I came across a post the other day where a (published) author was asking his readers what they thought about the amount of violence and torture and unpleasant deaths occurring in a fantasy novel. The one he was currently writing contained a lot of graphic detail and he wanted to know whether he should tone it down.
A number of his respondents to his blog said things which amounted to: "It's your book and you should stay true to yourself/to your tale."
I am not so sure it is that simple.
Yes, there are times when an author needs to stand up for what they believe in, or for the demands of their story - but we want also to be published. We want publishers to make a profit so that they will give us another contract. We want our readers to be delighted with our novels so that they will buy the next one. We want to give reading pleasure to other people. (Besides, praise feeds our voracious egos!)
I look upon the publication of a book of mine as a sort of unwritten contract between me and the reader: the reader pays money, some of which ultimately gets to me, and I write the best book I can in return, so as not to disappoint. The trouble is...what defines "the best" I can do?
Well, it doesn't mean that I deliberately write a story based on what I think will please my audience - you know, "Let's throw in a bit of gratuitous sex here just to perk things up even if uit has nothing to do with the plot". It doesn't mean, "Let's tone down the anti-religious tone of this story otherwise it will upset the Christians in the audience", as seems to have happened with the filming of Pullman's Golden Compass.
But on the other hand, a writer who doesn't consider his audience and try to please them - within the bounds of his storyline and themes - seems a bit arrogant to me. "Here, this is my book, and I don't give a damn what you think about it. And don't you dare criticize it, either. It's my book and I'll darn well write what I like." It is an attitude that surfaces in the occasional very successful author from time to time.
I guess it's all about balance in the end.
What do you think?
Oddly enough, the author mentioned above left the violence in, but not because of an arrogant attitude to those who would read his book. In fact, he was uneasy about the level of violence himself. He left it in because others told him to do so ... in other words, to please the readers.