Monday, August 4, 2008

Don't Burn It -- Return It

I'm sure everyone here has at least heard of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series of YA books about a girl with a sparkly-vampire boyfriend. The first book was made into a movie, which is coming out in December, and the fourth book, Breaking Dawn, just released with many midnight bookstore parties and a concert and cetera marketing stuff.

The problem is that now that the fans have actually had time to read the fourth book, a significant number of them aren't at all pleased with it. Some people were talking about having book-burning parties, but this thread on suggests returning it instead. And people are.

Not only are many of the fans in that particular thread saying they're going to return their copies, but J.L.J.M. said in this comment:

Just got back from Borders, where they took back my book with no problem. Got into a discussion with the cashier about how I was the 15th(!!!) person to bring my book back today. Seems like many customers felt that SM was not true to her characters and her self created Twilight world, and are calling foul.

And in a later message, Charie La Marr Longo said:

I agree totally. I saw about 20 returned copies at Target tonight. Returning them is the right thing to do. Burn them and she will still have the money. Don't let that happen.

That's a lot of returns, especially on the day after a book was released. Even if those particular data points are outliers, it still suggests a lot of these books are being returned, which is even more significant considering how rarely this happens in general. Julian Black, over in the Fandom_Wank thread says in a comment here:

I almost never saw books returned for being lousy while I worked in bookstores. Maybe twice. That one Borders already had 15 returns is mind-boggling to me.

Yeah. This is a pretty impressive show of consumer rebellion in the bookstore.

I've never read any of Ms. Meyer's books, so I don't have a personal stake in this. But it's interesting to see that there apparently is a point past which even the most rabid reader fanbase cannot be pushed.

I don't think this is going to become at all common, but if this does hit the news (and I think it will) it's something other rabid fans are going to remember, next time their favorite author launches a much-hyped and marketed book which they think is a dud.

[ETA: comments closed because of spam.]



Travis Erwin said...

My wife has just gotten into this series and has read the first three book in the last week. She tried to fins a copy of the one but couldn't. I sent her a link to your post.

Angie said...

Travis -- a few people in the Amazon forum have suggested that if you really want a hardcover copy of the book, to wait a few months when there are likely to be piles of them on remainder tables. [wry smile] Or if your wife doesn't want to wait that long, I've also read in a few places that there are copies showing up already for cheap on various online secondhand and swap sites. If she doesn't mind waiting a bit for delivery, she could probably get a really good deal.


Charles Gramlich said...

Wow, that's interesting. I've not read any of these either but now I'm curious as to what could have raised the ire of so many fans. GOnna have to follow a few links.

Angie said...

Charles -- it's definitely an iteresting topic for web surfing. [nod]


Catherine Haines said...

Although not a Twilight fan I am observing this whole thing with a sense of extreme interest. I have never seen a fandom turn on the creator the way Twifen have. And it's only been two days.

Lots of people seem to have picked up the "return it" message, so it'll be interesting to see how it continues.

Angie said...

Catherine -- the speed with which the idea has spread suggests to me that it popped up in multiple places at the same time. [nod] I have a hard time buying that all fifteen people who returned their books to that one Borders just happened to hang out on that one Amazon thread, for example.

It looks like an idea which occurred to many people all at once, independently, which definitely makes it a bit of a phenomenon. It'll be interesting to see what happens next with Twilight, Ms. Meyers and her publisher, and also what happens with the next much-hyped disappointment.


Catherine Haines said...

Yep. I have seen the same idea pop up in many places, plus individuals outside of fandom/reviewing circles seem to be having the same idea.

15 at one store, 20 at another... it builds up, and you gotta wonder if the publisher knows and what they're thinking.

Angie said...

I'm sure they've heard about it by now. I mean, Ms. Meyers is one of their pet writers and piggy-banks right now -- I can't imagine there isn't someone in her publisher's office who Googles her name once or twice a day, especially this soon after a book release. [wry smile]

This was supposed to be the last Twilight book, right? So she's okay there and doesn't have to worry about her series being cut off before she's done, which has certainly happened to plenty of other writers. It'd be interesting to be a fly on the wall for a discussion of her next project, though.


Anonymous said...

Reading a book uses it to the full extent of its intended purpose. It seems to me that returning it after doing so is no different than wearing a dress to a party or eating a full meal and then demanding your money back because you were dissatisfied. If you don't want to go where an author takes a story, write fanfic, and if you don't want to own a book, get a library card.

