Lynn Shepherd is a crime novelist whose novels, as of this writing, tend to rank just beneath the top 100,000 in Amazons ranking of sales. J.K. Rowling is one the most financially successful writers in history: the first woman in history to make a billion dollars on her craft, based on the phenomenally successful Harry Potter series of youth novels. Rowling is also quite a successful author of novels for grown-ups. A Casual Vacancy, more than a year after its release, is ranked at 6,700 on Amazon, and her crime novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, is ranked at roughly 600.
Lynn Shepherd doesn’t think that’s fair and has called upon Rowling to stop writing, at least to stop writing for grown-ups, in a column for the Huffington Post. According to Shepherd, Rowling has enough money already and enough fame. She doesn’t need more of either. Rowling is a publishing juggernaut and Shepherd thinks that her novels take up all the oxygen in the room, get all the attention, and crowd out other writers for scarce shelf-space, media, and public attention. Shepherd thinks that Rowling should quit so that the other writers can have some breathing space.
Not surprisingly, Shepherd’s comments section is flooded with hostile responses and her books’ pages on Amazon have been inundated with angry one-star reviews. It certainly didn’t help Shepherd’s case when she admitted that she’d never read Rowling’s books, nor even seen the films.
Readers of this periodical in particular are well prepared to answer Ms. Shepherd’s complaint. She suffers from zero-sum thinking. A kind of literary Malthusianism underlies her pathetic cry for relief, as though shelf space is limited and if some gorge, then others must starve. But of course, economic dynamics are such that the pie itself can grow: Say’s Law and all that. Supply creates demand. Supply-siders would rightly point out that Rowling didn’t just take a bigger piece of a static pie, she baked bigger pies. She created new readers… Heck, give the woman her full due: she created a whole new generation of new readers. And, no doubt, those new readers are the ones who crowded in to buy A Casual Vacancy and The Cuckoo’s Calling (once it was revealed that it was she who wrote the latter under a pseudonym). Don’t believe me? Then read all the comments on Amazon complaining that Vacancy is nothing like Potter.