Ever pick up a book by an author whose work you hear praised to the high hills, only to be disappointed in the end because what you’re reading just doesn’t live up to the hype? Wonder what you’re missing? Wonder what other people are seeing in this that just seems to be going over your head?
And how do you come back from that, anyway?
I’ve been thinking a lot about first impressions lately, since I started reading The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, volume 8, and came across a story by K J Parker, which I loved to death. Just as I did the last short story I read by Parker. Parker’s stuff seems to be awesome!
The disconnect comes for me when I remember that I read The Hammer a few years ago and was rather less than impressed by it.
There could be many reasons for this. Maybe that one book was just a poor introduction to Parker’s writing and their other books are considerably better. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right headspace to enjoy that story at the time; I know my tastes and appreciation have changed as time has gone on. Maybe, as some people have said of Stephen King’s writing, Parker does better short stories than full novels. I honestly don’t know.
Something similar happened when I read Maria V Snyder’s Touch of Power. I haven’t read anything else by Snyder, before nor after, but I’ve heard her praised endlessly for smooth writing and engaging stories, and people who like her books tend to like them a lot. For my part, though, I found that she largely lacked any ability to do decent foreshadowing (characters had 1 of 2 reactions to the MC: they either liked her instantly and were good guys, or were mean to her or told a lie and thus were bad guys, completely without exception), and the writing seemed too simplistic at times to deal the weightier subjects spread throughout the novel. I couldn’t see what the appeal of her writing really was, no matter how highly others spoke of other books.
And that’s the problem, really. You only get one first impression. One chance to either hook a reader or lose them, maybe forever.
It isn’t fair. I know that a poor first impression could well be souring me away from books that I might love to death, if only I could get over the lingering feelings from the first read. Thankfully, where Parker is concerned, those 2 awesome short stories I’ve read have convinced me that it’s worth taking another chance (though when that chance will be taken is entirely unknown, seeing as how I’ve had a copy of Sharps around for who knows how long now…); the same can’t really be said for Snyder.
So even if first impressions are a once-off thing that can have huge and long-lasting effects, maybe they aren’t so eternal. The effects, I mean. A couple of good short stories have turned me around on one authors, so who’s to say the same approach couldn’t work for others. In my review of The Hammer, I mentioned that I didn’t care much for Parker’s writing style, when in the short stories I freaking love it. Maybe I just caught them on a bad book.
I can’t offer advice to writers on this. “Don’t ever write anything that isn’t awesome on all levels” is pretty crap advice, practically. There’s no way to ensure that a reader’s first introduction to your work is going to be a good one, the one that will hook them and have them lining up to buy others in the future. Or advice to readers: “Don’t read anything except what you already know you’re going to like.” (Which would likely result in people reading the way I did in years past, which was to essentially reread old favourites more than I read anything new.) It’s a bit of an intimidating notion, isn’t it, to think that at any point, someone is going to have a first introduction to you and that may affect how they view you from then on.
So, at the risk of rambling further, I’ll draw this down to a question: have you ever had any poor first impressions of an author or their work that has later been turned around? How was your opinion change? Do the lingering impression from that first time still colour your appreciation or lack thereof of anything else they’ve done? Let me know in the comments!