Today has generally been a very good day. I got three very nice shirts from Marks & Spencer (those lovely linen and cotton mix, soft-touch jobs) and, this morning, I heard from the assistant to the agent I’d approached regarding Children of the Resolution. She — the agent — was “very interested” in reading the full manuscript. She’s read a couple of my novels in the past, so I was quite pleased by her reaction to my enquiry. She clearly seems to enjoy what I do enough to keep reading my new work. Always encouraging.
So everything was trundling along quite nicely. I tried on the shirts and was rather pleased with the result (not to blow my own trumpet, or anything, but I looked bloody gorgeous ), I emailed the full manuscript to the aforementioned agent’s assistant, receiving a prompt and courteous reply to let me know that they had received it, the outlines for my new novel are progressing quite nicely — and then the wheels came off. Something had to come along to utterly ruin my mood.
Yes, all right, I’m exaggerating a wee bit. My mood wasn’t utterly ruined. Far from it. But I did swear a bit when, tucking into my tea, Katie Price (a.k.a. Jordan) popped up on the television screen — looking like a reject from Barbie school and publicising her latest novel.
Now, I’ve never had much time for this particular glamour model turned Uber-self-promoter. She epitomises many of the things I dislike most about the whole celebrity culture thing. More than anything, though, I’m constantly appalled by the fact that she successfully publishes and sells books off the back of a career that is built around who she is and not what she does (what the hell does she do, anyway?) These books — the novels, in particular — she freely admits to not writing herself. She doesn’t sit down and write. She thinks up storylines etc, hands them over and then reads through the chapters once the ghostwriter has done his/her job.
All this is bad enough. Having done the hard work myself (with no reward, as yet) and seen many others, most of them extremely talented, do the same, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But I can live with it. It’s the way the publishing business works today and it will probably run its course and turn around once people tire of Katie Price and her kind and start wanting quality fiction again.
But what really galls, as it did today, is having to listen to Ms Price accuse some in the industry of literary snobbery. This comment was made in an interview at a book award ceremony, to which she had been invited because — horror of horrors — she’d been nominated! Firstly, I’d like to state very clearly that, in my opinion, Katie Price should never have been nominated for a book award. Where her novels are concerned (and her children’s fiction, I believe), she doesn’t write them. I’m not a literary snob, but selling a certain number of units is not what literature or literary awards are about, for me. They are about rewarding literary excellence, and however you might define that it surely requires that the author in question did actually author the work. Clearly not the case here.
Okay, now to this little issue of the people in the industry who didn’t think she should receive an award being literary snobs. It’s rather more complicated than that, Ms Price, I’m afraid. I’m perfectly happy to have someone who can’t even speak properly (“fink” instead of “think”, for example) consider me a snob. In fact, I probably am in this instance. I certainly believe that I’m a better writer than you are. I mean, I actually write every word of my books myself and I think I do a bloody good job of it.
But that is to miss the point. Why are people like me really annoyed about this? Put simply, we work hard for years at what we do, investing hour upon hour, decade after decade in our work — making sacrifices and dealing with rejection after rejection. I’ve been doing this twenty years and I still haven’t achieved publication. That isn’t because I’m not talented. Check out my samples if you don’t believe me. It’s because it’s a tough industry, made tougher by its current focus on ghostwritten trash that conveniently has a celebrity name attached to it. It isn’t snobbery. It isn’t even jealousy, because if being published meant that I had to be like you, I’d give it up tomorrow. It’s about pride in the work. It about a love of the written word and the power it has to communicate intense feelings and complex ideas. It’s about all that and more — but most of all, it’s about those writers we all know and love and admire who are being neglected because you and your ghostwritten nonsense is too much the focus of the marketing department’s attention. I don’t really blame you for this, of course. You’re taking care of you and yours. I can’t really condemn you for that. But just think again before you trot out the literary snob dig.
Real writers have every reason to consider themselves better than you — at least where writing is concerned. But the bottom line is, they simply want the chance to do what they do best. A chance that people like you — who gets someone else to do it for them — make much, much harder.