Trust and the Reader/Author Relationship

I got my ranty-pants on yesterday, but in an unusual turn of events, it wasn't about authors behaving badly regarding reviews or social media. It was about a publishing, writing, and marketing decision made by Sylvia Day and her publisher Berkley (a division of Penguin).

[To be as transparent as possible, I have not read the series in question. I can only gauge the content from the reader reactions I have seen online.]

In contrast to so many reader flame-ups regarding series direction, authorial choice, quality decline etc. this reader rage-fest was caused by a decision to extend a promised trilogy (the Crossfire books) to a (minimum) of 5 books—and in a less-than-transparent way that caught many readers who pre-ordered by surprise when they reached an abrupt ending in book 3. As of this morning, at least 50% of the readers who left reviews on Amazon are feeling taken advantage of, duped, misled... None of which is good for Sylvia Day's reputation.

A few examples:

Give me the bad writing of 50 shades any day of the week compared to this rip off!
I expected an ending but was left hanging. Trilogy means three, but not here I guess.
As a consumer I feel used and taken advantage of-- and I hate that I looked forward to this book so much... 
She issued a response to complaints about the series on her Facebook page, largely blaming her publisher, but failed to adequately address the primary complaints: the abrupt ending and the lack of transparency/impetus behind the extension of the series.

Here's where Ms. Day has gone wrong: It's TERRIFIC to make money off of your writing. But don't mislead your readers while doing so. Promising a self-contained trilogy (which Ms. Day very clearly did) and then extending it at the last moment is dishonest. Regardless of the reasons. In the retail world, we call that Not As Described, and it is a legitimate reason for issuing a charge back through one's credit card provider. It's also one reason why I believe readers should be allowed to return ebooks they've finished but are unhappy with. Readers entered into a relationship with the author, trusting her to share a story in three parts. The reader understood that they would receive a complete story for the price of three books. In essence, Day has decided that readers should pay $20 more in order for her to deliver what she's promised. And that, in my world, is not professional.

If Day had promised a serialized novel in an unspecified number of parts, there would be no issue. But her very specific marketing of this as a trilogy means that she has broken faith with her readers. And yes, despite denials, there is NO reason other than monetary for doing so. Otherwise, those last two books would be offered for free to those readers who had already purchased 1-3.

This very scenario is one reason I have been so vocally opposed to a serial novel. It takes a lot of blind faith to trust an author to a) finish the book and b) not drag it out simply to collect more money. I want a finite number of installments and a finished price. I do not want to trust in an author's sense of fairness.

There may be no discernible repercussion for Ms. Day. Enough readers may be perfectly happy to hand over another $20 to get the ending to their story. But Ms. Day should be worried. It's not that readers are simply unhappy about the way the book abruptly ended. It's not about disliking the actions taken within the story. It's about feeling used by an author. And of those who left scathing reviews on Amazon, a select few among them will not only NOT buy another Day book, they will be actively discouraging others from buying her books as well. The animosity and broken trust is personal for many, and there's really no way for Day to get that trust back.

Trust is a currency, too.


  1. Wow. If I were reading a trilogy, and found it was to be expanded...I'd be either (a) pretty happy about it if I were still enjoying the books, or (b) unconcerned because I'd lost interest by then anyway.

    It's hard for me to find enough books I truly enjoy. I spend at least a third of my potential reading time looking for new authors.

    To be fair, I haven't read the original promise you linked to above. The wording might make a difference...somehow.

    Sheesh, what a tempest on a molehill. My guess is that book #3 wasn't very good?

    1. If this were a trilogy with self contained stories, perhaps, but these books do not stand on their own. They are part of a larger story.

      It's not like most "series" with a cohesive story in each book and an arc that carries through several installments.

      I don't think it's making a mountain out of a molehill to point out the ethical issues of breaking your readers' trust.

    2. Okay. But probably just as many readers would consider it a bonus. For example: I would, as I said above.

      Tastes differ, obviously. But calling personal preference "ethics" seems a bit overblown.

      Also innocuous, from my point of view, is disappointment (however inflamed) that an artist's work doesn't turn out as originally intended. Happens to me all the time, from both sides of the aisle.

      Never mind; I'll leave you to it.

    3. Thanks for your comment. I do think ethics is appropriate, though, when half of your readers feel "duped." I would hope any author would be concerned that his or her readers feel taken advantage of or used. Even if the other half is happy.

  2. I think the issue here is that this series is straight-up contemporary erotic romance, and readers in this genre expect closure of the romance arc (the HEA) within a set space of time (usually one book, but if you say it's going to be a trilogy, by the end of book 3). It's not like a mystery or UF series that can be extended indefinitely, with character relationships growing and changing throughout. I noticed a lot of readers said this book felt like filler with no forward momentum, and a shift in focus to secondary characters--a no-go for a lot of romance readers. I am pretty dubious about whether pure genre romance can sustain a multi-book arc without exhausting a lot of readers' patience.

    As a non-reader of the series, what's interested me about this whole thing is that the author appears to be a heavy user of (and self-promoter on) Facebook and Twitter. I wonder if she really realized how many readers are not online, or not online in those venues. If someone just reads her books (I understand book 2 had an author's note at the end referring to the conclusion of the story in book 3) and/or checks pre-orders on Amazon, well, they'd have no idea that she'd changed direction from what was promised. She seemed surprised that so many readers were not aware.

