Change is Good. (Except When it Comes to Our Favorite Authors.)

As romance enthusiasts, we are passionate about our genre.  It’s also fair to say that we get somewhat emotionally attached to the books of the authors we love.

And then there is the whole no respect thing.  As in, romance readers don’t get none from anybody outside the genre.  It’s a combo that makes all of us a bit touchy now and then.

So, when an author leaves the fold and starts writing for an audience outside the genre – Iris Johannsen, Tami Hoag, and Kay Hooper, come to mind right off the top of my head – the general consensus among us is that they used to be better when they wrote romance.  In the case of at least two of those authors,  to my mind it’s undeniably true.

Whether they left because their natural evolution as a writer led them there or whether they, they were in search of bigger bucks, or they too wanted respect, who knows?  But for the most part, we romance readers eventually let them go.  Goodbye, ladies.  Be careful out there.

But what about authors who stay and who change?  And, yes, right now, I’m thinking of Linda Howard.  She is an unpredictable writer, driven as she’s said by characters who actually seem to come to life for her and tell her the way her story is going.  So, you’ll have a Blair book one year and Cry No More the next.  She follows her muse and her publisher backs her. She changes.

When she published her recent post on her Facebook page regarding her struggle with her health, she seemed to many to be offering up an explanation as to why her books had changed.  Here’s my take on it:  I don’t think Linda Howard “admitted” anything.  She was not offering excuses.  She was explaining to readers how her health has made it harder for her to write. Though I’m all for honesty and open communication, I wish she hadn’t done it because it does seem disingenuous.  Because she’s always changed as a writer. And change is good, right?

They’re her books and she should damn well write them the way she wants to.  But, as readers, if we’re not feeling it any longer, we don’t have to follow her.  That’s our right, too.

So, why is that so hard?

We’re back to that emotionally attached thing.  And back to no respect, too.

Some readers love her old books so much that they keep hoping she’ll go back to the Mackenzies again.  Or Mr. Perfect.  Or whatever a reader’s personal favorite Linda Howard book is.  And as romance readers we are hyper-sensitive to the dis.  It’s happened before and it will happen again – writers who are at the tippy toppy of our happy genre leave us for what is perceived as the greener pastures of mainstream fiction. (Though whether they’re really greener – as in money – is a legitimate question since very few authors hit the top of the fiction charts and romance books, as we all know, account for a healthy chunk of fiction sales.)  And we don’t like it when they leave because we take it as a dis to our genre.  And, heck, in many cases it probably is.

But is it fair to keep kvetching about it? I think at some point it’s time to stop and accept that a writer has a right to change and that you, as a reader, have the right to reject it.

I have a formerly favorite author who I think wrote some of the best – the very best – books that our genre has to offer.  They were different.  They were smart.  And the dialogue defined the term “sparkling.”  Her books were always a highlight of my reading year and I couldn’t wait for the next.

And then she changed.  My god, she changed.  I bought the first book after her metamorphisis and I simply couldn’t believe how much I disliked it.  I couldn’t find any vestige of the author I loved in the pages.

Then I bought the next.  Stink city. Then I read a novella.  Crap.

Then I read some comments online that seemed to disavow and devalue her previous books.  And, yep, in my guise as hyper-sensitive romance reader, it seemed to me that she was disavowing and devaluing us.  Romance.

So, as much as it pains me to do it, I moved on.  If – and there’s not much hope in my “if” – I hear from fellow readers that a future book is a return to the voice I loved, then I’ll give her a try again. That formerly favorite author of mine has every right to change.  But, as a reader, it’s my right not to follow her.

So, what do you think?  Do you think we’re hyper-sensitive to the dis?  How long does it take you to admit that a writer just isn’t working for you anymore?  Do you take it personally when an author abandons romance?

- Sandy AAR

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34 Responses to Change is Good. (Except When it Comes to Our Favorite Authors.)

  1. Tee says:

    Sandy said: “But here’s the bottom line: They’re her books and she should damn well write them the way she wants to. But, as readers, if we’re not feeling it any longer, we don’t have to follow her. That’s our right, too.”

