The whole Lynn Shepherd debacle (sj pretty much sums up my feels about that here) is one incident in what is becoming a disturbing trend where some self-published or little-known authors go on the Huffington Post (or equivalent media) and write an “opinion piece” about something that 1) is usually kind of stupid and not well-thought out, but 2) is guaranteed to stir people up and get them to go read it, thus putting that author’s name on the map.
AUTHORS. WHAT ARE YOU DOING AUTHORS.
Yes, if you go on the internet and complain about popular authors like J.K. Rowling, or John Green, or bitch about how you had to change something about your book because of something about YA lit that you hate (but that all of your readers probably love), or complain about reviewers, or whatever–yeah, you’re going to get attention. Yeah, people are going to know who you are. And that is not a good thing.
Whining about how J.K. Rowling is so popular that she should stop writing is just ridiculous. Have you considered, Ms. Shepherd, that most people want to read J.K. Rowling’s books and urging her to stop is not going to win you any fans? To argue that John Green, by virtue of being a popular YA writer, is maybe hurting the YA genre for other non-cis-white-male writers is equally absurd, but there are authors out there doing so. If there are issues there–and I’m sure there are, I’m not doubting that–it’s not because John Green is a good writer and has two million Twitter followers, it’s because of an industry that fails to recognize a broad spectrum of writers who are writing quality YA literature.
Some writers have approached that subject in a nuanced way that puts the responsibility on the shoulders of the industry. Some have engaged in rants about the author himself, which is supposed to accomplish–what, exactly? Are you going to make him go crawl into a hole and never write again? Do you think his fans will cheer you on for that? Hell, I haven’t even read John Green yet and I get annoyed at his ubiquity and that kind of bullshit ranting about him annoys me. Congrats, detractors–you’ve actually made me into a tentative John Green supporter when I was previously ambivalent.
Being known for publicly attacking a popular author (or, God forbid, FANS) will get you attention; it won’t get you readers. Also, it reeks of whiny desperation, which will not attract readers, either.
I get it. Writing for a living is hard–probably harder than you thought. Getting people to pay you to read your words is hard. There’s probably some point where you get frustrated enough that you convince yourself, hey, going public with my opinions about this might be a good move. People will notice me and see how much I am struggling, then they might check out my books.
And I suspect the sad truth is that, no, many of us won’t be reading your article and then clicking through to buy your books. I’m sure you’ll see a sales spike, but you won’t see the number of people who are so put off that they’ll never pick up one of your books. When the buzz dies down and that spike flatlines, you still won’t have done what you needed to do in the first place to see a sustainable sales boost: build an audience.
Maybe I’m wrong; maybe whiny attention-seeking works like a charm. But nobody I talk to ever seems very enthused about reading these authors after they make spectacles of themselves. It’s possible I just have more discerning friends, but something tells me it’s more than that.
This also isn’t to say that authors can’t, or shouldn’t, talk about issues in publishing or best-seller lists or prize panels. Absolutely do this. It’s important discourse and it’s exactly the kind of thing that would get my attention in a positive way, as long as you aren’t being an attention-seeking jackass.
Here’s a litmus test to tell if you should publish that article you’ve written to the internets:
- attacking a popular, well-known author solely for being well-known and popular?
- looking forward to the attention you’re going to get when the article is published?
- panicked because your sales are down and hoping that this article will boost them?
- feeling jealous of others’ success?
- making the argument that you, or “authors like you” (ie, you), deserve to be read?
- of the mindset that having written a book entitles you to make a living as a writer?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, take a giant step back from the submission button. Maybe have some neutral people read it and see what they think. Let it sit in the proverbial drawer for a bit, get some distance from it, and re-read it. Make a logic tree and see if your arguments and statements even make sense, or if they boil down to “Popular Author is Bad Because I Want to Sell More Books But People Keep Buying Their Books Instead.”
Not publishing that article would be the biggest favor you could do for your writing career. Or, you might find that people are cheering–not because you made a good point, but because even Snooki is a more successful writer than you are and they’re happy that you’re doing so poorly. Or laughing, because your aims were so transparent that you’ve made yourself the butt of a joke you don’t get. Or simply turning their backs on you, which is possibly the worst fate of all for a person trying to make a living off of telling stories.