Monday, 20 February 2012

UK best sellers. We're all doomed.

If I was going to put a new book out, I might consider finding a celebrity endorsement for it, a snappy picture or a cluster of key words to bring it to the attention of google. I might make the cover yellow, I might make it something gritty, something an audience can relate to- a tale of childhood and abuse (true to life, obviously), neglect or perhaps even abduction.

I won’t be doing any of these things.

I doubt I will ever be a best-selling author. If I wrote something and decided to publish it, I would hope it would be done on merit and not on the sheer need to sell someone some drivel with a ‘look at me, I was beaten’ slant to it. Sadly, I think this pretty much counts me out of the bestselling book market. I’ll point out here that if Blackpool’s branch of Waterstones closed, the residents of this town would be left to choose their books primarily from the shelves of ASDA and TESCO- the future doesn’t look great, I must admit.

The blog theme this week is a slightly contentious one, I’m afraid- we’re going with “Literary vs Commercial Fiction”. I have an opinion on this, as do all of you readers I am sure. Is it my place to tell someone what to read? Is it my place to tell someone to put the bloody ‘based on true events’ book down and read something valuable? Is it even my place to rant on about the lack of appealing fiction on the shelves and my sense of despair in passing an oversized ‘Biography/Autobiography/Celebrity Fiction/’Based on a true story’ section.  Readers of this stuff- you have your opinions. I’ll agree to hate you for them.

In terms of poetry, I am not quite sure where this theme points me. For a long time I’ve been harping on about what is probably deemed ‘commercial’ as opposed to ‘literary’ stuff. Performance poets are snappy, direct and deliver passion that is hard to deny but, on the page, it often doesn’t work. Go the other way and have a look at more ‘page’ poets and perhaps they are held back by a lack of performability. It is hard to attract an audience with these poems and yet, they are often the poets we cling on to the most. As with the fiction, I think being current helps. There are trends to follow and whilst right now books about being beaten and battered in foster homes romances ending with disease are great, I suspect lots of them will fall by the wayside when you look back over the years, do we want our poems doing this.

I will finish here by just giving you readers a point to consider. Last year 35% of books that graced the fiction chart were published before 2010, meaning we are actually re-reading the older stuff, the stuff that has been hanging around, loved and recommended. Movie books, celebrity chefs and tales from the pens of cultural ‘icons’ will keep regenerating, of course, but with the likes of Dickens and Jane Austen proving ever more popular amongst readers, maybe the trick is to buy the books that can stand the test of time, not just shout for a week or two. I caught a reading by Lynton Kwesi Johnson earlier this year- a poet I have admired since studying his work some years ago- and afterwards was left thinking something was missing. There was no delivery, no punch to it and, after years of Black rights not being a massive issue in the UK media, I felt the poems were almost left behind with the time. These are good poems that rely heavily on delivery and if I have learnt anything for my own writing from the experience, it is that I never want to be a performance poet past his peak, much rather a page poet trying to find his feet. I hope to have a new poem up for next week, until then, keep writing. 

Thanks for reading, S.  


Ashley R Lister said...

I couldn't agree more with your comments about the unappealing oversized shelves labelled biography/autobiography/celebrity.

Personally, whilst I would never advocate book burning, if I had to start burning some books - that's the section where I would begin :-)

Great post.


Ste said...

Readers of this stuff you have your opinions. I'll agree to hate you for them. L and indeed OL

Couldn't agree more. I hate the argument that Jordan fronting a book is important to literacy. Good parenting and schooling is important to literacy goddam it. Although the author of said books is probably handsomely reimbursed for their efforts I feel sorry that they wouldn't be able to publish themselves.

Interesting comments on performance vs page poetry in context of commercial/literary. Doubly interesting as Shaun, I think, straddles the boundary between the two almost perfectly. When you perform your poems they are ofetn bang on how I read them off the page and yet seeing the performance definitely adds something to them. Interesting... I'm off to mumble in my mind mnmnmnmnmnmn....

Shaun said...

Cheers guys.
Ste: I was taking a wide berth on the Jordan issue- I think that is Lara's rant to have, not mine. As for reading it just as I perform it- I can't even tell you how good it is to read a comment like that so thanks!
Ash: Burning said books would be perhaps harsh. Besides, they are so heavily discounted that it could be worth holding on to them- 200 sheets of loo roll could be dearer than three quid in the near future.

PS I remembered today that Vicky's book has a yellow cover- this is unrelated to this post ;)