Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Author as Product

Once upon a time publishers used to sell books. Now, more and more they are selling personalities.

On October 1st this year eight hundred new titles were published. This stunning number is in part due to the theory that it takes most books three months to succeed or fail, so October 1st is the ideal date to start the race to be in the Christmas best seller list. (There also being this year the unspoken yet fervent hope that the credit crunch will encourage 2009 present shoppers to go for books rather than expensive techno gadgets.)

On October 10th my crime novel A Death in the Family was released into this maelstrom to fend for itself. My lovely publisher is doing all they can, but without a marketing budget into five (or even six) figures for me, like many authors, it's a struggle to be seen.

Not surprisingly with this sudden onslaught of books the ones that so far have been rising to the top are the celebrity autobiographies and novels with celebrity names on the cover. To accompany this the celebrities are out doing the signing rounds and to their fans the price of a book is a small token to pay to meet their idols - and so celebrity reads shoot up the best seller list and become the most talked about books.

This can cause a bit of consternation among more regular authors. You see, it is not uncommon for a busy celeb to outline their idea to a ghost writer, who will do the hard graft of actually writing the book. Then all the celeb has to do is ensure they read the book before they turn up at a signing, so they are familiar with what is in it. For those of us who write away in our garrets and send out our work without the backing of a tv or glamour career it can be hard to compete.

Because the sad fact is that authors are in competition with celebrity reads. You could argue they are entirely different kind of products, but they're both stacked side by side on the shelves and thus in direct competition for the buyer's hard earned cash.

Imagine Aunt Mary trying to buy a Christmas present for her teenage niece. She has to decide whether to buy what looks as if it could be a jolly good story by an author whose name seems vaguely familiar, or does she go for the glossy, picture-book autobiography of a house-hold name? Which one will produce the initial oohs and aahs of pleasure when unwrapped?

But it's not over yet. The regular authors are fighting back. Some of our stars are becoming celebrities in their own right for nothing more than writing their own books. Today, more than ever, authors are actively building their own fan bases.

We now attend more literary festivals than ever before, do more signings and put ourselves up for what was once the celebrity only territory of after dinner speeches. The days of the author-in-shady-garret are over. If you want to sell you have to convince your public. But without the wigs, make-up, push-up bras, scandalous careers, singing voice or tv career what can an author do?

They can perform. The harsh reality is authors now have to entertain not only on the page but in person. We write blogs, we join facebook, and we network like the possessed and we go to voice workshops.

Regular authors promote their work through being passionate about their story. We aim to make you fall in love with our characters as deeply as we have done ourselves. We might get our nails done or buy new shoes, but we are not inherently glamourous. All we can deliver is a passion for our craft. We aim to give you a window into our mind where our characters and ideas formed - where are heroes and heroines were first born. We are becoming performers but in quite a different way. We are the mouthpieces for our characters and the ideas and themes embedded in our work rather than for our own life-stories.

Both the celeb reads and the more mainstream authorial works are both reflections of our society. All books are mirrors of ourselves and our world whether we seek within them escapism, inspiration or understanding. And all have much to offer.

And here is me - doing my best to be author as product and reading an extract from A Death in the Family.


Jay Tee said...

I have been reading 'A Death in the Family' and have been enjoying it. I Agree with what you say and am wondering when the second book will be avalible to purchase? If possible could you also tell us something about the story.

Caroline Dunford said...

Hi Jay,

I'm glad you're enjoying 'A Death in the Family'. The second in the series 'A Death in the Highlands' comes out in May 2010. Without giving too much away I can say that the second series sees Euphemia desperate to solve another murder when a close friend is implicated. This time she working in a hunting lodge in Scotland. There's a host of guests many of whom turn out not to be quite who they appear.