March 3, 2014

Should JK Rowling quit writing?


J._K._Rowling_2010If British crime novelist Lynn Shepherd has learned anything from a piece she wrote for the Huffington Post titled, ever so subtly, “If JK Rowling Cares About Writing, She Should Stop Doing It,” it’s this: Hell hath no fury like a Potter fan scorned.

Shepherd claims, in her pugnacious piece, that Rowling has had her turn in the adult book market with the publication of The Causal Vacancy, whose unwarranted and “drearily excessive” hype “sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere,” and that the beloved, ultra-bestselling author should stick to writing for either children or her own personal pleasure, leaving some room for other, lesser known though equally (or more) talented, authors to thrive or just catch their breath. Alison Flood, reporting for the Guardian, writes of the shit-storm Shepherd’s provocation stirred up:

Published despite a warning that her intervention would be seen as sour grapes, the blog was immediately deluged with hundreds of angry responses. “As a successful author and freelance writer, I read this with my mouth hanging open. I don’t think there is anything lower than publicly dissing another author – WITHOUT EVEN READING THEIR BOOKS,” wrote author Robin O’Bryant. Another reader called the article “absolute rot. And, really, a bit shameful”, adding: “An artist begging another artist to abandon their art because others can’t compete? It’s like the song “Jolene,” only a lot more pathetic.”

As pathetic as it may be, it’s still interesting to note how the complaints written about Shepherd and her tasteless jabs at Rowling appeal more to a lack of authorial etiquette than any lack of truthfulness. Maybe that’s because Shepherd’s words do, in fact, contain a hard-to-swallow kernel of truth, that is, once you get through the thick, greasy film of writerly career envy.

As Zeljka Marosevic wrote in this very blog, JK Rowling is not so much an author as a brand, and publishers, more and more, are shouldering midlist writers (like Shepherd) to the side to make way for the tried-and-true.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying death to the brand author. I wouldn’t want see Rowling banished to Azkaban or anything. I even kind of like the Harry Potter movies, but you don’t have to mention that to anyone…

Brand authors have always been around, likely always will be, and, in fact, play a crucial role in the survival of any publisher’s mid-list (albeit, less so now). The more money a publisher brings in with the success of their brand names, the more money they can invest in authors “who might be consistently well-reviewed, will even be shortlisted for major prizes, but will not, or has not yet taken off to become a household name,” as Zeljka wrote.

What’s needed is not for Rowling to put down her pen, along with her ambitions to write ‘serious’ adult fiction, much to Shepherd’s dismay, and, also, not for the more spiteful of Potter fans to leave one-star reviews on Shepherd’s Amazon page that read “I’ve never read any of your books, and now I never will!” but a return to the symbiosis of brand names and mid-listers.