Monday, October 18, 2004

Resumption of duties

Well, I'm back. More or less. Not yet firing on all four cylinders, but breathing. Meanwhile what has been going on?

A quick scan through the last page or two of book2book reveals that, while I've been hors de combat, some of our old favourites have cropped up once more.

W.H. Smith has been losing money again, and Tim Waterstone is thinking of putting in a bid for the company. So, it's been business as usual in both those quarters then.

The Frankfurt Book Fair normally generates a few stories about unknown authors who have produced works of staggering genius which have generated 'bidding frenzies' among publishers who just have to have the book for their list. The story I noticed this year is about Stuart Hill who (as usual in these cases) failed his 11-plus exam. His book has been bought by Barry Cunningham, who was the sole editor in London to have the gumption to buy the first Harry Potter book, though even he had absolutely no idea how big Harry was going to get.

The Independent tells us that Mr Hill's book 'looks set to become next year's hottest seller when it hits the bookshops in January.' Well, excuse me for pointing this out, but the book trade goes dead in January, after the Christmas peak, and if you throw enough publicity money at a book at that time it isn't too difficult to make an impression on the charts.

What else? Oh yes, there's a bloody great bitchy row at HarperCollins (or so the Guardian alleges) about -- of all unimaginable things -- books which aren't selling.

Dear me. The story is worth reading for all its glorious in-fighting detail. Basically, there are three superwomen involved, all of them convinced that they know how to find the supersellers which are needed for survival in today's book trade, and all of them -- ahem -- subject to criticism (from men, who would have believed it?) for not delivering what they promised.

Caroline Michel, for instance, has spent lots of money on books by the like of Jeannette Winterson, Greg Dyke and Jon Snow, and they just aren't doing very well. Hard to credit, isn't it? So her boss, Amanda Ridout, is less than pleased, and the overall boss lady of the entire shooting match, Victoria Barnsley, is said to be 'slightly disengaged from what is going on.'

Well, it can't be more than a week or two since I pointed out in these very columns that (a) today's editors are desperate to find the big sellers, and (b) they haven't the faintest idea how to do it. So they thrash around, throwing money at projects and making sacrifices to the gods. Small wonder that the strategy doesn't always succeed.

That's quite enough of all that nonsense. What of the actual books which are worth reading?

Well, Terry Pratchett has a new book out, Going Postal, and there can't be all that much wrong with the world in a week when that happens.

The local library, meanwhile, tells me that they have lots of stuff waiting for me, and with a bit of luck most of it will be a damn sight more rewarding than reading about the chaotic state of the British book trade -- a trade which, as all experienced observers have long since noted, is far beyond anyone's help or understanding.

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