Tuesday 25 February 2014

The Rising Tide

The rising tide lifts all boats.

So there was a (rather foolish) blog in the Huffington Post recently to the effect that JK Rowling should stop writing and give everyone else a chance.

I'm sure this has been answered in many places - it's such an easy hit - but I'll take my own swing at it.

Prince of Thorns was released in the same month as George Martin's very long awaited A Dance With Dragons. At the time ADWD was pretty much all anyone wanted to talk about. I did for a moment feel perhaps the same kind of trepidation expressed in Lynn Shepherd's blog ... but really it made no sense to feel that way.

George Martin wasn't 'stealing my readers' - what he was doing was turning hundreds of thousands of pairs of new eyes towards the Fantasy section of bookshops across the world. Sure for a few days those people were occupied with his latest doorstop - but then they wanted another book to read. They had a taste for fantasy and George wasn't going to give them a new volume for perhaps another five years.

Then along comes A Game of Thrones on TV, constituting one more big step in the recent advances toward making fantasy mainstream, toward making Joe and Josephine Public see it as something interesting and fun rather than the preserve of geeks, to be sneered at by 'normal' people. Fantasy has advanced hugely in the public perception over the past ten years, and its done so in large part due to the influence of the super-stars of the genre. They've called in the tide and I'm just one of many who have been surfing the waves toward minor success, very grateful for the whole thing.

The preserve of the Huffington Post blogger is crime fiction. She sees JK Rowling as an intruder who has crashed in and is using up all the air in that particular niche. This of course is the opposite of what's happening. Vast numbers of Rowling devotees, many of them now adults who read her children's books when they were kids, have followed her into this new adventure and many of them will be discovering to their surprise that they love crime fiction. When they've read her book many will look for another. The tide will rise - Lynn Shepherd's boat will be lifted with it, if she just lets it...

Selling books is a very non-linear business. Some soar, many crash. Many scrape a living whilst a handful make multi-millions. However, it is those chosen few, those authors whose success has made them celebrities, that command column inches in newspapers, mentions on the news, space in websites not dedicated to books. And that publicity constantly turns the public eye towards reading, towards fiction - constantly injects into their brain the idea that buying a book, reading a book, talking about a book are good things they will enjoy...

So I'll lift my coffee cup to the Rowlings, and the George Martins, to the Twilight and the Hunger Games, without sour grapes and with thanks.


  1. I find it amusing that nearly everyone in genre, including the various factions that are fighting (c.f. the SFWA situation) can *all* agree that Shepherd is an asshat.

    Publishing isn't the zero-sum game that Shepherd thinks it is, it is far more complicated than that. Non-linear, as you say.

    1. Even when we as humans have to agree to disagree on important matters, we can always agree on who the asshat is.

  2. I've convinced that it must have been a stunt to get page views. Anything HP or Rowling is fairly "no touching" as far as criticisms go (fair or not).

    1. Why do I make stupid spelling mistakes in 2 sentences while entire reviews turn out great? I'll never know.

      Anywho, that's supposed to say "I'm convinced"