Do You Deserve to be Published?

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You’d like to get a book published. Start standing in line, and please, don’t forget to take a number.

At times, hell it’s all the time, it is discouraging to think of the quantity of writers who are a rung closer on the ladder to publication. Big names, debut names, mid list names. As we all know, whether or not these authors are wholeheartedly “good writers” doesn’t necessarily matter. It’s what sells, no?

A couple of weeks ago, crime writer Lynn Shepherd posted an article on The Huffington Post entitled, “If JK Rowling Cares about Writing, She Should Stop Doing It.” There she attacks Rowling for taking over the best seller’s list just by her name. While her arguments are punitive and a bit childish, there’s a lot of truth in Shepherd’s anguish. “…because I think that sort of monopoly can make it next to impossible for anything else to survive, let alone thrive. Publishing a book is hard enough at the best of times, especially in an industry already far too fixated with Big Names and Sure Things, but what can an ordinary author do, up against such a Golgomath?” What chance do we have? But better yet, why do we jump so quickly to saying it’s not fair?

Think of how many stories and books Updike has published, Philip Roth, Alice Munro, Kathy Fish. Do we begrudge them, or celebrate them? I’m not a huge fan of Rowling’s work–I read all of Harry Potter–but the woman has created a world thousands, if not millions, of people have submerged themselves into. Moby Lives!  hits it on the spot describing Rowling as a brand, more than an author. And isn’t it a wonderful one?

url-2I’ll admit, I scoff when I see that there’s another book of Rowling’s out. But not so much as seeing that James Franco has a forthcoming publication (and decided to butcher As I Lay Dying, both starring and directing, amongst other things), or that Kristen Stewart had a poem published. While BJ Novak’s book trailer was hilarious, does his writing stand up enough? People will buy these, search for these, because the names matter to them. But are we any better than them?

 

18 Comments

  1. Taylor Crain Reply to Taylor

    “Punitive and childish” pretty aptly describe Shepherd’s argument, which seems to be more envy than logic driven. Do I deserve to be published? I’m not sure. I deserve to write, because I work hard at it, but I don’t know that anyone but those with the resources to publish work have the authority to decide who “deserves” to be. I know that I am not fit to judge whether or not JK Rowling or anyone else deserves to be a best seller—and neither is Shepherd. Does Rowling hold a “monopoly” over the market? Maybe, but living with monopolies is the risk you take when you choose to participate in a market that is run by consumer’s choice. If Rowling does indeed hold a spot of indisputable and unchangeable dominance, it is only because her readers’ have put her there. As far as I am concerned, a credit to Rowling or Novak or Franco is not a discredit to me, or anyone else. Aspiring to be number one in the fiction market is perhaps something worthwhile to strive for, but it certainly shouldn’t be the only goal. Am I better writer than Kristen Stewart? I have no earthly idea, but better writing does not always equate better selling. (What?!) Regardless of our skillsets, I feel as though Ms. Stewart had a much of a right to have her poetry published as I do. Perhaps, if as writers we did not devote so much time to evaluating the worthiness of our peers, we would get more writing done.

  2. Jacob Hall Reply to Jacob

    Who am I to say that I deserve to be published? I’d be lying if I said I did’t want to stand on the rooftops and shout “PICK ME, PICK ME!”, but where would that get me? Probably not on the best-seller’s list, but that’s necessarily where I even want to be.

    I think as writers-nay, artists-we have to more or less resign ourselves to the bitter reality that ours is an incredibly competitive and mis-understood market. Those in charge of the big bucks are after just that, and so we almost can’t expect them to take a chance on an author who’s work isn’t a sure thing.

    I’m not saying we should roll over and play dead; quite the opposite. I’m simply asserting that resistance is futile, and so we should search for other avenues through which our writing can be published and seen. Many of my favorite authors are virtually unknown outside of the literary world, as their work in not so easily marketed or palatable.

    I do not think, however, that we should take to shaming Rowling or Franco for name alone. If the work is good, it’s good, though we should still take in into account the bias that many will have towards people such as this, whether positive or negative.

