Please Don’t Leave Me*

returning-to-authorsAbout a week ago, I did a post on what happens when an author disappoints readers. That can happen for any number of reasons. For one thing, authors aren’t perfect. For another, there’s the matter of personal taste. An author may write a book that just isn’t to a reader’s taste, and that may disappoint. There are other things, too, that can leave a reader unhappy about a book.

At the time of that post, I asked you to let me know what you do when that happens. Do you come back to the author? Do you return if you’re a fan of that author’s work? If the disappointment wasn’t too serious? Or do you choose not to return to authors who’ve disappointed you?
 

Here’s what you had to say, and many thanks for responding.

 

returningtoauthors

 

As you can see, you’re a forgiving group of readers. Of the 22 of you who responded, 20 (91%) are willing to return to an author who’s disappointed you. Eight (36%) of you are usually open to returning in just about any case. Twelve (55%) will do so if you’re a fan of the author, and/or if the disappointment isn’t too upsetting. Two (9%) don’t return to authors who’ve disappointed you.

Why this willingness to return when an author’s let you down? After all, there’s only so much time available for reading. And there are many, many more good books available than anyone can read in a lifetime. Based on the comments you offered, and on what I’ve heard elsewhere, here are my thoughts (with which, of course, feel free to disagree)

One reason may be that you’ve seen that a given author is capable of writing excellent books. This gives you at least some confidence that a disappointing book is just one book, not a pattern. So you’re willing to return, because you’re fairly certain the payoff will be worth it. Of course, your patience probably has its limits (that’s a topic for another blog post, I think). But in general, you believe in authors whose work you really admire.

Of course, that explanation only accounts for those cases where you’re let down by an author whose work you love. What else might be going on? A few of you mentioned an extra willingness to try an author again if the disappointment came from a debut novel. Many authors need a novel or two to find their voices. Even Agatha Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was rejected numerous times before she finally found a publisher. And lots of Christie experts think her best novels came later. So you might be more willing to give a debut author another chance, with the hope that the second novel will be better.

There are personal factors involved, too. As one of you mentioned, you might have read that disappointing book at a time that just wasn’t right for it. Or when you were in the wrong mood for it. There’s the ‘personal taste’ factor, too. A book might tackle a subject that doesn’t interest you. And yet, you liked the writing style, characters, or something else about it. So, when the author has a new release (on a different topic), you’re willing to try it.

A few of you choose not to return to authors who’ve disappointed you, and that’s understandable. After all, no-one has the time to read everything. And we’ve all experienced the frustration of spending our time on a book that lets us down. Why set yourself up for that? In the main, though, you’re willing to try an author again, especially if it’s an author whose work you love, and/or the disappointment wasn’t too severe.

In looking at this and reflecting on the question, I wonder whether there’s a difference between writers and people in other professions when it comes to trying an author more than once. Are writers more willing to forgive (because writers understand as few people can how difficult it is to write a book)? Or, are they harsher critics (because they see ways in which the book could have been improved that non-writers may not)? What do you folks think about that? If you’re a writer, does that fact make you more forgiving?  Less forgiving? Or doesn’t your writing impact your willingness to give an author another chance?

Thanks again for your help with this question!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Norman Whitfield and Edward Holland, Jr.’s Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.

31 Comments

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31 responses to “Please Don’t Leave Me*

  1. Hemingway wrote some great books. However, when I read TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, I thought it stunk. The “Cuban” accents sounded (to my ear) more like Italian. The story dragged by (again, my opinion), and overall I would give it a (generous) 2 out of 5 rating. In this case, the movie with Bogey and Bacall far outshined the book; however, the movie’s plot shared very little with Hemingway’s book.

    If someone today were to change the title, names, etc., and submit this to an agent or publisher, I’d give big odds it would never see the light of day. Again, this is my opinion. I wonder if others who have read the book would differ?
    –Michael

    • Interesting, Michael, how you were so put off by To Have and Have Not, and not by Hemingway’s other work. I’d guess a lot of people have had that sort of experience, where an author who’s written some excellent books leaves them cold with one or another book. The question, then, of course, is what one does. Does one give the author another chance or not? Or does it depend?

