As a rule I don’t dis other writers, but I will say that nothing breaks my heart more as a reader than when a writer sells out.
I’m not talking about the fame or the fortune – I don’t think it’s selling out to want those things. I’m referring to when a writer with a long list of wonderfully written, meticulously plotted books puts something out that, well… stinks.
One of my favorite novelists of all time (who shall remain nameless) put a book out last year I couldn’t wait to buy. After all, I’d read all nine of his books so far, and they’re sitting on my shelves, well-worn and dog-eared. All nine are crazy good. His books are consistently character rich, with plots that bubble along merrily, and tight writing that disappears because the stories just take over.
Exactly the kind of book I hope to write.
So I rushed to the store to buy book number ten. Though I was halfway through another book, I put that one aside to dig into the shiny new book by Mr. Favorite Author. I even got ready for bed a full two hours early so I could read, uninterrupted and alone, under the covers while my husband watched TV downstairs.
Suffice to say, it was the biggest let down ever. It was like reuniting with a secret lover – a hot, virile man you haven’t seen in a year but with whom you have the best memories of the steamiest sex – only to find out he’s gained fifty pounds and his “parts” no longer work.
The book was awful.
I knew this from the first chapter, sensed it as I read through the stilted dialogue and clichéd phrases. Yet I plodded ahead anyway, figuring it would improve. I mean, it’s him. Of course it’ll get better. He’s never let me down before.
But as I lay there in bed, gritting my teeth at the long info dumps and the predictable twists and turns, turning the pages faster and faster in the hopes I’d get through it quicker (and who hasn’t been there before, ladies?), I had to face facts.
It wasn’t working. The book was terrible, as if he’d submitted a first draft because he was up against a looming deadline and it was impossible to give the book the extra two revisions it needed. As if the publisher had said, “Don’t worry about it, Mr. Author Whose Recognizable Name Will Sell A Few Hundred Thousand Copies Even If The Book Is Shit, just give us what you have. We have to get it out there. Don’t worry, we’ll give it a quick polish. It’s good enough.”
But it wasn’t good enough. Not nearly.
And I gotta wonder, did Mr. Favorite Author know that? Did he know his last book sucked? And if so, what was he thinking?
As a writer, I’d be heartbroken. Never would I want to see something with my name on it that wasn’t the best it could absolutely be. Maybe I’m a perfectionist, maybe I’m anal, and maybe I’m unrealistic, but I can’t imagine working on future books any less hard than I did on the first two.
And as a reader, I’m just plain sad. I’ll still buy his next book – because hey, everyone’s had a bad experience in bed before, it doesn’t mean the relationship’s over – but if the next one’s not up to par, then I think we’re done. I can’t afford to buy crappy books. Nobody can these days.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, and I want my money back.