Monday, 28 July 2008

Rapped on the knuckles

This news story (brief as it is) seems to me to sum up much of what is wrong with publishing today.* Big advances being paid to people who have no track record of writing books simply because they have celebrity status.**

It raises so many questions.

Why were such large advances (well, they weren’t that big compared with some, but they’d keep me warm and fed for a good few years) paid in the first place? These people didn’t need the money.

Why was there not a clause in their contracts stipulating that the advance would have to be repaid if a publishable manuscript was not delivered by a set time? Does this mean that the publisher caved in to these celebrities’ agents and gave them contracts that most writers could only dream of?

Why did these celebrities not finish their manuscripts? They entered into contractual agreements. Other writers manage. You know, proper writers. The majority of whom do not earn enough from their writing alone, despite being professional in their approach and experts at their craft. The majority of whom have to fit their writing in between their other commitments like bringing up the children, cleaning the house, laundry, and so on. And if these celebs could not manage because of other commitments why did they commit themselves to such an agreement? Why not pay a ghost to finish their work?

Why did this (or any other publisher) feel the need to produce books by people who are not writers? There are thousands of very good writers out there who never get a look in. I weep for them. They do not have agents or celebrity status. They cannot walk into a deal for which they care nothing, showing nothing but contempt for people work their hearts out to produce high quality books that never get read by anyone but the author’s mum.

It sickens me.

In the US and the UK, hundreds of thousands of books are published every year. People go into bookshops or go online and they buy them. You would think it was the ideal time to drive up the standards of the printed to word. There is no need for a badly written book ever to appear in print. Yet there they are. By the truck load. By the ton.

Yet, for some strange reason it is becoming more and more difficult to get into print, especially if you write fiction.

Authors are told they have to up their game. Write better books. Agents and publishers rush out their How To Get Published books which are snapped up by desperate authors. Those same agents and publishers ignore their own advice and buy up dreck and drool over celebrity deals so they can shift vast amounts of their garbage at Christmas.

One or two well known authors have joined this game, exhorting writers to produce better work. I have your names a list. You’ll be first against the wall.

To repeat a point I have made before, I am talking about good writing here. The content of a book doesn’t concern me – from the biography of a vacuous celebrity to a complex philosophical argument; from the latest western or hospital romance to high literature (via any and all genres, sub-genres, and anti-genres) – we should have all those. But there is no reason on earth why any one of those should get into print if it is badly written.

Dull books are borderline. Some people like to plod through a story. But writers who are semi-literate, whose bad writing screams a constant distraction from the story, who break all the rules agents and editors exhort us to keep because they do not know what those rules are, who re-write their favourite author’s work – they should not be getting into print. But they are.

Why? Why is this? Where did it all start to go so wrong? At what point did the commercial drive, the desire to line the pockets of shareholders, take over so completely that any old product would do as long as makes a big enough return on the investment. And why can this not be done by producing quality books by hard working authors. Sure, we’d all like to live in luxury, lie on our sofas and dictate a novel a week to our secretary – take the other eleven months of the year off. In reality, writers would be happy to earn a decent living for their hard work and not get kicked in the teeth on a regular basis by stories like this that demonstrate their livelihood is in the hands of idiots.

* I have never believed in a Golden Age of publishing. It has never been perfect. But it sure has been better.
** I’m not picking on these particular celebrities (before anyone accuses me of being sexist, racist, or a music lover).


Annie Bright said...

Very well said, Graeme! You have a great way with words.


Graeme K Talboys said...

Thanks. I enjoy a good rant.

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Hahaha the music lover punchline left me cackling, thank you!

Flowerpot said...

nothing like a good rant! Gets it out of the system...

Dave Tex said...

While the publishers are at fault for publishing these terrible celebrity books, the consumers are even more to blame for creating such a market for it.

If idiocy sells, keep producing it. It's unfortunate that this isn't isolated to just TV and movies anymore.

This is yet another symptom of living in this dumb world.


BT said...

Dave tex hit the nail on the head. While so called 'celebrities' are valued so highly by the public, the situation will never change. It's pathetic.

An enjoyable rant, Graeme.
Gina (sort of mother in law to Rachel Leatherdyke)!!

Graeme K Talboys said...

I agree there is a huge appetite for 'celebrity' at the moment, but I sometimes wonder if that is not simply because there is little else on offer in the way of entertainment.

Chicken or egg, I suppose.

Papoosue said...

lack of entertainment and general lack of contentment with life methinks. Still enjoying your blog, Graeme :-)

Dave Tex said...

I think there is a plenty of entertainment out there, but it's a matter of taking that extra minute to find it.

Whether it be music, magazines, movies, or what have you, people seem to take the most available option. They take whatever is put directly in front of them. Which is often ... wait for it ... crap.

Once you take that extra minute to find something it's only a matter of time before you find a network of entertainment better suited to you.

People like things because they think other people like them. Marketing is the key. If it weren't, would people really give a rat's ass about Paris Hilton?

Milla said...

Hi, Graeme, you are so on the money. This sentence says it all: "Those same agents and publishers ignore their own advice and buy up dreck and drool over celebrity deals so they can shift vast amounts of their garbage at Christmas." I came here via Lane's and like what I see.

Graeme K Talboys said...

Thanks, folks, for your responses. I suspect it is an issue to which I will return.