THE BLOG

Dissing Other Authors Can Be Dangerous--Or Not

28/02/2014 14:11 GMT | Updated 30/04/2014 10:59 BST

When I was first starting out as a published author, and before my first book was published, a famous writer at an awards banquet offered me unsolicited advice about launching a career.

"Don't attack your peers in public," he said. And he grimly added without explanation, "It'll come back to haunt you." He'd obviously crossed that line and regretted the results.

Lynn Shepherd is probably feeling the same way, even though she's not a newbie. She recently published a blog asking J.K. Rowling to stop writing because her books took up too much space in the publishing world and sucked all the air out of the room.

I suspect her piece was a literary version of "A Modest Proposal," but I can't be sure if the author of historical crime novels was writing tongue-in-cheek. That title seemed to be a giveaway, but maybe it was just snark. Her critics took her seriously, though, and have been out for blood. The Guardian reports that scores of Rowling fans have been trashing Shepherd's books by giving them 1-star ratings on Amazon. Comments on The Guardian's web site and on The Huffington Post label Shepherd dim (if not worse) and even predict the end of her career.

Well, what she wrote was certainly ill-advised for many reasons, and badly done. Rather than ask Rowling to stop writing, even jocularly if that was the intent, she might have talked up a writer with weak sales who she thinks deserves the same kind of publicity and raves that Rowling gets. Championing a deserving underdog would have made her seem generous, not mean-spirited and jealous. It would also have helped the kind of author she says gets crushed by the Rowling PR juggernaut.

But as for all those attacks on Amazon, can anyone take them seriously? Customer reviews sparked by animus (and sometimes ignorance) are easy to spot and easy to dismiss. The true test will always be the books themselves.

I don't think this brouhaha will affect Shepherd's sales at all, or come remotely close to ending her career. I'd heard about her before but had never read one of her novels, and I'm now curious to do so. There may be many other readers like me who'd be more interested in her books than the mini-scandal, and will her current fans abandon her? That seems unlikely.

The book I'd really like to read, though, would be a memoir by Shepherd about the whole experience of shooting herself in the foot and having the reading public come after her like the villagers chasing Frankenstein's monster. It could be funny and thrilling--and required reading for authors everywhere.