FROM THE PULPIT
BRYANAPPLEYARD BOOKING THE AUTHOR
book as a pleasurable thing in itself. The big question is, of course, does any of this do any good? Well some, obviously. In sales terms, it is
T HE MANFROM the Jewish Chronicleconfessed he normally did obituaries. Speaking professionally, this is a bad move in the middle of an author interview. The interviewee is likely to feel either that the interviewer knows something about his health that he doesn’t or that the JCdoes not take him seriously enough to send a regular interviewer. But I was cool, I did not take offence; I simply looked at my watch. He, sadly, failed to spot this. And, I later reflected, my book was about the possibility of immortality, so an obit writer made some kind of sense. Publicising a book is a strange business. Despair and humiliation walk hand in hand with crazy elation. The D & H are most commonly inspired by television. I once appeared on a morning show with Fern Britten and Philip Schofield and was so horrified at the madness and cruelty of the thing that I failed to do the one thing I ought to have done – point out the madness and cruelty. This was live TV so they would have been powerless. Lately I did Sky News and was dumbstruck again, this time by the amount of make-up the male ‘anchor’ was wearing. There seemed to be no evidence of flesh. On both occasions, TV got what it wanted and I got nothing. But one feels one has no choice. Books are such marginal products that one feels one has to seize any opportunity to get them noticed. And there are plenty of opportunities. The book-publicising circuit is vast and exhausting. There is more television than there used to be and infinitely more radio. Just doing the rounds of the BBC – Edinburgh, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, the capacious maw of Radio Five Live, Start the Week, Night Waves – can render one senseless with embarrassment at the sound of one’s own voice. On the other hand, BBC radio in particular is, compared with television, a haven of sanity. Especially on Start the Weekand Night Waves, one actually has the chance to say something intelligible. Then there are the strange bookshop events – a talk, a discussion, and the signings. Again, unlike television, one feels one has been heard on these occasions. Of course, there is always one character who attempts to hijack the occasion with angry refutations. I used to fear these people, but no more. They seldom know as much as they think they do. It is the quiet, one-off questioner who usually catches you out and makes you think. And, finally, there is the now enormous publicity market of book festivals. These can be humiliating. In the signing tent afterwards, I keep finding myself signing for a trickle of buyers while, on the next table, some TV superstar empties several felt tips to oblige a round-theblock queue. But the great virtue of festivals is that the audiences do tend to be interested in books, in the things themselves rather than just the headline idea. Too much opinion for or against can destroy the sense of a
better to be noticed. Furthermore, the big bookshops, Waterstone’s in particular, have more or less given up on the idea that a book is significantly different from a box of Finish dishwasher tabs. Window or front-ofhouse slots now have to be paid for, and the ‘staff picks’ shelves are excuses to dump excess stock. Judgement, taking notice of reviews, genuinely feeling enthusiasm for the product – these are not encouraged. All that counts is shifting what are perceived to be safe mass-market books. Indeed, the rage for stickers – two for one, half price, whatever – has now reached the point where one routinely sees front covers on which the author or title or both have been obscured by a big red sunburst. It doesn’t matter what’s in it, just buy it. All of which puts pressure on the author of anything other than chicklit to make themselves available because they know nobody else will. That said, there is something slightly mad about the whole business. A long trek to address forty people in a tent, ten of whom buy a book, must be questionable financially. Much as I like festivals, I can see they tend to be more about vanity and a day out than actually selling books. Equally, I don’t think regional radio stations, conscientious as most of their presenters seem to be, actually persuade people you’re worth buying. But book publicity has become its own justification. It must be done, so it is. For publishers’ publicists, it is their reason for getting up in the morning. On the other hand, Amazon has made their task, if not harder, then at least more irritating. All publicists moan about the Amazon sales ranking that appears on the page selling your book. They moan because authors tend to watch the hourly movements of this figure obsessively. Worst of all, they compare it to other books. Publicists, to whom success is necessarily a vague, ill-defined prize, now find themselves constantly and unfairly monitored by a machine. Inevitably, this makes them even more frenzied in their attempts to fill their authors’ diaries for the year after publication. Plainly too many books are published and, equally plainly, the big bookshops aren’t doing their job. The publicity circus rushes in to fill the vacuum. As the power of bookshops diminishes with the advent of new technology – print-on-demand, e-books – the frenzy is likely to increase as a more open and undifferentiated market is created. This is a good thing. I just hope it happens before the obits guy from the Jewish Chronicle has the chance to write about me in the way he knows best.
