Posted by: kimberlysullivan | May 19, 2017

Does an author owe something to her readers?

hand writingAs a reader, there are many types of books I don’t like. If a book isn’t well written, it’s an easy write-off for me. If it’s not a genre I enjoy – most action/spy novels or science fiction fall under this category for me – I’m not expecting much either, even if they are well written.

But there are books I think could have been good, but which I nevertheless loathed, and often I wonder if these authors (in my mind, at least) broke a pact with their readers.

I’ve already written about poorly researched books. I can forgive  a few flaws and mistakes in setting or location – it happens to the best authors. However, a book riddled with errors – such as the one I read supposedly set in Rome – makes me feel the author hasn’t done her job and is letting down her readers.

A historical novel I recently read had much promise in the first chapters, but I hated it and considered it a chose slogging through it. This is a shame, since I am predisposed to enjoy historical novels, and the author clearly put much work into it. Nevertheless, in thinking about it, I realize there were several points that made it difficult for me to enjoy this book:

  • Every piece of historical research gathered by the author was crammed into this book. I get it, I really do. I adore history. I majored in it undergrad, and I’m endlessly fascinated when I learn some fascinating new historic trivia. But an author must learn what to include and what to leave out. This book had lots of random facts and tidbits that had absolutely nothing to do with the story, but I had the sense the author had learned it and so she needed to throw it in somehow. This can be a fine line. If it happens once or twice, as a reader I may overlook it, but in this novel it never stopped.
  • Characters in historical fiction who seem suspiciously like 21st century counterparts. This is always tough for me in historical novels. An author probably wants to hook modern readers, and even to show that many universal themes and emotions are similar across centuries. Up to there, great. But when it’s off, it’s off. The protagonists were simply annoying, pushing ideas and stances that might be widespread today, but would not have been when the story was set over 150 years ago. An author can still show that characters are more progressive on issues than those around him or her, but I think you do have to reflect the time period in which you are setting you story to know what would have been revolutionary thinking, and what is downright absurd. If you are writing historical fiction, I believe an author does have to make an effort to understand the thinking of the time, and reflect that in her work.
  • ‘Forcing’ the reader to buy the sequel. I disliked this book, all excruciating 750 pages of it. I kept hoping it would get better, but it didn’t. Perhaps foolishly, I am loath to give up on books. There was one thread of a mystery that actually kept me reading til the end until *poof!* The book ended, mystery unresolved. I only learned at the end that it seems the author is writing a series. However, even if it is a series, surely an author must follow an unwritten rule that a reader has invested time in your book and the major conflict must be resolved within the novel. Other threads can be left open and carried into other novels, but don’t make your reader slog through all those pages just to fade away with nothing resolved.

What about you, readers? Have you read novels that disappointed because you felt the author broke a ‘pact’ with his or her readers?

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Responses

  1. Too much cramming of facts is something one does come across. I have just finished an historical book. Very good but too heavy on actual history. I got lost in places..

    • Yes, I’ve had that, too. Even if I think my threshhold for historical trivia might even be a bit high. But when it’s too much, it’s too much. Except Irish history, of course! : )

      • Ah well….that’s a given 😉

  2. It has rarely happened to me, probably because I tend to read books from authors I already know through previous books. But with some French crime fiction books I’ve occasionnally be disappointed, left hungry for more.
    In fact, it has happened more often with movies than books.

    • Interesting point about reading books by authors you know avoid this disappointment, Evelyne. It’s true, I face this more with the random books I pick up from the shelves because they look good. Authors I love rarely disappoint…


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