Friday, August 28, 2009

The Face of the Author

An excellent article by the Guardian's Richard Lea, who reports that since the Guardian began a series of video author interviews on their website, some publishers have been pushing to them the 'personable' aspects of their literary authors.

The crucial point Lea makes is that literary fiction appeals to the intellect (among other things, presumably) (an interesting, and useful I think, definition of literary fiction), and implies that any reader with a modicum of intellect would be put off rather than attracted by such base and irrelevant marketing appeals. He acknowledges, though, that literary fiction is a 'hard sell' which explains why 'even literary fiction' comes to be sold in this way. Personally, I'd take this further, and strike the 'even literary fiction' and replace it with 'literary fiction, above all others'. I'll never forget when I was invited to Harrogate or York (I forget which) to a dinner of Women of the North (no they weren't all wearing viking helmets, they were wearing those spiky/curly things with flowers and nets etc - it was some kind of achievers thing), and was put on the writers' table. Every other woman on the table was a highly successful writer of romantic fiction, and every one was matronly, plump and over fifty, or at least looked it. That was the moment it occurred to me that popular fiction just doesn't need the kind of marketing in which the author must be some kind of soulful or smouldering beauty, and that the marketers realized that literary fiction did.

Perhaps we should just acknowledge that reading literary fiction, like thinking itself, is not exactly a mass pursuit, and stop trying to sell it as such. Yet independent publishers of literary fiction who do operate outside the mainstream are especially reliant, if not on authors' good looks, on authors' personalities: as Salt's Chris Hamilton-Emery has made clear to his authors, it's those authors with a profile on the web (and, I'd add, lots of friends there) who are most likely to sell books. May as well forget about hiding your suspect personality behind your brilliant prose, and too bad, eh, if revealing it puts people off even looking at your books...
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