Here is a clear example of zero-sum thinking, this time in literature.
Author Lynn Shepherd laments J. K. Rowling’s publishing another book, on the grounds that the successful writer crowds out the less successful. In Shepherd’s words:
“It wasn’t just that the hype was drearily excessive, or that (by all accounts) the novel was no masterpiece and yet sold by the hundredweight, it was the way it crowded out everything else, however good, however worthwhile. That book sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere. And I chose that analogy quite deliberately, because I think that sort of monopoly can make it next to impossible for anything else to survive, let alone thrive. Publishing a book is hard enough at the best of times, especially in an industry already far too fixated with Big Names and Sure Things, but what can an ordinary author do, up against such a Golgomath?”
So we should be glad that Jane Austen and Agatha Christie finally stopped writing; Apple should stop making stuff in order to give other manufacturers a chance; perhaps Ms. Shepherd, with at least six published books herself, should make room for the under-published; and if only the Canadians would stop playing hockey so other countries could win Olympic gold.
Sarcasm-lite aside, let me suggest why Shepherd should be happy about Rowling’s publication and see her as an ally.
* Justice. Rowling has legitimately earned a huge, excited fan base, and simple justice means that we should respect achievement.
* Writer education. What is it about Rowling’s writing that makes it so popular? Perhaps we other authors can learn from her and improve our own writing.
* Writer inspiration. Rowling was an unknown who broke through and achieved blockbuster success. Her example can encourage the rest of us to persevere.
* Increased opportunities for writers. Rowling’s books enrich the publishing industry by bringing in money that would otherwise have been spent on, say, video-games, skateboards, clothes, or candy. More money for the publishing industry means more opportunities for all writers.
* Increased readership for the future. The Harry Potter series is legendary for creating millions of new readers. Many of them will continue to read, explore other genres, and maybe even discover Shepherd’s books and mine.