Did you hear the news about the new Robert Galbraith book that isn’t technically by Robert Galbraith but was actually by Harry Potter’s own JK Rowling? A detective novel released in April under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith that sold only 1,300 copies in the US just happens to be by JK Rowling so now, of course, it is getting international attention and is skyrocketing up the bestseller charts. As a lover of literature and, of course, someone who once had visions of writing the “Great American Novel,” the story of Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling is truly depressing.
Why is it depressing, do you ask? Whether or not you agree that Rowling is a good writer or a good storyteller, it is safe to say that she has talent and that people enjoy reading her books. And yet Robert Galbraith, the exact same person, couldn’t sell a lick of books. It just goes to show that having talent is no guarantor of success, and it’s unfortunate. Because we know that, in all disciplines – not just writing- there are tremendously talented people out there who never get the notoriety or success which they so justly deserve.
When you go to a book store (if you can find one) or troll the online stores, you can sometimes be overwhelmed by the hundreds of thousands of books that are out for consumption, whether they be fiction or mystery, romance or science fiction, nonfiction or travel, cookbook or religion. With all of those books to choose from, there always has to be a “best” and you would think that the cream would rise to the top. But that simply isn’t the case. For every great book that is read by millions of people there is an exceptional book that is read by only 1,300. And for every terrible book that is read by millions of people… you get the picture.
I used to think, in my younger years, that it must be easy to get a book published because, in all seriousness, how many people out there truly have the talent to write a book? Naiveté rears its ugly head because I have read so many terrific books that have never cracked the bestseller list. And I have read so many dreadful books that spent years on the top of the charts.
And this latest episode with JK Rowling is a perfect demonstration of it. You could be the best writer in the world, or the best chef in the world, or the best singer in the world, or the best athlete in the world, but if you don’t figure out a way to get recognized, your talent may never be shared with the rest of the world. For some people, that may be perfectly fine; but for writers or actors or singers or performers, what good is having a talent if there is no one to receive it? The best actor in the world is nothing if he plays to an empty stage. Doesn’t the writer write so that people will read? Doesn’t the singer sing so that people will hear?
What must it be like to be a talent that never gets discovered? How many “Great Gatsbys” have been written over the years that were never discovered because, for some reason or other, the author just was never in the right place at the right time? (And I shudder to use this analogy because I am not a big fan of that book.)
So what do the rest of us do, those of us who have talent or think that we have talent? Do we pack it all in and give up? Do we simply forego our dreams and aspirations and live with the knowledge that we never achieved the success we believed we so richly deserved? We like to believe that there are no overnight successes anymore, that people have to pay their dues in order to achieve greatness. But how long do you scrape and kick before discouragement overtakes you? How long would Robert Galbraith have had to write before achieving HIS success, the success that was bestowed upon him simply by virtue of his being a pseudonym for one of the most successful authors in history? It is discouraging to say the least.
And this isn’t just about writing. It is about any discipline – accounting, the law, insurance, athletics, cooking, you name it. You know the old philosophical question about a tree falling in a forest and no one around, does it make a sound. Well—if someone has talent and no one recognizes it, then who is to say the talent existed at all? The mountain seems like such a steep climb to get to a place where the talent is acknowledged that it would be so easy to quit. Robert Galbraith is a perfect example of that—it took a famous writer to make Robert Galbraith a star. And if Robert Galbraith had just been Robert Galbraith? We may never have found out about him…