Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 16 July 2013

The Cult of Celebrity

Oh dear, oh dear, that bloke Robert Galbraith is causing a bit of a stir, isn’t he?

I’m not sure I should be commenting on this, but I sort of want to. It’s publishing after all, and I’m spectacularly good at failing to be published... so far, anyway.

It’s topical, and this blog is quite often topical, and I’ve got an opinion about the Galbraith/Rowling d├ębacle and you all know how I love to share my opinions all over the place.

It all began for me before the publication of The Casual Vacancy when I was having a conversation on Twitter with Ian Rankin. That conversation was reported by the Guardian; he was name-checked, naturally enough, but I was not, surprise surprise. Anyway, in that conversation, Ian speculated that, since Joanne had moved across town from him and Alexander McCall Smith, she was probably writing detective fiction. He said it partly in jest, I think; he is, after all, a bit of a wit at times.

I can’t tell you when that conversation took place, but it might well have been this time last year, in which case, The Cuckoo’s Calling was already written and Ian was right.
JK Rowling with her novel The Cuckoo's Calling

Robert Galbraith’s first novel sold around 1500 copies and got some good reviews, and Robert Galbraith could have been pretty proud of himself; he could have sat down to write his second novel in the hope that this was the beginning of a career. His numbers were pretty good by any standards.

The average sales for a first novel are 18.

I don’t remember where I got that number from, and it could be utterly bogus, but I like it. I like that it signifies something. That’s the number that I’m going with 1... 8... 18. Friends and relatives expect to get free copies from the author’s endless supply, (yeah, right!) and with 150,000 new titles published every year in the UK, is it any wonder that, for first time writers, who are paid very little and hardly publicised at all, it’s virtually impossible to get noticed by the reader?

you could argue that 1.5 billion books were sold in the UK last year, but that’s still only an average sales figure of 10,000 per title. JK Rowling has sold 450 million books. Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, alone, has sold 80 million books, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo another 30 million. The Hunger Games has sold 23 million copies and The Very Hungry Caterpillar has sold 30 million copies. You see, we’re not just talking about novels competing for sales, either.  The Lovely Bones has sold ten million copies and so has The Kite Runner.

Take all that into account and the number of copies a first time writer sells is looking more and more likely to actually be 18, isn’t it?

Robert Galbraith did OK. His publisher would’ve been content with the sales on his first book, knowing that he’d spent no money on it. His second book would come out next year, and the process of building a career would begin. Galbraith wouldn’t be giving up his day job any time soon, but that’s normal for writers starting out, and it always was. Ask Ian Rankin. I sat in an office with him for a couple of years between 1988 and 1990 while he was writing his first few Rebus novels. They’ve now sold 30 million copies Worldwide.

It’s easy to say that The Cuckoo’s Calling has hit number one in the lists this week because we now all know that J K Rowling wrote it. Well of course that’s true. It’s a no-brainer. What everyone’s forgetting is that Joanne Rowling was once a first time novelist, too. Her first Harry Potter novel was once her first ever novel, and it got the same treatment as everyone else's first novel, but, for whatever reasons, it took off. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone hit some sort of nerve with people, and they bought it for their kids, and their kids asked for more.

Honestly, I never particularly liked the books. I thought they were old-fashioned, reactionary, even. I didn’t like the mix of public school and magic, it all felt a bit too middle-class, Enid Blyton to me. Clearly I missed the point, somewhere along the line, and, honestly, my kids liked the books as much as other kids did.

I wish the experiment had lasted a little longer. I wish we’d seen Robert Galbraith’s career grow a little. I wish we’d been given a chance to see what the second book did and the one after that.

The one advantage that Galbraith had over some other writers was that he’d written a number of books before. He doesn’t have that advantage over me. I probably haven’t written as many words as Joanne Rowling, but I imagine I’ve written more than most breaking novelists, and I still haven’t published a novel with my own name on it.

Weird how she managed to do that first, and it appears that it’ll be the very last thing that I ever do in this business... if I ever manage to do it at all.

I, for one, don’t begrudge her any of it, and I can’t change the cult of celebrity. Honestly, I don’t ever want to be a part of it, either, but I can’t change it, and I don’t see the point of bitching about it.

This is how the World works. Suck it up. Trust me, with half-a-dozen unpublished novels in the drawer, and second prize in a major competition, with nothing to show for it, if I can be sanguine about it, you sure as hell can be. What’s more, I have solid plans for at least another three books.

I Keep producing work, and I hope that I keep producing better work, and I keep trusting it. My time will come, you’ll see.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure how much of Gilead's Blood was yours and how much was Dan's, so this may or may not be relevant, but I really enjoyed it and keep meaning to get the new one whenever I remember that it's "out" and no longer "coming soon".