Friday, 24 February 2012

Ding ding, round two.

09:57:00 Posted by Lindsay 5 comments

I’m not sure I can write anything which hasn’t been covered this week on the subject. I agree with Shaun, that commercialism dominates the bookshelves in shops. I also with Lara in that I despise ghost-written autobiographies by Z list celebrities who have neither contributed anything constructive to society nor lived a life interesting enough to read about. I have felt the literary pride when reading something ‘worthy’ in public, like Steve, and hidden something away in my bag when scared of being judged on my reading palate.  Vicky used a great metaphor of blue cheese to describe how many of us ingest literary fiction. It can be hard work, but in some cases this pays off massively, and sometimes we want something more easy-going and comfortable to slip into after a hard day. But why the divide in the first place? Because there’s a chart, and that chart views the quality of a book based on its sales, which is ridiculous.

I’m working on a project to create a picture book with students studying a publishing MA, and their priorities are so far from mine I feel overwhelmed. To them, their decisions are just common sense, and I agree but it doesn’t half bugger up my creative process.  It also brings massive restrictions on what I can and can’t write about and what characters I can have. If the story isn’t suitable for an international audience, it’s not being published.  No rhyme, no wordplay, no fun. It doesn’t translate you see.  Publishers cannot afford to take on work which will not sell; it’s a huge financial risk. There are a huge amount of outgoings for a book to be created, and publishers do not get a great cut. Those who do are the retailers; the internet stores, bookshops and supermarkets who will not agree to stock titles unless they negotiate a massive cut of the book sale. Some retailers take as much as 65% of the book’s retail price. The distributor takes a cut too.  This leaves 45% for the printing costs, illustrator, publisher, agents and of course the writer.   Like the farming industry the supermarkets have publishers by the dangly bits. Those 3 for 2 in bookshops? That comes out of the publishers’ pockets as they have to give away the books for free, and this is expected by the retailer as part of the agreement to stock the title. So the publishing industry has to give the massive giants exactly what they want, either literary fiction guaranteed to sell to a certain market or the opposite which is bubble gum for the brain.

Humans like to polarise things.  The literary and commercial are polarised to gain large sales for each end, and naturally the bubble gum wins, like in the music industry. Pound shops shift millions of pounds worth of stock to huge swathes of customers but it doesn’t mean that it’s good quality. But there are many people who don’t read much, and when they do they don’t want to work at it. So Jordan prevails. They are books for people who don’t read, to extract cash from a market that don’t usually buy books. It makes sense.   Don’t even get me started on the X Factor, number ones gained by spoon feeding people ‘music’ on Saturday night telly.  They are creating a need then fulfilling it. In response to this the real readers are buying what they think should be read anyway, if not more regularly.  All this i making someone with too much control over what customers can choose from a hell of a lot of cash. All the decent stuff in the middle gets missed while these two fight it out. There’s not a whole lot we can do about it really, which is depressing. Thank you, capitalism, you fat greedy ****.



Ashley R Lister said...

"...books for people who don’t read, to extract cash from a market that don’t usually buy books..."

Excellent point. And it reminds us of the brave new world in which we live.


Ste said...

Hello there Lindsay. Interesting post. I can't help but feeling a bit depressed about it. Really interesting about the MA stuff and I guess the idea is to make money out of writing but, just the same as a band like Dinosaurs are Shit Dragons will probably never grace the top ten, I think they'd be much happier skint and writing what excites them rather than bubble gum pop. I think I'd rather write what excites me and be an amateur than write formulaic marketing excercises. Did anyone see Jon Gomm's Britain's Got Talent comments recently? Now that's an admirable streak of independance and integrity for you - turning down record deals to keep creative control, turning down Cowell for being the devil. Man's a new hero!

Lindsay said...

It is depressing Steve. The daft thing is, for all these 'rules' that I'm being told about there is plenty of examples of the contrary, there are The Gruffalo, Hairy Maclairy and all sorts of rhyming books in every book shop. So in some cases, I guess the rules don't count when something has a special kind of magic. I'm not fond of rules anyway. I think I'll be doing my own thing and if it goes well then so be it. I don't believe you can get the magic that certain books have on request or within boundaries. If it falls within them great, but too many rules make for a very bland output.

I did see that article about Jon Gomm, he exposed the X Factor too didn't he for offering him a slot? Good for him, creativity wasn't meant for sale, it's an expression anyway not something for consumption.

Danielle Rose said...

Brilliant post. I feel that there is a place for all fiction and the issues lie with the need to polarise genres. "All the decent stuff in the middle gets missed" - very true.

vicky ellis said...

Great post Lindsay. Highlights what happens when writing courses are set up to cater for a financial market rather than imbue creativity. Sadness :(