Being a writer is hard, no matter your level of success. For someone who writes well enough to win contests and glowing reviews, but fails to attract a publisher for years on end (that would be me), it’s heartbreaking. For someone who gets published but sees little in the way of sales despite more glowing reviews, it’s rough (me again). For a writer who attains success, opening up the proverbial can of worms where haters are concerned, it’s still harsh (my alter ego can tell you all about that).
There is one rule where all that is concerned, however. Writers are not allowed to whine about their burden. Not because they have no justification to do so, but because it will attract the worst kind of attention possible. It’s got to be in the top three of the Writer’s Commandments: 1. Thou shalt keep writing no matter what; 2. Thou shalt market your writing at every opportunity; and 3. Thou shalt not whine about writing matters, whether they be yours or anyone else’s.
A writer recently and spectacularly broke that rule in a column published by the Huffington Post. You can read that here, but I’ll give you a quick rundown of how Lynn Shepherd ignored the third commandment.
In her article titled ‘If J.K. Rowling Cares About Writing, She Should Stop Doing It’, Ms. Shepherd went on a diatribe about how the noted author of the Harry Potter series needs to stop writing adult fiction. She boo-hooed about how Rowling’s Cuckoo’s Calling is crowding out better writers in the sales of the crime novel genre simply because she is J. K. Freakin’ Rowling.
Here is a little bit of the ‘personal plea’ Shepherd puts out to Rowling:
...when it comes to the adult market you’ve had your turn. Enjoy your vast fortune and the good you’re doing with it, luxuriate in the love of your legions of fans, and good luck to you on both counts. But it’s time to give other writers, and other writing, room to breathe.
As you might imagine, the rest of the article is a lot more of the same. Shepherd calls into question Rowling’s ability to write well while admitting she has not read any of Rowling’s books. It’s a very public temper tantrum from a writer who does not have the success she apparently craves. And the backlash is huge.
First of all, the comments on the article are appropriately withering. People are jumping all over Shepherd for daring to comment on books she has not read. They are yelling sour grapes, which is exactly what the article reads like. They are, in short, issuing written spankings galore.
Then there is the even more deadly backlash from which Shepherd’s career will probably never recover. I checked on her two books on Amazon.com and saw exactly what I expected to: a large amount of one-star reviews, many of which mention her Huffington Post article. One reviewer openly admits she didn’t bother to read the books but “...if the author's HuffPo article taught me one thing, it's that I don't have to read a book in order to judge it.” Sales of both books are pretty much in the toilet to judge from their rankings.
I’ll admit I’ve wanted to go on my own rants about my lot in writing more times than I can count. Frustration is normal, and jealousy will rear its ugly head. However I contain those complaints, letting only trusted friends and family in on my poor-me moments. After I vent, I pick up my wounded pride and move on. I do not bemoan poor sales of books. I do not bitch about how my writing is so much better than that of overly-hyped mega-sellers. (I do NOT include J. K. Rowling in that list, by the way. She is awesome.) Nor do I scream about how readers of my own bestselling stuff just don’t ‘get it’ when they complain about something I’ve written. Not in public, anyway. Because, as Ms. Shepherd is no doubt learning right now, that is certain death for an author’s career. Her only hope is to write under a pseudonym now.
Take note, any would-be author or current writer out there now. Bitching about another’s success simply because your own writing hasn’t made you a household name is not going to win you any fans. You might get notoriety, but you won’t find success going that route. I think that might hold true for other aspects of life as well. No one likes a whiner, even if you offer cheese to go with it.