I haven't read these either, but with well over a million sales on the day of release, even if 100,000get returned, the book stores are probably the only ones that will be significantly put out.

Angie said...

Kerry -- not even the bookstores; they'll return unsold copies and the publisher will eat the cost.

From what I've read, it's not a matter of people not liking the ending or wishing Bella had ended up with Jacob or whatever. It's more a matter of readers thinking it was written badly, demonstrating extremely poor skill and craftsmanship, which is a whole different issue.

I know I've more than once disliked what a writer was doing with a book, but read it all the way to the end anyway in hope that he or she would pull it together and wrap it up in a way that worked. The fact that I gave the writer that chance, only to be disappointed all the way to the end, makes me generous, not foolish, I think. Well, maybe a bit foolish ;) but still generous in deciding to trust the writer enough to give them a chance to show me that they knew what they were doing after all.

I don't think the meal analogy works, though. If you take a bite of your fish and it tastes rotten, you don't have to eat the rest of the fish to confirm. That's not always the case with books.

The clothing example works better -- it's like buying a dress and wearing it to a party, only to have a poorly-sewn seam split open halfway through the evening. Yes, the dress has been worn, but that wouldn't stop me from returning it. People who habitually buy clothes they plan to wear to an event and then return, buy clothes they like, and their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the item has nothing to do with the return. The people returning Breaking Dawn because they believe it was poorly written are like those people who bought clothing in full faith, planning to keep it, but who then discovered it was badly made.

My own opinion is that this is a case-by-case situation. If someone said, "Sure, I loved the book, but I'm going to take it back and get it in paperback later; I just bought it in hardcover because I wanted to read it right away," I would definitely condemn that action. Someone who said, "I bought this book by my favorite author but returned it because I hated it," though, has a completely different motivation, and I have some sympathy for it, whether or not I'd do the same thing.

I think the fact that the vast majority of book buyers don't return books they don't care for tells us something about just how strongly these fans of Ms. Meyers' dislike this particular one. And you have to admit that if this particular protest does spread, the publisher will notice and be forced to at least think about the quality of their product in the future.


Bernita said...

I have to wonder if this sudden initiative will have a ripple effect on other books and have general consequences for the industry at large.

Angie said...

Bernita -- That's what I'm wondering too. [nod] I think it depends on how popular it becomes, and where the readers [waves hand at amorphous mass] set their threshold. If it's a response which is generally saved for cases where the book is clearly awful and the publisher should've known better even if the writer didn't, then it should work fine.

But if people get more used to doing it and start returning books because they thought the heroine ended up with the wrong guy, or because they didn't like the protag's political opinions, then that'd be more problematic. If that's the case, I have a feeling the bookstores would just stop taking returns.


Stewart Sternberg said...

That's great, that people are refusing to be treated as sheep. The series has been one of the classic examples of commodification of art that one can see. I've been dying to read the first in the series, and probably will, but another side of me has kept me from giving in and reading this.

Good good post. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's bizarre. However, I read the first one, thought, Meh,and haven't read the rest. It's a bit too pat for me, but I can see why Twilight would appeal to a YA audience. It just didn't appeal to me the adult. (Odd, considering I love reading Meg Cabot and a number of other young adult authors.)


Steve Malley said...

Anne Rice, Laurel Hamilton, JK Rowling... it's funny how fans get so irate about things done with characters by the people who made them up in the first place!

We should all be so lucky to have this problem...

Angie said...

Stewart -- aha, your comment popped up! :)

Yes, I'd kind of like to see writers and publishers both take some more responsibility for the quality of what they offer. I've kept on reading summaries and analyses and rants about these books, and particularly Breaking Dawn, and it really does sound like the wheels fell off in the sense of basic craftsmanship, and that it's not just a bunch of disgruntled Jacob fans or whatever. It seems that it was a case of readers being pushed too far and finally drawing a line. I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing, even as a writer myself.

And yeah, I've been strongly tempted to read at least the first book, just to see what's up with it. :)


Ello - Ellen Oh said...

Interesting! I would never think to return a book because it is lousy. AFter all, if I read it, how can I return it? Actually, I've seen people return dog eared copies of books and have always marvelled at the cashier for taking them back. I always thought, hey that's what a library is for! But here in this case, it sounds like the right thing to do!

