The George R. R. Martin Complex—or, Why Fans Have Entitlement Issues

Hello there, ladies and gents! Sorry for the shortage of updates recently. I got hit with a pretty severe cold and was laid up in bed for a couple of days. Just when I started feeling better, Winter Storm Nemo buried us in two feet of snow and knocked out our internet, phones and cable for about three days. We were fortunate not to lose power.

Now that order has been restored, I want to jump back into blogging with a few words about fan entitlement.

But first!

I just had to mention this incredible site, Developed by HBO as a promotion for “Game of Thrones,” this site lets you record yourself swearing the Night’s Watch oath, led by the Bastard of Winterfell, Jon Snow himself. Your voice is then mixed with the voices of hundreds of others who’ve visited the site and recorded their own oaths.

The result—one truly epic sound bite. George R. R. Martin even recorded his own version for YouTube.

I felt I needed to give HBO credit for thinking up this brilliant marketing strategy, and for making me feel like a badass when I listened to my voice right alongside Jon Snow’s. To hear my recording and to record your own Night’s Watch oath, clicky the pic below!

The George R. R. Martin Complex

Last week, I wrote an article over at my friend Dave’s site, The Sonic Saber, about the deal George R. R. Martin signed with HBO, and fan reaction to this news.

It got me thinking about fans (of books, television shows, musicians, etc.) and what makes them feel entitled to a constant stream of new content from the writers/actors/musicians they claim to adore—content, by the way, that they dictate.

I have dubbed this phenomenon “The George R. R. Martin Complex.”

Here’s an excerpt from my post:

One individual (ironically named Rob) left this considerate message for the celebrated author:

Oh for fuck’s sake, George – just cease with all this extraneous rubbish and finish the books. You produced two sub-standard works in eleven years, and written to nothing in the last two, other than your mandatory one GOT episode per season (hardly multiple episodes). No one cares about your side projects, or ever will. Just finish the books … or hand them over to someone who will.

Wow. What a bunch of entitled a-holes, eh?

As a writer myself, I resent this particular brand of ignorance. Writing is hard. It takes time. It’s exhausting. The monumental undertaking of a seven-book fantasy epic is not something to be hurried or taken lightly.

And who are you to tell Martin when and how and what to write? He doesn’t owe you anything. In fact—you owe him. If it weren’t for his genius, there wouldn’t be a Westeros or an HBO series for you to watch.

Neil Gaiman said it best: George R. R. Martin is not your bitch.

Martin is notorious for missing deadlines, and his fans are equally notorious for their incessant demands that he write faster. The comedic musical duo Paul and Storm even wrote a song about it:

But, comic relief aside, what right do fans have to feel that way? Is an author obligated to write a certain number of books, or have the plot go in a certain direction, or meet a certain publishing deadline just because the people who bought his book say so? What in Seven Hells gave fans the idea that they get to take charge of another person’s creative talents?

My theory: It all stems from the internet.

Try to think back to what life was like before the internet. If (like me) you were born in the early ’90s or even earlier, you should be able to remember. “Research” meant hitting up your school’s 20-volume edition of Encyclopedia Britannica—the Wikipedia of then. The information was usually outdated and sometimes just plain wrong. “Movie night” meant driving to Blockbuster or the local library to rent a videotape. If the person who’d watched it before you was a jerk, you had to wait for the tape to rewind before you could watch.

In those days, if you loved a certain book series, but the most recent book was dated four years ago, there was no author website or to advertise future publication dates. If you wanted to know when you’d get to read what happened next, you either had to write a letter to the author or just, you know, wait.

i'm thinking of better things to do with my time by plasticrevolver, on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“Great, now what am I supposed to do until the next ‘Captain Underpants’ book comes out?”

Since the invention of the web, entertainment is never more than a few clicks away. Type a string of words into Google, and you’ve got access to near-limitless tailored content: movies, books, songs, art, recipes, hilarious talking cat memes, etc.

“But that’s what we love about the internet!” you say. “It’s everything we’ve ever wanted! The world is at our fingertips!”

Yeah, and that’s all fine and dandy, but the instant gratification of the search engine has taught us to expect guaranteed immediate access to whatever content we want.

This isn’t just unrealistic; it’s pathological. The world is not our personal playground. Writers, singers, artists, and game developers are all people with lives and hobbies that probably don’t include catering to the whims of their fans.

