This article was originally posted on August 31 2013, but I wanted to re-publish it for you today because I know that you will love it as much as I did.
A writer friend of mine posted an article to her Facebook page the other day, one whose tagline irked me. ‘We all want to be the next JK Rowling!’ it proclaimed.
No, we don’t.
This isn’t to say that JK Rowling is a bad writer or anything. Far from it. I haven’t gotten on with any of the Harry Potter books but have watched each film, appreciating the story more than her style. But that’s just me.
It’s just that I don’t want to be ‘the next JK Rowling’. I want to be Sean P. Wallace.
I wouldn’t mind JK Rowling’s success, career path or anything like that. She went from being a struggling single mother to one of the richest and most influential people in literature. How could anyone look at that trajectory and say, “Nah, I’ll give that a miss,” with any honesty? But the point is that it was her trajectory, her career. She moved through the world of books with her own art in mind, wanting to tell her stories.
And I want to do the same. I want to navigate a career which is my own, not aim to mimic someone else’s art and passion.
There is this sad tendency in the marketing of a new book or author to compare them to what has come before. It is a lazy shorthand. “The new Neil Gaiman,” a Press Release will bleat. “Odd Thomas on acid!” It’s not just book marketing though: films do it all the time, as do sports and television shows. Referential Marketing, as I call it, is cheap and easy.
Because of this, I feel it cheapens the work it’s connected to. It also lessens the author: they aren’t Blessing Rudisha or Marshall De Witt, they become their odd marketed themselves. Margaret Scalzi or Dean King. We don’t get to recognise them as individuals, not until they have become established enough that marketeers – and, perhaps, readers – don’t need to align them with more famous names.
I mention Referential Marketing because I think it and this desire to be ‘the next X’ are connected. People look at JK Rowling or EL James, see their apparent meteoric rise, and then see how other books and so on aim to tie themselves in to these phenomena, and so set out to copy these famous artists. “She wrote a book about naughty sex, so I can write one and become a millionaire.” It encourages a lack of artistry. In fact, and I don’t mean to be too rude, it encourages some people to write like hacks: they don’t look deep in themselves and think about the kind of stories they want to tell, but instead look at the successful folk everyone points to and say “I want that career” without the sweat and artistry that goes into their works.
So please, my fellow authors-in-waiting, admire and wax lyrical about those who have successful careers, gush over their books and their skills. But don’t aim to be them. Aim to be yourselves, only with your favourite authors’ levels of success.
Blogger for @GeekPride1, writer for myself and everyone else.