Recently, in my capacity as guest commentator on Mightygodking.com, I posted a review of the novel Ravenous that was, to put it lightly, not positive. In the comments section, an author named Steven Spruill took issue with my opinion of the novel, suggesting in no uncertain terms that my lack of enjoyment of the novel was due to my inexperience with the written form, and that Professional Authors such as himself knew better about its quality. A lively discussion ensued from there.
(It should be noted that the actual author of the novel, Ray Garton, has not involved himself in the discussion, presumably being far too classy to get into a dust-up with every person who gives his books a bad review. One rule I've learned, over a decade or so of reading and writing in a medium that allows fans and creators an unprecedented opportunity to interact, is that it is never a good idea to respond to a bad review in any way other than saying, "Thanks for your feedback." You will not convince people that your book is better than the reviewer says it is, but you will convince them that you are petty, small-minded, and unpleasant.)
(And for the record, no, this is not my opinion of Steven Spruill. I think he's possibly being a bit overzealous in defense of his friend, and his attempts to throw his weight around as a Professional Author are faintly pathetic, but I don't think he's a bad person or anything. He just has a few lessons to learn about how far your reputation will take you in Internet discussions, and I think he's learning them now.)
But one thing he said did have weight, and I wanted to address it here. He pointed out that it was unfair of me to call Ray Garton an "inept" author, based solely on a single novel out of the sixty-plus that Garton has had published. In this, at least, he is absolutely right; it is unfair to judge Garton's talent on the basis of one novel. The only answer I can give is: Life isn't fair.
I don't mean that in a trite, dismissive way; I mean it in the sense that the reader of a story is not in any way obligated to the author of a story. In fact, it's the exact opposite; the author is asking for the reader's time and (frequently) money, and is obligated to the reader to provide an experience that is worth that time and money. Authors don't get to put a little note in the front of the book that says, "Look, this one is actually an old manuscript of mine that the publisher dusted off once I got famous, but it's really not my best work, so don't expect too much out of it." They don't get to sit down and tell the reader before he/she starts reading, "Oh, this one? Man, I totally locked up on the last forty pages. But deadline was already two weeks ago when I got to that point, and so I just pushed through and got something down on the page and called it good. Really sorry, but it's going to disappoint the hell out of you." They do not have the luxury of expecting the reader to give them a second chance--heck, they don't really have the luxury of expecting the reader to give them a first chance. Every opportunity to impress a reader is a precious gift, and should be treated as such.