    In her Facebook statement, Day said that money was not the reason for extending the series. But she didn't offer a different reason or explain how extending it was necessary to serve her story. So I'm not surprised some people feel it's a cash grab at the expense of giving readers a good story. Romance publishers have been increasingly taken with serials (either a series of novels featuring one couple or novels published in installments). I'm a Victorianist, so I'm not against that per se--but again, I'm not sure how well it suits the expectations of romance-readers. Some of these serials have done really well (including Day's books) but I wonder what effect this backlash will have on their future. As an observer, I'm fascinated by this. But if I were a reader of the series, I think I'd just be annoyed.

    1. I haven't read the stories, so I can only speculate, but it sounds as if these books are not at all like UF or mystery series. In those, the books usually have a central plot that resolves itself by the end of the book, with a longer arc that continues. From what I can glean, that isn't what's happening here.

      The relationship IS the plot, so extending it without any other resolution just doesn't work. Many reviews, even positive ones, mention the abrupt non-ending. Soap operas and old school film serials thrived on cliffhangers, but audiences expected them. And Day failed to properly set those expectations when she promoted this series as a trilogy.

      I don't think the genre is to blame, entirely. I think readers would have had far more patience if so many hadn't been expecting a conclusion. Had she started the whole thing with an open-ended number of books, there would be no blacklash IMO. Just a quiet drifting away of readers who lost interest.

      It's kind of what I imagine would happen if Peter Jackson decided to make the Hobbit into 4 movies instead of the 3 he's promised, but didn't tell anyone until part 3 had been released. People can wait when they have a reasonable end date in sight or are told the series is ongoing. Changing the rules mid-stream is where my complaint is.

    2. As for the financial issue of serials, I think a final, all-inclusive price or subscription model might work. Not sure how that would work in the real, world though.

  3. I have read and enjoyed the CrossFire series, and am completely unsurprised by the uproar by so many fans of this series. The relationship between the main couple is extreme in all respects, and each of the first two books were a crazy rollercoaster of emotions for the characters and the readers. The second book was released in October 2012 and ended on a completely outrageous cliffhanger. The third book was originally scheduled for release on December 31, 2012, then with less than a month until release, was suddenly delayed, first to May, and then June of 2013, with no hint of why, other than an assumption that it's what the publisher wanted. It wasn't until the first week of May 2013 when Sylvia Day confirmed at RT that it would be a 5 book series instead of the long-promised trilogy. But did that announcement make it out to the entire fandom? I wouldn't have known it if I didn't follow her Twitter and Facebook feeds. If I hadn't known before reading the 3rd book, I would have been just as outraged. As it is, I still agree that there is a lot of padding in this book with secondary characters to obviously set up additional plot lines in the next book(s). But I think a lot of this outrage could have been prevented if the author and publishers had let the fans know about the 5 book series extension at the same time the book was originally delayed back in December, instead of waiting to almost literally the last possible minute. The only thing they can do now is try to get that 4th book out to the readers as quickly as possible, and hope that it will mollify those who I believe are right to feel they have been duped.

    1. I think that's a big part, too. Day seems convinced the delay was the reason for the backlash, but that's not really it. It's because she had the delay, but waited until essentially the very last minute to inform her readers about the series extension. And then told only a small fraction of them. Not right.

  4. I like Sylvia Day's writing, so I had purchased the first book when she originally self-pubbed it, then won the second in a contest. However, since I have a truly mountainous TBR pile, and I'm not at all a fan of serials or cliffhangers, I put both books down near the bottom, figuring that I would start them once the third and final book came out. Now I'm debating whether I should even bother with them. Even in UF and PNR, I tend to lose interest the longer a series goes on, so I don't think I would ever read (or want to read) FIVE full-length contemporary romance books about the same couple.

    My biggest problem with all this is that it is so clearly a money grab. I would NEVER have started this series if I knew there would be 5 books. I hesitated just at the thought of 3! Luckily, I'm only out the $3.82 that I paid for the original book, but many people have paid (and now will pay) far more. I understand the first poster's point about how this frequently happens in SF and mystery, but it's completely different in contemp. romance where the focus really is just on the main couple and their romance, not on the plot, or on an overarching story arc that needs more page space to be resolved. This just makes me even more resolved not to read any serials or series featuring just one couple, or at least, to wait until all episodes or published before I buy any of them.

    1. As someone who reads SF/Fantasy and mysteries, I'd say that while the cliffhangers do happen, they are the minority. Mainly epic fantasy such as Robert Jordan (who also extended his promised 7 book series into something like 14 books.)

      And mystery series definitely follow much more closely to romance. Mysteries demand some sort of conclusion, even if the relationships evolve or are left unresolved.

      I think primarily this backlash is because people expected a trilogy, pre-ordered the "last" book as the conclusion to the trilogy (with all of the frenzied fanfare of a popular series of books) then found out at the last page that it wasn't truly the end.

      It's that last minute bait-and-switch that seems to have riled up the masses. That, and the fact that the entire book (according to reviews) felt like filler and then had no ending.