I'm sure most of you have heard about the issue over Allegiant, the final book (I believe?) in the Divergent series by Veronica Roth.  In short, readers were not happy with the book. 
All of this made me want to have a discussion. Let's have a virtual circle time as I'm pretty sure my teachers used to call it when I was like...five?

And please, guys, no spoilers on Allegient!!! I'm not asking anyone to attack or defend the book. I don't even want to discuss specifically that book. I'm just asking for a discussion on reader expectations in general!

What responsibility do authors have to writers?

  • Quality 
  • Does the author need to force the story so that it satisfies the readers? And is there backlash if they don't? Bad reviews can ruin an author, not just the book.  Should authors have to write with the fear of enraging a bunch of readers and possibly being "taken down" in the aftermath?
What responsibility do readers have?

  • Fairness when reviewing a book
  • Basing reviews off objective (grammar, plot-holes etc) and not JUST subjective
We can also take this discussion directly into NA territory if we'd like to.
I don't think I've seen reader expectation so strongly impact a category as much as New Adult. So many people have decided already what NA is and what is isn't, and unfortunately, it's going to hurt the category if that doesn't change.
Please note these example reviews have nothing to do with Allegient- these are from reviews I have seen for New Adult novels.

So many reviews have something like this in them:
-Where was the sex?
-I wanted more sex
-The story was good and the writing was good but there wasn't enough sex. So, let's give it one star out of five.
-This would be great NA if there were sex in it.
-This wasn't NA because there was no sex
-I'm angry because this is labelled wrong and there was no sex, so obviously, this isn't NA
-One star: no sex
-WHERE'S THE SEX?????


See the theme?
Does some NA have sex? Yes. Some NA can be erotica. Is all NA erotica? Most definitely not. There is no rule that NA must have sex. 

What do writers do when it comes to this? Not every story calls for sex. Not every literary couple is at that point. Not every story needs to have sex on every other page.
I get it. Being both a reader and a writer, I get both sides. I have reader expectations in certain cases. But I also want to write the story that needs to be written.  

So, what do we do? As readers? As writers?


Post a Comment

  1. The feelings of those reviewers will really hurt the genre/category. I thought the Divergent series was an adventure type story. I wouldn't think there would be a lot or any sex in that type of story. Plus I thought it was marketed as YA. Not all teens even in this era are ready or even want to read that. The reviewers sound like they really want chick lit or romance. What happened to leaving things up to the imagination. Plus believe it or not not all young adults are having sex all the time.

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  2. I think it is very important to go into a new book with no expectations. It's not fair on the author or the book. I think it's a reader's responsibility to give the book their full attention and to make sure they accept the direction the book has gone in.

    No writer should have to change their book to suit the audience. All stories have a certain way of ending. Not everyone will like how a book ends but they need to understand it has nothing to do with them.

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    1. Well said, Heather! You bring up an interesting point about going in open-minded and bro fair to the author

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    2. It depends on the book, though. People who read certain genres do so BECAUSE those books typically meet certain expectations. If you market your book as 'Romance' and then don't give us some kind of happily-ever-after, we readers have a right to complain.

      I view NA as a category (yes, I'm in *that* camp. LOL), and so if an NA book is not also marketed to a genre, the author could get away with more.

      Perhaps the problem is that, while NA narrows it down to college-age characters, it stands with one foot in the typically sexless YA and one in almost-anything-goes-Adult. Maybe the problem IS the lack of a defining content line.

      (Not saying there should be one, just that that could be at the root of the problem.)

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  3. I think readers should always respect the choices an author had made. You don't need to like them, but it's wrong to say a book is bad just because it didn't end the way you wanted it to.

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    1. Agree, Booklover! I love the point that make. Just because you don't like the subjective side of a book doesn't mean the book is awful.

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    2. Definitely agree. It can be difficult when for example, your ship doesn't sail, but that's what Tumblr and fanfiction are for. You obviously loved the characters enough to be heartbroken, which tells me that the book is effective!

