Michelle Gagnon, who writes the Kelly Jones thrillers and is one of the authors responsible for The Kill Zone, this week blogged about publishing being broken. She used as her evidence the recent $3.2 million two-book deal for the pilot who landed a jet in the Hudson in January and turned what would have been a disaster into the feel-good story of the year. She argued that not only is that a surprisingly large amount of dosh for any book in these financially strapped times but the inclusion of a book of poetry by Captain Sullenberger in the mix is…unexpected to say the least and went on to suggest that publishers should get back to ‘supporting good books by people who have devoted their lives to the craft of writing them’.
I take issue with this sentiment.
Do I think it’s daft that such a large amount of money is being thrown at someone who this time last year would have had a snowball’s chance in hell of garnering $3, 200 for a book deal based on his life let alone a book of poetry? Of course I do. Where I disagree with Ms Gagnon is that she blames publishers and I blame you.
There are, roughly, several gazillion of these books published each each year. Biographies and/or ‘life’ stories of near-nobodies and 15-minutes-of-fame ‘celebrities’ who cannot possibly have enough interesting things to say to fill a pamphlet let alone a whole book. But regardless of the worth, or lack of it, of a person’s story a lot of you are buying this rubbish otherwise publishers, a species not known for their philanthropy, wouldn’t be rushing quite so hard and paying quite so much for the rights to sell it.
A quick look at the biography section of a few online stores demonstrates my point:
- There are two Jade Goody autobiographies (here and here) which seems excessive given the 27 year-old’s entire claim to fame is having been kicked of UK Big Brother and currently having terminal cancer (the latter point is sad but hardly qualifies as unique)
- You can read about both sides of the marriage of Australian (sorry world) singer Peter André and his model/wife Katie Price (and again and again) even though it seems astonishing that anyone would be interested in even one musing of a 30-something fairly unsuccessful artist or his vapid wife.
- There are enough books about so-called sports stars and celebrities who succumb to the ‘pressures’ of their ‘jobs’ by diving into lives of drugs, sex and general debauchery that you could read one a week for the rest of your life and never run out (though I wouldn’t wish such a punishment on my worst enemy) and in case you’re wondering try Surfing’s Prince of Decadence or The Heroin Diaries: Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star or Tales of Glamour and Excess
- In the great tradition of people selling out their more famous relatives for a few pieces of silver we have Madonna’s brother’s book or Britney Spears’ mother’s book (like the woman hasn’t done enough damage to her daughters).
- And when you run out of famous folks to read about you can start on this biography of a racehorse (presumably ghost-written)
I could go on. And on. And on. But my doctors have warned against elevating my blood pressure above a certain level. My point is that publishers are only paying silly amounts of money for non-stories because they believe someone will buy them. Given the rise and rise of reality television, the continued success of celebrity gossip shows and websites and the fact that Britney Spears has (at time of writing) 492,282 followers on twitter they can be forgiven for thinking that way. Much as I might wish it weren’t so, celebrities are ‘in’ and publishers are just looking for their slice of the pie. Supporting writers devoted to their craft doesn’t, apprently, pay the bills.
On a positive note we can all be grateful for the small mercy that it was Captain ‘Sully’ who scored the poetry book as part of his deal and not the week’s other big book-deal winner: George W Bush.