    So true. I totally believe this. The author is the “creator” of her stuff. She can do as she wants. We may not like it, but there it is. You also asked, “Do you take it personally?” Absolutely not. Again, it her/his call. They don’t know me and I don’t know them. How can that decision be personal for me? It’s personal for them, though, and that’s what counts. My only decision at that point would be do I stay with them? Do I like this new direction?

    You then asked the question about hypersensitivity. I believe romance readers are hypersenstive (at times) to this. Feeling disappointed is one thing; but we can’t get riled up over a decision that’s not ours to make. There are a number of authors I really enjoyed reading who switched genres. I do miss them. But since there’s not much that I can do about it, I’ve moved on to others. And there are others! LOL

  2. sandy l says:

    Not only do writers change, but readers change also. Readers go through phases. We get tired of reading the same plot in the same time or something happens in life and we need something different from the stories that we read. I read in phases. Right now I’ve moved from historical romances to historial mysteries. I am also reading a lot of paranormals.

    Or authors don’t change. My MIL who used to read one author religiously now feels that every book this author writes is the same. Just the names and location have changed. Bad for me because this author was her birthday present each year.

    I don’t envy authors. If they change or grow, they may lose readers. Or if they don’t vary their writing, they may lose readers. I have my favorite authors and a few have gone beyond romances to mystery and their writing is just as good or better. Off the top of my head, both P.B. Ryan and C. S. Harris have written really good historial mysteries. Unfortunately, I am addicted to Sebastian St. Cyr and am currently having major withdrawal.

  3. AAR Sandy says:

    sandy l, you make a most excellent point about writers who don’t change. I can think of several who write the same books over and over – and over and over – and I am bored out of my skull by this. It is one thing to write in a consistent voice, it is another to keep telling the same story about the same characters in the same setting over and over.

    Tee, I think hyper-sensitivity is a real issue for romance readers. And, frankly, who can blame us considering the attitude of the rest of the world to our genre?

  4. Magdalen says:

    Not being a published author, what I’m about to write may be rubbish, but this is what I believe: We write what we can. I suppose some authors can pick & choose. Stephen King could probably write a romance if he wanted to. But maybe not. And not many people are as multi-faceted as Stephen King.

    I can imagine an author whose books are fundamentally the same for series after series, year after year, until she’s written dozens of delightfully interchangeable books. You might argue this one is better than that one, but if you loved the first one, you are still liking the last one.

    I can also imagine an author who writes all the romance in her heart, and then what’s next is what’s next. It might be mainstream fiction, “women’s fiction,” mysteries, thrillers, whatever. And life can intrude into all that.

    That’s how I read Linda Howard’s explanation — that life intruded into her fiction. I don’t know her personally, so this too is a guess. But it sounded to me as though she tried to work through her health problems. Anyone who doesn’t like the books she wrote over the past five years? Consider the alternative: no books from her at all.

    I’d say we came out better on that deal.

  5. Kathryn says:

    I seem to be one of the few who appreciated hearing Ms. Howard’s perspective on the change in her writing voice. She was talking about her writing and her life on Facebook, which seemed to me to be appropriate topics for the setting. I did not see her comments as disingenuous or an apology for recent reviews but rather as a mix of openess, an acknowledgement of personal pain and a realization that life changes all aspects of ourselves. As Sandy said “They’re her books and she should damn well write them the way she wants to.” It’s her life and her writing and she should damn well discuss them the way she wants to.

    I see her recent books in a new light now and, while that background information may not increase my enjoyment of them, I can better appreciate the influences on their creation. While her older works tend to be my favorites, I loved Death Angel (yes, not her most popular) and now I recognize why; it seemed to me to be a book about changing perspectives and changing lives.

    Yes, I think hyper-sensitivity can be a trait of romance readers and I wonder if is knowledge of that trait that locks many authors into freezing out changes in their writing. No one can be all things to all people and IMHO the attempt to write with the goal of pleasing a long-time audience drags down many books. Some of my favorite authors are my favorites because they take their most basic story and tell us again and again in very different ways. That’s when the glomming is most exciting because the richness of their basic story reflects the richness of learning our own basic stories through life. If a writer changes in a way that lessens my reading pleasure, it just gives me more time to look for other authors worth glomming for awhile!

