Lynn Shepherd, a novelist and copywriter has recently written an article for The Huffington Post stating her belief that J.K. Rowling should stop writing adult fiction and instead concentrate her efforts on the Young Adult market where she has been so successful.
Who is Lynn Shepherd?
Your first question may be, as it was mine, who IS Lynn Shepherd? Well, I for one had never heard of her, but I suspect much of the population will now know her as an author with a serious case of sour grapes; bad publicity is good publicity, I guess?
She confesses to having never read a word of Harry Potter and feels it was a shame that adults chose to read the books to themselves, rather than to children, She quantified her viewpoint: “But, then again, any reading is better than no reading, right?”
For a self-confessed ‘writer’ who believes her work worthy of a publishing deal, she seems to have adopted a style and tone of writing that does little more than create an incendiary reaction; her entire argument appears lost in bitterness and envy.
Publishing the ‘Sure Thing’?
Her criticism is levelled at Rowling for dominating the marketplace with adult fiction, which she deems second-rate, and preventing other authors from breaking through into the bestseller market. I will agree that the lists are often populated by the same authors, ‘Sure Thing’ titles that will sell, but is this the fault of the author or the publisher?
In truth, I think it’s neither. The publishing industry, like all businesses, has to make money. To make money, books have to sell and known authors will have a fairly guaranteed audience. They cannot be blamed for having ‘bread-and-butter’ authors; in fact, it is these authors that give publishers the funds to take a chance on the unknown authors! No business wants to take risks, especially when the marketplace is in such flux and uncertainty. So they cannot be blamed for publishing a sure-fire winner. I am pretty sure if Ms. Shepherd were the author in question, she would have a sudden change of heart.
Shepherd’s other mistake is to denegrate the ‘quality’ of Rowling’s writing and raise adult fiction above that of Young Adult. Now, I have never read The Casual Vacancy or The Cuckoo’s Calling, for all I know they could be written atrociously, but I doubt that. What incenses me, as a perennial fan of young adult fiction and other books that are often considered ‘light and fluffy’, are the attitudes that casts them down as inferior to ‘grown-up books’.
There is a place and market for every kind of book. I am NOT advocating bad writing, but it occurs in every genre; adult and literary fiction is certainly not immune. Good writing should be published, no matter the genre or age group. To deny an author is to deny an audience of eager readers of what they enjoy.
Shepherd really has no cause for complaint, as far as I can see it. She is far luckier to be writing in the current day and age than twenty years ago. With the proliferation of self-publishing channels, social media opportunities (in which she is going to receive a baptism of fire!), writing communities and publishing schemes, such as Authonomy, the playing field is levelling out somewhat.
Discoverability is becoming easier, publishers are becoming far more receptive to unsolicited work than before. Jonathan Cape recently announced they would hold a month of open submissions in June 2014 and just today, Scholastic announced a prize to find a new, unpublished children’s author. Publishers are sourcing new authors through their proliferation of work on sites such as FanFiction.net, and no-one can forget the ’50 Shades’ phenomenon.
Lastly, if Shepherd holds the view that Rowling has ‘had her chance’, then in the same vein, she should be asking Stephen Hawking to retire from his research and telling Spielberg to stop making blockbusters.
Maybe Lynn Shepherd needs to examine her own writing and ask herself why she isn’t being published, rather than blaming others for her lack of success.