Ursula Le Guin is one of the most prolific and well-spoken science fiction writers ever. So why would one of our most seminal authors be told she needs to start writing like J.K. Rowling?
In a recent interview, Le Guin was asked if publishers ever pressure her to produce more conventional stories. And she replied:
"Within the last few years only, on my three fantasy novels Gifts, Voices and Powers. I had, as always, good editors to work with at Harcourt, where they were published, but there was an increasing pressure to make them more like Harry Potter—there's just no getting around it. And since I write a very, very different type of fantasy and different type of literature from the Harry Potter series, there was no way I could go along with that. I just had to resist it. But, you see, that's very late, and it's happened as publishing was beginning to lose its sense of direction and its purpose, and get very confused by corporate pressures on all sides."
It's not all that surprising, really. Le Guin keyed in to the fact that there's this growing tendency to bottom-line all fiction. The literary market is chaotic, with the death of print and the emergence of ebooks. While science fiction and fantasy writers once maintained a larger amount of creative control than more mainstream authors, there's been a steady shift toward corporate control across the board.
People are reading less. That's not news, but what's more important is that when people do read, it's very often genre and all-ages fiction.
But is there a way to perfect a formula that guarantees genre writing's success? Should prose writers be considering adaptation if they hope to be successful? On that, Le Guin is pretty clear.
"Nobody but Rowling ever got artistic control over a film made from their work, and she got it because she's so wealthy. You're not going to get it. Therefore you have to think: Do you mind if they make a travesty out of your work? Is the money worth it to you? If it is, go for it. Take the money and run, as whoever it was said. If it's not worth it to you, just run away. "
We think Le Guin should keep on keeping on. Plenty of room for both her and good old J.K., right?