What Do Authors Owe Their Readers? (Or: What Happened to Michelle Hodkin?)
If you listen to my podcast, The Readirect Podcast, you know I'm on a rampage about this topic, and I hope you'll enjoy my expanded thoughts here.
This post is part true crime investigation (read: Facebook stalking), part thought experiment, and part a desperate cry into the internet void with hope that the SEO will bring everyone else feeling this way to my post.
It's about a book series, an author that's gone missing (from the internet, I assume she is fine IRL) and a question: What do authors owe to their readers?
When I was in college, I was walking the aisles of a bookstore with my friend looking for something to read. I described what I was looking for, maybe a little mysterious, a little romance, but a fast read that would suck me in. I wanted something that I could read fast and that would leave my heart pounding when it was done. This friend recommended a book, the start to a series, and on a whim, I bought book #1: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin.
This book was released in 2011, when I was a freshman in high school, and the trilogy was completed in 2014, the year I started college. The series had a nice arc with a nice ending and plenty of drama in between, and that could've been that.
But, shortly after I read the first book in the original trilogy, the author decided to write a continuation. Another trilogy from the POV of the male protagonist began, and I immediately purchased the book that would continue (and ultimately completely upend) the story from the previous trilogy.
If things had continued normally, I have to admit, I probably would have never given this series that much thought. I really liked it, but it's one of those that you read and put on the shelf and follow the author on Instagram to make sure you're updated when the next book comes out, and that's it.
But that wasn't it.
In 2018, the year I graduated from college, the second book in the Noah Shaw trilogy was released. I probably pre-ordered the book, and read it quickly. And then I waited for the final book to be released.
But mostly I forgot about it. It wasn't until around 2 or so years later that the series came up in conversation with that same friend, and I remembered, wasn't the final book supposed to be released by now? I had followed the author on Instagram and Twitter, so surely I would've seen something. And I found this Tumblr post from the author explaining the delay in publishing the book. That was in 2020, and nothing has been heard from her since.
The book's release date was pushed from 2020 to 2021, then from 2021 to 2022, then from 2022 to 2023 (February 2023, to be exact). And now, on Amazon and Goodreads it shows a release date of 2050. So I think we can assume this book is lost forever.
I've been thinking about it a lot lately, mostly because I tend to become obsessed with things pretty easily and this is my newest obsession. But also because the book's final release date was supposed to be just a few weeks from now, and the silence at this point seems even more baffling.
So here's the question. What does Michelle Hodkin owe us as her readers?
Does she owe us anything?
My gut instinct is yes, she does owe us something. An explanation? An update? A leaked PDF of whatever version of the book she has finished at this point? (Michelle: If you're reading this, I would accept that at this point)
But then I keep thinking about this question. Because I keep thinking, what if she comes back with some explanation that makes sense and makes you feel bad about the pressure. What if it's mental health? Or things at her publisher out of her control? Or anything that makes you think, well the book series wasn't that important anyway. Because the most likely explanation is that there is something reasonable to explain the silence, and maybe she doesn't really owe us anything.
At the end of the day, authors are just human beings who choose to put their stories out into the world. We can be ungrateful at times, as readers, demanding stories turn out a certain way and books are released at a certain time.
I myself have been a demanding reader, as I've found myself 25 pages deep on a Google search and stalking the profiles of everyone Michelle Hodkin follows on Instagram to see if she's even still out there somewhere.
And then there's the other side. If you've followed a book series for years, spent your money on it (some people have pre-ordered this book that has yet to be released, so there's money being kept for it out there somewhere), and promoted the book to others, don't you think you're owed, I don't know, something?
Here's where I've landed.
I don't think authors owe us a finished book, or a specific storyline, or any interactions at all. I don't think they owe it to us to finish writing on time or to control when and how their books are released (as that is out of their control). I don't think they owe us a response to emails or tweets or comments.
But, I do think they owe us at least some updates, at least some transparency and at least some indication on whether they intend on continuing a series left unfinished.
I honestly don't know where I land on this. I think we can all stand to be kinder to one another, especially to authors we follow and love. But I also think, like anything, that is a two-way street. And this feeling of not knowing is driving me insane!
So what do you think?
What do authors owe to their readers? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!