Monday, October 1, 2012

Brava, JK Rowling

By Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Note: I have not read A Casual Vacancy. I might not. What follows is not my opinion of the quality of that book, but my thoughts on JK Rowlings' decision to write it.

Even if you aren't a book person, chances are you've heard of JK Rowling and Harry Potter. If nothing else, the fantastically successful movie franchise has almost guaranteed that. And maybe you've even heard that Ms. Rowling recently (last week, in fact) released a book that is very much NOT for the Harry Potter demographic - A Casual Vacancy. You may or may not be aware of the book's pricing (a whopping $35 USD for the hardcover and $18 USD for the ebook), or the snafu surrounding the ebook formatting error from the publisher.

So, as an author, I've got to wonder: How did Ms. Rowling feel about this book?

She has flat-out said that she wrote it because she wanted to do so. Was she nervous? Most likely. Not in the nail-biting "Oh-my-god-I-need-this-money" kind of way. Her earnings from the Harry Potter franchise have made her an incredibly wealthy woman and she probably doesn't need to write another word in her life (speaking financially).

But any writer who says, "Oh, this is just for me and I don't care what others think" is probably lying to some degree. Every author wants people to like her work. I mean, why else bother publishing it? If it's truly only for you, you can enjoy it without trying to land a traditional publishing deal or forking over the cash to put out a quality indie-pubbed volume. So yeah, I don't have any problem believing that Ms. Rowling was a little nervous about how folks were going to receive A Casual Vacancy.

Some people liked it. Some didn't. That's okay, because that happens. And I bet Ms. Rowling is okay with that too. Not everybody loved Harry Potter (yes, hard to believe maybe, but true).

See, here's the thing. Until now, Ms. Rowling's brand, her "platform" to use the most popular jargon-speak, has been Harry. I won't diminish her success by calling it "overnight" (because it wasn't), but it was her debut work. And for debut work to become that wildly successful is not the industry standard.

And not every author of a popular series has left it behind to author another mega-hit. The Internet buzzed with stories of how many authors, including Judy Blume and Dr. Seuss, had tried to make the "childrens' book to adult book" leap and failed.

To me, it doesn't matter. I say "brava, Ms. Rowling" for one simple fact.

She did it.

Seriously, think about it. Here's the author of what is probably the most successful book series for kids of all time. What does she do? Rest on her laurels and redecorate her lovely home? Never put pen to paper again?

Hardly. She went out on a limb and tried to push herself as a writer. I've got to admire that. To not be content to relax, to try something different - that's part of being an artist. That means you're trying to grow. I read a blog post this morning from Susan Meier about how we all should be works in progress - always learning, never being content to stand in one spot.

Using that as the criteria, I think Ms. Rowling can count A Casual Vacancy a success. It is, by all reviews I've read, most definitely not Harry Potter. She's not doing the same thing to death. Undoubtedly, she could pen more Harry books. But would the reading public eventually feel about Harry the way the movie-viewing public feels about the unending Rocky films. That tired, weakly-done sequels have undermined the brilliance of the original?

Me, I think so. I applaud Ms. Rowling's original objective with Harry. She had a story arc. She wrote those books, a fantastic example of plotting over seven volumes and a decade of publishing. And when the story was done, she ended it. No, "wait, there's more!" gimmicks. No milking the cash cow with Harry Potter #27.

I hope I can do the same, someday. I hope I can have a wildly successful series. And I hope I have the good sense to end it before it gets tired.

And I hope I have the nerves to never stop trying something new.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks. I don't think people quite understand the enormity of the act. It's really quite daring.

  2. Great post, Mary. I think you really do a fantastic job of emphasising just how much pressure is on JK. Sure, she's made enough cash to sort her out for eight lives with Potter, but respect to her for trying something completely different. Not many authors expect to have the eyes of the world on them when writing, so it can't be easy for JK.

    I look forward to checking out The Casual Vacancy!

    1. Sorry for the delay. Thanks. It's almost like publishing your first book all over again. If she'd done another Potter book, well, she's "been there, done that." This is something entirely new. And critics tend not to be very forgiving of people who have been successful and try something entirely new.