Author Forgiveness

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a bit now with some recent unsuccessful stories of authors I really like. This thinking led me to ponder a few questions. To start with, when a solid author produces something that you, as a reader, just don’t like at all, what does it take to scratch that author off your list? Furthermore, are reviewers kinder on authors they like who happen to flop?

Do reviewers softball bad books by favorite authors?

 Take for example KA Mitchell. I recently read and reviewed her new book Chasing Smoke and I found it distinctly lacking. After I had written my review, I checked out others and found a lot of reviews mentioned the poor mystery aspect. Others found the relationship more palatable than I did, but overall there was a general consensus that the book had significant problems. However, the reviews were a lot kinder and gentler than I expected considering the qualms presented.

Now, not to belabor that book in particular but it got me thinking that KA Mitchell was getting off rather light for an unsuccessful book. I certainly don’t want her lashed to a cross and whipped but similar books by less popular authors have been trashed for the same mistakes. In some ways I understand it as KA Mitchell is considered an auto buy for many readers, me included. But in others, less popular and established authors aren’t given the same forgiveness.

It led me to thinking that when an author has a strong stable of work behind them, it’s easier for readers, and reviewers it seems, to forgive one bad step. When it’s a newer, less well known author, that forgiveness is slow in coming. There is no basis for knowing if that bad book was a fluke or more representative of their body of work. No one wants to spend their money on bad books so unknowns create more caution.

So, how popular does an author have to be to benefit from this forgiveness? What goes into it? Do reviewers “soften” reviews for good authors when they try something new and it doesn’t work?


Readers’ forgiveness is legendary

For readers, I wonder what it takes to strike someone off your auto-buy list. It’s not one failed book for sure. Smart Bitches did a great post a while back about breaking up with series and how many readers tended to cling loyally to series and authors long after their expiration dates. Many commentators even said they didn’t enjoy the books but kept buying anyway as they just had to know how the story progressed.

I certainly can relate to that as I hung on to the Anita Blake series until Harlequin. I was so horrified at that book I couldn’t and wouldn’t continue, but I clung WAY longer than I should have and really even wanted to. I kept *hoping* it would get better. [Ok, I read 2 Merry Gentry books. I’m deeply ashamed of this btw and yes, I know they’re trash.]

So this establishes that if an author is successful it takes much more for them to drop off the favored pedestal. I don’t disagree with this but it makes me wonder how much work the author has to do for that status and how precarious that status may be. It could be a case of reading a bad book by an author you know or chancing on an unknown author.

So I’m rabidly curious and hope others chime in with answers.

Are readers more likely to hang onto a series or an author?
If an author disappoints you, what does it take to break up with them?
Does the author have to insult your beliefs or personal hot buttons?
Or does multiple failed books do it for you – 3 strikes, you’re out type mentality?

I’m not sure where my personal line is drawn but for the amount of effort it takes to write, edit, and publish a book then wait for the reader reception, I’m willing to buy most authors again. How about you?  

14 thoughts on “Author Forgiveness

  1. dunno that any author would suggest I’ve ever taken it easy on them. pulling punches isn’t something I make a habit of doing.
    sucky books…all authors has them. would take several in a row before I’d be done for a while. Jet Mykles is teetering on the brink with me, but I’d still check out the first in the next boy band series because I liked Heaven Sent so much.

    • Ahh Jet. I don’t want to read her new menage but I *do* hear there is a new boy band series coming out. I hope it’s better than the recent books such as Sursein Judgement. But it’s interesting you mention her. Most people LOVE LOVE LOVE Heaven Sent *so* much they will never give up on her.

  2. Regarding first question:
    I don’t review books, except in my head, so this is just me, but… if an author whom I consistently like writes a book that I don’t care for (poorly characterized, plot holes all over, illogical ending), I’m more likely to be forgiving and find something good or at least not bad about it. Because I’ve liked that author’s other work and therefore expect the one book I didn’t care for to be a fluke.
    If it’s a new-to-me author, I might be less forgiving because I haven’t read any of their other books, so that’s my introduction to that particular writer. I’d probably try something else of theirs, though, just to be sure, then decide whether they’re someone I want to read again.
    In case of a brand new author, I feel similarly as about the new-to-me author, though I’d likely wait a year or two, just to give them a chance to grow in the craft.
    That said, I don’t think it’s “softening” a review to say what did and didn’t work and express surprise because so-and-so’s books are usually better developed with more fully realized characters, etc. It’s just a statement of fact. In that sense, established (to me) authors do have an advantage over new-to-me and new authors.
    Second question:
    I stop buying someone’s books when they consistently disappoint me. Like… a $27 hardcover that spans a period of three days, during which nothing happens other than a big bunch of sex, a shower, and maybe a phone call (yeah… no more Anita Blake or Merry Gentry for me).
    In fact, if the writer does it enough, I lose interest in even a new series or book by them.
    I tend to be big on reading series’, so once an author consistently disappoints me, I’m done.
    That said, how much it takes to get me to that point varies from writer to writer.
    *shrugs* Just my two cents, which is about what it’s worth. LOL

