Stephen King: I’m Not One of the "Bad" Prolific Authors
King penned an editorial in the NYTimes on Thursday which ostensibly argues whether the work of more productive authors is inherently bad simply because there is more of it.
He doesn’t take one side or the other but instead neatly splits the difference:
As with most postulates dealing with subjective perceptions, the idea that prolific writing equals bad writing must be treated with caution. Mostly, it seems to be true. Certainly no one is going to induct the mystery novelist John Creasey, author of 564 novels under 21 different pseudonyms, into the Literary Hall of Heroes; both he and his creations (the Toff, Inspector Roger West, Sexton Blake, etc.) have largely been forgotten.
Yet some prolific writers have made a deep impression on the public consciousness. Consider Agatha Christie, arguably the most popular writer of the 20th century, whose entire oeuvre remains in print. She wrote 91 novels, 82 under her own name and nine under a nom de plume — Mary Westmacott — or her married name, Agatha Christie Mallowan.
Chris Meadows beat me to this post, and he argues over on Teleread against King’s point. Meadows counters with the argument that popularity is proof of quality.
That’s a good argument, but given what I have learned about book marketing over the past half-decade (and how that affects sales) I can’t accept it. Volume has no correlation to quality (and vice versa).
And in any case, quality is a subjective measure. It’s a matter of opinion, and I’m not interested in debating whether the work of a industrious author is inherently bad. I see it as an argument based on flawed logic, just as if the argument were based on the author’s gender or ethnicity.
King, on the other hand, might have a different view. As I read this piece for the thirs time, I get the impression that he is interested in the opinion of the literati. We can see that in the the later section of the piece where he argues that he’s not one of the "bad" prolific authors.
After a pro forma denial, he writes:
Yes, I’ve published more than 55 novels. Yes, I have employed a pseudonym (Richard Bachman). Yes, I once published four books in one year (shades of James Patterson … except mine were longer, and written without the aid of a collaborator). And yes, I once wrote a novel (“The Running Man”) in a single week. But I can say, with complete honesty, that I never had any choice.
As a young man, my head was like a crowded movie theater where someone has just yelled “Fire!” and everyone scrambles for the exits at once. I had a thousand ideas but only 10 fingers and one typewriter.
That, I think, is the whole point of this piece.
The only reason I see for King to bring up his own copious body of work is to defend it in the context of the assumption that quality is inverse to quantity.
Or am I wrong?
image by Harry Vale