Saturday, February 20, 2010

The price of success

Rowling is being sued for plagiarism, again.

The more I learn about it, the more I think that the best position to be in is to be successful, but in a moderate way, a relaxed way. If you become a huge hit, all kinds of idiotic problems come along with it. Treasure hunters will bring you frivolous law suits like the above, you'll have to deal with the press and with fans, most of whom will be nice but some of whom have no concept of the object of their admiration being a subject too. Anything you do "next" will be compared to your big hit, and invariably at least some of the comparisons will be negative, no matter if the Next Thing is very different or if it's same-y, no matter if it's bad or good. Everybody will think they have a right to an opinion of how you should run your life. In short, your life will not be your own anymore. OK, but the money, some say. OK, seductive for sure. But once you have a clean home, a comfortable bed, and enough not to worry about if the fridge is gonna break, will it really make you a lot happier to get the double of that?

And behold a hit the size of Harry Potter, my god. Even if Rowling never writes another book, she is so famous that she will never outlive it. That's gotta be a very strange position in life. No matter where you go or who you speak to, you'll never again be just Joanne and have a nice chat on a level playing field, you'll be The Author of Harry Potter!, and everybody will want something from you or expect certain things about you.


Timo Lehtinen said...

You have it backwards. People who produce huge hits don't do it with the objective of becoming successful or to earn money. They do it because they have something inside of them that wants to get out.

People like Rowling do not have a choice about what “position” to take with regards to “moderateness” of success. Come rain or shine, they must create what they have come to this planet to create.

All artistic creation is a form of channeling, and the creation process a form of catharsis. To go through that process is what has true significance. The press or fans harassing you afterwards is insignificant in comparison.

Just as is not having any success at all. For someone like Stieg Larsson or many of the now famous classical composers, to complete the damn thing at all was what mattered.

Granted, you wrote “the best position to be in”, not the best position to aim at. But even then, I think the notion is ludicruous.

The best position to be in is to have lived your True Will as fully as possible, regardless of what public status that ends up giving you.

Jan said...


I agree. I'd rather live confortably and feel good about achievements that few people know about, than be famous and never have peace again.

I admire but pity Rowling and Lady Gaga.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

TTL, you have a very good point.

However, many people crave fame like they crave sex or chocolate.
And some become famous by working hard in that direction, rather than any big talent.
In any case, I think it's worth knowing what you get yourself into.

Myself, when I was young, I did buy into the idea that the only reasonable thing for anybody was to make as big a splash as one could, and that this included the broad, planetary public, and thus also fame.

Unknown said...

Kind of off-topic, but you just reminded me of how much respect I have for J.K. Rowling. I mean, she said she was writing seven "Harry Potter" books, she wrote them, and here we are. There isn't a rash of prequels or TV shows ("Harry Potter: The College Years" or anything like that). She's so NOT a sell-out, and I think she deserves a shout out for that : )

dave nielsen said...

Actually, ttl, she wrote the first book because she needed money. Not to say she only did it for the cash, but that was part of her motivation. Had she not been so hard up, maybe she wouldn't have bothered.

dave nielsen said...

KLo, there will be people who will accuse her of selling out. Making the movies could be seen as selling out. Bill Waterson saw doing Calvin & Hobbes merchandise as selling out - doing a TV show a la Garfield & Friends or movies like A Charlie Brown Christmas. Rowling could be seen as selling out that way, even though the movies helped the books - I know people who only read them because they liked the movies.

As for prequels, it's hard to say, she could end up doing them, I don't know if she's said whether she would consider something like that or not. Even if she did decide to, just because other people have done them as a cash grab and they sucked Bigfoot's cock (see Star Wars prequels, Star Trek preqel) doesn't mean hers would.

Timo Lehtinen said...

... she wrote the first book because she needed money. Not to say she only did it for the cash, ...

Yes, but that doesn't explain why she chose writing as her expression, or why she chose an adolescent wizard as her subject. We all want to be supported by our creative expression, but the expression itself springs from a different place than a mere expedient need for cash.

Incidently, she explains the process and her motivation in her recent Harward talk The fringe benefits of failure (video). Highly recommended viewing. She is just adorable.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Yes, she is. She wouldn't have to stagger very fast to catch me.

Miserere said...

The only woman richer than J.K. in Britain is the Queen, and maybe J.K. has already surpassed her. Nothing she can do will be selling out, because she doesn't have to do anything anymore.

If she didn't earn another pound from working for the rest of her life, she would still be a multimillionaire, and her kids would still be able to live opulently for the rest of their lives without raising a finger. And when they died there would still be a lot of money left over.

So, anything she does in the future she will do because she wants to, which is actually an enviable position to be in if you're an artist. It means you don't have to compromise just because you want to please potential clients.

As a side note, J.K. has used her fame and fortune to do a lot of charity work helping hospitals, libraries and other noble causes. She's a class act.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

I've no doubt about that.

I think for some artists, fan expectation weigh as heavily as commercial pressure.

Anonymous said...

IT would have been better if Rowling hadn't enjoyed the level of success she has. Had the first Harry Potter book been only a moderate success, the sequels would have been shorter and better. I don't mind a long book, but hers seemed altificially long. Sales were virtually guaranteed, so the publisher and her editor didn't worry too much.

Above all it should be noted that Rowling is not an artist, and did not have something inside her that wants to get out. Her ideas are not original. She is no great prose stylist. She did it to make money. Dave is right. ttl is a pretentious ass who is trying to elevate a hack to the level of an artist. No doubt he is working on his own crap that he hopes will make him money. Probably he's some kind of bad musician who writes bad short stories or maybe even poetry on the side.