  3. Alyssa Fuerholzer Reply to Alyssa

    I also agree that Lynn Shepherd’s argument is childish. She starts the article by saying that it’s not about jealousy, but that’s exactly what it’s about. She’s attacking someone whose books she’s never even read just because people like to read them. I realize it’s frustrating to have your work pushed aside and unrecognized because a big name like JK Rowling grabs all of the attention, but I don’t think anything will really change if she stopped writing. And I think it’s unfair to criticize her simply for being a big name when she’s worked just as hard as anyone to write and to get her name to such a high status. And in the case of celebrities like Franco and Stewart, yeah, it is sometimes annoying to see their written work getting so much attention just because they’re a celebrity, but again, I don’t think it’s fair to tell someone they can’t write and get published just based on who they are.
    I also think Shepherd’s argument is unfair to readers. I’ve read every single one of Rowling’s books so far, but those aren’t the ONLY books I’m reading. Other people are writing fantastic books and getting recognized for them. Readers will gravitate toward other good books even if it’s not written by a big name author. A lot of it has to do with how the book is marketed more than who wrote it. Even if Rowling stopped writing, there’s always going to be another big name that comes along, and another and another. I might buy into Shepherd’s argument more if she’d presented a better way to market books or a way to make other names get recognition instead of being overlooked in favor of big name authors, but she doesn’t. She just says Rowling should stop writing which I think is absurd.

  4. Corey Klinzing Reply to Corey

    Of course it’s not fair. But like many things (outside of love and war,) the business of writing is not fair. Publishing has always more about who you know than what you write, and everyone knows who JK Rowling is. I would argue that it’s for a good reason; Harry Potter, while not the best written books out there, captured the imaginations of millions of kids, myself included. And I would continue to argue that that inspiring other people, capturing them in this very real way is a huge part of what art is about.

    Whether or not Shepherd thinks Rowling deserves it doesn’t matter. I mean, do I think that most of the drivel Nicholas Sparks and Danielle Steele write deserves to get published? No. But they are, because there’s a market for it, because they’re big names. So instead of whining that she’s not getting the recognition she thinks she deserves, Shepherd needs to do something about it. Go on more book tours, blog more. Hell, maybe that’s what this whole thing was- a way to stir up a bit of controversy and get her own name out there. And hey, it worked, didn’t it?

  5. Virginia Baker Reply to Virginia

    Of course I get frustrated when I see that names like Steven King and Dan Brown take up ALL of the shelves at Barnes and Noble (well, not quite, but almost). Then I learn that the store actually works like a real estate company and most publishers pay for shelf space for books from Big Name authors. It sucks. Especially because these books aren’t doing anything new. But it’s not like those authors don’t deserve the success they’ve had. They’ve been hustling for years and they’ve done a damn good job.

    What bothers me is when people like Sarah Palin come out with a book. Because, c’mon? Really? At one point I thought to myself that I might have a better shot at getting published if I did something stupid like run for political office somewhere, or go star in a reality show. This is depressing because I still think it’s probably true. But that’s the kind of society we live in. I mean, if Miley Cyrus came out with a book right now I’m sure it would be a best seller.

    But, is this really surprising? Are we really shocked that these patterns exist in America? This is a capitalist society. Bottom line is, whatever sells is what’s important. Quantity over quality because quantity makes a profit. (Hello, Fifty Shades of Gray Trilogy). But, this is no different than any other livelihood in our country. Every industry is looking for The Next Big Thing, regardless of the consequences for the rest of us.

    Yeah, the odds are stacked against us, but this isn’t just a “writer” problem. This is an all-the-time-no-matter-what-you’re-trying-to-achieve problem. So, yeah, it sucks. But as long as we’re pushing and doing our best, I think we still have a shot. I mean, didn’t Rowling start off writing HP on paper napkins?

