Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Is it in the Way You Look at It? (My Updated Thoughts on The Cuckoo's Calling, JK Rowling, and Marketing Stunts)

I did something yesterday that I have never done before. I deleted a published blog post. I had posted some of my thoughts on the whole JK Rowling is Robert Galbraith thing. If you don't know about this story...

The NY Times shares some of my suspicions that this was a publicity stunt. My blog post took things a little farther and called JK Rowling careless because she was basically playing a game pretending to be a new writer and it hurt.

My point was that she was taking for granted something that any new, struggling, and/or aspiring author would hold of the utmost value.

But I realized--I was making a judgement call on JK Rowling's actions. I don't know where she, personally, is coming from. I can guess she's at a stage in her career where the overwhelming fame brought by the Harry Potter books has her doubting if she could cut it on her writing alone. Maybe she's scared she'll have to lean forever on her name.

Maybe she wanted nothing more than to never have to be named as the real author, and the publishing house she is with basically said, if this book doesn't sell under the pseudonym we're either pulling it or outing you. Cos sales is sales, baby. Maybe she's as much a victim in this as the duped readers. Maybe this is a situation like The Prince and the Pauper.

Anyway, my point is, I don't know. And I shouldn't presume.

But I'm apparently not the only one who sees it that way. I discovered this article in The Guardian today. The quotes that stood out most to me are:

"...what Rowling has done, however admirable her intentions, was less risky than it first appeared. She took a gamble when she wrote as Robert Galbraith, instead of under her own name, but she admits that the chances of keeping the secret were "incredibly remote". "


"Indeed, while I don't doubt Rowling's motives for one moment, it's instructive that the revelation of her authorship has quickly become a story about a well-known writer doing something quirky and eccentric – rather than a telling tale about the state of publishing. Whether she likes it or not, she is in that category of stratospherically famous authors who have become brands; Dan Brown is another obvious example. This is a recent development and its impact on other writers is disastrous, creating a situation in which huge publicity budgets are placed behind a handful of authors, skewing bestseller lists."

Of course I worded things rather differently in my post yesterday--and it implied more than I intended. Maybe as a not-at-all-famous author what I said came across as resentful. That wasn't my goal. All I wanted to say was that starting off as a new author and pretending to start off as a new author when you have the ginormous safety net of your world-renown name are not at all equal in risk.

I am at a point where I grab hold of and value every opportunity. If I get to have a table at a craft fair and sell four books in six hours, I'm thrilled despite the fact that those kinds of sales numbers are actually quite pathetic compared to large press authors who might sell 40 or even 400 books in one hour (much less six). I'm at a point where I have no luxuries yet--nothing is assumed, I'm tested at every turn, I have to battle for reviews and respect as a writer.

I get that JK Rowling was in this exact position years ago when she first wrote Harry Potter. If she hadn't hit the right editor at the right time, she could still be struggling to become a published author. She's been through exactly what we aspiring and indie authors are going through right now. She made her way to the top with talent and an amazing story, and hard work. She's earned every bit of success she's gotten, and I never meant to imply that I believe otherwise or that I begrudge her that.

Am I envious of her? Probably to a degree. But even if I am, is that wrong?

Is it wrong to point out that it's a lot easier to take a risk when you have the ultimate sure-fire back-up plan?

Or is it wrong only because I'm down here at the bottom looking up?


Krysti said...

Kat, I think you're right. I don't have the resources that she does, or even that you do, in order to get my books out to the public. It befuddles me why anyone would write under an assumed name if they're already famous, but--whatever.

About the best thing I can do is keep writing books and doing my best, and hope that sometime, someone who has a large following gets all excited about my work and makes a big deal of it.

I've tried to go the self-promotion route. It isn't working as well for me as I'd hoped, but--y'know--that whole exhausting thing isn't why I write. I've decided to pretty much drop it, and focus on the writing instead, because that is what I love. If people like my books and want to read them; fine. If they don't; again, fine. :-)

Kessie said...

The only reason Harry Potter took off is because the church tried to ban them. Without the controversy, they'd have been another modestly-well selling children's book.

Don't be bitter at her because she tried an experiment! Stephen King and other 'pidgeonholed' authors have, too. Fame sucks. I used to be what you call famous in the fanfic circles, and I swore never again.

Decide what constitutes 'success' for you, then drive for that goal. NYT best seller? Million copies sold? Write up in the paper? A certain amount of income per month? Then write all kinds of stuff and see what sells. Don't begrudge other people their success.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Krysti, I think she wrote under a pen name to see if her writing could stand on its own. I can understand feeling that way. But she doesn't have the worry that if it doesn't sell that's the end.

I know that feeling, too, about hoping that eventually someone with a large following will get excited about your books! I have that same hope :).

Kessie--I can't agree with you on Harry Potter. First, because I think they're brilliant. Second, I think the banning came more from the popularity, and not the other way around.

