Are you only as good as your last Dementor?
February 25, 2014 | 5:18 pm
Elsewhere, I’ve been a staunch defender of that endangered species, the snark. But there are times when you have to be thankful it’s rare. And one of them is Lynn Shepherd’s screed in the UK Huffington Post, declaring “If JK Rowling cares about writing, she should stop doing it.”
Lynn Shepherd is not exactly an unknown writer. As her own website explains, her novel A Fatal Likeness, on the death of Percy Bysshe Shelley, is “One of Kirkus Reviews’ 100 Best Fiction Books for 2013, and a BBC History magazine historical novel of the year.” But she does seem to begrudge Rowling the recognition she’s received, even though, as she admits, when it comes to the Harry Potter series, “I’ve never read a word (or seen a minute) so I can’t comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent.” And she protests, “it’s time to give other writers, and other writing, room to breathe.”
Subject of her special ire is The Cuckoo’s Calling, for its pseudonymous origins and its hogging of the bestseller lists since its secret identity was revealed. But Shepherd doesn’t seem especially to complain about the quality of the book’s writing, or about Rowling’s level of talent as a novelist in general. All she seems concerned about is the hype, and the amount of marketing push and media attention Rowling’s books for adults have received.
So, blame the author for what was almost certainly the publisher’s decision? Without reference to the writer’s best-known work? That seems to make huge sense.
Above all, though, the argument that marketing bandwidth should be something to judge an author by seems misguided to say the least. Some over-promotion may be distasteful, but the publisher is the decision-maker about this, and if they are just looking for a phenomenon, no question of relative creative value is necessarily involved. Arguably, Dan Brown should have stopped writing long long ago. But his presence doesn’t appear to have stifled other writers. And hasn’t J K Rowling actually created more new writers by engendering the Harry Potter universe of fan fiction?
And if promotional muscle is the determinant for authorly success, why is Hugh Howey able to report such good numbers for self-publishing? This seems rather the wrong time to advance such an argument. Kindle Direct Publishing may have made the world safe even for Lynn Shepherd.