  6. Melissa Huedem Reply to Melissa

    My parents believe I can write and sell a book because people like porn star Jenna Jameson and Reality TV star Lauren Conrad have their own books out. Fair enough, but Mom and Dad, you’ve got to know that a name sells, and unfortunately my name can’t even be spelled correctly.

    Sometimes I like to believe that it’s the writing that will speak volumes, but when 50 Shades of Grey is a chart topper and Stephen King can slap his name on anything and it will get publicity then I start to fall under the hole that it’s what’s in a name that counts. We live in a world where it is important what name is associated with a certain product.

    My favorite teacher from high school once told my class, “No one deserves anything.” This has stuck with me. It sounds negative, but it is true. Who are we to say if we deserve something or not. Deciding the guidelines on who is more deserving or not is completely subjective. I always have kept this in mind. We do not deserve anything. We can work hard and earn it, but does that mean we actually deserve it?

    I don’t want to discredit the writers featured in the blog post. They have participated in the arduous task of molding words into stories. While it is frustrating that most of these writers are big names with an audience and use this to their advantage, who am I to say if I am any better than them? They’ve got books published so they’re doing something right. Do they deserve it? Not at all.

  7. Jennifer Bostrom Reply to Jennifer

    One of the biggest points that’s been stressed by multiple teachers in multiple classes this semester is the importance of networking. I can’t bring myself to begrudge celebrities like Franco or Stewart or Novak for using resources, that were they at my disposal, I’d take advantage of too. That’s not to say that their work is only published because of their celebrity status, as far as I know they could be wonderfully talented authors, poets, writers and were it for a lack of celebrity status they may have been published anyway.

    I’m guilty of buying into the big names too. I’m much more inclined to pick up the essay books that have pictures of Ellen Degeneres or Tina Fey or David Sedaris than I am a Samantha Irby. But the reflections of sales doesn’t mean that any writer deserves to be published over any other. It isn’t just the world of writing that falls victim to every big name “brand” out their. Sports are going to use LeBron’s name, the people at the movie theater are going to go for Scorsese, theaters will always put on productions of Shakespeare regardless of the hardworking or up-and-coming talents that may be “better” or just as “deserving.”

    Deserving something is a lot like beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder. It’s not for me to say who is or is not deserving over another. Sure, I’d love if I could sit down write a novel and have it be the next best thing since EVER, but that’s not why I write. What I can do is put forth effort and continue writing because I love it even if my writing never makes it passed a rejection letter phase, I still love what I’m doing.

  8. Anne-Marie Farrell Reply to Anne-Marie

    Big names sell a lot of books, there is no denying that. I think as a society, when we find something we like we want to share it with everyone; I know that I can talk about books for hours and hours to anyone that’ll listen. Because Rowling created all this hype, people naturally are curious, they want to read what else she’s written and compare it to her other work. They will buy it just because she’s written it.
    To be fair, though, I buy books by my favorite authors all the time. Even if the plot doesn’t sound quite what I’m looking for, I know I like the style and the writing so I’m bound to like the book (while this has generally been successful for me, I have had to stop reading a book or two because they were too painful to endure).
    I think you deserve something if you work hard for it. I would not deserve to have a novel published, no way. I don’t work on them enough, I don’t stick with them, and I don’t try. I do try with my short stories, but even they have an end point. If there is good writing and a good story, then I think no matter what it is, it deserves to be published; it deserves a chance to see if people will love it or hate it. Whether it’s Rowling or B.J. Novak or me or someone inexperienced and unknown, I think good stories and good writing should determine whether or not it deserves to be published.

