I’ve been thinking about Neil Gaiman’s post on this subject for a little while, and prompted by Jim Hines’ discussion of it (and Gaiman’s followup), I thought I’d toss in my two cents, which no one asked for.
I come at this from the reader’s side, and from the pre-published writer’s side and I don’t believe there’s a contract, implied or otherwise, between a writer and reader requiring that a writer finish a particular story. Not unless there’s a contract, implied or otherwise, requiring a reader finish it, too.
And of course there isn’t. That would be ridiculous.
But if no one buys book one, no writer should be obliged to finish book two, on any timeline. If a whole horde of people buy book one (and book 2,3,4 and 5) no writer should be obliged to book 6. Or on any book at all. No writer should be obliged to forgo a family vacation, diverting hobby, trip to the movies, whatever because someone on the internet wants their entertainment.
That’s not to say that writers don’t have contractual obligations to their publishers. Maybe they do, and how that will all be worked out is between those two parties. The only influence readers have in that matter is the money they spend.
That’s also not to say that writers don’t feel personal obligations–to their readers, to their stories, to their art (yes, I used the “a” word), and to the people who depend on the sales of those books for a living. When these come into conflict with the obligations to their families, credit card bills, churches, health, whatever, it’s up to the author to work it out. The reader doesn’t get to chime in with advice.
Some readers feel George R.R. Martin broke a promise to them–hey, I guess he did. He said he was going to finish the book by a certain date, and then blew right by it. Twice. Maybe even three times. I’m sure he’s learned his lesson about making promises to the internet, but I’m not sure how that justifies the nasty comments he gets. If a person promises something–especially something artistic–but can’t deliver, you shrug your shoulders and get on with your life. It’s the grownup thing to do.
Still, even if I accepted, for the sake of argument, that writing a book that ended on a cliffhanger obligated me to write the next installment for the sake of readers who want to know how it all ends–and to write it on a specific deadline–in no way does that justify “Turn off your TV and write that book, dammit!” I’m sorry, but no. Buying someone’s book does not turn a reader into the writer’s asshole supervisor. I once had a job (packing books for Amazon.com temp to hire) where the leads explained that we would all have to “put our personal lives on hold” while we dealt with the Christmas rush. I laughed and later pulled a supervisor aside to explain he shouldn’t start the hiring process for me, because I wasn’t staying.
Because seriously, if I thought a writing career meant this asshole would become my boss rather than a pathetic stalker/troll, I’d quit in the blink of an eye.