There's something peculiar about aspiring authors. It's unique by contrast to almost every other profession, aside from perhaps how American Psycho depicts Wall Street bankers. An illogical paradox granted that success does not require hierarchical beat-downs of one's competition, as is common in other industries, but rather an intelligent channelling of creativity and appropriate marketing. It is a scourge on the creative world to bear witness to the insane jealousy between struggling artists, who see not only their peers as inferior to them ("I can't believe she got an agent with such a cheesy story, when mine is so much better!"), but already-successful authors too ("Audiences really are getting stupider if that's winning prizes.")
Such toxic envy is baffling to me. Sure, the green-eyed monster stirred in my belly slightly when a peer was signed by an agency that doesn't even accept manuscripts, and was thereafter picked up by Random House. But it took no effort to put the jealousy from my mind and be happy for her. The magnitude of her success is audacious. She was the only author that her agent signed in the last year, which is testament to the quality of her work. Opportunity didn't fall into her lap; she wrote something, and pitched it well, and she reaped the rewards of being good at it.
There are many people more qualified to write than I am. Some have undertaken Creative Writing degrees, and have years of editing experience, but it's not always that easy. I've met many people who say they "should" be an author, but have written nothing. I feel for them, because the muse can be fickle sometimes. But when someone from such a background turned his lip up at me and said something to the effect of, "I'm working towards producing good writing. Maybe you should have considered getting an education in the industry to produce better work too," I peaced out pretty hard. I know it likely stemmed from insecurity on his behalf, but that's not my problem and his childish reaction did not incline me towards feeling sympathetic.
Elitism about what constitutes "good writing" in the published world irks me more than much else. I can't justify the prevalence of tall poppy syndrome amongst aspiring authors towards those who know success. Writing blogs relentlessly tear strips from people like Dan Brown and E.L. James, but to my mind, their work has a valid place in the world. Because it's making readers out of people who would not pick up a book otherwise.
I love to read. I've read hundreds, maybe even thousands of books, and even if the narrative is absolutely killing me, I'll generally try to commit to the end. Even when a book, in my respectful opinion, sucks, it doesn't mean I can't see the merit in it for other people. My taste is not the barometer for all that is sacred in the literary world.
So when people refer to Dan Brown's books as meaningless pap, I can't help but cock an eyebrow. I appreciate that some people prefer to read dense, non-fiction accounts of history rather than tearing through Rome chasing assassins, but I'm not an academic of Roman history. I'm a fiction reader. And people are supposed to have fun with those types of books, because regardless of their failures to be realistic or historically accurate of whatever, at their core, they're entertaining. What's more invigorating than conspiracy, or subterfuge, or a world of intrigue that could easily slip into our own? I don't mind winching my suspension of disbelief a few degrees higher for some books. It's the non-restrictive nature of fiction that makes it so fun.
Admittedly, I haven't read 50 Shades of Grey, which was gifted to me for my 21st birthday in a swathe of gag gifts. The spine remains uncracked, and the cheeky troll face my friends glued into the corner of the front cover continues to leer at me, inviting me into a world where nobody understands the difference between BDSM and rape, and everybody murmurs.... well, everything they ever say.
Just because 50 Shades of Gray does not interest me, it doesn't mean I can't appreciate its value. It was picked up by a publishing house after being self-published, which is essentially unheard of. Whilst I take issue with some of the interpretations of kink, which blur the lines between consent and non-consent, I suppose it is engaging conventionally disinterested readers with literature again. At least until the film gets made.
If the power-dynamic of authors, agencies and publishers is framed like a nuclear family, then authors would have to be the children. Jealousy is what causes them to grapple with spiteful sibling rivalry, perpetually trying to usurp all others to land some parental approval. But in reality, other authors are not to be blamed for someone being kept at arms' length from their dreams. This blame lies with the agents, the ambivalent parent figure who chain-smokes whilst reading dense academic theses, looking up only to criticise the story of a fairy princess that the child has written in crayon. And though the author may have worked hard their manuscript, an agent will not lavish praise where it is undeserved. Nobody likes their work to be denigrated. In my humble opinion, this is why people equate the success of other in the literary world to their own failure.
The envy does not truly stem from a feeling of injustice, that the wrong authors are being picked up. It is instead a systemic bloat wherein a competitive industry is inundated with talent, and slush, alike. So-called "hacks" like Dan Brown or E.L. James do not strike gold in the publishing world because agents somehow loathe the craft of writing and want to drown the world in pulp. Authors need to accept agents and publishers know their stuff. If one's work isn't to a standard worthy of praise, it should only fuel the fire to work harder.
Whether they like it or not, literary snobs need to face up to a hard truth: good bad books are good for books, full stop. They encourage the industry to produce content, forces authors to be more innovative in their work, and encourage people who might not otherwise read to pick up a book. It can be a bitter pill to swallow, the revelation that the only way to be better is to dust oneself off, solicit the bejesus out of the manuscript, and stop seeing the success of others as an indictment on oneself. It's scary to render one's heart and soul in ink and put it on the line for criticism. But if it yields some form of success or other, what right should anyone else have to say that you don't deserve it?
Scarlett Hawkins writes novels... But in her spare time, she writes rants.