High Expectations

discussion

This is my first discussion of the year, woop! I’m participating in the Discussion Challenge this year so you can expect more of these on the blog. I like writing discussions and am always looking for new topics, so there’s anything you want me to talk about here, let me know in the comments and I’ll give it a go (if I haven’t already in past discussions, that is).

Today I’m going to talk about high expectations – namely the feeling that our favourite authors should always improve. By this I mean the feeling that if you love an author’s work, you’re probably looking forward to reading the next book they’re going to publish, and you expect it to be better than the last one. I know I do this all the time.

a-gathering-of-shadowsLet me give you an example. The first time I met Victoria Schwab’s books was when I read The Near Witch, which was great. I then continued to read The Archived, which was completely different but also great. And then I got my hands on Vicious and I truly fell in love. It was everything I wanted in a book, it was dark and fast-paced and fabulous. So I was pretty anxious to read A Darker Shade of Magic, but Victoria delivered another amazing book. So far, everything looks great. But now she has two books coming out in 2016, A Gathering of Shadows (the sequel to ADSOM) and This Savage Song, a YA fantasy. And I’m scared that the books won’t be as good as I expect.

Now this may be the point where you start rolling your eyes at me but please give me a chance to explain. I don’t think the author has any obligation to write a better book each time. I know this rationally but it doesn’t mean that I don’t build up my own expectations. And I’m perfectly aware that it’s impossible to please everyone – not all readers/fans will love the new book in equal measure, that’s for sure.

What I’m trying to say is that authors must be under a tremendous amount of stress in this publishing world where each book has to be bigger and better than the last one. If I was an author, I’d surely strive to improve my writing (I’m really competitive) but at the end of the day, the success – and the reception – of the book is hardly under the author’s control. They can do their best but the book still might not get the recognition and acclaim that their previous work received with (seemingly) less effort.

So here’s my decision/pledge/goal to judge each book separately, to try and give the authors I love the same benefit of the doubt that I give authors that are new to me and just let them wow me with the story with no amped-up expectations. This might be harder with sequels in series (I want the series to go out with a bang, not fizzle out and die before my eyes) but in the case of new series or standalones, I think this is something all authors deserve – especially my favourite ones.

srcek

Are you guilty of the same thing? Do you expect too little or too much of your favourite authors?

Do you think authors should always improve?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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  • Greg Hill

    I don’t know if I expect each book to be better per se, but I do probably expect the quality to at least be consistent. I can think of some fantasy series where one or another installment was a disappointment, and it’s a bummer when that happens. I think you’re right though, it is hard to keep expectations down especially when it’s a favorite author. So yeah, I agree.

    And yes the stress on authors must be awful at times. In this age of blogs and having to self promote the book and Twitter and all the rest, it must be exhilarating and terrifying at the same time to be out there promoting, and trying to meet expectations. Great topic!

    • Oh man, YES, self promotion … I’d be terrible at it. I think that in publishing before the 21st century, much more was done by the publishers themselves, by the people specifically hired for the job, but now authors have to shoulder a huge part of publicity, too. It’s not like they can just write books and leave it at that.

  • I generally try to judge books independently and go in with as few expectations as possible, though this is difficult, especially with series. Of course, I have very few authors who consistently hit it out of the park, so I’ve pretty much made my peace with the fact that I won’t love every one of an author’s books. The trick is figuring out which ones aren’t for me before reading the entire novel. Still working on that skill. :)

    • Ah, do you mean you might not finish a novel by a favourite author? Okay, I get that, it’s probably better than reading it all and then hating it. I have a couple of authors who write in very diverse genres and I’ve only read, say, urban fantasy but not space opera. So yeah, I try to figure out what would work for me and what wouldn’t. But with authors who don’t have a very large backlist, I get greedy and just read everything they’ve ever written. :)

      • Sometimes I don’t finish a favorite author’s new book; sometimes I don’t even start it if it doesn’t sound like something I’d like. I can usually tell within a chapter or two whether a book is working for me, but not all the time. I hope to get better at that. :)

  • I don’t think I expect new books to be better, I just expect them to be at least as good. But as I think I’ve said, I’m not usually so much an *author* person as a series person, and I do have expectations in the sense that I like when each book in a series builds upon the others to make something that’s more than the sum of its parts. It’s definitely disappointing when a series fizzles out. But if one book in a series kinda flops a bit, I still give the benefit of the doubt and keep going. I’m sure there is a lot of pressure on writers though, especially if their first book is amazing.

    • “at least as good” haha that’s almost as bad, no? :)
      And yeah, being a series person works, especially if you read really long series like in urban or paranormal fantasy. But when you read shorter stuff like trilogies or standalones, it’s different, I think.
      Yeah, that’s a conundrum – do you make your first book the best possible so it wows people or do you only put in half the effort so you can write a better one next time? :D (I know nobody would do that, really.)

