Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Ho, Ho, Ho!

As the US dollar went into free-fall, as the financial pundits like to describe it, bringing gloom and despondency to those of us who glean some of their royalties from across the pond, there was a ray of hope, although it certainly wasn’t from reading the newspapers.

“Worst Christmas Ever” ran a headline in the Daily Telegraph. It seemed to be in the past tense. I was surprised and thought for a moment that I might have missed it altogether. I rather enjoy Christmas and worried that it might have passed me by this year. I looked around me but there was no sign of the usual festive stuff, tree and tinsel etc. My wife is usually on top of this sort of thing and I felt sure that she would have spotted the date in time to make the arrangements, and to have dragged the decorations from their resting place in the garden shed.

Reading a little further, I found that the headline had, as so often, misled me. It related not to the season of peace and goodwill to all men, but to the festival devoted to Mammon and the retailers in the High Street, which, as you know, has now replaced that stuffy old religious idea.

Apparently, sales are down but I fail to see how it could be the “worst ever” for the retail business. On the first celebration of the festival, my understanding was that only three showed up with presents, which can hardly have kept the tills ringing in Bethlehem.

But back to my personal ray of hope.

According to The Bookseller, the sort of official publication that monitors how we authors might be faring, the boom in so-called “celebrity” biographies and auto-biographies has gone bust. And a jolly good job too, in my opinion.

Mind you, there’s a touch of the old sour grapes there as far as I’m concerned, since I’ve never been asked to work on any of these masterpieces. And apart from the money, I can’t say I’m sorry.

Gordon Ramsay, Peter Kay, DJ Chris Moyles, Kerry Katona , Chantelle Houghton from Big Brother, Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole, Julie Goodyear, Pete from Big Brother, Jade Goody, Billie Piper, and Peter Andre are among those whose books are piling up in stacks, unsold, at the bookstores. Don’t rush to buy a copy now, they’ll be on sale as “publisher’s remainders” right after Christmas.

The sour grapes part comes from not one of them having asked me for a hand with these, which is probably just as well, as I haven’t the faintest idea who most of them are.

In future, publishers may well be less inclined to reach for their chequebooks to pay ridiculous advances for books concerning these essentially uninteresting people. An advance of £4 million to someone called Wayne Rooney has so far resulted in sales of only 35,000 for the first of this four part edition, hardly the sort of return that is going to keep his publisher in cigars. Rooney is about twenty-one years old, I understand, and his ghost writer must be scratching his head over how to fill in the next three volumes on his “life.” And Ashley Cole, in a similar line of work, I believe, paid a trifling £250,000 for his efforts, has sold only 4000 copies, a figure which even my last book surpassed. To put this in perspective, it must be remembered, as you reach for your calculator, that the retailer gets a hefty 55% discount on these.

The good news is, of course, that publishers must now realise that the public are pretty bored with the inconsequential lives of virtual nonentities and will now be prepared to take a closer look at stories of what might best be referred to as “real people.” For me, as this is an area that I tend to work in, this is the good news and, of course, for those who would like to have their stories published.

It does mean that the writing might have to come up to a slightly higher standard than, for instance, the sort of anecdote that Chantelle, whoever she might be, quotes: “The thing that made the most difference was plucking my eyebrows when I was 16. I can't imagine why I didn't do it earlier.” And this is one of the more erudite passages.

So many have really interesting stories to tell, stories whose interest far exceeds blatherings concerning the trivial talents of a soccer player or a talent less TV performer (not even a performer – I suppose appearer would be more appropriate). And such tales contribute far more to our social history than these pathetic outpourings of personal and often spurious reminiscences.

The nadir of the publishing of such garbage was probably reached with the now infamous O.J. Simpson proposed book, bizarrely entitled “How I Might Have Done It.”

Perhaps he might have done us all a great favour and brought the publishing world to its senses.