So, Pippa Middleton has signed a contract with Penguin to publish a book on being a perfect party hostess. The book is to launch 2012 and the advance is reported as £400,000 or thereabouts.
Cue people going nuts. Authors, agents, all manner of literary types. “It’s not fair!” They cry. “It’s a travesty.”
People are being rude about Pippa and her family. They are being rude about the book. And they are being rude about the publishing industry as a whole, taking this as a sign that it is terribly, irretrievably broken.
Can we just stop here for a second? What exactly is broken here?
Is it the author?
Pippa is the media-appointed celebrity sister of the Duchess of Cambridge. She never asked for that celebrity, nor any of the personal infringements it entails. It seems to me she bears it with good grace. If you suddenly had a money tree growing in your front room, wouldn’t you pick the fruit?
Is it the book?
The book was sold on concept, it’s still being written, so I’ve no idea.
Is it the publishers, then?
Because you know, it wasn’t just Penguin. There was an auction. Editors fought each other with cheque books. Why? Because their publishing houses know that in the UK and the USA there will be a huge market for a ‘celebrity’ book of this kind. And party planning seems to fit neatly in alongside celebrity chefs. Poor Pippa would have found it tougher if she’d been an investment banker. ‘Pippa’s guide to mergers & acquisitions’ doesn’t have the same ring to it, eh?
So what is it, then?
‘Readers’/Buyers of celebrity-top-ten-best-selling-autobiographical-tell-all-memoirs, spin offs and the like. I’m talking to you.
There is a big fat advance for this book, I think, for the same reasons there are helicopters circling Pippa’s home. Because there is a market for it. People will pay actual real money for this. No $2.99 e-book for Pippa. The voracious mass market hunger for voyeurism – living vicariously through others, watching them rise and fall – seems insatiable.
So, as businesses, publishers want to publish these kinds of commercially viable books. Book sellers will want them on their shelves. There is money to be made. Made from you, and your interest in ‘celebrity’ (or of course, your interest in parties, and who doesn’t like a nice party?).
It is what it is.
Writers – is this really relevant to us? We cannot compare our journey to be published to this phenomenon. It’s apples and oranges.
Pippa’s advance has absolutely nothing to do with my advance, for example. Not just because we’re with different publishers. I’m not entirely sure how it works in publishing, but I doubt Penguin would have said at the editorial meeting “Well folks, we’ve got half a million, so we can either publish fifty novels, a few literary, a Regency Romance or two, some YA, perhaps some crime thrillers…or we can take Pippa’s party book. What’s it to be?”
There’s still a market for the books we write, and most of us will not be earning the six figure advances.
If the idea of Pippa Middleton’s deal leaves you incredulous you are probably not the target market. But there is a market. Let’s move on?