“That’s not fair,” some might argue. “We’re the ones buying their books and mp3s and video games. Without us, they couldn’t make a living doing what they do.”

That’s true. But if you ask George R. R. Martin, I’m pretty sure he’ll tell you that he doesn’t write to make money. He writes because he’s a writer. Even if he wasn’t paid a cent for his books, he would still write.

In fact, he did. In 1983, he thought his fourth novel, “The Armageddon Rag,” would launch his career as a big-time novelist, but the book tanked. In an interview with the Financial Times, Martin admitted, “It was the worst-selling of all my novels and essentially destroyed my career as a novelist at the time.”

But Martin never stopped writing. He wrote for television and continued selling short stories until 1996, when he published “A Game of Thrones,” the first installment of his magnum opus, “A Song of Ice and Fire.” That series would eventually make Martin the owner of a global franchise that includes an HBO television series, expanded universe books, and—yes—even “Game of Thrones” plushies.

"Game of Thrones" Plushies

This is what success looks like. Isn’t it adorable?!

“But now that Martin’s famous, he has a responsibility to his fans to finish the books!”

No, he doesn’t. The fact that writers like Martin choose to share their works with us is a privilege, not a right, and telling him he’d better hurry up and finish or else isn’t going to get you anywhere. Most creative types don’t work well under pressure. As I said before, writing isn’t something that can be forced. It’s incredibly rewarding work, but also mentally exhausting. Each writer finds his or her own pace.

Obviously Martin’s publishers have accepted his pace, or they wouldn’t keep paying him to write amazing books. We need to accept his pace, too.

So while you’re waiting for “The Winds of Winter” to hit shelves R’hllor-knows-when, how about demonstrating a little bit of empathy and patience? Reread the other books in the series. Read the books on this list. Watch Season 3 of “Game of Thrones,” scheduled to air next month. Play the “Game of Thrones” video game. Maybe even read some of Martin’s earlier works.

Just don’t tell Mr. Martin how to spend his time.

He’s not your bitch.


9 thoughts on “The George R. R. Martin Complex—or, Why Fans Have Entitlement Issues

  1. Martin takes tours. Walks around the world being fucking famous and getting autographs.
    The man really does shit gold.

    Is it any wonder that people want him to write? Hell, I wouldn’t mind if he said “not feeling it, different series now!” Just WRITE, that’s what we pay you for.

    NOBODY complained when Gerrold took years off writing to raise a kid.

    But, taking years off just to get more attaboys? George, write the damn book already~!

    • Thank you for reading my post, but again–you’re trying to dictate to a writer how and when he should write. I’m sorry, but I just don’t think that’s our place. In fact, as a writer, I KNOW it’s not our place. We don’t pay him to write. We pay him to read his books. His publishers pay him to write, and as I mentioned, they seem to be perfectly fine with Mr. Martin’s pace. All successful writers take tours and sign autographs. It’s part of the job, and it has nothing to do with his slow writing pace. That’s just how he writes. Resenting him because he’s famous is no justification for your narrow-minded criticisms.

  2. I agree completely with this. I’m not really a huge fan of GoT, but I’ve noticed this everywhere and it really irritates me. Also, your comment that “writing is exhausting” reminded me of something my author friend said a few years ago when I had just sat down to start writing: “Writing is hard and if you find it easy then you’re doing it wrong.”

  3. I personally don’t care how long the books take to come out; I have other things I can do in the meantime.
    I do care about how mind boggingly bad the last two were though. That’s a much more pressing concern. I really have no faith in him delivering a decent end to this series now, one way or another.

  4. I realise this entry is a bit old now, but here is my take on it for what it is worth.

    George R.R. Martin is not my bitch, but nor am I his.

    As far as The Winds of Winter goes, he can take as much time as he pleases. After 2 books of rather dubious quality, I am not exactly holding my breath for the next one. I think there is one thing you neglect to mention in this piece though: The criticism of Martin’s writing pace started during the wait between A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. It deserves a mention that A Feast for Crows actually had a note in the back from the author, explaining that Dany, Jon and Tyrion would all be back in the next book, the next year (he hoped).

    The note is here, in case it has been removed from subsequent editions:

    Fans who bought AFFC were being told that the next book would be along next year. In writing from the author himself. Of course it had the “I hope” disclaimer, which definitely would excuse him for going a little over the promised date, but 5 years? I think that is stretching people’s patience a little too far. As a paying customer who had already invested in 4 of his books at that point, I don’t feel terribly entitled or spoiled by admitting that I was not satisfied with this. Nor do I think anyone else should be. George R.R Martin is not our bitch, but nor are we his.

