Joanna Trollope told the Daily Mail: “Creating this mass following and tweeting several times a day is like wanting to be [the pop star] Cheryl or Kim Kardashian. Some writers like JK Rowling have this insatiable need and desire to be out there all the time, and that’s entirely driven by their ego. (…)“It’s so depressing to think that aspiring authors will look at famous writers with millions of followers, and think that that is how you have to operate,” she said. “It’s not, and actually, it’s the opposite.””
From The Guardian, Friday 5 May 2017
This quote of Joanna Trollope’s made me incredibly angry for many reasons. Let me start at the beginning.
Joanna Trollope is what we in the publishing industry call an “author brand”. This is the type of author every publisher dreams about – every few years these authors will invariably produce a book that will hit the bestseller lists. Even people who haven’t read a Joanna Trollope novel will have at least heard her name. The Daily Mail thinks of her as a celebrity and they are happy to interview her. Yet even she has a Facebook page which is managed by her agent. Even she cannot completely afford to ignore social media.
The brutal truth is that if you are an unknown author looking for a publisher a social media presence will help you a lot. It is pure hypocrisy on Joanna Trollope’s part to pretend that it is completely unnecessary. It is even worse that she insults J.K. Rowling in the bargain.
Because J.K. Rowling’s social media presence breaks the first of the many unwritten rules of author/ reader Twitter engagement: “don’t engage in politics”. Why is this a rule? Simple. If one half of your readership is in one political option, and the second half in another, you shouldn’t want to alienate your readership. But J.K.Rowling is famous enough and brave enough not to care. Her Twitter is not merely a publicity campaign for her books, it is a social platform for her beliefs. She is adamantly pro-European, a lively critic of Jeremy Corbyn and a sworn enemy of Donald Trump. Her social followers really feel they are encountering “the real J.K. Rowling”. It is unfair to compare her Twitter to Kim Kardashian’s. Kim Kardashian’s Twitter features mainly photos of Kim Kardashian (and occasionally her products). J.K. Rowling’s Twitter is not simply a marketing tool, it is more akin to a journal of her day-to-day thoughts on politics and writing.
If anyone has expressed a craving for anonymity, it is J.K. Rowling and not Joanna Trollope. Trollope has never published any of her bestselling books anonymously (she has published novels under a pseudonym, but not after she has become an established author). Rowling submitted the manuscript of her first crime novel as “Robert Galbraith” (after having written the Harry Potter books ) and had it rejected by many famous publishers. Her identity was uncovered three months after the novel’s publication by accident – and J.K. Rowling has sued the person responsible. Four years later, Rowling has published some of Robert Galbraith’s rejection letters on Twitter, to serve as an encouragement for new writers.
There is one grain of truth in Joanna Trollope’s statement, however rudely and inaccurately expressed. It is true that you can be an incredibly good writer and not want to have a social media presence, or still worse, you might want to remain anonymous. In the 19th century, for example, it was clear that some were happy as author-celebrities (see Lord Byron and Charles Dickens) and some preferred to preserve their anonymity (Jane Austen wrote as “A Lady”, Charles Dodgson as “Lewis Carroll”). Even in the modern publishing world, there are author-miracles who have managed to be the exception to the social media rule: see Elena Ferrente. But they are rare creatures indeed, and I will risk saying they are on the verge of extinction.
There should still be two models of authorship: the celebrity kind, and the anonymous kind – and modern publishing should have room for both. This is why Joanna Trollope should stop being so damning of J. K. Rowling’s social media profiles, and why the modern publishing industry should perhaps try to acknowledge those authors who want to preserve their anonymity.
Here’s a link to the original article in The Guardian
Here’s a link to the original Daily Mail article
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