Literary karma

by Jessica

There’s a funny article from debut novelist Matt Platt (The French Revolution) on the eye-opening experience of publishing a first book. Platt writes that whereas he once believed himself a “decent member” of the literary community, he has since had a series of epiphanies that he’d “been doing a whole lot wrong.” Included on his list of karma-correcting, right behaviors: “Read books from living authors only;” “channel jealousy into solidarity;” “shut up and buy books from people you know.”

Whether or not you agree with them, Platt’s epiphanies appear to occur more or less surrounding publication of his novel (and his essay is a fairly graceful piece of self-promotion) but it seems to me that many of my own clients and the writers whom I know report experiencing a similar road-to-Damascus moment even earlier in the process. Thus, I’m curious to know if and when your involvement in the writing life has changed the way you buy books, think about fellow writers, or indeed, persuaded you that such a thing as literary karma exists.

8 Responses to Literary karma

  1. Anonymous says:

    He's charming and witty, and how come he didn't make sure the post had the name of his book in it, and a book cover? He only shows the cover of a book that isn't his?


  2. Alan Orloff says:

    OMG, I thought it was just me who changed their reading/buying habits once published! Now, I always buy books put out by friends/acquaintances and I never say anything even slightly negative about another writer's work. I mean, no matter what my opinion is, it is hard to get published and there are positive aspects to any book. And Facebook? I love each and every one of my FB friends–whether I know them or not!
    I totally believe in literary karma.

  3. Bethany says:

    "road-to-Damascus moment" – I love it.

  4. Joanne Levy says:

    I'm not published yet, but I've been working at this a while and have met a lot of other writers along the way. I do believe there is such a thing as literary karma (and plain old be-nice-to-other-people karma) and I do support my friends and other writers in buying their books and doing my best to spread the word about them.

  5. Donna Gambale says:

    Once I decided to seriously pursue getting published, wrote my first novel, and began blogging, my literary habits definitely changed, similar to the way Matt's did.

    My book-buying habits have shifted to debut authors and authors who interview/guest post/provide ARCs for my blog. I leave book criticism to reviewers who aren't aspiring writers. And I'm willing to promote and support authors like crazy — purchasing copies for giveaway, attending signings, and spreading the word about amazing books. Am I hoping the good karma comes back to me one day? Sure.

    But most of this has sprung from my newfound understanding of just how hard this aspiring writer thing is — so when someone has made it through all the sweat/blood/tears/rejection (like I aim to one day), I want to shout it from the rooftops with them. As cheesy as this sounds, I've found that, especially within the YA blogging community, a victory for one is a victory for all, and it's worth celebrating.

  6. Jan Markley says:

    Really good points. I'm feeling the love for his karma! Since I've been published I try to buy my friend's books and support events in the local literary community.

  7. J. Nelson Leith says:


    What about bad karma resulting from the harm done to literature itself by purchasing and playing up books you don't genuinely believe are good? When you buy a book for any other reason than wanting to read it, you're lying to the rest of the literary community and to the marketplace. Does karma only count when you do something harmful to some individual's selfish career designs, out of honesty?

    Tolkien's fellow Inkling Hugo Dyson used to groan, out loud, "Oh my God — no more elves!" during readings of the Lord of the Rings. It may sound counter-intuitive, but this is how mature writers should show their respect for one another: through brazen honesty that honors the writer by assuming they're tough enough to take it.

    I would much prefer a friend who openly suggests my writing only to readers whose tastes they consider as awful as my writing, than to surround myself with yeah-sayers in whose opinions I could never invest an ounce of trust or respect. Give me one griping Dyson over a crowd of flattering liars any day.

    How stifling and downright oppressive to expect nothing but happy thoughts and boosterism from fellow adults. When did the literary community become such a foe of the freedom of sincere expression?

  8. Teralyn Pilgrim says:

    I agree that there's a LOT of literary trash out there (a distrurbing amount), and I also hesitate to encourage writers whose work seem to do more harm than good. Yet my eyes opened a little when Donna said "a victory for one is a victory for all." Since reading is dying out, it's better to read trash than nothing at all, so we should encourage everyone to read everything they like, even if we hate it. Maybe if we're successful enough and everyone's reading, then we can worry more about quality.

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