Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Price is right?

Speaking as an author, who is a member and regular poster on several reading and writing sites, there is one subject that is guaranteed to be a good discussion and that is Katie Price and her books. Love her or loathe her, Katie and her books always spark controversy, with plenty of differing views.

Two articles have been circulating around the national press this week regarding this very same subject, one in the Daily Mail and one on the blog of author and ghost writer Andrew Crofts.

The article in the Daily Mail, which is written by Lionel Shriver, bemoans the fact that Katie's books are selling faster than JK Rowling's, which is no mean feat. Gone are the days when writers were seen as shy retiring sorts, who were slightly eccentric, as they are now ego drive celebrities who are willing to court publicity at any cost. If the best sellers charts are to be believed, then in order to become successful in this game (as a woman anyway), you have to have large breasts (preferably surgically enhanced), be married to or in a relationship with someone famous, or go on some meaningless reality TV show. In Katie's case, she has done all three.

In some ways you have to admire her business sense, and you can hardly blame her for cashing in on others appetite for the gory details of her private life (and some details in her book really are private), but it does not mean that it is right. I am not sure if I would reveal anwhere near what she has for any price, let alone the £17 million, which she is reportedly worth.

The fact that her books are ghost written only adds to the controversy, for how can she really be called an author? It somehow does not seem fair that she earns all this money from books that she has not written, when others who do write struggle on so little, with no recognition at all.

Andrew Croft makes the point that every so often (not that I ever see it) there is a burst of indignation within the media about how little serious authors earn (although he fails to define what a serious author is). Figures are bandied about and comparisons are made, such as the fact that Katie makes more money from the books that she puts her name to than the entire Man Booker shortlist put together. Given her 'celebrity' status, and the mentality of the average 20 something who reads this stuff, this is to be expected. The boss of Waterstones makes more than the people who write the books that they sell, and the Chairman of our company more than the factory workers in Korea, where we obtain our televisions from. The fact that this happens does not though mean that it is morally or ethically right.

Andrew goes on to say that the average earnings of members of the Society of Authors are often brought up to illustrate how poorly writers are rewarded, yet we are able to exercise some form of control by working harder. It is true that if you write just one book a year, then you are not likely to get rich, but you have to have the time to do this in the first place. It is all very well saying that writers should work harder by writing eight hours a day and doing this that and the other, but how are we supposed to pay our bills while we do this? Sitting at home writing all day does not put food on the table and coins in the gas metre.

It is true that the most successful writers are the most versatile, and the most marketable, but we don't all have rich partners or parents to fall back on. We have to work outside the home (and this means outside of writing) in order to support ourselves. It is catch 22; you have to be out there promoting your work and creating the next one, but do not have the financial means to do this.

The best way to be succesful (apart from having a rich someone to support you, or relying on benefits) is to have a varied portfolio of different types of work and a long list of contacts. Both have to be worked at and do not happen overnight. The most successful writers are the ones who are continually promoting themselves and their work (or brand), as indeed does Katie.

It is easy to deride her for marketing so blatantly (and you don't get much more blatant than she did on Spanish TV - giving far too much detail about the reason for her sore throat - so I was told by an expatriate friend), but she would not be where she is had she not done this (marketed that is). Sad as it is, in many ways, her success can be seen as lesson for all of us, in refusing to take no for an answer, and making the most of what we have.

I may not like her or what she has done, but I have to admit that she has had to overcome an awful lot of snobbery to get to where she is today. Five years ago she was a struggling glamour model whose career was in decline, with what Andrew refers to as 'a tabloid reputation'. When she approached publishers with the idea of writing a book about her life, she received a less than enthusiastic welcome. Only John Blake, a man famed for his open mind on different subjects, was willing to give her a chance. He bought her book 'Being Jordan' for about two per cent of the price that Katie and her people had initially asked for. The book turned into a resounding success, and the rest as they say is history.

Those who turned her down must surely be kicking themselves, as those who turned down JK Rowling (and June Austin!) before them. By teaming up with Blake, Katie was able to appeal direct to the general public over the heads of the publishing elite who have traditionally set themselves up as the gatekeepers of what the public should or should not read (a subject I know all about). Having got to know her via exposure on television (I'm A Celebrity and the truly awful Katie and Peter certainly helped), the public responded by buying her books by the cartload. She appealed particularly to young women, through her obvious love and concern for disabled son Harvey, and penchant for wrong men.

Her writing career has been nothing less than a phenomena, which no one could have foreseen. It is not confined to her own memoirs, as she also puts her name to children's books about horses and riding, one of which was nominated for a prestigous book prize earlier this year. Her success contains several lessons for would be writers. Firstly, not to be out off by rejections, and secondly to settle for a modest advance in order to get started. Once this had happened, she did not sit around waiting for people to buy her books, but got out there and actively promoted them, bringing herself into the public eye to spark peoples interest.

On occasions I have been accused of jealousy regarding Katie, and I must admit that some of my comments have been less than charitable. I do not like her personality or her approach to fame, and there is no way that I would want that sort of lifestyle (just give me the fortune and forget the fame), but I have to admit that she has made some pretty astute business decisions and worked damned hard to get where she is. Her fame though comes at a price, and for me that price is just a little too high.

No comments: