Monday, February 24, 2014

Is This Literally the Worst Thing an Author Could Do?


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.


  1. I think her article was a little misguided. If she had focused more on the marketing machine afforded to a minority of authors, rather than focussing purely on JK Rowling, she might have gotten away with it. Unfortunately, she wrote what a lot of people took as an attack on much loved author, even though I don't think it was intended in that way. Sadly, humour, irony and sarcasm do not translate well on the internet.

    I do think that the abuse she is now receiving on Twitter, Facebook and on Amazon is basically bullying. I know the internet term for it is trolling, but let's face it, it amounts to bullying. It shouldn't be happening. It's a shame people couldn't engage in the debate she tried to start, rather than resorting to trolling.

  2. Shepherd's article came off to me as a personal vent based more on frustration than facts, and her unfortunate choice of title only strengthens that impression. I doubt she meant it to come across as a personal attack on Rowling or pure troll bait, but unfortunately it did, and a lot of people took the bait.

    If there's one thing we learn from the internet, is that you don't feed the trolls. Publicly ranting or venting on the internet is generally a bad idea, because it leads you not to ponder facts the right way and you might end up making gross aproximations, or saying things you might regret. Freedom of speech means you are still responsible of whatever you choose to say - and as authors, we have to be especially mindful of the consequences of or words.

    That said, what's happening right now is frankly ridiculous. Nothing justifies the kind of abuse Shepherd is getting for one misguided post. She deserved debate and facts to discuss the points she raised, not this kind of full scale aggression.

  3. It sounds as if her assertions were based on a false premise to begin with. One person's success does not rob others of their own successes. However, she is entitled to her opinion. I agree, Michael, she made a mistake. If she's being vilified for it now, it's a harsh lesson for her. It's never good to blame the success of others for our own shortcomings. -Karen