  • I agree with what Greg and Kristen already said. I do not expect new books to be (even) better than the previous ones, but I definitely expect them to be just as good. An expectation that is of course not always met, but I can’t help but having expectations haha.

    As for series, I think I secretly do expect the next book in the series to be better than the previous one…I’ve never really thought about it, I guess.

    • I don’t see how “just as good” is really different from “better” :) – I’m being difficult, I know, but I think that maintaining a certain level of excellence can be just as difficult as going higher each time. I still pity the authors. :D

      Yeah, I always expect the next book in the series to somehow top the previous ones – whether it’s a better plot twist, more in-depth knowledge about the characters …

  • I don’t think I expect each book to be better than the last, but I do expect it to be (hopefully) just as good or at least comparable to the previous offerings. I mean, in a perfect world, every new book would be better than the last, but with longer series it’s pretty much impossible. That being said, every new instalment of the Harry Potter series for example wasn’t necessarily my new favourite as they came out – BUT JKR did a brilliant job of building on what she’d already established and taking the story where it needed to go. That to me is more than I could ever expect. Naturally, not everyone can be JKR, but SJM, Sanderson and Nix are other authors who have consistently impressed me with every new instalment.

    Expectations can be killer though, and I’m guilty of that too. I like your vow to just let an author wow you without expecting them to constantly surpass themselves. I think if we all did that, the bookish world would be a much happier place :)

    • Gah you’re the fourth person to say this in the comments so I’m just going to go ahead and ask: is there really a difference between a book being “just as good as” and “better” than the last one? :) Not that I don’t agree with you, it’s just that I think that maintaining a certain level of excellence can be as difficult as making each book better than the last if you know what I mean.

      And yeah, you make a great point about the HP series – though I then tried both The Casual Vacancy and The Cuckoo’s Calling and I DNFed both, that bummed me out.

      Rainbow Rowell is another author I can think of that consistently tops her previous work (I haven’t read Landline yet but everything so far has been amazing).

      I really like the bookish community in general but from time to time there’s an incident that just makes me shake my head – why can’t people just be NICE to each other?!

  • I just read This Savage Song, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed! I really liked it.

    • Ooh, I’m glad! I have to place my pre-order soon, I want it in a hard copy, I want a full collection of Schwab’s work. :)

  • I totally agree with you! I find it hard not to have great expectations for new books from my favourite authors, but you’re right, I’m definitely going to try and judge each book separately this year. Also, you make such a good point about the stress/pressure an author must be under – between readers demanding a new book… or two… and pleasing those readers, living up to their high expectations, wow it must be very hard.

    • Yeah, and another commenter raised an interesting point – authors have to take care of a huge amount of publicity for their books these days, like being active on their blogs & Twitter and such – I think this is a big change from the publishing as it was done 10 or 20 years ago.

  • Maraia

    Hmm, I think I expect my favorite authors to maintain their level of awesomeness, not necessarily beat it. I guess that’s still an expectation that can’t always be met and can lead to disappointment. Case in point: Juliet Marillier’s YA novels. However, because she’s a favorite, I’m more willing to forgive the blips and continue reading everything she publishes.

    It’s harder not to expect improvement when it comes to sequels, though. I think the best series do improve as they go along and as the author gets further into the stories and characters, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect this. Who hasn’t been disappointed by a filler second book or an anticlimactic conclusion?

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think you need to worry about the next two Victoria Schwab books. I’ve read the first part of AGOS, and it was as wonderful ever. I also have it on good authority that This Savage Song will be AMAZING. :D

    • Yeah, but isn’t maintaining that level just as hard as beating it? I don’t know. Everyone’s saying what you’re saying in these comments but I just don’t see that there’s a huge difference between the two.
      But yeah, I’m willing to forgive a lot with my favourite authors, I can’t realistically expect that ALL the books will be fantastic, especially in very prolific authors (like romance writers – they all write two books a year and it has to be a crazy, crazy job).

      Have you read Half a War yet? We’ll discuss disappointing/anticlimactic conclusions when you do. :D

      You’re probably quoting Crini, huh? I saw her rave about This Savage Song. Another blogger just said it’s great. I’m not WORRIED per se, I just want Victoria’s books to be amazing, both for her sake and mine. :) Ah, I never like reading those excerpts of unpublished books, they just whet my appetite and then I’m unable to read them through.

      • Maraia

        Yes, I think you’re probably right that it’s just as hard to maintain a certain level. i wonder what’s harder for authors – living up to readers’ expectations or living up to their own.

        I listened to the audiobook of Half a War during my Christmas drive, and it was terrible. The audiobook part, not the book itself. I have almost no idea what happened in the book itself, because I found it nearly impossible to listen to the narrator. I know I could have stopped, but I won it in a Goodreads giveaway, so I felt obligated.