  6. JML says:

    God you hit on so many good points!

    First that comes to mind that it’s not just romance readers who are hyper-sensitive about ‘their’ favorites. Poor Agatha Christie was all but hung in effigy when she did away with Poirot. Ditto Conan Doyle when he killed off Holmes. So when ‘our’ authors move away from characters or stories we love we’re (some of us) just acting on the nature of some readers that abhor change.

    Sometimes change HAS to come. When I re-read my beloved Julie Garwood books I see them as the perfect books for the time they were published. Now they seem rather naive, still wonderful but only as a re-read. I’m so glad she didn’t cop-out and follow Stephanie Laurens into the world of same characters/different location book after book after book.

    The only thing that sends me crazy-loopy mad is when an author who has made their name writing romances then knocks the genre. That’s just bad form and rude to boot.

    The wonderful thing is, year after year, decade after decade, I’ve always been able to find new authors with new ideas and new characters. I love romance books and (most of) the people write them.

  7. June says:

    Are romance readers hypersensitive? I guess I am. I’m quick to explain myself – I like happy endings and yes I agree that lots of the covers are awful, silly and/or tacky.

    Perhaps I’m being overly sensitive, but this blog has an in-crowd and outsider quality to it. Who are better authors now that they have left romance writing? Who left romances behind and later dissed them? If you don’t mention names, how do I know if I agree or disagree with your assesment of them? I realize it’s just your opinion.

    I’m out of the loop even within my own group of fellow romance readers. Ok, that is over the top, but you get my drift.

  8. Sandy AAR says:

    June, The purpose of this blog was to write about reactions to writers and their changing voices and styles. I walked away from an author because I personally didn’t like the way she’d changed — who that author is doesn’t have any relevance to why I did it. I did it because I didn’t like the way she changed. Have you ever done that? That was my point. There was never any attempt to make anyone feel left out and an author who has Google Alerts set up doesn’t have to know what I think of her new direction. Since she’s not going to change anyway, that’s best for everyone.

    JML, now I recall reading about the hub bug when SAC killed off poor Sherlock. Still, I think that because we’re looked down upon by everybody outside our genre, we’re extra touchy. And Stephanie Laurens was certainly an author who came to my mind, too, as somebody who’s needed a good shaking up for a decade at least. (She still sells well, though, so what you and I think just might amount to the proverbial hill of beans.)

  9. June says:

    Good answer, but I’m still curious :)

  10. That’s why I write in several genres. My ‘voice’ or my muse or whatever takes me in different directions, and while the usual advice is to stick to one genre, I found that writing in different subgenres of romance refreshed my palate and made me eager to get back to the other.
    I also find that although there are some readers who buy everything, others prefer one genre or the other and will only buy in that one. I only write in romance, so maybe that’s it.
    Linda Howard has also written successfully in several subgenres, and her voice shines through from all of them. But a writer can’t always tell where the next book will take her.

  11. Katie (kat) says:

    Yes, authors have the right to change but do they always have to do it when they switch to hardcovers so a fan who has loved their previous work constantly gets screwed buying a really crappy $25 book?

    I do feel sorry for Linda Howard’s situation and appreciate she addressed the issue on her site. It explains a lot. I’m one of those die-hard fans of her previous work and, you might be right, I should just give up. I could stop lamenting the fact she doesn’t write what I like anymore and quit buying her books.

    On the other hand, she might write something I love again. I saw promise in Raintree Inferno and I ejoyed To Die For. I loved Cry No More but despised Death Angel and Cover of Night. I’ve always enjoyed Howard changing things up. I have no problem with authors changing genres but I if they are writing romances the relationship between the hero and heroine needs to be developed. That should be writing romance 101.

    Every reader should complain about bad writing not just be told to get over it with the lame reasoning that the writer has changed. Good storytelling has the right to be demanded just not the topic the author is writing about. Authors like Howard would not be successful if all of those old fans were not around still buying their books and I think we have the right to complain if we are spending our hard earned money on a product we know to be subpar.

  12. CindyS says:

    I can honestly say I was bereft when Julie Garwood started writing contemporaries. I don’t know if I felt dissed as much as sad that an author I loved had moved on without me. That was the first author that changed before I was ready.

