You have probably seen this link by now, at least if you live anywhere near my corner of the Social Mediadrome. The response has been pretty much what you might expect, with people essentially picking it up, carrying it to a big stack of wood and setting fire to it. Lynn Shepherd has been villified, accused of jealousy, and had her books receive negative reviews on Amazon, apparently, from angry Potter fans – in fact, whether you agree or disagree or just don’t care about what she’s saying, the general response has veered far too deeply into the sort of berserker rage that helps nobody and makes nobody look good. However, the whole shebang does feel a bit like that rare Publicity that is actually Bad, and also so insanely predictable that you wonder precisely what the intended result was.
The content of the article is basically “Rowling Go Home,” is full of rather snyde wizard references, and ends up with “Remember what it was like when The Cuckoo’s Calling had only sold a few boxes and think about those of us who are stuck there, because we can’t wave a wand and turn our books into overnight bestsellers merely by saying the magic word.” This is, frankly, a really bizarre idea, that JK Rowling is eating all the literary pies and leaving none for all the other authors.
Maybe it’s different in Shepherd’s genre. One is tempted to suggest that maybe, amongst mystery writers, you can never tell who the villain is, and you creep from gloomy room to gloomy room always terrified of a knife in the back, but that would be shameless literary brinksmanship and I won’t do it. But seriously, that isn’t it. It can’t be like that.
OK, reductio ad absurdum, let’s say a reader goes into a bookshop with enough pence in her pocket for only one book, and so she’ll either buy one of mine, or one from that fellow Abercrombie. And so we can’t both win, and either I or Joe will have the price of a Twix added on to our royalty statements. And at the next convention, I’ll look across the bar and see him eating that Twix, and jealous rage will overcome me, and we’ll have some kind of Kurosawa-style faceoff where he’ll end up standing three paces behind me staring into the distance and then my head will fall off.
Anyway, the thing is, people who buy Joe’s books also buy mine (1), and vice versa. We’re neighbours in generally edged-weapon-related fantasy, and people read multiple books and multiple authors. People buying books from authors published by my publisher, or represented by my agent, or in my genre, or anywhere near my genre, these all help me in various ways. People buying books, just fiction of any kind at all helps, because the more books people buy, the more they will buy. It’s not some weird zero sum setup, where suddenly they’ve had their allowance of books and aren’t allowed any more. Reading grows reading grows reading. Otherwise there would be no reason to stick “Comparable to Tolkien at his best” on the dust jacket, because they’ve gone and bought Tolkien, haven’t they, so they have no space in their lives for anyone else.
So yes, there’s always the competition, but the thing that first struck me when I finally met other authors (2) is how little of the snark, the one upmanship and the backbiting there was. I was truly expecting to be F*cking New Guy and to have to make the tea and the beds of everyone else on pain of ostracism, and instead everyone was really supportive (3). Is it just the SFF crowd? Because amongst authors I know, there is a real ‘all in it together’ feeling. Yes, we are rivals in a way, but rivals on the same team. The only kind of author who is going to damage anybody’s sales is the writer who tells people not to read.
(1) Amazon tells me so.
(2) In this case Paul Cornell, Peter F Hamilton, Gary Gibson, Mark Charan Newton and China Mieville at the very first SFX Weekender.
(3) And I do my damndest to pass that down the line with new authors I meet, because it’s the Way it’s Done.