"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Michael Holroyd on the (Non-) Selling of Books

The grand old man of English literary biography, Michael Holroyd, was holding forth in The Guardian at the weekend on the collapse of literary biography as a result of publishers and booksellers giving up on it.  The word 'literary', he said, "is death to sales – and perhaps literary biography is worst of all".   He concluded – and who can contradict this: "Publishers seem to outsiders to be paralysed by caution in these difficult times, asking themselves what sold last year and hoping to reproduce it. How often have I heard them say: "this book did not sell". I have never heard them say: "we did not sell this book"."  To which I would add that phrases like "no one wants to buy a long Russian novel about a woman who ends up throwing herself in front of a train" become self-fulfilling prophecies.  If a publisher says that no one wants to buy X then that is exactly what will happen.

1 comment:

Andrew Kenneally said...

Lampedusa's, I think only experience before untimely death, of trying to get The Leopard published was to be told by whichever relevant publishers that it was unpublishable. God knows why; perhaps it was felt to be insufficiently neurotic.