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.