A quote from James Nicoll's LJ post What readers are not owed by writers* caught my eye the other day, so naturally I had to hunt it down and wade through the accompanying comments to see what the verdict was. Looks like the jury is still out.
Readers sometimes relay what they believe that I owe them via the letters and e-mails they send. Some are interesting, some are funny, some are flat-out hostile, but all of them make the same basic demand: "[Book title] made me very unhappy. You owe me. I want you to write this: [reader demand.] That will make me happy."
I'm not a Shahrazade, but if I did write to settle up with just a fraction of these folks, Duncan Reever would have died a horrible death in Beyond Varallan or Endurance, Jadaira would have had the baby in Afterburn, Caine would have ended up with Terri in Heat of the Moment, no one would ever suffer or die in my novels, Cherijo would be a compassionate, sweet-tempered, lovable character, I'd only write Christian fiction, I'd quit writing and make room for the more superior writers whose rightful shelf space I'm polluting with my schlock, Liam and Brooke from the White Tiger trilogy would have their own novel, all of my protagonists would ride off together on Without a Care the Wonderhorse into the Sunset of Supreme Happiness, John Keller from the Darkyn novels would not exist, I'd only write nice books, everything I wrote after Eternity Row would have been a clone of the first five StarDoc novels, etc.
It's strange stuff. And I still can't get over the one about Caine and Terri. They're first cousins. Euw.
I don't know what, if anything, writers actually "owe" readers. I always feel a responsibility to do my best work for the reader; that goes without saying. No one can write something that makes everyone happy. As to what ends up in print, I generally only sell what has (in the publisher's opinion) the greatest chance of selling well, or what has already sold well in the past.
What happened with StarDoc is a good example of when what the readers want does make a difference. Upon the publication of book five, the publisher announced that the series was over (quite a surprise for me.) I was told to write something else, and because I like paying the bills, I did. No publicity or promo was done by the publisher for StarDoc after that; StarDoc was finished. Over. Done with. Move along, lady.
Only it wasn't. The entire series kept selling for three years after the publisher decided to end it, and never went out of print. Now, I may have helped the cause a little with the freebie StarDoc novellas and short stories I wrote during the long gap between book five and six, but that was all I did. The readers and their word-of-mouth advertising are what kept the books selling. Eventually the publisher asked me to write new books for the series, and Cherijo was back in business. That's the real power that readers as a group have over any writer's work.
I'm curious to hear what other writers and readers think. Do you believe the writer owes the reader anything? If so, what, and why?
*Rifled from Jaquandor's Sentential Links #81