Friday, 3 October 2008

Sometimes it feels as if the world has gone mad

I've been absent for a while and the world has gone crazy. As writers and readers we reflect this madness. Can authors save the world? Can I as an author help?

I'm reasonably good at maths, but no one has asked me to sort out the Wall Street fiasco nor have they called on my political skills to stand in the US election. It's true I'm not an American citizen, but I do frequently create both military and diplomatic dissension in my writing and then I resolve it, so I guess you could say I have a lot of foreign policy experience. After all what could be more foreign than a fictional reality? I could spin off here into comments about the media and fiction and how I view it all as an once-journalist. But, more importantly... 

Fiction cannot be other than a mirror to reality. As authors we write from our own experience however we clothe our tale. We aspire to touch our readers - in the most cases for the better. Publishers have to be concerned with what will sell - this may sound harsh, but they need to stay in business.

Let us consider the current craziness..

Beaufort books are speeding up their publication of The Jewel of Medina, a fictionalized tale of Aisha, wife of the Prophet Muhammad. The novel had earlier been dropped by Random house because of threats of violence. Bearing in mind that last weekend three men were arrested for firebombing the Beaufort's London office, these threats don't appear to have been idle. Beaufort have said that they believe that once the book is out there any threat will be neutralized. While author Sherry Jones says she feels no threat to her personal safety. What do I think? I think she's a brave lady. I believe in free prose, but I don't believe in denigration of creeds or cultures. I don't have a clue if Ms Jones' work lampoons an old and noble religion - and at this point the only people who do know are Ms Jones and her publisher. 

As the world whirls readers need their escapism and they want it in particular, but unpredictable forms. At one of the Spectrum we have the happy world of  the once single mother on benefit JK Rowling, who wrote her way to fame and last year earned an estimated $300 million. Forbes reports that second on the list of best selling authors is James Paterson with $50million with Stephen King (didn't he retire?) earning a mere $45 million. The tales of magical boarding schools now outselling a master of horror? (The master of horror?) What is it the modern public wants?

While over here in the UK the majority of authors earn around £5,000 a year - which I guestimate comes out at $8,800. This and the never ending pantomime of is print publishing here to stay or will it be gone tomorrow means that with the average lead time of a year for a book to make it into print publishers now days need a crystal ball to predict success. Or they need something outrageous, contentious or celeb backed. 

Macmillian is happily reporting today that Gerri Halliwell's Ugenda Lavender's series is the 'most successful female celebrity children's author of 2008'.  I think I have must have been blinking too much because I certainly missed the whole 'celebrity children's author' becoming a category in its own right. Though I don't doubt we will soon be seeing this special book corner labelled in stores. 

Of course there is nothing preventing a celebrity from being a damn good author. There is also nothing preventing a non-celebrity from being one either, but I think we both know who publishers will forecast as a long shot.

Definitions on what actually constitutes a celebrity are invited.

(News of what I'm personally achieving must wait for future posts as contracts are signed and deals are done. However, I fear I shall continue to fail to be contentious or warm and fuzzy. Should I take singing lessons?)


Anonymous said...

Small correction: At current exchange rates, GBP 5000 is about USD 10,000.

Caroline Dunford said...

Thank you Rdi and all those who emailed me privately somewhere between feeding the baby and getting the big child out to drama I seem to have dropped my brain.
I did, indeed, do the opposite of what is necessary to convert pounds to dollars.