Sunday, March 23, 2008

Celebrities fast tracking the publishing system

The Book lovers forum of which I am a member has an interesting discussion going at the moment entitled Celebs fast tracking the publishing system. Not that long ago, I was fiercely attacked on the same site for daring to state that it was unfair that celebrities such as Jordan (she will always be that to me and not Katie Price) were cashing in on others talents and claiming the glory for books that may well have been based on their own ideas, but were not in actual fact written by them at all. Those members who attacked me for having the audacity to suggest that brand Jordan was little more than a pair of breasts are it seems in the minority, for this new thread has far more supporters than critics.

I make the point, as I did in a recent article on Linda Jones' Freelance Writing Tips blog site that it seems a really sad indictment of our society when a ghost written novel by an ex glamour model sells more copies than the winner of the Booker prize for literature. It seems ironic to me that self publishing is seen as vanity press, by pandering to clients egos, when commercial publishers are in fact the real culprits. They may well be responding to market trends, and these books may well sell in the cartloads to blonde twenty somethings with nothing better to spend their money on, but the majority of book buyers in this country are not in that age range, but are in fact middle aged, and born during the sixties baby boom years. These people are not in the slightest bit interested in the so-called celebrity culture, in fact it bores them to tears.

It seems to me that far from self publishing being vanity press, commercial publishers that offer vast sums to celebrities in order to publish their works, or more accurately ideas, are the ones who are really guilt of vanity. This sets up a three way symbiotic relationship that feeds the ego of the celebrity keeping them in the public eye, at the same time offering publicity to the publisher who makes even more money. This also in turn feeds the illusion that celebrity status is desirable as it gives fame and fortune thus making the public, especially young women, feel that their own lives and aspirations are inadequate.

I believe that books at their best should enlighten and educate, making us think about the issues that really matter, whether through fiction or non fiction. Books such as these celebrity titles do nothing to either educate or enlighten, but have the opposite effect. They contribute to the general dumbing down of society by feeding the public with an endless supply of meaningless drivel that keeps their minds in overdrive and acts as a distraction that ultimately keeps both them and the so-called celebrities in chains as they have to work ever harder in order to maintain the illusion.

In its own way, the rise in self publishing can be seen as a by product of the so-called celebrity culture, since it leads people to a false sense of their own superiority, believing that if these celebrities, most of whom have no obvious talent apart from courting publicity, can do it, then so too can they. It is then partly the industry’s own attitude that has created this explosion.

It seems to me that commercial publishers have painted themselves into a corner, as by focusing on celebrities, who make up a very small proportion of the population and demand much higher advances, there is little money left with which to nurture new talent that comes from the many. The many grow to resent this as they are not being given equal opportunity, and so choose to take matters into their own hands and redress the imbalance by self publishing. That as I have discovered, has its own set of problems though ...

It seems that I am not the only one to be feeling as I do and criticising the rise in celebrity books. Award winning author Zadie Smith has launched a blistering attack on literary prizes. Critics of course say that this is rich coming from someone whose career was arguably kick started by such competitions, but she does have a a valid point when she says that most literary prizes are "only nominally" about literature. She goes on to state that "They are really about brand consolidation for beer companies, phone companies, coffee companies and even frozen food companies." Celebrities such as Jordan are increasingly seen as a brand in their own right, so these comments apply just as much to the rise in celebrity books as any other kind.

Bear in mind as I write this that Jordan's (Katie Price's) book Perfect Ponies: My Pony Care Book has been nominated for one of the most prestigious prizes in literature alongside the likes of Doris Lessing, Khaled Hosseini and Ian McEwan. Price's book has it seems been shortlisted for the WH Smith Children’s Book of the Year award, which is seen to many as the “Oscars” of the book trade – a decision that has whipped large sections of the literary world into a frenzy of disapproval, largely because she did not write one single word of it herself.

Somewhat depressingly, Price is one of the most commercially successful writers in the country. The Society of Authors has been inundated with complaints from concerned members. Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring, who chairs the organisation, said: “I’m shocked. I’m amazed the publishers even put the book up. If it’s ghost-written then it’s inappropriate that it should be shortlisted. I am disappointed by the judges.” I have to say that I agree with her.

Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat and several children's titles said that it would be “depressing beyond anything” if Price wins on April 9th. “If this is an award for people who write books then it should be open only to people who write books, not to somebody who lends their name to a book, or who would have written a book if they had time but didn’t.”

Robert Harris, the author of Fatherland, whose most recent novel was about a ghostwriter, summed up by own views when he said that Price’s nomination was “emblematic of the tacky culture we live in”. It is as he says though a sad fact of life that “Very often the books are by writers who would not be able to make a living writing under their own name but if you put a celebrity name on the cover then it becomes marketable.”

In the meantime, the current Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen has leapt to Price's defense stating that “We get too hung up about authorship. None of us writes a book entirely on our own. We get help from editors, or ideas might come from conversations with our families, or children. The issue is whether the book’s good, not who has written it. If Jordan or any of her helpers have written a very good book, then absolutely good luck to them.”

I cannot help feel that he is missing the point. Yes we do all get help from others. In my case that help came from first and foremost from my wonderful partner and soul mate Coran, but also like he says from friends, and the various other authors whose books I used for research purposes. I was the one who spent five years though collating the information and putting it in the correct order - no one else. I was also the one who paid the money to publish my work and spent hour upon hour doing my utmost to get my book seen an noticed. It is then about honouring the creator of the work for their input and hard work. In this instance I have to disagree with Rosen, that authorship is indeed everything.

It does occur to me though, having said all of this, that the judges of said awards may in some way be being used (strictly unconsciously of course, as people nearly always are) by spirit to highlight these issues and bring them more widely into the public arena in order to open up discussions regarding the ethics or otherwise of the modern publishing world. Spirit does indeed move in mysterious ways, and who knows what goes on behind the scenes or what the higher agenda is. I often wish that I did, but then again, if I knew everything there was to know then what would be the point of me being here? I am here like everyone else to learn more about myself and then put what l learn into practise in the way that best serves myself and the rest of humanity. God never promised that it would be an easy ride, and actually I would rather it wasn't, for we learn through adversity and pain. If life was all love and light where would be the growth and the evolution?

1 comment:

Slim said...

Your article says what a lot of authors think (both self pub'd and mainstream) and what gets my goat is the fact that something like this can be put forward by the publisher and yet these compos cannot be entered by the likes of us self pub's.
I have read several SP books that are as good, as if not better than, some of the mainstream.
My own tomes have been praised online and in newspaper reviews and one was shortlisted for the 2007 Blooker Prize.
Can I get an agent or mainstream publisher? The spike in my kitchen appears to say no.