Had a look at the Nielson Top 100 Bestsellers for 2010 in Saturday’s Guardian and didn’t find it quite as depressing as the lists from recent years. Stieg Larsson and Stephanie Meyer dominate the fiction – I already suspected that from a quick scan of the reading matter on any London bus or tube carriage.
At least the celebrity ‘autobiography’ fad seems now to be finally fading (no sign of Jordan) and ‘misery memoirs’ are no longer bestsellers (there will undoubtedly be enough misery to come in 2011). Similarly the ‘interesting trivia’ collections such as Schott’s Miscellany also appear to be a thing of the past. I felt a warm glow of satisfaction when I read that Jeremy Clarkson doesn’t feature at all, a similar fate befell Chris Evans’ heavily hyped autobiography, although no doubt it shifted thousands more copies than the new edition of my book and he trousered a considerably larger advance. The appalling Russell Brand’s Booky Wook 2 (truly a comic for our times) scraped in at No.97 but still made over £1million.
What is depressing for me is that a mere 18% of the total consists of non-fiction and that small percentage includes cookery books and autobiographies; only one history book, by Bill Bryson, and nothing on science and religion. I have no idea of my own book sales over the last year but, if the past is anything to go by, my earnings next year will continue their downward trend – and I’m an author who actually occasionally ventures out of his study to promote them; 190 people attending a talk does not necessarily translate into good sales.
There is also the personally dispiriting experience of seeing my books far less often on the shelves of the nation’s few remaining bookshops than I did even one or two years ago. I can remember the exhilaration and pleasure that I derived from walking past a bookshop in, say, Fleet Street and spotting Subterranean City, shortly after publication, in the middle of the window display; many of these shops now no longer exist. Supermarkets aggressively market the same small group of bestsellers and booksellers such as Waterstones have drastically pruned their stock of titles that only sell a handful each year. Amazon demands such huge discounts that many smaller publishers can no longer deal with them. There still seems to be a life for small publishers targeting a niche market in limited editions, but times are only going to get tougher as the generations that no longer read books gain dominance; at least I don’t have to rely on my writing to survive, unlike some scribes I know.