Monday, 9 November 2009

Ghosts at Christmas

A huge gap since the last post. Sorry, but I've been busy on the day job: writing novels. But I have been impelled to return to blogging by the joyous news that Sarah Palin will have a new book out for Christmas. You remember Sarah? Aw come on, of course you do. She was the raunchy, moose-shooting Alaskan governor who ran as the Republican candidate for Vice President a year ago and was one of the main reasons why Obama walked into the White House so easily.

She resigned her governership and her book - "Going Rogue: an American Life," for which she trousered an advance of $1.25 million - will be published later this month. I read that it is already listed as No 1 on Amazon com. even before publication. Being a candidate for one of the most intellectually demanding jobs in America (and therefore the world), she wrote it herself, of course...? Hell no! It was ghosted. Presumably Sarah was too busy hunting moose.

All of this has drawn me into the great debate which is consuming the great and the good of the British publishing industry just now. Its subject can be summed up like this: why oh why is it that the best sellers lists at Christmas - and at other times in the year, for that matter - are topped by books carrying the names of celebrities who usually have not written them and even sometimes have not even read them?

I look forward with trepidation to Sarah being joined at the top of our best sellers this year by Jordan's new "novel," The Price of Silicone," and Wayne Rooney's "How to be a Father."
Like Palin's effort, of course, they will have been written by professional ghost writers, because the "authors" are not capable of telling their own story. As writers, they can't write.

Does it matter if this is what the public wants? That is the defence entered by the publishers who make money on these publications, of course. They have to give the reading public what it desires, they say, even if this involves a mild deception in that, despite the name of the "ghost" being carried on the cover, the readers may well believe that it is the celebrity herself who is putting the words and the opinions together.

But it does matter, particularly at this time of recession with publishers laying off writers in the middle and bottom of their earning lists. There is only so much money that can be given to authors in terms of advances, royalties and share of publishers' promotional budgets and with the celebrities demanding huge sums for books they don't write, it is the less well-known writers tenaciously building a following who will suffer.

The additional point being made by well established authors, good pro's at the top of their game who are not themselves in danger, is that publishers have a professional and sociological duty to maintain excellence in their lists and publishing these shallow reminiscences and even "novels" is certainly not doing that. It is going to be even more difficult for the next J.K. Rowlings to break through and tell their wonderful tales when publishers' already pressurised time and budgets are dominated by ghosted rubbish.

Sour grapes? You betchya! With seven novels and three books of non-fiction under my belt I reckon I have a right to be annoyed when amateurs jump the bread line queue. In fact, I am thinking of standing as a vice presidential candidate in the next US elections.