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  4. <...continued>

    A lot of it really comes down to marketing and identification, and I *will* give those who designed the Divergent series' covers this--they didn't have pretty pictures of Tris and Four kissing on them. There was nothing in the physical design that screamed "Read me! I'm Romance!". But... "...Tris must determine who her friends really are--and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen." <-- This is from the back cover of Divergent, taken directly from GoodReads. Whoever wrote this back blurb is no fool. He or she knew EXACTLY who they were inviting to this party, whether or not they knew how the series would ultimately conclude. I will also say, though, that (at least in the GoodReads summaries) we don't hear about 'romance' again in either of the two remaining books, so while the marketers clearly tried to tempt that readership to check out book one, there was no 'final' manipulation in the packaging.

    In the end I feel that both the 'must have sex' and the Allegiant Fiasco are cautionary tales. For readers it is a reminder that what happens when we pick up a book is not in our control, and for authors its a reminder that risks are called risks for a reason. Would I, personally, want to shrink away from a choice because I'm afraid of backlash? No. Would I be brave enough not to? That's something I presently cannot answer. But I will say this: I have utmost sympathy for authors writing NA that does not NEED sex who are being criticized for it (we already have a sex genre, folks. It's called erotica! And that's not a dis against erotica or a suggestion that it needs to be weakly written, either. There's some really good stuff out there.) and for Veronica Roth--who despite success, outrage, or anything else was doing what most of us (writers) are trying to do: tell the story our characters have given us in the truest way we possibly can.

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    1. You make a good point that authors also have to be honest. I don't judge a book based on category or genre, but the blurb is different. That needs to e honest.
      As a NA writer, I'm glad to know there are those out there who empathize with the sexpectation.

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  5. Completely agree. The author needs to provide a good story, and the reader needs to read it with an open mind. I can't stand how sex has become an expectation in New Adult. The *only* expectation for New Adult should be that the characters are in that age group.

    As for the Allegiant mention - I find it interesting how this post was not even supposed to be about it, yet that is what the comments are focusing on (maybe using Allegiant as an example of author backlash and then switching to the topic of NA books wasn't obvious). The author did what she felt was right, as any author has the right to do in his/her writing.

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    1. reading with an open mind! That is excellent. And I agree with you, obviously.
      I liked the Allegiant example because it highlights reader expectation.

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  6. One issue I might end up facing is in cross-genre. Because your writing something with intent to give a nod at two different things, this has the potential to ruin expectations.

    As I read, I sort of adapted to having no expectations. I think people would enjoy what they read more, if they aren't coming in thinking "Oh, here is that romance" or "Here is that epic fantasy."

    Of course I've given up publishing my books, largely because it frees up a lot of that responcibility to be just so genre wise. I don't give a thought in the world how it will be during the writing of draft one.

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    1. Oh and authors writing against "readers expectations" is not authors behaving badly. I know that wasn't said, but thats a term that starting to piss me off -- because its not strictly defined.

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    2. You're right, JustSarah, that wasn't mentioned but it's a good point. I don't want authors who do what is right for their story to get labelled as "behaving badly"

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  7. Are there actual cases of bad reviews destroying an author's career?

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    1. Unfortunately, it happens. I won't give specific examples here, but it has happened.

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  8. I just finished ALLEGIANT yesterday and all I can say is - kudos to Veronica Roth for being brave enough to follow through with such a controversial ending. I love authors who don't play it safe and go for what creatively works for their story instead of writing something expected in order to please readers. It's all about taking risks and pushing the envelope. I can't tell you how many times I've heard readers complain about something being boring, mediocre or so so - so let's not complain when an author mixes things up a bit. It's all about expanding our minds, not limiting them.

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    1. I also enjoy authors who don't play it safe. I mean, writing isn't supposed to be safe. I love taking it to the point of expanding our minds.

