Monday, June 18, 2007

Idle gossip

Helen De Witt is a successful author who wants a better financial deal. Fair enough. And one way to get it, Helen thinks, is to enable writers to earn a royalty whenever one of their books is sold secondhand.

This is not a new idea, and I discussed A.S. Byatt's version of it on 3 February 2005. I was unkeen, on grounds of practicality. I remain unkeen. Helen has discovered that the UK Society of Authors is also unkeen; as is the US Authors' Guild. George Monbiot likes it though. See what you think.

Crimeficreader at It's a crime! (or a mystery...) draws my attention to some interesting interviews that she has recently conducted.

First there's one with Brian McGilloway, author of Borderlands. McGilloway, as noted here on several occasions, is having considerable success with his first crime novel, which is to be developed into a series. Perhaps the most interesting point in this interview, for me, is McGilloway's suggestion that some of the minor characters in his book might become central figures in a novel of their own. This was something that I suggested as a possibility in my original review of Borderlands.

Then there's Crimeficreader's interview with Roger Morris, whose Taking Comfort was an early Macmillan New Writing publication last year. It turns out that in February this year, Roger had a novel published by Faber. Titled A Gentle Axe, by R.N. Morris rather than Roger, it has attracted the attention of editors elsewhere, and foreign rights have been sold to 17 countries so far. That is pretty damn impressive. And I'm not too surprised that Roger has been taken up by Faber: Taking Comfort was itself a Faberish sort of book.

The third interview is with Chris Ewan, who is published by Susan Hill's Long Barn Books. And Susan Hill is a most discerning judge. Chris Ewan's book, The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam, was reviewed earlier on the same blog.

Galleycat brings us up to date on O.J. Simpson's book. (You can't have forgotten, surely?) ABC News had a sort of scoop, in that they got hold of a 117-page deposition from O.J.'s daughter. She is questioned by a gentleman who refers to 3 o'clock in the afternoon as 'late in the day'.

I didn't intend to read this document at all, but having clicked on it I found it sufficiently intriguing to keep going. It provides an extraordinary insight into the complicated dealings of a complicated family, and the even more complicated legal affairs of the paterfamilias. None of the Simpsons seems to be overburdened with brains, and they have a touching faith in the wisdom of lawyers.

You can't help admiring the Simpsons' get-up-and-go, though, can you? Oh, all right then.

In the UK hardback bestsellers list, top place this week is held by Crystal: author, one Katie Price.

Not a name known outside the UK, this lady is best known for being famous. She is a 'model' and general show-business personality, remarkable chiefly for her enormous, and surgically enhanced, bosom.

Katie Price did not, of course, write her number-one hardback bestseller herself. It was ghosted. Katie/Jordan is simply a brand name: a marketing device, attached to the book in order to give it visibility through her appearances on chat shows and the like.

In case you think I disapprove, let me disabuse you. I have said here, more than once, that, if you're in the commercial fiction business, you might as well go the whole hog and do the job properly.

Katie, however, now has a rival. Kerry Katona (another name little known outside the UK, I believe) has signed up with Ebury Press, in a similar sort of deal. Madame Arcati has commented, and has thrown in a few ideas for young Kerry as well.

I see that Madame has mentioned Jodie Marsh in passing. Jodie is another of these young and well-bosomed ladies. At one time Jodie was said to have a five-book contract. I wonder what happened to that? Maybe she wanted to write them herself? If so, a great error of judgement.

Word from America was that Tina Brown's new book on Princess Diana was rather dull. But A.N. Wilson (no mean judge) disagrees: he thinks it's a masterpiece of muck-raking.

I don't want to appear boastful to our American friends, but really, when you look at the history of the last 500 years, it is perfectly obvious that the Brits have been everywhere and done everything. Afghanistan and Iraq, for instance. Been there and done it, long before the latest lot.

Not only have we been everywhere and done everything that you can imagine, we have also done things that you couldn't possibly imagine. Not, that is, unless you were prepared to write bizarre fiction without a hope of publication because of its lack of credibility.

Consider, for example, north Borneo. Once known as Sarawak, it was ruled for 100 years by white rajahs from England: family by the name of Brooke. They were effectively absolute monarchs, unhampered by any kind of parliament, and all the young women walked around topless.

Philip Eade has written a book about one of the family: woman by the name of Sylvia.

Jeanette Winterson's latest book, Tanglewreck, turns out to be a children's book. And it looks rather fun.

This morning's Times has an article based on a 'confidential' letter to publishers from the powerful UK chain bookseller, Waterstone's. The letter sets out the prices that publishers have to pay if they want their books displayed in the window, piled near the till, and so forth.
The most expensive package, available for only six books and designed to “maximise the potential of the biggest titles for Christmas”, costs £45,000 per title. The next category down offers prominent display spots at the front of each branch to about 45 new books for £25,000 [each]. Inclusion on the Paperbacks of the Year list costs up to £7,000 for each book, while an entry in Waterstone’s Gift Guide, with a book review, is a relative snip at £500.
The details of this story are new, but the fact that big booksellers are charging publishers for putting their books in prime selling spots in the shop is not new. It was described, for example, in the Spectator in 2001.

Various customers in the Waterstone's shops are being quoted as outraged by all this, but in fact the book trade is merely trailing along in the path of the big supermarkets and other retailers, which have bullied their suppliers ruthlessly for decades. See, for example, Felicity Lawrence's valuable expose, Not on the Label.

The important point to be noted here, however, is that all young and inexperienced wannabe writers had better make quite sure that they understand what kind of a business they are getting into, before they go wasting their time and ruining their health by devoting endless hours to writing a book.


marydell said...

"I don't want to appear boastful to our American friends, but really, when you look at the history of the last 500 years, it is perfectly obvious that the Brits have been everywhere and done everything."

This very well may be true, but the United States has only been independent for about 230 years. We've done quite a bit in our short history compared to the hundreds upon hundreds of years the Brits have had to wield their influence around the globe. In terms of bizarre fiction, we'll have it soon covered when Fred Goldman publishes O.J.'s "confession."

Angelle Haney Gullett said...

I don't think Ms. DeWitt will see too much success in creating systemic change. However, I do sort of love her idea of a "tip" on used books, if you like them. Having bought a number of very cheap used books that were absolutely killer, I would be happy to contribute to the author.

I can see the infomercial now - "For less than the cost of a glass of whiskey, you can save a starving midlister . . ."

I kid because I love; is there a business reason (such as flogging new books) why authors wouldn't want to put such a "tip jar" on their sites?

Imani said...

forty-five thousand pounds!? How on earth do the books make that back?

Roger Morris said...

Thank you for the mention, Michael. I was tipped off that you were on to me!

Anonymous said...

Good to see bosoms and breathless bimbos leading the lists again. Mark me, Paris Hilton will be next to the top, describing her epiphanies during one month in a cushy jail cell.

Unknown said...

I don't think royalties on secondhand sales is possible. There's no way to track flea markets or garage sales. I've bought a lot of secondhand books because of the lower cost. I think an increase in price (which would be the result of attempting to provide royalties on secondhand sales) would only dissuade those on limited budgets from buying.

Just my opinion.

Thank you again for a wonderfully informative post - always a delight to read!

Anonymous said...

royalties for 2nd hand books? feel wrong & evil.

i like the idea of a website where if you really enjoyed a book you could pay the author a little extra, even if just 10 pence. i've read some very good & dirt cheap out-of-print books where i'd have happily sent the author an extra quid, e.g. Catherine Fox's 'Angels and Men' and Anita Mason's 'The Illusionist'.

only a nutter would go into writing to make money.