Do You Agree With Stephen King

Stephen King writes:

“Both Rowling and Meyer, they’re speaking directly to young people. … The real difference is that J.K. Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good.”
He goes on to say that Erle Stanley Gardner, writer of Perry Mason mystery series “was a terrible writer, too, but he was very successful,” and that James Patterson was “a terrible writer but he’s very successful” and fellow horror author Dean Koontz, although he “can write like hell”, is sometimes “just awful”.

All the above mentioned writers that Stephen King talks about are successful writers of bestsellers. They have sold millions of copies of their books and have earned millions and billions of dollars from writing.

Once when I asked my teacher what makes a bestseller he said,
“To be a bestseller, a book has to be in the right place at the right time, which is often purely a matter of luck.”

It is true that luck has to be on your side, but timing is equally important. The timing of publication of your book. You might have a great theme, greater characters and story in your head. You might even have a finished book. You have accomplished a dream you had since you were in high school, to see your name on the cover of a book. But deep in your heart you long for your book to become a bestseller. You think that it is good, original and different. Even if you manage to place it with a publisher, by the time your book goes through the production process someone might beat you to it. Somewhere some new writer may quite unconsciously be struggling with the novel that will be on every bookstall this time next year, selling in tens of thousands because it expresses what is in the secret heart of every reader and speaks in the voice of the people now. In the words of Robert Blenchley,

“It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous!”

Winners of literary prizes, writers whose writing is timeless and whose novels are literary masterpieces, are appreciated only by few and rarely become bestsellers. They are in a class of their own. Great literature rarely achieves the distinction of becoming a popular bestseller unless a film of the book has been released, like John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Or if it raises controversy for some reason like D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. It is all a matter of timing, and in the words of Rod Serling:

“I think a lot of success [in Hollywood] is luck and continues to be. That in no way discounts the terrible urgency that you have talent. It’s always who you know, what marvelous moment in time that you find him or meet him. But I wouldn’t preoccupy myself with that, I don’t give a damn. You can be a hunchback and a dwarf and what all. If you write beautifully, you write beautifully, that’s all.”

The fact that so many novelists choose not to be conventional and prefer not to follow any rules means that books will continue to be created that are totally unlike any other.

You can dream about writing, make notes, make outlines, or sketch out your characters all you want, but the book will not get written until you write it. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over yourself. And who knows, maybe you’ll even get published and be a success. In the words of Herman Wouk,

“Success, reputation, audience are earned by some striking quality, not always admirable- it can be profundity, poetic brilliance, narrative power; it can be mere imaginative pornography, or a knack for crude sensation, or a skill at self-promotion. Fine authors are neglected. Critics make errors in guessing about the ultimate value of authors. But that has always been true of the literary life.”


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6 Responses to Do You Agree With Stephen King

  1. Samir says:

    Great post! I still vote for the literary spectrum of writing… it’s simply too beautiful and well crafted not to appreciate and adore. And if any of those books break through to be best-sellers, then great but otherwise I’m not someone who usually reads best sellers or mass market paper back fiction (unless I’m in the mood for a promising fantasy novel, once in a while ;-).

    • chichikir says:

      Thanks Samir. I agree and I like to follow Samuel Butler’s advice; “When a man is in doubt about this or that in his writing it will often guide him if he asks himself how it will tell a hundred years hence.”

  2. I am a librarian; I see many types of readers to match the many flavors of fiction published. There are certainly a multitude of readers who prefer the factory style writers like Patterson or Steel who crank out a book every two months with all books following the same formula – hero or heroine faced with problem or event culminating in a twist for the reader and the satisfactory ending or continuation of the story if it becomes a series. There are readers who refuse to read Stephen King now that he is no longer the imaginative cocaine addict whose writing they adored in the 80’s and early 90’s. There also exists a multitude of fiction readers who prefer the more “literary” works of Achebe, Calvino, Hurston, Longfellow, Mitchell, Saramago, or Yeats. I meet these readers on a daily basis. If I were an aspiring writer or a writer, the question I would ask myself would be, “Do I want to be rich or remembered?” and let my answer guide my writing as clearly there is an audience out there.

    • chichikir says:

      Mary Jo you have my dream job! Whether you choose to become a ‘formula’ writer or decide not to follow any rules there’ll always be people who’ll read your book. Whether it will be infectious or not that’s a different story.

  3. maudlin says:

    I literally just returned home from a meeting about a possible Research Project about this specific topic. What makes a book a bestseller, and how do people like Meyer manage to sell, and sell well? How is it that there can be such a discrepancy between critical reception and audience worship? I think it’s truly fascinating.

    • chichikir says:

      Thanks! Herman Wouk spoke about success and acceptance in 1966. And I don’t think anything has changed since except the margin that separates the literary writers from the commercial ones is so high now. It’s a pity 😦 Or maybe the latter ones are good at self promotion!

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