Is There Such a Thing as an ‘Author-Reader Contract’?

Before, I had rarely questioned an author’s literary license to do what they wished with their books. If they wrote the book, it was their choice to do as they pleased. They put in the hard work of writing a novel (!!!) and were successful in getting it published. While I as a reader might not have always liked the book, I didn’t feel that it was my place to really say that something was completely wrong. Sure, some things could’ve been better, but improvement was possible. 

Ah, the naivety and blissful ignorance of Before.

Then came THE BOOK. The book that deceived me halfway through and ruined my ability to enjoy the rest of the book. This left me wondering… does an author have limitless license to do as they please, or are there ‘lines’ that must not be crossed? And, to be fair, I decided to question if there are certain things a reader must do to be able to fully judge a book.

Because I don’t want to make this post all about The Book (okay, sorry for all the capitalization! Maybe a smidge dramatic…) I’ve decide to link it here if you wish to view it.

So here it is: my personal thoughts on what a sort of unwritten Author-Reader Contract would entail, if it existed.

Author-Reader Contract final

Is there a copy of this lying around somewhere?

I, the Author, pledge to…

Not base my book on a lie. Is there anything worse than feeling abused or deceived as a reader? No one likes to reach the end of a book and find that ‘it was all a dream’, not real, or that everything happening wasn’t true. On occasion there will be books that can pull this off, but it is a fine line between feeling ‘surprised/intrigued’ and ‘tricked’. A reader needs to have advance warning and maybe the occasional clue.

Not kill off the main character. While a character’s life may be horrible, and others around them might die, the MC should remain alive. They should be able to live through whatever happened to them — or else who will be left to tell the story? A reader needs to have some sort of ‘safety net’ that they can rely on. If a book has a narrator however, the author may be able to get away with killing off the MC, because life still continues in the book and readers can know what happens. I can think of only a few exceptions to this, and they all must follow the next rule:

End my book in a proper manner. A book’s ending must have some sort of closure. Be it a happily ever after, a resolution to the characters’ problems, or just a general sense of hope or finality, an author must find a way to wrap up the book. It is not acceptable to end a book with the MC feeling utter despair, or without having given the book some sort of purpose. Violating this rule will leave the reader feeling as if their time has been wasted. Ending mid-sentence is generally frowned upon (Here’s looking at you, An Imperial Affliction!).

I, the Reader, pledge to…

Try to read the whole book. Because really, it’s hard to judge things about the book (characters, where the plot if headed, etc.) when they are unfinished. Would you have told da Vinci what was wrong with the Mona Lisa before it was even done? (I hope not. That would be rude.) If you must DNF a book, understand that you’ll never have the whole story so you cannot fully judge the book.

Go into a book without too many preconceived notions. If you’ve already decided to hate a character because of something you read in the synopsis, it’ll be tough to ever like that character (because who likes to admit that they are wrong?). Starting a book with an open mind will always make for a better reading experience.

Do my best to not compare it to other books. While exceedingly difficult, a book deserves its chance to be enjoyed for what it is, not because it reminds you so much of one of your favorite books (or of a book you hated). Just because it’s similar to another book doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be read — the book could surprise you. So many books out there are ‘like the Hunger Games’, and are still unique and worthwhile reads.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Authors may kill off the MC or have a major plot twist that a reader will accept — and even enjoy. A reader may decide to DNF a book and feel justified in not reading the rest.

But in my opinion, these rules outline what a reader expects from an author, and what an author expects in return. Readers must give a book a chance, and an author must not take things too far or write without purpose. It’s a two-way street.

Do you think an unwritten Author-Reader Contract exists? Should authors and readers generally follow these rules? What books have you read that violated these rules (good or bad)?


  • Hmmm okaaaay, yeaaah, I think every reader is different–b/c everyone is as well lol– and that we may or may not have the same expectations. I don’t tend on having them very often since it could ruin my reading experience. BUT, I do agree that killing the MC, depending if I connected with him/her or not, would be a catastrophe. Again, it REALLY depends on the book. Oh man…it’s too much…I guess I’ll get back to you on this one day…? Let’s just say that WE can have every expectations we want and WE can decide to DNF or not a book because WE are the ones to be pleased and, if we’re not, then the the author didn’tdo its job.

    (That’s called brutal honesty. That’s how I can be sometimes, yeah…)

    • Yes, every reader is different, and I know that I personally am changing as a reader (blogging influence, ya know). If anything, I think that blogging has raised the expectations I hold for books because there can be so much hype before a book comes out. It’s hard to ignore it and to rid my mind of expectations when I start a book I’ve heard so much about.

