Friday, February 28, 2014

You are only allowed to write one genre says self-proclaimed expert

One of the statements that make my top ten list of stupid things to say about the business of writing is that "Successful writers should quit after a certain point, in order to allow other writers a chance at success." The latest variation of this statement came from Lynn Shepherd, who decided to tell JK Rowling that she should not be writing books aimed at adults.

Shepherd first states how she finds it wrong that adults were reading the Harry Potter books...gee, I am one of those adults that committed a sin by doing so. Then Shepherd goes on to state that Rowling adult writing is dreadful, yet sold by the bucket-load because Rowling has a famous other words, Rowling's writing sucks and she cheated by having a reputation. Shepherd accuses Rowling of trying to set up a monopoly that threatens to kill the careers of all other crime writers.

Shepherd closes her piece off by saying:

"So this is my plea to JK Rowling. Remember what it was like when The Cuckoo's Calling had only sold a few boxes and think about those of us who are stuck there, because we can't wave a wand and turn our books into overnight bestsellers merely by saying the magic word. By all means keep writing for kids, or for your personal pleasure - I would never deny anyone that - but when it comes to the adult market you've had your turn. Enjoy your vast fortune and the good you're doing with it, luxuriate in the love of your legions of fans, and good luck to you on both counts. But it's time to give other writers, and other writing, room to breathe."

As can be expected, there has been a certain amount of backlash over this statement, including a s**t storm of one star reviews on Shepherd's own novels. Shepherd has resorted to damage control:

"[I] only ever meant to raise the issue of how hard it is for new writers to get noticed and how publishing is much more of a zero sum game than people often think."

So why is this type of statement on my top ten list of stupid things to say about the business of writing?

First, we all entered into this zero-sum game willingly, knowing fully damn well that it is a zero-sum game. We also entered with the idea of becoming famous enough to be able to write whatever we wanted to write...JK Rowling has earned her right to experiment in other genres. And Rowling did try to keep a low profile--and failed...much like Stephen King tried to do with his Richard Bachman experiment.

(By the way, I think that Running Man is a really good story that should not be judged by the movie.)

Second, maybe the book market is not a zero-sum game to begin with. JK Rowling helped introduce a whole new generation to the addiction joys of reading. If she wants to continue to write for her existing readers, many who are now adults, then Rowling should be allowed to do so. I figure that some of her addicts readers will need more literary drugs books than she can produce (two books a year maximum, I figure), therefore some of these readers will buy books from other writers...possibly even me.

Third, publishers and fans loathe people who bad mouth their favorite writers. Publishers hesitate to publish books by writers who are prone to pouring gasoline on another writer, especially when they set themselves on fire while doing so. Fans remember who bad-mouthed their favorite writers, and will stay away in droves...well, once they get done beating you with a stick, that is.

Fourth, telling a writer to quit writing is a good way to start a permanent state of war with said writer. Heavens know that I still carry a grudge against the last three people that have told me to get out of the business--all of which seemed to resent the fact that I was making more money at it than they were. Of course, in this case, JK Rowling might not care...Shepherd is rather small potatoes, after all.

Fifth, writers are not restricted to one genre in the course of their career. Just like an actor can become a writer, producer, or director--writers are allowed to switch pen-names (if they like) and genres. Saying that Rowling is only allowed to write children books is like telling me that I am only allowed to write erotica because my first check as a writer came from that market...or telling a person flipping burgers that they are not allowed to become a writer because they first worked in food service.

Sixth and most important, would Lynn Shepherd herself quit writing to give other writers a chance?

I am willing to bet that she would not. Anyone who has ran though the gauntlet is not going to quit simply because other people are less successful than they are. In fact, having ran the gauntlet, one knows that other people can do so also. Again, think about other professions--there is no rule saying that a successful person has to quit to give other people a chance at success. We do not see politicians and CEOs retiring just to give people in the call centers a fair chance.

Life is not fair. And Lynn Shepherd seems to have forgotten this fact...but I think that she is getting a reminder of it right now.

As for JK Rowling, trust me--someday she will quit writing...she is not immortal, after all. *wink*