    Reading remarks about how these author’s earlier works were ‘romance ZOMG!!’ used to burn but now I feel like these people just don’t understand what makes a great book. Sadly, I feel superior and I shouldn’t but screw it, I love what I love and I’m okay with that.

    Do I wish my favourite authors would find their former muse? Yeah, but I figure I’ll find out through reviews if ‘they’ ever make the switch back.


  13. PinkJaneite says:

    I LOVED (still do) Julie Garwood’s Historical Romances. Despite their flaws, JG always had an interesting storyline that made you laugh every step of the way. I agree with the comment on how as readers we also change. When I first read them, I thought they were perfect. Now I know they can’t stand a change against more powerful novels such as “Villette.” But I also find JG books really good for the period in which they were written (and the consideration that she published a new novel every year, sometimes even 2!)

    I have read most of her contemporaries but I felt like I was reading something I could see on TV (CSI, L&O, any other kind of detective show) rather than a wonderful novel to escape in. Her newest Historical Romance was horrible in my opinion because instead of writing in her old format, she wrote it as though it were one of her contemporaries placed in Medieval Scotland. So sometimes writers can’t make their switch back in the eyes of their readers.

    While I agree that authors have every right to write what they please, I also agree that we have every right to stop following authors that don’t please us anymore. While I still own my old JG Historicals, I no longer follow her. In a way, it’s a good thing for me because it has forced me to try new (and old) wonderful writers :)

  14. KristieJ says:

    Funny, I was thinking along the same line just yesterday. It somewhat annoys me at times, even as I’m guilty of it too, when we readers complain about how an author’s ‘voice’ has changed and they aren’t as good as they used to be. What we should be saying is that authors voice no longer works for me. Because I’ve read some reader moan an bitch (and yes, I’m one on occasion – think Lorraine Heath) that the author isn’t as good as they used to be, when fact is she may write better to the next person who reads her book. So we are judging an author by our own likes and preferences, and not necessarily by the talent of the author. And really, when I thought about it, it’s somewhat unfair to brand that author as one who isn’t as good anymore or who has ‘jumped the shark’ when others like her even more now.

  15. Tee says:

    KristieJ, Yes to all your points. I was just re-reading this column and was ready to pen another couple of thoughts and—whoa—there you were saying almost the very same things in almost the same words. Saying “This author no longer works for me” is much better compared to “This author writes horribly now.” Obviously, not every reader out there would agree with the last statement.

  16. Nathalie T says:

    It doesn’t bother me if an author starts writing something else as long as their style doesn’t change too much. Janet Evanovich is a good example. I’ve read a couple of her earlier books as well as her Stephanie Plum books and the style hasn’t changed really. I’m one of those people who continue to read authors I should’ve stopped reading a while a go too long. But these authors no longer works for me: Kelley Armstrong, Karen Hawkins, Suzanne Enoch (her historicals) and Julia Quinn.

  17. EGS says:

    I must admit to being miffed that Tina St. John stopped writing Medievals and switched to vampire romances (as Lara Adrian). I don’t mind authors experimenting sometimes, but other times if they switch genres completely (or rather, sub-genres), I’m not so happy. I guess also with St. John, there are so few Medievals out there to begin with that it saddens me when another author stops writing them.

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  19. xina says:

    And readers complain just as much when an author writes the same book, over and over again. We’ve all heard that complaint too. Personally, I think the mature way to read a book is to read that book for itself and try not to compare to the books that came before. Really.
    As for the Linda Howard information on Facebook…I read it over 3 times and didn’t see anything in those paragraphs by Howard admitting her voice had changed. The people who saw this as an apology or whatever simply wanted it as back-up for not liking her latest book, or her most recent books.
    Change is good. It always has been. And if a reader isn’t happy with a writer anymore, I think it’s time to move on, but don’t try to make everyone else follow you by finding excuses that just aren’t there.

  20. Katie (kat) says:

    I haven’t heard anyone complaining that Linda Howard writes different types of stories (which she has always done) only that now those stories are seriously lacking in romance and character development.

    If someone wants to give up on an author please do so but don’t keep trying to silence other people. Readers have the right to voice their legitimate complaints about writing quality. I’m tired of the insuiation that the problem is the reader begrudging the author the right to change rather than acknowledging that we are simply demanding a quality product.

