Brent Weeks Opinion Column: Revisiting “George RR Martin is not your bitch”

The author of the Night Angel trilogy on Neil Gaiman’s controversial statement

GRRM is not your bitch. The rest of us…
by Brent Weeks

Neil Gaiman famously told a reader tired of waiting for the next installment of A Song of Ice and Fire that “George R. R. Martin is not your bitch.” Though Mr. Gaiman said many fine and humane things in his post, he also erected a straw man argument that such readers think authors shouldn’t do anything except write the next book. “No such contract existed. You were paying your ten dollars for the book you were reading.” Neil Gaiman being Neil Gaiman, the internet greeted this with a chorus of amens. Someone even wrote a song, which is great, except they’re all wrong. Part of what entices us to buy a book is the promise conveyed in the title. “Gragnar’s Epic Magical Dragon Quest Trilogy: Book 1” promises there will be two more books. Whether through the title, or interviews, or through a note to readers at the end of a book that says the next book will be out in a year, when an author makes that kind of commitment, maybe technically there’s no contract, but there is an obligation.

And do you know who’s hurt when that obligation is broken? Not the multimillionaire authors, but the mid-listers who are in the middle of a series, barely making it, who hear readers say, “I don’t start a series anymore until all the books are finished. I’ve been burned too many times.” This is not an attack on GRRM. He’s easily my favorite author; he’s certainly done the field far more good than harm, and I’m sure that he’s been working hard. I write big, complicated epic fantasy;  I understand how difficult it is. I’ve worked with a director to make a 90-second book trailer; I can hazard a guess at what a ridiculous amount of work an entire HBO series must take. And writers make mistakes about how fast they’re going to finish books All The Time. GRRM’s situation is merely illustrative.

Authors today have to be writers, social media geeks, marketers, public speakers, bloggers, and book reviewers. Tolkien knew Elvish, but not html. Few authors are equally good at all the parts of their job. GRRM promised something he didn’t deliver. If he were better at PR, he might have defused a great deal of the anger, but he can get away with it because he’s a towering talent with millions of fans. Another outlier told Oprah’s readers that they weren’t smart enough for his books. Another shuns the internet. The talented, the rich, and the famous are always able to get away with things. So, Mr Gaiman, that “GRRM is not your bitch” is trivially true, but I’m not sure it’s something we should cheer. We can fail to fulfill our obligations for many good reasons. However, when we do, it behooves us to apologize, not to pretend that readers are the ones acting entitled.

Regardless of their success, writers have obligations to readers because readers pay us to do what we love. Readers don’t understand how hard writing can be, but many of us don’t understand how hard it is to work at McDonald’s, or a post office, or a sales desk. I’m in the middle of writing my second trilogy now, and I’ve been working six days a week for the last two years. The more successful I’ve gotten, the harder I’ve had to work. Some days I look at my full inbox, dozens of comments on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, and more awaiting moderation on my webpage, and I despair. But you know what? Every job requires you to do things you’d rather not. That’s why you get paid for it. At the end of the day, we have the best job in the world. How about some gratitude?

-Brent Weeks is the author of the best-selling Night Angel trilogy & The Black Prism. The second book of the Lightbringer trilogy, The Blinding Knife, will be released in September 2012. The concluding volume, The Blood Mirror, will be released September, October, December of 2012. March of 2013.techn

-Brent Weeks is the author of the best-selling Night Angel trilogy & The Black Prism. The second book of the Lightbringer trilogy, The Blinding Knife, will be released in September 2012.