Dispatches | September 06, 2008

Bad news this week for author Stephanie Meyer, who had previously distributed a few rough copies of the manuscript of her latest novel, Midnight Sun, and was disappointed to learn that … bum bum BUM!  you guessed it — somebody put one on the Internet.

The novel would have been the last installment of Meyer’s Twilight series, which, as far as I can tell, is basically Wuthering Heights set in the present … with vampires. This week, Meyer said she is too distraught to continue working on the project and that it is shelved indefinitely.

A few years ago, something similar happened to the Dave Matthews Band, who were at the time my favorite band (and who lost a member last month when saxophonist LeRoi Moore died of injuries from an ATV accident). The band was surprised to discover that a whole CD’s worth of new, un-mastered, un-polished material (now lovingly referred to by DMB fans as the Lillywhite Sessions) had dripped down producer Steve Lillywhite’s studio drain and polluted a substantial part of the Napster sewer system. There was no way of cleaning it up, really, so the band went back into the studio, polished the leaked songs, and arranged them onto a new CD, Busted Stuff, which I bought even though I already had the “rough drafts.” 

So what can the Dave Matthews Band teach us about how an author should respond to the viral online distribution of her genre fiction?

First of all, that artists and writers often fail to remember two things: the vast indifference of most consumers, and the insatiable appetite of devoted fans. Right now, there’s a partial draft of Midnight Sun posted on Meyer’s website but let’s be honest, most of us aren’t going to check that out, and not just because it’s full of teen/vampire melodrama (okay, partly because it’s full of teen/vampire melodrama). Even if our interest got piqued by the headlines about the leak and we’re thinking about writing a scholarly paper examining the Brontean influence on modern teen vampire literature (that’s my research paper hands off!), we’ll wait for the indefinitely on-hold book version to drop.

Unless we’re fans.

If that’s the case, we’ve not only already devoured the partial draft, we’re hoping against hope she polishes and edits the thing and gets it out the door to the publisher. We’ll pre-order it. And even though we already know basically what happens and have been sitting on that bootlegged version for months, we’ll shell out for the finished product, too.

My point is that most of an artist’s audience won’t care — or even remember that there was a leaked copy, and nothing will deter fans. If Meyer ever rolls that book out, she’s going to get paid.

And make no mistake, we can easily empathize with Meyer. She’s like a stage director whose star just dashed onstage early, a little confused and without makeup. Precise timing, after all, is as big a part of publishing as it is of theater.  

But as they say in theater, and as the coven of Meyer’s fans seems to agree  and as the surviving members of the Dave Matthews Band (who performed an emotional concert at the Gorge Amphitheatre last week) surely know  the show must go on.