If you haven't heard by now, the Huffington Post published an article called "If JK Rowling Cares About Writing, She Should Stop Doing It." The author, a historical novelist named Lynn Shepherd, claims that Harry Potter author JK Rowling's success is preventing other authors from having successes of their own. I know. It doesn't make any sense to the rest of us either.
Well, perhaps this was just click bait. Maybe Shepherd thought she'd get a lively debate going and in the process her name and books would get a good bit of exposure. Hey, exposure is good, right? No such thing as bad publicity, right? Right?
She's gotten exposure, yes. But let's look at the results of the past couple of days of that exposure. Search Twitter for "Lynn Shepherd." All those Tweets you see? Yeah. That's how it's been on the author's Facebook page as well as many blog posts (like this one! Whaddaya know?). It's even spread to major news outlets like the BBC. In addition, the less restrained among us have descended upon her books on Amazon, leaving dozens of 1-star reviews on her books, which has sent her review averages into whatever the opposite of the stratosphere is.
Look, we've all thought about writing juicy and controversial articles to get money-spending eyeballs on our work. Shepherd was looking for her fifteen minutes, perhaps. But I think the backlash from this is going to last much, much longer. Amazon isn't exactly Johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to removing abusive reviews. She is published by Random House, so maybe they can pull a little more weight than we lowly Indie writers. Still, as long as they're there, making light of what she wrote, it's going to make many, many readers either go look for the article she wrote to see what this is all about or just click away after coming to the conclusion that she's a mean, bitter person. I'm not saying she is, but the rest of the internet has certainly interpreted her article that way.
Even if she does manage to get those reviews taken down, there will forever be a digital record of all that has transpired. How many thousands now know her name and have vowed to never buy her work? I've seen many such declarations. How many more thousands are going to make the same declaration in the coming couple of weeks as news of her article continues to spread? How many thousands more will, upon searching for information about her over the next months, years or decades, also find out what she wrote and have the same negative reaction to it the entire book-reading world is having right now?
How will her publisher react to this? Call my crazy, but I don't get the sense corporate types are exactly thrilled when people they're paying do things to derail the Profit Express (also known as the Gravy Train or the Simoleon Central Line).
This is literally the worst thing an author could do for his or her career. But Lynn Shepherd has learned/is learning that. Leaving 1-star reviews on her work goes too far, as does saying horrible things about her that one does not know to be true. She made a mistake, certainly. Let's not the rest of us make mistakes in our responses to it. There's a lot to learn from this. I just hope we learn the right lessons: how not to draw attention to ourselves and also how to respond to such things without debasing ourselves in the process.