In case you’re living under a literary rock, here’s the book scoop for today: J.K. Rowling’s new book, The Casual Vacancy, was released bright and early today, and the beaten-down traditional publishing industry sang praises to God.
Except for one thing: it’s not a Harry Potter book. *gasp*
I feel for her, I really do, and I rarely feel sorry for billionaires. The thing is, no matter what she wrote, it would be compared to the almighty Harry Potter series. No matter what, this book won’t be judged solely on its own merits: critics will be incapable of writing reviews without references to “The Boy Who Lived” and “He Who Shall Not Be Named.”
If someone writes a glowing review, she’d be wondering if they only said that because she was J.K. Rowling, and J.K. Rowling couldn’t possibly write a bad book. If they write that it’s terrible, perhaps they’re just pissed off because it’s not about wizards, dragons, and obnoxious aunts being turned into giant balloons.
So how will she ever know what people are really thinking?
The other thing with which I can empathize is the pigeonholing that people wanted from someone so successful. L.M. Montgomery felt the same way about the Anne books: she became resentful of readers and editors always demanding more stories about Anne, as if she shouldn’t have other things that she wanted to write about. Part of the reason I chose not to look into a traditional publishing situation for my books is that I need to be able to write what I want, when I want to write it. I want to explore a lot of different genres, and styles of writing.
Rowling is lucky, in that a writer with the type of power that she has isn’t likely to hear “no” from a publisher, just because it’s an unexpected genre, but most authors are looked at as “YA writers” or “thriller writers” or “chick lit writers” – not just as “writers.” Still, you can sense disappointment from Harry lovers. Despite a very definitive end to the series, they still want more. Nothing else will ever be good enough.
And that’s a lot to live up to.