Angie said...

Hey, more comments finally showing up! Let's see how long it takes this to appear....

WW -- it doesn't really sound like my thing either, so I'm reluctant to pay new-book prices just to see what the fuss is about. It really does sound like fanfic, and not terribly great fanfic either. The first book is the one most people who like any of them agree is decent, so I'll probably break down and get that one eventually. Maybe used?

There are definitely good YA authors. Madeline L'Engle's books were all YA, as I recall, and I read and enjoyed most of them as an adult. And the Harry Potter books were fun.

In this case, it really looks to me like this writer tackled a long and complex project which was beyond her skill, but by the time it was all obviously sliding out of her grip, she had two books on the shelves and a third with the publisher and just had to bull through the fourth and last one and turn it in, no matter what. Multiple critiques have also said that it felt very rushed, as though she'd been racing a deadline, so maybe there was some unfortunate pressure from her publisher, too? I don't know.

I'm sure all her kids are going to be going to very nice universities, even if she never publishes another word, so good for her there. [wry smile] Outside of that, though, it's unfortunate that her first published project was this long thing she couldn't keep a grip on. Starting smaller and more slowly would've given her more time to learn her craft before being thrust into the spotlight. This whole blow-up really has to suck for her.

Steve -- oh, sure, I'd love to have so many fans passionate about my work. :)

On the other hand, it means that any time you stumble, all your passionate fans are right there to tell you about it. It goes both ways, I think.


Jeanne said...

Hi Angie
Found your blog via your comment on "Speak Its Name".
Fascinating post about this phenomenon. I haven't checked out Amazon yet, but I will. I didn't start the series and now I think I'm glad I didn't.
I find the customer reviews on Amazon are pretty fair.
I'll be back again!

Angie said...

WW -- Me too, I only heard about Twilight recently, when Cleolinda started talking about it on her LJ. I've enjoyed YA series in the past, I read most of Madeline L'Engle's books as an adult, and I liked the Harry Potter books, but what I've heard about Twilight doesn't really make me want to dash out and buy it. And from what I've read about the rest of the series, and particularly the fourth book... yeah. Just from the POV of plotting and character development and worldbuilding, which I've seen in multiple reviews and commentaries, and leaving aside the lower level craftsmanship which I haven't seen one way or another, I'd say that yeah, there are better fanfic writers out there.

It looks like Meyer is a good storyteller, but not a great craftsman. Which isn't all that uncommon, really. But even her storytelling came unwound there at the end, at least in the eyes of a lot of her fans. Like I said on... someone else's blog [duck] my best guess right now is that she's still a new writer who just bit off a much bigger, more complex project than she had the skills to handle at this point in her career. Everyone -- people who like and who dislike the last book -- seems to agree that the first book was good, so it looks like she just lost her grip partway through.

It'll be interesting to see what she does next, and whether her craftsmanship and control improve as she gets more experience.


Angie said...

Steve -- oh, definitely. [laugh/nod] I'd love to have millions of fans who were that passionate about my work, even if they smacked me every now and then.

Still, I hope I never jump the shark quite that badly, or that if I do, I'm lucky enough to be unable to find a publisher for that particular story. [wry smile]


Angie said...

And of course, I just posted a couple more comments, and the comment where I already comented on those comments just popped up. [headdesk]

Ello -- (hopefully I haven't responded to you already and then forgotten [crossed fingers]) That's actually the whole point, that people usually don't return books for being lousy. So how incredibly putrid must this one be that so many people are returning it for that reason? :/

Jeanne -- (at least I know I haven't commented on yours yet, LOL!) Hi and welcome! [wave] And yeah, it's the phenomenon that has me fascinated, more than the particular book itself. I'm really wondering just how far this is going to go,- since I'm not sure how we even could get any actual numbers on returned books; I don't think stores keep track of that, so all we might see is returns to the publisher versus the print run. But whether it's actually a huge surge or not, if it penetrates the awareness of some significant percentage of the reader population, it'll have to stick, and then it'll be something people will remember next time they're strongly disappointed in a book. It could change a few things about how books are treated, even if only in that the chains might stop taking returns.

What I'm hoping is that the publishers will take notice and show some better judgement next time when it comes to what they put out versus what they reject or send back for revisions. [crossed fingers]


stupidpeopleshouldnotbreed said...

