Monthly Archives: September 2015

Dear Authors: Don’t Listen to Book Snobs

Every once in a while you stumble upon an article that really gets your hackles up. Dear Self-Published Author: Do NOT Write Four Books a Year written by Lorraine Devon Wilke is one such article. Yes, Ramblers, my hackles are well and truly up. I’m bristling like an angry little hedgehog. I realise that it’s been a while since this article was published, but I’m responding to it anyway.

Everyone take a few minutes to read the article.

 

Okay, you done? Good.

So why has this article got all my spikes out? Because of the blatant book snobbery. I cannot stand book snobbery.

Let’s start from the beginning.

‘No matter what experts tell you, no matter what trends, conventional wisdom, social media chatter or your friends in the Facebook writers group insist upon, do NOT write four books a year. I mean it. Don’t.

Unless they’re four gorgeously written, painstakingly molded, amazingly rendered and undeniably memorable books.’

I’m only six lines into this thing, and already that slow burn of anger is gathering in my chest. Last year I read 283 novels. Many of them were very good. Many of them were memorable. Yet I have a feeling that none of them are what Lorraine Devon Wilke would describe as ‘gorgeously written’ or ‘amazingly rendered.’

Don’t get me wrong, Wilke is wholly entitled to her opinion. But the way she has written her article is that her opinion is fact, and should be held in higher regard than the ‘experts’ she dismissed in her opening line.

Six lines into her article and the author has, essentially, dismissed all genre fiction. And that’s where I stand up in righteous anger.

I am honestly so tired of this ugly attitude regarding books. I am so tired of genre fiction being sneered at by so-called literary critics who refuse to understand that, actually, not all books have to be rich in subtext and meaning. Sometimes people just want to read about wizards going to magical schools, or stormy love affairs, or crazy dystopian visions of the future. Sometimes people just want to be entertained. And what is so wrong with that?

In a matter of lines, Wilke has announced that, even if you can turn out four decent books a year – four decent genre books, I might add – then you shouldn’t be writing that many.

Wilke goes on to deride ‘hacks’ and asks, ‘isn’t the whole point of this exercise to write good books?’

Yes, Ms Wilke, it is, but what you can’t seem to understand is that different people have different ideas on what is ‘good’. I think Vampire Academy is a good book. Is it a literary masterpiece? Heck no. Is it damn good ride? Absolutely! I picked the book up because I wanted a fun escape into a world of warring vampires and forbidden love. And that’s exactly what I got. I didn’t pick up Vampire Academy expecting to see a richly textured literary triumph, resplendent with meaning and subtext. I wanted vampires, damnit.

But in Wilke’s view, books like that are no good because they’re not literary.

She goes on to laud Pulitzer Prize winner, Donna Tartt, proclaiming that it took Tartt 11 years to deliver her masterpiece. Now I am in no way deriding the length of time it took Tartt to write The Goldfinch as I am a firm believer in everyone working at their own pace, but if every author took 11 years to write one book then there’d be a lot fewer books in the world. And I for one see that as a very bad thing.

And what of all the authors who don’t want to be Pulitzer Prize winners? Don’t worry, Wilke hasn’t forgotten about us. She goes on to ask what, if we don’t wish to win Pulitzers and be hailed as literary geniuses, is the point of us writing?

The point is that we have stories we want to tell. We have worlds and characters that we wish to share with the world. Not everyone cares about the prizes.

But Wilke doesn’t stop there, oh no. She asks if we just wish to ‘achieve fame and fortune, quality be damned?’

Again, the point she seems to be missing here is that quality comes in many different forms. In terms of what it offers – vampires! Secret romance! Kick-ass heroine! – Vampire Academy is a quality book. I would bet money that Lorraine Devon Wilke doesn’t see it that way.

I will put my hands up and say that I will never be what is considered a ‘literary’ writer. I am well aware of what I can write and what I can’t. I can turn out entertaining genre fiction about ghosts and monsters and witches. I can turn out science fiction about lethal viruses and zombies. I can turn out romances with happily-ever-after endings. I will never be able to write something like Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.

But that’s never been what I want to write. I’ve always wanted to write genre fiction because it’s what I’m passionate about. And yes, I will take offence when some literary snob dismisses a huge percentage of books simply because they are not ‘literary’ and therefore don’t meet some standard that she presents as fact.

What is the point of me writing, Ms Wilke? Because I have stories that I want to share with the world. I don’t give a rat’s ass that my books will never meet your view of ‘quality.’ I write them because they’re fun to write and fun to read, not because I want to win a Pulitzer Prize. If an author’s only reason for writing is to win aforementioned Pulitzer Prize, then what makes them any less of a hack than a genre writer?

Wilke goes on to mock the advice given to authors about producing four books a year, and claims that ‘I’ll bet good money Donna Tartt, Anthony Doerr, and other quality writers aren’t getting that same message from their publishers. First tier, baby.’

At this point, dear Ramblers, I had to fight the urge to reach through the computer screen and hit Lorraine Devon Wilke on the head with a copy of Vampire Academy or Harry Potter or any other great work of genre fiction.

Let me just break down the problem I have with what Wilke has said.

1. She’s essentially saying that if you’re not Donna Tartt or Anthony Doerr then you’re probably not a quality writer.
2. She’s ignoring the fact that some authors do actually write full-time, and rely on the money they make to actually put food on the table, and clothe their kids. These authors wouldn’t survive if they only released one book a year. No doubt these are the ‘hacks’ that Wilke dismissed earlier in her article, but why should they curb their output simply because it doesn’t meet her standards?
3. The whole stuck-up attitude of this piece just makes me clench my fists. Once again battle lines are being unnecessarily drawn in the sand between literary and genre books, and it really makes me sick. Why can literary snobs not just respect the fact that a lot of people are more interested in genre fiction than literary fiction?

Wilke labours under the impression that every book in existence should be a literary masterpiece, one that takes years to complete, one that takes the reader’s breath away with every gorgeously rendered paragraph.

I read a couple of hundred novels each year. If every one of them took my breath away then I’d be dead!

Frankly Wilke’s whole article reeks of literary snobbery. It dismisses genre fiction and genre authors, ignoring the fact that the recent boom in genre fiction has been massively beneficial to the publishing industry, and ignoring the fact that many people – including myself – read and write these sorts of books because they’re entertaining. It doesn’t mean we deserve any less respect or consideration than our literary counterparts.