LITERARY REVIEW March 2007 CONTENTS
T HIS MONTH ’ S PULPIT is written by Bryan Appleyard. His most recent book, How to Live Forever or Die Trying, is published by Simon and Schuster.
E DWARD N ORMAN is Emeritus Fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge, and Curate of the St James Garlickhythe Church in the City of London.
C AROLINE M OOREHEAD is working on a life of Madame de la Tour du Pin.
A NDREW R OBERTS ’s most recent book, A History of the English Speaking Peoples Since 1900, is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
C AROLE A NGIER is a biographer of Jean Rhys and Primo Levi. The Double Bond: Primo Levi, A Biographyis available in paperback from Penguin.
M ICHAEL H OLMAN , former Africa editor of the Financial Times, was brought up in Rhodesia. His first novel, Last Orders at Harrods: An African Tale, is published by Abacus.
D IANA A THILL is the author of Stet and Yesterday Morning: A Very English Childhood, both published by Granta.
G RAHAM H UTCHINGS , former China Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, is the author of Modern China: A Companion to a Rising Power (Penguin) and Editor of The Oxford Analytica Daily Brief.
D AVID W ATKIN is Professor of the History of Architecture at the University of Cambridge. His books include Morality and Architecture Revisited(2001) and Radical Classicism: The Architecture of Quinlan Terry(2006).
R ICHARD O VERY ’s The Dictators: Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia was awarded the Wolfson Prize for History 2005.
ART & ARCHITECTURE
B RYAN A PPLEYARD
R ICHARD O VERY The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940–1945 Jörg Friedrich Inferno: The Devastation of Hamburg, 1943 Keith Lowe A NDREW R OBERTS Lloyd George and Churchill: Rivals for Greatness Richard Toye M ARY K ENNY That Neutral Island: A Cultural History of Ireland During the Second World War Clair Wills Irish Freedom: The History of Nationalism in Ireland Richard English A LLAN M ASSIE In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century Geert Mak N IGEL J ONES Dancing into Battle: A Social History of the Battle of Waterloo Nick Foulkes P ETER J ONES City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish Peter Parsons
B LAIR W ORDEN The Verneys: A True Story of Love, War and Madness in Seventeenth-Century England Adrian Tinniswood M ARTIN V ANDER W EYER Dynasties: Fortunes and Misfortunes of the World’s Great Family Businesses David S Landes
C AROLINE M OOREHEAD Infidel Ayaan Hirsi Ali C AROLE A NGIER TheForger: An Extraordinary Story of Survival in Wartime Berlin Cioma Schönhaus The Diary of Mary Berg: Growing up in the Warsaw Ghetto(Ed) Susan Lee Pentlin D IANA A THILL Growing up in a War Bryan Magee M ICHAEL H OLMAN When A Crocodile Eats the Sun Peter Godwin
P AUL J OHNSON Parmigianino David Ekserdjian J OHN M ARTIN R OBINSON Medievalism: The Middle Ages in Modern EnglandMichael Alexander St Pancras Station Simon Bradley D AVID W ATKIN Inigo Jones and the Classical Tradition Christy AndersonInigo Jones and the European Classicist Tradition Giles Worsley
S IMON H EFFER Michael Foot: A LifeKenneth O Morgan F RANCES W ILSON The Hottentot Venus: The Life and Death of Saartjie Baartman, Born 1789 – Buried 2002 Rachel Holmes J OHN J OLLIFFE Red Princess: A Revolutionary Life Sofka Zinovieff
G RAHAM H UTCHINGS The Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the Twenty-First CenturyWill Hutton J OHN K EAY The Dragon and the Foreign Devils: China and the World, 1100 BC to the Present Harry G Gelber
Editor:N ANCY S LADEK Deputy Editor: T OM F LEMING Editor-at-Large: J EREMY L EWIS Editorial Assistant: P HILIP W OMACK
Contributing Editors: A LAN R AFFERTY , S EBASTIAN S HAKESPEARE Advertising Manager: T ERRY F INNEGAN Classified Advertising: D AVID S TURGE Founding Editor:D R A NNE S MITH Founding Father: A UBERON W AUGH Cover illustration by Chris Riddell Issue no. 341
LITERARY REVIEW March 2007