PP on JKR and stuff

Around here we tend to refer to Philip Pullman as PP, because it’s more convenient, and we all know who we mean. I was very pleased to see yesterday that Philip agrees with me on hyped books and other unnatural things in the publishing world. He also seems to favour J K Rowling, surprisingly enough.

I subscribe to this children’s literature email list, which is people interested in books discussing them with each other and asking for help and ideas and anything else. And anyone can email in with their thoughts. So far I’ve only jumped in twice, and that was when someone had got things wrong, and we know how I feel about people being wrong. Unless it’s me who’s wrong…

The question this time was someone who simply wanted to know how to do good characters and good plot, and Philip suggests that she just starts writing, without thinking too much about it. Then he goes on to say:

“One other thing: you don’t need to think about marketing at all. Few people
agree with me about this, but consider: what do the marketing experts say?
“We need the next Harry Potter!” No originality, you see. Marketing people
never lead – they always follow. The person you should be emulating is the
one who thought about Harry Potter in the first place. No marketing expert
would have advised her to do that. Do exactly what you want to do, and the
marketing will take care of itself.”

Now that I’ve insulted the marketing people, the very people who send me books, I had better finish for today. But I’ve said this before, and it’s worth repeating; publishers can’t decide in advance what’s going to be a popular book. It just happens. And I hate it when it’s taken for granted that a book will be a big hit because someone said so.

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8 responses to “PP on JKR and stuff

  1. A little optimistic: ‘the marketing will take care of itself’. Sometimes. And sometimes writers die in obscurity.

  2. I think what he means is that you can’t sit down intending to write a bestseller. Publishers obviously need to engage in PR.

  3. Who would want to? Write a bestseller, I mean.

    And PP is acting ingenuous, though I’m sure he actually knows better: the only way a writer can do exactly what she wants to do is by not hoping to get published at all.

  4. Most of us?

    You are the only one I know who’s the opposite way round.

  5. Well, perhaps I can start a movement …

  6. The problem area that PP deftly skips over is how to square your ‘what you want to do’ with the preconceived opinions of the marketing people who can kill or (pauses to think of alliterative antonym and fails) your book. He says himself that his Sally Lockhart books were originally ‘concealed’ by the publisher rather than published. And the roaring success of HDM (though merited in its own right, I think) probably was largely off the back of Harry Potter, and the glib way HDM was promoted as being a similar sort of thing (like selling Marmite as chocolate spread).

  7. I think what PP meant was that you will write a better story if you follow your heart. Whether this will lead to publication or fame, is another kettle of fish.

    The reason I’m so tired of seeing some new books pop through my letterbox is that they look like look-alikes, be it new Harry Potters or whatever. There’s only so many of those that we can cope with, and like. Something totally new is much more exciting. Say, crime fighting children who behave like cats… Could that be done?

    Last night I sent off an email to child’s art teacher asking if it’s better to please the teacher (seeing as it’s her that marks the GCSE work), even if it means ruining your picture. If a good artist isn’t allowed to be an individual at 15, when can they start? And what a waste with the years that they do as they are told. There is no right or wrong as to the colour of the background of a picture, unlike the rules in maths or English that you are supposed to know.

    The young witch regularly broke grammatical conventions at school, and was told off. The thing is that I knew the rules, and I knew I was breaking them. And I did that because my piece required it. Early misunderstood genius.

  8. I’m 100% with Philip Pullman on this one. Having read my fair share of unpublished work, I’d say that an excellent but unconventional book is much more likely to get published than a mediocre but commerical one. Publishers get piles and piles of JKR/Enid Blyton wannabes every day and they want something different, I’d say.

    It’s like all the people who try and write Mills and Boon. M&B can spot a mile off which writers love romantic fiction and which are just doing it because they think it’s easy.

    And I’m speaking as someone who was told repeatedly that no one would ever publish a book like mine …

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