    As far as his pace goes, I don’t really care much any more, but I will say that he proved with the previous entries in the series that he IS capable of delivering a decent novel in less than half the time it took for him to finish A Dance with Dragons. As a writer of some note once said: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

  5. All this discussion really boils down too is; There are two types of ASoIaF fans. Those who are in love with the books (first 3 are great) to the point where they hope the series will end with the luster in which it started.

    And those who have read enough to realize that closing a series is really….really….realllllllllllly hard and GRRM has unfortunatnly painted himself into a hole and the only way out will be less than stellar.

    It stinks. Personally, for the sake of the series and show I think he should rewrite AFFC and ADWD and include the 5 year gap. What holy law says he can’t. Some fans might be “betrayed” if he scrapped two books and said “Oops”. But more books would be published, more money would be made, and the series might end up something special rather than it-could-have-been awesome.

    Really, I may be a jaded “detractor” but I would give him a pass. The whole, “finish the book, GRRM” thing is now more about confirming our ideas that he will epic fail than getting the books out. Thats why I think he is stalling, he does not want to ruin a legacy.

    • I would argue that with the deplorable Dance With Dragons, he has already so closely approached the “epic fail”, that he’s actually hoping that his overworked heart will burst before he runs out of excuses and has to admit the failure. The “story” told in DWD was so thin and feeble that it could have been written as a novella in a magazine – readers digest, perhaps? I don’t see how he can recover from this one…

  6. I agree with everything you said, especially the part about the internet. I love it, but for most people its ruined their ability to be patient. Because we have almost everything we want within a few seconds time, the idea of waiting is abhorrent to people.

    Its really unseemly and ASOIF fans seem to be the worst at it. Some of the oldest fans have been waiting a long time, so I understand some frustration on their part. But others are relatively new, and yet act like they have been waiting forever. The statements they make are so ludicrous. Over on the reddit machine people openly call him lazy, a slob, all kinds of abhorrent things.

    Hey, keyboard warriors, go write something yourself. See how easy it is.

  7. You might have one or two minor points. maybe.
    But to say that “The fact that writers like Martin choose to share their works with us is a privilege, not a right”, is so ridiculous as to be beyond laughable.
    It’s a privilege to pay him for what he has chosen to do for a living? Excuse me – are you saying that your employer is privileged to pay you? Really? People have jobs. They get paid for the work they do. This is not a privilege on either end. But – and this is the big point – If we don’t do our jobs, we shouldn’t expect our employers to happily say “oh – okay – whenever you’re ready – you go ahead and do your job. We’ll wait….”. That’s just plain ludicrous.
    And as for expectations – he set them, himself. Remember A Feast For Crows? Remember “I’ll have the next book out next year”? anyone? I do… I remember it well. and it was what – six years or close enough that it makes no difference? sure – no problem. How about I tell my manager that I’ll have this project done in a year and then deliver it six years later… hmmm – I think I’ll be looking for a new job long before that…
    And then to deliver THAT ???? Okay – MAYBE if you pull the books apart, interleave the chapters in their correct chronological order, and THEN read it as one book – MAYBE then ADWD will have some meaning. But to release it on its own – six years later – and call it a work unto itself? Again – that’s ludicrous. The only reason that has more than a single star (and that only because you can’t really give a book 0 stars) is because of the rabid fans that will eat up anything he serves at this point, and call it filet mignon…
    He just released a new chapter on his website.
    Did I just use the word “NEW”??? He wrote it TEN YEARS AGO… Like all of the chapters he’s released. Yet he’s released let’s see now – a couple of dunk n egg novellas, the princess and the queen, he manages a full screenplay every year – oh – on time, btw – for the hbo show, he has been doing editing projects – adding his own works to them, added a substantial part to the new World Of book – a compendium that should by rights not have been written until after the series is ended, if for no other reason than it’s ass-backwards to every other compendium to every other series ever written.

    No – he may not be MY bitch – but at this point – he’s just a bitch – for lying, for throwing in our faces the fact that he doesn’t even care anymore, for releasing garbage when in fact he IS one of (not THE, but still one of) the greatest fantasy writers ever to have written. He should be ashamed of himself.

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