I am the one who Started the Great Book Burning Tour of 2008 Burning Dawn on Amazon, it was a place to vent out of anger at the way Meyer’s ended a good story.
But Baby Strange came up with the Don’t Burn It Return It, That was a much better Idea.
But some people still do not understand why a large portion of the fans reacted the way we did.

I was a fan of the first three books, I was happy with the way she portrayed values. But breaking Dawn was just so very Bad

Meyer’s is an the worse type of role model for our kids, at first I was happy, she had Bella and Edward wait for marriage before having sex. Mother and a Mormon who believed in the values of the church. And what did we get , Adulatory, pedophilia, and abortion, wife swamping.

I did not like the Imprinting subject when it was first introduced, Meyer’s never approached the subject after that.

But when it came the so called soul mate to Bella with Jacob Black Imprinting on Bella’s baby it just pushed a few of us over the edge. You just had Bella and Jacob declare their love for one another, and now what is your message on this,?

Her message on this was, Hay Jacob I cant give you what you want so here is my baby girl go have fun. Yes I know it I fiction, but you crossed the line with this one.

You had Edward beg for Jake to help kill his own daughter! And then impregnate her so she could have more normal babies! What were you thinking!

We had Bella torn apart giving birth, no sex in the book but the extreme violence is ok.

I was Happy with the first Three Mrs. Meyer’s, all of us would have waited three more years for the book if you had just said

To all my Fan’s I need more time to make sure I give you a Better Book

this is what we have created in this world we no longer have kids lose at games they don’t fail in class they just get moved ahead. It is a sad sad world

Anonymous said...

We have read your postings regarding our Don't Burn It Return It Campaign at We are members of a group called The Dark Side. It is our goal to show people and make them aware of the dark side of Stephenie Meyer's writing. We have pointed out examples of pedophilia, borderline incest, abuse, and many other things that we feel should be brought into the open and discussed honestly by Ms. Meyer. To date, she has not addressed these issues and we wonder why.

Today, we have to show you a letter that was received by our Webmaster at The Dark Side. We have received MANY threats - including someone telling us on You Tube to put Walmart bags on our heads and suffocate ourselves. There have been others, but we try not to remember them.

But this one beats all. Liz is the proud wife of a United States Marine serving his country honorably. She also happens to be pregnant with twins. Imagine her horror when she received this note today from a person named Lilith ...

"I've been lurking on Amazon for quite some time and been wanting to say this. I can't post on Amazon, although I'm sure you'll do this for me. Stephanie Meyer is a goddess. Putting up with the bull5hit that you and your Dark Siders constantly throw at her is so insane. Calling her out on Ellen? Really? How stupid and childish. Creating a website against her? Your 'precious' satire? Laughable. You Dark Siders are a sore on the literary world.

Faust, Agrippa, Obsidian, Charie, and Shantilly all think you can do no wrong. No one is better than you. Making your videos and writing your 'stories'. Please. If you think for one minute you have any effect on Stephanie, then you really have been living in a dream world. Get over yourselves. I will say it. It is just fiction. It is just a book. Love it or hate it - IT IS A BOOK.

Oh, and Liz, you are one of the worst. Creating the website... whatever. You don't deserve those precious babies you're carrying. They deserve a much better mother than you. For their sakes, I hope you miscarry."

We have written to her via her brother/webmaster. We do hope that Ms. Meyer will find it in her heart to address these fans. We hope that she will ask them to STOP threatening those who did not like Breaking Dawn and have been vocal about the negative messages we see in it. Quite honestly if this is the kind of fans she has, we wouldn't want them. This is just vile and revolting. We would hope that Ms. Meyer would make some kind of a statement and call off the dogs. She is a Christian woman, and we would hope that she would not condone such comments and ask that they stop. We find it utterly disgusting that a teenager with a computer would even consider doing such a thing.

We await your reply. Charie D. La Marr Longo

Anonymous said...

Just what I needed, thanks a lot.

Angie said...

SPSNB and Charie -- I missed notifications on your comments, so my apologies for not responding for, umm, over two years. :P

It sounds like there were some people getting pretty darned crazy over there, but then that's not too terribly unusual on the internet. I imagine it's all over by now; I hope the crazies got bored and went away quickly.

Anon -- welcome. :)