Today I heard the brilliant news that the paperback of Looking Good Dead has gone to No 2 on the Sunday Times bestseller list. And… we sold almost 10,000 copies more than Jeffrey Archer, which gives me almost as much pleasure… And in addition we are No 1 in Tesco – the UK’s largest supermarket retailer of books.
Bestseller lists can be very misleading. Every store group in the UK – and many individual stores as well, have their own bestseller lists. Some of the individual store and the “literary” bookstores lists get very biased by what the booksellers themselves want to sell and therefore push in subtle ways – through display methods – and in not-so-subtle ways such as telling the customers what to read. I have no objection at all to ether of these latter, except when it comes to the outright prejudice of literary snobbery.
I experienced a clear example of this yesterday entering a central London branch of an upmarket national book retail chain. Although my novel, Looking Good Dead, is currently No 2 on the UK official bestseller list, it was nowhere to be seen downstairs, neither in the windows, nor on any point-of-sale display stands, nor on their top 40 bestseller display of books. When I finally asked an assistant if they stocked my novel, he said they did and it was upstairs, on the first floor. Why on earth was it tucked away up there, I asked him? “Because it’s crime,” he replied, disdainfully.
For the past decade, traditional book retailers in the UK have been moaning about the encroachment of the supermarkets, and whilst I have some sympathy – it is very hard for independent booksellers, in particular to compete with some of the low prices at which the supermarkets offer some best-selling titles – here I was just astonished. It was no wonder, I thought, that this chain had barely 2% market share of my sales, compared to the supermarkets combined 65%.
I’m going to be publishing a more detailed blog in the New Year in which I vent steam at the whole literary establishment culture of literary snobbishness, which I so despise. Book Marketing Limited’s statistics for the past three years show that Crime and Thrillers have over 15% of the total fiction market. Literary fiction has just four percent. I wonder why….!!!! Could it be that, like me, people want their reading to be fun, not like being back at bloody school. Reading is one of the greatest pleasures in my life and it has been since I first picked up a book in early childhood.
I was a great Enid Blyton fan. So much so that I once wrote a letter to her – after reading Five Go To Treasure Island. I told her that I had really liked the book, but I was worried that all five of them had spent seven days on this remote island, and not once, during all that time, had any of them gone to the lavatory. Enid Blyton wrote me back a very nice letter saying that they had all gone during that time, but she hadn’t put it in the book because she didn’t think little boys and girls were interested in knowing that!!!! Her reply taught me a lesson – I have always replied to every fan letter and email that I have ever received – except to a couple of death threats after I wrote an article on Aleister Crowley for the Independent some years ago. But that is another story…
Segueing nicely back to the supermarkets… I’m totally and utterly thrilled to be No 1 in Tesco. The paperback of Looking Good Dead has been Book Of The Week in ASDA, Sainsbury, Morrisons as well as WH Smith high street stores and WH Smith Travel and I could not be happier with that. I want to see books accessible to everyone. I want people to view them in the same spaces as they view all other forms of entertainment that supermarkets sell. The more we remove the grim intellectual snobbery about reading that the dreadful Booker Prize does so much to perpetuate, the more we return it to its rightful place, as something to bring joy, entertainment, learning, examination of the human condition, and pure, unalloyed pleasure to everyone who slumps into a chair with a book. After all Charles Dickens did not become the most popular writer of his generation because he was hard to read – he became the most popular because he wrote the best page-turners.