course, been speculating about how he was going to die.
No one got it right. (Personally, I thought how he did die was a lot more fucking awesome than any of the fan theories anyway.)
So, naturally, the author is a horrible, horrible person who should’ve listened to his fans. I mean, that’s just logic, right?
No, actually. It’s not. There’s this nice little quote from Neil Gaiman that floats around fandom that’s applicable here, even if the context was different in his original post, “George R. R. Martin is not your bitch.” (And here is his post set to music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6a1y1pc-GQ, found while trying to make sure I had the quote right.) For Martin, replace any creator.
You see, when you buy a comic or a book or a movie or whatever, you’re not purchasing part of the creator’s soul. You’re just buying a product they made. You have no right to tell them what they have to do next. I have very definite ideas about what I’d do right now if I was the author of Real American Hero, but I’m not; Larry Hama is, so what he wants is what happens. I suppose I could start a fan campaign to convince IDW to tell him to write what I want, but what’s the point in that? That just makes me an entitled bitch. If I don’t like what he writes, that’s what fanfic is for. If I really don’t like it, then I’ll quit reading.
Because, you see, at the end of the day, it’s not all about you. Most creative people who are really good at what they do are creating first for themselves. Yeah, some of them can jump through hoops to write what will sell best and still come out with something good. Most of us can’t though. I could write a teen dystopian sci-fi, I have no doubt. And, yeah, it’d sell more than this unholy combination of a romance, action-adventure, and coming-of-age story that I’m revising right now. But those sales wouldn’t be as long lasting, because the story wouldn’t be as good. It’d sell now, while it’s trendy, and that’s it.
Remember when every fucking book in the YA section was a Harry Potter knockoff? How many of those are still in print? See my point?
Now, I’m not saying you can’t bitch about it when an author takes a work in what you consider the wrong direction. I’m, as I said, less than thrilled with some of Hama’s creative decisions of late. I have voiced these opinions on IDW’s forums. But I was just venting to my fellow fans, not trying to dictate what he should do next to fix it. Also, as I said, I have opinions about what would happen next if I was writing it. Obviously I’d like it if these events happened, but if they don’t, oh well. The author is not obligated to do what I want.
“But what about the author’s contract with the reader?” you ask? What about it? The contract is simple: You exchange money, you get story. You have no more guarantee than that. Quality is not assured. Oh, sure, you can have general expectations that should be met . . . if it says military sci-fi on the spine there should be some military stuff in there, if it says romance there better be a love story, things like that. But even those aren’t the author’s fault if they’re not there, generally. Usually it’s because someone in marketing did something stupid. Or, in the case of indie publishers, the website switched your story to another genre for no fucking reason (I know someone who’s children’s stories were suddenly listed as erotica on Kobo!) So, really, it is a simple as “Pay for product, get product.”
It’s not “Pay for product, get say in next product”, nor “Pay for product, get say in when next product is coming out”, nor “Pay for product, dictate changes to product.” Nope, it’s “pay for product, get product”, same as with everything else. If you buy a dish at a restaurant, you don’t get to tell the chef what else to cook. If you buy a computer, you don’t get to tell the manufacturer what features to put in the next model. Why do people treat books and the like differently?