    • You make some great points. I think the softening comes in when people say “well this didnt work but it’s by a great author so you should get it anyway!” or softening in the sense of giving a higher “star” rating (which I hate anyway) to compensate.
      UGH! The hardcover is horrible. JenMcJ mentioned in email how she gave up on the Black Dagger Brotherhood series and the fact they went to hardcover sealed that she wouldn’t be going back. I think that’s so true and have no plans personally to buy the series again.
      And yea, it varies author to author of course. It would have to. I only speak in generalizations of course : D

  3. This is very interesting for me, both as a reader who’s given up on some authors, but have discovered gems from others because I thought I’d give them ‘another try’. And also as a writer who’s written things of – let’s be honest – different levels of maturity and skill over the years.
    I know I gave up on reading a series recently because it really was tosh, and getting more so. I think series are prone to that because they run out of steam but no one seems to want to let them go. But that was probably 2 or so books after I should have done.
    I’ve hated something from an author new-to-me and never tried again. That’s usually if I hear people saying the book was their typical style, and yet it didn’t work for me. Life’s too short – and so is my available leisure time – not to love what I’m reading.
    If they’re a new author entirely, I will try again after a bleah book if the new blurb captures my imagination. But this is why I love to read the excerpts. If the style doesn’t work for me, I won’t buy, not even for a theme I like, or a guilty pleasure. But it’s useful to see if an author has improved or not between books.
    I think I may be more tolerant than some people!
    I will say that being a published author has changed my attitude towards appraisal of books. That’s probably a whole different discussion *lol* but I’m far more aware now of what goes into a book, and what an author has or hasn’t put into it.
    Good topic!
    Have a great weekend ^_^.

    • You bring up an excellent point about Excerpts. I should read more! I actually rarely read excerpts or blurbs really. I skim the blurb briefly for highlights that stick out. What is the genre, the names of the characters, the gist of the situation and make snap decisions. You’d think with as “picky” a reader I am, I’d be more careful but nah! Often when I complain about a book a friend will say ” but their excerpt was crap too”. And I’m left saying hmmm. My bad.
      I do try to be understanding about the effort because it’s huge. So like I said, a book doesn’t have to work for me to keep trying the author. Sometimes I dont mind getting a bad book so I can appreciate the real gems that come along.
      Hope you’re having a good weekend 🙂

  4. Great topic Kassa!
    I don’t give up on an author after just one book. Even a new author (or new to me) deserves another chance. So if the blurb of their next book sounds appealing I’ll probably give it another go. However, if they disappoint me a number of times I will stop buying their books. I also stopped reading the Anita Blake and Merry Gentry books.
    As for series, I always loved reading them but I agree that sometimes an author will continue past what I think should be the expiration date of their series.
    As for reviewers, I’m fairly new at this and I have a hard time writing a negative review, which is why I’ve been putting off writing up Chasing Smoke myself. I’ll probably end up a bit kinder and gentler than your review too 🙂

    • You know for all the people I know that -stopped- reading the Anita Blake series, it must still be the steamroller engine due to the way it still gets promoted. I mean Merry Gentry is like orgy porn!
      Ahh! I’m curious what causes people to be “gentler”. I never intend to be harsh or mean, just honest and I guess blunt. :/ I keep trying to soften those sharp edges hehe.
      Thanks for the input! I loved hearing your thoughts..

  5. Great post, Kassa. Really thought provoking.
    I have to admit that I’m a bit of a soft reviewer anyway. I’ll always find something good to say about even the worst books. I’m actually really glad I’d decided before I read it that I wasn’t going to review the KA Mitchell book (I fancied reading a book ‘just because’ and not have to read it with a potential review in mind) as I was disappointed and it would have been a hard review to write. I think my review wouldn’t have been a strongly worded as yours – which was a great review btw – but would have expressed my disappointment in the book. Mind you, I’m being theoretical here because I didn’t review it.
    I have written bad reviews for authors who showed great potential in a first novel and then the second failed to deliver, but I won’t drop an author for that. I’ll give them at least another chance and then if the next one is a dud too I’ll won’t bother again. This might seem harsh, but I only have so much money/time and I want to spend it reading well written books that I enjoy.
    I’m rather ashamed of the fact that I dismissed ZAM after not really liking Crossing Borders. It wasn’t until Kris persuaded me to give her another go that I realised what an idiot I’d been in dismissing her so easily and I’m still now trying to catch up on her backlist. I won’t make that mistake again!
    As for series books, well I do like reading them but I’m quite happy to drop them if the quality starts to drop markedly. But like most people, that will probably be at least 1-2 books after I should have stopped.

