So, you’ve written something wonderful. Fan Fiction loves it, your friends love it and of course your mum does. It’s a timely topic, on trend, actually it’s well written so shouldn’t you be able to find an agent and then a publisher, therefore reaching your much dreamed of wider audience, not to mention some money (so you can give up the shitful day job) and the divine pleasure of holding your very own book with your (possibly pseudonymous) name on the cover?
You know what, it’s not going to happen. Well written doesn’t cut it. You don’t have to be eloquent, erudite and expressive, you just have to be engaging – whatever that really means. You do need a story that somehow grabs the imagination, that taps into the zeitgeist of the times and if you manage that then you are away – home and hosed for the rest of your life.
And, well done you. You may have written something truly banally awful but if the great unwashed public eat it up, who are the critics, or the bitter unpublished writers to comment or complain? Not everyone wants to read the latest Booker or Costa winner, do they?
But here’s something of note, dear reader. The last two block busting best sellers have been women (okay, that’s good) but women without a first name on their books. Instead they entered the published world with their initials. Yes, the much loved, revered, reviled, envied, JK Rowling and EL James.
Further musing on this matter led me to PD James, also a mega-seller in her field of crime writing. Fantasy has JRR Tolkien and kids books have AA Milne. Both hugely popular still and well loved. These two have stood the test of time but will our mega-selling ladies?
But wait – there’s much more. Consider:
JD Salinger and Catcher in the Rye – all time classic with the unreliable Holden Caulfield as the epitome of the teen anti-hero
CS Lewis – JRR’s mate – equally loved creator of classic kids fiction – hello Narnia
DH Lawrence – oh did I love Women in Love and The Rainbow when I was at uni
LP Hartley – the Go Between where ‘the past is another country’
EM Forster – Where Angels Fear to Tread, A Passage to India; Merchant Ivory’s muse there for some years
RL Stine – he of Goosebumps who saw my boy through early childhood and sells millions
SE Hinton – she of the famous disengaged teen novels of the 70s & 80s, part of my early teaching days – Rumble Fish, The Outsiders, That Was Then, This is Now
And the poets: WB Yeats, WH Auden, TS Eliot, ee cummings: and AB Paterson, AD Hope – de rigeur as an Ozzie child to read and know both!
Plus: AS Byatt, HE Bates, GK Chesterton, HP Lovecraft, JB Priestly, HG Wells, JG Ballard, JM Barrie, JM Coetzee, RL Stevenson, TE Lawrence, VS Naipaul, etc
What does this tell us? Well both Rowling and James were more lucky than anything else. We all know by now that neither writer is particularly gifted in terms of crafting or beauty of language. Yes, I have read 6 of the 7 Potter books: my stamina failed me at the end. Too much crappy writing for too long meant I could not endure the finale. I have read one page of Ms James – some utterly banal dialogue that flouted all the rules of dialogue – to reveal character, to move the story on, to break up the narrative for a bit – such that I was mortally wounded by its wretchedly wrought writing and couldn’t even get to any of the supposed juicy bits.
Popularity isn’t always about quality. So be it. I write as an envious scribe who can’t get past an agent, so I am not an unbiased contributor to the debate about merit and payment, publication and adulation. But, dear reader, it seems, does it not, that should you desire publication, either in the real world or the e-world, a change of name is advisable.
Just as it was sensible for the Brontes and women of by-gone eras to use men’s names, and writers used to be advised to change your end-of-alphabet surname to something more ABCD to be more visible on the bookshelves, now it seems that initials, your own or someone your pretending-to-be, is the sure fire way to get yourself an agent, a publisher and a book out there in the wide, wild world. So that the agent can say, ‘Oh, I do love it enough to take it on’!
All the best. JAC Rat (Images courtesy Google Images)