On 24 February 2014, an author that very few of us have ever heard of aired her opinions in The Huffington Post. Unfortunately for this author, she managed to singlehandedly offend journalists, authors, retailers, readers and Harry Potter fans all in one go.
Before I go on to respond to this, I do want to say something to the Huffington Post: Shame on you for publishing that article. You are a reputable news website, not some clickbait trap of top ten lists and barely researched articles. We expected better.
On to Ms Shepherd – Thank you for airing your views but you have made the fundamental mistake delivering a poorly thought out argument in a sensationalist manner without any facts. It only served to make you sound like a bitter C-list author and not at all like an informed individual protesting the status quo.
Your first cardinal mistake happened in your headline: “If JK Rowling Cares About Writing, She Should Stop Doing It” – really? The mere fact that JK Rowling is in no way, shape or form a threat to the written word. In the same way that Miley Cyrus is in no way a threat to music, Piers Morgan is in no way a threat to late night TV and Paris Hilton is in no way a threat to, well, anyone.
Your next problem is in your first paragraph – you draw attention to the fact that you are about to sound bitter and jealous. Good job, you have now convinced everyone that you are bitter and jealous. Then you go on in the second paragraph to admit that you have never read the woman you trashed in your headline, nor seen any of the movies. Then you go on to insult every adult who has ever read her books by telling them “it’s a shame that adults were reading them [referring to the Harry Potter novels]… mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds.”.
The next two paragraphs are dedicated to telling everyone how Ms Rowlling’s two novels for adults (The Casual Vacancy and Cuckoo’s Calling) only sold because Ms Rowling is, well, JK Rowling. It apparently took up a lot of space in store, which the author feels is unfair. And a lot of space in columns, which the author feels should rather be dedicated to lesser-known authors.
Unfortunately, this is the point where she offends both retailers and journalists. Let us take a look at bookshop retail. A lot has been said in recent years about the demise of the physical bookstore. Online retail has boomed to the point where the Bookseller’s Association in the UK have two time periods – Before Amazon (BA) and After Amazon (AA). In order for the physical stores to keep their doors open and stock books of lesser-known authors (including those of Ms Shepherd), we rely on these bestsellers.
In a similar way, journalists rely on these bestsellers to sell their stories. The review of the bestseller, that many people will read regardless of the fact that someone reviewed it, lends credence to the reviewer because people will read the review, compare it to their own opinion of the book and then assign some credibility to the reviewer. When this reviewer then later reviews a lesser-known novel, people are more likely to respond to that review than to a review by a person no one has ever heard of.
Do not get me wrong, I do see your point – the one that you obscured in the midst of a whole lot of unnecessary attacks on exactly the people you wanted to influence. I too agree that we should be featuring amazing novels by lesser known authors, but I do think they should be featured alongside the novels of the famous authors, not in the place of them. The psychological effect of seeing the name of a known author mentioned in close proximity of someone you have never heard of is much greater than picking up your weekend paper and not recognising anyone featured on the books page.
Please remember this, Ms Shepherd: It is because of authors like JK Rowling and her ilk that your books can sell “a couple of boxes”. Please do not insult the hard-working authors out there who, without resorting to sensationalism, manage to build a fan-base, grow their footprint and continue pursuing the dream of one day becoming the next JK Rowling.