    • Hi Jen, feel free to stop by anytime. I love your comments.
      I don’t intend to say being a soft reviewer is bad because I don’t think my “style” is necessarily correct. It’s simply mine. You may think yours are softer but they’re in depth, complete and give a full accounting. I can be harsh when I’m disappointed and though it reads neutral to me, it may not to others so definitely something to work on.
      This might seem harsh, but I only have so much money/time and I want to spend it reading well written books that I enjoy.
      I think it comes down to this comment. Most people feel this way and there are only so many tries you can give an author before you move on. It varies each time no doubt and sometimes you discover great ones like ZAM. I can’t wait to read her two new books. Both in my TBR near the top.
      Breaking up with series is hard. I think I finally broke up with JD Robb’s series this last book. And that’s what… 20-something?! *gah*

  6. What happens, possibly, with much-lauded authors is that readers lose objectivity about them. I don’t think this lack of critical reading is intentional, I think it’s more a matter of consumers being blinded by the hype that’s been splashed around. (It happens with all kinds of other goods and services, too.) Some authors are simply presumed to produce consistently excellent material, even if they in fact don’t. Therefore, their output is approached differently — and that usually means without clarity of vision.
    I’ve never had an auto-buy list. On the other hand, I’ve never had an auto-avoidance list, either. Writers who are fundamentally good at their craft are going to produce works of varying quality and/or levels of appeal. We’re human beings, after all, not robots. A certain degree of unevenness is built into any creative endeavor. I always take that into account.

    • You always remind me of another viewpoint and this is no different.
      Writers who are fundamentally good at their craft are going to produce works of varying quality and/or levels of appeal. We’re human beings, after all, not robots. A certain degree of unevenness is built into any creative endeavor. I always take that into account.
      This is really true and I think it shows the body of a great author to show that variety and trying something new even if it doesn’t work rather than producing a formulaic set of books. Perhaps that’s my opinion but I have a lot of respect for authors who try something new and perhaps scary.
      Oh and hype… huge! You say we’re not robots but sometimes… well I think we have a borg mentality : D

  7. Hello Kassa and thank you for posting on this issue because it is something that has been occupying quite a bit of my thinking time these days. I consider myself a reader first and foremost and then a reviewer, the latter of which I have come to only recently.
    In terms of established versus newer authors, I tend to read newer authors with a more “open” mind owing to the fact that they are likely just starting out and may not have the body of experience (both technical and other) that say more established authors do. So with newer authors I generally look for things such as, overall writing style and prose, rhythm and flow first and then plot and character and development and dialogue. Having said this, I do look at the latter but will not necessarily nail them on it with a first book/story if found lacking. When I do review I will point it out as something that did not work for me and always try to give reasons, but at the same time I will point out what did work with reasons as well. I strive for a level of balance and fairness, which is not always easy to do. Luckily I have yet to experience reading an absolutely horrendous book by a first time author.
    With more established authors, my expectations are admittedly higher, but even with an established author I leave room for an “off day” meaning that it is only natural that in a larger body of work there are bound to be some not so good reads and again try to apply a balanced approach when reviewing. However, if an established author writes consistently poor work then I will consider dropping them or be more selective in what I read by them.
    When do I let go of an author? I’ve had to recently make this decision and it was not easy to do. This author started out writing an absolutely stellar series (books 1 through 4) that had the paranormal romance world a buzz, amassing a huge and passionate reader base (I counted myself among this group) in a very short time. But book #5 in the series was disjointed and signaled alarm bells for many readers (including myself) and book #6 continued this downhill turn. Book #7 in the series was recently released and I did not buy it. It was given to me as a present and is still sitting in a book pile in a corner of the room collecting dust – I have absolutely no compulsion to read the book. I will most likely be dropping this series and likely the author. It WAS difficult for me to make this decision, not because of the continuing hype for the series and author, but rather because as a reader I was personally invested in the the story, characters and world that this author had created and it was very disappointing to let it go.
    Thus far I have only reviewed books that I have personally chosen and that were written by either established authors that I like or newer authors that were recommended to me by other readers who know my tastes. As a result, my reviews have been for the most part quite positive. But in the very near future I will be reviewing books where I will not always have the luxury of picking and choosing and so will have the opportunity to put my money where my mouth is in terms of attempting to write “balanced” reviews pointing out both good and bad, and where necessary – unfortunately having to give some negative reviews. We’ll see how I fare…..
    Kassa, I have a question for you: Has there ever been an occasion when you’ve outright refused to review a book because it was so horrendously bad?
    Thanks again for posting on this issue and inviting the opportunity to comment.

  8. Another great post, Kassa.
    I’m have similar views to others who have commented. If the author is someone who I’ve read and enjoyed in the past, I’m willing to try more of their books despite having been disappointed by some of their latest works for various reasons and to varying degrees. It might take 3 or 4 reads before I give up on them entirely.
    When it comes to new-to-me authors I’m definitely more forgiving and prepared to be convinced by future work if I thought their first effort was a not-bad read. If the second proves similar though, then they’ve lost me.
    As K Z said, authors are only human the quality may change for some reason. More than that they themselves may want to explore new themes etc and give the readers something different to what they have come to expect and love, thus inadvertently causing an outcry. I’ve seen that happen on the interwebz too and I always find it so frustrating.

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