  9. Jasmine Walker Reply to Jasmine

    I hate the word fair. Any time someone say’s “that’s not fair” I want to punch them in the face. People rarely use that statement for the right reasons. Saying that it’s not fair that J.K. Rowling gets so much recognition is stupid. The woman has written very popular, very good books, why the hell shouldn’t she get recognized? Now when it comes to the argument, does this author really deserve it…that’s another story entirely. Rowling was just like the rest of us. She sent out HP and was rejected 15 times before someone finally decided to give it a shot. She worked for it.
    But does that mean that people like BJ Novak deserve to be published any less? If you go with the starving artist image, then no, he didn’t deserve it. I scoff when I see that a celebrity has decided to write fiction i.e Hilary Duff, Snookie, Jenna Jameson. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t actually put together a story just as worthy as any story workshop piece. I want to be published, that’s what most of us want. Yes, I’d love to be a great literary writer that people talk about 50 years from now, but is it wrong that I’d also like to be the next Urban Fantasy big thing?
    It’s also a little unrealistic to push a top selling author to the side. “Hey, you’ve been in the lime light enough. Why don’t we just push you to the back of the shelves and let someone else get a turn?” Most of them started off just like us. So if we reach that level of success, should we just stop writing to make sure everyone gets a chance? I write because I love it, and couldn’t imagine not doing it, and if I was another Stephen King, I would still write because I love it. I think we need to focus more on good writing/story and less on who deserves anything.

  10. I think much of the argument here is valid. As for my own opinion here’s the easiest way for me to say it. The likely books that will make the big deals are the ones that will bring in the most cash. The tried and true method of bringing in cash (with writing) is to have an author with an established fan base publish a book with a popular plot line. This is the goal for many of us, though I am certainly no where close. I see no problem with writing to satisfy an audience and make money, like Rowling. That being said, I also think money dilutes and corrupts artistic industries such as book publishing and music production. To me, music was once (like hundreds of years ago) an art form. Now mainstream radio and TV have commercialized just about everything to do with music, and the goal of artists today seems to be to make as much money as possible while doing as little work. My point is, where’s the fun in writing or doing anything artistic if you are just want to make money. If money or “success” was what I wanted, I would have gone off and started a career with stable wages. I don’t worry when Kristen Stewart publishes a poem or James Franco shits out a movie, these people are not like me. They are rich and famous and I am not, therefore they can enjoy the luxury of easily having work published. Who cares if the cash grubbing mid-range publisher likes my novel? I like my novel. Sometimes I wish I’ll never finish it, it’s that fun to work on. I wouldn’t tell a parent how to raise their kid and I’m not going to let some editor tell me my book isn’t good enough.

    • Also I believe that if a story as good as Harry Potter remains unknown it will, by either the fans who love it or the publisher that sees dollar signs, be discovered and loved and sent into the mainstream eventually.

  11. Alyssa McGrail Reply to Alyssa

    I think what this article is discussing is a very good thing to think about. A lot of times with people, you get lucky and it isn’t always necessary how good of a writer you are its more about how much money can be made off of what you have created. There are certain kinds of trends in the industry that certain work can be easily successful if seen by the right eyes. But when I look at Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling, I think that this success hit because of the simple fact that is was nothing anyone has ever seen before, and it was indeed a whole new world to be put into. Same from The Hunger Games success, and even Twilight. These books might not have been the best literature ever read, but they bring you somewhere and it is unique and something that will draw an audience and create a fan base, thus making people keep buying anything with that authors name on it.
    But to answer the question if we are good enough? I sure as hell think we are because we can come up with gripping stories lines but also have the writing skills. We are being trained to be masters of this craft so when it comes to our success, its all about who reads our work and to keep pushing to get our material out there.

  12. Jacob Anderson Reply to Jacob

    I don’t think I deserve to get published anymore or less than anyone else. That being said there is a lot of bad writing out there, mine included, that should never see the light of day, much less the inside of a printing press. But these works do see the light of day, perhaps not enough of it, and are dutifully printed and shipped.
    So, the question is, how do I push my way past the mob and into the publishing line. Get noticed, get lucky. Sure J.K. is a house hold name today, but what about fifteen years ago? She was just another face in the crowd, just like you.
    Harry I think said it best in wizarding world, every great witch or wizard who ever lived started right where we are now. Just like every published author started out as an unpublished writer.
    So it is not past success that makes you, or I, worthy of publication. It is the work we have now, the idea we are kindling right this moment, the thing that you actually write down. Those are the next great published works. Make yourself worthy of those publications, by writing them.