    If a writer wants to not charge for their books then I’ll refrain from complaining I spent my money (I don’t check out books from the library, I buy them new at bookstores) on a mediocore read. Until that time I adamantly maintain I have the right to bitch and moan about inferiror writing. I think authors would rather keep their paying customers then have us give up on them. JMHO.

  21. xina says:

    Katie (kat), Of course you have every right to dislike an author. The point of my post is that I didn’t think that Howard admitted, through her Facebook post, that her sickness had changed her voice. Some online romance readers seemed to take her comments as the reason for a failure. I just didn’t read that into her comments at all.
    Begrudge any reader you want and talk about it. I do, and I think we all do.

  22. PinkJaneite says:

    I agree with Katie’s statement. We’re paying customers! We want our money’s worth :) Just like we would stop our HBO/Cinemax/Showtime/Starz/etc. subscription if they aired films and original series that no longer pleased us, we should have the exact same right to the same with authors. While I don’t enjoy Julie Garwood’s contemporaries, I’m sure some of her contemporary fans don’t enjoy her historicals. I think it’s all a matter of taste but at the same time…

    I think the issue is also very modern one. Most classic authors generally published 10 books or less, so chances are, they took a long time writing and rewriting their works making sure they are perfect.

    Nowadays, there are authors who have written 50+ books, most in a very short span of time. They got contracts with their publishers to write a certain amount of books in a certain amount of time whether they got a good story to tell or not. So readers end up getting rushed works or what’s worse – ghost written – to fulfill the demands and deadlines of the publisher :(

    So I think it’s not completely the author’s fault, but if they are going to allow their name to be placed on a cover and promote it everywhere for their fans to purchase, they should deliver their $6.99+ worth.

  23. Diana says:

    @Katie(kat) Judging the “quality” of fiction writing is very subjective and personal. I disagree with your assessment of Howard’s work as subpar, but I’m not going to argue with you about it. You “despised” Death Angel. I thought it was one of her best books and I loved it. So there’s no point in our debating it.

    You have shared your opinion in two posts here and no one has censored you or insinuated that you should remain silent. I don’t know why you think so. You have every right to “bitch and moan” and have done so. But you should also know that as you exercise your rights there will be those who disagree with you adamantly and find your repeated complaints tiresome. Everyone’s got rights. It’s your right to keep buying her books and keep complaining about them. It’s my right to wish you would stop torturing yourself and sharing.

  24. Katie (kat) says:

    Diana, if you have a problem with people sharing their opinion on a public forum maybe this isn’t the right venue for you. No use being rude when someone shares an opinion in all of two posts. Life is full of people who disagree with you no matter how much you think yours is the only one that matters. It’s a good lesson to learn.

  25. Diana says:

    Katie, Just in case you’re not deliberatelh misinterpreting me…the topic is what dk you do when an author no longer makes you happy. Your response as I read it is to continue buying bad author’s books and then complain about her. Personally, I don’t get that, but whatever.

    It is not your plae to tell an;yone they don’t belong here.

  26. Katie (kat) says:

    Diana, the topic was giving up on authors that don’t work for you anymore. I offered a different viewpoint, that quitting on an author doesn’t have to be the solution nor would I think it would be the solution authors would want from their paying customers. I’ve read over and over again, in regards to Howard, that people won’t accept change and I find that to be a weak argument since she has always swtiched things up. You want to move on good for you. I want to demand character development and hope their is a good book in the future.

    Discussions take many different twists and turns and everyone certainly doesn’t have to agree. I guess I’m at a loss as to why you maintain that my posts were not on topic. The original post specifically mentioned Linda Howard and I threw in my two cents.

    I’m sorry but I do have to reiterate, maybe a public forum is not for you if you are going to post for someone to (parapharasing here) shut up if they write something you don’t like. Just my humble opinion.

  27. Janet W says:

    Quoting Katie/Kat replying to Diana: “You want to move on good for you. I want to demand character development and hope there is a good book in the future.”