    • mudpuddle

      i agree re Hemingway. i read a lot of him when i was young, and before i recognized, finally, that he was more of a bully than i was comfortable with. so, in line with my experience, some authors fit into a reader’s life at a given time, but don’t satisfy in others…

      • Oh, I know just what you mean, Mudpuddle. I feel the same way about Ray Bradbury. He was a gifted writer, but as a person? Not so much – at all. That certainly changed my view.

  2. Hmm… I can’t speak for writers, of course, but my travels round the blogosphere have led me to think that authors tend to be very generous about each other’s work, at least about the work of fellow authors writing contemporaneously. However, some of the big name authors who review professionally in the press can be brutal in their assessment of other authors’ books, leading me to wonder if there’s a touch of professional rivalry behind it. Of course, this is only the public reaction – I’d be intrigued to know if the private reaction of authors differed from the general reading public.

    • That is an interesting question, FictionFan! I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of support from other authors. I think that, for a lot of us, it’s a sense of ‘we’re all in this together.’ And after all, it’s not a zero-sum game at the end of it all. It is really intriguing to think of the difference between what authors think about other authors, and what the public thinks. Hmm…..I have to think about that! Thanks for the ‘food for thought.’

  3. Pingback: Please Don’t Leave Me* | picardykatt's Blog

  4. Margot, there’s a thin line between the 55% and 36%, but those are good numbers for readers willing to reread authors who disappointed them. Everyone has a bad day and so do authors. I mean, no one can be consistently good. For instance, I love Wodehouse and even though his humour is stereotyped I still enjoy reading, and even rereading, his books.

    • Exactly, Prashant. No author can be perfect all of the time, just as no human can be. I think that’s a big part of the reason that most people are willing to give an author another try.

  5. I think other writers are genuinely more forgiving because they know just how hard it is to achieve a certain effect, characterisation or plot twist. But perhaps there is also a (sometimes subconscious) desire to be nice so that they others can be nice back when your own book comes out? I do worry sometimes about the veracity of those blurbs and reviews, as so many nowadays say they simply won’t review the books they don’t like. (But they don’t say anything about the whether they review the books they think are OK-ish but not terribly good).

    • Now, that’s an interesting point, Marina Sofia! Perhaps there is pressure, however subtle and subconscious, to consider those factors when one’s reviewing a book by a fellow author. You make an interesting point, too, about the number of people who don’t review books that they don’t like (or say much about books they thought were only OK). I can understand they don’t want to be seen as unkind, but it is nice to have really candid reviews.

  6. Interesting facts, Margot. It makes me wonder if we are that forgiving of authors we love to read are we that forgiving of other professions we have to deal with such as a florist, baker, grocery store, etc. I won’t include doctors, dentists or the sort as bad days in those professions could be seriously lethal.

    • Oh, that’s interesting, Mason! I wonder how we are about those other professions, too! Hmmm…..speaking strictly for myself, it depends. If I go to a dry cleaner and they ruin/lose an item of mine, I won’t go back, even if they compensate me. That’s actually happened to me, and going back would have felt like throwing good money after bad, as the saying goes. On the other hand, there is something different about reading a book. Hmm…I’ll have to think about that – thanks.

  7. Col

    Interesting, my own response hovered between the two higher scoring answers. I’m far less forgiving if its a new-to-me author.

    • Interesting, Col. The fact is, there are only so many hours in a day. People don’t have enough time to read really find books as it is, let alone books that disappoint them. So I see why you have high standards for new-to-you authors.

  8. Interesting results, Margot. Readers, at least here, seem more generous than I thought.

  9. Good article on a topic I haven’t thought much about. I try to stay away from those topics my mother told me to avoid (religion, money, politics). Those are usually at the root of why I leave authors. It would be interesting to poll the why’s of the issue.

