I have been thinking about the Christmas book trade over the past few weeks, even more so after reading this article about Jamie Oliver topping the book selling chart for the week before Christmas. The market is flooded at this time of year with books (fiction and non-fiction) written by celebrities of one kind or another. From cook books to children’s books, biographies and novels written by actors, models, singers, comedians etc., they all get so much publicity and therefore so many millions of sales. When it comes to novels in particular, I wonder how many are actually written by the person whose name is on the cover?
One the one hand, I see this as unfair, whether the book was actually written by the person or not. The Christmas publishing market is dominated by these celebrity juggernauts, who get to add more money to their pockets and recognition to their careers, while other authors struggle to even get passed the first hurdle – namely a publisher actually reading the first few pages of their work. The rocketing numbers of books sold at this time of year seems to be down to a combination of big name authors and money being ploughed into advertising left right and centre. Who can remember seeing a TV advert for the latest new author in, say, February, or any other month that isn’t in Christmas shopping season? Do most people only read books at certain times of year? As a struggling author without a celebrity name to back up my marketing campaign, I do see this as quite unfair. And, I might add, there is no question as to whether I wrote the whole novel myself!
However, there is an upside. The money generated by these Christmas sales can help to keep publishers going. It can help them perhaps take a chance on new, unknown authors – doing so can be risky, as there is a chance the publisher could make a loss. Also, if a book bought as a Christmas present encourages someone to read, someone who might not have picked up a book otherwise, surely that can only be a good thing.
So while it is still fairly irritating to see the charts littered with celebrity authors, some of whom churn out utter rubbish and yet still seem to be paid a fortune (Katie Price, Tyra Banks anyone?), there can also be an upside. And lets face it, they’re not all as bad as that. And on the question of whether or not a celebrity can be an author, it might also be worth thinking about whether an author is a celebrity? In the past, before the cult of celebrity, before TV and film made people household names, were authors and playwrights not the celebrities of their day?
One final thought for this post has to be this – of the millions of books sold as Christmas presents in November/December and dished out on Christmas day, how many of them are left unread and gathering dust the following year?