Have you ever noticed that when you say that you’re writing a novel, you often get one of two reactions from people:
- You could be the next J.K. Rowling.
- Just remember, not everyone can be J.K. Rowling.
When people say these things, I highly doubt they mean: “You could/can’t be a struggling single mother living on the edge of the poverty line while suffering from severe depression and forcing yourself to work on completing the first novel in a series that you envisioned during a train ride five years earlier.”
What they usually mean is more along the lines of: “You could/can’t be the author of a fabulously successful series of books which sell a million bazillion copies (not an exact figure), break just about every sales record in existence, and be a multi-billionaire within five years.”
J.K. Rowling is extraordinary – not only as an author, but also as a success story. She’s one in a million. Maybe even one in a billion. She’s extraordinary not only because of her Fortune, but also her Fame.
Take a look around at popular fiction, both modern and “classic”, and you’ll find a series of characters who are more famous, and more popular, than the authors who created them. If you were to pit character and author against each other in an old-school popularity contest, many non-writers (and most non-readers) wouldn’t even recognise the name of the author. The characters would have more fans, more followers, and more “friends” than their creators.
Even J.K. Rowling would pale beside the popularity enjoyed by her golden-boy, Harry Potter.
Don’t believe me? Check out these examples (in no particular order):
- Sherlock Holmes vs Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
- James Bond vs Ian Fleming
- Alice in Wonderland vs Lewis Carroll
- Pinnocchio vs Carlo Collodi
- Hannibal Lecter vs Thomas Harris
- Dorothy/The Wizard of Oz vs L. Frank Baum
- Don Quixote vs Miguel De Cervantes
- Winnie the Pooh vs A.A. Milne
- Peter Pan vs J.M. Barrie
- Tarzan vs Edgar Rice Burroughs
I’m sure you can think of many more examples than just these, but 10 is really enough to illustrate my point. As authors, we are the AV Geeks of the written word. No one knows who we are. No one really cares. We’re just there to make our characters– our leading ladies and men–look and sound amazing.
There are a few notable exceptions to this rule. Shakespeare is more well-known than any of his characters (although Romeo & Juliet may give him a run for his money), and Stephen King is more-or-less a household name. But the ability to garner Fame through writing, independent of the characters, settings, or plots we’ve created, is even more rare than the ability to gain Fortune.
But someone has to be the “one in a million, billion, gazillion”. Right?