        Crini, among others. :D I rarely read excerpts, but I was convinced to do so for both AGOS and The Raven King.

  • Blaise Haddow

    Personally, I don’t understand why there’s an expectation for the next book to be bigger and better… isn’t it enough if that book is just as good? I feel as though, if books continue to improve, then there will eventually be either a disappointing one, or a book will take SO long to publish that I’ll forget it exists. I allow some wiggle room, partially because I see the pressure other readers put on authors (like people getting mad at George R.R. Martin) and I want to give the authors a break because I know what they’re going through.

    …on a much smaller scale because I’m unpublished, but really. To improve should always be a personal goal, in my opinion, but to expect that constantly of others feels a little unrealistic, for me.

    • Haha I think every single one of the commenters so far said they expect the next book to be “just as good” but I just don’t see that there’s a lot of difference between the two – maintaining the same level of excellence must be equally difficult! :)

      Yeah, I’d never write to an author and whine about their books, it’s like writing a negative review for a book you didn’t like and tagging the author on social media. I think it’s just bad form. My expectations are my problem, if that makes sense!

      • Blaise Haddow

        That makes sense to me, at least, and I completely agree! Reading is so subjective that one reader would think a book is amazing and the next thinks that book was terrible. To each their own opinions, which aren’t the author’s problem. At least you (hopefully) bought their book.

  • I think I would feel the same way as an author- and it has to be terrifying, especially if you are someone who stresses very easily! The good news is, I am FAR harder on myself than anyone else, so I don’t really expect MORE from an author, just… comparable? Like- I think a lot of times it’s comparing apples and oranges. Take Patrick Ness, for example. His Chaos Walking series blew my mind. A Monster Calls was exquisite, but in a different way. So when The Rest of Us Just Live Here came out, I feel like people were disappointed, because it wasn’t that “epic” level. BUT to me, it was just as good, it was just VERY different. It was supposed to be lighter, more entertaining, while still carrying messages. So I think it is super common for the authors to feel that stress. Especially if they put out a really moving book- I am sure they don’t plan on only writing heartbreaking novels or whatever, so other things may feel “less than” in comparison. Very thought provoking!

    • Yeah, authors that write in very diverse genres have a harder time pleasing their audience, I think! If I liked an epic fantasy that an author wrote, there’s no saying I’ll be equally charmed by their dystopian novel.

      Mm, yes, I get what you’re saying with heartbreaking: it’s probably hard to recreate this deeply moving, tear-jerking effect without being pathetic or something.

      Thanks for stopping by, Shannon! :)

  • Jolien @ The Fictional Reader

    I do the exact same thing! When I enjoy a book from an author, I immediately have higher expectations for the rest of his/her books. Which is a bit unfair, really. I maybe wouldn’t expect so much from authors I haven’t read yet. I do always try to lower my expectations before starting a sequel, or book I’ve been looking forward to. I find this helps. Otherwise, I might be disappointed even if the book was great. Just because I expected it to be phenomenal.

    I’ll try and keep the same pledge!

    • AH, FINALLY, someone who gets me! :) Everyone else said “I expect the books to be just as good, not better” and I just think there’s not much of a difference between the two. But anyway, yeah, I know how you feel. :)

      I think that too much publicity often does a book disservice: like Illuminae – you’ve probably seen it around the blogs (or even read it?) but I just wasn’t that impressed, despite the fact that it’s a fairly good book – all the hype made it sound like it would be PHENOMENAL and it just wasn’t for me.

      I hope it helps! :)

  • It’s taken me an amazingly long time to figure out that authors are just human beings. I’m more tolerant and forgiving when I remember that, and imagine that they have some of the same struggles that I do. And yes, I think we should give each book a chance to shine on its own! One example for me was Franny Billingsley’s Chime — I had loved The Folk Keeper so much and expected more of the same, but this book was quite different and at first I was disappointed. It took me a couple of readings to appreciate it.

    • Haha, yeah, they’re not some mythic creatures, that’s for sure (though I’d probably be completely over the moon if I met a favourite author – what do you even SAY?!).

      I read Chime, back before I started blogging, and I liked it – it was really different from everything I’d read up to that point, so I needed to adjust a bit, but my memory of it is pretty pleasant. I haven’t read The Folk Keeper though!