    • It would, indeed, Jacqui. And I think ‘those’ topics can certainly put readers off, and make them decide against reading a particular author again if they’re offended by them. Thanks for the kind words.

  10. kathyd

    If it’s an author I really like and I read one book that seems a bit off, I give the author another chance. But if a series is going downhill, I stop reading it. I have given new to me authors a second chance and glad I did in some cases, not others.
    And some authors I’ve dropped if the quality of writing worsens or if the books become hackneyed or if I see bigotry is rife, then I move on.
    Even with the crazed Sicilian detective, Salvo Montalbano, is off in a few too violent books, or his middle-aged crisis leads him to go off the rails, I’ll always be a loyal Camilleri reader. The next book redeems him.
    There are certain writers whom I’ll always come back to even if one book is disappointing or not as rich as the others.
    I remember readers yelling about Fred Vargas’ book with Romanian vampires, but it still had a lot of good writing and philosophy in it. And then the next one, The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, was brilliant, one of the best mysteries ever.
    But there are writers I’ve forsaken for various reasons whom I won’t read again. Also, another factor is that our reading tastes vary and expand as I read. I expect more of books now that I’ve read so much more global crime fiction. So, I can’t read mundane books that I could have read years ago.
    There has to be a lot more substance or very good character development or an intricate plot.

    • I think most of us have authors to whom we’re intensely loyal like that, Kathy. Unless an author does something egregious, we stay faithful. And I know what you mean about a series going downhill a little more slowly. We might give an author a few chances, but after a point, we know it’s time to say ‘goodbye.’ I’ve had that happen, too. As you say, tastes and experiences change, too. So an author whose work we love doesn’t seem so appealing after a while. Or the reverse happens.

  11. vickidelany

    Very interesting, Margot. As a writer I move between sub-genres and write in a wide range of styles. When my first cozy came out I got some mail from people who were very disappointed in the book because they hate cozies. Not everything suits everyone. I hope readers can decide based on the cover image, mood and tone of the blurb, if it’s going to be to their tastes.

    • Thanks, Vicki, for your insights. You’re absolutely right that, no matter what one does as an author, there’s not really a way to please everyone. As you say, hopefully the cover, blurb and so on give readers enough information about the book or series that they can decide if it’s for them.

  12. kathy d

    Once I started expanding my reading into global crime fiction and reading blogs about mysteries, my expectations rose for good writing and character development. The song, “How can you keep them down on the farm after you’ve seen Paree?” comes to mind.
    This is true for reading, too. (I won’t name names.)

  13. Keishon

    Interesting results, Margot.
    My take as a reader is…if I’ve already been reading you, I’m more likely to forgive a book that doesn’t meet my expectations. It could be for a host of reasons personal or otherwise. No one is perfect so I don’t expect writers to crank out hit after hit after hit even though some authors crank out more hits than misses for me (Michael Connelly).

    Examples ahead. Asa Larsson. I didn’t love her last book and thought it disappointing but I’m willing to read her again because she’s terrific at characterizations. Jo Nesbo wrote a stinker or two as well but his body of work overall entertains me. Tana French on the other hand, has disappointed me twice in a row so I’m not buying her newest one until I read some reviews. I guess for authors we love, we’re more forgiving. If you’re new well, first impressions are critical. C.J. Box disappointed me the one time and I’ve never tried him again even tho his work looks to be well received.

    Like you said Margot, we can be more forgiving if we know what the author is capable of. I’ve kept reading while keeping hope alive many times, lol.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Keishon.. And I really think you have a strong point. If we do know an author’s work, we’re a lot more willing to give her or him another chance (and I agree with you about Connelly!). But there’s a limit, even for authors whose work we admire (two/three/four in a row is too many). In those cases, I’d case people would eventually say ‘goodbye’ to just about any author after enough misses or enough egregious upsets.

  14. This is a fascinating subject, and I love your research. The comments above really add to the discussion too.

    • Oh, they always do, Moira! I learn more from you folks than you could ever learn from me. And I found the results of what everyone said to be really interesting.

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