  13. Gosh, I feel like the argument made against J.K. Rowling is one that I can’t quite put my input into because I haven’t read ALL the books. However, I have read the first one, although I as a 4th grader may have been inclined to like it because it was popular. I used to hold that thing like it was a cup of solid gold.

    Anyhow, I think that Shepherd’s argument makes her look so small and petty. I understand that she may be fed up with not being able to get her work out there but I don’t think that whining is going to stop the world from paying more attention to her book than the rest of us. People like J.K. Rowling and Stephen King have earned their place rightfully. They have been around for over a decade and obviously, they had to start from somewhere. I mean. Rowling was practically homeless when she started writing the Potter series and for her to be as famous as she is now is due to hard work.

    I think people who put in the effort deserve to be published and if it gets to a point in which their name is the only thing that is bringing in sales, I say good for them. Because that name was obscure at one point and it takes hard work to make it a household name.

  14. John Davis Reply to John

    Or any worse than them.

    I think it puts a lot of focus on the concept of luck bringing names into the forefront of peoples’ minds. I think we might naturally assume a big name became big for a reason, not randomly. But she is definitely right about how big names have almost too much gravity.

    Still, how can any of us complain about this? Wouldn’t there be a superior to us in every field no matter what we were doing? Someone who gets by on their name alone and nothing else, and to everyone else is a lazy, worthless shit? Not that J.K. Rowling is. Maybe that was a bad example.

    There’s also the matter of how different it is for a celebrity novelist to be on the best seller list with a…celebrity. One is writing a book and the other is writing a BOOK.

  15. Lauren Smith Reply to Lauren

    There are a lot of things stacked up on whether someone becomes a name brand or not. Does the publisher pay for the out facing books, does it get reviewed, do people buy it, do people read it? Does it spread by word of mouth. In high school, before stores could even find twilight if you asked where it was, that’s all anyone was reading at my school, boys, girls, it’s embarrassing now, but it also is kind of beautiful and sort of like a dream, to watch a book relatively unknown get passed around and read so much. I consider things like that luck and a bit of curiosity. If you hear about a book that everyone is raving about, do you read it, dive right in, or do you stop and look at what it’s about and decide whether you want to read it or not? I think that wildfire causes the name brand. It isn’t just JK Rowling who will sell but other big name authors like Stephen King and so many more. Giants within their own spaces. It’s daunting and I can’t say that it’s unfair because these are people, some of whom I may not enjoy or be interested in reading, but others whom I look up to, and whose books I will probably line up at midnight to buy, possibly dressed up as a favorite character. Because in some cases these books that spread like wild fire help so many people out there, find the right people at the right time that I can’t be upset. I think that there are so many people out there in the world, passing books around that there is enough room for others to be published and found by the readers that need them. The only thing I can hope for is that maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll write something that will get published and someone will enjoy it, someone other than me.

  16. Monica Chapman Reply to Monica

    Honestly I think Shepard’s argument is just weak. Even though I am a fan of J.K. Rowling and her work, I can honestly say that she puts in a lot of effort when it comes to being published. I think we all deserve to be published as long as we have a good, attention grabbing story to tell. The reason why J.K. Rowling and Stephen King (I can not stand this man and his stories) work is because they have good stories. Same goes for John Green who is literally taking over the market right now with all of his books. Every time one of his books pop up, I know it will be there forever because he is able to somehow stay there, not really giving others a chance. If there is anyone we should be talking about it is this man. Even if he makes a book review or has a friend who has written a book, their book would automatically be up on the best seller list with no problem. However, just like Rowling and King, Green has earned his spot with the hard work he has put into his stories like the other writers. So do I deserve to be published? Yes, I think I do. I’m nervous and I feel like I might be over-looked because of big named people. Yet that is where marketing yourself and making sure you get yourself out there is key. Working hard is what you need to do in order to have a spot with the big names. If you don’t work hard enough and just whine, then you aren’t working hard enough.

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