Also, I specifically said in this post that I *don't* begrudge JKR's success. I don't begrudge anyone their success. Nor am I bitter at JKR for running an experiment. And I /am/ working toward my goals. I guess I'm not speaking in terms that are making my point clear to you, and I'm not sure how to do that.

Lyn said...

I saw that the article said something like: "This is a recent development" referring to "brand name" authors. But that's not true - Dickens actually created new magazines based on the fact that he'd write a serial for the publication. People clamored for his stories. So the mega best selling author has had challenges for a long time now. It's not "disastrous" for the rest of us - it brings great opportunities. I hate it when someone is always seeking to blame some "thing" (Amazon, or Trad Pub, or best selling authors, or whatever) for why things are the way they are. Well, they are, so we deal with it. No biggy. :)

Kat Heckenbach said...

Yeah, Lyn, that part is rather skewed. I highlighted it more for the fact that it points out that success breeds success, and publishers are more willing to risk their marketing budget on authors that have already proven themselves. There's not necessarily anything inherently wrong with that. And no, I don't see it as "disastrous" for other authors. And it is definitely NOT a new phenomenon.

Unknown said...

Any idea if she wrote as Robert Gilbraith before or after Casual Vacancy? I can see where she might want to use a pen name-- no one liked Casual Vacancy because it wasn't Harry Potter.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Lisa, I heard rumors right after HP was all done that she was writing a detective novel...and then Casual Vacancy came out. I assumed the original rumors were false, or she jumped to a new idea. In short--I'm not sure. But Casual Vacancy definitely released first, and I think its reception probably had something to do with her deciding to use a pen name.

Jill said...

I wouldn't resent someone like Rowling. In fact, although I'm not a fan of the HP books, I admire her. I admire her presence, her journey to publication, her serendipity of finding an agent and publisher who were willing to take a risk on her. I do, however, feel resentment inside, and I don't know what it is aimed at particularly. I think it has to do with the hard work I've put in for the last 20 yrs that has come to nothing. Since I gave up a career in fiction writing, I've felt a great relief at letting it go, but I also still feel miffed and resentful that I couldn't make it work, that no agent would give me the chance that somebody gave Rowling. It's fine to move on from such a deflating career choice--I just wish I hadn't poured 20 yrs of my adult life into it (it was my childhood dream, too). I guess that's why I decided to self-pub, so I could do something with my work and scrabble together any audience I could w/o having a marketing budget. Mostly, I think I'm resentful with myself. Others may not understand my resentment and may even misinterpret it, but I'm okay with that. The right book given to the right person at the right time=success. That's just way too many variables for your average person to control.

Kat Heckenbach said...

I understand, Jill. It's not anything that can be aimed at the person on the receiving end of the serendipity. It's not that you don't want them to be successful, but rather that it does nothing to help you figure out your own path.

I know it doesn't mean much--I'm just one person after all--but I consider every last one of the agents and editors who passed you by fools. Your writing is wonderful. You really have every right to be miffed.

Sparks of Ember said...

Kristine Kathryn Rusch wrote a great article about this here. She has a lot of insight & I like what she says.

As for perspective - I think it is in the way we look at things. Everything in life is skewed based on perspective and attitude. And while envy is a natural part of human nature, I think it should be resisted as part of Christian nature. So does it matter if Rowling wanted the beans spilled, if her publishers wanted her name outed or if it truly was a secret that got discovered. Who says you're on the bottom? The world's standards? As long as you are doing everything God has called you to do, then you are right where He wants you to be and there isn't a better place than that.

Kat Heckenbach said...

You're the second one to give me the link to that article :). It is a good one!

For the record, I felt that JK Rowling DID want to keep this silent from the beginning. I figured, though, her publisher was not going to sit and wait for modest sales to build, not when they have a guaranteed money-maker in her name. The timing is what did it for me--that it came out so quickly. Almost as if they did what most publishers do to real *new* authors these days, which is give them about 8 weeks to sell well, then yank them off the shelves if expectations aren't met.

I suppose my issue with Rowling is that it reminded me of King David. Let's go with the Veggie Tales version, where King David had all the duckies, but decided he wanted someone else's ducky too.

JK Rowling has the publishing world in her hand, and she wanted to be able to be both established author and new author at the same time, while there are thousands and thousands of us just wanting the new author thing. Even though I DO understand how she feels and still think she's awesome, my first reaction was like, stop trying to take someone else's ducky when you have a whole castle full of your own already. Does that make sense?

My "envy" of JK Rowling is not a "man, it's not fair, I hate her for having what I want." No, way. I am a HUGE FAN. I don't begrudge her fame, I am happy for her. I've read the HP books three times, and will many, many more. We own all the movies, watch them over and over. We love, love, love going to the Wizarding World of HP at Universal Studios. I LOVE JK ROWLING. Any envy I feel is more of an admiration, I wish I was that brilliant of a writer--not that I want her to be less successful, or that I'd want success for anything other than my own personal skill.