    It takes me a long time to move on from some authors … and it seems Ms. Howard is one of them. I too really enjoyed (if that is the right term), “Death Angel”. Now I take her books out from the library. I had heard enough about her most recent book to know I’ll enjoy it. I especially like the hommage mentioned to Designing Women since that was a show I always enjoyed.

    Honestly, I k’vetch and moan and groan but who I am to “demand” character development. Authors write what authors write: I read what I read. Isn’t that the equation? It seems like the label “good book” means different things to different people.

    I don’t think anyone is saying “move along there’s nothing to see here” … AAR is always “Open Season” haha for lively discussions!

  28. Katie (kat) says:

    Sorry, but I do think a customer has the right to demand good quality. We don’t get to decide what type of product someone is going to sell but we do have the right to expect a quality product. It can be not to our taste but as long as the writing is good, heck, I won’t begrudge the money I spent on a book.

    This is a review site. I think constructive criticism of authors should reasonably be expected here. I know I am not alone in my complaint that Linda Howard’s recent books have been lacking in the development of the relationship between the hero & heroine that is crucial to a romance novel. But hey, it’s only my opinion. I’m not telling anyone to shut up or that they have to agree with me.

  29. AAR Sandy says:

    Katie (kat), the blog wasn’t dealing with quality. The blog was dealing with an author changing. We all know authors who’ve jumped the shark who are no longer working for us. But sometimes authors change in ways that has nothing to do with quality and everything to do with the kind of books they are trying to write. My question, as I posed it, is when I wrote the blog was when do you give up on authors who are no longer writing the kind of books you want to read.

    Of course, we discuss quality here. But continuing to read an author who no longer writes the kind of books I want to read is what I was looking at.

    As others have said, quality is highly subjective. If someone has jumped the shark, they’ve jumped the shark. For me, at any rate, I give up those authors without a qualm. It’s far more difficult to walk away from authors who just aren’t writing the kind of books I want to read anymore.

  30. MB says:

    What an interesting post. I do have favorite authors that have changed and that I no longer buy ‘sight unseen’. I don’t think I will name names, although the 3 that I’m thinking of have been mentioned by many other romance readers. What I do is check out the new books from the library, read and evaluate, then decide whether I’m likely to want to re-read. Only then do they go on my ‘Buy’ list. I have very few authors that I will buy without reading first.

    I may be one of the few people out there who like Linda Howard’s newer books better than the older ones. I didn’t love Death Angel or Cover of Night, but they were entertaining. I’m glad I read them even if I don’t plan to re-read.

    I found it interesting that she posted about her experiences with thyroid disease. I can entirely understand where she is coming from as I, as well as 2 members of my family have this as well. Take it from someone who knows–thyroid changes your life! I developed it early, but it is a chronic disease and I will never know what my life would have been like without having to deal with this issue. So…I feel for her. Interestingly, my sisters were also LH fans and we have had conversations as to why her books have changed, we had each noticed this separately. Thyroid, as an explanation, is something I accept and understand.

    BTW, speaking of favorite authors changing, I saw that Jennifer Crusie (another favorite of mine) posted that she would no longer be writing romances, but was switching to womens’ fiction in the future. I think that is interesting in view of this topic.

    BTW, I often like it if they do change! I get bored with straight romance and have really cut back/switched genres in the last few years.

  31. Elyse Mady says:

    I think it’s important to recognize that just as we bring different things to the books we read, so to do authors. After all, have you ever reread a book you LOVED as a young person or hated because it was dull or boring and then in the rereading discovered all sorts of new details that make it a very different experience because of your own personal experiences in the intervening years? Authors put pieces of themselves into each book they write – as their lives change and they have new or different priorities, their books can change. Sometimes its subtle and gradual, but other times, big changes necessitate big differences IMHO.

  32. Katie (kat) says:

    Sandy, I beg to differ because the example you choose to use was Linda Howard. To many fans the issue with Howard’s books is one of quality not change since she has always changed. If this blog had been about an author switching from historicals to paranormals my quality comments would have been off-topic. I think the confusion is using an example of one type of situation and using it to support a unrelated point. Again, this is just my opinion.

  33. Sandy AAR says:

    Katie (kat), of course, you are welcome to your opinion and free to air it here. But as the author of the post, I am in the best position to know what I meant.

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