Sunday 19 November 2017

Moran finds herself elevated to a rock star

Penguin Random House regard Caitlin Moran as a star author
Penguin Random House regard Caitlin Moran as a star author

John Moran

With a recent UK survey revealing that more than 60pc of 18-30-year-olds prefer DVDs to books, Penguin Random House is trying to woo this age group by giving some favoured authors rock-star status.

Only some, mind you, given that last summer's merger of Penguin and Random House means that the powerful conglomerate now publishes 15,000 writers, most of whom will inevitably languish in semi-obscurity while eking out a living that's below the minimum wage.

This state of affairs prompted Joanna Trollope, author of many bestsellers, to declare herself glad that she's not starting out now as a writer. "I think it's incredibly hard," she told the Guardian, "to make a career and earn a living from it."

Another successful English writer, Joseph Connolly, whose new novel Boys and Girls has just been published, agrees, telling the Observer that "if you're not reviewed in the nationals and are not on the front table in Waterstone's, you may as well set fire to your books".

Clearly, Penguin Random House regard Caitlin Moran as a front-table author. The 39-year-old daughter of an Irish father, whose witty 2011 polemic How To Be a Woman, sold in bucketloads, is being given preferential treatment by her publishers, with 10,000 tickets sold for her gig-style reading tour.

According to chief executive Tom Weldon, the firm will also be using "merchandise and branding like never before" and will be commissioning extensive market research to identify readers' tastes.

A lucky few authors will undoubtedly benefit from this turning of books into commodities, but it smacks of what has happened to Hollywood, with infantile fare aimed at the lowest common denominator while movies of intelligence and substance are only undertaken by enterprising outsiders.

And so we may see the further rise of small independent publishers who are willing to take risks on books that don't fit easily into "merchandisable" categories. Well, it worked for Norwich-based Galley Beggar, with Eimear McBride's award-winning A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, which had been turned down as unmarketable by scores of big publishers.

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