The fickle finger of fame
I'm not really interested in being famous. Respected in my field, perhaps. Loved by a core of loyal fans, certainly. But the public attention that comes with JK Rowling levels of fame is something I can do without. (Apart from anything else, it would mean no more slouching around the supermarket sporting unwashed hair and a scruffy pair of faded jeans. The luxury of looking like you've just got out of bed because you have just got out of bed – and, more to the point, no-one caring – is reserved for those of us who are blessed with anonymity.)
For one thing, it's pretty obvious that fame is more or less random. Books that become so wildly popular they make their authors millions (which, let's face it, are few and far between) don't have some intrinsic quality that makes it obvious they were always going to be a hit. We all know how often Harry Potter was rejected before it was accepted. We've all heard stories about writers who toiled unnoticed for years before they reached the heady heights of success. The fact is, no-one – not the publisher, not the agent, and certainly not the writer – knows how the public will react to a book. They all believe in the book, of course, or it wouldn't have been produced in the first place. But there isn't a single person, in the field or otherwise, who can look at a book and identify it as the next big thing. That seems to come down to a combination of story, marketing and serendipity. And of those three factors, serendipity is by far the most influential. How else could a publishing executive identify a novel that will perfectly capture the public imagination in 18 months' time? One thing's for sure, if I had a talent like that then I could think of far quicker ways of making money out of it.
So, if I were to become famous then I'd know full well it was mainly down to luck – that there were writers as good as or better than me who just hadn't hit that elusive moment where everything comes together. Of course, I'm not denying that the vast quantities of cash appearing in my bank account might go some way towards alleviating any discomfort or guilt I was suffering in that respect. Think of the possibilities: I could replace my scruffy pair of faded jeans with an equally scruffy but five times as expensive pair; I could buy a new ideas notebook (I've had the old one for over a decade); I could even set up my laptop in a dedicated writing chamber instead of on a small table at the end of the bed in the spare room (oh, the decadence). But beyond that … what does a writer need, really? Food, water and something to write on. Everything else is just decoration.
In addition, reach a certain level of popularity and you become an instant target for criticism. For every global phenomenon, there is a very vocal backlash from people who can't understand why whatever-it-is is so popular. It becomes fashionable to say how much you hated Twilight or loathed The Da Vinci Code. Part of it comes from genuine incomprehension as to how that particular book could have become so popular (this from people who don't know about the serendipity factor). Part of it is probably jealousy. Very successful writers become the target of vitriol that never seems to be directed at their less popular colleagues – and in many cases it's other writers, those just starting out, who are the source of it. And though I've probably had a moan or two about poor writing and narrative inconsistencies myself, to be honest I think it's a shame. We should be pleased that books are such a key part of people's lives, despite fears to the contrary. We should be glad that people are reading – that there's still a market for what we do. We should be excited that every so often, an astronomical salary is made by a writer and not by a footballer or a reality TV star.
Above all things, writers want their work to be read and enjoyed and talked about. They have a story, and they want to share it with the world. I guess in that sense, the more of the world it gets shared with the better. But the excess of money and the recognition on the street … meh. Just give me a keyboard and a chocolate muffin, and I'll be happy.
1/12/2011 12:20:57 pm
This makes me wonder, then, how you would react if asked to do an author signing at a local bookstore. Would you do a photo shoot for the newspaper? How about interviews? You might not be JK Rowling, but then, faced with sudden and instant popularity, how do you cope with being a well-loved author?
2/12/2011 01:39:07 am
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