I can’t remember where, but the other day I saw an article about bestselling authors – and how upset some of them are about the fact that they tend not to be particularly popular with critics. At first I thought this was fair enough, I mean, it must be quite upsetting to be thought of as popular but not, um, serious.
On second thought however, I decided that it wasn’t fair. You’re a bestselling author; do you really think you need a pat on the head from a critic or two? If you’ve cracked the market there’s a chance you’ve tapped into a genre, or a writing style, that lots of people like. To do this it’s quite likely you’ve had to compromise to some extent right? No one can say they have tastes that are shared with everyone else, we’re all a little bit different – and it’s those differences that make us feel special.
To create a book that tops the charts, you need to appeal to a lot of people. I’m not saying this means you’ve had to dumb down your writing (Christ, as a copywriter I know how difficult it can be to be simple and concise), but you’ll probably have made the decision to eschew some of the flowery language or conceits critics are fond of. It doesn’t make your book worse, it just makes it a different beast, and the kind critics aren’t as interested in.
I don’t read many bestsellers, and the ones I do read are the magical lucky few that manage to straddle the line between literary fiction and popular novels, but there’s a reason for that. I choose the books I like to read, and they tend to be the kind that appeal to niche audiences. They tend to be the ones more likely to get good reviews by the critics, but they aren’t going to be raking the authors in much cash.
So when bestselling writers complain they aren’t being taken seriously, I can’t help wondering if they remember how rubbish it is to write and write and never earn enough to feel as though you can even call yourself a writer, let alone a bestselling or critically acclaimed one.