      I’d say that while on the one hand killing a MC should be taboo (because just noooo), button the other hand I’ve seen it done well. It’s a toss up.

      DNF’s really are pretty controversial in my opinion, because I will DNF if I’m just not feeling into the book. But sometimes I’ll DNF because it’s not my cup of tea and other times because I feel that’s it’s pretty bad. But it could have become something I’d have liked if I had read it further, but I didn’t. Now if it’s just plain bad, chances are the rest of the book will not redeem itself.

      Aack I’m so torn up over my own discussion post!

  • I think sometimes there should be an author-reader contract, but most of the time I believe we (authors and readers) should do as we please. Not because we can do what we want, but because it’s always refreshing to not know what’s going to happen.

    If I decide to not finish a book, I do so because probably forcing myself to finish it would be even more unpleasant. When I don’t finish a book (which I do very rarely) I always have the possibility to go back.

    I think there are a lot of controversial endings where authors have really done something amazing, but others where I felt completely cheated.

    Ending a book midsentence is a NO NO. UGH. Just no. That’s just rude.
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    • It is a tough thing to balance, because while it’s not great to feel cheated, it’s not all that exciting to know the ending either. So I suppose it does depend on the author; are they a good enough writer to pull it off?

      With DNF’ing I guess it depends on how quick a reader is to drop a book. I know I personally finish most books because I can’t stand to leave things unfinished, but other people will drop a book without much provocation. But it is always there to go back to, you’re right. I usually return my books back to the library though. 😉

      And I’ve actually read the BEST book that ended mid sentence and also broke another of these rules, but it was still fabulous (Before I Die by Jenny Downham…hmm that title though…). So the rules don’t always apply.

  • I agree with all that you said. Unfortunately many writers and readers won’t obey the rules. The most abused are the ending the book (writer) and comparing books to other books. (reader) Which are small infractions, but still annoying.
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    • The ‘ending the book’ rule is for sure abused by writers. Taking a reader on a ‘journey’ is all fine and good, but we want to remember why we read the book and to, long after it’s finished, still recall what lasting impression the book made on us and what it imparted to us.

      Comparing books to other books is incredibly difficult to not do, but it pays off in the end. So sometimes the ‘if you read this, then read this’ comparisons annoy me, but I understand what they’re done. How else to describe a book so quickly?

  • Kristi says:

    Personally, I don’t think there is a contract or a need for a contract. As a reader, I have the right to dislike a book, stop reading the book, or never read the book. Just like I have the right to love a book, start reading a book, and reread a book. Its all my choice. No author makes me any promises and to hold them to following a “contract” I feel, is wrong. This is their job, I have no right to tell them how to do it. And they have no right to tell me to enjoy. That being said, I enjoyed your post very much.

    • There are definitely times when the author and reader aren’t on the same page, so it’s hard for either to expect anything of the other at times I suppose. What can really hit home with the author can seem unappealing to a reader because there is a lot of personal opinions, feelings, and preferences in the matter.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • […] Lina asks: is there such a thing as an ‘author-reader contract’? […]

  • If there is a contract, it’s pretty informal. I mean, it’s not like anyone is being forced to read the author’s book under threat of torture (although, reading some books can be torture… but I digress). It’s not like the author gets tossed into a shark-infested lagoon if readers don’t like their book, either. The reader can always walk away, and I don’t think it necessarily means breaking a “contract” even if it’s a DNF; sometimes books are so bad that you don’t need to read the whole thing to see that. (I’ve spent way too much time on books that should’ve been DNFs just because I wanted to give the benefit of the doubt, and because I hoped they’d get better.)

    But I would agree that there are certain “rules” that an author should follow. You can’t just pull things out of your ass. It’s fiction. In fiction, unlike in real life, things are supposed to make sense. I don’t mind if there’s a super-special twist right near the end that turns the plot on its head and makes you question everything that came before… if it was set up properly and you can go back and smack your forehead when you see all the clues that the author cleverly dropped. In fact, I enjoy well-crafted plots that keep me guessing.
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    • I agree, and I think there’s a fine line with DNFing. I’ve also read too many books that I should’ve just DNF’d, but I’m saying this with the knowledge that after finishing these books that they WERE bad all the way through. It’s kind of like taking a bet on whether the book will be worth it or not. Though some books you can just tell that they will be awful to the core, haha.

      I agree with everything you said in your second paragraph, and it’s the main reason I wrote this post! While plot twists can often be very well done and be the best part about the book, they are sometimes VERY poorly done and ruin the book. If you love a good plot twist, then I definitely recommend you check out Mary E. Pearson’s The Kiss of Deception. While the plot twist wasn’t my cup of tea, I know a lot of other people liked it. 🙂

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