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  9. As a NA author who writes 'clean steam' I've certainly encountered reviews where the person felt there a) wasn't any sex, or b) there wasn't enough detailed sex. My characters have sex, but I leave the more intense details to the imagination. It stunned me when someone said there wasn't any sex, because there is-- it's just not every touch, moan, etc. I don't like the reputation that the media has spawned on NA, where they say it's all erotica. The best thing to do, is just keep writing the way I do. I know some will have an erotic expectation because it's NA, but my hope is the rest will be enough to make them love it anyways. As an author I expect one star reviews-- it's a factor as life as an author. I don't write based off of that fear, though. Authors have a plan for their characters, which they follow-- it will never, ever please everyone. Could a bad review destroy an authors career? I do think it could-- we are humans, and we do have feelings that get hurt. If an author doesn't expect one stars and doesn't realize how vile people can be, then they could just give up. I try to shrug it off, and it does get easier with time. It still bugs me when a reviewer attacks readers who liked the book saying their idiots for doing so. I love my readers! Attack me, not them!

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    1. I like this "clean steam" scene. I'm with you on that! It seems like every "clean steam" NA writer has encountered these reviews. You've got the right attitude about this and the reviews.

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  10. It is a shame that readers penalize NA for not having enough sex, and basing their review on that sole reason. But, I think that reader expectations are what drive reviews by non-writers - for better or for worse. Was I disappointed in Allegiant? Yes. Did I think the story was well-executed? Yes. Did I like the book? Yes and No. Does Veronica Roth owe her readers a book that satisfies their expectations? No. Will I read more of her work? Absolutely. Will her rating be as high as if I was satisfied? No, but it won't be a 1 start. It will be a 4 star instead of a 5 star, because that is how I feel as a reader.

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    1. Good point- a lot of reader expectations do drive reviews. I think that can be a fine thing, except when it clouds the entire review. Personally, I want to read a review and get the overall feel. Is the writing quality? Are there plot-holes? How's the editing? I may also want some subjective- are the characters dimensional? And I'm ok finding out if the review author liked a certain aspect (the ending or the relationship or if they wanted more romance etc) but I don't want that to drive the entire review. The NA and sex is a good example. I don't want sex every page, so if someone gives a book a one star review because it doesn't have enough sex, well, that doesn't necessarily help me when it comes to the other aspects of the book.
      It sounds like you are a great reader and reviewer. Your looking at all points. Your (the readers) satisfaction DOES matter. But you won't let that impact your entire review or your loyalty.
      I definitely want to be satisfied as a reader, but I don't expect that to happen. It's good when it does, and if I am consistently unsatisfied by a certain author then I may not be very loyal to that author. But do I expect to be satisfied by every book by a certain author? Not at all.

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  11. Yesssssssssss...

    (This is one of those times when I hiss the answer longer than necessary.)

    I've written NA-type stories for six years--in pursuit of publication for three--so I don't appreciate people trying to force some kind of graphic threshold now. I mean, is the sexy barista at Starbucks obligated to give you sex because he or she is categorized as an attractive, single twenty-something? Of course not. In the same way, not all books are going to give you sex-on-demand, just because they're categorized as New Adult.

    The category helps us find books, not pigeonhole them.

    /end rant

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    1. Your last line says it all, Car. And really, I don't think books other than erotica should have the sex-on-demand expectation. It isn't porn.

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    2. "Sex on Demand"...now that's an interesting way to put it, which brings me to another thought--the 'I just met you...let's go do it!' So many people were shocked when my characters didn't just jump in bed with one another. I had one reviewer who thought the character was just too hot to not get into bed with straight away...Evan Levesque is pretty damn hot...but not jumping in bed with him made writing the sexual tension so much more fun! ;)

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  12. I personally like the subtle sex by implication. (There isnt even a cut to curtain, but sub textual sex jokes.)

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    1. Oh, yes, I like those jokes when written well

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  13. How odd because I'm the opposite. I have no problem with noe or little sex in NA because real NA is so much more than that. Age and adding sex doesn't make it NA. My problem is when there is just sex sex sex and no real plot...
    And authors owe us nothing. At the end of the day, it is still their story, not ours. I have given 4 or 5 star reviews to books that I hated the ending to because I still ended up liking the book.

