Monday 30 November 2009

Virtually all Top Twenty Bestsellers are celebrity titles

Articles keep appearing in the press claiming that the fashion for celebrity books is now over, just as the fashion for “misery memoirs” was reported to be over a year or two ago. In fact, celebrity books make up virtually the whole of the Top Twenty Non-Fiction Bestsellers.

While I can see that the current crop of titles are not achieving the same enormous sales figures as some of their predecessors, (perhaps because they are not such interesting or commercial stories), it seems from looking at the bestseller charts in The Bookseller this week that the celebrities are still totally dominating the non-fiction hardback charts and the “miseries” are still showing strongly amongst the paperbacks.

In the top ten non-fiction hardbacks we find Ant and Dec, Peter Kay, Jeremy Clarkson, Frankie Boyle and Patrick Swayze, plus another Top Gear book and titles from Andrew Marr and Delia Smith, both of whom can link their success partially to their television presences. That leaves only two other books, one of which is the Guinness Book of Records, the other is Ripley’s “Believe it or Not” book of amazing facts.

Amongst the next ten top bestsellers we find JLS, Chris Evans, Jo Brand, Katie Price, Jamie Oliver, Ozzy Osbourne, Jack Dee, another Top Gear book and a Football Annual. That leaves one more place for “Simon’s Cat” a cartoon book which started life on the Internet.

On what planet can this be described as “the end of the celebrity book genre”?

I could make a similar case for misery memoirs amongst the paperbacks, (some of which double up as celebrity books by the likes of Jade Goody and Coleen Nolan).

Thursday 19 November 2009

Good Samaritan Wins Publishing Deal

Here’s a story to bring hope to the hearts of everyone struggling to win a publishing deal.

Ex-soldier and international banker, Mark Powell, had written an action thriller, “Quantum Breach”, and was suffering the long agony that we are all familiar with, having racked up over a 100 rejections.

One evening he was driving home from work in Singapore when he spotted a damsel in distress attempting to heave a spare wheel out of the boot of her car. He stopped to help and once the wheel had been changed they got talking. She asked what he did. He told her he was an author and she told him she was a managing partner in a law firm that acted for the publisher Marshall Cavendish.

A few days later the Good Samaritan found he had a publishing deal for “Quantum Breach” and his second book, “Deep Six” is now close to completion.

The moral of this story? Never give up trying and never pass up a chance to do a stranger a favour.

Heart-warming tale, no?

Monday 9 November 2009

Should Books Be Shorter?

Why are books so hard to market? Is it possible that the main stumbling block to purchase, (and to consumption), is the sheer amount of time required to read them?

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the average book is 80,000 to 100,000 words long and requires six hours of fairly sustained attention from the customer.

In some situations that will be precisely why the purchase is made, because the customer has ‘time to kill’ on a beach holiday or a long journey, in a sickbed – whatever. Sometimes the pure beauty of the author’s prose and the languor of the storytelling is the reason why that title or that author has been selected. But what if the motive to purchase is that the reader merely wants the information contained in the book and wants it as quickly and painlessly as possible?

Am I the only person who has seen a book that they really want to read in the shops, or read a review, and then simply failed to find the time to read it – or at least failed to get beyond half way? Most people have a colossal number of calls upon their time once they have put in the hours required to earn a living, bring up their family or clip their toe-nails. Given a choice between a quick flick through a newspaper with a cup of tea, an hour in front of the television with their supper, or consuming one sixth of a difficult book, how often does the poor consumer give in to one of the easier options?

So many books could do with severe editing to remove extraneous material, repetitions and all the rest – “kill your darlings” as any creative writing tutor will tell you - but if the final manuscript then comes in at 30,000 words, or less than a hundred pages, it will not look like good value for money, and the publishers will have another marketing hurdle to overcome.

It seems likely that the printed book will never escape from this trap, any more than the average sit-com will escape the traditional half-hour format or many feature films will be allowed to come in at less than ninety minutes. The audiences have historical expectations of the formats which cannot be lightly dismissed.

But if electronic books take off, might we see something altogether different evolving? If people can’t see how ‘thick’ the book is when they buy it, might they be less daunted by the long ones and less likely to dismiss the short ones? Might publishers then be able to stop buying writing by the pound?

Thursday 5 November 2009

Publishing Industry exactly like The X-Factor

The publishing industry is exactly like the X-Factor. You start with tens of thousands of hopefuls, all certain that they are talented and deserve to be made into stars/published. Their friends and family are equally convinced, or at least have to say they are out of loyalty or blind love.

These thousands of people turn up to auditions/send in their manuscripts, and the gatekeepers of television/publishing have a limited amount of time to try to spot the ones that the public will like and want to get to know better. Sometimes it will be obvious that someone has enormous talent, or is exceptionally attractive, usually it is not that obvious.

The majority,through sheer weight of numbers, will then be sent home/have their manuscripts ignored or rejected. Even those who get through to the show/publication, will still be ignored by the public/voted out and will end up disappointed not to have had their dreams come true and angry with those who have succeeded where they have failed.

Someone, of course, has to win - just as with every lottery. On the X-Factor it will be Alexandra Burke and in publishing it will be J.K. Rowling, and then there will be the people who simply gain public attention because they are different and make people smile - John and Edward in the X-Factor, Katie Price in publishing.

It is all quite fair because everyone has the same chance to lay their goods out on display and there are only a limited number of hours that we can all watch television or read books, so most of us will inevitably be knocked back.

There has been a spate of complaints in the media recently from published authors about the state of the publishing industry and how hard it is for new writers to break in and how unfair it is that the bad stuff gets published and the good stuff gets over-looked. But wasn't it always so? Is it possible that millions are transfixed by the X-Factor because it is a giant metaphor for life? Publishing is also exactly like life - everyone who goes into it has ambitions, most will be disappointed.

What to do about it? How do you beat the odds?

Well maybe, like Alexandra Burke, the secret lies in (a) having enough talent to start with (b) working ceaselessly at your craft and (c) coming back for another go every time you are knocked back, (she only won on her second time of appearing on the X-Factor).

Young talent is often knocked back and discouraged, but in the long-run persistence will always pay off - in publishing as in life.