Okay, it’s 7 in the morning and I haven’t even had a cup of tea yet, but someone said a dumb thing on the internet so I can’t even look away. Really, I’d normally just bitch about this on Twitter, but my thoughts are a bit more than 140 characters long so here you go.
Basic summary of the above blog post: JK Rowling should stop writing because everyone is buying her books instead of mine.
When I told a friend the title of this piece she looked at me in horror and said, “You can’t say that, everyone will just put it down to sour grapes!”
Should have listened to your friend, dude.
I didn’t much mind Rowling when she was Pottering about. I’ve never read a word (or seen a minute) so I can’t comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent. I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds.
I can basically point to the above two sentences as the real problem with Ms. Shepherd’s piece. It basically boils down to, “well it’s okay if she sticks to her stinky genre, but she should get out of mine” crossed with barely concealed disdain that actual grown-ups are reading said stinky genre. Double special bonus fuck you asshole points for never having actually read Harry Potter while still being a patronizing douche about it.
This sort of attitude, I will note, is why plebes like myself often have the general impression that “literary” fiction is a place for pompous assholes. And why genre writers still get to nurse our treasured persecuted artist complex despite the fact that by all measures but for gatekeeper approval, we seem to be winning.
Look, I know it sucks when you’re struggling to make sales. I would sacrifice any number of goats to the Great Old Ones if I thought it’d give me a chance at your numbers on my novellas, Ms. Shepherd. I haven’t even managed to sell a full novel yet, and in my more crapulent moments of despair I can and have gone on ego-comforting rants about how the world is full of philistines that totally don’t get my genius, and what the fuck is wrong with the industry that they’re publishing shit like Twilight when my obviously superior talent is languishing unappreciated.
But this is the thing. I keep the wailing and ineffectual fist-waving limited to whatever audience is in my living room at the time (usually the cats, sometimes Mike, who keeps his headphones firmly on and just sort of nods along and makes vague noises of agreement until I’ve run out of steam) instead of recording it for posterity on a well-trafficked site. Apparently because I have the requisite self-awareness to know, in hindsight, just how pathetic it all sounds.
Four simple points:
- The major assumption here, that if people weren’t reading JK Rowling’s books, they would be reading yours or any you personally deem worthy is bullshit.
- Frankly, considering the wide range of other leisure activities that people have competing for their time, I maintain forevermore that we should be happy they’re reading at all. And they are reading, you realize. Don’t give me that “kids these days” shit.
- As a corollary to #2, if you hook someone in to reading with a piece of really popular fiction (eg: Harry Potter or Twilight) there is a good chance they will give the whole reading thing a go because it was so much fun this time around and try more books. (Whoops, maybe that’s why my stinky genre is doing so well!) For all that I love bitching about Twilight as much as the next feminist with delusions of being a writer, I am still actually glad for its existence because I personally know of people who started reading again because of those books. There are writers out there now who have sales because Stephenie Meyer and JK Rowling turned someone back on to reading. So back the fuck off.
- I, too, have had my moments of lamentation about how the masses only want to feast on shit and isn’t it a shame we can’t get real art made these days. (Normally in connection with movies; you try figuring out how to get a film funded when it lacks the requisite explosions and tits.) Well, them’s the breaks because we went with that whole capitalism thing. But it’s also, frankly, the huge commercial successes that even make the game possible for the little guys who might not ever earn out their advances. So many of these big sellers like Harry Potter just come whipping out of left field. No one has a formula for what’s going to catch on, and publishing moves slowly enough that writers are commonly advised to not try to chase what is “hot” because by the time you get it written and in the pipe, the next wave will have hit. Makes me wonder just how many writers have gotten their debut sales because someone was willing to take a chance on them thanks to the massive successes of others.
As someone who wasted money and valuable hours of my life I’ll never get back on The Casual Vacancy, it wouldn’t break my heart at all if JK Rowling went back to writing YA, because I really liked those books. But this is the thing. I know JK Rowling isn’t my bitch. I know you don’t get to tell other writers what to write. Ever.
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.
Christ, what an asshole.