|James Sutter Managing Editor|
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How does James feel about books which deliberately mess with reader expectations? Or those that are crafted with incomplete conclusions?
Some people think that Pathfinder Tales *owes* them third-person, past-tense writing. Are they correct?
To speak to the latter: I'm not saying that *all* fan entitlement is valid. If you expect a happy ending, or past tense, or whatever, and an author chooses to do something different, that's totally fine by me. The point is not that everyone gets exactly the book they want or expect, only that if your selling point is "check out this awesome story arc!" rather than "check out this great standalone book!", it's reasonable for fans to expect you to provide what you sold them on, rather than simply a portion of it.
For instance, if we went crazy and decided to stop publishing Iron Gods at the third volume, a lot of people would be justifiably upset. The whole idea of an AP as we've promoted it is that it has a six-volume arc. Could it be continued beyond there? Sure, and we encourage people to do so, but we're always careful to wrap up the main arc in the volumes we publish. Even though each volume is a great adventure on its own, our advertising focuses on the larger story, and thus we have an obligation (in my mind) to provide it.
Now, that doesn't mean anybody should go to jail, or that GRRM owes people refunds if he doesn't finish, or whatever. This isn't about legislation. The discussion of social contract is really just about recognizing *why* fans might feel a certain way, and admitting that there's validity to it, rather than just waving it all aside and claiming those readers (who are the exact people who supported you as an author) are somehow immature, which is what I feel some authors do.
What should we as authors lose if we violate those expectations? Nothing but our good name with readers. But in this business, until you're as big as GRRM, your good name is all you have...
Thanks for the awesome discussion, everyone!
(P.S: Books that mess with reader expectations or have incomplete-feeling conclusions are just fine. I like the "looking off into the distance" endings, and it's fine if we never see what happens after our hobbit protagonist sails off with the elves. If GRRM wants to publish a one-page book that says "And then everyone dies when the Klingons attach King's Landing," that would be fulfilling the social contract, albeit maybe not in *quite* as good faith as it could be. It would also make him a pretty crappy artist, but that's its own issue.)