We’ve been talking about what the general public chooses to read, see and do (see Simple Dismal comments).
It’s incredibly important for anyone working in the public arena to understand that the public does not like what we may like, and to understand why. ‘Popular appeal’ is a phrase that holds a lot of meaning. Katie Price, Cheryl Cole, Peter Kaye, Subo and Jedward and Jeremy Clarkson, they’re all popular names for a reason. They strike a basic chord in people’s lives.
But they also have something in common; they reach the public on a variety of formats. Publishers are desperate for authors who aren’t just authors. We need to be on TV, or be like our characters, or be in movies, so that we have ‘cross-format appeal’.
But we fiction writers are just storytellers. As a writer once said, ‘I don’t perform, except at dinner.’ Personally speaking, I’m happy to get up in front of audiences, travel to far-flung venues to meet librarians and blog on a daily basis. But we don’t get paid for doing this. It’s easy to allow your writing job to become a 7-day week, and I often work for 16 hours a day. But the financial rewards are poor – the national average amount of money a writer makes in a year is £7,000.
So we do toilet books, TV spin-off books, articles, anything to continue. However, a day spent in a bookshop tallying what the public buys would shock you (I know, I’ve done it). People buy Jeremy Clarkson, Jamie Oliver and silly gift books at a ratio of about 20-1 against fiction novels.
That’s fine – I never set out to conquer the world, and I won’t turn out the kind of supermarket thriller which has a poster reading ‘He has 12 hours to find his missing daughter’ or ‘A gruesome new serial killer is on the loose’ because it would cheat my regular readers. But the crucial thing is not to assume the moral highground. I have nothing but respect for those who reach the mass appeal market, and often wish I could do it.
We all have guilty reading and viewing pleasures – mine include Viz, Glee, comics, cheesy horror films, chillout CDs and Norman Wisdom. But I think there’s a balance to be struck. I know people who are horrified by the fact that I like Offenbach and Gilbert & Sullivan, while not liking Wagner.
But I’ll keep an open mind and try anything, then choose what I choose without apology – the key is not minding when others do the same thing.