#72) How not to complain, #2: An open letter to Lynn Shepherd

Dear Ms. Shepherd,

I’m sorry that your recent pitch to get J.K. Rowling to stop writing hasn’t worked.  I dare say it backfired; in addition to the hate mail you’ve received, you’ve probably helped her sell a few more books.

But I’m not here to add to the hate.  I myself absolutely love complaining and it saddens me when people such as yourself or Samantha Brick don’t realize the potential of this high art form.

Many of your feelings about Rowling echo my thoughts about the current state of the music business.  Why does Coldplay still exist?  Why is Gotye set for life from one song while I have to deal with talent buyers who think I should be happy playing for “exposure?”  Why do people insist on taking Rod Stewart seriously as a jazz singer?  Much as I would love answers to these questions, I’ve reached the conclusion that it’s more productive to focus on my own music (and writing) than speculate about how Justin Bieber sleeps at night.*

But this isn’t about me.

It’s about giving a voice to the millions of struggling writers who, as you put it, are denied exposure because the world wants more J.K. Rowling.  That is your goal and it’s a good one, but you won’t achieve it by:

  • Bad-mouthing Rowling’s work without giving specific examples of why it sucks.  In this rant about “Twilight”, the author makes clear what she hates about the series; agree with her or not, her opinions and arguments are plainly laid out.  Right now you are using the “if it’s popular, it’s wrong” principle, which is usually a flimsy premise**; not unlike comparing someone you don’t like to Hitler or yourself to Rosa Parks.
  • Not presenting examples of under-appreciated writers who should be getting the shelf space monopolized by Rowling.  Who should we be reading instead of her?
  • Being too serious.  No matter how passionately you care about an issue, lecturing others usually won’t convert them to your side. Humor can be much more effective, as comedian Owen Benjamin shows in this video explaining the banality of pop music.
  • Not establishing your own credentials.  Yes, I just told you to not be so serious, but you also need to provide your readers a reason to care about your opinion.  More people love to rant than love listening to rants.  Speaker’s Corner in London always draws a crowd, but it’s still more of a curiosity than a major attraction.

In conclusion, I genuinely wish you well in your career as a writer.  Hopefully someday you will occupy an amount of shelf space that meets your satisfaction.  If you ever do achieve the success of Rowling and are besieged by struggling writers expressing their resentment, remember to go easy on ’em.

* I know it’s more productive but that doesn’t mean that I do it.

** That doesn’t stop me from using the argument myself.

One Comment to “#72) How not to complain, #2: An open letter to Lynn Shepherd”

  1. She does seem like she’s trying to help other authors, but from her article it just reads like a rant for her own self.

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