Did you know the UK enjoys the world’s best global export performance for books, with export revenues in 2013 exceeding €1.5bn, compared with €1bn for the US or €331m for Spain?
As expected, we translate very little foreign works into English – books from other countries make up less than 3% of the 184,000 or so titles published per annum, so we’re missing out on stories coming the other way.
On the one hand, I am proud that the UK does so well in the global marketplace: not only do we export lots of books (punch above our weight), we also publish more books per capita per annum than any other country (lunch above our weight, if what I know about publishers’ meetings still holds). So, we like to read (or publishers are all losing lots of money).
HOWEVER, I am not the only one to have noticed is that so many books coming out in a given period are the same, just from a different publisher. The writing has got better – for sure, so has characterisation but publishers do like a bandwagon. In the childrens and young adult market, one year it’s pirates, then it’s zombies, vampires, then witches, then dragons and back to pirates. Sometimes publishers mix it up with vampire witches, zombie dragons, or librarians who aren’t really librarians at all but … pirates! … but they’re not fooling anyone.
Same goes for how authors are most books follow a 5-act classical structure or the 3-act ‘Hollywood’. I don’t have a problem with rules, I believe that all art forms need rules – except they do make for lots of predictable plots and a sense of déjà vu with books: stories that have essentially the same arc, with all the same ups and downs in the right places that end well. With a strong moral.
I don’t blame editors, we live in a postmodern world of publishing for Pixar: publishing is like investing – if your job depends on making a solid set of sales figures year-on-year and an animated film deal or two, of course you are going to back a safe bet, follow the trends and look for tried and tested structures in any commissioning process.
However, I’ve always been a contrarian investor and no-one can sack me, so Monster Books is going to do things differently.
Feeling energised after a week in Scotland – which I put down to long baths and healthy eating (cake, mainly) and not so much walks in the fresh air, the scent of heather, dramatic views – I am turning my attention not just to those hidden classics and untranslated gems I’ve spoken about before but stories that don’t follow the rules: books that would not see the light of day because they are too short, too long, too hard, not structured in the accepted way or not about pirates, zombies, vampires, witches or dragons.
All reading is good and if we can get kids who do not usually read to pick up a book and be still for a while, to focus in and free range their imagination then that would make us very happy.