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    1. NA is SO SO much more than that. You are totally right. And I have the same problem. I've read a few that have been a turn off to me because a) there is sex every other page (and it isn't erotica) b)the entire plot focuses on the sex c) the book's climax is the sex climax.

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  14. The uncomfortable truth is New Adult has some growing pains to go through. When I asked a friend to proofread a science fiction manuscript, she said, "I thought science fiction was just like The Jetsons" (it was not a compliment). It used to be that when people were asked to read or watch science fiction, they would just roll their eyes and reference some bad piece of science fiction they had once seen. Then, if they were shown something great like Battlestar Galactica, the reaction might be: "That was a really great story. So, it wasn't really science fiction."

    Screaming at people doesn't change their minds. It's a matter of waiting for the genre or category to get bigger and better, and for more people to get interested in it, to get past the current limited way of viewing it.

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    1. It's true. NA still has so much to go through. I don't think any of us would scream at anyone. I just don't want to ignore this expectation either because it's taken a pretty good hold and pretty fast. Just like writing the books that don't carry that expectation- it's like writing those sci-fi books that surprised/confused people at first-- that will help :)

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  15. The writer's job is to tell the story that they want to tell. That's it. A writer doing anything less is being untrue to themselves, and to their readers, and is probably not writing as well as they could be. The reader doesn't have to like it; there's no such thing as a book that every reader likes. But the reader has no right to make demands.

    As for bad reviews, meh. Complaints are always louder than praise, and people are more likely to complain than praise, sadly enough.

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    1. I agree. I think writers write the best when being true to themselves and passionate about it. Take that away, and the story will be impacted.

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  16. Reader expectations/entitlement have been a problem for AGES (remember how Arthur Conan Doyle tried to kill Sherlock (a character he hated) only to be forced to bring him back by rabid reader demand? Perhaps Moffat will not be so easily persuaded...).

    I write New Adult that has NO sex whatsoever. This is simply an extension of the fact that romance is the subbest of subplots in my writing. I'd be lying if I didn't say that the sexpectation for NA makes me worried that it'll be difficult to get my manuscripts out there, but I'm also determined to turn the demand for semi-erotica in the category on its head.

    *Disclaimer stating that I love erotica, I just don't write it but would still like to publish in the NA category.

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    1. True! This definitely is not new, just the new category getting slammed with it

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  17. Oh one more thing, I hope eventuaoly it will become like Young Adult -- but without that one question that drives many YA authors nuts. As many genres, without "what is ok to write in YA." I see New Adult having a lot of variety over the next two years. I think the scope is beyond sex.

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  18. I haven't finished the series yet, so I can't comment on Roth. But I will throw this out: Though authors have to be true to their stories, they also have to consider genre expectations, as well as expectations they themselves set up in their readers via marketing (cover, blurb...) and the writing itself.

    There's little I despise more than an author setting me up for something (sex or otherwise) and not delivering. Don't carry on about how gorgeous the hero is and how good he's going to be when heroine finally gets him in bed and then get shy when you write the love scene. The climactic events and denouement need to match the groundwork you lay, and the tone and graphic level of your writing needs to be consistent.

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  19. If these readers are so desperate for a book they know will have sex, why don't they just pick up a romance novel or erotica?

    I've seen a lot of people in the writing/reading blogosphere claiming that NA is just YA with sex, or contemporary YA with older characters. Have they never read a book in any other genres with characters of that age range?

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  20. My N.A book has no sex, but there's sexual tension. The second in the series may include some sex, but if so, it will not be graphic, more suggested. The story is not about whether she gets her kit off, it's about characters making connections, growing past the conflict. One reader didn't like that it included vampires and talk of blood drinking, when she'd not expected either. It's an urban fantasy / paranormal mystery… short of having fangs on the cover, or a warning saying 'Beware, there are vampires inside' I'm unsure what I might otherwise have done. She did say she liked that I'd put a different spin on them at least, but I realised we cannot meet the expectations of every reader. We must write the story in our imagination and be as possible in the blurb/description about what kind of book it is, and readers should assess those blurbs and perhaps a review or too before making a purchase.

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