Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Lose weight, get rich, find love! Ask me how! - Simon Cheshire

"WHSmith, why hast
thou forsaken me?"
There is a truth universally acknowledged: success in the arts has nothing to do with your actual work, or its quality, or how many hours a day you spend networking, but is neatly expressed via the formula
Sales =  f + b2
where 'f' is Your Fame and 'b' is Blind Luck. This is, as I'm sure you know, a law so entrenched it makes gravity look optional. And, of course, it isn't news. There are ancient scrolls discovered in underwater caves beneath jurassic sediment which contain fresher information. 
So why bring it up now, and make writers everywhere weep quietly into their el cheapo wine? Because this is the time of year when I always read a number of blogs and articles expressing this truth as if it was some kind of sudden, horrific revelation.
I blame Christmas. Writers everywhere watch the bills pile up, and their bank balance empty faster than the Greek economy, and then they switch on Radio 4 as a way to dull the pain only to find some b*&%$£* celebrity plugging their latest b*&%$£* cookery book. We watch the same names win all the awards, fill all the bookshelves, get all the attention, while we quietly tap out works of towering genius which slide inexorably into the void no matter how hard we try to prostitute ourselves for a little media coverage.
I'm as guilty of teeth-grinding jealousy as anyone. Every time I go into a bookshop and see nine metres of shelf space taken up in the C section of the alphabet by the same three books, I curse Eoin Colfer, his publisher, and all the staff who've ever worked in that shop, ever. 
I know I shouldn't. I've never met Eoin Colfer, I'm sure he's a lovely bloke, but as I stare at those shelves and wipe away the tears, I just can't stop feelings of bitter, twisted agony screaming out "O Waterstones, couldn't you stock ONE less copy of Artemis Fowl, couldn't you put ONE copy of my hilarious masterpiece Pants On Fire on display?"
Members of the Writer's Guild use
metaphor to depict the life
of a non-famous author
I get over it, in the end. After a good cry and a piece of cake. And then, I get to realise how lucky I am.
I'm a professional writer. I've got a job some people would kill for. OK, I'm an almost penniless professional writer, but I'm my own boss, and I get to do something creative with my time, AND I can look quite cool at social functions next to all those accountants and management executives. I just have to put up with poverty, obscurity and a gnawing sense of envy, that's all. It's a lifestyle choice.
And I ask myself: would I really want all the hassle that notoriety brings? Would I really want the pressure to produce mind-numbing identikit Tesco-fodder all the time? Would I really want the exhausting tedium of ill-informed journalists asking the same stupid questions ad nauseam?
Of course I bloomin' well would!!


Lee said...

No, I wouldn't.

(But the money to buy a laptop wouldn't be a particularly Bad Thing.)

Have you ever read Kathryn Chetkovich's essay on envy? Her former boyfriend was of course Jonathan Franzen. Here's a Guardian extract, though I think with some googling one can probably find the entire piece online. It's become fairly well known:

Dan Holloway said...

Funny one isn't it? I don't think any of us would really want any of the stuff that goes with Making It, but that never stops us (OK, me) getting jealous as buggery of those who have Made It. In more reflective moments I am absolutely full of admiration for the way the Made handle it (and most of the time I'm completely with Lee Child's assertion that those of us who write literary fiction do so because we're not up to writing great genre fiction, and use "the art, dahling" as something to hide behind). Then the clarity clears and I'm happily retrenched back in my seething jealousy :)

Pauline Fisk said...

Love the choice of illustrations. Couldn't be more appropriate. Nor could the sentiment. I went into WHS the other day and counted just short of fifty out of a hundred so-called top bestselling books which were either celebrity or TV generated. That's a lot of proper writers who've been elbowed aside by people who have other, no doubt more lucrative, careers anyway.

madwippitt said...

Love the illustrations and captions ...

And sorry, but Eoin Colfer was lovely on the two occasions I briefly met him. But yes, far too much shelf space dedicated to numbers of books by the same author, not just EC. What's wrong with fewer copies and more variety of authors - replacing any sold copies from a box in the storeroom? Although maybe it's not that simple ...
I could have wept when I last visited our local Waterstones, in which the children's section had shrunk yet again. I was looking for something for my godson's brother. Yards and yards of Beast Quest and Horrid Henry, and sparkly pink girly covers - b****r all by way of choice. I ended up pouncing on the only two Dick King-Smiths in stock.

Debbie said...

I'll have everything that goes with Making It. Yes please. Or if nothing else, just some recognition from my nearest and dearest that I'm *not* just playing around on the computer ...

dirtywhitecandy said...

Well said, Simon! I can't go in the fiction department of bookshops for fear of the red mist that descends. Now I'd better not think about it any more or it will get misty round here.