      Thanks for stopping by, Lory! :)

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  • Soudha Parsan

    Too high expectations have spoiled my enjoyment of some books which I would have otherwise really enjoyed. So now, I try to not get overly high expectations about books, especially if they are by my favorite authors. Like, the first time ever I read Percy Jackson, I was actually very disappointed because up to that point, my friends kept telling me it was the new Harry Potter and I believed them. The second time I read it though, I found that I actually do love the book series. Also, I think that so long an author keeps up the quality of the story and writing, the books do not necessarily have to ‘get better’ with each new book. Great post Kaya! Definitely made me think ^^

    • Ha, yes, the hype can sometimes definitely kill the enjoyment of reading a new book. This recently happened to me with Illuminae, this book received SO MUCH HYPE!
      And yeah, if you read the Percy Jackson books like a new HP, you’d probably be disappointed, even though they’re actually really good books. I don’t like such comparisons, either.

  • It is fairly difficult to go into a book without a certain amount of expectations when you’ve enjoyed authors’ former books so much. I don’t think I ever expect an author to produce a better book than the last, but I do kind of expect to like a newer book just as much as the former. There are several authors whose second series I didn’t fall quite so hard for and that may be because I loved their first series so much and expected to love these sophomore efforts just as much. There is also the possibility that it just wasn’t quite as good as their first series. You are right though, what an incredible amount of stress to have to live up to the expectations of the readers. Nice discussion!

    • Thanks, Alicia! :)
      I think poor authors must be going crazy – writing the same stuff over and over (for those readers who want “just the same amount of goodness as before”) probably results in them being branded REPETITIVE, but writing different types/genres of books displeases those who liked the first book/series. And now they also have to take on a huge share of marketing and publicity…

  • I don’t think that they should improve per se but for my favorite authors, there is an expectation that I would like everything they write. Unfortunately, that is not the case. I know not all the books my favorite authors write will be my favorite but I still continue to buy their books. This is not to say that their quality is not up to par but only that the story doesn’t work for me.

    The only time I did not follow a favorite author is when she shifted genres for a while. It was a genre that I do not read and have no interest in at all. However, when she came back to writing in a genre that I read, I immediately devoured her books :)

    • Yeah, that’s it exactly! You expect your favourite authors to please you – that’s a great way of putting it. And there’s just NO WAY they will be able to please everyone.
      And I get that – if a favourite author of mine would start writing, say, horror or crime or whatever genre I dislike, I’d probably give them a pass and just wait for them to return back to what I like.
      Thanks for stopping by, Zeee! :)

  • I agree that authors should grow and fine tune their craft, but for me.. as long as an author maintains quality reads, than it’s okay. They don’t have to outshine their last great work. Just match it, or come close. I think authors are highly pressured to produce something flashy, unique, and AMAZZINNG and that’s stressful! For me, I try to not have high expectations for books. I try to not pressure. But it’s hard because after reading so many great books by one author, you do build up an expectation without realizing it. You expect amazing things and it’s off putting when you don’t get them. So yeah, I guess I’m in basic agreement with you :) Authors should improve their skill with time, but I don’t think they need to outshine their last work with every book published. This is a really great post btw :)

    • Eep, I’m so sorry, I’m extremely late with answering comments these days. Welcome to my blog! :)
      Yeah, I get what you’re saying. I would NEVER write to an author demanding new/better books – this is just my own reservations and musings. I think authors are under enough stress as it is, especially in this profit-oriented type of publishing.
      And thank you! :)

  • Nicole Hewitt

    This is SO true! We build up all this expectation in our heads once we love an author’s work and it’s really hard not to judge the next book based on that last one. I recently had this with Evelyn Skye – the only thing I’d ever read by her was a short story, but it SO completely blew me away that I found myself actually scared to read her book, worried it wouldn’t live up to this massive expectation I’d built up (it didn’t help that I’d been in contact with the author a lot ever since my review of that short story went up). I finally brought myself to read the ARC and loved it, but the hype around her book is so tremendous – I can’t imagine the pressure she must be feeling!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    • Oh, yes, it’s a wonder more authors don’t crack under the pressure. I’ve read quite a bit on publishing (it’s a part of my PhD thesis), so I know how much of their careers depends on being “the best and the shiniest” out there. It’s crazy but today’s publishing is really extremely profit-oriented and it’s all about the hype.
      But I often feel like hype can ruin books for me – actually, I might write a post about that soon! :)
      Thanks for stopping by, Nicole! :)

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  • Just found your blog through the discussion link up :) I think authors have good story ideas and then once in a while some not so great ideas, but they get them published anyways because they’re a popular author. Or they come out with a book that just doesn’t click with me, even though I’ve liked other books they’ve written. There’s a few authors that have written some of my all time favorite books, but then I’ve DNF’d some of their other ones-so weird lol. So for me personally, I do what you do and try to read each book on its own merit :)

    • Hi and welcome! :)
      I think that’s a very good strategy. I mean, I read a lot of genre authors, who mostly write the same stuff over and over again – this is especially true of romance, for example. With them, I kind of expect a similar level of quality throughout their work.
      But it’s a hit-or-miss situation with authors who write in different genres, you never know what will “click”, as you put it. :)